Athens, Sep 30 (AP/UNB) — A rare and powerful Mediterranean storm brought torrential rain to southern Greece Saturday, reaching the capital Athens late in the night.
Civil protection services remained on alert across most of the country Saturday despite word that the turbulent weather had lost force as it moved east.
In Athens, roads were flooded and traffic was disrupted near the city center, as well as in coastal suburbs south of the city. The fire service said it has fielded over a hundred calls for flooded homes and to remove fallen trees.
Earlier Saturday, winds of up to 90 kph (55 mph) were reported as the storm moved past the southwestern tip of the Peloponnese. It then lashed the northeastern part of the peninsula on its way to Athens.
People were evacuated from the eastern Peloponnese seaside village of Nea Kios, which was partly flooded and without electricity. Elsewhere in the Peloponnese region, rivers overflowed and some damage has been reported.
The fire service reported that calls had come in from towns near the city of Corinth requesting help rescuing people from cars trapped in flooded streets and evacuating residents from homes.
The powerful storm — which was being called Zorba locally — was expected to move on Sunday toward islands in the Aegean Sea and along Turkey's coast. All ferry service from mainland ports near Athens was cancelled.
On the island of Lesbos, authorities have requested buses to be ready to move refugees from the overcrowded Moria camp, especially those living in tents, as the storm was expected to reach the island Sunday morning. A last-minute effort was being made to find ways to house the refugees moved from the camp.
Police said traffic on the main highway between Athens and the Peloponnese was closed some 54 kilometers (34 miles) west of the capital due to flooding.
London, Sep 29 (AP/UNB) — Britain's governing Conservative Party is at war — with itself.
The divide is over Europe, and only thing the two feuding factions agree on is that their leader, Prime Minister Theresa May, is heading in the wrong direction.
So May will be under attack from all sides when the Conservatives open their annual conference Sunday in the central England city of Birmingham.
Party conferences are usually a chance for leaders to rally their troops and for parties to unveil new voter-friendly policies. May's goal at this four-day gathering, however, will be surviving atop a fractious and febrile party that is convulsed over Brexit.
"It's simply a case of hoping she emerges from Birmingham without things getting even worse than they are," said Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London.
May became British prime minister in 2016 because of the Brexit vote in which the country decided to leave the European Union. Her predecessor, David Cameron, resigned when voters rejected his advice and opted to quit the EU after more than four decades of membership. May's entire premiership has been devoted to making Britain's departure happen.
But with exit day — March 29 — exactly six months away, the terms of the divorce and of the U.K.'s future relationship with the EU still remain unclear.
May's Brexit plan proposes that Britain stick close to EU rules in return for remaining in the bloc's single market for goods. EU leaders have rejected that idea, saying the U.K. is trying to cherry-pick benefits of being in the 28-nation bloc without assuming the costs and responsibilities.
The stalemate has emboldened pro-Brexit Conservatives, who say May should ditch her Chequers plan — named for the British leader's country retreat where it was hammered out — and seek a looser trade agreement that leaves the U.K. free to strike new deals around the world.
Flamboyant former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who quit the government in July, on Friday called May's plan "a moral and intellectual humiliation" for Britain.
In a 4,500-word Daily Telegraph article that was as much a Conservative leadership manifesto as a Brexit plan, Johnson said Britain should stop trying to be "half-in, half-out" of the bloc. He argued that the country would be "more dynamic and more successful" once freed from EU control.
Johnson plans to pile pressure on May at a conference rally Tuesday — one of several meetings by Brexit enthusiasts designed to force the prime minister to "chuck Chequers."
On May's other flank are pro-EU Conservatives who want to stay closely bound to the bloc, Britain's biggest trading partner. They want May to keep the U.K. inside the EU's vast single market for goods and services. Some also seek a new referendum that changes the terms of Brexit or even reverses Britain's decision to leave.
This group has been quieter than the "hard Brexit" faction. But many believe support for a softer stance is increasing as the specter of a "no-deal" Brexit grows. If Britain crashes out of the EU without a deal, British shipping, aviation and a host of other areas could grind to a halt.
Simon Allison, chairman of Conservatives for a People's Vote, a group calling for a new referendum on Brexit, said "there are at least as many Tory voters — maybe more — who support our position as support the hard-line (pro-Brexit) position."
The Conservatives are gathering a week after the opposition Labour Party conference , an upbeat, well-organized affair that saw the left-of-center party paper over its own divisions on Brexit and present a united face.
Such unity is unlikely at the Conservative gathering.
Meanwhile, May is digging in. After the EU rejected her Chequers plan last week at a summit in the Austrian city of Salzburg, she blamed the bloc for the negotiating "impasse" and insisted that "no deal is better than a bad deal."
Bale said that the summit gave May some breathing room by creating a sense that she is "under attack from an external enemy — Brussels."
"There is going to be some pressure on Tory MPs to unite behind her in order to send a strong signal to the EU 27," Bale said, referring to the 27 other members of the bloc.
But he said it is "really, really hard to imagine the circumstances" in which May will still be prime minister a year from now.
Many observers expect that May will face a challenge from within her party soon after Brexit day, even if she manages to negotiate a divorce deal that wins approval from the EU, the British Parliament and the Conservatives.
And even that is unlikely to end the party's feuding over Europe — to the despair of many Conservatives, who say the party should be focusing on the British economy, housing, health care and other issues vital to voters.
"Brexit is like a Pac Man that's consuming everything, "Allison said. "And one of the problems is that if we find a fudge on Brexit, that won't stop the debate. We could be having this war for the next 10 years."
United Nations, Sep 27 (AP/UNB) — Jacinda Ardern knows all about juggling her role as a mother with the requirements of her job.
The prime minister of New Zealand has brought her infant daughter to the United Nations' annual gathering of world leaders. Mother and daughter have been spotted together inside the assembly hall.
She says she's a breastfeeding mother and needs to keep her daughter alive.
"I'm combining my role as a mum and also as a leader and it is entirely possible to do both," Arden said Wednesday. "She comes to functions with me. So, politicians love holding babies."
Baby Neve was born in June.
Ardern giving birth while in office was a point of contention before the election. Television hosts asked her about her plans for children and she said she was happy to talk about it, but that it was broadly an unacceptable question for women in the workplace.
Her answers resonated with many people around the world.
Ardern is just the second elected world leader in modern times to give birth while in office. The last female politician to give birth while heading a government was the late Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who gave birth to her daughter Bakhtawar in 1990.
United Nations, Sep 27 (AP/UNB) — The same day that Russian diplomats struck a deal with Turkey over a demilitarized zone in Syria's last rebel-run region, dozens of Russian businessmen were flying home from Damascus, contracts in hand for trade with a postwar Syria.
Whatever happens to the rebels in Idlib province, Russia is determined to keep Syria solidly anchored in its sphere of influence over the long term — both as a foothold in the Middle East and as a warning to the U.S. and its allies against future interference.
"Russia wants ... a new Mideast security order," said Emile Hokayem, Middle East security expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
While Russia is blamed for widespread death and destruction as it supports Syrian President Bashar Assad, its forces have proven decisive in the international struggle against the Islamic State group, giving Moscow a credibility that Western powers lack. "Their intervention yielded much better returns than anyone expected," Hokayem said.
Now the central challenge facing U.S. and other Western diplomats huddling about Syria this week at the United Nations is how to stay relevant.
U.S. President Donald Trump claimed credit Wednesday for saving Idlib from a Russian-backed offensive — yet nearly everyone else says the credit goes to the presidents of Russia and Turkey for the accord they reached last week staving off a big battle.
One by one, diplomats at U.N. meetings on Syria hailed the agreement, and expressed hope it holds despite persistent uncertainty over Idlib's fate .
Russia basked in the praise. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov dashed from one meeting to the next in the U.N. headquarters, stressing Russia's concerns about Syria with the top diplomats of Iran and Turkey, and with U.N. Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura.
The EU hosted its own Syria gathering at the U.N., and France is hosting a meeting Thursday of the "Small Group" that's trying to weigh in on Syria's future, despite years of failed efforts to back the Syrian opposition.
Even as Russia flaunts its diplomatic success, it's also securing a military future with Syria. Russia announced Monday it's selling S-300 missile systems to Syria.
A longtime client of Russian weapons manufacturers since well before the war, Syria also was a reliable trading partner. And Moscow is furthering that relationship by rebuilding roads, pipes and skyscrapers wiped out by seven years of war — including destruction wrought by Russia's own weapons.
A group of 38 Russian companies took part in the Damascus International Fair earlier this month. It was at least the fourth event in the past year aimed at reviving Russian trade with Syria — and Russian companies are heading back to Syria in early October for a conference on rebuilding the country.
Syria's neighbors are similarly active, notably close ally Iran. But in Russia's case, analysts say, the economic activity is closely linked to its influence strategy.
Russia, for example, wants to rebuild Syria's train network. "Russia built it in the first place, and wants to rebuild this and strategic economic ties," said independent Russian analyst Vyacheslav Matuzov.
Russian companies are seeking a diverse trade base, with food, farming and energy deals, according to the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Among the most vocal proponents of renewed trade with Syria is Georgy Muradov of Crimea.
Chamber Vice President Vladimir Padalko described "the firm intention of Russian business not just to restore past trade cooperation between our countries, but also actively move forward."
But Russia doesn't want to foot the bill for the huge cost of reconstruction, so it is seeking Western help, notably in Lavrov's meetings at the U.N.
"Russia wants to rebuild Syria not just for egotistical reasons, but sees it as the responsibility of the international community," Matuzov said.
Hokayem said prospects of that are low, but Russia is still "in the driver's seat" in Syria.
"Russia is always a step ahead, and has a higher tolerance level" for ups and downs in the Syria war because Putin doesn't face serious domestic opposition.
Russia's so-called Astana peace process with Iran and Turkey has been so much more successful than previous U.N. or Western-led efforts, Hokayem said, that "the U.N. envoy has adopted (it) as his own."
The next few weeks will be critical for Syria — and for Russia's footprint. U.N. envoy de Mistura told The Associated Press that October is going to be "a very important month" both for Idlib and for his efforts to move toward peace.
London, Sep 26 (AP/UNB) — Britain's main opposition Labour Party announced Tuesday it will reject Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May's proposed divorce deal with the European Union if it comes to a vote in Parliament and might even support a new Brexit referendum.
The party's chief Brexit spokesman accused May's government of offering the country a choice between "really bad and even worse."
If Britain and the EU agree on a deal, it must be approved by the British and European parliaments before Britain leaves. The math on the U.K. vote looks ominous for May's government, because it lacks an overall majority.
Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer told Labour's annual conference that the party would vote against a Brexit deal along the lines that May is proposing because it does not meet "six tests" it has set, including protecting workers' rights and retaining access to European markets.
"We do not accept that the choice is between whatever the prime minister manages to cobble together and no deal ... between really bad and even worse," Starmer said.
Starmer said if the British Parliament rejected the deal, there should be a national election.
"If that is not possible, we must have other options," he said. "Our options must include campaigning for a public vote — and nobody is ruling out 'remain' as an option."
Starmer's suggestion that a new referendum could reverse Britain's 2016 decision to leave the EU — which wasn't in the advanced printed text of his speech — drew a standing ovation from many delegates in the conference hall.
Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn has long opposed the idea of a new Brexit referendum, saying the party must respect voters' decision to leave.
Most of the party's 500,000 members voted in 2016 to remain in the EU, but many of its 257 lawmakers represent areas that supported Brexit. Brendan Chilton of the pro-Brexit group Labour Leave argued Tuesday that the party would "hemorrhage votes" if it tried to stop Britain from leaving the 28-nation bloc.
But with Britain due to leave the EU on March 29 and negotiations at an impasse, Corbyn is under intense pressure from party members to support a new public vote.
With a show of hands, conference delegates voted Tuesday to back a compromise motion leaving the option of a second Brexit referendum open, but not calling for it directly.
EU leaders last week rejected the British government's blueprint for future trade ties at a fractious summit in the Austrian city of Salzburg.
May's plan seeks to keep the U.K. in the EU's vast single market for goods but not for services, in order to ensure free trade with the bloc and an open border between the U.K.'s Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland. But EU officials say that amounts to unacceptable "cherry-picking" of elements of membership in the bloc without accepting all the costs and responsibilities.
The Salzburg rebuff left May under siege from Brexit-supporting Conservatives, who want her to seek a looser relationship based on a bare-bones free trade agreement that would leave Britain free to strike new deals around the world.
But May is sticking by her proposal, saying the "hard Brexit" proposed by some Conservatives would be "a bad deal" because it would not resolve the Irish border problem.
"What we have put on the table is a good deal," she said Tuesday. "It's a deal which retains the union of the United Kingdom, our constitutional integrity, it's a deal that provides for no hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, protects jobs and enables us to have a good trading relationship with Europe and also the rest of the world."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned that time is tight. An EU summit next month is seen as a make-or-break moment for a Brexit deal.
Speaking in Berlin, Merkel said there were "six to eight weeks of very hard work in front of us in which we must take the political decisions."
"Of course, to a significant extent, this also depends on what Britain really wants — the discussion isn't so clear here," she said.