January 17, 2022

11 months ago

A look at the best news photos from around the world.

US Civil Rights Leaders Push for Voting Rights Overhaul

11 months ago

Descendants of slain U.S. civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. and their supporters marched on Washington Monday to urge Senate Democrats to overcome Republican opposition and obstruction within their own ranks to push through a national overhaul of voting rights. They rallied on the national holiday honoring King on the 93rd anniversary of his birth. The march occurred just days after two centrist Senate Democrats, Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin, said they would oppose attempts to change legislative rules in the politically divided 100-member chamber to allow Democrats to set uniform national election rules over the objections of all 50 Republican senators.   King’s son, Martin Luther King, III, his wife Arndrea Waters King, and their teenage daughter, Yolanda Renee King, joined several hundred activists as they walked in chilly weather across the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge, symbolizing recent congressional support for a $1.2 trillion infrastructure measure. “You were successful with infrastructure, which was a great thing," King told the crowd. "But we need you to use that same energy to ensure that all Americans have the unencumbered right to vote." Watch related video by Laurel Bowman: U.S. President Joe Biden said in a video address that Americans must commit to the unfinished work of Martin Luther King, Jr., delivering jobs, justice and protecting "the sacred right to vote, a right from which all other rights flow." "It's time for every elected official in America to make it clear where they stand," Biden said. "It's time for every American to stand up. Speak out, be heard. Where do you stand?" Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is calling for a vote as early as Tuesday on the legislation that would expand access to mail-in voting and early voting before the official election days in early November, strengthen federal oversight of elections in states with a history of racial discrimination and tighten campaign finance rules. Democratic supporters say the legislation is needed to counter new restrictions on voting passed in 19 Republican-led states that some critics say would make it harder for minority and low-income voters to cast ballots. Republicans say the legislation is a partisan power grab by Democrats and would be a federal takeover of elections that the 50 states have typically managed with state-by-state rules. But the legislation is almost certainly to be killed unless Sinema and Manchin suddenly reverse their opposition to ending use of the Senate filibuster rule that allows opponents of contentious legislation, either Republicans or Democrats, to demand that a 60-vote supermajority be amassed for passage.    Marches supporting voting rights and other civil rights measures were planned in several U.S. cities on the King holiday.

UK's Johnson Fights to Salvage His Premiership From ‘Partygate’ 

11 months ago

Britain’s rebellious Prime Minister Boris Johnson has seldom come across a rule he hasn’t wanted to break — and in many ways his political ascendancy has been because of his flouting of ordinances with voters thrilling to his audacity and readiness to defy conventions and norms. His rule-breaking, though, is turning into a liability rather than an electoral asset — even among populist-minded voters who liked the idea of a break with the past and wanted him to shake up British politics. Britain’s Conservative lawmakers returned to London Monday from their constituencies with rebukes still stinging their ears from voters furious with seemingly endless revelations about numerous impromptu and bibulous Downing Street parties held last year as the coronavirus pandemic death toll mounted. The parties were in breach of a strict nationwide lockdown, when social gatherings were banned and thousands were prohibited from visiting family members dying in hospital wards from COVID-19. The newspaper front pages have been withering in their criticism about what they have dubbed as “Partygate” and so has been the public reaction as more revelations emerge of a culture of partying at Downing Street with aides resupplying with wine and beer purchased from a supermarket near the House of Commons and transported back in a suitcase. Calls for Johnson to resign have mounted — including from some Conservative lawmakers. Cabinet rivals have been jockeying behind the scenes to position themselves to replace him. Last week, Johnson offered a half-apology in parliament for the breaches of lockdown rules, but said he thought a “bring your own booze” garden party he attended was a genuine work meeting. Later in the parliamentary tea rooms, he suggested to Conservative lawmakers the scandal was a storm in a teacup. Government aides had hoped the storm would blow over and tasked a senior civil servant to investigate. On Friday, the scandal worsened when it emerged one party took place at Downing Street the night before the funeral of Prince Philip. Tabloid newspapers — and opposition lawmakers — were quick to note the contrast with the behavior of the rule-observant monarch, Queen Elizabeth. She mourned the passing of her husband of more than 70 years at St. George's Chapel in Windsor Castle, sitting alone in the pews, distanced from her grieving relatives. The government apologized to the queen. A survey conducted by the Grassroots Conservatives group reported Sunday that 40 percent of its supporters want Johnson to resign. Conservative MPs said they confronted enormous anger from their local associations when visiting their districts Saturday and Sunday. Lawmaker Robert Syms told reporters, “I've had emails from what I would call Christian, decent, honest, honorable types of Tory voters, who say they feel embarrassed about voting Conservative with Boris Johnson.” Oliver Dowden, Conservative Party chairman, toured TV studios Sunday, saying Johnson is “both very contrite and deeply apologetic for what happened” and plans to overhaul the “culture” at No. 10. “He is determined to make sure that this can't be allowed to happen and that we address the underlying culture in Downing Street,” he said. In his attempt to salvage his premiership, Johnson is reportedly planning to dismiss much of his inner circle of aides and advisers, in what The Times of London newspaper described Monday as a bid to “save his own skin.” He is also planning to announce a series of populist measures, including ending pandemic curbs. Nadhim Zahawi, the education minister, claimed the prime minister is safe in his job; however, around 20 to 35 Conservative lawmakers are said to have submitted formal letters to party authorities requesting a leadership vote. Fifty-four letters would trigger such a vote. Dowden said it would be wrong for Johnson to step down as prime minister, and that a leadership contest was not what the public wanted. With Johnson’s poll numbers plummeting, the country’s top pollster, John Curtice, a professor at the University of Strathclyde, said Monday he doubts the prime minister can recover from “Partygate.” Conservative lawmakers “have to ask themselves whether or not the prime minister is likely to recover from a situation where around a half of the people who voted for him thinks he should go,” he said. While it might seem odd that a series of parties would topple a British prime minister, pollsters say, the scandal might be the breaking point for voters. They say voters have become enraged by the toxic mix of government chaos, abrupt policy reversals and corruption allegations. The cavalier partying has cut through to them, they say. Johnson’s showmanship, once widely seen as an attribute, has also been misfiring as the public mood sours. In November, a rambling speech at a conference of the country’s top business leaders led to widespread criticism. In the speech, Johnson lost his notes, had to apologize for losing his way and extensively praised an amusement park, known as Peppa Pig World, while comparing himself to Moses and imitating the noise of an accelerating sports car. Just before Christmas, David Frost, Johnson’s Brexit minister and close ally, quit the Cabinet, citing pandemic restrictions and the government's “direction of travel.” Frost, who had been handling Britain’s post-Brexit negotiations with the European Union, voiced dissatisfaction, saying he was worried Britain wasn’t taking advantage of its exit from the EU to chart a new course of limited government, lower taxes and reduced regulation. Johnson recently suffered one of the most significant parliamentary rebellions in modern British history, when more than 100 of his Conservative lawmakers voted against the reimposition of tough pandemic restrictions. The embattled prime minister was further rocked by a humiliating parliamentary by-election defeat in a seat in the English Midlands that had been held continuously by the Conservatives since 1832. 

While Attacks Persist, Nigerian Authorities Say They're Responding 

11 months ago

Nigerian authorities say the military is responding to a series of killings and kidnappings by gunmen in the country's northwest. In the latest attack, gunmen on motorcycles Saturday raided a village in Kebbi State, killing at least 50 people, according to locals. President Muhammadu Buhari's senior aide Garba Shehu said on Twitter Sunday that the president has ordered the military to "respond robustly to the cases of killings and kidnappings." He added, "The federal government is willing to strengthen support and cooperation with all the states,” and said the president believes that with the full cooperation of the citizens, Nigeria will surely overcome this problem. It is not the first time the president has issued strong worded threats against armed gangs in the country, known locally as bandits. But gangs continue to raid communities, looting for supplies and killing and kidnapping for ransom, mostly in the northwest and central regions. The latest incident occurred in Dankade village in Kebbi state over the weekend. More than 50 people were reportedly killed. Last week, more than 200 people were killed in attacks that lasted three days in northwestern Zamfara state. However, security analyst Kabiru Adamu says recent efforts by authorities are paying off. "Since the president renewed his calls to the security forces, what we've seen is military airstrikes in forests where these bandits are holding their victims. We've also seen an increase in police operations. All of that has affected the ability of these bandits to operate,” he said. Late last year, Nigeria officially classified armed gangs as terrorists, putting them in the same category with Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa province (ISWAP). Experts say the designation was a major step in taking deterrent measures against the groups. "The attacks do not diminish that fact that yes there's progress,” said Senator Iroegbu, a security analyst. “The terrorists' capacities have been greatly diminished, so there's definitely progress from what it used to be." Nigeria's armed forces said last week they killed 537 armed bandits and other criminal elements” in the region and arrested 374 others since May of last year.It said 452 kidnapped civilians have been rescued. Still, the armed forces are struggling to maintain basic security. More than 10,000 people were killed in Nigeria in banditry and terror related attacks last year, according to the U.S.-based Council for Foreign Relations. This month, Nigeria received clearance to deploy fighter jets purchased from the United States after months of delay due to human rights concerns.

UN Chief: Global Economic Recovery Uneven

11 months ago

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged international business leaders and economists on Monday to do their part to make post-COVID19 economic recovery equitable across the globe.  “At this critical moment, we are setting in stone a lopsided recovery,” he told the World Economic Forum, which normally meets in Davos, Switzerland, but is virtual this year due to the pandemic.  “The burdens of record inflation, shrinking fiscal space, high interest rates and soaring energy and food prices are hitting every corner of the world and blocking recovery — especially in low- and middle-income countries,” Guterres said.  The U.N. chief said recovery remains “fragile and uneven” as the pandemic lingers, and poorer countries are seeing their slowest growth in a generation and need debt relief and financing. He urged reforms to the global financial system so it works for all countries.  “The last two years have demonstrated a simple but brutal truth — if we leave anyone behind, in the end we leave everyone behind,” he said of the lifespan of the pandemic so far.  The World Health Organization said on Thursday that 90% of countries have not met the goal of vaccinating 40% of their population by the end of 2021. In Africa alone, about one billion people have not received a single vaccine dose.  “If we fail to vaccinate every person, we give rise to new variants that spread across borders and bring daily life and economies to a grinding halt,” Guterres warned.  He said more must also be done to support developing countries to fight climate change.  “To chart a new course, we need all hands on deck — especially all of you in the global business community,” he said, urging a 45% reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. To accomplish that, he reiterated his call to phase out coal and cease building new coal plants.  “We see a clear role for businesses and investors in supporting our net-zero goal,” he added, referring to the global target of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050.  Guterres told the forum that in economic recovery and climate action, the world cannot afford to repeat the inequalities that continue to condemn millions to poverty and poor health. 

Cameroon Says Separatists Abducted Rubber Plantation Workers

11 months ago

Authorities in Cameroon are blaming anglophone separatists for the abduction of eight rubber plantation workers Friday in the country's volatile Southwest region. The country’s Agricultural Workers Trade Union is pleading for the workers’ safe release. A man speaks in pidgin English as he presents eight men and women as enemies of separatist groups fighting to carve out an independent, English-speaking state in western Cameroon.  In the audio, extracted from a video widely circulated on social media, the man says fighters abducted the civilians for collaborating with Cameroonian government troops.  The video also appears to show the men and women holding rifles. The speaker in the video says separatists expect the civilians to use the rifles to fight the government. The civilians are also forced to sing a song the speaker in the video calls the national anthem of Ambazonia. Ambazonia is the name of the state separatists say they are fighting to create.  Cameroon's military says people seen in the video are rubber plantation workers abducted Friday from the town of Tiko. Bernard Okalia Bilai, governor of the Southwest region where Tiko is located, says the eight abductees are employees of the Cameroon Development Corporation.  Gabriel Nbene Vefonge, president of Cameroon Agriculture and Allied Workers Trade Union, called for the workers’ release. "We are appealing to who so ever group of persons that is keeping these workers, to kindly release them. Workers have nothing to do with the armed conflict. They should leave workers alone," he said. Speaking over a messaging app from Tiko, Vefonge said a breastfeeding mother is among the abducted workers.  Adamu Chinda, who works at the Tiko rubber plantation, says workers took the woman’s three-month-old daughter to the Tiko hospital Monday.  "I am going there now to see how we can raise money and buy the essential things that she [the baby] needs. Let them even release that breastfeeding mother so that she can take care of the child rather than the child dying because of lack of care," he said.    This is not the first time Cameroon Development Corporation workers have been attacked. In 2020 officials of the agro-industrial complex said that more than 6,000 of its 20,000 workers had fled attacks, killings and kidnappings.  Cameroon’s separatist conflict began in 2016, after teachers and lawyers in the North- and Southwest regions, where English is the predominant language, protested alleged discrimination from the country’s French-speaking majority. The conflict has killed an estimated 4,000 people and displaced more than three quarters of a million. 

Hindu Monk Jailed After Calling for 'Genocide' of Muslims

11 months ago

Indian authorities have charged a Hindu monk with inciting religious violence after he called for the "genocide" of India's Muslims at a meeting of right-wing supporters, police said Monday. Senior police officer Swatantra Kumar said Yati Narsinghanand Giri, an outspoken supporter of far-right nationalists who also heads a Hindu monastery, was initially arrested on Saturday on allegations that he made derogatory remarks against women. He appeared the following day in a court in the town of Haridwar, where he was sent into 14 days of custody for hate speech against Muslims and calling for violence against them. Kumar said the monk Giri, whom he described as a "repeat offender," was formally charged Monday for promoting "enmity between different groups on grounds of religion." The charge can carry a jail term of five years. In December, Giri and other religious leaders called on Hindus to arm themselves for "a genocide" against Muslims during a meeting in Haridwar, a northern holy town in Uttarakhand, according to a police complaint. He is the second person to be arrested in the case after India's Supreme Court intervened  last week. Uttarakhand state is ruled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata. The political party's rise to power in 2014, and landslide reelection in 2019, has led to a spike in attacks against Muslims and other minorities. Muslims comprise nearly 14% of India's 1.4 billion people, a largely Hindu country that has long proclaimed its multicultural character. The three-day conference that the monk Giri helped to organized was called the "Dharam Sansad" or "Religious Parliament" and followed on years of rising anti-Muslim hate speech. The closed-door meetings witnessed some of the most explicit calls for violence yet.   Videos from the conference showed multiple Hindu monks, some of whom have close ties to Modi's ruling party, saying Hindus should kill Muslims. "If 100 of us are ready to kill two million of them, then we will win and make India a Hindu nation," said Pooja Shakun Pandey, a Hindu nationalist leader, referring to the country's Muslim population. Her calls for such a massacre were met with applause from the audience. Pandey is being investigated by police for insulting religious beliefs. During the congregation, Hindu monks and other supporters, including Giri, took an oath calling for the killing of those who were perceived to be enemies of the Hindu religion. The calls for violence were met with public outrage and drew sharp criticism from former military chiefs, retired judges, and rights activists. Many questioned the Modi government's silence, warning hate speech against Muslims will only grow as several Indian states, including Uttarakhand, head to the polls in February. Last week, students and faculty at the Indian Institute of Management — one of India's most prestigious business schools — submitted a letter to Modi in which they wrote his silence "emboldens" hate and "threatens the unity and integrity of our country." Modi's ruling party has faced fierce criticism over rising attacks against Muslims in recent years. Opposition leaders and rights groups have accused it of encouraging violence by hardline Hindu nationalists against Muslims and other minorities. The party denies the allegation.

Tennis Star Djokovic Returns to Serbia After Deportation From Australia

11 months ago

Tennis star Novak Djokovic returned to his native Serbia on Monday after losing an appeal to stay in Australia, which deported him for being unvaccinated for COVID-19.  The world’s No. 1-ranked male tennis player arrived at Belgrade's Nikola Tesla Airport where sources told the media he was escorted through a “technical exit.”  A small group of fans waited outside the arrivals area, some shouting, “You are our champion!” while others waved Serbian flags. One fan held a sign that said, "Novak, God bless you."  The 34-year-old tennis champion landed in Melbourne on January 5 hoping to compete in the Australian Open for his 21st major tennis title. His unvaccinated status violated Australia’s immigration rules, but he was granted a medical waiver from two independent health panels set up by the Victoria state government and Australian tennis authorities. Djokovic had been infected with the coronavirus in December. But Border Force officials canceled his visa, and he was sent to an immigration detention hotel in Melbourne. His visa was reinstated by an Australian judge a week ago but was revoked a second time on Friday by Immigration Minister Alex Hawke, who said Djokovic’s presence in the country would stir anti-vaccination sentiment.  The tennis champion’s lawyers insisted the government’s argument was irrational and illogical, but three federal court judges unanimously disagreed and dismissed Djokovic’s appeal. Djokovic has won the Australian Open title nine times. Had he triumphed at this year’s tournament, his 21 grand slam victories would have made him the most successful men’s champion of all time. Before he left Australia, he said in a statement that he was “extremely disappointed with the Court ruling” but respected the decision and would “cooperate with the relevant authorities in relation to my departure from the country.” Phil Mercer contributed to this story. Some information came from The Associated Press, Reuters, and Agence France-Presse.

Cold-Case Investigation Names Surprise Suspect in Anne Frank's Betrayal

11 months ago

UN Experts: Taliban Steadily Erasing Afghan Women from Public Life

11 months ago

A group of United Nations human rights experts Monday alleged Afghanistan’s Islamist Taliban government was attempting to steadily erase women and girls from public life.    Taliban leaders “are institutionalizing large scale and systematic gender-based discrimination and violence” against women, the experts said in a statement issued by the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.   The experts reiterated their alarm at a series of restrictive measures, particularly those concerning women and girls, that the Taliban have introduced since seizing power last August. “Taken together, these policies constitute a collective punishment of women and girls, grounded on gender-based bias and harmful practices,” the experts said.  The Taliban have barred most Afghan women from returning to their jobs, ordered taxi drivers to offer rides only to those female passengers wearing hijabs, required a male relative to accompany women traveling further than 72 kilometers, and imposed a strict dress code on women and girls.   “In addition to severely limiting their freedom of movement, expression and association, and their participation in public and political affairs, these policies have also affected the ability of women to work and to make a living, pushing them further into poverty,” the experts said.   The majority of girls’ secondary schools remain closed across Afghanistan.  Taliban leaders have said they hope to be able to allow all girls to go back to school following the Afghan new year, which starts in early March. They say challenges such as paying salaries to teachers and ensuring a safe environment for female students in line with Islamic teachings are causing the delay.  “We respect women’s rights but require them to observe hijab,” Suhail Shaheen, the Taliban permanent representative-designate to the U.N., told VOA.  Critics continue to question the integrity of Taliban pledges concerning girls and schools.  “We are also deeply troubled by the harsh manner with which the de facto authorities have responded to Afghan women and girls claiming their fundamental rights, with reports of peaceful protesters having been often beaten, ill-treated, threatened, and in confirmed instances detained arbitrarily,” the experts said.    Women have routinely taken to the streets in Kabul and other cities to protest Taliban rollbacks of their rights. Taliban forces at times have used violence to disperse these protests and banned unsanctioned demonstrations.    On Sunday, Taliban police fired pepper spray at a group of about 20 women who protested in the Afghan capital, decrying restrictions on their rights, including the mandatory hijab, participants alleged. During the rally, protesters set fire to a burqa or veil the Taliban’s ministry for Islamic guidance has mandated for women.    The Ministry of Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice responded by warning that the Islamic holy book, the Quran, has ordered Muslim women to wear the hijab.    “Opposing hijab is in fact opposing the Quranic commandment and the Prophet's teachings. We request our Muslim sisters to not be influenced by foreigners and to not encourage the opposition of hijab,” the ministry asserted in a tweeted statement, referring to the Prophet Muhammad.    Critics such as Heather Barr at Human Rights Watch questioned the Taliban assertions.    “The obsession with how women dress has often been the least of their concerns, but it is indicative of the Taliban’s desire to dictate and restrict every aspect of women’s lives,” Barr told VOA. “The Taliban seem to believe they are the only people on the planet who fully understand and respect Islam,” she said.   The fundamentalist group's oppression of women during their previous hold on power in Afghanistan in the 1990s is one of the main reasons the global community has refused to recognize the new government in Kabul and blocked its access to Afghan foreign cash reserves, largely held in the United States.   The financial restrictions and continued sanctions on Taliban leaders have led to the collapse of the Afghan economy and worsened humanitarian upheavals in the conflict-torn country.    The U.N. experts called on the global community to step up urgently needed humanitarian aid for Afghans. They stressed the need to pressure Taliban authorities to ensure that restrictions on the fundamental rights of women and girls are removed immediately.

Outlook Weak for Projected Pandemic Labor Market Recovery

11 months ago

A new assessment of the global labor market finds that recovery from the employment crisis created by the COVID-19 pandemic will be fragile and will worsen inequalities between rich and poor countries.  The projection comes in a new report from the United Nations’ International Labor Organization. ILO economists say labor markets are recovering from the pandemic-induced crisis much more slowly than previously expected. They project the number of global working hours this year will be 1.8% below the numbers of pre-pandemic hours worked in the last quarter of 2019. That deficit, they say, is equivalent to a loss of 52 million full time jobs, twice as large as the number predicted in last year’s global market survey. ILO director general, Guy Ryder, says this shortfall in the labor supply comes on top of persistently high pre-crisis levels of unemployment. “In 2022, we project that global unemployment will stand at 207 million and that is 20 million above the pre-pandemic level in 2019.  Put in percentage terms, we expect the 2022 unemployment rate to be 5.9%,” Ryder said.  The report finds a great divergence in recovery between regions.  It says the European and North American regions are showing encouraging signs of recovery. The worst affected regions are Southeast Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean.   Ryder says the richer countries are expected to emerge from this crisis in better shape than the poorer countries. He says a big gap exists between the labor market prospects of countries depending on their level of income and development. “Many low-and-middle-income economies are struggling to get back to pre-pandemic levels of employment and to job quality. An insufficient access to vaccines is putting pressure on their health care systems with tight fiscal space limiting the ability of their governments to use stimulus measures to support their labor markets,” he said.   Ryder says the International Labor Organization has not taken a policy position on the legitimacy or otherwise of vaccination mandates in the workplace. He says a fundamental problem facing worksites is the unequal access to vaccines.   For him, he says, the bottom line is to ensure that people are able to work in healthy, safe environments.

China’s 2021 Birth Rates Fall to Lowest Levels in 7 Decades

11 months ago

China’s birth rates declined to their lowest rate since the ruling Communist Party took control in 1949, despite policymakers easing the longstanding one-child policy. Data released Monday by the National Statistics Bureau shows China’s population stood at 1.4 billion people at the end of 2021, with 10.6 million babies born in 2021, a rate of 7.52 births per 1,000 people. By contrast, 12 million infants were born in 2020, a rate of 8.52 births per 1,000 people. The population growth rate dropped in 2021 to 0.34 per 1,000 people.  The declining rate puts further pressure on Beijing policy makers to deal with a declining work force to help support a rapidly aging population. Authorities in 2016 revised a policy enacted in 1980 that limited families to just one child in an effort to restrain population growth. The revised policy allowed couples to have two children, with the number increased last year to three. Reports say that even though China did away with its one-child policy, the increasingly high cost of living has stopped some couples from having more children.   Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.

Building machines that work for everyone – how diversity of test subjects is a technology blind spot, and what to do about it

11 months ago

Why do plants grow straight?

11 months ago

UN Mission to Mali Temporarily Grounds All Flights Citing Sanctions Restrictions 

11 months ago

The U.N. peacekeeping mission to Mali, or MINUSMA, said it has temporarily suspended all flights following West African and EU states imposed sanctions that disrupted air and land transport. MINUSMA flights were abruptly grounded Sunday night in what an email to staff said was a temporary suspension. The email reviewed by VOA said “MINUSMA has to temporarily suspend all flights” and that staff would be informed “as soon as the Mission receives clearance from the government authorities” to resume flights. Several regional airlines have suspended service to Mali due to sanctions imposed by the Economic Community of West African States that stopped air and land transport between countries in the regional bloc, known as ECOWAS, and Mali. After France backed the ECOWAS sanctions, which were imposed following a special summit in Accra, Ghana on January 9, national carrier Air France also suspended service to Mali. MINUSMA normally operates flights within Mali in between Bamako and Mali’s central and northern cities, where there are several MINUSMA bases.  During a U.N. Security Council meeting on January 11, Russia and China blocked U.N.’s support for the ECOWAS sanctions. A MINUSMA spokesperson was not immediately available for comment.

Possible Drone Attack Kills 3 in Abu Dhabi

11 months ago

Authorities in the United Arab Emirates said Monday three oil tankers exploded at an extension of Dhabi International Airport in a possible drone attack. The state-run WAM news agency said the explosion killed at least three people and wounded six others. The dead included two Indian nationals and a Pakistani. Police said initial investigations of the incident indicated a drone could have caused the explosion and a nearby fire. Yemen’s Houthi rebels said Monday the group launched an attack deep inside the UAE but offered little information. UAE officials have denied previous claims of Houthi attacks. UAE forces have been a part of a Saudi-led coalition fighting against the Houthis since 2015, shortly after the group seized Yemen’s capital. Some information for this report came from the Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.

EXPLAINER: Scientists Struggle to Monitor Tonga Volcano After Massive Eruption

11 months ago

Scientists are struggling to monitor an active volcano that erupted off the South Pacific island of Tonga at the weekend, after the explosion destroyed its sea-level crater and drowned its mass, obscuring it from satellites.  The eruption of Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha'apai volcano, which sits on the seismically active Pacific Ring of Fire, sent tsunami waves across the Pacific Ocean and was heard some 2,300 kms (1,430 miles) away in New Zealand.  "The concern at the moment is how little information we have and that's scary," said Janine Krippner, a New Zealand-based volcanologist with the Smithsonian Global Volcanism Program. "When the vent is below water, nothing can tell us what will happen next."  Krippner said on-site instruments were likely destroyed in the eruption and the volcanology community was pooling together the best available data and expertise to review the explosion and predict anticipated future activity.  Saturday's eruption was so powerful that space satellites captured not only huge clouds of ash but also an atmospheric shockwave that radiated out from the volcano at close to the speed of sound.  Photographs and videos showed grey ash clouds billowing over the South Pacific and meter-high waves surging onto the coast of Tonga.  There are no official reports of injuries or deaths in Tonga yet, but internet and telephone communications are extremely limited and outlying coastal areas remain cut off.  Experts said the volcano, which last erupted in 2014, had been puffing away for about a month before rising magma, superheated to around 1,000 degrees Celsius, met with 20-degree seawater on Saturday, causing an instantaneous and massive explosion.  The unusual "astounding" speed and force of the eruption indicated a greater force at play than simply magma meeting water, scientists said.  As the superheated magma rose quickly and met the cool seawater, so did a huge volume of volcanic gases, intensifying the explosion, said Raymond Cas, a professor of volcanology at Australia's Monash University. Some volcanologists are likening the eruption to the 1991 Pinatubo eruption in the Philippines, the second-largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century, which killed around 800 people.  The Tonga Geological Services agency, which was monitoring the volcano, was unreachable on Monday. Most communications to Tonga have been cut after the main undersea communications cable lost power.  Lightning strikes  American meteorologist, Chris Vagasky, studied lightning around the volcano and found it increasing to about 30,000 strikes in the days leading up to the eruption. On the day of the eruption, he detected 400,000 lightning events in just three hours, which comes down to 100 lightning events per second.  That compared with 8,000 strikes per hour during the Anak Krakatau eruption in 2018, caused part of the crater to collapse into the Sunda Strait and send a tsunami crashing into western Java, which killed hundreds of people. Cas said it is difficult to predict follow-up activity and that the volcano's vents could continue to release gases and other material for weeks or months.  "It wouldn't be unusual to get a few more eruptions, though maybe not as big as Saturday," he said. "Once the volcano is de-gassed, it will settle down." 

New Zealand Begins Vaccinating 5-to-11-Year-Olds

11 months ago

New Zealand began inoculating 5- to11-year-old children Monday with Pfizer’s pediatric COVID vaccine. More than 120,000 vaccines have been delivered to 500 vaccination centers around the country, the health ministry said.   “Getting vaccinated now is a great way to help protect tamariki (children) before they go back to school,” Dr. Anthony Jordan, Auckland’s COVID-19 vaccination program clinical director, said in a statement. “The evidence shows that while children may have milder symptoms, some will still get very sick and end up in hospital if they do get COVID-19. Getting vaccinated also helps to prevent them from passing it on to vulnerable family members,” he added.  The omicron surge has not yet peaked in the U.S., Dr. Vivek Murthy, the U.S. surgeon general, warned Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union. “The next few weeks could be tough,” he cautioned, but noted that there has been a drop in cases in some locations, including New York and New Jersey.   The new self-isolation period for people with COVID in England has been reduced from ten days to five full days. The new measure went into effect Monday.  “This is a balanced and proportionate approach to restore extra freedoms and reduce the pressure on essential public services over the winter,” Health Secretary Sajid Javid said. “It is crucial people only stop self-isolating after two negative tests to ensure you are not infectious.”  The Credit Suisse Group, a Switzerland-based global investment bank, has announced the resignation of its chairman Antonio Horta-Osorio, after an investigation revealed that Horta-Osorio had violated COVID-19 protocols, including attending Wimbledon tennis tournament finals in London in July.   “I regret that a number of my personal actions have led to difficulties for the bank and compromised my ability to represent the bank internally and externally,” Horta-Osorio said in a statement on the Credit Suisse’s website.  UNICEF’s executive director said Saturday’s shipment of 1.1 million COVID-19 vaccines to Rwanda “included the billionth dose supplied to COVAX.” Henrietta Fore said, “With so many people yet to be offered a single dose, we know we have much more to do.”  COVAX is the international alliance working to ensure that equitable allotment of COVID-19 vaccines to low- and medium-income countries.  The Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center reported early Monday that it has recorded 328.1 million global COVID-19 infections and 5.5 million deaths. The center said 9.7 billion vaccines have been administered.  

Millions Hunker Down As Storm Hits Eastern US

11 months ago

Millions of Americans hunkered down as a major winter storm hit the eastern United States with heavy snow and ice knocking power out for an estimated 130,000 customers as of early Monday.    The National Weather Service (NWS) said the storm was bringing a miserable combination of heavy snow, freezing rain and high winds, impacting the southeast and coastal mid-Atlantic before moving up to New England and southern Canada.  A swath from the upper Ohio Valley north to the lower Great Lakes region could expect more than 30 centimeters of snow Monday, it warned.  In all, more than 80 million people fell under the winter weather alerts, US media reported. About 235,000 were without power Sunday but by early Monday that had fallen to around 130,000 along the east coast and Kentucky as supplies were restored, according to the website PowerOutage.US.  The storm spawned damaging tornadoes in Florida and flooding in coastal areas, while in the Carolinas and up through the Appalachians icy conditions and blustery winds raised concerns.     Transport was seriously disrupted, with thousands of flights canceled, and a portion of busy interstate highway I-95 closed in North Carolina.  More than 3,000 flights within, into or out of the United States were canceled Sunday.    Charlotte Douglas International Airport in North Carolina was the worst-affected with 95 percent of its flights grounded, according to the FlightAware website. A further 1,200 flights had been canceled early Monday.    State of emergency Drivers were warned of hazardous road conditions and major travel headaches from Arkansas in the south all the way up to Maine, on the Canadian border.  Georgia Governor Brian Kemp had declared a state of emergency on Friday, and snowplows were at work before noon to clear the roads.  Virginia and North Carolina also declared states of emergency.    Virginia State Police said on Twitter they had responded to almost 1,000 crashes and disabled vehicles on Sunday. "Mostly vehicle damage. No reported traffic deaths," the force said.    A "multi-vehicle backup," along with minor crashes, had earlier stopped traffic on a major interstate in the southern part of the state.   North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said on Twitter that up to a foot of snow had fallen in some areas by midday, and that "significant icing is causing trouble in the Central part of the state" as he reminded people to stay inside and avoid travel if possible.    Also in North Carolina, students were shaken up after the storm caused the roof of a college residence hall to collapse, according to a local ABC news station, though no one was hurt.    "Very scary," Brevard College sophomore Melody Ferguson told the station. "I'm still shaking to this moment."  The NWS even reported some snow flurries in Pensacola, Florida, while usually mild Atlanta, Georgia also saw snow.  The storm is expected to cause some coastal flooding, and the NWS warned that winds could near hurricane force on the Atlantic coast.  The northeastern United States already experienced snow chaos earlier this month. When a storm blanketed the northeast, hundreds of motorists were stuck for more than 24 hours on a major highway linking to the capital Washington.  

Ex-leader Poroshenko Returns to Ukraine to Appear in Court

11 months ago

Former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Monday returned to Ukraine to face court on treason charges he believes are politically motivated.  At the Kyiv airport, where he arrived on a flight from Warsaw on Monday morning, Poroshenko was greeted by several thousand cheering supporters. Some carried banners reading “We need democracy,” and “Stop repressions.”  From the airport, Poroshenko is expected to head straight to court, which will rule on whether to remand him in custody pending investigation and trial.  A prosecutor has alleged that Poroshenko, owner of the Roshen confectionery empire and one of Ukraine’s richest businessmen, was involved in the sale of large amounts of coal that helped finance Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine in 2014-15.  Poroshenko’s assets have been frozen as part of its investigation into the allegations of high treason. The former leader of Ukraine faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted.  Poroshenko insists that he is innocent. He accuses his successor, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, of seeking to discredit him politically to distract from Ukraine’s widespread problems, including economic woes and rising deaths from COVID-19.  The charges are the latest in a string of accusations leveled against Poroshenko since he was defeated by Zelenskyy in 2019. The allegations have generated concerns of undemocratic score-settling in Ukraine and also alarmed Ukraine’s allies. They come as Russia has built up troops along the Ukraine border and the United States has voiced concerns that Russian President Vladimir Putin might be planning an invasion of Ukraine.  Poroshenko was defeated by voters following a corruption scandal and a mixed record on reforms, but he emerged with strong patriotic credentials for his work in rebuilding the Ukrainian army as it fought Russian-backed insurgent fighters in the east.  Zelenskyy says he is waging a fight against oligarchs that is aimed at reducing their influence in Ukraine’s political and economic life.  Poroshenko has been outside of Ukraine for weeks, meeting with leaders in Brussels, Berlin and other European capitals.  His supporters view charges against him as politically motivated. “It is a revenge of the authorities and an attempt by Zelenskyy to eliminate his biggest rival in Ukraine’s politics,” Anton Ivashchenko, 42, told The Associated Press at the airport. “Persecution of Poroshenko sows animosity and discord among those who push for ... Ukraine’s closer ties with the West.” 

Atlanta Church Service Will Celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.

11 months ago

Atlanta’s mayor, Georgia’s governor and U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock are scheduled to attend the annual Martin Luther King Jr. service at King’s old congregation, Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.  The service at Ebenezer and other events surrounding Martin Luther King Jr. Day commemorate what would have been King’s 93rd birthday.  In a news release, the King Center in Atlanta said the 10 a.m. Monday service will be broadcast live on Atlanta’s Fox TV affiliate and on Facebook, YouTube and thekingcenter.org.  The Rev. Natosha Reid Rice and Pastor Sam Collier will preside over the service. This year’s keynote speaker is the Rev. Michael Bruce Curry, presiding bishop and primate of The Episcopal Church.  Musical performances are also planned, including Keke Wyatt, Tasha Cobbs Leonard, Pastor Mike Jr., Le’Andria Johnson, and Emanne Beasha.  “This year’s theme, ‘It Starts with Me: Shifting Priorities to Create the Beloved Community,’ reflects our belief that it is critical, and necessary for the survival of both humanity and Earth, that we shift our priorities for a strategic quest to create a just, humane, equitable and peaceful world,” King Center CEO Bernice King said in a statement.  The Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday March and Rally is also planned for Monday afternoon in downtown Atlanta. The march is scheduled to end on Auburn Avenue in front of The King Center, where a rally is planned. The King Center is also working with the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda and Youth Service America on a voter registration drive Monday in Atlanta.  “On this King Holiday, I call us up to shift our priorities to reflect a commitment to true peace and an awareness of our interconnectedness, interdependence, and interrelatedness. This will lead us to a greater understanding of our responsibilities to and for each other, which is crucial for learning to live together, achieving ‘true peace,’ and creating the Beloved Community,” Bernice King said in announcing the events.  Martin Luther King Jr. — pastor, civil rights leader, one of the most beloved figures in the world — dedicated his life to achieving racial equality, a goal he said was inseparable from alleviating poverty and stopping war.   King delivered his historic “I Have a Dream” speech while leading the 1963 March on Washington, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 and was assassinated in 1968 in Memphis while assisting a strike by underpaid sanitation workers. He was 39.  King’s example, and his insistence on nonviolent protest, continues to influence many activists pushing for civil rights and social change. 

Australia, New Zealand Begin Aerial Inspection of Tonga After Tsunami

11 months ago

Australia and New Zealand sent military surveillance flights to the isolated Pacific island nation of Tonga Monday to assess the damage caused by a strong undersea volcanic eruption Saturday.  The eruption sent a huge cloud of ash over the island and triggered a tsunami that swept over Tonga’s shoreline. Officials in Australia and New Zealand say they have received reports of significant damage to shops and houses along the shoreline from Tongans using satellite phone service.  Saturday’s eruption of the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai volcano severely damaged the single undersea fiber-optic cable that provides phone and Internet service to the island. Repairs to the cable could take anywhere from one to three weeks.  Tongan authorities say the volcanic ash has turned the air toxic and contaminated the island’s fresh drinking water supplies, and are urging residents to wear masks and drink bottled water.  Authorities have also raised concerns about relief workers bringing COVID-19 into the island, which has so far avoided the disease.  The only confirmed apparent casualty in Tonga from Saturday’s disaster is a British woman who was swept out to sea by the tsunami.  The eruption triggered tsunami warnings along much of the western United States coastline. Two people in Peru drowned due to high waves triggered by the tsunami.  Some information for this report came from the Associated Press, Reuters, and Agence France-Presse.   

Medal of Honor Monday: Army Spc. 5th Class Clarence Sasser > U.S. Department of Defense > Story

by Katie Lange, 11 months ago

Army Spc. 5th Class Clarence Sasser was drafted into the Army as a medic. He was sent to Vietnam at the height of the war and did his job so fearlessly during battle that he earned the Medal of Honor.

Australia, New Zealand Step Up Efforts to Aid Tsunami-Hit Tonga

11 months ago

Australia and New Zealand dispatched surveillance flights on Monday to assess the damage in Tonga, isolated from the rest of the world due to the eruption of an underwater volcano that triggered a tsunami and blanketed the Pacific island with ash.  Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison pledged to provide support for Tonga as early as possible but said the volcano ash had hampered relief efforts.  "There's been a lot of challenges there with the ash cloud and the disruption to communications and so we are working together to get as much support to Tonga as we possibly can," Morrison told radio station 2GB on Monday.  Australia's Bureau of Meteorology told Reuters in an emailed statement on Monday there was "no current volcanic activity, and the volcano is not spewing ash." It said ash that had reached the Australian state of Queensland was from a previous eruption.  Australia's Minister for the Pacific Zed Seselja said initial reports suggested no mass casualties and that Tonga's airport "appears to be in relatively good condition" but there were "significant damage" to roads and bridges.  Seselja said Australia was liaising with the United States, New Zealand, France and other countries to coordinate responses.  Some power restored New Zealand's Defense Minister Peeni Henare said at a news conference in Auckland that power had been restored in large parts of Nuku'alofa and some communications are back up.  A New Zealand Hercules C-130 would perform drops of essentials after the requirements are assessed and the navy will also be deployed.  An underwater volcano off Tonga erupted on Saturday, triggering a tsunami on the shores of Tonga and cutting off phone and internet lines for the entire island. There are no official reports of injuries or deaths in Tonga as yet but communications are still limited and outlying coastal areas remain cut off.  Satellite images show some of the outlying islands submerged.  A U.K. woman has reportedly gone missing after she was washed away, media reports said.  Angela Glover and her husband James, who own the Happy Sailor Tattoo in Nuku'alofa, had gone to get their dogs when the wave hit. James managed to hold onto a tree but his wife, who also runs a dog rescue on the island, and their dogs were washed away, New Zealand state broadcaster TVNZ reported. Several social media posts from family and friends said she has still not been found. New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Sunday that the tsunami had a significant impact on infrastructure.  Red Cross said it was mobilizing its regional network to respond to what it called the worst volcanic eruptions the Pacific has experienced in decades.  “Red Cross has enough relief supplies to support 1,200 households with essential items such as tarpaulins, blankets, kitchen sets, shelter tool kits and hygiene kits,” said Katie Greenwood, IFRC’s Pacific Head of Delegation told Reuters.  Greenwood said the agency is expecting up to 80,000 people to be affected by the tsunami.  "That is what we are planning for as a worst-case scenario until we can get further confirmation from the people on the ground," she said.  The agency said there were concerns that communities may not have access to safe drinking water as a result of saltwater inundation caused by the tsunami waves and ashfall.  Massive blast  The Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha'apai volcano has erupted regularly over the past few decades, but the impact of Saturday's eruption was felt was far away as Fiji, New Zealand, the United States and Japan. Two people drowned off a beach in Northern Peru due to high waves caused by the tsunami.  About 26 hours since the eruption, nations thousands of kilometers to the west have volcanic ash clouds over them, New Zealand forecaster WeatherWatch said in a statement.  Fiji, Vanuatu and New Caledonia are affected and the ash cloud is expected to fan out towards eastern Australia on Monday, it said.  Early data suggests the volcanic eruption was the biggest blast since Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines 30 years ago, New Zealand-based volcanologist Shane Cronin told Radio New Zealand.   "This is an eruption best witnessed from space," Cronin said.  "The large and explosive lateral spread of the eruption suggests that it was probably the biggest one since about the 1991 eruption of Pinatubo," Cronin said.

Oxfam: World's 10 Richest Men Doubled Wealth During COVID Pandemic

11 months ago

The world's 10 wealthiest men doubled their fortunes during the first two years of the coronavirus pandemic as poverty and inequality soared, a report said on Monday. Oxfam said the men's wealth jumped from $700 billion to $1.5 trillion, at an average rate of $1.3 billion per day, in a briefing published before a virtual mini summit of world leaders being held under the auspices of the World Economic Forum. A confederation of charities that focus on alleviating global poverty, Oxfam said the billionaires' wealth rose more during the pandemic more than it did the previous 14 years, when the world economy was suffering the worst recession since the Wall Street Crash of 1929. It called this inequality "economic violence" and said inequality is contributing to the death of 21,000 people every day due to a lack of access to health care, gender-based violence, hunger and climate change. The pandemic has plunged 160 million people into poverty, the charity added, with non-white ethnic minorities and women bearing the brunt of the impact as inequality soared. The report follows a December 2021 study by the group that found the share of global wealth of the world's richest people soared at a record pace during the pandemic. Oxfam urged tax reforms to fund worldwide vaccine production as well as healthcare, climate adaptation and gender-based violence reduction to help save lives. The group said it based its wealth calculations on the most up-to-date and comprehensive data sources available and used the 2021 Billionaires List compiled by the U.S. business magazine Forbes. Forbes listed the world's 10 richest men as: Tesla and SpaceX chief Elon Musk, Amazon's Jeff Bezos, Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, former Microsoft CEOs Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer, former Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, U.S. investor Warren Buffet and the head of the French luxury group LVMH, Bernard Arnault.

North Macedonia Gets New Prime Minister

11 months ago

The North Macedonia's parliament late Sunday elected Social Democrat technocrat Dimitar Kovacevski as prime minister after more than two months of political turmoil in the country. Kovacevski, a former deputy finance minister, succeeds Zoran Zaev, who stepped down last month following his party's heavy defeat in municipal elections. The new coalition Cabinet, led by Kovacevski's Social Democrats (SDSM), was backed by 62 MPs of those present in the 120-seat parliament. Forty-six lawmakers voted against. Presenting his agenda to the parliament on Saturday, Kovacevski had said a key goal of his government would be "higher and sustainable economic growth." He also promised to address the country's energy crisis and to try to bring it closer to the European Union. Kovacevski, 47, assumed leadership of the SDSM helm last month. He takes over as prime minister after the previous government, also SDSM-led, survived a no-confidence vote in November after weeks of negotiations with smaller parties. Ever since however, the opposition has accused the government of lacking legitimacy and has called for early elections. Kovacevski insists the elections will be held as scheduled in 2024. As deputy finance minister Kovacevski, who holds a PhD in economics, kept a low profile. Political analysts have questioned whether he will be able to negotiate the challenges the nation faces. At home, they say, he will have to face the complex relations within the ruling coalition and the corruption crippling the country's economy. His biggest foreign policy challenge is thought to be getting progress on EU membership talks, which are stalled because of the opposition of Bulgaria. In 2019, the country added the geographical qualifier "North" to its official name to distinguish it from the Greek province of Macedonia. The change enabled North Macedonia to join NATO and was a precondition for paving the way for its possible EU membership. But Bulgaria stands in the country's path to EU membership because of a dispute over historical issues and the origin of the Macedonian language.

North Korea Fires Suspected Ballistic Missile, Japan Says

11 months ago

North Korea fired on Monday what could be a ballistic missile, Japan's coast guard said, in what would be the fourth test this month as Pyongyang forges ahead with new military developments amid stalled stalks with the United States and South Korea. South Korea's military also reported that the North had fired an "unidentified projectile" toward the ocean off its east coast. Since New Year's Day, North Korea has conducted three other tests, an unusual frequency of weapons tests. Two of those launches involved single "hypersonic missiles" capable of high speeds and maneuvering after launch, while the last, on Friday, involved a pair of short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) fired from train cars. It was not immediately known what kind of missile was involved in Monday's reported launch. The series of launches prompted U.S. President Joe Biden's administration to impose its first sanctions against Pyongyang on Wednesday, and to call on the U.N. Security Council to blacklist several North Korean individuals and entities. North Korea has defended the missile tests as its sovereign right to self-defense and accused the United States of intentionally escalating the situation with new sanctions.

Alekos Fassianos, Known as 'Greek Picasso,' Dies at Age 86

11 months ago

Greek artist Alekos Fassianos, whose work drew on his country's mythology and folklore, died Sunday at the age of 86, his daughter Viktoria told AFP. Described by some admirers as a modern-day Matisse and by others as the Greek Picasso, his works, which included paintings, lithographs, ceramics and tapestries, have been shown around the world. While he resisted comparison with Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, he admired both artists, but insisted he had drawn on many different influences. Fassianos, who had been bedridden at his home in the suburbs of Athens for several months, died in his sleep, Viktoria Fassianou said.  Ill health had forced the artist to put down his paintbrushes in 2019. "All the work of Fassianos, the colors that filled his canvases, the multidimensional forms that dominated his paintings, exude Greece," Culture Minister Lina Mendoni said in a statement. Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis paid tribute to Fassianos as a painter who "always balanced between realism and abstraction.” Fassianos, he added, "leaves us a precious heritage.” The artist split his time between Greece and France, where he studied lithography at the National School of Fine Arts in Paris. The website devoted to his work says his style was forged in the 1960s and that his main themes have always been man, nature and the environment.  From Paris to Munich, Tokyo to Sao Paolo, Fassianos's works were shown around the world. Examples of his work can be found in the Museum of Modern Art in Paris and in the Pinacotheque in Athens. "Greekness has always been his inspiration, from mythology to contemporary Greece," the artist's wife, Mariza Fassianou, told AFP during a visit to his home last year. "He has always believed that an artist should create with what they know." Her husband would work on the floor or even scratch the corner of a table, she said. "He destroyed what he didn't like." An Athens museum devoted to his work will open in autumn 2022 and display some of the works that currently adorn his home. His friend, architect Kyriakos Krokos, entirely redesigned the central Athens museum that will showcase his work, collaborating with Fassianos himself. France has bestowed upon him some of its top awards, including the Legion of Honor (Arts and Letters) and he is also an honorary member of the Russian Academy of Arts.

GSK rejects three Unilever bids to buy consumer healthcare arm, says unit was "fundamentally undervalued"

11 months ago

Somber MLK Remembrances Expected as Voting Rights Effort Dies in US Senate

11 months ago

As the U.S. approaches the federal holiday honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., modern-day civil rights advocates are facing the reality that despite years of increasing public focus on racial injustice, they appear likely to fall short of their goal of improving minorities’ access to the vote. Last week King’s family requested that celebrations of civil rights leader’s legacy be suspended this year, unless Congress passes legislation to expand voting rights in America. Democrats have championed legislation that would give Washington a stronger say in how federal elections are administered in each of the 50 U.S. states. While the federal government does not control state-level elections, new federal requirements could affect them, because they are often conducted in tandem. Among other provisions, the two Democratic-sponsored bills, the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, aim to undo laws passed by Republican-led states that limit methods and opportunities to cast ballots. Democrats and many civil rights activists say the state laws will disadvantage minority voters, and they accuse Republicans of thinly veiled voter suppression. Republicans reject the charge, insisting their goal is to protect the integrity of elections and prevent voter fraud. Stalled in the U.S. Senate for months, hopes for passing the Freedom to Vote Act appeared to be extinguished last week. Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema and West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, both Democrats, said that even though they support reforming election laws, they will not vote to change Senate rules in order to pass those reforms with Democrat-only backing. A change in Senate rules would be necessary because no Republicans support the voting law bill. Under the chamber’s rules, Republicans can block most legislation even if a Democratic majority supports it. On Friday, during a livestreamed interview with The Washington Post, Martin Luther King III bitterly criticized Sinema’s and Manchin’s position. “History is not going to be judging … them in the way that perhaps they would want to be remembered. History is looking [them] dead in the face to say, ‘When it was time to make sure the democracy was preserved, what did you do?’” he said. How did we get here? Voting rights did not return to the top of the Democratic priority list overnight. The journey of civil rights issues to the forefront of public discourse in the U.S. has been years in the making. The rise of the Black Lives Matter movement after multiple highly publicized police killings of unarmed Black men between 2014 and 2019 galvanized many Americans behind the idea that the U.S. still had a long way to go to reach racial equality. At the same time, the release of The New York Times’ 1619 Project, an effort to retell the history of the U.S. with more of a focus on the role of slavery, highlighted centuries-old racial inequalities in the U.S. So did a movement to tear down many monuments to the Confederacy, which fought to preserve slavery during the U.S. Civil War of 1861-65. Pushback, sometimes violent The increasing focus on racial justice in the U.S. has not come without a virulent reaction. White supremacist groups have become more active and vocal across the country. In 2017, a group of white supremacists marched through Charlottesville, Virginia. During related protests, one white supremacist activist drove a car into a group of counter-protesters, killing a young woman. It was also difficult for many to disentangle the presidency of Donald Trump from the battle over racial inequality. Trump came to political power by pushing the falsehood that President Barack Obama, the first Black president, was not an American by birth, and that his presidency was therefore illegitimate. (By law, the president must be a natural-born U.S. citizen.) Watch related video by Laurel Bowman: Trump also called for the violent suppression of the Black Lives Matter movement, at one point sending in federal agents to break up a peaceful but boisterous protest near the White House. He also reportedly demeaned African and Black-led countries, asserting that the U.S. should not accept immigrants from them. At the same time, a movement arose on the political right to restrict the teaching of racially sensitive topics in public schools. The themes protesters object to were short-handed as “critical race theory,” even though that subject is a relatively obscure area of legal scholarship that is never taught in elementary or high schools. 2020 election The focus on voting rights has always been a major element of the Civil Rights movement in the United States, but it became especially acute in 2021, after minority voters played a major role in electing Joe Biden as president in the 2020 election and helped give Democrats control of the House and Senate. Across the country, minority voters turned out in record numbers. This was especially true in states like Georgia, a Republican stronghold, where a campaign to register new minority voters and get them to the polls resulted in the state voting for a Democrat for president for the first time since 1992, and sent two Democrats to the Senate for the first time in a generation, giving the party control of that chamber. After the election, the defeated President Trump insisted the election had been “rigged,” a falsehood that he has continued to repeat, and which many of his supporters, including many state legislators, have echoed. In the months that followed, many Republican-controlled states passed restrictive new voting legislation that will make it more difficult for minority groups, including the non-English speakers and individuals with disabilities, to vote in future elections than it was in 2020, when measures to ease voting during the coronavirus pandemic helped drive record turnout. In some cases, states did more than roll back pandemic-related voting accommodations. Some created new provisions allowing state legislatures to intervene in the certification of vote counts, established new rules allowing poll watchers to challenge individual voters, and put volunteer poll workers in danger of criminal prosecution for providing what, in years past, would have been routine voter assistance. A common reaction According to Carol Anderson, a historian and professor of African American Studies at Emory University, there is a long history in the United States of laws being changed after Black Americans exercise their freedom in a way that challenges power structures. “What is happening is what always happens in America,” Anderson, the author of the New York Times bestselling White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide, told VOA. “When we look at the 2020 election, where you had black folk coming out and voting, willing to stand in line for 11 hours to vote to fight for this democracy, the result of that was that Trump got removed from the White House and the Senate flipped. The response to that was a white rage policy of a series of voter suppression laws, and a series of laws that were about how to handle certification of elections.” Not so, according to Republicans, who say they are fighting against federal overreach and accuse Democrats of attempting to tip the electoral scales in their favor. “This effort by liberal Democrats to take power away from states to run elections is not about enfranchising voters – it's about shifting power to the advantage of the liberal Democratic agenda,” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina recently tweeted. Amid the acrimony and on the eve of what seems sure to be a more somber Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday, Anderson said she is sure the fight for voting rights — and civil rights more broadly — will continue. “We have an incredibly engaged civil society that is fighting for this democracy,” she said. “We have folks who are litigating against these voter suppression laws. We have folks who are registering folks to vote jumping through all of the hurdles. We have folks who are providing citizenship training school. … It is that civil society that has been just absolutely instrumental in fighting for American democracy.” 


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