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Expect ‘large, visible’ police presence at Pride events after clash: Chief

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London’s police chief is speaking out about a confrontation at a weekend Pride event in the city that resulted in one man being charged with weapons offences and some in the LGBTQ+ community fearful of future clashes.

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London police say their hate-crime investigator is reviewing the “large physical altercation” at Wortley Road and Duchess Avenue, where the 2022 Wortley Pride festivities were unfolding. A witness said people in pickup trucks descended on the event, honking to drown out music and hurling homophobic slurs at those in attendance.

Police have not publicly identified the person charged.

“Let me be clear – the London Police Service will not tolerate acts of intolerance, bias or hate against any member of our community. Our community is rich with diversity, and every individual has a right to feel safe on our streets, and in our neighbourhoods,” police Chief Steve Williams said in a statement issued Monday afternoon.

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Police have described Saturday’s altercation as a “disturbance” and say it’s under investigation. Williams urged anyone with information or video footage of the events to share them with police.

London police will have a “large and visible presence” at this week’s Pride Festival, including the parade on Sunday, he added. On-duty officers will be there and other off-duty cops will be marching in the parade as participants, Williams said.

That’s been a flashpoint in London among the gay community. Pride London barred uniformed officers from marching in the parade several years ago, but welcomed back members of the London force last year.

Williams said safety will be a top priority at the festivities. “As with any large-scale event, we have a full operational plan in place to ensure the safety of participants and those who line the parade route in support.”

He added: “We will continue to work with Pride London throughout the week to ensure any Pride Week concerns are addressed so that all individuals are able to celebrate safely, and to offer our continued support to the LGBT2QIA+ community.”

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Hong Kong restricts access to chief executive inauguration and handover anniversary events – Committee to Protect Journalists

Hong Kong restricts access to chief executive inauguration and handover anniversary events - Committee to Protect Journalists

Taipei, June 16, 2022 — Hong Kong authorities should allow media outlets to freely cover the inauguration of Chief Executive-elect John Lee and the 25th anniversary of the territory’s handover to China, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Thursday.

On the evening of Thursday, June 16, applications closed for media outlets to seek access to cover ceremonies marking both events, scheduled for July 1; the Hong Kong Journalists Association trade group and the Hong Kong Free Press news website both reported that at least 10 domestic and local outlets were not invited or allowed to apply to cover the events.

The HKFP reported that many of those outlets regularly receive invitations to other Hong Kong government events, but the Information Services Department, the government’s primary communication agency, said only select media outlets had been invited to cover the July 1 events due to considerations including the COVID-19 pandemic, security requirements, and space restraints.

Hong Kong news website InMedia reported that, when it applied to cover the events, an Information Services Department official said “those who need invitations have already received theirs.”

“Hong Kong’s claims to honor press freedom should compel it to offer open access for media coverage of important events, such as the inauguration of John Lee as chief executive and the 25th anniversary of the handover,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, in Washington, D.C. “Barring some media outlets from freely covering such events severely undercuts the credibility of incoming Chief Executive Lee, who has repeatedly said that Hong Kong enjoys press freedom.”

The Information Services Department failed to invite or approve access for the Japanese outlets Nikkei, Asahi Shimbun, and Kyodo News; Taiwan’s CTV; the U.S. photo wire Getty Images; the Europe Pressphoto Agency; and Hong Kong’s InMedia, the Photographic Society of Hong Kong, Truth Media Hong Kong, and the HKFP, according to the HKFP’s report.

According to InMedia, the department asked news outlets to include photos and the personal information of the journalists who planned to attend in their applications.

In its statement, the Hong Kong Journalists Association called for authorities to be more inclusive by accepting media organizations’ applications to attend the events.

CPJ emailed the Information Services Department for comment but did not immediately receive any reply.

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Street closures for summer events pose 20 fire code violations, Saline chief says

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SALINE, MI – Weeks before outdoor summer events were set to take over a downtown street in Saline, safety concerns from the area’s fire chief appear to have officials ready to force organizers to find an alternate location.

The events — including a Thursday night concert series known as Salty Summer Sounds, the popular Saline Summerfest slated for August and Oktoberfest scheduled for September — have in years past relied on the closure of South Ann Arbor Street to vehicle traffic.

But that poses a serious risk in the event of a fire, according to Saline Area Fire Department Chief Jason Sperle, who took his position last year after serving as Pittsfield Township’s longtime fire marshal.

At a Monday, May 16 joint meeting of the Saline City Council and Saline Main Street, a nonprofit dedicated to revitalizing the city’s downtown, Sperle said the closure for the events violates 20 different fire codes, many dealing with access for emergency crews.

The city once lost the better part of the block to fire, a tragedy memorialized by a plaque there and the nearby Leather Bucket Alley, named for the containers once used to carry water to a blaze, the chief said.

“I don’t want to be part of history repeating itself, so it’s my job to point out when I have issues. This isn’t my personal opinion, this is fire code,” Sperle said, adding he fully supports the community events but couldn’t ignore the problems.

A similar street closure could take place in nearly any other part of the city, he said.

Among the concerns is how firefighters would get to a four-story building on South Ann Arbor Street that lacks appropriate access from the rear, Sperle said.

“Fire grows rapidly and if we’re not going to be able to get to it, bad things happen,” he said. “Fire codes don’t just magically appear. Lots of people die for them to become a fire code.”

The stern words appeared to resonate with all of City Council, which had in December approved 2022 event applications for the summertime concerts and festivals.

Even though the South Ann Arbor Street closure has been past city practice, Sperle’s review can’t be ignored, said City Council Member Janet Dillon, echoing similar concerns from her elected colleagues.

“If there is some sort of incident there, we’re just negligent, plain and simple. We knew that there was a risk, we knew that there was a public safety issue and we chose to ignore it,” she said.

The location wasn’t chosen by accident, according to Saline Main Street Board President Jill Durnen. The economic impact of the road closure is a key boost to downtown businesses and ensures pedestrian safety at a busy intersection, she said.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, city leaders supported closures of the block just south of Michigan Avenue for restaurants’ outdoor seating throughout much of the summer, a measure not yet renewed for this year.

While downtown boosters and city officials have had conversations about continuing the area known as Umbrella Square, at this point Saline Main Street was only asking City Council to honor the closures for already-approved events, Durnen said.

In a memo to City Council, she proposed allowing a fire lane to remain open on one side of the street alongside the creation of an emergency action plan for the events, saying similar arrangements are in place in downtown Ann Arbor.

Read more: Downtown Ann Arbor street closures for restaurants to return in May

But even that plan doesn’t solve the fire concerns, Sperle said, adding it is as simple as his crews not being able to reach a hose to buildings there in case of a fire.

Having the summer concerts in a nearby public parking lot could be feasible, Sperle said, though Durnen said Saline Main Street wouldn’t consider that possibility because it would hurt businesses that rely on the parking.

As it stands, organizers must quickly search for an alternate location, which could potentially include letting bands perform on North Ann Arbor Street — a location Durnen said was the second best option, though there’s no guarantee a plan B could be developed in time.

City Council took no vote during the meeting scheduled for discussion only, but each council member signaled they would support nullifying the event approvals at the council’s next meeting.

Some of the issues stem from decisions made by the city planning commission in the 1990s as much of the area was redeveloped, Saline Mayor Brian Marl said, referencing fire access issues in the parking lot behind businesses on the east side of South Ann Arbor Street.

Those problems are haunting the city to this day, and it’s “appalling” they weren’t addressed then, the mayor said.

Saline Main Street leaders took the opportunity to urge better coordination with the city.

“We never want to host an event that’s going to create unsafe conditions,” said the group’s executive director, Holli Andrews.

But the events take a tremendous amount of planning and are a key lifeline for downtown establishments, as visitors flock to the city, she said.

“Saline itself cannot sustain our small businesses downtown,” Andrews said.

“I do support you, I support what you’re doing,” Sperle said at the end of the discussion, pledging to work with organizers to find appropriate locations for this summer’s events.

More from The Ann Arbor News:

Saline OKs permit for marijuana dispensary at longtime local ice cream shop

Want to help shape Saline’s parks? City is hosting input meetings this summer

$180M bond could go before Saline Area Schools voters this fall

‘Smart intersections’ project nabs nearly $10M grant for University of Michigan

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‘Our community is tired of these events’: As biker rally looms, police are working to prevent another occupation, interim chief says

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At the Ottawa Police Services Board meeting on Monday, interim chief Steve Bell fielded questions from concerned board members and the public who were worried that the “Rolling Thunder” rally could evoke the noisy spectre of the “Freedom Convoy” occupation.

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Ottawa’s interim police chief said on Monday that the participants in a biker rally scheduled for the weekend would be met with road closures and a heavy police presence to help deter any occupation of the city’s streets.

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“We always have a concern (that the rally could turn into an extended protest),” interim chief Steve Bell said. “Every indication we have so far doesn’t indicate that that’s the intention of what’s happening, but what I can tell you is our planning — our planning cycle, our planning teams — is set up specifically to make sure that that doesn’t happen.”

The biker rally, which is being promoted online as “Rolling Thunder Ottawa” in support of veterans, is set to begin Friday evening with a gathering on Parliament Hill and continue on Saturday with a ceremony at the National War Memorial.

The rally, which organizer Neil Sheard insisted was not a protest in a post on the event website, has evoked memories of the “Freedom Convoy” protests that turned into an occupation that ensnared downtown Ottawa for weeks.

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At the monthly Ottawa Police Services Board meeting on Monday evening, Bell fielded questions from concerned board members and the public who were worried that the “Rolling Thunder” rally could evoke the noisy spectre of the “Freedom Convoy” occupation.

“My issue is the continuation,” said Ryan St-Jean, a community member who outlined some concerns he and others had about the impending rally. “If it goes into Monday, it’s a problem. They’re going to have fun Saturday and maybe go home. They might be here Sunday, which is concerning but not illegal. If they’re still here Monday, they’re here to cause problems.”

But Bell told reporters that the Ottawa police had learned from the “Freedom Convoy” and would approach this rally differently. Reinforcements from the Ontario Provincial Police and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police would be joining Ottawa officers on the first day of the rally to be “on the ground, ready to respond,” Bell said.

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He also reiterated that the vehicles tied to the rally would not be allowed into key areas of the downtown core, particularly near Parliament Hill and the National War Memorial.

“You’re going to see road closures over the weekend and you’re going to see quite a heavy police presence as we look to manage the event,” he said.

“We’re working now to identify an appropriate route that they can follow that will bring them into and out of the area where they’re pooling back onto the highway. We’ll continue to discuss with them; we’re looking to make this event as safe as possible for everyone. Safe for the people that are participating, safe for pedestrians, safe for our community.”

The police service will begin outlining which roads will be closed to vehicles and which ones will be open as early as Tuesday. In a YouTube video, Sheard responded to the police decision to bar vehicles from some downtown streets, warning that it could lead to a “free-for-all” and become a safety issue unless police reconsider.

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Sheard also posted what he said were his responses to Ottawa police liaison officer communications where he notified the OPS that he had “no legal authority to tell people what to do.

“All I can do is encourage attendees and try and steer them in the right direction with my ‘calming influence,’” he wrote in a message posted to the “Rolling Thunder Ottawa” website.

Sheard wrote that he was offended by the Ottawa Police Service’s qualification of the “Freedom Convoy” protest and occupation as an “illegal occupation.” “The only thing unlawful in (the) Ottawa protest was the beating and trampling of peaceful veterans and Canadian citizens by your ‘Jack boots.’”

Bell said the OPS was asking the rally participants to be respectful and understanding of what Ottawa residents had been through.

“Communities were damaged by what occurred in February,” he said. “There cannot be a repeat of that. Our community is tired of these events, so be respectful when you come, follow the directions that we provide to you so that you can and do your rally and leave while you’re being respectful to a community that is growing extremely tired of these events.”

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Events DC Names Chief Operating Officer Samuel Thomas Interim President and CEO

WASHINGTON, April 14, 2022 /PRNewswire/ — Events DC, the official convention and sports authority for the District of Columbia, today named Samuel Thomas as interim president and chief executive officer following a unanimous vote by the organization’s board of directors. Thomas, Events DC’s current chief operating officer, will replace longtime president and CEO Greg O’Dell, who announced his resignation last month.

Thomas has worked at Events DC for over 15 years and previously served as senior vice president and general manager of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center before his promotion to Chief Operating Officer. With more than 30 years of experience in the hospitality industry, he managed some of the country’s most prestigious and celebrated events, from four presidential inaugural balls to an Alpha Kappa Alpha function that broke the Guinness World Record for largest sit-down dinner ever recorded.

“It was a natural choice to have Samuel to step into this role,” Max Brown, chairman, Events DC Board of Directors, said after the vote. “Samuel has been an asset to this organization’s growth and his experience is vital to our continued success. He is in a position to take the helm, ensuring a seamless transition in leadership.”

“I am honored for this opportunity and look forward to working with our dynamic team,” Thomas said. “I am proud of our accomplishments, especially over the past two challenging years, and am eager to continue our work in hosting world-class event experiences for residents and visitors.”

Thomas will assume his new role on May 1. A search committee has been formed and the Board of Directors hopes to have a new President and CEO named this fall.

ABOUT EVENTS DC
Events DC, the official convention and sports authority for the District of Columbia, delivers premier event services and flexible venues across the nation’s capital. Leveraging the power of a world-class destination and creating amazing attendee experiences, Events DC generates economic and community benefits through the attraction and promotion of business, athletic, entertainment and cultural activities. Events DC oversees the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, an anchor of the District’s hospitality and tourism economy that hosts more than 1.7 million visitors and generates more than $400 million annually in direct economic impact, and the historic Carnegie Library at Mt. Vernon Square. Events DC manages the RFK Stadium-Armory Campus (RFK Campus), including Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, Festival Grounds at RFK Campus, the non-military functions of the DC Armory, and the Skate Park at RFK Stadium. Stay current on the 190-acre RFK Campus Redevelopment Project at www.RFKFields.com. Events DC also built and serves as landlord for Nationals Park, the first LEED-certified major professional sports stadium in the United States. Events DC manages Gateway DC, R.I.S.E. Demonstration Center and Entertainment & Sports Arena all conveniently located in the Congress Heights neighborhood of Washington, DC. For more information, please visit www.eventsdc.com and find us on social media – Facebook, Instagram and YouTube (Events DC), and Twitter (@TheEventsDC) — and on our new hub for live and on-demand event programming on GATHER by Events DC at www.gatherbyeventsdc.com.

SOURCE Events DC

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Latest Special Events Law overhaul needs more work, input from police chief and fire marshal, councilman says

Latest Special Events Law overhaul needs more work, input from police chief and fire marshal, councilman says

A pending overhaul of Riverhead Town’s special events law that would substantially reduce regulatory requirements for event promoters, is going back to the drawing board.

The proposed amendments, the subject of a town board public hearing last week, would slash the time town officials would have to review and approve special event applications and drastically reduce the amount and type of information required to be provided by event promoters in their permit applications.

“It’s still a work in progress,” Councilman Tim Hubbard said in a phone interview Tuesday.

The revisions were developed last year by a Riverhead Business Advisory subcommittee, an effort led by then-president of the Riverhead Chamber of Commerce Bob Kern, entertainment venue operator and event/festival producer Dean Del Prete, (Cousins Paint Ball, Long Island Sports Park), and event planner Monique Parsons, co-owner of North Fork Event Company. The trio presented the proposal to the town board at its July 1 work session.

Hubbard said the Riverhead Fire Marshal was not involved in developing the pending draft revisions and, after last week’s public hearing, raised concerns about some of the changes proposed. Hubbard said the police chief has also raised some concerns.

Riverhead Fire Marshal Craig Zitek did not return a phone call seeking comment.

“Some of the time frames are too short,” Police Chief David Hegermiller said in an interview today. He said he and the fire marshal were not involved in the proposed revision and weren’t given copies of the proposed law prior to the hearing.

“I just saw [the proposal] and only had time to go through it quickly,” he said. Hegermiller said he’d be sitting down with Fire Marshal Craig Zitek to review the proposed amendments.

“I don’t even know who did it,” Hegermiller said. “But we should have been a part of it. The committee should have been more balanced,” he said.

“The purpose of this law as far as we’re concerned is to make sure we have a safe event,” the chief said.

The draft revision adds a “Purpose and Intent” to the Special Events law that doesn’t mention public safety, but speaks only of promoting economic development and cultural tourism, “to generate foot-traffic and attract tourists and patrons.”

That’s all well and good, the chief said, but “the overreaching goal is that we ensure public safety.”

Hubbard, one of the two town board liaisons to the town’s code revision committee, agreed.

“The fire marshal was part of this when we did it in 2018,” Hubbard said, referring to a code revision process that culminated in amendments adopted in December 2018. “When the business advisory [committee] redid it, they submitted their final revision to the board and everybody around got it, except for, apparently, the fire marshal.”

The Greater Jamesport Civic Association, in written comments submitted to the town board in advance of the April 5 hearing, called the proposal “unduly risky and an abrogation of the Town’s responsibilities.” It also questioned “whether the sponsor of the proposal conferred with and sought input from the Police, Fire Marshall and Code Enforcement agencies.”

The proposed amendments would place event attendees and the surrounding community at increased safety risk, according to the civic association said in the letter. It expressed specific opposition to the elimination of existing application requirements, including site plans, fire safety plans and parking details.

“It won’t be put up for a vote anytime soon, certainly not at the next meeting,” Hubbard said Tuesday.

Members of the business community and others involved in event planning and production in Riverhead had been extremely critical of the December 2018 amendment of the special events code. The 2018 amendments established much longer deadlines for special event permit applications, increased application fees and imposed late fees for applications that don’t meet the deadlines.

The 2018 revisions came after discussions of the burden on town staff resources caused by an increasing number of special events in Riverhead — especially during peak summer months — as well as the traffic impacts on town roadways.

Various town departments are responsible for reviewing different aspects of special event permit applications prior to town board approval of the permit, including the town clerk, town attorney and fire marshal’s offices and the police department. Staff members told the town board during work session discussions that the permit application deadlines in the existing town code did not leave adequate time for review.

The special events code in effect in 2018 was largely unchanged from its original form when it was enacted in December 2003. It set application deadlines (and other requirements) based on the size of the event being proposed. For events expected to draw fewer than 1,000 attendees, applications were required to be filed at least 40 days in advance of the event date. Events expected to draw 1,000 to 4,999 attendees were required to have applications filed 120 days prior to the event. Those expected to draw more than 5,000 attendees had to have applications filed “at least” 180 days prior to the event.

The December 2018 revisions lengthened the lead times for town staff review and also adjusted the spectator numbers. The change established a 90-day lead time for events expected to draw up to 750 attendees, a 180-day lead time for events expected to draw 751 to 2,500 attendees, and a 270-day lead time for events expected to draw more than 2,500 attendees.

The 2018 revisions included a new section that allowed the town to consider “possible conflicts with other events and seasonal demands which may overtax or cause an undue burden on town services” when deciding whether to approve or deny an event application.

The 2018 revisions also: required the applicant to submit a certificate of insurance to the town clerk 30 days prior to the commencement of the event; pay a nonrefundable application fee; established a late application fee of $20 per day beyond the submission deadline; established a fee for amending the permit application equal to 25% of the application fee; and increased the penalties for failure to obtain a special event permit.

The 2018 amendments did not provide for a transition period, so some event sponsors planning events in 2019 found themselves unable to meet the filing deadlines contained in the new law. After complaints from those sponsors, the town board in April 2019 adopted an “amnesty” provision, delaying the effective date of the 2018 revisions to June 18, 2019. In August 2019, the board again extended the amnesty period to Dec. 18, 2019.

During that amnesty period, town officials, with input from the Business Advisory Committee, set about to amend the code again.

The town board on Dec. 17, 2019 adopted a new set of sweeping revisions to the Special Events code that rolled back some of the changes made a year earlier.

It increased the thresholds for “large” and “mass” gathering events, which are subject to more regulation. It also shortened the lead times for applications adopted a year earlier, reducing the lead time for large gathering special events (1,001-4,000 attendees) from 180 days to 120 days and reducing the lead time for mass gathering events from 270 days to 180 days.)

The board also eliminated the $20 per day late fee, changed the application amendment fee from 25% of the original application fee to a flat fee of $150, and deleted the new provision that established “possible conflicts with other events and seasonal demands” as a potential ground for denial of a permit.

The 2019 amendments also revised or entirely deleted a host of special events law provisions that had been in effect since its adoption in 2003.

The current set of proposed amendments seeks to simplify and streamline the application process even more and ease restrictions on event producers.

Kern, who was elected to the town board in November and took office Jan. 1, spoke out at the hearing in support of the need for further amendment of the law.

“Even though it’s been amended, I can tell you that it’s still more onerous than other towns,” Kern said.

“I think people have this fear that this is Back then in their neighborhoods, most of these larger events don’t take place anywhere near anybody’s homes,” he said.

“The economic development benefit is incredible to businesses in this town — and also, we compete with other towns in terms of events,” Kern said.

“In addition, I’ll say this, the town square is going to be a hangout if it’s not activated every single weekend with events,” Kern said. “We need to be friendly to the people that produce events, and be welcoming to people that want to bring events to our town,” he said.

The proposed revisions shorten the lead times required for applications that were adopted in the last two revisions. The lead time required for small gathering events (100-1,000 attendees), which was increased from 40 days to 90 days in 2018 (and left unchanged in 2019), would be reduced to 45 days. The lead time for “large gathering” events (1,001-4,000 attendees) increased in 2018 from 120 days (set in 2003) to 180 days and rolled back to 120 days in 2019, would now be reduced to 60 days. The lead time for “mass gathering” events, which was increased from 180 days (set in 2003) to 270 days in 2018, then reset to 180 days in 2019, would be reduced to 90 days under the proposed amendments.

While the existing code states that applications filed within 45 days of a “small gathering” event or within 60 days of a large or mass gathering event will be denied, the proposed revisions allow allowed the applications to be filed five to 15 days beyond the new application deadlines upon the payment of a late fee (to be determined by town board resolution.) This means that “small gathering” event applicants could file 40 days before the event date, “large gathering” applicants could file 45 days prior to the event date, and “mass gathering” applicants could file 75 days before the event date.

The proposed amendments would eliminate application requirements for:

  • a plan and drawing, drawn to scale, showing the property where the event will be held and the locations of proposed stage, tents, exhibition areas, vendor areas, spectator seating areas, fire extinguishers and temporary utilities;
  • a parking are plan showing means of ingress and egress as well as a minimum number of one parking space for every four people expected to attend, and compliance with the fire marshal’s setback guidelines;
  • an environmental impact study;
  • the name, address and phone number of people who will sell alcoholic beverages at the event;
  • a copy of the State Liquor Authority permit(s) for the sale of alcoholic beverages at the event;
  • a plan for the use of live music, loudspeakers, showing type and location of speakers and other audio equipment;
  • a description of fire protection and a map specifying the location fire lanes and water supply for fire control, subject to the approval of the Riverhead Fire Marshal and fire department chief;
  • a description of tents or other temporary structures and a plan showing the intended number and placement, compliance with the requirements of the National Fire Protection Association Life Safety Code, NFPA requirements for tents, and the N.Y. State fire code;
  • a communications plan for command and control of all routine and emergency activities related to the event subject to the approval of the chief of police and the Riverhead Fire Marshal;
  • information about animals and animal handling at special events, including the handling, storage and disposal of animal wastes;
  • information about the nature of the event and activities to be carried on at the event, the admission fee, if any, to be charged, and the name of the group, organization, charity or individuals to benefit from the proceeds of the event;
  • a nonrefundable administration fee for any application not accompanied by a certificate of public liability insurance.

Kern said at the hearing that things were left out of the code “not on purpose” — including a sitemap requirement a hold harmless requirement, and a public safety plan, which he said must be submitted with the application.

“It was just a slip-up and is now back into the code,” Kern said. “Maybe a couple other minor things.”

Jamesport resident Barbara Blass, who was a member of the town board when the 2003 Special Events law was adopted, said the town should not eliminate the need for environmental assessment of all special event plans. “I do believe a short-form EAF should be required for all special event permits,” Blass said.

“There’s a statement in the code that says the town board will assess whether the event impacts general health, safety and welfare of the town as identified through SEQRA [the State Environmental Quality Review Act] pursuant to Part 617,” Blass said, referring to state regulations pertaining to environmental quality review. “And I wonder how you get there, if you don’t have an environmental assessment form to evaluate.”

Blass also pointed out that the hearing notice contained an inaccurate reference to the name of Chapter 255, “Parades, Assemblies and Special Events.” The notice said the hearing was about amendments to “Parades and Assemblies,” which is the name of Article I of Chapter 255. Article II is titled “Special Events,” and the bulk of the revisions in the proposed amendments affect the Special Events law, which is Article II.

“I’m sure it was not intentional,” Blass said at the hearing.

“It wasn’t intentional,” Supervisor Yvette Aguiar replied. “A parade is a special event,” she said. “Let’s just go forward we got that. It was to address 255 and that was the title, they left something out. We got it. We’ll move forward. Thank you.”

Blass said afterward she raised the question because a lot of residents are interested in the regulation of special events and might not have realized from the way the hearing notice was written that it had anything to do with special events, since it only mentioned parades and assemblies. “I think it was a little misleading,” she said.

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Town Manager, Police Chief Statement Regarding Events on Hancock St. on Feb. 12

On behalf of the Town staff, I would like to express our sincere concern surrounding the tragedy that occurred this past weekend on Hancock Street, and to offer our sympathy and support to all who were directly and indirectly impacted, including residents and staff. We acknowledge the trauma this type of event can have for us as individuals, and as a broader community. 

While we, as Town employees, cannot discuss this specific incident due to the independent investigation by the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office, we want you to know that we care and that we understand various community members may be impacted differently. 

Once the investigation is completed, we will hold a community conversation to listen to your concerns and answer any questions that you may have. In the meantime, our Human Services Department has clinicians who are available to provide individual support to any resident who needs it. Services are free and confidential. 

The Human Services Department can be reached at 781-698-4840 or humanservicesoffice@lexingtonma.gov

We thank those of you who have reached out to offer support and value the relationships we have built over the years. We are humbled by the privilege to serve the Lexington community, and are committed to transparency and action when the time is appropriate.

Jim Malloy, Town Manager
Michael McLean, Chief of Police

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With Events Evolving Rapidly in Ukraine, Political Affairs Chief Calls for Diplomacy, Maximum Restraint, as Security Council Evaluates Minsk Accords – Ukraine

With Events Evolving Rapidly in Ukraine, Political Affairs Chief Calls for Diplomacy, Maximum Restraint, as Security Council Evaluates Minsk Accords - Ukraine

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SECURITY COUNCIL
8968TH MEETING (AM)

United States, Russian Federation Trade Barbs over Potential for Invasion, While Kyiv Vows to Repel Any Escalation of Violence

Against the backdrop of evolving events in eastern Ukraine — including reported violations of the ceasefire agreement in the last 24 hours — it has become clear that the situation is perilous, and diplomacy must urgently prevail, the top United Nations political official told the Security Council this morning.

“Whatever one believes about the prospect of such a confrontation, the reality is that the current situation is extremely dangerous,” said Rosemary DiCarlo, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, during a meeting in which Council members diverged widely on their expectations for armed clashes in the upcoming days. Noting that the issues underpinning the crisis are both complex and long-standing — and touch on matters relating to the broader European security architecture — she said that, while seemingly intractable, they can and must be resolved through diplomacy.

Voicing regret that diplomatic talks in both the Normandy Four format and the Trilateral Contact Group remain deadlocked, she stressed that the Package of Measures for the Implementation of the 2015 Minsk Agreements remains the only Council-endorsed framework for a negotiated, peaceful settlement. She also cited reports of fresh ceasefire violations across the contact line in the past several hours, emphasizing that, if verified, they cannot be allowed to escalate. She called on all sides to exercise maximum restraint. Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity within its borders must be respected.

Briefing the Council via videoconference were two representatives of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), including Mikko Kinnunen, the Special Representative for the Chairperson-in-Office in Ukraine and in the Trilateral Contact Group. Stressing that the latter’s three members — OSCE, Russian Federation and Ukraine — remain “too far from one another”, he urged them to continue engaging and ultimately implement all elements of the Minsk agreements. While it has become popular to accuse participants of violating those accords, he cautioned that it is neither possible nor appropriate to single out one party, as none have fully implemented the agreements’ provisions. Referring to the alleged shelling in Luhansk today near the contact line, he underlined the importance of swiftly establishing facts and avoiding escalation.

Yaşar Halit Çevik, Chief Monitor of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, described the gradual degradation of the ceasefire agreement over the past year. Impediments to the Mission’s free movement have also escalated in non‑government-controlled parts of eastern Ukraine. He noted that, since the beginning of 2022, the Mission has recorded, on average, twice as many daily ceasefire violations as it did during the same period in 2021, as well as a rise in civilian casualties as a result of shelling and small arms fire. Meanwhile, crossing points along the contact line have been severely limited, with serious implications for civilian lives.

Also briefing was Tetiana Montian, a civil society activist from Ukraine, who said Kyiv has no intention of implementing the Minsk agreements. Emphasizing that people in the eastern Donbass region are not represented in politics and are even criminally prosecuted, she said free thinking in Ukraine is squashed and civilians are deprived of their civic rights. She described Ukraine as a colony of the West — which has “plunged my country into slavery” — adding that the real goal of Western nations is to lure the Russian Federation into a war. “We are not a chessboard […] and we are not pawns in a political game,” she stressed, warning that OSCE has remained blind to the shelling and other violence being wrought by Ukrainian forces.

Taking the floor, Council members diverged on several matters, including the utility of such geostrategic groupings as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the likelihood of an imminent aggression by the Russian Federation. However, nearly all speakers agreed that the situation in eastern Ukraine remains highly fraught and that both de-escalation and diplomatic engagement are urgently needed.

Sergey Vershinin, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation and Council President for February, said in his national capacity that the goal of today’s meeting is to reaffirm support for the full implementation of the Minsk agreements. However, seven years after their signing, it is clear that Ukraine — whose leaders describe the accords as having been signed “at the barrel of a gun” — has no plans to implement them. Indeed, Kyiv stubbornly avoids direct negotiations, fails to restore economic links between the two countries and refuses to provide for the special status of certain regions, as mandated by the agreements. He also decried the “ostrich-like” position of Western States, who turn a blind eye to those obvious violations, and urged the Council to avoid speculation about plans for a Russian invasion, which his country has firmly and repeatedly denied.

In sharp contrast, Antony Blinken, Secretary of State of the United States, described the Russian Federation’s looming aggression in Ukraine as the most immediate threat. Recalling that Moscow has amassed over 150,000 troops along Ukraine’s borders, he said that, while it claims to be drawing down those forces, on-the-ground intelligence indicates that an attack is imminent and may take place in the coming days. Outlining in stark terms the potential elements of such an invasion, he explained that “by sharing what we know with the world, we hope that we can influence [the Russian Federation] to abandon the path of war and choose a different path while there is still time”.

James Cleverly, Minister of State for Europe and North America of the United Kingdom, reaffirmed support for the Minsk agreements and underscored the responsibility of all parties to fully implement them. Emphasizing that the Ukrainian people are once again living under the threat of invasion — with Russian troops, heavy weaponry and military vessels amassed at their borders, from Belarus to the Black Sea — he declared: “Let us say clearly what the world can see: Russia has deployed the forces necessary to invade Ukraine, and now it has readied them for action.” He also voiced deep concern that diplomats representing the Russian Federation in OSCE talks have repeatedly failed to come to the negotiating table.

Germany’s representative said that, while many obstacles remain, the reaffirmation of the ceasefire in July 2020 proved that progress is possible “if political will is there”. Commending the work of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission, she echoed calls on all parties to ensure that it is able to carry out its mandate without interruption. More than 90 per cent of cases where monitors’ free movement has been disrupted or their equipment destroyed have taken place beyond the contact line in territory not under the control of Ukraine’s Government. Urging Moscow to use its influence to guarantee the Mission’s free and safe access, she turned to the unprecedented build-up of troops along the Russian Federation’s border, stressing: “It is next to impossible to not perceive this as a threat or the preparation for an attack.”

The representative of China, striking a different tone, praised the Russian Federation’s recent diplomatic engagement with the leaders of France, Germany and other nations. Emphasizing that European countries should make independent and strategic decisions, he said the gradual enlargement and expansion of NATO — a relic from the cold war — in eastern Europe must be addressed, as its agenda runs counter to current trends. Indeed, regional security cannot be guaranteed by flexing muscles, he said, pointing out that one NATO nation refuses to relinquish its “cold war mentality” and continues to stir up tensions the Asia-Pacific region.

Meanwhile, the representative of Ukraine expressed grave concern about a recent appeal by the Russian State Duma — one of the chambers of that country’s Parliament — to recognize the occupied parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine as so-called “peoples’ republics”. Noting that such an action would violate the Minsk agreements and deal a blow to the prospects of peace, he added that Ukraine will defend itself in the event of a further escalation. He thanked countries that have expressed their support and solidarity with Ukraine, welcoming attempts at diplomacy while cautioning that progress will remain stalled as long as Moscow makes preconditions. The Russian Federation has a choice — “to embark on the path of de-escalation and diplomatic dialogue, or experience a decisive consolidated response by the international community,” he said.

Also speaking were representatives of Norway, Brazil, Ireland, India, Kenya, the United Arab Emirates, Ghana, Mexico, Albania, France and Gabon.

The meeting began at 10:04 a.m. and ended at 1:07 p.m.

Briefings

ROSEMARY DICARLO, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, recalled her last briefing on the situation in Ukraine as it relates to the implementation of the Minsk agreements, on 11 February 2021. At that time, she drew attention to the fragile security situation that prevailed despite the nominal ceasefire in place. Today, there is widespread speculation and accusations about a potential military conflict. “Whatever one believes about the prospect of such a confrontation, the reality is that the current situation is extremely dangerous.”

Noting that the issues underpinning the current crisis are both complex and long-standing — and touch on matters relating to the broader European security architecture — she said that, while seemingly intractable, they can and must be resolved through diplomacy. Expressing support for such efforts, including the Secretary-General’s good offices, she noted with regret that little meaningful progress has been made in implementing the 2015 Minsk agreements. Talks in both the Normandy Four format and the Trilateral Contact Group remain deadlocked. Noting that the Package of Measures for the Implementation of the Minsk Agreements remains the only Council-endorsed framework for a negotiated, peaceful settlement, she noted with concern reports of fresh ceasefire violations across the contact line over the past several hours. “If verified, these must not be allowed to escalate further,” she said, calling all sides to exercise maximum restraint.

She commended the work of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), emphasizing that its Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine must enjoy safe and secure conditions. Meanwhile, the Secretary-General remains fully engaged with key actors — including the Governments of the Russian Federation and Ukraine — and has stressed that there is no alternative to diplomacy. It is incumbent on all Member States to fully respect the principles of the United Nations Charter, to settle disputes by peaceful means and to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state. Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders must be respected as called for in relevant General Assembly resolutions.

Welcoming recent statements prioritizing continued diplomatic engagement and announcing the redeployments of forces, she went on to stress that more must urgently be done to end inflammatory rhetoric and defuse tensions. The United Nations country team in Ukraine remains fully operational and humanitarian colleagues are committed to providing assistance in line with the principles of neutrality, impartiality, humanity and independence. It is therefore imperative that all sides allow safe and unimpeded access by humanitarian actors, and not lose sight of the needs of some 2.9 million people who require support. Early and adequate funding of the $190 million 2022 Humanitarian Response Plan is also needed.

She went on to note that, for the war-wary people of Donetsk and Luhansk, the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are only compounding suffering. Millions who, prior to the pandemic, could still maintain family and community connectivity have been unable to travel freely across the contact line, while others experienced an abrupt loss of access to basic services and livelihoods. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) continues to monitor the impact of hostilities and record reports of human rights violations, and documented the lowest number of civilian casualties in 2021 since the beginning of the conflict, due in large part to widespread adherence to the ceasefire. That trend must continue, she stressed, declaring: “We simply cannot accept even the possibility of a new conflict in Ukraine.”

MIKKO KINNUNEN, Special Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office in Ukraine and in the Trilateral Contact Group, briefing via videoconference, provided a snapshot of current talks, emphasizing that addressing the Donbass issue hinges on considering the broader context in the region. Currently, participants in the Trilateral Contact Group — OSCE, Russian Federation and Ukraine — are “too far from each other”, and work must continue. At the same time, all elements of the Minsk agreements must be implemented, as it forms the basis of the Contact Group’s work. Noting that it is popular to accuse participants of violating these accords, he cautioned that none of their elements have been fully implemented, and it is neither possible nor appropriate to single out one party for being responsible for this fact. More flexible positions are needed to compromise, he said. One of the Contact Group’s key priorities is the contact line, he said, stressing that no one will benefit from military activities in the area. Referring to the alleged shelling in Luhansk today near the contact line, he underlined the importance of swiftly establishing facts and avoiding escalation.

Recalling that, in December 2021, Trilateral Contact Group participants had agreed to the ceasefire, leading to a month-long reduction in violence, he said this must be fully implemented. Indeed, when there is political will, this and other elements are possible, he said, emphasizing that not enough progress has been made. Pointing to the recent Russian Duma decision that called for recognizing the independence of areas in Donetsk and Luhansk, he said all parties must remain committed to respecting Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Commending the recent work of the Normandy Four, OSCE discussions in Moscow and other efforts, he said such initiatives could trigger progress. Noting that the Trilateral Contact Group has met virtually for two years, he said these virtual discussions are not ideal for productive dialogue, adding that he was working towards holding in-person talks as soon as possible.

YAŞAR HALIT ÇEVIK, Chief Monitor of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, outlining recent developments, noted that the gradual degradation of the ceasefire agreement regrettably continued over the past year. Impediments to the Mission’s mandated freedom of movement have also escalated, limiting its capabilities. Mission members have at times been intimidated and monitoring tools are subjected to intense threats daily. In Luhansk, the Mission remains deprived of its operational freedom and independence — placing its sustainability is at risk — while the contact line remains exceedingly difficult to cross, both for monitors and civilians.

Underlining the need for restraint and for all parties to abstain from inflammatory public rhetoric, he described the overall security situation along the contact line as volatile. Ceasefire violations have been reported throughout the year, including the increased use of heavy weapons, which both sides have agreed to withdraw. Following a December 2021 meeting at which the sides reconfirmed their determination to uphold the ceasefire regime, such incidents dropped significantly, but tensions remain high. He also cited ceasefire violations in and near several symbolically important locations during the reporting period which put civilians at risk.

Since the beginning of 2022, he continued, the Mission has recorded on average twice as many daily ceasefire violations as it did during the same period in 2021. Those actions also led to a rise in civilian casualties as a result of shelling and small arms fire. Other violations — including trench extensions, the presence of heavy weapons in residential areas and the use of unmanned aerial instruments — also continued. Regrettably, discussions in the working group on security issues have stalled over the past year. Noting that COVID-19-related movement restrictions continue to impact the population, he said crossing points have been limited to two and there has been no progress in opening new crossings. Access to health care has been curtailed, young people are losing out on educational opportunities and older persons missed pension payments.

Calling for the urgent opening of all crossing points and the lifting of all restrictions on both sides of the conflict line, he emphasized that the parties must press forward with the critical exchange of security guarantees. “The [Mission’s] capacity on the ground exists, but the will to use it needs to be strengthened,” he stressed, calling for the strong and sustainable support from the international community. He also outlined evolving events over the last 24 hours, noting that the Mission recorded some 500 explosions along the contact line in the Luhansk oblast. While tensions now seem to be easing, he urged the sides to strictly adhere to their ceasefire commitments and immediately de‑escalate. Noting that the Mission was able to visit affected parts of the Ukraine Government-controlled areas and continues to monitor the impact on civilians, he said it will report to the international community as soon as possible.

TETIANA MONTIAN, a civil society activist from Ukraine, briefing via videoconference, said all briefers who have just spoken must be aware that Kyiv has no intention of implementing the Minsk agreements in their entirety. Instead, Ukraine continues to receive weapons and assistance while the people in Donbass are not represented in politics and are being criminally prosecuted. Pointing to accusations of high treason made against certain individuals, she shared observations stemming from a recent visit to Donbass, where the people’s only fault is that they are against the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and joining Europe. She asked if the same people who closed all opposition channels are going to hold conversations with those in Donetsk and Luhansk, also wondering why it would be a problem to provide a special status to the area. Any different thinking in Ukraine is being squashed, and people have no right to form political parties or to speak in their country. Talks with people in Donetsk and Luhansk will “never, ever, ever” happen, she said, adding that Ukraine is a colony of the West, which has “plunged my country into slavery”.

The real goal of the West — despite all the peace-loving speeches, including those heard today — is for the Russian Federation to be lured into a war, she said. If this was not the case, the puppet Government in Kyiv would have implemented the Minsk agreements. “The West wants a war with Russia and wants it to take place on the territory of Ukraine,” she stressed. “We are not a chessboard, but the people of Ukraine, and we are not pawns in a political game. You will lead the events to a war.” Indeed, OSCE has been blind to shelling and other violence, destruction and death, she said, recalling her visit along the contact line, where civilians — including women, children and elderly persons — have been and are being killed. Europe is looking duplicitously at the suffering of the 100,000 people living along the contact line, she said, asking the Council to compel the “marionettes in Kyiv” to implement the existing agreements.

Statements

SERGEY VERSHININ, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation and Council President for February, speaking in his national capacity, said today’s meeting marks seven years since the Council adopted resolution 2202 (2015), unanimously endorsing the Minsk agreements. The main goal of the meeting is to reaffirm that no alternative exists to their implementation. However, seven years on, it remains clear that implementing that package is in no way part of Ukraine’s plans. Noting that such a break is now openly stated by many Ukrainian officials, he added that no pressure is being exerted by Western Governments to implement these agreements. In that vein, he outlined recent political developments, including statements made by several Ukrainian senior officials describing the Minsk agreements as running counter to that country’s national interests and having been signed “at the barrel of a gun”.

He said it is impossible for Moscow to be sidestepping its obligations under the Minsk agreements because there is no mention of the Russian Federation in that text. Meanwhile, Kyiv’s obligations are ignored as it continues to stubbornly avoid direct negotiations, fails to restore economic links between the two countries and refuses to provide for the special status of certain regions, as mandated by the agreements. Instead, it places blame on the Russian Federation through futile and baseless allegations. Voicing concern over the “ostrich-like” position of Western colleagues who prefer not to see those obvious violations, he said they instead seek answers in the Normandy Four format, which only provides more space for Ukraine to continue its military adventures. Recounting horrific instances of violence committed by Ukraine against civilians, he urged Council members to refrain from turning the present meeting “into a circus” by continuing to speculate about a so-called Russian invasion of Ukraine, as enough was heard about that during the United States-led meeting on 31 January.

ANTONY BLINKEN, Secretary of State of the United States, said the Minsk agreements — signed by both Ukraine and the Russian Federation — remain the main framework for resolving the conflict in eastern Ukraine, where today the most immediate threat is Moscow’s looming aggression. “This is a moment of peril” both for the lives and safety of Ukraine’s people and for the rules-based international order, he stressed, adding that it directly affects every nation of the world. The principles enshrined in the United Nations Charter — including that one country cannot dictate another’s choices — are under threat. Recalling that the Russian Federation has amassed over 150,000 troops along Ukraine’s borders in recent months, he said that, while Moscow claims to be drawing down those forces, on-the-ground intelligence paints a different picture. Indications are that an attack is imminent and may take place in the coming days.

Outlining a likely scenario for such an invasion, he said the Russian Federation would first manufacture a pretext for its attack. “We do not know what form it will take,” he said, noting that it could be a false report of a mass grave discovery or even a fake or real chemical weapon attack. Such a pretext would circulate through Russian Federation media outlets, spreading alarm. Next, the Government of the Russian Federation would issue proclamations about its responsibility to respond to such actions. Bombs could then be dropped on Ukraine and Russian tanks and soldiers could advance on various targets.

Acknowledging the specificity of those remarks, he declared: “By sharing what we know with the world, we hope that we can influence [the] Russian Federation to abandon the path of war and choose a different path, while there is still time.” The United States will be happy to accept any criticism about such information should the Russian Federation not invade Ukraine, as it remains strongly in favour of diplomacy. However, it stands ready to respond decisively in the case that Moscow does act. Against that backdrop, Washington, D.C., has proposed a meeting with the Russian Federation at the Foreign Minister level next week, aimed at resolving the matter peacefully, as well as fresh meetings of the NATO-Russia Council and the OSCE Permanent Council. He added that Moscow can announce today — without any equivocation — that it will not invade Ukraine, and back up that statement by sending its troops back to their barracks and its diplomats to the negotiating table.

JAMES CLEVERLY, Minister of State for Europe and North America of the United Kingdom, reaffirming support for the Minsk agreements, in line with resolution 2202 (2015), underscored the responsibility of all parties to fully implement their commitments. In this context, he condemned the action taken by the Russian State Duma to propose that the Russian President recognize the regions of Luhansk and Donetsk as independent. This action would directly undermine the Minsk agreements and must be clearly rejected by the Russian authorities, in line with their commitments. The United Kingdom welcomes all efforts to support the process and avoid escalation, including the role of OSCE and the Normandy format. Recalling the context for the present situation, he said that, since 2014, when the Russian Federation instigated a conflict in Donbas, 14,000 people have died in the conflict.

Today, he said, the Ukrainian people are yet again living under threat of invasion with over 100,000 Russian troops, heavy weaponry, and military vessels amassed and exercising on their northern, eastern and southern borders, from Belarus to the Black Sea, adding: “Let us say clearly what the world can see: Russia has deployed the forces necessary to invade Ukraine, and now it has readied them for action.” He emphasized the need for steps to be taken towards a diplomatic resolution, calling on the Russian Federation to show up to diplomatic meetings and commit to meaningful OSCE talks, including via Chapter III of the OSCE Vienna Document, stating: “They did not show up on Wednesday, and do not plan to show up on Friday.” Stressing that the Russian Federation’s actions are “clearly designed to intimidate, threaten and destabilize Ukraine”, he underlined the need for the Russian Federation to give the Minsk agreements the chance to be implemented, free from coercion; for it to engage seriously with diplomacy; and for it to stand down all its troops.

MONA JUUL (Norway) expressed deep concern over the Russian Federation’s large-scale military build-up in occupied Crimea, to the north, east and south of Ukraine, and in Belarus and the Black Sea. She described the reports of increased shelling as “most disturbing”, stressing: “They must not be used by Russia as a pretext for any military action”. The Russian Federation falsely seeks to portray the conflict in eastern Ukraine as internal, while, in fact, it has fuelled the conflict by providing financial and military support to the armed formations it backs. Expressing strong concern over the Russian State Duma resolution calling for the recognition of the self-proclaimed “People’s Republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk, she warned against such a step, which would further violate Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. All parties must uphold the Minsk agreements and engage constructively to resolve the conflict peacefully, she said, encouraging the Russian Federation to engage in the OSCE Chairmanship’s Renewed European Security Dialogue initiative. “Through threatening posture, rhetoric and unrealistic demands, Russia is challenging European security,” she said, stressing: “Every country has the right to freely choose its security alignment. We cannot allow the established security architecture to be replaced by spheres of influence.” Also expressing concern over the increasingly fragile ceasefire in Donbass from July 2020, she called on parties to seek a durable ceasefire and attend to the severe humanitarian situation after eight years of conflict.

RONALDO COSTA FILHO (Brazil) said resolution 2202 (2015) has not yet been fully implemented. He urged all parties to fulfil the letter and the spirit of the Minsk agreements and to pursue genuine dialogue to assist diplomatic efforts to overcome the current security challenges in the region. A comprehensive ceasefire — the first provision of the Minsk agreements — remains an essential element in this process. Beyond that, further disengagement of forces and military equipment on the ground is required, allowing unimpeded access of humanitarian relief to people in most desperate need. Trust among relevant parties is crucial to strengthening dialogue and achieving a sustainable solution. In addition, negotiations on parameters to grant special status to certain areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions must be conducted with a sense of urgency, flexibility and spirit of compromise, while efforts to implement the Minsk agreements must observe full respect for the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine. The Council has the utmost responsibility to avoid and condemn any attempt of a military solution to this crisis, he said, urging parties to take the necessary measures to de-escalate tensions and play a constructive role in reaching a political settlement.

GERALDINE BYRNE NASON (Ireland), stating that Ukraine has the same fundamental right as every other sovereign and independent State to choose its own foreign policy and ensure the security and defence of its territory, added: “That is a right we hold to be self-evident. It is a right that Ireland struggled to obtain.” Noting that the Russia Federation’s military build-up at Ukraine’s border continues to raise tensions, she reiterated her country’s calls for calm and diplomacy, as well as for sustained and credible moves on the ground towards de-escalation, which implies a significant withdrawal of both troops and equipment. Welcoming the efforts of all those engaged in dialogue, including through the Normandy format and Poland, as OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, she underscored the importance of the full implementation of the Minsk agreements, and the related conflict‑resolution efforts in the Normandy format and Trilateral Contact Group. Calling on all parties to act constructively within both formats, she expressed deep regret at the decision of the Russian State Duma to submit a call to recognize the non-government-controlled areas in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts of Ukraine, as independent entities. “This would be a clear violation of the Minsk agreements,” she stressed. Further, she expressed concern about restrictions imposed on the Special Monitoring Mission’s freedom of movement, and the damage to its equipment, as well as regretted the Russian Federation’s decision to refuse an extension to the mandate of the Border Observation Mission to monitor the border crossings.

T.S. TIRUMURTI (India), noting that the Minsk agreements provide a basis for a negotiated settlement, urged all parties to continue to engage through all possible diplomatic channels and work towards their full implementation. Normandy format meetings will further facilitate this goal, he said, welcoming recent talks in Paris and Berlin. Any steps that increase tension may best be avoided by all sides in the larger interest of securing international peace and security. Quiet and constructive diplomacy is the need of the hour. The issue can only be resolved through diplomatic dialogue. Recalling that more than 20,000 Indian students and nationals live and study in different parts of Ukraine, including in its border areas, he said the well-being of Indian nationals is a priority of his delegation. He also reiterated the call for the peaceful resolution of the situation, with sincere and sustained diplomatic efforts ensuring that concerns of all sides are amicably resolved through constructive dialogue.

MARTIN KIMANI (Kenya), noting that, if the situation is allowed to escalate it would threaten global stability and the Council’s ability to fulfil its mandate, strongly urged all actors to respect the peace, security, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. Reiterating that the stand-off is “imminently solvable”, he called on major military Powers, particularly those represented in the Security Council, to undertake sustained efforts towards a minimum level of de-confliction and mutual respect. He reiterated the obligations of all parties to fully implement their commitments, in accordance with the Minsk agreements, and welcomed, in this regard, the meeting of the Normandy format advisers held earlier this month, as well as the follow-up meeting slated for March.

LANA ZAKI NUSSEIBEH (United Arab Emirates) stressed the need for all concerned parties to engage in constructive dialogue in the interest of de‑escalation and the maintenance of regional security and stability. Emphasizing the importance of implementing the Minsk agreements in full and in good faith, in line with resolution 2202 (2015), she urged all stakeholders to avoid steps that would make implementation more difficult. Noting the important role of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission, she called for attention to the critical situation of civilians in eastern Ukraine, where United Nations reports mention that there are 3.4 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, of whom 55 per cent are women and 16 per cent children. Furthermore, there are obstacles for the delivery of humanitarian assistance to some of those in need, particularly in areas near the contact line in eastern Ukraine, she noted, calling on all parties not to obstruct access to humanitarian aid or the movement of civilians in conflict areas, in accordance with their obligations under international law.

HAROLD ADLAI AGYEMAN (Ghana) underscored the need for the Council to reiterate its conviction and support for the processes for the further implementation of the Minsk agreements, seven years after the adoption of resolution 2202 (2015). Unfortunately, he said that, while the Minsk agreements remain largely unimplemented, the conflict festers in parts of the Donbass region, with increasing civilian casualties and deepening vulnerabilities, mostly of elderly persons and women-led households. The implications of the situation for the region and international peace and security have also been dire, he added. He went on to reaffirm support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, took note of security concerns of other Member States in Europe, and urged restraint by all parties. Welcoming diplomatic efforts to address the situation, including recent discussions among leaders of the Normandy Four reaffirming the ceasefire in the eastern region of Ukraine, as well as the OSCE‑facilitated dialogues at different levels, he urged renewed dialogue within the Normandy Four process to resolve differences in the interpretation of the sequencing of the Minsk Package. Further, he urged parties to guarantee unimpeded access for humanitarian assistance in Government and non-government-controlled areas in line with international humanitarian law.

JUAN RAMÓN DE LA FUENTE RAMÍREZ (Mexico) said parties must urgently send a clear signal with a view to advancing along the path of détente, diplomacy and dialogue. Such recent actions as troop withdrawal announcements can generate much needed trust. Commending world leaders who have become involved to find a peaceful exit to this crisis, he said only a diplomatic solution can be considered. Any solutions will mean bringing an end to tensions in eastern Ukraine, with the Minsk agreements providing the guidelines to do so. The conflict has affected the population, with 3 million requiring humanitarian assistance and 1.5 million having been displaced, he said, requesting the guarantee of free movement for civilians on both sides of the contact line and assurances for unobstructed access for aid deliveries. Given the plethora of landmines in the area, he called upon the parties to refrain from deploying them and work towards demining. Existing tensions and their potential consequences make it clear that replacing diplomacy by confrontation would be like diving over a cliff, he said, expressing full support for the Secretary-General’s efforts.

ZHANG JUN (China) said the Minsk agreements are universally recognized binding instruments to settle the Ukraine issue, but provisions are not being fully implemented and ceasefire obligations continue to be violated. Dialogue must pave the way to a political solution. As for tensions in the eastern region, all parties must adhere to the overriding goal of a political solution and fully consider each other’s security concerns. China supports efforts to ease tensions, noting the Russian Federation’s recent diplomatic engagement with France, Germany and other leaders. European countries should make independent and strategic decisions, he said, voicing support for the Secretary-General’s views. At the same time, “everything happens for a reason”, he said, noting that the enlargement and expansion of NATO — a cold war creation — must be addressed, as the organization’s agenda runs counter to current trends. Indeed, regional security cannot be guaranteed by flexing muscles. In fact, one country refuses to give up its cold war mentality as it continues to take actions in the Asia-Pacific region that are only brewing tensions. In this vein, he urged countries to learn from history, enhance mutual trust and do more to contribute to world peace and regional stability.

FERIT HOXHA (Albania) rejected any attempt to pressure Ukraine to implement the Minsk agreements according to one side’s interpretation. While fully supporting the rights of minorities in Ukraine, he said asking for “executive powers” for Russian minorities in Ukraine means nothing less than taking control of the Kyiv Government and Parliament, pointing to stances by senior Russian figures who articulated publicly that Ukraine should claim “symbolic sovereignty” over territories in Donbass. “We should not accept such policy of fabricating dysfunctional States. Not in Ukraine. Not anywhere,” he said, rejecting Moscow’s call to recognize the independence and sovereignty of parts of Ukraine — a “stereotyped playbook” seen in Georgia in 2008 — as legally invalid if taken. On the Russian military build-up in and around Ukraine and in Belarus, he pointed to a further reinforcement of weapons and troops, noting the latter had increased to 150,000 from 100,000 over three weeks — instead of a much-claimed partial withdrawal. Describing. such a move as a “Damocles Sword” to instigate fear in the population, he said the decision to partially block the Black Sea, Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait under the pretext of holding regular naval exercises only adds to the strangulation effort. He demanded the removal of the occupying troops from the occupied territory and condemned the illegal annexation of Crimea. Any renewed attack on Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity would severely affect European security, he said, calling on the Council and the international community not to accept such action. The Russian Federation should engage in a Renewed European Security Dialogue, he said, also supporting the call by Secretary Blinken for talks with Minister Sergey V. Lavrov as soon as possible and renewed NATO Russia Council meetings. “Every mechanism must be used and fully exploited for diplomacy and de-escalation,” he stressed.

NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France) said implementing the Minsk agreements cannot be considered separately from activities on Ukraine’s eastern borders. France has worked towards de-escalating the situation and fostering dialogue. The military build-up on a neighbour’s border is threatening and unacceptable, especially as the Russian Federation has already infringed the borders of Ukraine in the past, he said, adding that there will be consequences for any further infringements. Dialogue is essential to address the situation in Donbass, as well as regional security. In terms of implementing the Minsk agreements, he said continued efforts in the Normandy format must advance, which was not possible at the 10 February meeting. The Minsk agreements constitute the suitable framework for pursuing dialogue, he said, expressing concern about the recent Russian State Duma proposal to change the status of eastern Ukraine. Taking note of possible ceasefire violations, he expressed hope that an investigation would proceed soon.

MICHEL XAVIER BIANG (Gabon) raised concerns about alarming rhetoric and shows of force that have been exacerbated by recent actions. Commending efforts to de-escalate tensions, he said a confrontation would have disastrous consequences for all. Reiterating the call on parties to show restraint, he asked them to resume dialogue and make better use of existing channels to de-escalate the situation. The Normandy format and Minsk agreements provide a pathway to ensure the cessation of hostilities and open a way for peaceful neighbourly relations. He called on the parties to respect their commitments and resume dialogue. Sovereignty and territorial integrity are essential principles, he said, calling on the Council to reject any confrontation, use the tools of peace at hand and undertake its responsibilities.

Mr. VERSHININ (Russian Federation), taking the floor again in his national capacity, said the people of Donbass — many of whom have Russian citizenship — have been subjected to Ukrainian shelling for many years. The proposed initiative mentioned by several speakers to recognize Donbass as an independent state is just that, an initiative. Instead of speculating on the parliamentary procedures of other nations, Council members should instead focus on the implementation of the Minsk agreements. While the representative of the United Kingdom outlined some of the background on the situation in eastern Ukraine, that picture was one-sided and superficial, he said.

Meanwhile, he said, the United States delegate claimed to have “usefully” laid out an imagined scenario for an invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation. Describing that statement as both regrettable and dangerous, he said Moscow has repeatedly and clearly stated its intentions, but those statements have not been heeded. Russian forces remain on Russian territory — with some units having already returned to their home bases — and drills are being conducted in areas deemed necessary. Meanwhile, Ukraine continues to violate past agreements through its increased militarization, with lethal weapons provided by the United States, United Kingdom, Poland and other nations. Citing an obvious desire to bog down today’s discussion — which should be about the parties’ legal obligations — he called for an authentic dialogue and urged the United States to carefully consider a new written request for security guarantees, which the Russian Federation sent to Washington, D.C., this morning.

LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD (United States), also taking the floor for a second time, expressed regret that the representative of the Russian Federation continues to use the same rhetoric. In his earlier statement, United States Secretary of State Blinken laid out the facts on the ground, which can be clearly seen by all. To those delegations who called today for increased diplomacy, she replied that the United States will continue to intensify its diplomatic efforts, calling once again on the Russian Federation to engage at the negotiating table.

SERGIY KYSLYTSYA (Ukraine) recalled that, seven years ago today, the Ukrainian city of Debaltseve sustained a full-fledged offensive by troops from the Russian Federation and their proxies. Heavy artillery and rocket shelling spared neither the Ukrainian military nor civilians. Those attacks occurred despite the existence of a disengagement line, agreed by Ukraine and the Russian Federation under the Minsk Memorandum of 19 September 2014 — the second document in the Minsk agreements package — which clearly defined Debaltseve as a Government-controlled area. Describing that as just one example of how Moscow violated the Minsk agreements almost immediately after signing them, he said that, just this morning, the Stanytsia Luhanska village in Ukraine was shelled with heavy weapons from the occupied territory of Donbass, damaging civilian infrastructure including a kindergarten.

Meanwhile, two days ago, the Russian State Duma appealed to President Putin to recognize the occupied parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine as so-called “Donetsk and Luhansk peoples’ republics”, which contravenes commitments undertaken by Moscow under the Minsk agreements. Stressing that such a recognition would be tantamount to a deliberate withdrawal from the Minsk arrangements — as well as a serious blow to the politico-diplomatic settlement that Ukraine and its partners have been working to promote — he said such a move will also have implications for the global rules-based order and security architecture.

“[The Russian Federation] has a choice: to embark on the path of de-escalation and diplomatic dialogue, or experience a decisive consolidated response by the international community,” he said. Welcoming statements made today by Council members outlining clear rejections of the Russian Federation’s intentions, he called on Moscow to take a constructive stance and move forward in the framework of existing negotiation formats. Recalling Moscow’s agreement to create security zones in the border areas between Ukraine and the Russian Federation, he said this initiative is even more urgent amid the deployment of 150,000 troops near Ukraine’s borders, a blockade by the Russian Federation in the Black Sea and widespread misinformation campaigns.

While Ukraine remains committed to peaceful resolution by diplomatic means, he reiterated that it would defend itself in the event of an escalation by the Russian Federation. Thanking countries for their support and solidarity, he welcomed efforts in the framework of the Normany Four format, while warning that progress will remain stalled as long as Moscow makes preconditions about direct dialogue. He also laid out a range of issues that could be included in political track negotiations and emphasized Ukraine’s willingness to engage in such talks. “It remains up to [the Russian Federation] to take decisions that would lead to full implementation of […] the Minsk agreements,” he said, urging Moscow to abandon its strategy of threats and adhere to the principles of the United Nations Charter.

ANTJE LEENDERTSE (Germany) said, together with France, her country stands committed to advancing the implementation of the Minsk agreements in the Normandy format. While many obstacles remain, the reaffirmation of the ceasefire in July 2020 proved that progress is possible “if political will is there”. Welcoming key legislative steps by Ukraine in recent months, she encouraged the Russian Federation to also engage constructively, and expressed concern over a resolution by the Russian State Duma urging President Vladimir V. Putin to recognize the self-declared “People’s Republics of Luhansk and Donetsk” as independent states — which would run counter to the Minsk agreements and constitute a breach of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Commending the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission, she echoed calls on all parties to ensure that it is able to carry out its mandate without interruption. More than 90 per cent of cases where monitors’ freedom of movement has been disrupted or their equipment destroyed have taken place beyond the contact line in territory not under the control of the Ukrainian Government, she said, urging the Russian Federation to use its influence to guarantee free and safe access for the Mission. Turning to military developments, she noted the unprecedented build-up of troops from the Russian Federation along that country’s border with Ukraine, as well as that of Belarus. “It is next to impossible to not perceive this as a threat or the preparation for an attack,” she said, deploring the fact that Moscow has failed to provide a satisfactory explanation and calling for diplomatic progress.

Mr. VERSHININ (Russian Federation), once again speaking in his national capacity, recalled that President Volodymyr Zelenskyy recently called the Minsk agreements “totally without merit”. Turning to statements made today about the validity of the Russian Federation’s membership in the United Nations, he said it is not the first time such baseless claims have come up as part of certain delegations’ self-aggrandizement. In fact, the same speculations could be made about Ukraine’s membership or that of any other country, he said.

Ms. MONTIAN, in closing remarks, recalled the many messages she had received after delivering her briefing at the outset of today’s Council meeting. No one fears a Russian Federation invasion, she said, emphasizing that the collective West’s game was to throw the troops of the Kyiv regime into Donetsk and then trigger sanctions.

For information media. Not an official record.

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Spotify chief content officer calls Joe Rogan events a ‘learning experience’

Spotify chief content officer calls Joe Rogan events a 'learning experience'

Joe Rogan’s Spotify profile is seen in front of displayed Spotify logo in this photo illustration taken, February 7, 2022. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

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Feb 9 (Reuters) – Spotify’s (SPOT.N) chief content officer Dawn Ostroff told advertisers at a conference on Wednesday that the backlash around popular U.S. podcaster Joe Rogan’s podcast had been a “real learning experience” for the streaming service.

“We do feel that we have a responsibility to support creator expression, but also balance that creator expression with safety for our users and for our advertisers,” said Ostroff, who has been a key driver in Spotify’s work to turn the platform into a top podcast hub, speaking at an Interactive Advertising Bureau annual conference in New York.

The streaming giant has been under fire after Rogan, who signed a $100-million deal with Spotify in 2020, aired controversial COVID-19 views on his show and drew protests from artists Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and India Arie. Young said Spotify had “become the home of life-threatening COVID misinformation.”

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Last week, Rogan apologized and Spotify said it would add a content advisory to any podcast episodes on its platform with discussion of the virus. On Saturday, Rogan apologized again for using racial slurs after a montage video surfaced showing him repeatedly saying the N-word.

“We have been speaking to Joe Rogan and to his team about some of the content … of his shows, particularly his history of racially insensitive language, and Joe decided to take episodes off of our platform,” Ostroff said. She said Spotify does not have editorial control over “The Joe Rogan Experience” podcast but that it supported this decision.

Spotify’s Chief Executive Officer Daniel Ek said in a recent letter to staff seen by Reuters that he condemns racial slurs and other comments made by Rogan but would not be removing him from the platform.

The controversy marks the latest instance of a major tech company facing furor over its content moderation practices. Social media platforms such as Meta Platforms Inc’s (FB.O) Facebook, video sites like Alphabet’s (GOOGL.O) YouTube and streaming service Netflix have all come under scrutiny over the material they allow on their services.

Ostroff called “the dilemma of moderation versus censorship” the biggest challenge facing “every single platform today.” She said there was no silver bullet but that Spotify’s team was always looking to see how it could do better.

She also urged advertisers to participate and help in the company’s evolution, saying “we really want to be able to be good partners.”

Spotify has invested over $1 billion in the podcasting business. Last week, it posted higher than expected fourth quarter revenue and reported 406 million active monthly users, up 18 percent from last year, though its subscriber forecasts for the current quarter came in lower than Wall Street estimates. read more

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Reporting by Elizabeth Culliford
Editing by Nick Zieminski

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