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Norwegian women and their children on their way to Germany from Elverum, Norway in April 1945 Image copyright AFP
Image caption Many of the women were expelled from the country with their children

Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg has issued an official government apology to Norwegian women who were mistreated over World War Two-era relationships with German soldiers.

Norway, a neutral country, was invaded by Nazi forces in April 1940.

Up to 50,000 Norwegian women are thought to have had intimate relationships with German soldiers.

The Germans were also encouraged to have children with them by SS leader Heinrich Himmler.

Himmler, one of the most powerful men under Adolf Hitler, favoured Norwegian women, hoping they could help promote the Nazi concept of an Aryan master race.

Many of the Norwegian-German children were born in the German-administered Lebensborn (Fountain of Life) maternity facilities set up from 1941 by the Nazis in the country.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption A swastika in the Norwegian capital Oslo following the Nazi takeover

The women who had relationships with the soldiers became known by the nickname the “German Girls”, and were targeted for reprisals in Norway when the war ended – standing accused of betraying the country.

Punishments included being deprived of civil rights, detained or expelled from the country to Germany along with their children.

‘Undignified treatment’

“Young Norwegian girls and woman who had relations with German soldiers or were suspected of having them, were victims of undignified treatment,” Ms Solberg said at an event to mark the 70th anniversary of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights on Wednesday.

“Our conclusion is that Norwegian authorities violated the rule fundamental principle that no citizen can be punished without trial or sentenced without law.”

“For many, this was just a teenage love, for some, the love of their lives with an enemy soldier or an innocent flirt that left its mark for the rest of their lives.

“Today, in the name of the government, I want to offer my apologies.”

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Lebensborn facilities were set up in Germany and Nazi-conquered countries

The apology was based on a report about Norway’s post-war actions published by the country’s Centre for Holocaust and Minority Studies.

More than seven decades on from the war, not many of the women directly affected are likely to still be alive to hear it.

“A good apology can have a lot of power. An apology can mean that groups receive answers to their treatment,” Guri Hjeltnes the head of the centre said.

Reidar Gabler attended the event and told Norwegian media that the apology meant a lot to his family.

His mother, Else Huth from Sarpsborg was just 22 in 1944 when she fell in love with a 25-year-old German soldier.

“The people directly affected are no longer with us… but this also touches their families and the children,” said Mr Gabler.

“We just had to come. This is amazing,” he said, after meeting Ms Solberg.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Erna Solberg admitted Norwegian authorities had violated fundamental rights with their actions

About 10-12,000 children are thought to have been born as a result of relationships between Norwegian women and German soldiers.

Some of the children were also targeted for acts of revenge, given up to foster families or placed in institutions.

In 2007 a group of children took Norway to the European Court of Human Rights, but their case was ruled inadmissible because of the amount of time that had passed since the offences occurred.

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Maintained Matthew Leffler

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LONDON, Oct 17 (Reuters) – A respected science journal is to withdraw a much-cited review of evidence on an illness known as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) amid fierce criticism and pressure from activists and patients.

The decision, described by the scientists involved as “disproportionate and poorly justified”, is being seen as a victory for activists in a research field plagued by uncertainty and dispute over whether CFS, also known as myalgic encephalopathy (ME), has physical and psychological elements.

Emails seen by Reuters show editors at the influential Cochrane Review journal asking researchers who conducted the analysis, which was published in April 2017, to agree to it being temporarily withdrawn.

 They also ask the review’s authors to agree to a statement saying their analysis requires “further work in response to feedback and complaints”.

Published on the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Cochrane’s evaluations are considered a gold standard in scientific literature and known internationally as dispassionate analyses of the best evidence on a given subject.

It is unusual for Cochrane to withdraw a review without the authors’ agreement and unless new scientific evidence emerges for inclusion in an update. 

Research into CFS and ME, widely referred to by the joint acronym CFS/ME, is highly contentious — in part because the illness is poorly understood. It is a severe, chronic illness characterized by long-term physical and mental fatigue.

Patient groups in the United States, Europe, Australia and elsewhere often challenge each other about the nature of the disorder, how it should be diagnosed and whether it can be treated. Scientists conducting studies on potential therapies say they are often harassed and verbally abused by groups that disagree with their approach.

Colin Blakemore, a professor of neuroscience and philosophy at London University’s School of Advanced Studies, said the withdrawal decision set a worrying precedent for scientific evidence being over-ridden by the opinions of activists.

The withdrawal would also be “a departure from the principle that has always guided Cochrane reviews — that they should be based on scientific and clinical evidence … but not influenced by unsubstantiated views or commercial pressures.”

Blakemore has no affiliation with the Cochrane review authors and has not conducted studies in CFS/ME, but he experienced lobbying by activists when he was chief executive of Britain’s Medical Research Council from 2003 to 2007.

EVIDENCE

    The review at the center of this dispute, written by a team headed by Lillebeth Larun, a scientist at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, looked at eight randomized controlled studies of exercise therapy as a treatment for patients with CFS/ME.

Graded exercise therapy involves taking a patient’s activity level right back to a minimum, and then gradually increasing it within their capability.

    The review found “moderate quality evidence” to show the approach can help some CFS/ME patients, concluding: “Exercise therapy had a positive effect on people’s daily physical functioning, sleep and self-ratings of overall health.”

    But in an email seen by Reuters, Cochrane editors Rachel Churchill and David Tovey say the review had received “extensive feedback” which they now considered grounds for it to be temporarily removed.

Tovey confirmed to Reuters that he had made a decision to withdraw the review temporarily, saying this would give the authors time to respond to several points in a complaint which “we felt … raised issues we needed to address”.

“This not about patient pressure,” he added in a telephone interview. “This was a decision we reached with difficulty because we know the incredibly challenging environment this review sits in.”

In their Oct. 15 email, addressed to Larun, Churchill and Tovey wrote: “We are … temporarily withdrawing your review to allow you and your co-authors time to adequately address the feedback received. Consequently, your review will shortly be removed from the Cochrane Library.”

    Larun told Reuters she was “extremely concerned and disappointed” with the Cochrane editors’ actions. “I disagree with the decision and consider it to be disproportionate and poorly justified,” she said.

    In an emailed response to questions from Reuters, Tovey said: “We are in discussion with the review author team about this review following a formal complaint to me as Cochrane’s editor in chief, which we judged to raise important questions.”

    Larun said she would not characterize this as a discussion, but as a unilateral decision made by Cochrane editors.

    “ANTAGONISTIC”

    CFS/ME is thought to affect as many as 2.5 million people in the United States and around 250,000 people in Britain, although estimates vary widely due to a lack of formal diagnostics.   

    The condition can bring crushing fatigue, joint pain, headaches and sleep problems and can render patients bed- or house-bound for years. While the cause is a mystery, some theories point to a viral trigger.

    On treatments, evidence from at least 10 published studies — including the 2017 Cochrane Review — shows psychological approaches such as graded exercise and cognitive behavioral therapy can help some CFS/ME patients improve. 

    Yet critics say this amounts to a suggestion that the syndrome is a mental disorder, or “all in the mind”. They campaign fiercely to block or discredit any research looking at psychological or behavioral treatments, arguing that they are physically, not psychologically, debilitated. 

    Tovey and Churchill said in their email to Larun that “in response to concerns raised by members of the CFS community” they are considering moving responsibility for research reviews on CFS/ME away from their mental health department into another section — possibly the “long-term conditions” section.  

Categorizing CFS/ME under mental health disorders “has been antagonistic to some in the CFS community, potentially impacting on the confidence people have in our reviews”, they wrote.

Blakemore said this was a sign of Cochrane’s editors sidelining evidence under pressure from CFS/ME campaigners who insist their illness is a physical disease and not a psychological disorder.

    He also warned of the risk of wider effects on all patients if a respected scientific journal like Cochrane “capitulates” to lobbying from small numbers of vocal patient campaign groups.

    “This could change medical practice,” he said. “And that could mean that patients with this very serious condition are denied access to treatments that might help them, and which evidence suggests can help some of them.”

On the decision to move CFS/ME work out of the Cochrane’s mental disorders section, Tovey confirmed to Reuters that this was made in response to feedback from CFS/ME patients and campaigners.

CFS/ME is a “complex” disorder and categorizing it in the mental health section “clearly causes some offense”, he said.

Reporting by Kate Kelland, Editing by Elyse Tanouye and Catherine Evans

Maintained Matthew Leffler

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Scene of Crimea school shooting, 17 October 2018 Image copyright PA

At least 17 people have been killed and dozens more wounded in an attack at a college in Russian-annexed Crimea.

Officials initially said an “unidentified explosive device” detonated, but now say all the victims died of gunshot wounds at the technical college in Kerch.

Russian investigators said an 18-year-old student blamed for the attack had killed himself.

Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 in a widely criticised move.

The annexation followed a disputed vote that was condemned by many Western powers.

The alleged perpetrator of the college attack has been identified as Vladislav Roslyakov, who is said to have opened fire on those in the building. Forty people were injured.

Russia’s RBC TV interviewed a friend who said he “hated the technical school very much”.

Image copyright PA

The incident had initially been described as a “terrorist act”, but Russia’s investigative committee has now reclassified it as “mass murder”.

President Vladimir Putin described it as a “tragic event” and expressed condolences to the victims’ relatives.

Image copyright PA
Image caption National guard soldiers were deployed

A local official said most of the victims were students of the technical college, which is a vocational school for 850 teenagers.

A major emergency response operation launched as the victims were taken to hospitals.

Four military planes were ready to evacuate the wounded and military hospital facilities were ready to accept victims if necessary, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said.

Investigators had at first released a statement saying an explosive device filled with “metal objects” had detonated in the dining area.

In earlier reaction, the director of the college, who was not at the scene at the time of the attack, told Russian media that unknown armed men had broken into the building. She compared it to the school siege of Beslan in 2004, during which about 330 people died.

Reuters news agency said that schools and pre-schools were being evacuated in the city.

Kerch is situated at the point where Russia built a bridge between the Crimean peninsula and Russia.

Relations between Russia and Ukraine remain strained by the Crimea annexation and a continuing conflict involving Russia-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine.

The speaker of the Russia-backed Crimean parliament, Vladimir Konstantinov, suggested Kiev may have been behind the attack, saying “the entire evil inflicted on the land of Crimea is coming from the official Ukrainian authorities”.

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Maintained Matthew Leffler

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LONDON (Reuters) – Insurers from across the world have called for amendments and a two-year delay to a change in accounting rules aimed at increasing visibility of how they earn their money.

Nine national and regional insurance industry bodies from Europe, Canada, Korea, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa want the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) to amend and delay its “IFRS 17” book-keeping rule by two years to January 2023.

Twenty years in the making, the rule seeks to make it easier for investors to compare how much insurers earn from policies by prising open a “black box” of opaque national practices. IASB rules are used in over 100 countries, though the United States has its own accounting standards.

The industry bodies said in a letter to the IASB that preparatory work has confirmed that a number of important issues need to be resolved to make the new rule practical.

“As a result, we strongly believe a two-year delay in the effective date of the standard is required,” the letter to IASB chair Hans Hoogervorst said.

“There is no expectation that a delay will result in insurers stopping or slowing their implementation project.”

The CFO Forum of chief financial officers from major European insurers like Allianz, Aviva, Generali and Axa has said the new rule leads to inconsistent reporting, and requirements that are unnecessarily complex.

Implementation costs range from 50 million euros to 320 million euros per CFO Forum member, it said, with ongoing operational costs expected to be significantly greater than for applying existing insurance book-keeping rules.

The IASB board will discuss staff reports about a potential delay and amendments next week, but no decision is expected at that time.

“In determining what amendments, if any, to make to IFRS 17, the board will need to balance the potential benefit of any amendments against the effect of an undue delay to a standard that is needed to address many inadequacies in the existing wide range of insurance accounting practices,” an IASB staff paper for the meeting said.

Reporting by Huw Jones; Editing by Jan Harvey

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