Algeria Arrests Relatives of Wanted Dissident: Rights Group4 months ago
Algerian authorities have arrested the mother and sister of wanted activist Amira Bouraoui days after she left for France, a rights group and a radio reported on Sunday. Bouraoui, a French-Algerian doctor by training, had been arrested in Tunisia last week and risked being deported to Algeria, but she was finally able to board a flight to France on Monday evening. The 46-year-old was sentenced in Algeria in May 2021 to two years in jail for "offending Islam" and for insulting the president. Her departure, following French intervention, created a diplomatic incident between Algiers and Paris, with Algeria recalling its ambassador from France for consultations. On Saturday, officers in Algiers arrested her mother, Khadidja Bouaroui, 71, and her sister Wafa and searched their home, the National Committee for the Liberation of Detainees (CNLD) and Radio M reported. Early Sunday, Wafa was released but Bouraoui's mother was kept in detention and transferred to Annaba near the border with Tunisia, the CNLD said. A cousin who lives in Annaba was also arrested, the reports said. Algeria, in an official statement released by the president's office Wednesday, "firmly protested against the clandestine and illegal exfiltration" of Amira Bouraoui via Tunisia to France. President Abdelmadjid Tebboune also ordered ambassador Said Moussi to be recalled "with immediate effect.” Ties between France and Algeria had been frosty since autumn 2021 but warmed when French President Emmanuel Macron visited Algiers last August.
12 Al-Shabab Fighters Killed in Airstrike, US Military Says4 months ago
The United States military reported Sunday that 12 al-Shabab militants were killed in a new airstrike in central Somalia. The U.S. Africa Command known as AFRICOM said in a statement that the “collective self-defense” strike occurred February 10 “at the request of the Federal Government of Somalia.” The strike occurred in a remote area approximately 45 kilometers (28 miles) southwest of the Indian Ocean port town of Hobyo, about 472 kilometers (293 miles) northeast of Mogadishu, according to the statement. AFRICOM did not specify the location, but Somali government media reported it took place in Donlaye, near Amara town in Galmudug state. The Somali government claimed 117 militants were killed in Friday’s operation. Brigadier General Mohamed Tahlil Bihi, infantry commander of the Somali national army, told state media that the militants were in trenches fighting against Somali government forces. He also confirmed an airstrike targeted the militants during the firefight with Somali forces. AFRICOM said the strike took place in a remote location and assessed that no civilians were injured or killed. “U.S. Africa Command will continue to assess the results of this operation and will provide additional information as appropriate,” the statement read. “Specific details about the units involved and assets used will not be released in order to ensure operations security.” It’s the third “collective self-defense” strike by the U.S. military in Somalia this year. The previous two strikes occurred January 20 near Galcad town, killing approximately 30 al-Shabab fighters, and January 23 near Harardhere town, killing two militants. In addition, the U.S. conducted a counterterrorism operation January 26 that killed Bilal al-Sudani, a key Islamic State Somalia branch commander in the Cal-Miskaad mountains in the Puntland semi-autonomous region. The Somali government has been engaged in military operations aimed at recovering territories from al-Shabab. The U.S. and Turkish governments have been providing air support to the Somali army. Both governments are also training elite Somali forces who have been at the forefront of the recent military operations.
Hundreds of Thousands March for Madrid's Health Care4 months ago
Hundreds of thousands of Spaniards flooded the streets of Madrid on Sunday for the largest protest yet against the regional government's management of the capital city's health care services. More than 250,000 people rallied in the city center, according to the central Spanish government. Organizers claimed the crowd was bigger by several hundred thousand. Many protest participants carried homemade signs with messages in Spanish like, "The right to health is a human right. Defend the health service." Health worker associations led the demonstration, which was backed by left-wing parties, unions and normal citizens concerned with what they see as the dismantling of the public health care system by the Madrid region's conservative-led government. These groups have taken to the streets on a regular basis in recent months, and their movement is gathering strength. Madrid's regional chief, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, alleges the protests are motivated by the political interests of left-wing rivals ahead of May regional elections across most of Spain. Health care workers claim that Díaz Ayuso's administration spends the least amount per capita on primary health care of any Spanish region even though it has the highest per capita income. They say that for every two euros spent on health care in Madrid, one ends up in the private sector. Critics of her administration say that produces long waits for patients and overworked doctors and nurses. Spain has a hybrid health care system, but the public sector is larger than the private one and is considered a basic pillar of the state. It is run by Spain's regions.
Cambodian Leader Orders Shutdown of Independent Media Outlet4 months ago
Cambodia's strongman leader ordered the shutdown of one of the country's few remaining local independent media outlets on Sunday after taking issue with a news report about his son. One of the world's longest-serving leaders, Prime Minister Hun Sen has increasingly cracked down on any opposition as he prepares for elections later this year. Online outlet Voice of Democracy (VOD) publishes and broadcasts in Khmer and English and is frequently critical of Hun Sen and his government. The premier said late Sunday that VOD would have its operating license revoked and must stop all broadcasting by 10 a.m. Monday. The move followed a February 9 VOD report that Hun Sen's eldest son, Lieutenant General Hun Manet, had approved financial aid to Turkey, which was struck by a devastating earthquake earlier this month. Hun Manet has denied the allegation. Hun Sen — who has supported Hun Manet to succeed him in the future — stated he signed off on the $100,000 foreign ministry aid package. "In the name of the government, which has to protect its dignity, I decide to end the case by ordering the information ministry to cancel the license for VOD from now on and that it stop broadcasting by 10 am," Hun Sen wrote on his Facebook page. "We are just shutting down all kinds of broadcasting from this radio (station), but we don't touch their property." He told foreign governments that funded the outlet to transfer the money to other countries or back into their own coffers. He added that VOD journalists would "find new jobs at other places." In the Facebook post, Hun Sen also attached a letter from VOD in which it said it was "regretful for confusions" regarding the article. But Hun Sen said he could "not accept the term 'regretful' and the request for forgiveness instead of an apology." On Saturday, Hun Sen initially gave VOD 72 hours to apologize, with senior executives meeting with government officials Sunday in an attempt to hash out an agreement. The report in Khmer is still available online. Chak Sopheap, executive director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, tweeted that the outlet "plays (a) significant role" in promoting "access to information" in Cambodia. The news organization started broadcasting in 2003 before branching out online and has almost 2 million followers on its Khmer-language Facebook page. VOD did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
Biden Hosts Republican, Democrats Governors at White House4 months ago
President Joe Biden, hosting both Republican and Democratic governors for a black-tie affair at the White House, raised his glass for a toast. Standing under a portrait of Abraham Lincoln, he told the people in the room to remember who they were. "We're the United States of America. We can get big things done if we do it together." "Cheers!" the crowd replied, as the clink-clink of glasses rippled about the State Dining Room. Biden hosted the dinner for members of the National Governors Association at the White House for the first time in his administration. It's usually a tradition, but the dinner was held last year at Mount Vernon, George Washington's Virginia estate, and virtually in 2021 because of COVID-19. The dinner came as federal leaders seemed as divided as ever with the new Republican majority in the House courting a risky debt ceiling showdown. On Saturday at the White House, though, the message was togetherness — and not just because the room was tightly packed with governors, spouses and Cabinet members. Biden and both associations' leaders, Republican Gov. Spencer Cox of Utah and Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy of New Jersey, spoke about the need to put aside the increasingly rancorous political differences in order to work together to better the nation. "I think when we work together it works," Biden said, adding he'd work to be a little more bipartisan and praised the work of the governors. The tables were set with purple velvet tablecloths, china bearing the presidential seal and large floral centerpieces in white and pink. Cabinet members were mixed with governors in ball gowns, tuxedos and sparkles. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer sat near Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo. Maryland Gov. Wes Moore and New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, both Democrats, sat near Vice President Kamala Harris. Not far away were Republican Govs. Bill Lee of Tennessee and Doug Burgum of North Dakota. First lady Jill Biden held a service project event earlier Saturday for spouses, but she had to skip a Friday event because she wasn't feeling well. She tested negative for COVID-19. Biden, who does not drink, gave the toast with his left hand, explaining he'd been told by his grandfather that that's just what you did when you don't have alcohol in the glass. Cox, who also doesn't drink, did the same when he toasted, telling the room it was ginger ale. "It's symbolic to have Republicans and Democrats breaking bread together," Cox said. "This is what is missing." "And I believe that the people of our country, at least the exhausted majority, wants us to be doing more of this." Cox thanked Biden and the first lady before introducing Murphy, who joked that he was definitely holding his glass in his right hand. He said their party affiliations were less important than the shared moniker of "Americans." After dinner, the guests filed into the East Room, where country singer Brad Paisley performed the song "American Saturday Night" and other tunes.
Pope Worried About Nicaraguan Bishop’s Prison Sentence4 months ago
Pope Francis expressed sadness and worry Sunday at the news that Bishop Rolando Álvarez, an outspoken critic of the Nicaraguan government, had been sentenced to 26 years in prison in the latest move against the Catholic Church and government opponents. Hours later in Nicaragua's capital, Cardenal Leopoldo Brenes said someone had asked him what they could do for Álvarez. “Pray, that is our strength,” Brenes told those gathered inside the Metropolitan Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. “Pray that the Lord gives him strength, gives him judgment in all of his actions.” Álvarez was sentenced Friday, after refusing to get on a flight to the United States with 222 other prisoners, all opponents of President Daniel Ortega. In addition to his prison term, Álvarez was stripped of his Nicaraguan citizenship. “The news that arrived from Nicaragua has saddened me no little,’’ the pontiff told the faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the traditional Sunday blessing, expressing both his love and concern for Álvarez. He called on the faithful to pray for the politicians responsible “to open their hearts.” The comments by Pope Francis and Cardinal Brenes Sunday were the first made publicly by the church about the expulsion of the prisoners — several priests did board the flight — and of Álvarez's sentence. Ortega ordered the mass release of political leaders, priests, students and activists widely considered political prisoners and had some of them put on a flight to Washington Thursday. Ortega said Álvarez refused to board without being able to consult with other bishops. Nicaragua’s president called Álvarez’s refusal “an absurd thing.” Álvarez, who had been held under house arrest, was then taken to the nearby La Modelo prison. In the run-up to Ortega's reelection in November 2021, Nicaraguan authorities arrested seven potential opposition presidential candidates to clear the field. The government closed hundreds of nongovernmental organizations that Ortega has accused of taking foreign funding and using it to destabilize his government. The former guerrilla fighter has long had a tense relationship with the Catholic Church, but targeted it more directly last year in his campaign to extinguish voices of dissent. Ortega kicked out the papal nuncio, the Vatican's top diplomat in March. Later, the government shut down several radio stations in Álvarez's Matagalpa diocese ahead of municipal elections and Álvarez was arrested in August along with several other priests and lay people, accused of undermining the government and spreading false information. The church's response to the government's increasingly aggressive behavior has been muted, apparently to not inflame tensions. On Saturday, a few thousand Ortega supporters marched in the capital in a show of support for the expulsion of the opposition prisoners. While some seemed genuine in their support, the government has earned a reputation for turning out people by making government employees attend. Outside Managua's cathedral Sunday, it was clear that the lengthy sentence for a priest and stripping critics of their citizenship rankled people in the still heavily Roman Catholic country. Jorge Paladino, a 49-year-old architect, said he felt “disillusioned, upset, dismayed.” He said those who were expelled will always be Nicaraguans, regardless of what they are told. María Buitrago, a 61-year-old retiree, spoke softly but with indignation. “They took their nationality in a horrible way as if they are gods and can take from someone where they live, where they were born,” Buitrago said. “They can't take Nicaraguan blood. They can't take it, but they do what they please.”
Opposition Groups Rally in Paris Demanding EU List Iran's Guards as Terrorist Group4 months ago
Thousands of opponents of Iran's ruling authorities rallied for a second day in Paris on Sunday to pressure European Union states to list Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization in response to a crackdown in the country. Tehran has been engaged in a violent crackdown on protesters since September, including carrying out executions, and it has detained dozens of European nationals. The EU has become increasingly critical of its actions. Ties between EU members and Tehran have also deteriorated in recent months as efforts to revive talks on Iran's nuclear program have stalled and the country has transferred drones to Russia to help it in its war against Ukraine. Sunday's rally in Paris, organized by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and which followed a similar rally on Saturday by European-based Iranians, aimed to highlight the IRGC's role in cracking down on protesters, but also its activities outside Iran. "This will be a revolution... The youth know there is no future under this regime. They say they are better off dying in the streets than living in this country with this regime," said Ela Zabihi, a university lecturer in London. Widespread anti-government demonstrations erupted in Iran in September after the death of young Kurdish Iranian woman Mahsa Amini, who had been detained by morality police for allegedly flouting the strict dress code imposed on women. While some EU member states and the European parliament have pushed for the IRGC to be listed, others have been more cautious fearing that it could lead to a complete break in ties with Iran, harming any chance of reviving nuclear talks and jeopardizing any hope of getting their nationals released. Designating the IRGC as a terrorist group would mean that it would become a criminal offense to belong to the group, attend its meetings and carry its logo in public. Set up after Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution to protect the Shi’ite clerical ruling system, the Guards have great sway in the country, controlling swathes of the economy and armed forces and put in charge of Iran’s ballistic missile and nuclear programs. "The IRGC must be added to the list of designated terrorist organizations by the European Union," Maryam Rajavi, president-elect of the NCRI told the rally of several thousand people. "The valiant youth have the right to defend themselves against the IRGC, covert agents, and the barrage of bullets that pierce their eyes, heads, and hearts." The People's Mujahideen Organization of Iran is the main component of NCRI. The group, also known by its Persian name Mujahideen-e-Khalq, was once listed as a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union but not since 2012. Tehran has long called for a crackdown on the NCRI in Paris, Riyadh and Washington. The group, whose level of support is unclear, is regularly criticized in state media.
East Germany's Last Communist Leader Dies at 954 months ago
Hans Modrow, who served as East Germany's last communist leader during a turbulent tenure that ended in the country's first and only free election, has died. He was 95. Modrow died early Saturday, the Left party parliamentary group tweeted. Modrow, a reform-minded communist, took over East Germany shortly after the Berlin Wall fell and later invited opposition forces into the government, but could not slow the gathering momentum for German reunification. "The entire peaceful course of establishing German unity was precisely a special achievement of his," the Left wrote on Twitter. "That will remain his political legacy." During 16 years as communist party chief in Dresden, starting in 1973, Modrow built a reputation as an anti-establishment figure. He rejected party perks and insisted on living in a normal apartment. A post in East Germany's top leadership eluded him until he was made prime minister, a position that previously carried little clout, in November 1989 — days after the fall of the Berlin Wall. When hardline leader Egon Krenz and his ruling Politburo resigned in early December, Modrow emerged as East Germany's top political figure. But the communists could no longer call the shots on their own. The following month, he agreed to share power with the increasingly vocal opposition and moved up East Germany's landmark first free election to March 1990, amid growing unrest. Even as pro-democracy rallies rapidly took on a pro-unification flavor, the communists initially had opposed talk of reunification. In February 1990, however, Modrow urged talks with West Germany toward an eventual "united fatherland" that would be independent of military blocs and governed by a joint parliament in Berlin. Modrow headed the election campaign of the restyled communists, the Party of Democratic Socialism, but his personal popularity was not enough to prevent them finishing as only the third-strongest party, with 16 percent support. The winner was an alliance of conservative parties that favored quick reunification and was backed by the government of West German leader Helmut Kohl. Germany reunited under Kohl's leadership and as a NATO member on Oct. 3, 1990, less than a year after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Modrow became a member of the united parliament, where he sat until 1994, and honorary chairman of the post-communist PDS — the predecessor of today's opposition Left party. From 1999 to 2004, he was a member of the European Parliament. Modrow's past under hardline communist rule landed him in court several years after reunification. In 1995, a court convicted him of inciting the falsification of results in the May 1989 local elections in Dresden. It handed him a nine-month suspended sentence and a fine. Modrow claimed that the trial was politically motivated and asserted that its outcome would aggravate divisions between east and west Germans. His attorney argued that he had made amends for previous injustices by overseeing free elections as prime minister. Later in life, Modrow served on the council of elders of the Left party. "Hans was a deeply sincere and combative socialist," tweeted Dietmar Bartsch, the chairman of the Left party parliamentary group. "Until old age he was an important adviser in our party, whose wisdom will be missed."
Olympic Chief Shares 'Grief, Human Suffering' of Ukrainian Athletes4 months ago
Olympic chief Thomas Bach said Sunday that he shared the "grief and human suffering" of Ukrainian athletes, stressing that it was not up to individual governments to decide who takes part in the international sporting competition. Ukrainian athletes, Bach said on the sidelines of the World Ski Championships, "know how much we share their grief, their human suffering and all the effort we're taking to help them" in the wake of Russia's invasion of their country almost 12 months ago. Bach added: "It is not up to governments to decide who can take part in which sports competitions because this would be the end of international sport competitions and of world championships and Olympic Games as we know it." Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who has called for a boycott of the 2024 Paris Olympics if Russian athletes are allowed to take part, said Friday their presence would be a "manifestation of violence.” Ukraine has reacted furiously to the International Olympic Committee's announcement last month that it was exploring a "pathway" to allow Russian and Belarusian competitors to take part in the Paris Games, under a neutral flag. Kyiv fears Russia's President Vladimir Putin, whose forces will soon move into a second year of their invasion of Ukraine, will seek to gain political advantage from the participation of Russians at the Olympics next year. IOC president Bach has described Ukraine's calls for a boycott of the Games as contrary to the "principles we stand for." "Our mission is a peace mission," Bach said Sunday. "History will show who is doing more for peace, the ones who try to keep lines open and communicate or the ones who want to isolate and divide... our role is bringing people together. "We're trying to find a solution that is giving justice to the mission of sport, which is to unify not to contribute to more confrontation and more escalation." Bach added: "With every Ukrainian athlete, we can, from a human point of view, understand their reactions, we share their suffering, that's why we're in full solidarity with them, this is why we are supporting them, whether they're in Ukraine or outside. "We're supporting 3,000 members of the Ukrainian Olympic community to have a strong Ukrainian team in Paris" for the 2024 Olympic Games. "Every Ukrainian athlete can be rest assured that we are standing in full solidarity with them, and all their comments are taken very, very seriously into consideration. "But with regard to participation of athletes we have to accomplish our peace mission and that is a unifying mission of bringing people together." Bach refused to commit to visiting the Ukrainian front line in the key city of Bakhmut. He was invited by Zelenskyy to "see for himself that neutrality does not exist." "I have seen a tweet, but there are no ongoing discussions," he said, adding that talks on the pathway for Russian and Belarusian athletes' potential participation in Paris 2024 were not yet underway. "We are talking about the sporting competitions to take place this year. There is no talk about Paris yet, this will come much later," said Bach. The IOC and the international community, he said, had to address the "serious concerns" of the U.N. human rights council that an exclusion of Russian and Belarusian athletes "only because of their passports is a violation of their rights.” The second issue, Bach added, was the paradox of certain sports, like tennis, already allowing their participation, albeit under a neutral flag. "We have seen a Belarusian player under neutral status winning the Australian Open. So why shouldn't it be possible in a swimming pool for instance or in gymnastics?"
NATO Chief's Departure Plan Relaunches Succession Race4 months ago
The NATO alliance confirmed Sunday that its long-serving chief would leave office in October, launching a new round of speculation about his successor. Diplomats in Brussels say there is no consensus as to who should replace former Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg as the Western alliance's top civilian official. Some allies were considering a plan to extend his already 9-year-old term to oversee NATO's response to the crisis unleashed by Russia's war against Ukraine. But on Sunday, shortly after Stoltenberg returned from high-level meetings in Washington, his spokeswoman confirmed that he would leave office later this year. "The mandate of Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has been extended three times and he has served for a total of almost nine years," spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said. "The secretary-general's term comes to an end in October of this year and he has no intention to seek another extension of his mandate." The 63-year-old's decision to go will shine a light on the race among senior European officials to replace him, with governments already discreetly floating candidates in news media leaks. The secretary-general has always been a European, even if in practice Washington has the decisive vote on his — or maybe, this time, on her — nomination. And although the daily job is one of coordination and seeking consensus among the 30 allies, the choice itself will be seen as symbolic of NATO's direction. The last time Stoltenberg's future was in question — in February 2022, when he was named future head of the Norwegian central bank, only later to withdraw — speculation focused on women. For seven decades the alliance has been headed by a series of Western European men, and many observers thought it was time that a woman and or an easterner take charge. The last four NATO chiefs were seemingly picked as an anti-clockwise tour of the North Sea coast, a Briton being succeeded by a Dutchman followed by a Dane and now a Norwegian. Meanwhile, the alliance's strategic focus has shifted to the eastern flank, where newer alliance members on the Baltic and Black Sea coasts face off against an aggressive Russia. Poland and the Baltic nations now see their longstanding warnings about Moscow as justified, and they have led calls to arm and support Ukraine against the invasion. This has led to calls for NATO to appoint a figure like Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte or her Estonian counterpart, Kaja Kallas. Both have long taken tough a diplomatic line with Russia, which recommends them to more hawkish allies, but may count against them in some capitals. Some argue that appointing a Balt would be seen as too provocative toward Russia, pushing the allies — who already arm and fund Kyiv's forces — closer to direct conflict with Moscow. More cynical observers, including some NATO officials, suggest that Kallas has proved too successful an advocate of the eastern position, triggering resentment in western capitals. So, if not a hawkish Balt, then who? No official candidacies have been announced, but diplomats in Brussels suggested that the Netherlands would tout its defense minister, Kajsa Ollongren. Britain, meanwhile, has already provided three secretaries general over the alliance's history, and traditionally likes to see itself as a bridge between Europe and the U.S. Britain's defense secretary, Ben Wallace, is often cited as a possible candidate, but that might not go down well with the 21 NATO allies who are also members of the European Union. Britain, especially under former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, won friends in Ukraine as an early and vocal backer of its defense, but Brexit damaged London's ties with many EU capitals. This leaves NATO's southern flank, with figures like Italy's 75-year-old former prime minister, Mario Draghi, and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis reportedly in the frame. And a final wild card: What if NATO picked a non-European secretary-general for the first time, and plumped for a Canadian like Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland? "There is no consensus," one senior NATO official acknowledged, amid suggestions that U.S. President Joe Biden's White House has yet to give the succession much thought. Stoltenberg took office at NATO's Brussels headquarters October 1, 2014, and has overseen the Western alliance through several international crises. The last NATO personnel and U.S. forces left Afghanistan in August 2021, shortly before the capital Kabul fell to victorious Taliban forces, who revived their Islamist regime. Stoltenberg also oversaw NATO's response to Russia's February 2022 invasion of Ukraine and the ongoing war, the most brutal on European soil since the 1940s. He has been a respected secretary-general and in particular a bridge between the European allies and Washington under former U.S. President Donald Trump, a frequent NATO critic.
Zelenskyy: Too Early to Declare Victory After Repairs to Power System4 months ago
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Sunday hailed efforts to restore power generation systems damaged by Russian attacks but warned the population it was too early to declare victory on the energy front. Zelenskyy said power workers had done such a good job repairing the damage caused by Russian missile and drone strikes on Friday that most people had not had to face too many outages on Saturday and Sunday. "The very fact that ... after a massive missile strike this week, we can have such peaceful energy days proves the professionalism of our energy workers," he said in an evening video address. "We have to realize: this is not yet a decisive victory on the energy front. Unfortunately, there may be new terrorist attacks from Russia. There may be new restrictions if there is further destruction or growth in consumption." Zelenskyy said scheduled energy outages would once again be in place when the working week started on Monday. Russia has carried out repeated waves of attacks on Ukrainian energy facilities in recent months, at times leaving millions of people without light, heating or water supplies during the cold winter. Energy Minister German Galushchenko said the power deficit after the attacks had been significantly reduced thanks to "an ultra-fast repair program" which ensured that all nine nuclear power units on Ukrainian controlled territory were working and connected to the grid. "This is the best response of Ukrainian energy workers to enemy shelling," he said in a statement.
Iranian Journalist Released on Bail Week After Arrest4 months ago
Iranian authorities have released journalist Elnaz Mohammadi from the Hammihan newspaper on bail one week after her arrest, media reported Sunday, but her sister, also a reporter, remains in custody. Elnaz Mohammadi was detained after going to the prosecutor's office "for an explanation" but has since been "released from Evin prison on bail," the reformist daily Hammihan reported. Her sister Elahe Mohammadi was arrested on September 29 after reporting for Hammihan from the funeral of Mahsa Amini's funeral and remains in custody. Iran has witnessed nationwide protests since the September 16 death in custody of Amini, a 22-year-old ethnic Kurd, who had been arrested for an alleged breach of strict dress rules for women. The funeral procession in Amini's hometown of Saqez in Kurdistan province turned into one of the first protest actions, followed by more than four months of unrest. Elahe Mohammadi was charged with "propaganda against the system and conspiracy to act against national security.” Authorities say hundreds of people, including dozens of security personnel, have been killed during protests. Thousands of Iranians, including public figures, journalists and lawyers have been arrested. Ten of the journalists arrested over the protests are still in custody, Tehran Journalists Association said. Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei agreed last week to pardon or commute the sentences of a "significant number" of convicts, some of whom were detained during the protests, on the occasion of the 44th anniversary of the 1979 Islamic revolution.
US Holds Drills in South China Sea Amid Tensions With China4 months ago
The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps are holding joint exercises in the South China Sea at a time of heightened tensions with Beijing over the shooting down of a suspected Chinese spy balloon. The 7th Fleet based in Japan said Sunday that the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier strike group and the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit have been conducting "integrated expeditionary strike force operations" in the South China Sea. It said exercises involving ships, ground forces and aircraft took place Saturday but gave no details on when they began or whether they had ended. China claims virtually the entire South China Sea and strongly objects to military activity by other nations in the contested waterway through which $5 trillion in goods are shipped every year. The U.S. takes no official position on sovereignty in the South China Sea but maintains that freedom of navigation and overflight must be preserved. Several times a year, it sends ships sailing past fortified Chinese outposts in the Spratly Islands, prompting furious protests from Beijing. The U.S. has also been strengthening its defense alliance with the Philippines, which has faced encroachment on islands and fisheries by the Chinese coast guard and nominally civilian but government-backed fleets. The U.S. military exercises were planned in advance. They come as already tense relations between Washington and Beijing have been exacerbated by a diplomatic row sparked by the balloon, which was shot down last weekend in U.S. airspace off the coast of South Carolina. The U.S. said the unmanned balloon was equipped to detect and collect intelligence signals, but Beijing insists it was a weather research airship that had accidently blown off course. The incident prompted Secretary of State Antony Blinken to abruptly cancel a high-stakes trip to Beijing last weekend aimed at easing tensions. After first issuing a highly rare expression of regret over the incident, China has toughened its rhetoric, calling the U.S. move an overreaction and a violation of international norms. China's defense minister refused to take a phone call from U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to discuss the matter. The United States has since blacklisted six Chinese entities it said were linked to Beijing's aerospace programs as part of its response to the incident. The House of Representatives also voted unanimously to condemn China for a "brazen violation" of U.S. sovereignty and efforts to "deceive the international community through false claims about its intelligence collection campaigns." The balloon was part of a large surveillance program that China has been conducting for several years, the Pentagon said. The U.S. says Chinese balloons have flown over dozens of countries across five continents in recent years, and it learned more about the balloon program after closely monitoring the one shot down near South Carolina. In its news release, the 7th Fleet said the joint operation had "established a powerful presence in the region, which supports peace and stability." "As a ready response force, we underpin a broad spectrum of missions including landing Marines ashore, humanitarian disaster relief, and deterring potential adversaries through visible and present combat power," the release said.
US Security Experts: Latest Two Objects Shot Down Were Balloons4 months ago
U.S. national security officials say they believe the latest two high-altitude objects shot down over the northern reaches of the United States and Canada were balloons, but much smaller than a Chinese spy balloon shot down over the Atlantic Ocean more than a week ago, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Sunday. Schumer told ABC’s “This Week” show that he had been briefed Saturday night by President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, about the initial findings about the objects, one shot down over frozen waters near the state of Alaska on Friday and a second one Saturday over Canada’s Yukon region. Schumer did not say where the balloons originated. But he said both were shot down by U.S. fighter jets, the second on authorization from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, after both were spotted on radar at about 12,000 meters (40,000 feet) above the Earth and were considered a threat to commercial aircraft that fly at a similar altitude. "You can be sure that if any American interests where people are at risk, they'll take appropriate action," he said. With the three balloon shootdowns in an eight-day period, U.S. authorities are trying to learn how they, until now, missed at least three balloon sightings during the White House tenure of former President Donald Trump and another earlier in Biden’s presidency, all believed to be part of a Chinese spy program conducted by Beijing’s People’s Liberation Army. “I think our military, our intelligence are doing a great job, present and future,” Schumer said. “I feel a lot of confidence in what they're doing. But why — why as far back as the Trump administration did no one know about this?” “It is wild that we didn't know,” Schumer said. “Now they are learning a lot more. And the military and the intelligence are focused like a laser on, first, gathering and accumulating the information, then coming up with a comprehensive analysis of what went on before, what's going on now, and what could go on in the future.” China has acknowledged launching the first balloon, the one shot down February 4 off the coast of the southern state of South Carolina, but claimed it was a weather balloon that drifted off course, a contention that the U.S. has rejected. The U.S. concluded the balloon was a surveillance aircraft that could be maneuvered over key military installations as it drifted across the U.S. mainland. Schumer said, “We got enormous intelligence information from surveilling the balloon as it went over the United States,” although both Republican and Democratic lawmakers have questioned why the U.S. did not shoot it down sooner than it did before the Chinese flew it over military bases. Biden ordered the U.S. military to shoot it down as soon as it was safe to do so without endangering Americans on the ground, which the military decided was only after it moved offshore. The U.S. said this past week it had taken steps to jam information being sent from the balloon. Now, Schumer said that with Navy divers collecting parts of the balloon’s payload from the seabed for forensic analysis by FBI experts at a laboratory outside Washington, “We're going to probably be able to piece together this whole … surveillance balloon and know exactly what's going on. So that's a huge coup for the United States.” “I think the Chinese were humiliated,” Schumer said. “I think the Chinese were caught lying. And I think it's a real — it's a real step back for them.” He predicted that Beijing is “probably going to have to get rid of [the balloon surveillance program] or do something, because they look really bad. And they're not just doing [it over] the United States. This is a crew of balloons; we saw one in South America. They've probably been all over the world.” Despite the U.S. conclusion about China’s balloon spying, Schumer said, “We can't just have a Cold War with them. We have to have a relationship with them. But China has taken advantage of us over and over and over again.”
February 12, 20234 months ago
A look at the best news photos from around the world.
Turkey Targeting Contractors as Responsible for Collapsed Buildings4 months ago
Turkey is targeting 134 contractors and others for alleged shoddy and illegal construction methods even as rescuers retrieve more bodies from collapsed buildings after a pair of earthquakes last week killed more than 33,000 people and injured another 92,000. Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag has vowed to punish anyone responsible for the collapse of thousands of buildings as the quakes last Monday devastated large portions of southeastern Turkey and northern Syria. He said Sunday that to date three people had been arrested pending trial, seven people detained and seven others barred from leaving the country. Even as authorities assessed responsibility for the collapsed buildings, thousands of rescue workers, against long odds, continued their search for survivors, and a handful of people were found alive. Thermal cameras were used to probe the piles of concrete and metal, while rescuers demanded silence so that they could hear any voices of the trapped. A pregnant woman was rescued Sunday 157 hours after the quakes in the hard-hit province of Hatay, state-broadcaster TRT said. HaberTurk television broadcast the live rescue of a 6-year-old boy removed from the debris of his home in Adiyaman. The child was wrapped in a space blanket and put into an ambulance. An exhausted rescuer removed his surgical mask and took deep breaths as a group of women could be heard crying in joy. Prosecutors have begun gathering samples of buildings for evidence of the materials that were used in their construction. The quakes were powerful, but victims and technical experts are blaming bad construction — and lax enforcement of building codes — for worsening the devastation. Two contractors reportedly attempting to leave the country for Georgia were detained by authorities Sunday at Istanbul Airport. The contractors were held responsible for the alleged shoddy construction of several collapsed buildings in Adiyaman, the private DHA news agency and other media reported. One of the arrested contractors, Yavuz Karakus, told reporters, "My conscience is clear. I built 44 buildings. Four of them were demolished. I did everything according to the rules," DHA reported. Two more people were arrested in Gaziantep province suspected of having cut down columns to make extra room in a building that collapsed, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported. A day earlier, Turkey's Justice Ministry announced the planned establishment of "Earthquake Crimes Investigation" bureaus. The bureaus would gather evidence, identify contractors and others behind the construction of the collapsed buildings to determine if violations occurred. Turkey has building codes, but they are rarely enforced. Eyup Muhcu, president of the Chamber of Architects of Turkey, told The Associated Press that many of the buildings that fell were built with inferior materials and methods, without regard for Turkey’s construction codes. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Saturday that the earthquake was the “disaster of the century. David Alexander, a professor of emergency planning at University College London told the AP, “This is a disaster caused by shoddy construction, not by an earthquake.” Suzan van der Lee, a seismologist and professor at Northwestern University, told VOA Turkish's Ozlem Tinaz, “Earthquakes like this are going to happen... we just don't know when. So, the best thing to do is to be as prepared as possible, buildings that are as safe as possible and know exactly what to do when you feel the ground shake.” The VOA Turkish Service contributed to this report, which includes some information from The Associated Press.
New Moldovan Prime Minister Expected to Be Approved4 months ago
Moldova’s former interior minister, Dorin Recean, is expected to be approved as the country’s new prime minister by parliament as soon as this week, following the February 10 resignation of Natalia Gavrilita. Moldovan President Maia Sandu nominated Recean to the post after Gavrilita stepped down after a year-and-a-half in office. Recean is Sandu’s defense and security adviser. Recean, 48, who served as interior minister from 2012 to 2015, will have 15 days to form a new government to present to parliament for a confidence vote. Moldova’s ruling party, the Party of Action and Solidarity, has a 63 percent majority of parliamentary seats. The deputy speaker of the parliament, Mihai Popșoi, told VOA that Moldova’s leadership would like to have a transition that is as smooth as possible, given the security situation in the region. Artur Maja, the secretary general of the PAS, said the change in the government had been planned for a long time. “It is a planned and controlled transition from a pro-European government to another,” Maja told VOA. “The main objectives of the new government are strengthening the security sector, reviving the economy, and building resilience in the face of the brutal war of Russia against Ukraine.” The new team, he said, led by the Recean “will continue to focus on the EU accession, necessary reforms on the national level, and our country’s increased contribution to the regional security.” Iulian Groza, executive director of the Moldova-based Institute for European Policies and Reforms, said, “Last year, there were several discussions not only with the public but across the political spectrum about the need to re-energizing the government.” “Gavrilita's government has done a tremendous job in terms of managing the crisis that Moldova was hit with, the economic and energy crisis, and of course, the impact of the Russian war against Ukraine. The government managed to start some systemic reforms,” Groza told VOA; however, he emphasized the changes were needed, and the Moldovan leadership was looking for the right time to go ahead with the replacement. President Sandu thanked former Prime Minister Gavrilita on Friday for her "enormous sacrifice and efforts to lead the country in a time of so many crises." She added, "I know we need unity and a lot of work to get through the difficult period we are facing. The difficulties of 2022 postponed some of our plans, but they did not stop us.” The Russian invasion of Ukraine in February of last year had a tremendous impact on Moldova. Gavrilita said that no one expected her government "would have to manage so many crises caused by Russian aggression in Ukraine." "I took over the government with an anti-corruption, pro-development and pro-European mandate," Gavrilita said. "We were immediately faced with energy blackmail, and those who did this hoped we would give in." A member of the Moldovan parliament, Sinchevici Eugeniu, told VOA that the change in the Moldovan government Friday reflects the need for fresh defense measures in the country. "We need to put a big focus on security in our government, which was one of the factors that motivated us to change the government," Eugeniu said, pointing to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's recent comments on state-owned Russian news network TASS that the actions of Western nations could soon turn Moldova into the "next Ukraine." The country is focused on maintaining order internally, especially at a time when Russia is trying to destabilize Moldova,” Eugeniu said. He added that Russia “can destabilize situation from inside. They have a lot of Russian agents undercover as representatives of different, especially pro-Russian political structures in Moldova, and they are now putting a lot of money for the destabilization from inside.” Recean told his colleagues that as prime minister, his main focus would be to introduce “order and discipline” in Moldova’s institutions, breathe new life into the economy, and ensure peace and stability. Since Russia invaded Ukraine, the Moldovan pro-Western leadership has been working to establish closer ties with its Western partners. Last June, Moldova, a former Soviet republic of about 2.6 million people, was granted European Union candidate status on the same day as Ukraine. Ukraine's ability to defend itself is particularly important for Moldova. “As long as Ukraine stands strong, we stand with them, and we want to encourage other countries to help Ukraine as much as possible,” said Eugeniu.
Malawi Drops Charges Against Anti-Corruption Chief4 months ago
Malawi has dropped criminal charges against Anti-Corruption Bureau Director-General Martha Chizuma in connection with leaked audio in which she apparently complained that some officials were frustrating her fight against corruption. Director of Public Prosecutions Masauko Chamkakala said in a statement that he has discontinued the criminal case against Chizuma in line with the Malawi Constitution and to ensure that the functions of the Anti-Corruption Bureau are not impeded. Chizuma was facing two counts of criminal defamation after two top officials she mentioned in a leaked audio as among those hindering her investigations sued her. The lawsuits led the government to suspend Chizuma until the court case is concluded. The withdrawal of charges comes a few days after the United States and other international donors accused Malawi of fighting anti-corruption champions instead of corruption. In a statement Wednesday, the U.S. Embassy in Lilongwe condemned what it called harassment of Chizuma. It also said the Malawi government was waging a campaign of intimidation against the country's anti-corruption chief. But the Malawi government denied those accusations. Chizuma’s lawyer, Martha Kaukonde, told VOA that she has taken the news of withdrawal of charges with a pinch of salt, as similar past announcements never materialized. “As you recall, the same pronouncements were made by the minister of justice a month ago and then nothing changed. We wrote to the minister but there was no formal withdrawal. So we are just waiting for a formal withdrawal,” she said. However, Chamkakala said he has advised the secretary to the president and cabinet, Colleen Zamba, to reconsider her decision to suspend Chizuma. In the meantime, lawyers the government hired this week to challenge an injunction against the suspension of Chizuma say they have withdrawn their appeal, which had been expected to be heard Monday.
Arab Leaders Warn Israeli Actions Threaten Regional Turmoil4 months ago
Dozens of leaders and senior officials from Arab and Islamic countries warned on Sunday Israeli actions in Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank could worsen regional turmoil, as violence surges between Israel and the Palestinians. The meeting in Cairo was hosted by the Arab League and attended by President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi of Egypt, Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas along with many foreign ministers and senior officials. The high-level gathering came amid one of the deadliest periods of fighting in years in Jerusalem and the neighboring Israeli-occupied territory. Forty-five Palestinians have been killed so far this year, according to a count by The Associated Press. Palestinians have killed 10 people on the Israeli side during that time. Speakers at the meeting condemned Israel’s “unilateral measures” in Jerusalem and the West Bank in statements, including home demolitions and expanding settlements. They also condemned visits by Israeli officials to the city’s contested holy site, which is sacred to both Jews and Muslims and has often been the epicenter of Israeli-Palestinian unrest. There was no immediate comment from Israel's government. The officials also voiced support for Jordan's role as custodian of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam. The mosque is built on a hilltop in Jerusalem’s Old City that is the most sacred site for Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount because it was the site of the Jewish temples in antiquity. Since Israel captured the site in the 1967 Mideast War, Jews have been allowed to visit but not pray there. Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its undivided capital, while the Palestinians seek east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state. Calling Jerusalem "the backbone of the Palestinian cause," el-Sissi warned of dire repercussions of any Israeli move to change the status quo of the holy site, saying they would “negatively impact” future negotiations to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He said such measures would impede the long-sought after two-state solution to the conflict, which would leave “both parties and the whole Middle East with difficult and grave options.” El-Sissi, whose country was the first Arab nation to establish diplomatic ties with Israel, called on the international community to “reinforce the two-state solution and create conducive conditions for the resumption of the peace process.” King Abdullah II also called for Israel to cease its violations and incursions into the Al-Aqsa Mosque. “The region cannot live in peace, stability, and prosperity without any progress made on the Palestinian cause,” he warned. Ahmed Aboul-Gheit, the secretary-general of the pan-Arab organization, also warned that attempts to partition the Al-Aqsa Mosque and obliterate its Arab and Islamic identity “would fuel endless unrest and violence.” Abbas, the Palestinian president, said his administration would resort to the United Nations and its agencies and demand a resolution to protect the two-state solution to the conflict. “The State of Palestine will continue going to international courts and organizations to protect our people’s legitimate rights,” he said. The ongoing bout of violence has put the region on edge. Last month, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Egyptian, Israeli and Palestinian leaders and urged them to ease tensions. Israel is run by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new far-right government. Many politicians in Netanyahu’s administration oppose Palestinian independence.
Rihanna, Trio of Anthems Highlight Super Bowl's Star Power4 months ago
A halftime show that Rihanna promises will be "jam-packed" will sit at the center of the celebrity supplements to Super Bowl 57. But the 13-minute mini-extravaganza, her first live event in seven years, is only one part of the entertainment sideshow surrounding Sunday's big game between the Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. Chris Stapleton, who has dominated country music awards in recent years, will take on the challenge, and scrutiny, of singing the national anthem. "The national anthem's not an easy song for singers. It's one that can go horribly wrong as we've seen many times in the past," Stapleton said at a media event during the leadup to the game. "But if you're gonna do it, this is the place to do it. I'm gonna go out there and play. And play it like I play it." The length of the anthem has become one of the countless game elements up for betting. Oddsmakers have put the over-under on Stapleton's "Star Spangled Banner" at 2 minutes, 5 seconds. This being the Super Bowl, one anthem is not enough. R&B legend Babyface will perform "America the Beautiful." And "Abbot Elementary" star Sheryl Lee Ralph will sing what's been dubbed the Black national anthem, "Lift Every Voice and Sing." Famous faces are bound to be seen throughout the stands. Some will care more about the outcome than others. The Eagles count Kevin Hart and "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" star Rob McElhenney among their biggest fans. Paul Rudd and Jason Sudeikis pull hard for the Chiefs. Many stars have made the scene at Super Bowl week parties. And many others, including John Travolta and Alicia Silverstone, will show up in the big game's big commercials.
Earthquake in Turkey Is Only Latest Tragedy for Refugees4 months ago
When war broke out in Ukraine, Aydin Sisman’s relatives there fled to the ancient city of Antakya, in a southeastern corner of Turkey that borders Syria. They may have escaped one disaster, but another found them in their new home. They were staying with Sisman’s Ukrainian mother-in-law when their building collapsed last Monday as a 7.8 magnitude earthquake leveled much of Antakya and ravaged the region in what some in Turkey are calling the disaster of the century. “We have Ukrainian guests who fled the war, and they are also lying inside. We have had no contact.” said Sisman, whose Turkish father-in-law also was trapped under the rubble of the 10-year-old apartment building. As rescuers dig through heaps of rubble, Sisman appeared to have lost hope. Millions of refugees, like Sisman’s relatives, have found a haven in Turkey, escaping from wars and local conflicts from countries as close as Syria to as far afield as Afghanistan. There are at least 3.6 million Syrians who have fled their homeland’s war since 2011, arriving in trickles or en masse, sometimes overrunning the border, to seek safety from punishing bombardments, chemical attacks and starvation. Over 300,000 others have come to escape their own conflicts and hardships, according to the United Nations. For them, the earthquake was just the latest tragedy — one that many are still too shocked to comprehend. “This is the greatest disaster we have seen, and we have seen a lot,” said Yehia Sayed Ali, 25, a university student whose family moved to Antakya six years ago to escape Syria’s war at its peak. His mother, two cousins and another relative all died in the earthquake. On Saturday, he sat outside his demolished two-story building waiting for rescuers to help him dig out their bodies. “Not a single Syrian family has not lost a relative, a dear one” in this earthquake, said Ahmad Abu Shaar, who ran a shelter for Syrian refugees in Antakya that is now a pile of rubble. Abu Shaar said people are searching for loved ones and many have refused to leave Antakya even though the quake has left the city with no inhabitable structures, no electricity, water or heating. Many are sleeping on the streets or in the shadows of broken buildings. “The people are still living in shock. No one could have imagined this,” Abu Shaar said. Certainly not Sisman, who flew from Qatar to Turkey with his wife to help find his in-laws and their Ukrainian relatives. “Right now, my mother-in-law and father-in-law are inside. They’re under rubble ... There were no rescue teams. I went up by myself, took a look, and walked around. I saw bodies and we pulled them out from under the rubble. Some without heads,” he said. Construction workers sifting through the debris told Sisman that although the top of the building was solid, the garage and foundations were not as strong. “When those collapsed, that’s when the building was flattened,” a shaken Sisman said. He appeared to have accepted his relatives were not coming out alive. Overwhelmed by the trauma, Abdulqader Barakat stood desperately pleading for international aid to help rescue his children trapped under concrete in Antakya. “There are four. We took two out and two are still [inside] for hours. We hear their voices and they are reacting. We need [rescue] squads,” he said. At the Syrian shelter, Mohammed Aloolo sat in a circle surrounded by his children who escaped the building that swayed and finally folded like an accordion. He came to Antakya in May from a refugee camp along the Turkish-Syrian border. He had survived artillery shelling and fighting in his hometown in Syria’s central Hama province, but he called his survival in the earthquake a miracle. Other relatives were not so lucky. Two nieces and their families remain under the debris, he said, holding back tears. “I wish this on no one. Nothing I can say that would describe this,” Aloolo said. Scenes of despair and mourning can be found across the region that only a few days earlier was a peaceful refuge for those fleeing war and conflict. At a cemetery in the town of Elbistan, about 200 miles (320 kilometers) north of Antakya, a Syrian family wept and prayed as it buried one of its own. Naziha Al-Ahmad, a mother of four, was pulled dead from the rubble of their new home. Two of her daughters were seriously injured, including one who lost her toes. “My wife was good, very good. Affectionate, kind, a good wife, God bless her soul,” said Ahmad Al-Ahmad. “Neighbours died, and we died with them.” Graves are quickly filling up. At the Turkish and Syria border, people transferred body bags into a truck waiting to take the remains to Syria for burial in their homeland. They included the body of Khaled Qazqouz’s 5-year-old niece, Tasneem Qazqouz. Tasneem and her father both died when the quake wracked the border town of Kirikhan. “We took her out from under the destruction, from under the rocks. The whole building fell,” Qazqouz said. “We worked for three days to get her out.” Qazqouz signed his niece’s name on the body bag before sending her off to the truck heading for Syria. He prayed as he let her go. “Say hi to your dad and give him my wishes. Say hi to your grandfather and your uncle and everyone,” he cried. “Between the destruction and the rubble, we have nothing now. Life has become so difficult.”
Bolsonaro Says he May Return to Brazil in Coming Weeks4 months ago
Former President Jair Bolsonaro said Saturday he intends to return to Brazil “in the following weeks.” The comment during an event at an evangelical church in Florida was the first time that Bolsonaro has made a statement in public about returning home. The far-right politician has been in the U.S. since arriving in Orlando, Florida, on Dec. 31, the eve of the inauguration of his leftist rival, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, as Brazil's current president. Saturday's event was held entirely in Portuguese for a Brazilian crowd of Bolsonaro supporters living abroad and was organized by the right-wing organization Yes Brazil USA. Bolsonaro was cheered throughout the event. There has been speculation during recent weeks on when Bolsonaro might return to Brazil, where is the subject of several investigations into possible wrongdoing. He initially entered the U.S. on a one-month diplomatic visa, which ended Jan. 31. He was accompanied by a team of presidential advisers and his wife, all of whom left Florida last month. Lawyers for Bolsonaro told Brazilian media recently that they applied for a tourist visa to extend his stay in the U.S. Amid the speculation about Bolsonaro's plans, one of his sons, Sen. Flavio Bolsonaro, told Brazilian reporters that he didn’t know when his father would return. “It could be tomorrow, it could be in six months, he might never return. I don’t know. He’s relaxing,” the son said. For the first time in his more than three-decade political career as a lawmaker and then as president, Bolsonaro no longer enjoys the special legal protection that requires any trial be held at the Supreme Court. Bolsonaro is being investigated in four inquiries, which had been in the Supreme Court and were sent to trial court this past week. Among the inquiries is whether Bolsonaro had any role in inciting the Jan. 8 riot by his supporters who stormed into government buildings in the capital, Brasilia, demanding his election defeat to Lula be overturned. Investigators are also looking into who organized and financed the mass gathering of Bolsonaro supporters, who came to the capital from all over Brazil. One of the investigations held by the Brazilian justice is who are the ones responsible for inciting the crimes, as well as who financed people from all over the country to travel to Brasilia.
Greece, Turkey Urge Better Relations After Quake4 months ago
Greece's foreign minister visited Turkey on Sunday in a show of support after the country was hit by a devastating earthquake last Monday, despite a longstanding rivalry between the two NATO countries. Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias was met with a warm embrace by his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu, according to footage on state-run ERT TV, before they boarded helicopters to quake-hit regions. His arrival marks the first visit by a European minister to Turkey since the earthquake. "I would like to convey to the Turkish leadership and the Turkish people the warmest condolences of the Mitsotakis government and the entire Greek people for the losses after the two devastating earthquakes", Dendias said during a press conference with Cavusoglu in Antakya, referring to Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. "This is showing the solidarity of Greek people with Turkey and the Turkish population. Greece was one of the first countries to call and propose help to Turkey after the earthquake," Cavusoglu added. 'Dialogue' Greece and Turkey have a history of rivalry going back centuries, but it has been exacerbated by territorial and energy disputes -- and more recently by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's bombastic threats of invasion. But the two neighbors, which lie on seismic fault lines, also have a tradition of helping each other in natural disasters. Cavusoglu recalled mutual aid when quakes struck Turkey and Greece in 1999, when he said at the time that "We don't have to wait for another earthquake for developing our relations." "I said this as a simple citizen back then, but I think the same today as Turkey's foreign minister," he said. "I hope we will make efforts for finding a solution to our disagreements with dialogue in a sincere way." Dendias also said that "We do not need to wait for natural disasters to improve our relations", while adding that Greece's effort to help Turkey would continue. The Greek government has so far sent 80 tons of medical and first aid equipment as well as rescuers that along with other European rescuers have saved 205 people, Dendias said.
Biden Urges Consensus in Israel on Judiciary Plans as Protest Mounts4 months ago
U.S. President Joe Biden has called for wide agreement to be reached in Israel on sweeping changes to the judiciary pushed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's hard-right government which have sparked nationwide protests. Israel's parliament may on Monday begin the legislation process of the judicial overhaul, which would increase the government's sway in selecting judges while weakening Supreme Court power to strike down laws or rule against the executive. The push has prompted nationwide protests and calls on the government to slow down and reach a broad agreement on its judicial plan, which polls have shown has relatively little support as it presently stands. In a response to a query by The New York Times, published on Sunday, Biden said: "The genius of American democracy and Israeli democracy is that they are both built on strong institutions, on checks and balances, on an independent judiciary. Building consensus for fundamental changes is really important to ensure that the people buy into them so they can be sustained." Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption that he denies, has said the changes are needed in order to restore balance between the government, the Knesset and the judiciary, which some in his coalition accuse of elitism and overreaching its powers to interfere in the political sphere. Critics say the changes would deal a fatal blow to Israel's democracy because they would politicize the bench and undermine judicial independence, which could make corruption easier and endanger human rights and civil liberties. Aggravating the already fiery debate on Sunday, one of the main players pushing for the changes, Justice Minister Yariv Levin, said a judiciary coup by leftists who refuse to accept the right-wing's Nov. 1 election victory was underway, with help from Supreme Court judges and civil servants. He was referring to a Supreme Court ruling on Friday instructing Netanyahu and his government to submit a response to a petition demanding the premier be declared incapacitated over his legal situation. Many legal experts, economists and former security and economic officials, who include Netanyahu confidants and appointments, have come out against the government's judicial plans. Israel's central bank chief has urged lawmakers to safeguard the independence of Israel's institutions and the opposition is calling on Israelis to join a general strike on Monday.
Turkey Issues Arrest Warrants for Builders4 months ago
Turkey has issued arrest warrants for more than 100 people the government suspects may be responsible for the collapse of many buildings during and after Monday’s earthquakes. A few building contractors have already been arrested. Several of them were apprehended at airports. Turkey does have construction codes, but they are rarely enforced. Turkey’s Justice Ministry is establishing earthquake crime investigation bureaus to identify people responsible for the poor construction practices. Rescue workers and family members continued Sunday to look for people trapped underneath the ruins. Their efforts in Turkey have been hampered by the rubble of thousands of collapsed buildings. Eyup Muhcu, president of the Chamber of Architects of Turkey, told The Associated Press that many of the buildings that fell were built with inferior materials and methods, without regard for Turkey’s construction codes. More than 28,000 people have died in Turkey and Syria, following Monday’s two major tremblors and scores of aftershocks, officials say, and millions more have been left homeless. Martin Griffiths, United Nations aid chief, said he expects the death toll to double. Syria’s northwestern rebel-held region was the country’s hardest hit area. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Saturday that the earthquake was the “disaster of the century.” David Alexander, a professor of emergency planning at University College London told AP, “This is a disaster caused by shoddy construction, not by an earthquake.” Suzan van der Lee, a seismologist and professor at Northwestern University, told VOA Turkish's Ozlem Tinaz, “Earthquakes like this are going to happen ... we just don't know when. So, the best thing to do is to be as prepared as possible, buildings that are as safe as possible and know exactly what to do when you feel the ground shake.” The VOA Turkish Service contributed to this report, which includes some information from The Associated Press.
Cyprus Votes for New President in Tight Runoff Election4 months ago
Cyprus went to the polls Sunday for a tightly fought presidential runoff between two career diplomats seeking the top post in the south of the divided Mediterranean island. Polling stations close at 6:00 pm (1600 GMT) in the race to succeed two-term conservative President Nicos Anastasiades as head of state and government of the small EU member country. Former foreign minister Nikos Christodoulides, 49, faces 66-year-old fellow diplomat Andreas Mavroyiannis after last Sunday's inconclusive first round. Christodoulides, who defected from the conservative ruling DISY party to run as an independent, scored 32.04 percent a week ago, against 29.59 percent for Mavroyiannis, who is backed by the communist AKEL party. Top concerns for many voters are the cost-of-living crisis, irregular immigration and the island's almost half-century of division between the Greek-speaking south and a Turkish-occupied statelet in the north recognized only by Ankara. But many disaffected voters will simply opt for "the least worse candidate — a characteristic in most elections, but more so in this one," said Andreas Theophanous of think tank the Cyprus Center for European and International Affairs. The winner needs 50% plus one vote to succeed Anastasiades as the republic's eighth president. The outgoing president urged Cypriots to come out "en masse to participate in this electoral process", adding that "this is our duty. The people decide, the majority decides and the minority respects." Turnout at noon had reached 35.4% of registered voters, slightly up on the participation rate at that time in the first round, election officials said. 'Close race' Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkish forces occupied its northern third in response to a Greek-sponsored coup, but voters appeared split over whether the division was a priority in the election. Retiree Dora Petsa, 75, said she expects the new president "to settle the Cypriot question." But Louis Loizides, 51, said the country has "too many internal problems", ranging from the economy to immigration, having taken in large numbers of asylum seekers, including many who cross the UN-patrolled Green Line. The ruling DISY has been knocked out of the presidential race for the first time in its history, and the conservative party's decision to back neither candidate has thrown the run-off wide open. Pre-poll favorite Christodoulides last week unexpectedly squeezed out DISY leader Averof Neofytou, 61, who came third with 26.11%, despite the incumbent's endorsement. Communist-backed Mavroyiannis surprised observers by beating Neofytou and closing the gap with the centrist-backed Christodoulides. Nonetheless, Christodoulides has a slight edge as he will get the bulk of disaffected DISY votes, said Theophanous. Analyst Fiona Mullen of Nicosia consultancy Sapienta Economics said she believes the race could be "quite close." "The DISY leadership is officially not backing anyone but is unofficially backing Mavroyiannis," she said. "So it will boil down to how much they can shift a party base whose instincts will be more Christodoulides than Mavroyiannis." The bad feeling within DISY towards him is seen as the biggest threat to a Christodoulides victory. Rising prices Mullen argued that Mavroyiannis must convince voters that his backer AKEL will not drive economic policy if he wins. The communists have been widely criticized for their handling of the 2012-2013 financial crisis, which almost bankrupted the eurozone country before a bailout from international lenders. But AKEL's secretary-general, Stefanos Stefanou, struck a hopeful note after voting, telling journalists that to "the new generation, we owe a better Cyprus." Mavroyiannis has already taken the unusual step of naming his future finance minister, respected lawyer Charalambos Prountzos, an expert in corporate and energy law, if he is elected. "Prountzos is closer to a DISY profile than an AKEL one," said Mullen. Theophanous said the electorate would nevertheless decide on how convincing Mavroyiannis is on the economy "despite his minister of finance." The new government will be under pressure to root out corruption, address higher energy bills, labor disputes and the struggling economy. U.N.-backed talks on the future of the divided island, frozen for nearly six years, will also be on the new leader's agenda. If elected, Mavroyiannis has promised to reopen negotiations from day one. Christodoulides has demanded changes before talks are revived.
1st Infant Surrendered Anonymously At Kentucky ‘Baby Box’4 months ago
Kentucky has seen its first infant anonymously dropped off at one of its “baby box” safe surrender locations. At a news conference Friday, Safe Haven Baby Boxes founder and CEO Monica Kelsey said the child was dropped off within the last seven days at a Bowling Green Fire Department location, declining to be more specific to protect anonymity. She said fire department staff were able to tend to the child in less than 90 seconds. The child is the 24th in the country to be surrendered at one of more than 130 baby boxes and drawers the organization has established across nine states. “This baby is healthy. This baby is beautiful. This baby is perfect,” said Kelsey, who added that officials are now looking to place the child in “a forever home.” Gov. Andy Beshear signed a law in 2021 that allows the use of baby boxes for children less than 30 days old. The law requires the boxes to be located at police stations, fire stations or hospitals that are staffed 24 hours a day. It also requires equipping them with a notification system to alert the first responders on site that a child has been placed inside the box. Kentucky now has 16 baby box locations. The Bowling Green box had been operational for less than two months. Safe Haven Baby Boxes are installed in the exterior wall of a fire station or hospital. An exterior door automatically locks when a newborn is placed inside, and an interior door lets a medical staff member secure the baby from inside the building. “This child was legally, safely, anonymously and lovingly placed inside of this Safe Haven Baby Box, and that speaks volumes about the parent,” Kelsey said. Republican state Rep. Nancy Tate, who sponsored the legislation, told WNKY-TV that it’s her goal to have at least one box in every Kentucky county. “It makes my heart full to know how supportive this project is,” Tate said.
New Zealand Bracing for Cyclone Gabrielle4 months ago
New Zealand is bracing for the remains of Cyclone Gabrielle. MetService, the country’s weather service, said Gabrielle “poses a VERY HIGH risk of extreme, impactful, and unprecedented weather over many regions of the North Island from Sunday to Tuesday.” Gabrielle is already being felt in the northern region of the country’s North Island. Weather forecasters predict the cyclone will spread south to the northern parts of South Island. Significant heavy rains and damaging winds are forecast for many locations in northern and central New Zealand, creating conditions that could cause dangerous river conditions and significant flooding. Damage to roads could isolate some communities, according to the weather service. Severe gale warnings are also in effect for Northland, Auckland and the Coromandel Peninsula. Weather forecasters say wind in this area could cause widespread damage and power outages. Last month Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, experienced record rainfall, causing severe flooding that killed four people.
UK: Russia Suffers Highest Rate of Casualties Since First Week of Invasion4 months ago
The British Defense Ministry said Sunday that over the past two weeks, Russia has likely suffered its highest rate of casualties since the first week of the invasion of Ukraine, nearly one year ago. The ministry’s observation is based on Ukrainian data saying that the mean average of Russian casualties over the last seven days was 824 per day, representing more than four times the average reported for June and July. The ministry said the statistics are based on “likely accurate” Ukrainian data. The uptick in Russian casualties, the ministry said, is “likely due” to several factors, including lack of trained personnel, coordination and resources at the front. The U.K. intelligence update, posted on Twitter, also said Ukraine continues to experience a high attrition rate. Russia’s war against Ukraine could continue indefinitely, predicted the leader of the Russian paramilitary organization, Wagner Group. In a video interview, Yevgeny Prigozhin said late Friday it could take 18 months to two years for Russia to take full control of Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland of Donbas. Prigozhin then said the war could extend for three years if Moscow decides to capture broader territories east of the Dnieper River. The British Defense Ministry said Saturday that data from the Russian Federal Penal Service suggested a drop-off in the rate of prisoner recruitment by the paramilitary group since December 2022. It said news of the “harsh realities” of service in Wagner in Ukraine has probably “filtered through to inmates and reduced the number of volunteers." The British ministry also said Russia is now facing a “difficult choice” of whether to continue “to deplete its forces, scale back objectives, or conduct a further form of mobilization.” The General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces reported Saturday that Moscow is strengthening its grouping of troops near Lyman and Bakhmut in the eastern Donetsk oblast, and Russian forces are continuing to focus their key efforts on offensive operations in the directions of Kupiansk, Lyman, Bakhmut, Avdiivka, and Novopavlivsk in Ukraine's east and northeast. 'Mixed picture' In a briefing Friday at the Center for a New American Security, Celeste Wallander, the assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, said Russia's military overall "is a mixed picture." She said as Russia continues to suffer losses in Ukraine, it is also applying lessons learned tactically, operationally, and somewhat strategically to adapt. "We're seeing some of those play out in how Russia's conducting, for example, the operations right now in Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine," she said. Wallander emphasized that Russia has "a deep bench of personnel" it can draw upon, and she said Russia "will remain a militarily capable adversary that we have to right size our plans, our operations and our capabilities to cope with." She expressed confidence that "Russia will not achieve its strategic or even its operational objectives, and we are confident that the Ukrainian armed forces are up to the task of defending its country." The White House announced Friday that U.S. President Joe Biden will travel to Poland on Feb. 20 to meet with Polish President Andrzej Duda and Eastern European allies. Coming just before the first anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, Biden's visit "will make it very clear that the United States will continue to stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes," said John Kirby, spokesperson for the White House National Security Council. The announcement came after Russia's heavy shelling Friday, targeted civilians and civilian infrastructure and caused new power outages. Additional weaponry The attacks on Ukraine on Friday renewed calls for more weapons aid to Ukraine. European Council President Charles Michel said the missile barrage constituted war crimes. Western countries that have provided Ukraine with arms have so far refused to send fighter jets or long-range weapons capable of striking deep inside Russia. In an interview with Ani Chkhikvadze of VOA's Georgian Service, senior presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said that negotiations are underway "not only on long-range weapons but also about aviation and not only for fighter jets." President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Friday, he heard from several European Union leaders at the EU summit that they were ready to provide aircraft, hinting at what would be one of the biggest shifts yet in Western support for Ukraine. However, Poland's President Andrzej Duda expressed doubt Saturday about whether his country would be able to supply Ukraine with the fighter jets Zelenskyy says are needed to win the war with Russia. Speaking exclusively to BBC, Duda said sending F-16 aircraft would be a "very serious decision" that is "not easy to take." VOA's Eastern European Division Chief Myroslava Gongadze in Kyiv, Ukraine, VOA's National Security Correspondent Jeff Seldin in Washington, and Ani Chkhikvadze of VOA Georgian Service contributed to this report. Some information came from The Associated Press and Reuters.
Heavy Rains Improve Mekong Life, But Concerns Remain4 months ago
Heavy rains and a bumper fish crop have improved life along the Mekong River after a nearly four-year drought, poor harvests and the pandemic took a heavy toll on some 65 million people who rely on the waterway for their daily livelihoods. According to the Laos-based multinational Mekong River Commission, which coordinates use of Mekong resources, the drought had affected fish and agricultural production but ended as mainland Southeast Asia experienced regular rainfall last year and late rains that extended the wet season into December. The Lower Mekong Basin, including Thailand, southern Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, fared best, and a commission spokesperson said “the region is not still in a drought.” Meteorologically, he said, the basin “has been in normal and wet conditions since January.” A return to “normal” had Cambodia’s Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry forecasting a much improved 2022-23, as the annual fishing season got under way with families fermenting carp into the traditional prahok, or fish sauce. It said initial reports suggest this year’s harvest is up by as much as 40% over last year as fish begin migrating from the Tonle Sap Lake in central-west Cambodia, navigating streams and creeks and into the Mekong and Bassac rivers. A targeted moratorium on catching endangered species during spawning season and the “effective prevention of illegal fishing activities in the Tonle Sap Lake” had produced an “increased number of wild freshwater fish” during the 2022 breeding season, the ministry said. However, analysts said the improved outlook remained patchy and that it was too early to say the drought was over, while many fishers say that although bumper catches were helped by illegal electric nets, the harvest was still low because of dams. Taing Makara, a fisherman speaking from his boat on the shoreline of the Mekong east of Phnom Penh, agreed, saying his fish catches along the Mekong and its tributary, the Tonle Sap, were down about 50% compared to five to 10 years ago. “During these last few years, after the dams were built, I could barely catch a fish – when I went fishing – it’s hard to make a livelihood and I lost money because I fished every day and some days I made money and some I days not catch any fish at all,” he told VOA. Water levels have returned to the low level normal for this time of year with the dry season nearing its peak, but Brian Eyler, director of the Southeast Asia Program at the Stimson Center in Washington, said drought recovery has been limited. “The flood of the 2022 wet season was still extremely dry in northern Thailand, in the Golden Triangle and all points upward in southwest China. Yet we still saw robust Tonle Sap expansion due to so much water falling over the Tonle Sap part of Cambodia,” he told VOA. “So watch the next few wet seasons to determine whether the drought’s passed,” he said, adding climate change and further dam construction in Laos had changed the outlook. “The new normal is abnormality and climate change is going to deliver a lot of curveballs to the Mekong, like more intense storms, prolonged drought periods, shorter wet seasons and the shifting peak of the Tonle Sap expansion,” he said. According to the Stimson Center, which tracks the Mekong, a cascade of more than 400 dams, big and small, have been built, are under construction, or are on the drawing board as part of a rapid modernization drive in China and mainland Southeast Asia. Many of the dams are in Laos, which intends to improve living standards by becoming the “battery of Southeast Asia” -- selling hydroelectricity across the region through Thailand, to provide reliable energy for industry, flood control, irrigation for farmers and clean drinking water. But the primary concerns are 11 dams that block the mainstream of the river. Three more mainstream dams are planned, including one at Luang Prabang in Laos, near a World Heritage Site, and in a known earthquake zone. Another, the Sekong A dam, will cut off the last and longest undammed tributary of the Mekong close to the southern floodplain. The Sekong tributary contributes 10% of the water flowing in the Mekong River. Laos and China have said fish ladders constructed within the dams have mitigated any impact on fish migration and numbers and ensured a steady flow of water during drought. Chiang Mai, Thailand-based filmmaker Tom Fawthrop produced A River Screams for Mercy: Murdering the Mekong, a documentary about activists who are demanding a dam construction moratorium. “There was a scientific report that warned everybody what the impacts would be,” he told VOA. “Now when we look at the Mekong today, the dams like the Xayaburi Dam; farmers and fishermen and communities are complaining most of the fish catch has been destroyed.” Vietnam’s Center for Earthquake and Tsunami Warnings said in 2011 that the Xayaburi Dam in northern Laos might increase the probability of earthquakes, given the weight of the dam and the pressure it creates on subsurface fault lines, in a region already prone to seismic activity. Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok has said there remains a 30% chance a medium-sized earthquake will hit the dam within 30 years, and a 10% chance of a magnitude 7. “Not sufficient attention has been given to the earthquake threat around northern Laos. All these new dams are being built in a very earthquake-active zone,” Fawthrop added. He said these issues should be dealt with when prime ministers from Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam “deliberate the fate of the Mekong River Basin” at their fourth Mekong River Commission summit in April.