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Germany says all ready for quick ratification of Finnish, Swedish NATO membership

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock attends the final news conference during the G7 foreign ministers’ summit in Weissenhaeuser Strand, Germany, May 14, 2022. Marcus Brandt/Pool via REUTERS

BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany has taken all preparations for a quick ratification process should Finland and Sweden decide to apply for NATO membership, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said on Sunday, while underlining both countries’ need for security guarantees.

“Germany has prepared everything to do a quick ratification process,” she told reporters on a second day of talks with her NATO counterparts in Berlin, adding that ministers had agreed at a dinner on Saturday that there should not be grey zone between the time they apply and the time they join.

“If they decide to join they can join quickly…We must make sure that we will give them security guarantees, there must not be a transition period, a grey zone, where their status is unclear,” she said.

She was referring to the ratification period that can take as long as a year, during which the Nordic countries will not yet be protected by NATO’s article 5 which guarantees that an attack on one ally is an attack on all.

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Suspect in Buffalo supermarket massacre visited city in March, police say

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© Reuters. A Buffalo Police officer stands at the scene of a shooting at a TOPS supermarket in Buffalo, New York, U.S. May 15, 2022. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

By Jenna Zucker and Gabriella Borter

BUFFALO, N.Y. (Reuters) -An investigation into the weekend shooting of 13 people in Buffalo, New York, turned on Monday to a visit police said the suspect made to the city in March and whether warning signs were missed, as public figures decried the suspect’s racist ideology.

Authorities said Payton Gendron, 18, who is white, carried out an act of “racially motivated violent extremism” when he opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle on Saturday at the Tops Friendly Market in a predominantly African-American neighborhood of Buffalo, where 11 of the 13 people struck by gunfire were Black.

Gendron, who police said surrendered to officers who confronted him inside the store, has been jailed without bond on a charge of first-degree murder. He entered a plea of not guilty.

Investigators have said they are searching through phone records, computers and online postings, as well as physical evidence, as new details about the suspect’s past and meticulous planning emerge.

The Washington Post reported on Monday that the suspect, a resident of a southern New York state town hours away by car, made a trip to the Tops store in March to map its layout in preparation for the attack. He was confronted there at the time by a store security guard, who thought he looked suspicious, according to the Post.

Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia told reporters at a news briefing on Monday that the suspect had paid a visit to Buffalo in early March, but he declined to confirm other details of the investigation reported by the Washington Post or other news media.

The Post said the planning trip to Buffalo was described in a 589-page document posted online by someone who identified himself as Gendron. The document is no longer available publicly, the Post reported.

The document referred to the Tops store as “attack area 1” and described two other nearby locations as attack areas to “shoot all blacks,” the Post reported. Gendron counted that there were 53 Black people and six white people in the Tops at the time of his visit, according to the account.

Police confirmed that they are investigating Gendron’s online postings, which included a 180-page manifesto he was believed to have written outlining the “Great Replacement Theory,” a racist conspiracy theory that white people were being replaced by minorities in the United States and elsewhere.

“The evidence that we have uncovered so far makes no mistake this is an absolute racist hate crime that will be prosecuted as a hate crime,” Gramaglia told reporters on Sunday.

Experts say the trend of mostly young white men being inspired by previous racist gun massacres is on the rise, citing recent mass shootings, including the 2015 attack at a Black church in Charleston, South Carolina, a 2018 shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh and a 2019 attack at a Walmart (NYSE:WMT) in an Hispanic neighborhood of El Paso.

President Joe Biden and his wife Jill Biden plan to visit Buffalo on Tuesday.

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U.S. revises Cuba policy, eases restrictions on remittances, travel

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Emigres wave American and Cuban flags outside Versailles restaurant, in reaction to reports of protests in Cuba against its deteriorating economy, in Miami, Florida, U.S. July 18, 2021. REUTERS/Marco Bello

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By Daphne Psaledakis, Matt Spetalnick and Humeyra Pamuk

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The United States on Monday announced a series of steps to revise its policy toward Cuba, including easing some Trump-era restrictions on family remittances and travel to the island and sharply increasing the processing of U.S. visas for Cubans.

The measures, which come after a lengthy U.S. government review, mark the most significant changes in the U.S. approach to Havana since President Joe Biden took office in January 2021.

But the announcement stopped short of returning U.S.-Cuba relations to the historic rapprochement engineered by former President Barack Obama, under whom Biden served as vice president. That included less crimped flow of remittances, fewer travel curbs and faster visa services.

U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price in a statement said the measures announced Monday were to “further support the Cuban people, providing them additional tools to pursue a life free from Cuban government oppression and to seek greater economic opportunities.”

The State Department said the United States would lift the cap on family remittances, previously set to $1,000 per quarter, and authorize donative remittances to non-family members.

But it made clear that the United States would not remove entities from the Cuba Restricted List, a State Department list of Cuban government- and military-aligned companies with whom U.S. firms and citizens are barred from doing business.

“We are going to ensure that remittances flow more freely to the Cuban people, while not enriching those who perpetrate human rights abuses,” an administration official said earlier on Monday.

The United States will use civilian “electronic payment processors” for remittances to avoid funds going directly to the Cuban government, the official said, adding that the United States had already engaged with the Cuban government “about establishing a civilian processor for this.”

Biden officials have been mindful that easing restrictions on Cuba could lead to political fallout from conservative Cuban Americans, a key voting bloc in south Florida who mostly backed former President Donald Trump’s tough policies on Cuba.

Trump slashed visa processing, restricted remittances, scaled back flights to the island and increased hurdles for U.S. citizens seeking to travel to Cuba for anything other than family visits.

There were few details on how the new policy would be implemented.

The Cuban embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

FAMILY REUNIFICATION

Among the changes is a plan to reinstate the Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program, which had provided a legal way for Cuban families to be reunited in the United States, and increase capacity for consular services.

Washington will aim to issue 20,000 immigrant visas a year, the official said, in line with a migration accord.

The U.S. embassy in Havana began issuing a trickle of immigrant visas to Cubans this month, making good on an earlier promise to restart visa processing on the island after a four-year hiatus.

The State Department under Trump sharply scaled back embassy staff in 2017 following a spate of “anomalous health incidents” that came to be known as “Havana syndrome.”

Cubans seeking to emigrate to the United States were instead directed to apply for visas in person at the U.S. embassies first in Colombia, and later in Guyana, costly trips beyond the reach of many.

The Biden administration will also expand authorized travel to Cuba, allowing scheduled and charter flights to and from the country to use airports other than Havana, according to the State Department.

Washington will also reinstate some categories of group educational travel, as well as certain travel related to professional meetings and research.

Individual “people-to-people” travel, however, will not be reinstated. The category was eliminated by Trump officials who said it was being abused by Americans taking beach vacations.

The United States will also increase support for independent Cuban entrepreneurs, aiming to ease access to the internet and expanding access to microfinance and training, among other measures.

Biden promised during the 2020 election to re-engage with Cuba. He instead imposed fresh sanctions on Cuban officials in response to Havana’s crackdown on protesters following widespread marches on the island last July.

Hundreds were arrested during and after the demonstrations, widely considered to be the largest protests since Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution. Washington has condemned Cuban authorities for harsh sentences that have been given to some.

The Cuban government blamed the protests on meddling by the United States.

“We continue to call on the Cuban government to immediately release political prisoners, to respect the Cuban people’s fundamental freedoms and to allow the Cuban people to determine their own futures,” Price said.

The officials said a decision has not been made on whether to invite Cuba to next month’s U.S.-hosted Summit of the Americas. Mexico and others have threatened to not attend unless all countries in the Americas are invited.

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Democratic frontrunner in Pennsylvania Senate primary to skip rally after stroke

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, U.S. Democratic Senate candidate for Pennsylvania, poses for a portrait at a meet-and-greet at the Weyerbacher Brewing Company in Easton, Pennsylvania, U.S., May 1, 2022. REUTERS/Hannah Beier

By Jarrett Renshaw

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) – Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, the leading Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate in the state, will skip his election night party on Tuesday as he recovers in a hospital from a stroke suffered during the final days of the campaign.

Fetterman’s Pittsburgh rally will proceed without him “as he will remain in the hospital resting and recovering,” his campaign said in a statement on Monday. His wife, Gisele Fetterman, and other guests, will make remarks in his absence, it said.

Pennsylvania offers Democrats one of their best chances of picking up a Senate seat currently held by a Republican – the retiring Patrick Toomey – as they seek to retain their razor-thin majority in the chamber in the Nov. 8 midterm elections. Fetterman’s health scare has shaken his campaign and the party.

Fetterman, who will face centrist U.S. Representative Conor Lamb and two other Democrats on Tuesday, said in a statement issued on Sunday from Penn Medicine Lancaster General Hospital that he suffered the stroke on Friday.

Fetterman, 52, has surged in opinion polls ahead of Tuesday’s primary, surprising political observers who had predicted a close contest with Lamb.

Fetterman said he had not been feeling well but ignored his symptoms until his wife insisted he go to a hospital. Fetterman said in his statement on Sunday that he was “feeling much better” and suffered no cognitive damage.

“I’m well on my way to a full recovery,” Fetterman said. “They’re keeping me here for now for observation, but I should be out of here sometime soon.”

The Democratic nominee will face a Republican opponent who also is set to be chosen on Tuesday. The Republican primary is a close race pitting Mehmet Oz, a television wellness celebrity backed by former President Donald Trump, against David McCormick (NYSE:MKC), a wealthy former hedge fund CEO, and Kathy Barnette, a conservative commentator.

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