New Greek PM Mitsotakis holds first Cabinet meeting

ATHENS, Greece — Greece’s new prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, has chaired his Cabinet’s first meeting, vowing to make the government more efficient.Mitsotakis said Wednesday one of the first pieces of legislation his government will submit to parliament will be a tax bill containing “the first tax reductions we promised.”Mitsotakis and his conservative New Democracy party won Sunday’s election with an overall majority, ousting Alexis Tsipras and his left-wing Syriza party that led the country through four tumultuous years as Greece struggled to emerge from its financial crisis.Greece’s creditors have been blunt in their reaction to Mitsotakis’ promises to lower taxes and calls to ease strict budget targets, making clear that the goals agreed to by the previous government must be adhered to.The Associated Press read more

Greater locallevel autonomy in Viet Nam would be litmus test for religious

Wrapping up a 10-day visit, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief expressed his concerns and hopes regarding the current situation in Viet Nam, where the right of religious communities to independently operate is often restricted and unsafe. He noted that there are many serious violations of freedom of religion or belief, in particular affecting independent religious groups from Buddhist and Protestant communities, and activists within the Catholic Church.“Granting autonomy for religious communities to function independently would be a litmus test for the development of freedom of religion or belief in Viet Nam,” Mr. Bielefeldt said.He expressed appreciation towards the Government`s effort to improve freedom of religion or belief via legal instruments.However, he also underlined the need for long-lasting improvement. “Official registration status with the Government is no guarantee that freedom of religion or belief is fully respected,” Mr. Bielefeldt said.In this respect, Mr. Bielefeld particularly underlined the need for the new Government legislations on religious affairs to extend existing norms and practices to everyone’s right of freedom of religion or belief.“Freedom of religion or belief has the status of universal human rights to be respected prior to, and independent of, any particular acts of administrative approval,” he stressed.During his recent visit to the country, which began on 21 July and ended today, the Special Rapporteur met with various Government officials and local authorities to discuss issues related to his mandate. In his effort to meet recognized and unrecognized religious or belief communities and civil society organisations, however, Mr. Bielefeldt encountered many people under “heavy” surveillance by the police.“I received credible information that some individuals with whom I wanted to meet had been under heavy surveillance, warned, intimidated, harassed or prevented from travelling by the police,” he noted. Mr. Bielefeldt is currently working on his conclusions and recommendations report regarding the current situation of freedom of religion or belief in Viet Nam, which will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in 2015.