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Judges seek recusal as major Italian mafia trial of ‘Ndrangheta clan begins

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One of Italy’s largest-ever mafia trials began today (13 January) with more than 330 suspected mobsters and their associates facing an array of charges, including extortion, drug trafficking and theft, write and

The case targets the ‘Ndrangheta clan, which is based in Calabria, the toe of Italy’s boot, and is considered by prosecutors to be the most powerful mafia group in the country, easily eclipsing the more famous Cosa Nostra gang in Sicily.

The trial is being held in a converted call-centre in the Calabrian city of Lamezia Terme, with metal cages installed for the defendants and rows of desks set up for the hundreds of lawyers, prosecutors and spectators expected to attend.

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But the initial hearing hit an immediate snag after the three judges assigned to the case asked to be recused, saying they had been involved in earlier aspects of the investigation.

Their request will be reviewed by a separate court, which will delay proceedings for several days, lawyers said.

Many of the accused are white-collar workers, including lawyers, accountants, business people, local politicians and policemen, who chief prosecutor Nicola Gratteri says willingly aided the ‘Ndrangheta in building its crime empire.

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Speaking to reporters as he entered the courthouse, Gratteri said the investigation had encouraged locals to speak out.

Heavily guarded prosecutor takes on Italy's mob powerhouse

“In the last two years we have seen a surge in lawsuits from oppressed entrepreneurs and citizens, victims of usury, people who for years have lived under the threats of the ‘Ndrangheta,” said the prosecutor, who has spent more than 30 years fighting the mob.

The state will call on 913 witnesses and draw on 24,000 hours of intercepted conversations to support the myriad charges. Gratteri said he expected the trial would take a year to complete, with the court due to sit six days a week.

Another 92 suspects have opted for a fast-track trial in the same case, with their hearings due to start later in January, while a much smaller group of defendants will stand trial in February over five murders - including the killing of a mafia hitman who was shot dead because he was gay, prosecutors say.

The last time Italy tried hundreds of alleged mafiosi simultaneously was in 1986 in Palermo in a case that represented a turning point in the fight against Cosa Nostra, marking the beginning of the group’s sharp decline.

That trial had a huge impact because it targeted numerous mob families. The Calabrian trial focuses primarily on just one group - the Mancuso clan from the province of Vibo Valentia - leaving much of the ‘Ndrangheta’s top hierarchy untouched.

“The road ahead is still very long, but we mustn’t give up because there are thousands of people who believe in us. We can’t let them down,” Gratteri told Reuters.

Belgium

110th Republic of China National Day Reception held in Brussels

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The Taipei Representative Office in the EU and Belgium held the 110th Republic of China National Day Reception, 30 September, welcoming friends and dignitaries from the EU and Belgium. Held in accordance with the Belgian pandemic prevention regulations, the event was attended by more than 100 guests, including members of the European Parliament, the Belgian Senate, the Belgian House of Representatives, and the Belgian regional parliaments, along with others from all walks of life. In his speech at the reception, Ambassador Ming-Yen Tsai outlined the current status of the close exchanges between Taiwan, and the EU and Belgium in various fields such as the economy and trade, education, technology, green energy, digital economy, disinformation and carbon reduction.

The Ambassador also took the opportunity to thank the European Parliament, the Belgian Senate, the Belgian House of Representatives, and the Flemish Parliament for passing a number of Taiwan-friendly resolutions over the past year, including ones supporting Taiwan-EU cooperation, a Taiwan-EU bilateral investment agreement, Taiwan’s international participation, and those expressing concern regarding peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.

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Belgium

Ombudsman for Children’s Rights of Kazakhstan Aruzhan Sain meets with her Belgian colleagues

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In order to study the best Belgian experience in the field of work with children with disabilities, social programs to support children and their families, as well as the organization of integrated and inclusive education, the Ombudsman for Children’s Rights of Kazakhstan Aruzhan Sain met with Belgian representatives in the field of children’s rights. The visit of Sain was organized with the assistance of the Embassy of Kazakhstan in Belgium.

During the meeting with the Chairperson of the National Commission on the Rights of the Child of Belgium Karin Van Laethem, the issues of coordinating the efforts of the authorities at the federal level and at the level of communities and regions of Belgium dealing with child rights issues were discussed. Due to the territorial and administrative structure of the country, independent human rights institutions of the Kingdom operate at the regional level.

In this regard, the Kazakh Ombudsman also visited the Wallonia Regional Agency for Better Life (AVIQ), as well as the Institute for Child and Family Development (IDEF), where the Belgian system of psychological, medical and social support for children with disabilities was presented in detail.

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In turn, A.Sain shared information about the work carried out in Kazakhstan to improve the quality of life of children with disabilities, the purpose of which is to build a system with a guarantee of early detection and early assistance to reduce children with disabilities. According to the Children’s Ombudsman, it is important to provide an individual approach to the treatment of children with functional impairments with the required number of services and technical means of rehabilitation. She told her Belgian colleagues about Kazakhstani reforms in the field of providing children with sports and creative circles at the expense of the state budget.

During a visit to the Royal Institute for People with Musculoskeletal Disabilities (IRAHM) in Brussels, the experience of rehabilitation programs for a child was reviewed, taking into account the characteristics of his physical condition and psychological profile.

Along with this, the Kazakh Ombudsman met with the General Commissioner for the Rights of the Child of the French Community «Wallonia-Brussels Federation» Bernard De Vos, who spoke about the integration policy in the field of inclusive education for children with developmental disabilities and the integration of migrant children. The parties agreed that there are discussions on these issues in all countries and the search for the right path. Discussing the system of prevention and early intervention, the ombudsmen of the two countries noted the importance of screening newborns and monitoring the development of young children.

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In addition, during her visit, the Children’s ombudsman A.Sain held a separate meeting with the Social Protection Adviser of the international company « Socieux + » Marzena Breza, with whom the possibilities of cooperation on the introduction of the institution of foster (professional) families were discussed.

The parties have agreed to exchange relevant information and maintain contacts in matters of protection of children's rights.

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Belgium

Inter-parliamentary dialogue between Kazakhstan and Belgium is expanding

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Ambassador of Kazakhstan to Belgium Margulan Baimukhan met with the Chairman of the House of Representatives of the Parliament of Belgium Eliane Tillieux, during which the parties discussed the current state and prospects of bilateral cooperation between Kazakhstan and Belgium.

Ambassador M. Baimukhan spoke about the ongoing political and socio-economic reforms in Kazakhstan, initiated by the President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev within the framework of the concept of «hearing state». The issues of vaccination in Kazakhstan and production of the Kazakhstani vaccine «QazVac» were also discussed.

E.Tillieux, representing the large French-speaking Socialist Party (PS) in the Belgian parliament, gave a positive assessment of the socio-political transformations and the level of vaccination of the population in Kazakhstan.

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Discussing the issues of expanding inter-parliamentary ties between the two countries, the Belgian speaker noted the growing dynamics of the inter-parliamentary dialogue between the two countries. According to her, online negotiations with the Chairman of the Majilis of the Parliament of Kazakhstan Nurlan Nigmatulin in May 2021, as well as a trilateral meeting of two speakers of the Belgian parliament with the head of the Majilis on September 8, 2021 in Vienna within the framework of the 5th World Conference of Speakers of Parliaments gave an additional impetus to development of the inter-parliamentary dialogue.

The parties also welcomed the ongoing development of cooperation between the parliamentary friendship groups. The last meeting of the Chairman of the Committee on International Affairs, Defense and Security of the Majilis of the Parliament Aigul Kuspan with the Head of the Interparliamentary Group on Cooperation «Belgium - Central Asia» Tim Vandenput was held in June 2021.

In the context of economic diplomacy, the parties welcomed the upcoming visit of Belgian enterprises to Kazakhstan, planned in November 2021 with the support of the Belgian investment agencies AWEX and FIT. Today, Belgium is one of the largest investors in the economy of Kazakhstan, the volume of Belgian investments is more than 9 billion US dollars.

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A separate topic of conversation was the development of civil society, gender equality in Kazakhstan, higher education, ecology, regional security and the situation in Afghanistan. The Belgian politician, noting the significant role of women in political life, welcomed the growing number of women in the Kazakh Parliament and political parties. In addition, the situation around the Aral Sea, Kazakhstan’s efforts to combat climate change in the context of the upcoming UN Conference on Climate Change in Glasgow (COP-26) aroused a certain interest in E.Tillieux. Answering questions, the Kazakh diplomat also spoke about the international initiatives of the First President of Kazakhstan - Elbasy Nursultan Nazarbayev in the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons and the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site, the 30th anniversary of its closure is marked this year.

At the end of the meeting, Ambassador M. Baimukhan reaffirmed the invitation of the Kazakh side for the Belgian Speaker E.Tillieux and the Belgian deputies to pay an official visit to Kazakhstan.

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