Some people with macular degeneration may not need shots in the eye

by Rachel Butch-JHU, 5 days ago

Some people with "wet" age-related macular degeneration may one day be able to safely stop eye injection therapy without further vision loss.

Parents with babies in NICU report emotional exhaustion during pandemic

by Laura Bailey-Michigan, 5 days ago

"Nonsensical" visitation policies, exhaustion, and isolation left parents of babies in the NICU feeling dissatisfied with hospital care in 2020.

Blinken to VOA: Russia Has a Clear Choice to Make

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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke in Kyiv Wednesday with VOA's Eastern Europe bureau chief Myroslava Gongadze about his talks with Ukrainian leaders and the prospects for heading off a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine. The following is a transcript of that interview. It has been edited for clarity.  Watch the video here.   QUESTION: "Good afternoon. Today we are in Ukraine. It's been invaded and threatened by Russia. Putin is demanding the West to leave Ukraine for its Russian sphere of influence. Today, we have a chance to talk about the crisis with Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Thank you. Thank you for this opportunity and for your time…"        U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE ANTONY BLINKEN: "It's good to be with you."        Q: So, your administration said that Russia can invade at any moment. What is your administration ready to do to defer Russian aggression? And what would be the three major steps you're ready to do if Russia will invade tomorrow?"        BLINKEN: "Well, first, we've, we've offered Russia a clear choice, a choice between pursuing dialogue and diplomacy on the one hand, or confrontation and consequences on the other hand. And we've just been engaged in an intensive series of diplomatic engagements with Russia, directly between us through the strategic stability dialogue at NATO, with the NATO Russia Council at the OSCE, the Organization for Security Cooperation in Europe, and my hope remains that Russia will pursue that diplomatic path. It's clearly preferable."        Q: "Still, what are US…"        BLINKEN: "But, but to your point, we've also - we've equally made clear that if Russia chooses to renew its aggression against Ukraine, we – and not just we, the United States, we, many countries, throughout Europe, and even some beyond - will respond very forcefully and resolutely and in three ways. First, we've been working intensely on elaborating extensive sanctions, financial, economic, export controls, and others…."        Q: "Doesn't that include…"        BLINKEN: "I'm not going to get into the details what they are, but we're doing that in very close coordination with European allies and partners. A second consequence would almost certainly be further assistance, defensive military assistance, to Ukraine. And third, it's almost certain that NATO would have to reinforce its own defenses on its, on its eastern flank. And you know, what's so striking about this is that, when you think about it, President Putin, going back to 2014, has managed to precipitate what he says he wants to prevent, because among other things, NATO had to reinforce itself after Russia invaded Ukraine, seized Crimea, the Donbass after that happened. So, we've laid out the consequences clearly for Russia, but also, also the far preferable path of resolving differences diplomatically. And we'll see which path President Putin decides to take."        Q: "It's still the question of, is the Swift – cutting Russia from Swift is on the table, and personal sanctions against, personally, Putin and his family is on the table?"        BLINKEN: "What I can tell you is this, and it's not just me saying this. The G7, the leading democratic economies in the world, the European Union, NATO have all each declared as institutions, as a collection of countries, that there will be and I quote, 'massive consequences' for Russia, if it renews its aggression against Ukraine. We've also said that the measures that we're looking at go well beyond steps that we've taken in the past including in 2014. I'm not going to detail them here or telegraph the steps we take. But I can tell you, the consequences will be severe. But again, I want to insist on the fact that it would be far preferable not to have to go down that path. We're fully prepared to do it. But the preference is to see if we can resolve differences, address concerns in both directions through diplomacy."       Q: "Russia asked for a written response to demand never to accept Ukraine into NATO,  – are you preparing such a written response, and what kind?"        BLINKEN: "So, we had the last week of these important engagements, as I, as I noted, and we now have an opportunity, both Russia and, and all of us - the United States our European partners - to take back what we heard from each other. The Russians have gone back and, presumably, are consulting with President Putin. We've done the same, in my case, with President Biden. The Europeans have done the same with their leaders. And the next step in this process is for me to have a chance to meet with Foreign Minister (Sergey) Lavrov in Geneva on Friday, and to see what how, how Russia has responded to what's already been, been discussed. They'll hear, they'll hear from us. Before that though, I was determined to - President Biden's instruction to come here to Kyiv, to consult with our Ukrainian partners. And then tomorrow in Berlin to meet with some of our closest European partners. That's exactly how we proceeded all along. We've done everything in very close consultation before and after any of our engagements with Russia.   Q: "However, you didn't answer my question about, are you preparing the written response to Russian?"       BLINKEN: "Right now the next step is to meet with Prime Minister Lavrov. Let's see where, where we are after Friday, and we'll take it from there."      Q: "And I had that question about Mr. Lavrov, you're, you're scheduled to meet him. Did you see any signs that the Kremlin is changing its position at this point?"      BLINKEN: "I can't say that I see any, any direct evidence of that? Unfortunately, we can see, we continue to see Russia having amassed very significant forces on Ukraine's borders, that process seems to continue. On the other hand, the fact that we are meeting in Geneva, the fact that we will be discussing the conversations and exchanges that we've had over the last 10 days, also suggests to me that diplomacy remains an open possibility, one that we're determined to pursue as long and far as we can. We want to leave no diplomatic stone unturned, because, again, that's just a much better and more responsible way to deal with these problems."      Q: "The Minsk agreement is seen as the only valuable solution for this crisis. However, Russia and Ukraine have a different reading of the agreement. What has to be done to implement the agreement or is it time to renegotiate?"      BLINKEN: "I don't think there's any, any need to renegotiate, because, as you say, there's an agreement. In fact, there are actually three of them because Minsk evolved 2014-2015. And there are a number of very clear steps that both of the parties have to take. I think it's fair to say, looking back that many of those steps Ukraine has either implemented or begun to implement, there are some that hasn't yet tackled. I think, unfortunately, it's equally fair to say that Russia has done virtually nothing in terms of the steps required in the Minsk agreement. So, the first question is whether Russia is serious about resolving the Donbass through the Minsk process, if it is, I agree with you, I think that's the best and right now really the only way forward. France, Germany, are an important part of this so-called Normandy format. And they're supposed to be upcoming meetings in that process. And, again, it's a test of whether Russia is serious about it. The one positive sign that we've seen in the last few weeks when it comes to Minsk is a loose ceasefire that is clearly an improvement over where things were, that takes us back to where we were in 2020. But the real question is, is Russia serious about implementing Minsk? If it is, we're prepared to facilitate that, we're prepared to support that, we're prepared to engage in that but in support of this Normandy process that France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine are engaged in."      Q: "Since you mentioned Germany—you mentioned Normandy Format. There's a lot of talks about U.S. joining that, that Normandy Format, is there any reconsideration of U.S. doing so?"      BLINKEN: "I don't think it's a question about us joining the format, the question is whether it's useful for us to try to facilitate things, to support it in any way that we can. If the answer to that is yes, we're fully prepared to do that. And we, of course, shared that with our allies and partners France and Germany. But we've also said that to Russia, and of course to Ukraine."      Q: "The U.S. National Security Advisor recently said that if Russa wants Nord Stream to start operating, it will have to stop aggression in Ukraine. Is the United States ready to accept the completion, and activation of the pipeline for Russia to withdraw troops from the borders?"      BLINKEN: "We continue to oppose the pipeline for reasons that are well known and long known. We think that it actually undermines Europe's energy security and obviously does tremendous potential damage to Ukraine, including giving Russia the option to avoid the existing pipeline through Ukraine. That results in a lot of transit fees for Ukraine, and the list goes on. Having said that, the pipeline is actually complete, the construction has been completed. It's not operational, and to Jake Sullivan, the national security advisor's point, right now that pipeline is as much, if not more leveraged, for us as it is for Russia because the idea that if Russia commits renewed aggression against Ukraine, gas would flow through that pipeline is highly, highly improbable. So that's an interesting factor to see whether it affects Russia's thinking as it's deciding what to do. "       Q: "And I have two questions on domestic agenda, Ukraine's domestic agenda if I may. President Zelenskiy promised President Biden personally to fight corruption. He promised to appoint the special anti-corruption prosecutor before the end of 2021. However, many Ukrainians argue that there is sabotage, of anti-corruption reform. Is the United States as a Ukraine strategic partner satisfied with the reform progress in Ukraine? And is Ukraine at risk of losing the U.S. support if the government does not meet its commitment to reform?"       BLINKEN: "I had a chance to spend time with President Zelenskiy today, we had a very good conversation about virtually all of these issues, including the question of reform, and President Zelenskiy has been pursuing reform, including most recently, judicial reform. But there are other things that need to happen, including, finally the appointment of this Commissioner, that should and could take place anytime, so we are looking for that to see that happen. It's challenging, there are external pressures, there are internal pressures, but he has been on the path of reform. And ultimately, Ukraine's progress, which we are determined to support, is contingent on reform so we look to the president to continue those efforts, we very much support him in those efforts, and will continue to support Ukraine as it makes those efforts."       Q: "Thank you so much. They're showing me that I have to cut. I have one more question. Across from the building where we're doing this interview today, on the court hearing treason charges brought against the former President Poroshenko, many experts, and former Russian politicians expressed their concern, and some say the charges are politically motivated. Do you think these charges and the process is justified at the time?"       BLINKEN: "Well, I can't get into the details of this, of this particular case. All I can say is this. It's very important that in any proceeding, whether it's this one or any other, that things go forward through an independent judiciary, pursuant to the rule law, and as we would say, without fear or favor, no selective prosecutions. That's a general rule that we would apply anywhere and everywhere. Second, this is a time where there's a premium on national unity precisely because of the threat that Russia is posing.  And it's important for Ukrainians to come together, whatever political differences they may have. One of Russia's methods is to try to divide, to create divisions, to create distractions. And it's important for Ukrainians to come together to resist that and to deal with the challenge posed by Russia as one, as one country with an incredible future that the United States strongly supports but one that's being challenged." 

Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) - Day 10

5 days ago

Tuesday, January 18, 2022 Malawi vs Senegal | 0-0 Zimbabwe vs Guinea | 2-1 Gabon vs Morocco | 2-2 Ghana vs Comoros | 2-3  

UN Chief: ‘Real Opportunity’ to Resolve Ethiopia Conflict

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U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed hope Wednesday there could be an opening to resolve the more than year-long conflict in northern Ethiopia, which has left millions on the brink of starvation. In a statement, Guterres said he spoke Wednesday with former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, who is the African Union’s chief envoy to the Horn of Africa. The AU is leading mediation efforts in the Ethiopian conflict and Obasanjo has been shuttling between the parties since he took up his post in August, trying to build support for a cease-fire and talks. “Mr. Obasanjo briefed me about the efforts being made by the government of Ethiopia and the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) to move towards a resolution of the violent conflict and expressed optimism that there is now a real opportunity for political and diplomatic resolution of the conflict,” the statement said. On December 24, the Ethiopian federal government announced that its defense forces would pause at their current positions, while the Tigrayan forces said they had withdrawn from the neighboring regions of Amhara and Afar and were returning to Tigray. The U.N. chief said Obasanjo briefed him on his latest visit to the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, and to Mekelle, the capital of the Tigray region. “I am delighted that after over a year of armed conflict which has affected millions of people across Ethiopia and the rest of the region, there is now a demonstrable effort to make peace,” Guterres said. The U.N. has been warning for months that the intensifying conflict risks descending into a full-blown civil war and threatens the stability of the entire Horn of Africa. Guterres said ongoing military operations in some parts of the country continue to present a challenge to the peace process. “Let me reiterate my call on all parties to move rapidly towards cessation of hostilities as a critical step in the right direction for peace-making,” he said, offering the United Nations’ support for inclusive and Ethiopian-led talks. He also urged the international community to support peace efforts. The United States’ new Horn of Africa envoy, David Satterfield, is making his first visit to Ethiopia this week. The State Department said he and Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Molly Phee will “encourage government officials to seize the current opening for peace by ending the air strikes and other hostilities, negotiating a ceasefire, releasing all political prisoners, restoring sustained humanitarian access, and laying the foundation for an inclusive national dialogue.” Guterres said he remains concerned about the humanitarian situation in parts of Ethiopia affected by the war and called on the parties to allow aid access.  The U.N. says that about 9.4 million people in the three northern regions affected by the conflict are in need of aid. The U.N. said last week that there have been no humanitarian deliveries into Tigray since December 14. Fuel, which is vital to putting aid convoys on the road, has been in critically short supply. No fuel has been delivered to Tigray since August 2.  Some U.N. partners say they will soon have to suspend their work if no fuel is allowed in. Fighting and intensified airstrikes are also hampering relief efforts and causing civilian casualties.  The Ethiopian federal government has been engaged in an armed conflict with TPLF forces in the northern Tigray region since November 2020. 

Phone Service in Tonga Partially Restored After Eruption

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Telephone service between Tonga and other countries was partially restored Wednesday, according to mobile phone network provider Digicel, but the company that provides cable service said full internet connectivity will probably take at least one month. Communications with the island nation of about 100,000 people were cut off Saturday when an underwater volcano exploded, releasing what New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research said was a supersonic pressure wave that apparently severed an undersea cable that connects Tonga with the rest of the world. While Digicel announced “international call service is back up,” Tonga Cable Ltd. Chairman Samiuela Fonua said network services would not be fully restored until the undersea cable is repaired. Fonua said a repair ship plans to depart Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea, this weekend. Fonua warned the company and those affected would be “lucky” if repairs are completed within a month, noting it would take up to nine days to sail to Samoa for equipment before embarking on an uncertain trip to the eruption area. He also said it was unclear when the repair ship could safely venture near the undersea volcano to begin the work. Tonga’s government and its Tonga Communications Corp. did not immediately comment on the country’s communications status. The volcano’s explosion killed at least three people, officials said, and contaminated much of the country’s drinking water with ash. New Zealand said Tuesday it would send water and essential supplies to Tongo by air, but ash covering the main runway at Tonga’s airport delayed the shipment by at least a day. The pressure wave from the explosion of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano swept over much of the planet at supersonic speeds of 1,230 kilometers per hour, according to New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research. The volcano’s blast could be heard in Alaska and triggered tsunami waves across the Pacific. Despite the violent explosion, Tonga appears to have avoided widespread devastation that was initially feared, officials said. But because communications were cut off, the government said assessing the damage has been more difficult. Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters, and Agence France-Presse.

Britain to Drop COVID-19 Restrictions

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Britain is ending COVID-19 restrictions, including mask mandates, working from home and vaccine passports, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced Wednesday. The measures had been introduced to slow the spread of the highly transmissible omicron variant of the virus. "Many nations across Europe have endured further winter lockdowns ... but this government took a different path," Johnson told lawmakers, citing a decreasing number of people being admitted to intensive care because of the virus. "Our scientists believe it is likely that the omicron wave has now peaked nationally ... because of the extraordinary booster campaign," Johnson said, adding that restrictions also had slowed the spread. Some scientists disagree with the move. "Removing (the) measures in the face of extremely high levels of infection is a risk," University of Warwick virologist Lawrence Young said.  "Perhaps it would have been wiser to wait for another couple of weeks before removing the advice to work from home and the face coverings mandate. There's no guarantee that infection levels will continue to fall."  Britain has seen 152,513 deaths since the virus emerged from China in early 2020.  Johnson is currently facing a political crisis, including criticism from his own party, for hosting parties during the peak of lockdowns in the country.  Some say the easing of restrictions is an attempt by Johnson to shore up support among conservatives who disagreed with them.  Johnson said despite the moves, "We must all remain cautious during these last weeks of winter," adding that hospitals still could see increased cases.  "The pandemic is not over," he cautioned. Some information in this report comes from Reuters and Agence France-Presse. 

University of Michigan to Pay Victims of Doctor’s Sexual Assaults

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School officials and those close to the agreement say the University of Michigan has agreed to a $490 million settlement with more than 1,000 former athletes and students, who say they were sexually assaulted by the school’s former sports doctor.    An attorney for the plaintiffs told the Associated Press all 1,050 of those joining the lawsuit against former university doctor Robert Anderson will share the settlement. The claimants — many of whom were men who filed their suits anonymously — say the university knew what Anderson was doing but failed to act.   Anderson worked at the university for 37 years, from 1968 to 2003 and was the director of the university's health center and the physician for several sports teams.   Many of those who came forward were football players and other athletes who say Anderson touched their genitals inappropriately during routine examinations. Some of his accusers say his activities had become so well known among Michigan athletes, he became known to many of them as "Dr. Drop Your Drawers" and "Dr. Glove."   The Detroit Free Press reports some of the accusations go as far back as the late 1960s and early 1970s, when some accusers allege Anderson traded sexual favors for letters to draft boards establishing men as homosexual and thus making them eligible for a draft deferment.    After a number of football players and other athletes came forward to accuse Anderson, who died in 2008, of sexually abusing them, the school hired an independent firm to investigate the allegations and its report was released last May.    The independent firm reported, based on the evidence, there was no doubt Anderson “engaged in a pervasive, decades-long, destructive pattern of sexual misconduct." It went on to say the school missed many opportunities to stop Anderson, but it failed to do so during his career.    The Free Press reports a portion of the settlement money will be set aside for future settlements.    Some information for this report was provided by The Associated Press and Reuters. 

NATO Countries Urged to Supply More Weapons to Ukraine

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Germany is under mounting pressure from European allies to drop its long-standing refusal to supply weapons to Ukraine to help the country to defend itself from a Russian attack. Britain flew short-range anti-tank missiles to Ukraine on Monday, avoiding German airspace. British Defense Minister Ben Wallace indicated to lawmakers that more military aid and extra security assistance will likely be forthcoming in light of Russia's “increasingly threatening behavior” on Ukraine’s borders, where the Kremlin has amassed more than 100,000 troops. Wallace said there is a “legitimate and real cause for concern” that Russia is planning an invasion. Russian officials have denied they have any such plans, but U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned Wednesday, ahead of talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, that the “sense of the threat to Ukraine is unprecedented.” Ukraine has become increasingly frustrated with Germany on the issue of military supplies. Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov complained last month that Berlin had vetoed the purchase of anti-drone rifles and anti-sniper systems from the NATO Support and Procurement Agency, calling the action "very unfair.”     Later, Berlin relented on blocking the purchase of anti-drone rifles after concluding they were non-lethal weapons. Kyiv has been scrambling to plug shortages in military equipment and capabilities, but Berlin worries that supplying arms may be seen by Moscow as provocative and could trigger a Russian escalation. Reznikov has warned that fears of confronting Putin from a position of strength were misguided.   “Not provoking Russia — that strategy does not work and will not work,” he said last month.   Ukraine has been buying arms through deals with the United States, Britain, Lithuania, France and Turkey, which has been supplying armed drones. Anti-missile and anti-aircraft systems, electronic warfare kits and cyber defense equipment are high on Ukraine’s shopping list. Ukraine is also eager to buy surface-to-surface missiles that can strike swarms of targets simultaneously. The Biden administration last month approved $200 million in additional defensive security aid to Ukraine and American officials Wednesday said the White House was weighing new supply options to try to raise the costs for Russian President Vladimir Putin should he decide to attack. With fears mounting that Russia is intent on major aggressive action, the administration is considering providing the Ukrainian army with more Javelin anti-tank missiles and anti-aircraft missile systems. The anti-tank missiles that Britain flew to Ukraine this week are shoulder-held weapons capable of taking out a tank from 800 meters away. They are lighter than Javelin anti-tank missiles and can be used in much tighter spaces. The British anti-tank missiles were flown to Ukraine via Danish and Swedish airspace and not on a more direct route over Germany, according to British newspaper reports, prompting speculation that this was done to avoid protests from Berlin. Tobias Ellwood, chairman of the defense committee of the British parliament, said he hopes other European allies “will follow our lead before the temperature drops and the freezing conditions make an invasion operationally possible.” But while NATO allies are unanimous in rejecting Russian demands for Ukraine never to join the Western alliance, divisions among them extend also to what Western sanctions should be imposed on Russia if an invasion is launched.   Current and former Western diplomats say that while there is broad agreement among Western powers about sanctioning Russia in the event of a military incursion, there is no final accord on the details. German officials told the business newspaper Handelsblatt on Wednesday that they are opposed to Russian banks and financial institutions being cut off from the SWIFT global money transfer system, which is used by more than 11,000 banks and financial institutions to make and receive cross-border payments. They say they want targeted economic sanctions against large Russian banks rather than Russia being excluded from using the transfer system.   Germany’s fear is that excluding Russia from SWIFT will backfire and encourage Russia and China to develop a rival network. They also fear such a move would cause considerable economic harm to European companies that trade with Russia. Russia is the European Union’s fifth largest trading partner, and European assets in Russia are valued at about $350 billion. U.S. officials, who have raised the possibility of excluding Russia from SWIFT, maintain that no sanction options are off the table. As Western allies continue to debate about what military supplies they should be sending to Ukraine and what sanctions to implement, anxiety is mounting in Baltic nations about Russia’s planned military drills with its ally Belarus. Russian troops and military hardware, including S-400 surface-to-air missiles, have been arriving in Belarus in the past week. The drills pose a direct threat, according to Lithuanian Defense Minister Arvydas Anušauskas. “In the current situation, we see the entry of the Russian military into Belarus not only as a destabilizing factor in the security situation but also as a more direct threat to Lithuania,” Anušauskas said in a Facebook post.  “I will shortly be meeting the ambassadors of nine NATO countries that are actively contributing to strengthening Lithuania’s security,” he said.

French Actor Gaspard Ulliel, 37, Dies After Ski Accident

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French actor Gaspard Ulliel, known for appearing in Chanel perfume ads as well as film and television roles, died Wednesday after a skiing accident in the Alps, according to his agent's office. He was 37. Ulliel portrayed the young Hannibal Lecter in 2007's "Hannibal Rising" and fashion mogul Yves Saint Laurent in the 2014 biopic "Saint Laurent." He is also in the upcoming Marvel series "Moon Knight," and was the advertising face of the Chanel men's fragrance Bleu de Chanel. Ulliel was hospitalized Tuesday after the accident in the Savoie region's Rosiere ski area, the Savoie prosecutor's office said. The office of the actor's agent said Ulliel died on Wednesday. It provided no details. Local broadcaster France Bleu said Ulliel was hospitalized with a skull injury, and that he apparently collided with another skier at a crossing point on the slopes. The other skier was not hospitalized, according to France Bleu. Police and prosecutors would not discuss details of the accident. Ulliel started in television while still in middle school and went on to win two of France's top cinema awards, the Cesar.  Tributes poured in from shocked fans and the corridors of power. French Prime Minister Jean Castex tweeted an homage that said, "Gaspard Ulliel grew up with cinema and cinema grew up with him. They loved each other madly." The accident conjured up memories of when Formula One great Michael Schumacher hit his head in a ski accident in 2013 in the French ski resort of Meribel, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) from where Ulliel was skiingl. Both were treated at Grenoble University Hospital. Schumacher, 53, has not been seen in public in eight years, and little has been released about his physical and mental condition. The German auto racing legend suffered serious head injuries when he fell and hit the right side of his head on a rock off the side of a demarcated slope. He was skiing with his teenage son while on a family vacation in the Alps. After Ulliel's accident, the mountain police service for the Rosiere ski area said its personnel have been carrying out five or six rescues per day as the snow hardened in recent days. In the neighboring Haute-Savoie region, a 5-year-old girl was killed Saturday when a skier crashed into her. The man was handed preliminary manslaughter charges, according to the Haute-Savoie prosecutor, who cited excessive speed as the likely reason for the accident.

Police Investigating Bodies Dumped in Western Kenya

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Kenyan police say they are sending investigators to the Yala River in western Kenya, where locals have been finding bodies tied up in sacks. The Yala River in western Kenya has become the center of attention for human rights workers and families of missing persons. Local residents say five bodies have been found in the river this month alone, including one discovered Wednesday. Nicholas Okero is among the divers who have retrieved bodies from the river. "The bodies are tied up tightly, like a parcel, in a sack. And since July, we’ve got nobody from our area who has reported a missing person," he said. "Just the other day, I retrieved the bodies of two Somali men again and those people do not reside here. I don’t know where they were killed."  Okero said he identified the two bodies as Somali based on their physical features. Authorities have yet to determine the identities of any of the people found. In a statement, local police said the five bodies are among 19 discovered in the river over the last two years. Police say no one has come forward to claim the bodies.    Salome Nduta is the director of Haki Africa, an organization working to promote human rights and justice in Kenya. Her organization visited River Yala and the Yala hospital mortuary Monday.   “When we got to Yala, we went straight to the morgue where we discovered 21 unknown bodies. Most of the bodies were tied up, others were found in sacks and others seemed to have deep cuts. Still, we had some bodies which had polythene on their heads,” she said.   On Wednesday, after the discovery of the five bodies, dozens of family members of missing persons trooped to Yala in Siaya County.  Ismail Okumu, 55, a farmer from Mumias town in western Kenya, is one of them. He is looking for his brother, who was abducted by armed men 18 months ago.   "I am at Yala mortuary searching for my brother's body. He was arrested on August 10, 2020, at 1 pm. I have never found him. I have searched in all mortuaries but I never found him. Whenever I hear there are bodies found somewhere, I go there," he said.  Bodies have turned up in other Kenyan rivers under mysterious circumstances. Last September, 11 bodies were recovered in the Tana River in Garissa County.

Spain’s EFE Could Leave Cuba ‘Within Weeks’

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For almost half a century, Spain’s EFE news agency has reported from Cuba, covering everything from the historic visit by President Barack Obama to the death of Fidel Castro. But its independent coverage in one of the world’s most censored societies could be about to end. In an interview with VOA, EFE’s president said the network may leave the island “within weeks,” citing visa delays and restrictions imposed on staff since protests last year. “We don't want to leave Cuba. The problem is that they are kicking us out of Cuba. We only have two accredited journalists there and one of these has to renew their visa every month,” said Gabriela Cañas, during a phone call in Madrid. “We are not going to leave out of our own choice. We are the international media which reports the most from Cuba. The [Cuban government] wants to force us out,” she said, adding that EFE would have to decide its future “within weeks.” The news agency is looking for solutions, and it has hopes that new Cuban Ambassador to Madrid, Marcelino Medina, could act as an intermediary. Medina’s office did not respond to VOA’s request for an interview. Typically, the EFE news agency has seven journalists reporting from Havana, but currently only two have permission to work. In November, Havana revoked the press credentials for three editors, a camera operator and a photographer. No reason for the decision was provided. At the time, EFE had been covering protests and the lead-up to the Civic March for Change, as dissident groups called for greater civil rights. Havana issued a ban on the march taking place. Its actions against EFE drew complaints from the Spanish government and criticism from the international community. In response, Havana restored credentials for one editor and a photographer. The agency’s new bureau chief has still not been granted a visa, however, even though the application was submitted in July. Cañas believes EFE was singled out by the Cuban government because of its reach. “Practically half the news in Latin America about Cuba comes from us, but I do not have the answer. You will have to ask [the Cuban government],” Cañas said. The Cuban Embassy in Madrid did not reply to VOA’s requests for comment. The Cuban government's International Press Center, which controls accreditation for foreign media organizations, did not respond to a request for comment from VOA. ‘Historic relationship’ EFE has an illustrious history covering events in the Caribbean island since 1975. Its journalists reported on three papal visits; the 1989 visit of then Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev; the 1996 Helms Burton Act, which strengthened U.S. sanctions against Cuba; Raul Castro taking over from his ailing brother Fidel Castro as head of state in 2008; the first visit by a U.S. president in 88 years; and the death of Fidel. Cañas said if EFE had to leave, it would be a blow to the agency, which is state-run but independent from the Spanish government. “It will be terrible. It will leave us without eyes and ears, and we cannot report in the same way. Cuba has a historic relationship with Spain and vice versa. We can report from outside, but it will not be the same,” Cañas said. “It will also be bad for the Cuban society and for the freedom of expression.” EFE is one of a handful of independent media outlets that broadcast from Havana. In Latin America, EFE has 332 media clients and 168 companies that take its news from Cuba. Reuters, the Associated Press and Agence-France Presse also have bureaus in Cuba and Radio and Television Marti — which like VOA is part of the U.S. Agency for Global Media — broadcasts to Cuba from Miami. Cuba’s own press is tightly regulated and state-controlled, and the few independent local journalists risk harassment and arrest for their coverage. Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders says the country “has continued year after year to be Latin America’s worst media freedom violator.” Cuba ranks 171 out of 180 countries, where 1 is freest, on the RSF press freedom index. Atahualpa Amerise,  who was EFE deputy bureau chief in Cuba for over three years, told VOA that reporting from Havana enabled the agency’s journalists to provide in-depth coverage. He believes the government targeted EFE because it was viewed by authorities as the "media of reference." "EFE also reported extensively on political prisoners and on opposition protests,” Amerise said. “I believe the Cuban government became quite nervous about the agency.” In Cuba, EFE's reports are taken by the country's state-run Prensa Latina agency and On Cuba, and the Hungarian Embassy. Many Cuban media in exile in Miami and elsewhere turn to EFE for coverage of their home country. Spain’s Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares said the government is working behind the scenes to help EFE, but he declined to disclose details of diplomatic discussions with Cuba. “I have been very clear about the accreditation of EFE journalists in Cuba and I have communicated this to my [Cuban] counterpart on several occasions,” he told El Diario, a Spanish news website, in an interview published Sunday. “It would be very sad if the EFE agency had to reconsider its presence in Cuba, a country to which Spanish society feels very close and vice versa,” he said. “What we all want is for them to stay on the island, but they must have the means to be able to work freely.” Carlos Jornet, president of the Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information for the Inter American Press Association, said Cuba “played games” with independent media like EFE. “They grant visas to make it seem like they allow some form of free speech but then they take them away. They play games with the independent media to try to make their image look better,” he told VOA from his office in Miami. If EFE were to leave the island it would harm the international community's ability to know what was really happening inside one of the world's least open societies, Jornet said. “The presence of a respected media like EFE on the ground in Cuba is the best way we have to know what is really happening,” Jornet added. “It would silence this independent voice inside Cuba forever.”  

US Government to Distribute 400 Million High-Quality Face Masks

5 days ago

U.S. news outlets said Wednesday that the Biden administration will distribute 400 million high-quality face masks free of charge to the American people beginning next week. A White House official, speaking anonymously, said the N95 masks will be shipped to thousands of local pharmacies and community health centers across the United States beginning later this week, with three masks available per adult. The program will be fully operational by early February. The N95 masks are part of the 750 million masks housed in the federal government’s Strategic National Stockpile, which stores critical medicines and medical supplies for use during a public health emergency. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently advised that N95 masks, which are designed to fit tightly on a person’s face, “offer the highest level of protection” against COVID-19, compared to other face masks. The officials say the distribution of the N95 masks will be the largest deployment of personal protective equipment in U.S. history. Announcement of the free N95 face masks comes on the same day as the official debut of the federal government’s new website that allows Americans to request free rapid coronavirus test kits. Millions of households began placing orders for the test kits Tuesday during a soft launch of The website allows each household to order a maximum of four tests after clicking on a link that connects to a U.S. Postal Service form. Some occupants of apartments and other multi-unit dwellings, however, complained on social media that the website’s address verification tool was enforcing the four-per-person household, only allowing one family per building to request the tests. The two programs are part of an aggressive new effort by the Biden administration to combat a surge of new COVID-19 infections largely driven by the highly contagious omicron variant of the coronavirus. A high-ranking official with the World Health Organization says the world could turn the corner on the COVID-19 pandemic this year through a more equitable distribution of vaccines and treatments. Dr. Michael Ryan, the director of WHO’s health emergencies program, told the World Economic Forum Tuesday that COVID-19 may never be eradicated, but stressed the current public health emergency could finally come to an end if more vaccines finally reach the world’s poorest countries. The U.N. health agency has repeatedly criticized the world’s richest countries for building up huge stockpiles of COVID-19 vaccines and using them to administer booster shots to its citizens, while poorer nations have barely received even a first dose of a vaccine. More than 334,469,000 people around the globe have been sickened since COVID-19 was first detected in Wuhan, China in late 2019, according to figures compiled by the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. The center reports more than 5.5. million deaths globally. Germany announced Wednesday that it had recorded 112,323 new COVID-19 cases, the country’s highest-ever daily figure and the first time it had broken the 100,000 mark for a single day. The Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s disease control and prevention agency, said 70 percent of the new cases were driven by the highly-contagious omicron variant. The surge of new infections has prompted the government of new Chancellor Olaf Scholz to consider imposing mandatory vaccinations. Tokyo and 12 other Japanese prefectures will be placed under new COVID-19 restrictions effective Friday as Japan struggles with an omicron-driven surge. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters Wednesday in the Japanese capital the new decree will allow local governors to limit the operating hours of bars and restaurants and ban the sale of alcohol. The restrictions will remain in effect until February 13. Some information for this report came from the Associated Press, Reuters, Agence France-Presse.

Indonesian Militant Gets 15 Years in Jail Over Bali Attacks

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An Islamic militant who eluded capture for 18 years was sentenced to 15 years in prison on Wednesday after an Indonesian court found him guilty of hiding information about the 2002 Bali bombings from authorities and harboring other suspects. Prosecutors previously demanded a life sentence for Aris Sumarsono, 58, whose real name is Arif Sunarso but is better known as Zulkarnaen, for his role in the October 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people, mostly foreign tourists including 88 Australians and seven Americans. However, the panel of three judges in East Jakarta District Court said they ignored the prosecutors' first charge because the prosecution period had expired, and they sentenced Zulkarnaen to 15 years in jail for harboring other suspects, including bomb-maker Upik Lawanga, and for hiding information from authorities about the deadly attacks. Indonesia's Criminal Code stipulates that the authority to prosecute criminals is abolished after 18 years. "The accused is found guilty in a legal and convincing manner of carrying out an act of terrorism of third charge," the presiding judge told the court in a session that was held remotely due to the pandemic, adding that Zulkarnaen knew about the terrorism attacks but "did not inform authorities; instead, he harbored a terror suspect." Zulkarnaen has been detained since Dec. 10, 2020. The judges ordered that the time he has already served be deducted from his sentence.   Prosecutors said they would appeal to a higher court, while Zulkarnaen said he accepted the ruling and would not appeal. Police and prosecutors say Zulkarnaen is the former military commander of Jemaah Islamiyah, a Southeast Asian militant group with ties to al-Qaida. The group is widely blamed for the October 2002 nightclub bombings on the Indonesian resort island of Bali and attacks in the Philippines. Zulkarnaen had eluded capture for 18 years after being named a suspect in the 2002 suicide bombings of Paddy's Pub and the Sari Club in Bali. He was arrested in 2020 in the same southern town on Sumatra island where Lawanga, a bomb-maker for the Jemaah Islamiyah network who eluded capture for 16 years, was arrested by counterterrorism police a week earlier. Lawanga was sentenced to life in prison last month. Police were tipped off to their hideout after interrogating several suspected militants arrested in earlier raids. Zulkarnaen argued that although he was a leader of the network's military wing, he was not involved in the operation of the Bali bombings, as he was focused on organizing his squad for sectarian conflicts in Ambon and Poso and in the southern Philippines.  "I didn't even know when the Bali bombings would take place," Zulkarnaen told the court in his plea last week. During his trial, which began in September, other convicted militants in the 2002 Bali bombings, including Umar Patek and Ali Imron, who were sentenced to 20 years and life in jail, respectively, supported Zulkarnaen's claim, saying he knew about the plot but did not play a role in its operation. Police previously said Zulkarnaen masterminded church attacks that occurred simultaneously in many Indonesian regions on Christmas and New Year's Eve in 2000 that killed more than 20 people. He was also the mastermind of a bomb attack on the official residence of the Philippine ambassador in Jakarta in 2000 that killed two people, and the architect of sectarian conflict in Ambon and Poso from 1998 to 2000. Conflicts between Christians and Muslims in Ambon, the provincial capital of the Molluca islands, left more than 5,000 people dead and half a million displaced. The Muslim-Christian conflict in Poso, known as a hotbed of Islamic militancy on Indonesia's Sulawesi island, killed at least 1,000 people from 1998 to 2002. Zulkarnaen was among the first Indonesian militants to go to Afghanistan in the 1980s for training. He later became an instructor at a military academy there for seven years, Indonesian police said. Since May 2005, Zulkarnaen has been named on an al-Qaida sanctions list by the U.N. Security Council for being associated with Osama bin Laden or the Taliban. The Security Council said that Zulkarnaen, who became an expert in sabotage, was one of al-Qaida's representatives in Southeast Asia and one of the few people in Indonesia who had had direct contact with bin Laden's network. It said that Zulkarnaen led a squad of fighters known as the Laskar Khos, or Special Force, whose members were recruited from among some 300 Indonesians who trained in Afghanistan and the Philippines. Zulkarnaen was appointed the head of Camp Saddah, a military academy in the southern Philippines established for fighters from Southeast Asia, the Security Council said. He spent a decade at the camp training other Jemaah Islamiyah members. He became operations chief for Jemaah Islamiyah after the arrest of his predecessor, Encep Nurjaman, also known as Hambali, in Thailand in 2003. The United States' "Rewards for Justice" program had offered a bounty of up to $5 million for his capture. He was the only Indonesian on the list.

Doomscrolling is a unique behavior, not just a trendy name

by U. Florida, 5 days ago

"Doomscrolling" isn't just a new name for an existing behavior, researchers say. It's a unique behavior all its own, according to a new study.

Sensors could personalize treatment after traumatic hand loss

by Eric Stann-Missouri, 5 days ago

Sensors that gather data on how people use a prosthesis versus a transplant in everyday life after a traumatic hand loss could help personalize treatment.

Yemeni Civilians Bear Brunt of Suffering in Escalating Conflict 

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As the fighting in Yemen heats up, the U.N. human rights office warns Yemen’s warring parties that wanton attacks against civilians and civilian targets could amount to war crimes. Reciprocal attacks by Yemen’s warring parties have been escalating this month. They have intensified since Iranian-backed Houthi rebels carried out missile and bomb-laden drone attacks on the United Arab Emirates Monday, killing three people.  In retaliation for those attacks, the government-backed Saudi-led coalition bombed targets in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, reportedly killing at least five civilians from the same family. The U.N. human rights office says it fears more civilian casualties as wanton attacks continue to spiral in the nearly seven-year-long conflict.  U.N. human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani says the antagonists have launched dozens of air and artillery strikes in recent days with seemingly little regard for civilian welfare.  “The fighting has damaged civilian objects and critical infrastructure, including telecommunication towers and water reservoirs, as well as hospitals in Sanaa and Taizz. With frontlines shifting rapidly over large areas, civilians are also exposed to the constant threat of landmines,” she said. Shamdasani cites a litany of destructive attacks and counterattacks by the Saudi-coalition and Houthi rebels since the start of the year. During this period, at least 11 civilians reportedly have been killed and 12 injured, and great damage has been done to civilian infrastructure. Figures collected by human rights monitors indicate 839 airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition in January, compared with 1,074 for all of December. The Houthi rebels, they say, lobbed 10 drone strikes towards Saudi Arabia this month and fired 31 drones, missiles, and projectiles toward Saudi Arabia in December. Houthi rebels use inexpensive drones strapped with explosives and fly them into targets.  The U.N. rights office is calling on all parties to ensure the protection of civilians and civilian objects. Shamdasani says that is more than a request because under international law, they are obliged to do so.  “Parties to the conflict must take all feasible measures to verify that targets are indeed military objectives and suspend an attack if it becomes apparent that the target is not a military objective or that the attack would be disproportionate. Failure to respect the principles of distinction and proportionality could amount to war crimes,” she said. Since Yemen’s civil conflict began in March 2015, the United Nations says more than 377,000 people have died, 60% by indirect causes, such as lack of safe drinking water, disease, and acute hunger.  Yemen continues to be the world’s worst humanitarian crisis with more than 20 million people, or two thirds of the population, in need of humanitarian aid.     

These key qualities attract 'likes' on Instagram

by Matt Shipman-NC State, 5 days ago

Feature complexity and design complexity are two key characteristics that bring in likes on Instagram, research finds.

How 'mechanical trees' pull carbon dioxide from the air and lock it away – an inventor of direct air capture tech explains

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Six Dead, 17 Injured in Spain Nursing Home Fire

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Fire officials in Spain say six nursing home residents died and at least 17 were injured in a fire at a retirement home in a suburb of Valencia early Wednesday. The Valencia regional fire department said the fire started late Tuesday at a publicly-owned senior residence in the town of Moncada, about 12 kilometers north of Valencia. The fire department said on Twitter it took two hours to bring the fire under control. Several area fire departments responded. Valencia fire chief Jose Bassett told Spanish media flames and smoke affected an entire wing of the residence, He said officials believe the fire has started in a room on the first floor, where two residents were found dead. Fire fighters say about 25 of the at least 70 residents of the facility had to be rescued. Regional health officials say five the victims died at the scene and a sixth died at the hospital. They say at last 17 residents were hospitalized with injuries, two of them in serious condition. Bassett said officials believe a faulty electrical mechanism with an oxygen tank may have started the fire, but the exact cause is under investigation. Moncada city officials called for a moment of silence and three days of mourning for those who died in the fire.   Spanish President Pedro Sanchez tweeted he heard news of the fire and expressed his condolences to the families of the deceased and his concern for the injured. Some information for this report was provided by the Associated Press and Reuters and Agence France-Presse.

The omicron variant is deepening severe staffing shortages in medical laboratories across the US

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What causes a tsunami? An ocean scientist explains the physics of these destructive waves

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Batteries get hyped, but pumped hydro provides the vast majority of long-term energy storage essential for renewable power – here’s how it works

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State efforts to close the K-12 digital divide may come up short

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CORBEVAX, a new patent-free COVID-19 vaccine, could be a pandemic game changer globally

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What 13th-century Christian theologian Thomas Aquinas can teach us about hope in times of despair

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Sex ed diagrams in books don't show darker skin

by April Toler-Indiana, 5 days ago

A look at skin color and skin tone diversity in anatomical diagrams in human sexuality textbooks finds a lack of darker skin tones.

Earth's insides are cooling faster than we thought

by Peter Rüegg-ETH Zurich, 5 days ago

New results "suggest that Earth, like the other rocky planets Mercury and Mars, is cooling and becoming inactive much faster than expected."

Afghan Acting PM Urges World to Recognize Taliban Government

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The Taliban’s acting prime minister asked the global community Wednesday to grant legitimacy to Afghanistan’s new government, insisting it has met all conditions required for the official recognition. Mohammad Hassan Akhund spoke at a conference in Kabul where his interim administration convened to discuss massive economic upheavals facing the country since the Taliban seized power last August. The event was also attended by United Nations officials. “I call especially on Islamic countries to not wait for others and take the lead in officially recognizing our Islamic Emirate,” Akhund said. This would help expedite efforts aimed at addressing dire economic and humanitarian problems facing Afghanistan, he argued. No country has yet recognized the new government, which the Taliban officially refer to as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Foreign governments are watching to see how the ultra-conservative group will govern the country this time around. Akhund blamed the current economic crisis on international sanctions and the freezing of roughly $9.5 billion in Afghanistan’s foreign cash reserves by Western nations led by the United States. Deborah Lyons, the head of the U.N. mission in Kabul, told the conference the global body was working to “revitalize” the Afghan economy and “fundamentally” address the economic problems. “The economic crisis is not the only problem facing Afghanistan. But it is one of the most urgent and above all is one where action is possible and must be taken quickly by all of us,” Lyons said. She praised some of the steps the Taliban administration has taken to contain economic deterioration. “Foremost among these is the adoption recently of a national budget that, for the first time, is totally financed by national revenues and not dependent on any donor grants,” Lyons noted. “In addition, revenue generation has been growing, despite the economic slowdown, in large part because of efforts to address corruption.” Lyons, however, stressed the importance of women’s participation in economic activities.   Other senior Taliban Cabinet members also addressed Wednesday’s conference and called for ending international economic sanctions. Acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi said the Taliban government was seeking to establish close economic relations with international partners. “Humanitarian aid is the short-term solution to economic problems but what is needed to solve problems in the long run is the implementation of infrastructure projects,” Muttaqi said. “I again avail this opportunity to call on the United States of America to unfreeze the assets of Afghanistan’s Central Bank and to remove all impediments for relief organizations and Afghans in money transfers to Afghanistan,” the foreign minister added. Since the Taliban took over the government five months ago, the suspension of most international development funding to aid-dependent Afghanistan, the imposition of financial restrictions and long-running terrorism-related sanctions on Taliban leaders, have led to a breakdown in many basic services, including electricity, health services and education. Inflation is rampant, and the price of ordinary goods is beyond the reach of most Afghans. Under the previous Taliban government from 1996 to 2001, women were excluded from public life, girls’ education was banned, human rights abuses were rampant, and transnational terrorists were active on Afghan soil, triggering international sanctions and the diplomatic isolation of the country. Although Taliban leaders have pledged to govern the country differently, they have not yet allowed most women to return to public sector jobs. While schoolboys were allowed to resume classes in September, secondary schools for girls across Afghanistan have mostly remained shuttered. Women are not allowed to travel beyond 72 kilometers without a male relative and taxi drivers are ordered to refuse a ride to women not wearing an Islamic hijab or veil.  The International Labour Organization said Wednesday in a new report that Afghanistan had lost more than half-a-million jobs since the Taliban took control of the country. That number could rise to more than 900,000 by the middle of this year, the report said. The ILO noted women were hit hardest, estimating that female employment dropped by 16% in July, August and September.

Cameroon’s Nigerian Refugees, Displaced Cheer Super Eagles at AFCON 

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Nigerian football fans are cheering their team, the Super Eagles, at home and in Cameroon, which is hosting the Africa Football Cup of Nations tournament.  That includes hundreds of Nigerian refugees and people displaced by Boko Haram terrorism along the border with Cameroon. Cameroon’s state CRTV shows Nigerian football fans singing the Nigerian national anthem and cheering for its national football team, the Super Eagles, in northern Garoua city. Garoua is hosting the Africa Football Cup of Nations, or the AFCON, group matches for teams from Egypt, Guinea-Bissau, Nigeria, and Sudan.  The Confederation of African Football says thousands of Nigerian supporters have come to Garoua, but hundreds of them didn’t have to travel far. Nigerian Mohamed Tchiroma Fayiza, 19, has lived in Cameroon’s Minawao refugee camp, on the border with Nigeria, for six years. She fled her village in Nigeria’s northeast Borno state after Boko Haram militants attacked their school.  Speaking on CRTV, she says authorities helped her and more than 20 other female team Nigeria supporters to watch the AFCON matches in Garoua.  “I have come to support Nigeria because it [Nigeria] is my country," she said. "Anyway, I go, I can never forget my country. I can never forget Nigeria. I want Nigeria people{players} to play very well and win this match [tournament.].”  The U.N.’s refugee agency (UNHCR) says there are 68,000 Nigerian refugees in Cameroon’s Minawao camp. They elected Isaac Luka, who has lived in the camp since 2014, as their leader. Luka also fled Borno state in June 2014 after Boko Haram terrorists killed more than 20 people in his village, including his family.  Speaking from Garoua, he says cheering on Nigeria’s football team shows how much the refugees love their country and hope for peace so they can one day return home. “I take [consider] football as a way [means] of resolving problems," he said. "If you look at the match [between] Sudan and Nigeria, you know Nigeria is facing security challenges. Sudan is facing security challenges. If the two [Sudan and Nigerian] refugees can come together and watch their players on the field, it is something that can bring unity among the refugees.”  Luka says the refugees cheered the Nigerian team to a 1-0 victory over Egypt last week and a 3-1 victory over Sudan on Saturday. Nigeria plays their third group match against Guinea-Bissau Wednesday.  The UNHCR says they helped at least a hundred Nigerian refugees in Cameroon get to stadiums to watch AFCON matches.  UNHCR in Cameroon spokesman Xavier Bourgois says they believe strongly in the power of sports. “People [refugees] and especially young people [refugees] also have the right to enjoy like everybody else and so when we have these kinds of opportunities to bring the refugees into the stadium, of course we do it with a lot of pleasure. Most of the refugees come from very difficult places, they suffered a lot. They have a difficult history and so that was an opportunity for us to tell them to rebuild themselves,” he said. Cameroonian authorities say besides the refugees, several hundred Nigerians displaced by Boko Haram terrorists are also in Garoua to support the Nigerian football team. 

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