Making Peace With Big Oil, Tribal Canadians Buy Inabout 1 month ago
Some of Canada’s Indigenous peoples, after years of protesting their exclusion from the approval, development and profit from resource extraction industries on their traditional lands, are adopting a new strategy – buying in. The approach is scrambling long-established fault lines between the tribes – commonly known in Canada as First Nations – and industrial interests while leaving environmentalists in an awkward position regarding their long-standing allies in the fight against Big Oil. It has also placed Native groups on opposite sides of some pipeline disputes, though few are willing to criticize what they see as an attempt to improve the living standards of some of the continent’s most disadvantaged people. One of the most notable moves involves Enbridge Inc., which was a partner in the Dakota Access Pipeline that prompted huge and highly publicized protests by Native Americans in Standing Rock, North Dakota, in 2016 and 2017. Last September, Enbridge announced a deal in which 23 First Nation and Metis communities acquired an 11.57% interest in seven Enbridge-operated pipelines in the Canadian province of Alberta, marking the largest energy-related partnership of its kind in North America. Financing for the $830 million investment was facilitated through loan guarantees from a provincial government-owned corporation. In the Pacific coastal province of British Columbia, another consortium of First Nations, known as the Western Indigenous Pipeline Group, is seeking to purchase the Trans Mountain Pipeline, which carries oil across the Rocky Mountains from Alberta to a seaport near Vancouver. The Canadian government bought the pipeline from Texas-based Kinder Morgan in 2018 in a bid to push through a major expansion, which would boost the pipeline’s capacity from 300,000 barrels a day to 890,000 barrels. The scheme has been long opposed by several Coast Salish First Nations in the Vancouver area and in northwestern Washington state, who worry that the project will mean up to 34 China-bound oil tankers a month carrying bitumen through the strait between Vancouver Island and the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state. In 2018, Canada’s National Energy Board recommended the pipeline plan be approved, despite recognizing the harm the increased oil tanker traffic may cause to the Southern Resident killer whales, who swim through the area. 'Great things' Chief Willie Sellars of the Williams Lake First Nation, located about 500 km north of Vancouver, told VOA he had decided to back the consortium because developing successful and diversified business relationships helps his band members. "It's a resource-based economy here in Williams Lake. It's mining and forestry [and the] pipeline,” he said. "And there are benefits that are flowing from these major projects back into our community that are allowing us to do great things — fund 100% of our post-secondary [university] applicants, fund 100% of our trades, training applicants fund, fully staffed recreation department and elders group. Build new administration buildings.” First Nations have found themselves coming down on opposite sides of other projects as well. The Coastal GasLink pipeline, which is to carry natural gas from Dawson Creek — a stop on the Alaska Highway in northeastern British Columbia — to a seaport in Kitimat, 1,400 km northwest of Vancouver, got the approval of the elected First Nations councils along the route. But it has met stiff opposition from the hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, which has staged protests and roadblocks in Vancouver. Sellars said he was not worried that his nation’s investment in the Trans Mountain Pipeline would bring his band into conflict with other First Nations who oppose the project. “Working with so many different Indigenous communities in this province and in this country — and we're talking to hundreds of communities — we're never all going to see eye to eye, and we realize that,” he said. “But at the end of the day, we still respect each other regardless. It will still hold up every single one of those communities that even oppose a pipeline project or a mining project. But, you know, we are not all the same, and that's what we have to realize as well.” Questions about cost, demand Rueben George, manager of the Sacred Trust for the Tsleil-Waututh, which is trying to stop the expansion, agrees there is nothing wrong with other First Nations making agreements with pipeline companies to overcome poverty from decades of colonialism. But he makes an economic argument against the Trans Mountain project, which would terminate directly in front of the tract in suburban Vancouver occupied by his 600-member nation. "I don't see anything nor does my nation see anything bad about any nation making an agreement with a pipeline. Because I know some of them are negotiating for better housing and better care for their people,” he told VOA. But he said the rising cost of the pipeline, along with the prospect of diminishing future demand for fossil fuels, makes it a poor investment for the consortium members. “From our own studies that we see, it's a stranded asset,” he said. "So what it could potentially be for some First Nations is, it's like economic smallpox.” The reference has special resonance for Indigenous North Americans, who suffered massive devastation after smallpox was introduced to the continent by European settlers. The economic argument against the expansion is echoed by environmentalists like Eugene Kung, staff lawyer at West Coast Environmental Law Association in Vancouver. "One of the challenges, and just as a practical reality, with a linear piece of infrastructure is that it needs to be 100% complete to be 1% effective. Can't have a linear project, like a pipeline, with a 1% hole, or gaps in it. It just doesn't work that way,” he said in an interview. Kung noted that construction of the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion was several years behind schedule, and he argued that the increasing costs of the project would make it less financially viable for the would-be investors. "Today, here we are, 2023, the costs have increased almost fourfold to almost $21.4 billion [$16 billion USD],” he said. "So in terms of the kind of potential reward from owning the pipeline, and the incomes and revenue that may come from that, and then compare that with the risks and liabilities – it's really, I think, a really challenging economic prospect moving forward.” George Hoberg, a professor at the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia, said that while the rise of First Nations as an investment class may ease some old tensions between the First Nations and industrialists, new kinds of conflicts are going to emerge. “And we're going to see our conflicts between First Nations as deciders on projects, and environmentalists who disagree with what First Nations want to do with those resources — whether that's a pipeline that brings fossil fuels on to market or whether it's harvesting old growth forests, or other things such as that,” he told VOA.
Super Bowl Bets Surging in US as States Legalize Gamblingabout 1 month ago
As legal sports gambling proliferates, the number of Americans betting on the Super Bowl and the total amount they're wagering is surging — although most of the action is still off the books. An estimated 1 in 5 American adults will make some sort of bet, laying out a whopping $16 billion, or twice as much as last year, according to an industry trade group. Even as legal gambling has spread to two-thirds of U.S. states, independent analysts say only about $1 billion of the total being wagered on Sunday's game will happen through casinos, racetracks or companies such as FanDuel and DraftKings, whose ads have become ubiquitous during sporting events. The vast majority of people, in other words, are still betting with friends and family, participating in office pools or taking their chances with a bookie. More than 50 million American adults are expected to bet on the national championship game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Kansas City Chiefs, according to the American Gaming Association, whose estimates are based on a nationwide online survey of 2,199 adults. That's an increase of 61% from last year. Experts in addiction say aggressive advertising is contributing to a rise in problem gambling. "As sports betting expands, the risk of gambling problems expands," said Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling. Thirty-three states, plus Washington, D.C., now offer legal sports betting, and more than half of all American adults live in one of those markets. "Every year, the Super Bowl serves to highlight the benefits of legal sports betting," said Bill Miller, the gambling association's president and CEO. "Bettors are transitioning to the protections of the regulated market ... and legal operators are driving needed tax revenue to states across the country." But legal sports betting still represents just a small piece of the pie. Eilers & Krejcik Gaming Research, an independent analytics firm in California, estimates that just over $1 billion of this year's Super Bowl bets will be made legally. The leading states are: Nevada ($155 million); New York ($111 million); Pennsylvania ($91 million); Ohio ($85 million) and New Jersey ($84 million). The research firm estimates 10% to 15% of that total would be wagered live after the game begins. Another 15% to 20% would come in the form of same-game parlays, or a combination of bets involving the same game, such as betting on the winner, the total points scored and how many passing yards Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts will accumulate. As legal sports betting grows, so too has concern about its effect on people with gambling problems. The National Council on Problem Gambling has conducted nationwide surveys since 2018, when New Jersey won a U.S. Supreme Court case clearing the way for all 50 states to offer legal sports betting. They ask questions like, "Do you ever borrow money to gamble?" Between 2018 and 2021, the number of people whose answers indicated they were at risk of a gambling problem increased by 30%, said Whyte, the council's executive director. He added that the Super Bowl presents an opportunity to see how well responsible gambling messaging and campaigns by sports books and professional sports leagues are working. On Tuesday, New Jersey gambling regulators unveiled new requirements for sports books to analyze the data they collect about their customers to look for evidence of problem gambling, and to take various steps to intervene with these customers when warranted. "It is no coincidence that our announcement comes just a week ahead of one of the biggest days in sports wagering, serving as a reminder of how devastating a gambling addiction can be," New Jersey Attorney General Matthew Platkin said.
Visitors Can See Famed Florence Baptistry's Mosaics Up Closeabout 1 month ago
Visitors to one of Florence's most iconic monuments — the Baptistry of San Giovanni, opposite the city’s Duomo — are getting a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see its ceiling mosaics up close thanks to an innovative approach to a planned restoration effort. Rather than limit the public's access during the six-year cleaning of the vault, officials built a scaffolding platform for the art restorers that will also allow small numbers of visitors to see the ceiling mosaics at eye level. "We had to turn this occasion into an opportunity to make it even more accessible and usable by the public through special routes that would bring visitors into direct contact with the mosaics," Samuele Caciagli, the architect in charge of the restoration site, said. In an interview with The Associated Press, Caciagli called the new scaffolding tour of the baptistry vault "a unique opportunity that is unlikely to be repeated in the coming decades." The scaffolding platform sprouts like a mushroom from the floor of the baptistry and reaches a height of 32 meters (105 feet) from the ground. Visits are set to start Feb. 24 and must be reserved in advance. The octagonal-shaped baptistry is one of the most visible monuments of Florence. Its exterior features an alternating geometric pattern of white Carrara and green Prato marble and three great bronze doors depicting biblical scenes. Inside, however, are spectacular mosaic scenes of The Last Judgment and John the Baptist dating from the 13th century and created using some 10 million pieces of stone and glass over 1,000 square meters of dome and wall. The six-year restoration project is the first in over a century. It initially involves conducting studies on the current state of the mosaics to determine what needs to be done. The expected work includes addressing any water damage to the mortar , removing decades of grime and reaffixing the stones to prevent them from detaching. "(This first phase) is a bit like the diagnosis of a patient: a whole series of diagnostic investigations are carried out to understand what pathologies of degradation are present on the mosaic material but also on the whole attachment package that holds this mosaic material to the structure behind it," Beatrice Agostini, who is in charge of the restoration work, said. The Baptistry of San Giovanni and its mosaics have undergone previous restorations over the centuries, many of them inefficient or even damaging to the structure. During one botched effort in 1819, an entire section of mosaics detached. Persistent water damage from roof leaks did not get resolved until 2014-2015. Roberto Nardi, director of the Archaeological Conservation Center, the private company managing the restoration, said the planned work wouldn't introduce any material that is foreign to the original types of stone and mortar used centuries ago. "It is a mix of science, technology, experience and tradition," he said. The origins of the baptistry are something of a mystery. Some believe it was once a pagan temple, though the current structure dates from the 4th or 5th centuries.
Voter Apathy a Hurdle for Venezuelan Opposition as It Seeks to Unseat Maduroabout 1 month ago
Venezuela's opposition is hoping a presidential nominating contest will rally supporters after years of futile attempts to unseat the government of President Nicolas Maduro, but it faces deep voter apathy as people struggle to afford food and other basics. Opposition lawmakers recently named a new three-person leadership for their parallel legislature, which is recognized by many Western countries as Venezuela's last remaining democratic body. Now, they need a presidential candidate who can persuade voters to make him or her the next leader of Venezuela. But after years in the political wilderness, the opposition is disjointed - at a time when Maduro is enjoying renewed relations with neighbors Colombia and Brazil and some loosened U.S. restrictions. And voters are disillusioned. "People don't pay attention to politics," said 29-year-old mother of three Maria Eugenia Aray, who lives in Guatire, near capital Caracas, and said she might participate in the primary. "The economic crisis is what people are bothered by, because of low incomes." The monthly minimum wage is equivalent to $6 - about the cost of a four-pack of toilet paper. People working for private companies earn more, but public sector salaries have stagnated, leading to recent protests by teachers. Despite slight economic recovery last year, inflation was 234% and cuts to electricity and water are common. The opposition committee tasked with scheduling the vote and defining whether it will take place with help from electoral authorities - considered by many to be an arm of Maduro's government - is expected to release details of its plans on Feb. 15. The presidential contest is tentatively scheduled for 2024. Several declared and likely candidates in the primary - at least a dozen people from various opposition parties have said they will run - told Reuters apathy and frustration with the opposition are top challenges for attracting voters. "The tiredness has to do with the extreme socioeconomic situation that we're living through," said candidate Juan Pablo Guanipa, a member of the Justice First party, adding that the opposition's failure to unseat socialist president Maduro was also a factor. Maduro took office after his mentor Hugo Chavez's death and won his own mandate in 2013. Despite overseeing hyperinflation, a 2018 election the United States and others regard as fraudulent, and economic collapse that has led to the emigration of some 7 million people, he has proven resilient at retaining power. More than 69% of people in a recent survey by pollster Delphos said a change in leadership is needed to improve the economy. But just under 26% said they would definitely vote in the primary and nearly 30% said they definitely would not. "The challenge is how to make the primary credible," said Juan Guaido, who ran the opposition's interim government from 2019 until he was replaced by the triumvirate in January. He is expected to declare his candidacy. Government control of media puts the opposition on the back foot, he said, "as if we're in 1950." Most people feel little connection with politics, said Luis Vicente Leon, head of pollster Datanalisis. "The challenge to stimulate participation is great and not at all easy," he said. Some opposition activists have begun weekend campaigning in Caracas and other cities to get out the vote, while others have taken to social media. "In this country there is a culture of voting. As political processes approach people get interested," said Henrique Capriles, who was the opposition's presidential candidate in 2013 and is now barred from running by a court order. However, Maduro and his allies have sown distrust in the democratic process, Capriles said, and the opposition has not yet successfully restored it. Former lawmaker and primary candidate Maria Corina Machado said the 2024 presidential race would be "a unique opportunity" to bring change. "It's urgent that we coordinate and give strength and legitimacy to a new political direction," she said. But some Venezuelans hard-pressed to make ends meet remain impervious to opposition efforts. "We're poorer every day and I don't think more elections will be the definite solution to this disaster," said vegetable seller David Lugo, 54, who lives in formerly prosperous oil city Maracaibo. "The economic situation is so hard that (voting) is a waste of time."
Afghan Radio Squeezed By Economic and Political Pressuresabout 1 month ago
Fifteen years ago, Noorullah Stanikzai returned to his home province of Logar to open a radio station broadcasting cultural and educational programs. But the future of his station, Zinat FM, has seemed uncertain since the Taliban took power in August 2021. “I am seriously considering closing the radio,” said Stanikzai, 48, adding that remaining open means having to work in a “challenging environment.” “For now, the radio is operating, but we might not be able to continue for long. It is possible that today, tomorrow, or a month later, we close,” said Stanikzai. Zinat FM is one of three local stations still broadcasting in Afghanistan’s Logar province, south of Kabul. But all of them face political and economic challenges, Stanikzai said. “There is a ban on entertainment programs. We face serious economic problems,” he said. “Like other [private] media outlets [in Afghanistan], we can’t have political shows that we had before the Taliban, or criticize the authorities.” It’s a pattern seen across Afghanistan, where Taliban restrictions on how media operate — including directives on how to cover certain issues, and bans on entertainment and women’s voices — has made journalism a difficult industry to navigate. The media watchdog Reporters Without Border has said of the 543 media outlets working in Afghanistan before the Taliban takeover, only 312 remained three months later. In December, the Taliban also banned FM radio broadcasts of Voice of America and Azadi Radio, which is part of VOA’s sister network Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Gul Mohammad Graan, president of the Afghan chapter of the South Asian Association of Reporters Club and Journalists Forum, told VOA that most of the people in Afghanistan do not have access to the internet, and most areas do not have electricity. Because of that, he said, “radio is still the most popular medium in the country.” Even with many stations shutting, “People still have access to radio channels and get their information on the current affairs in the country,” Graan said. Broadcast changes Before the Taliban takeover, Zinat FM was broadcasting around the clock, but now it has only 12-hour programming, Stanikzai said. The situation used to be better for media, he said. “We had many political shows. We could criticize the government authorities, and access to information was better.” Taliban officials have told journalists in Logar and other provinces that they have the right to cover any issue they want. But they are also warned not to air any news that would weaken the regime. “Like other news outlets, we do not have the freedom to cover politics or criticize the government... though the Taliban say that ‘we support freedom of speech and press,’” said Stanikzai. Journalists elsewhere in Afghanistan have said that the Taliban want the media to only air issues the group wants to be covered. Another factor affecting broadcasts is the ban on all music, said Stanikzai. “They even want us not to air those radio transitions and commercials with music.” “First, they told us orally that we should not air music or female voices. We requested an official statement. Then they sent us an official notice not to air music and women’s voices,” he said. Limited programming, decreased revenue With many issues now off limits, Stanikzai’s station mostly broadcasts educational, health, and religious programs. But he said, those shows, especially on education, are needed now more than ever as girls are barred from going to school. Because of the political and economic problems — advertising revenue has sharply declined — Stanikzai’s radio station lost eight employees, including two women. “We run the radio with only four people,” said Stanikzai. “We were paying about $200 to $250 a month to an employee but now we are paying around $60.” And while the station used to get around $175 to $235 for an advert broadcast twice a day, that has now dropped to $23 with the exchange rate. But even with the shortfall, media outlets have to pay for electricity, a commercial license, and taxes. “In the past, the government would help us. But, now, we have to pay,” he said. A father of seven, Stanikzai said he has “lost hope" and sees "no future in journalism” in Afghanistan. “I would probably go back to my village and start farming to feed my family,” he said. This story originated in VOA’s Afghan service.
At Least 28,000 Dead in Turkey, Syria Earthquake; Death Toll Could Doubleabout 1 month ago
Rescuers continued to pull out survivors Saturday, five days after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake shook Turkey and Syria. Some rescue operations in Turkey were stopped amid reports of nearby looting. More than 28,000 people have died in Turkey and Syria, 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 Erdogan said Saturday that the earthquake was the “disaster of the century.” In Turkey, rescue operations were conducted amid a massive amount of rubble produced by fallen buildings. “This is a disaster caused by shoddy construction, not by an earthquake,” David Alexander, a professor of emergency planning at University College London told The Associated Press. Eyup Muhcu, president of the Chamber of Architects of Turkey, told AP that many of the buildings that fell were built with inferior materials and methods, without regard for Turkey’s construction codes. 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.
Latest Developments in Ukraine: Feb. 12about 1 month ago
For full coverage of the crisis in Ukraine, visit Flashpoint Ukraine. The latest developments in Russia's war on Ukraine. All times EST. 12:02 a.m.: WNBA star Brittany Griner attended the WM Phoenix Open golf tournament Saturday in her second public appearance since her release from a Russian prison, The Associated Press reported. Last month in her first appearance, Griner was at the Martin Luther King Jr. march in downtown Phoenix. Griner is skipping the USA Basketball training camp in Minnesota so she can be with her wife and recover from her time in jail in Russia. She was traded in a dramatic prisoner swap in December. Griner has said she'll play for the Phoenix Mercury again this season, although she's still an unsigned free agent. She hasn't talked about her international future and potentially playing in the Olympics next year in Paris. Some information in this report came from The Associated Press.
New Zealand's Auckland Braces for 'Trifecta' of Rain, Wind, Storm Surgesabout 1 month ago
Residents of New Zealand's biggest city were urged Sunday to prepare for the impact of a storm that buffeted Australia's Norfolk Island overnight. Gabrielle, downgraded to a sub-tropical low-pressure system from a Category 2 cyclone, passed over Norfolk Island, with its "most destructive winds" missing the island, the Australian outpost's emergency management authority said. The focus shifts to New Zealand, 1,460 kilometers south, where the nation's weather forecaster warned of the storm's impact starting Sunday. Last month the largest city, Auckland, was hit by record rainfall that sparked floods and killed four people. The city of 1.6 million was in line for a "full trifecta" of heavy rain, strong winds and storm surges, said Georgina Griffith, a spokeswoman for the forecaster, MetService. "Don't be fooled if you're not affected until Tuesday," she told reporters. Wind and rain were "starting to spread across NZ from the north," with a 133 kph wind gust reported overnight on the country's North Island, MetService said. Auckland Emergency Management warned the city was likely to be hit by strong winds Sunday night, with gusts of up to 140 kph or higher starting Monday. Several flights canceled With Gabrielle closing in, Air New Zealand said it was canceling multiple long-haul international fights on Monday, as well as Tasman and Pacific Island flights, and domestic services in and out of Auckland. Mayor Wayne Brown's office urged residents to prepare for the storm by taking steps such as tying down loose outdoor items and ensuring houses were clear of debris. The storm was on track to lie off Cape Reinga at the North Island's north end on Sunday afternoon after moving away from Norfolk Island, MetService said. Cleanup on Norfolk On Norfolk Island, which covers just more than 34 square km in the Pacific Ocean between New Caledonia and New Zealand, authorities said they were clearing debris and trees from roads and restoring power knocked out in the storm. "There is still considerable cleanup to be undertaken and it may take a while for services such as power to be restored," Emergency Management Norfolk Island said. Its roughly 2,000 residents, some descended from British sailors who mutinied on the HMS Bounty in the 18th century, had been "extremely fortunate" with the passage of the cyclone, the agency said, as winds eased and an all-clear was issued.
Hilltop Coal-Mining Town a Tactical Prize in Ukraine Warabout 1 month ago
In a small coal-mining town on Ukraine's eastern front line, a fight for strategic superiority is being waged in a battlefield steeped with symbolism as the one-year anniversary of Russia's invasion nears. The town of Vuhledar, meaning "gift of coal," has emerged as a critical hot spot in the fight for the Donetsk province that would give both sides — the Ukrainian forces who hold the urban center, and the Russians positioned in the suburbs — a tactical upper hand in the greater battle for the Donbas region. Located on an elevated plane that is one of the few high-terrain spots in the area, its capture would be an important step in Russia’s plans to disrupt Ukrainian supply lines. Securing Vuhledar would give Ukraine a potential launching pad for future counter-offensives south. Then there is the symbolic weight: Vuhledar is close to the administrative border of the Donetsk province, and winning it would play into Russia's greater aim of controlling the region as a whole. "The center of gravity of the Russian military effort is in Donetsk, and Vuhledar is basically the southern flank of that," said Gustav Gressel, a senior policy fellow with the European Council on Foreign Relation's Berlin office. Population drops from 14,000 to about 300 The grinding fight to win the area has cost Russia manpower and weapons, as Ukrainians continue to hold up defensive lines. Russia sends battalion-sized scout groups to probe Ukrainian lines and shoot artillery toward their positions with an eye to pushing north toward the critical N15 highway, a key supply route. In remarks this week, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Russian troops were advancing "with success" in Vuhledar. Meanwhile, a British defense intelligence briefing said Russia's aim was to capture unoccupied areas of Ukrainian-held Donetsk, but it was unlikely to build up the forces required to change the outcome of the war. Vuhledar's pre-war population of 14,000 has dwindled to about 300. The majority of the town's residents worked in the coal mine and nearby factories before the war. Olha Kyseliova, who was recently evacuated, worked in a brick factory before the fighting upended her life. Russian forces ramped up attacks beginning on January 24, residents said. That day, a missile tore through Kyseliova's nine-story building. She was sheltering in the basement with her three children and emerged to find a gaping hole through the roof of her third-floor apartment. That was the moment she decided she had to leave her hometown. "I cried the entire way out, I didn't want to leave," she said. Town tactically important Three Ukrainian brigades are positioned in Vuhledar and on the outskirts of the town. The Associated Press spoke to five commanders in units from all three, who provided only their first names in keeping with Ukraine's military policy. Russia's 155 Marine infantry troops are positioned just 4 kilometers away in Vuhledar's suburbs. For both sides, the town is tactically important. "It's one of the main logistics points of the Donbas region, and also one of the main points of elevation," said Maksym, the deputy commander of a Ukrainian marine infantry battalion. "By capturing Vuhledar, Russians can easily occupy the entire Donetsk region." Seizing Vuhledar would enable Russia to push forward and threaten Ukrainian supply lines feeding into the fierce Marinka front line to the north, said Gressel of the European Council on Foreign Relations. For Ukraine, Vuhledar would be a launching pad for future counter-offensives toward Mariupol and Berdiansk. From their perch in the town, Ukrainian forces can see into Russian lines and have so far been able to repel Russian attempts to encircle Vuhledar. Columns of Russian tanks and armored vehicles transporting infantrymen continuously assault and attempt to break Ukrainian defenses. Aviation, rockets and artillery target the town. "But with our fighters and anti-tank equipment their attempts have not been successful," said Maksym, the Ukrainian deputy commander. "The situation is strained but controlled." Russians losing infantry to mines Similar to other front lines along the east, the Russians are losing scores of infantrymen in an attempt to tire and weaken Ukrainian defensive lines. Serhii, the commander of a Ukrainian intelligence unit, said he saw Russian soldiers sent straight through fields mined by the Ukrainians following Russia's capture of the village of Pavlivka, south of Vuhledar, in November. "They de-mine our fields by using their own people," he said. Ukrainian commanders said some of their units are suffering from dire ammunition shortages. That view was not shared across brigades, suggesting some are better supplied than others. Taras, the commander of a mortar unit, said his forces were suffering very serious shortages. Faced with orders to target an enemy position, he said, "I have just two or three rounds of ammunition to do it. It's nothing." Two commanders of a brigade inside Vuhledar reported the Russians hurled gas-laden projectiles that caused severe disorientation for hours and burning of the throat and skin. Higher-ranking commanders did not comment on the type of gas used and said an investigation was ongoing. "They are probing and testing us across the eastern front line, including in Vuhledar," said Oleksandr, a commander who was recently rotated out of the town. "They are trying to find our points of weakness." For now, Russia's activities around Vuhledar are not "operationally significant," said Kateryna Stepanenko, a Russia analyst with the U.S.-based think tank Institute for the Study of War. More combat power is required to execute breakthroughs that would achieve the stated aim of the Russian invasion — the capture of the entire Donetsk province. Even in the event of victory in Vuhledar, Russia would still need a lot of combat power to push north. Three months after capturing the village of Pavlivka in November, Russian forces have yet to make breakthroughs in Vuhledar, which is only 4 kilometers — a six-minute drive — away.
Tunisian Activists and Influential Businessman Arrestedabout 1 month ago
Tunisian police Saturday arrested powerful businessman Kamel Eltaief, a former confidant of ousted president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, as well as two key political activists, lawyers said. Eltaief, 68, was arrested at his home in the capital Tunis, lawyer Nizar Ayed said without providing further details. Police also arrested Abdelhamid Jelassi, a former senior leader of the Islamist-inspired movement Ennahdha — fierce rivals of President Kais Saied — as well as the political activist Khayam Turki. Tunisia has seen a spike in the arrest and prosecution of politicians, journalists and others since Saied seized wide-ranging powers in a dramatic move against parliament in July 2021. Since then, Saied's opponents have accused him of authoritarianism in the birthplace of the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings. For many Tunisians —- especially supporters of Ennahdha — Eltaief was seen as a symbol of past corruption in the North African nation. The influential powerbroker was involved in the 1987 coup that forced former President Habib Bourguiba from power on medical grounds and was long considered a crony of Bourguiba's successor Ben Ali. Eltaief later fell out of grace with Ben Ali in 1992 in a feud with the former dictator's wife Leila Trabelsi. After the fall of Ben Ali in 2011, the businessman moved closer to the opposition. In 2012 he was investigated for "conspiracy against state security," but no charges were brought against him and the case was closed in 2014. Repressive In the case of former Ennahdha movement leader Abdelhamid Jelassi, seven police officers searched his home Saturday evening and confiscated his mobile phone before arresting him, the party said without providing further details. According to Tunisian media, Jelassi was arrested on "suspicion of a plot against state security." Political activist Turki, 58, had once been considered as a potential candidate to head the government after the resignation of premier Elyes Fakhfakh in 2020, and belongs to the social democratic Ettakatol party. Turki's lawyer Abdelaziz Essid, who said his client was not known to be wanted by the authorities, said he was arrested in an early morning police raid. "He was taken to an unknown destination," said Essid, adding Turki had not been "facing any legal proceedings" to justify his arrest. No further details were immediately available. Ettakatol was allied with the Ennahdha party within the government between 2011 and 2014, before the latter became part of the opposition. Ennahdha condemned Turki's arrest and called for his "immediate" release, calls echoed by the opposition National Salvation Front (FSN), which condemned a "repressive policy."
Prominent Iranian Dissidents Unite to Discuss Democracy Movementabout 1 month ago
Condemnation of the Islamic Republic's violent suppression of freedom drew together eight noted Iranian dissidents who gathered to determine how they could more effectively advance their quest to counter what they see as a brutal government marking 44 years of rule after the 1979 Islamic revolution in the country. The prominent exiles converged Friday at Georgetown University in Washington for a forum, "The Future of the Iranian Democracy Movement," and each offered a pointed message about how to proceed. Iran has been shaken by nationwide unrest after the death in September of a young Iranian Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini, after she was detained by authorities allegedly for failure to follow a stringent Islamic dress code for women. The unrest is perhaps the strongest challenge to the Islamic Republic since the revolution. "The Islamic Republic has survived because of our differences, and we should put our differences aside until we come to the polling booth," Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi said in a video message. Melanne Verveer kicked off the forum by referring to Iranian protests of the government — and the prominent role of women in it — with the slogan "Women. Life. Freedom." The executive director of Georgetown University's Institute for Women, Peace and Security condemned the Islamic Republic's violent actions and its suppression of freedom of expression. Iranian American human rights activist and VOA Persian TV host Masih Alinejad expressed hope that an agreement on the opposition's principles could be forged by the end of 2023. "We must agree on principles based on the declaration of human rights, on eliminating discrimination, and principles that every Iranian can see themselves in, and that depict the end of oppression," she said. Hamed Esmaeilion, one of the founders of The Association of Families of Flight PS752 Victims, in his remarks, emphasized the "four main demands of the revolution" -- freedom, due process, social justice, and environmental justice. Esmaeilion, whose wife and daughter were killed in the crash of the Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 that was shot down shortly after takeoff in Tehran in January 2022, told France 24 in early January that the protests that followed Amini’s death have united Iranians in seeking freedom and justice. Abdullah Mohtadi, secretary-general of the Komala Party of Iranian Kurdistan, said Kurdistan was not intimidated on the day of Amini’s death, but instead rose up. Despite the Islamic Republic's propaganda over the past decades, he said, Kurdistan has become a symbol of Iranian solidarity in these protests. He stressed that all Iranians should remain united. Everyone wants to eliminate discrimination, he continued, and to create a future Iran of diversity and plurality, Iranians must stand together today. While noting that the Islamic Republic is a common enemy of all Iranians, he ended his remarks with the slogan: Women. Life. Freedom. In response to a question from a VOA reporter concerning any basis for agreement among leaders of the diaspora, Iran's exiled Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi cited their constant exchange of ideas. While, he said, they may not agree on everything, the important thing is that the exchange continues. Pahlavi stressed that the cooperation of political forces inside and outside Iran is necessary. At this point, he said, all the focus should be on pressuring the Islamic Republic to collapse. The forum participants and audience closed the proceedings with a minute of silence to honor the victims of the Islamic Republic’s violent oppression. So far, 528 people, including 71 children and adolescents, have been killed, nearly 20,000 arrested, including 179 children and adolescents, and 112 faced fatal charges, according to the Iran Human Rights Activists News Organization. Some information from Reuters was used in this report.
Tens of Thousands of Israelis Join Anti-government Protestsabout 1 month ago
Tens of thousands of Israelis took to the street in several cities across the country Saturday, protesting judicial overhaul plans by Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. Critics say measures introduced by the new hardline government would weaken the Supreme Court, limit judicial oversight and grant more power to politicians. Protesters say that would undermine democracy. The rift over the power of courts is deepening as the government is set to introduce some of the legislations in parliament Monday amid calls for partial strikes by businesses and professional groups. For the sixth week, protesters pressed on with large rallies, with the main one in the central city of Tel Aviv and several smaller gatherings in other cities.
Migrants Seeking US Sponsors Find Questionable Offers Onlineabout 1 month ago
Pedro Yudel Bruzon was looking for someone in the U.S. to support his effort to seek asylum when he landed on a Facebook page filled with posts demanding up to $10,000 for a financial sponsor. It's part of an underground market that's emerged since the Biden administration announced it would accept 30,000 immigrants each month arriving by air from Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua and Haiti. Applicants for the humanitarian parole program need someone in the U.S., often a friend or relative, to promise to provide financial support for at least two years. Bruzon, who lives in Cuba, doesn't know anyone who can do that, so he searched online. But he also doesn't have the money to pay for a sponsor and isn't sure the offers — or those making them — are real. He worries about being exploited or falling prey to a scam. “They call it humanitarian parole, but it has nothing to do with being humanitarian,” said Bruzon, who said he struggles to feed himself and his mother with what he makes as a 33-year-old Havana security guard. “Everyone wants money, even people in the same family.” It’s unclear how many people in the United States may have charged migrants to sponsor them, but Facebook groups with names like “Sponsors U.S.” carry dozens of posts offering and seeking financial supporters. Several immigration attorneys said they could find no specific law prohibiting people from charging money to sponsor beneficiaries. “As long as everything is accurate on the form and there are no fraudulent statements it may be legal,” said lawyer Taylor Levy, who worked along the border around El Paso, Texas. “But what worries me are the risks in terms of being trafficked and exploited. If lying is involved, it could be fraud.” Also, she noted, it “seems counterintuitive” to pay someone to promise to provide financial support. Attorney Leon Fresco, a former top aide to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, said charging to be a sponsor is a “gray area” and the U.S. should send a forceful message against the practice. Kennji Kizuka, an attorney and director of asylum policy for the International Rescue Committee, which resettles newcomers in the United States, said this type of thing happens with every new U.S. program benefitting migrants. “It looks like some are just going to take people’s money and the people are going to get nothing in return,” Kizuka said. Levy said such exploitation surrounding a similar U.S. program for Ukrainians prompted the government to publish an online guide about how to spot and protect against human-trafficking schemes. One common scheme with immigration programs is known as notario fraud and involves people who call themselves “notarios públicos” charging large sums. In Latin America, the term refers to attorneys with special credentials, leading migrants to believe they are lawyers who can provide legal advice. In the U.S., notaries public are merely empowered to witness the signing of legal documents and issue oaths. In another scheme, someone poses as a U.S. official asking for money. The U.S. government notes: “We do not accept Western Union, MoneyGram, PayPal, or gift cards as payment for immigration fees.” U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services warns about potential scams with the humanitarian parole program for Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans that was rolled out last month and notes online that the program is free. “Fulfilling our humanitarian mission while upholding the integrity of the immigration system is a top priority for USCIS,” the agency said in response to questions about the potential for exploitation. It says the agency “carefully vets every prospective supporter through a series of fraud- and security-based screening measures.” “Additionally, USCIS thoroughly reviews each reported case of fraud or misconduct and may refer those cases to federal law enforcement for additional investigation,” the statement said. The agency did not address whether any application has been rejected because of concerns that potential sponsors might be requesting money. The Department of Homeland Security says 1,700 humanitarian parole applications were accepted as of Jan. 25 from Cubans, Haitians and Nicaraguans, plus an undisclosed number of Venezuelans. A Texas-led lawsuit seeks to stop the program, which could allow 360,000 people a year to enter the U.S. legally. One Facebook post advertising paid sponsorships led to a person who identified himself as an American citizen living in Pensacola, Florida. Told he was communicating with a journalist, the person refused to talk on the phone and would only text. The person told The Associated Press he had sponsored a Cuban uncle and aunt for $10,000 each. He refused to provide contact information for those relatives, then stopped responding to questions. Another would-be sponsor said via Facebook messenger that they charge $2,000 per person, which includes a sponsorship fee, document processing and an airline ticket. Requests for more information were answered with a phone number from the Dominican Republic that rang unanswered. A man who posted seeking a sponsor told the AP that he was disturbed by some offers. “It’s very easy to trick a desperate person and there are an abundance of them here,” the man, who identified himself as Pedro Manuel Carmenate, of Havana, said. “You just have to tell the people what they want to hear.” Of course, not all sponsors charge a fee. A new initiative called Welcome.US aims to match Americans to migrants without supporters. Also, nonprofit organizations are trying to spread accurate information about the program. Sarah Ivory, executive director of the nonprofit USAHello that provides online information in multiple languages, said the proliferation of offers for paid sponsorship is “deeply troubling and frustratingly predictable,” reflected in hundreds of queries to the group. “Many report that they barely have the money to feed themselves, much less pay to get a passport or arrange a sponsor,” Ivory said. Such desperation is reflected on social media. “I’m looking for a sponsor for two people please, my husband is in a wheelchair,” reads a post from someone who says she lives in Havana. “I will give my house with everything inside and I’ll pay $4,000 for each” person sponsored.
Russian Spacecraft Loses Pressure; ISS Crew Safeabout 1 month ago
An uncrewed Russian supply ship docked at the International Space Station has lost cabin pressure, the Russian space corporation reported Saturday, saying the incident doesn't pose any danger to the station's crew. Roscosmos said the hatch between the station and the Progress MS-21 had been locked so the loss of pressure didn't affect the orbiting outpost. "The temperature and pressure on board the station are within norms and there is no danger to health and safety of the crew," it said in a statement. The space corporation didn't say what may have caused the cargo ship to lose pressure. Roscosmos noted that the cargo ship had already been loaded with waste before its scheduled disposal. The craft is set to be undocked from the station and deorbit to burn in the atmosphere Feb. 18. The announcement came shortly after a new Russian cargo ship docked smoothly at the station Saturday. The Progress MS-22 delivered almost 3 tons of food, water and fuel along with scientific equipment for the crew. Roscosmos said that the loss of pressure in the Progress MS-21 didn't affect the docking of the new cargo ship and "will have no impact on the future station program." The depressurization of the cargo craft follows an incident in December with the Soyuz crew capsule, which was hit by a tiny meteoroid that left a small hole in the exterior radiator and sent coolant spewing into space. Russian cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin, and NASA astronaut Frank Rubio were supposed to use the capsule to return to Earth in March, but Russian space officials decided that higher temperatures resulting from the coolant leak could make it dangerous to use. They decided to launch a new Soyuz capsule February 20 so the crew would have a lifeboat in the event of an emergency. But since it will travel in automatic mode to expedite the launch, a replacement crew will now have to wait until late summer or fall when another capsule is ready. It means that Prokopyev, Petelin and Rubio will have to stay several extra months at the station, possibly pushing their mission to close to a year. NASA took part in all the discussions and agreed with the plan. Besides Prokopyev, Petelin and Rubio, the space station is home to NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada, Russian Anna Kikina, and Japan's Koichi Wakata. The four rode up on a SpaceX capsule last October.
Russia’s War on Ukraine Could Grind On for Years, Warns Prigozhinabout 1 month ago
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 that it could take 18 months to two years for Russia to take full control of Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland of Donbas. Prigozhin then noted the war could extend for three years if Moscow decides to capture broader territories east of the Dnipro River. He made these comments as the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is looming. 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. 'A 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 the Russian Federation "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 on Friday that U.S. President Joe Biden will travel to Poland on February 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 February 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, which targeted civilians and civilian infrastructure and caused new power outages. Additional weaponry The attacks on Ukraine 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." Ukraine needs attack aircraft to provide support for armored vehicles on the ground, Podolyak added. "The attack aircraft that can just destroy defensive echelons of the Russian Federation with fire and then [help] our armored vehicles and manpower do the work, [on the ground]," Podolyak said, adding that these discussions may take weeks. 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." Lithuanian Defense Minister Arvydas Anusauskas announced Saturday that the first batch of L-70 anti-aircraft guns and ammunition has arrived in Ukraine, while Slovakian Prime Minister Eduard Heger announced Friday that Slovakia can start talks on delivering MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine. In an interview with VOA on Friday, Kirby said Washington has "prioritized air defense whether it's short-, medium- or long-range" and it will continue to do so. Kirby did not answer, though, whether the U.S. will provide fighter jets to Ukraine. Contributors to this report include VOA Eastern Europe Bureau Chief Myroslava Gongadze in Kyiv, Ukraine; VOA National Security Correspondent Jeff Seldin in Washington; VOA United Nations Correspondent Margaret Besheer in New York; and Ani Chkhikvadze of VOA's Georgian Service. Some information came from The Associated Press and Reuters.
Former Pakistan PM Blames Security Forces’ ‘Negligence' for Rising Terrorismabout 1 month ago
Since his ouster from power in a parliamentary vote of no-confidence last April, Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan has had a public falling out with the military, despite previously enjoying a close relationship with the country’s most powerful institution. He accuses then-army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa of conspiring with his political opponents to remove him from office with help from the United States — allegations that Washington, the Pakistani military, and the government have repeatedly denied. Khan calls the two political dynasties of Pakistan — the Sharifs and Bhuttos that are leading the 13-party alliance currently ruling — “crooked” and accuses them of embezzling millions of dollars, but his administration failed to successfully prosecute charges of corruption against them. In a wide-ranging interview with VOA Islamabad Correspondent Sarah Zaman, Khan, who was prime minister from 2018 to 2022, said it was the security forces’ negligence that allowed the Pakistani Taliban, or TTP, to resume its activities. He expressed hope that the military would stop interfering in politics and would build good relations with Washington — despite accusing it of conspiring in his ouster. This transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity. VOA: Your relationship with the Pakistani military has evolved within a very short period. When you were in power, you and the military appeared to be on the same page. You not only accused the top brass of conspiring in your ouster, but also that the military didn't give you enough room to govern and was calling the shots. What kind of a relationship do you think the military should have with the civilian government and with any political party? Imran Khan, former Pakistan prime minister: Well, first let me just define what you mean by the military. Military [in Pakistan] means one man, the army chief. So, the whole policy of military vis-a-vis their dealing with the civilian government depends on the personality of one man. The positive side during our relationship with Gen. [Qamar Javed] Bajwa, rather than the military, we were on the same page, which meant that we had the organized strength of Pakistan army to help us … and we worked together, and you know, Pakistan was considered one of the success stories of the COVID-19. Now, the problem was that Gen. Bajwa favored some of the biggest crooks in this country, and he did not think corruption was a big problem, and he wanted us to work with them. What that meant [was] giving them immunity from their corruption cases. He had a very close relationship with Shehbaz Sharif, the current prime minister. And, for some reason, he conspired, and this regime change took place. VOA: He rejects those allegations. But, if you come back to power, what makes you think things will be different? That the army that has consistently played a huge role in Pakistan would back off? Khan: The leading principle of the balance [of power] is that the elected government that has the responsibility, which people have mandated through their vote, must also have the authority. You cannot separate responsibility and authority. So, if the authority lies with the army chief, [but] responsibility lies with the prime minister, no management system works. VOA: But do you believe it could be different next time? And if you don't believe so, why do you want to run for reelection? Khan: It can be because Pakistan is evolving all the time, and I'm sure amongst the new military leadership there is a realization that this experiment of regime change has gone wrong. Pakistan’s economy has gone into a tailspin, we are facing the worst crisis in our history, the economic crisis, but not just that, the governance crisis, and there's no way to get out of this. The only way is that we have a paradigm shift with [how] Pakistan has been run. VOA: You've been agitating for elections for almost 10 months now, but you've also said that you don't believe the next elections are going to be free and fair. Will you accept the results if your party does not win a majority? Khan: They have completely destroyed the credibility as an impartial election commission. So, there won’t be free and fair elections, but there will be elections. VOA: Will you accept the results if your party does not win a majority whenever the general elections happen? Khan: That's premature to say. How can I say right now the extent of rigging they’ll do. There was a local government election in [the southern province] Sindh, all the political parties rejected the local government election, all of them… there will be rigging but the extent? I can’t say right now. VOA: Let's talk foreign policy. Do you believe the Afghan Taliban government is friendly to Pakistan? Khan: Well firstly, whatever government is in Afghanistan, Pakistan must have a good relationship with them. I tried my best with the Ghani government … because our interest is that having a good relationship with the government in Kabul means that we have a 2,500-kilometer border with them. Which means that if there are problems of terrorism, then they will help us. VOA: But so far, even the Pakistani government says it's not getting the help from the Afghan Taliban to fight terrorism the way it would have liked. Khan: You know, what is disturbing is that our foreign minister, he's spent almost all his time out of Pakistan, but he's not paid one visit to Afghanistan. I'm not saying it's going to be easy, but do we want a repeat of what happened to Pakistan from 2005 onwards to 2015, where Pakistan was going under, suffering from terrorism all along the Afghan border? I think we are not in a position to have another war on terror. And the only way is to somehow get Kabul to work with us so that we can jointly deal with this issue. VOA: One of the reasons that terrorism has spiked in Pakistan is because, according to the National Counterterrorism Authority, the time that was taken for negotiations with TTP was used by that group to reorganize. Those talks started when you were in power. Do you stand by your decision to greenlight those talks? Khan: Well firstly, what were the choices [the] Pakistani government faced once the Taliban took over and they decided the TTP, and we're talking about 30, [30,000] to 40,000 people, you know, the families included, once they decided to send them back to Pakistan? Should we have just lined them up and shot them, or should we have tried to work with them to resettle them? We had a meeting, and the idea was that the resettlement had to be done with the concurrence of the politicians of all along the border, the FATA [tribal] region, and along with the security forces, plus, the TTP. But that never happened because our government left and once our government was removed, the new government took its eye off the ball. Meanwhile, this threat grew and it's possible that they regrouped, but then where were the Pakistani security forces? Where were intelligence agencies? Could they not see them [re]grouping? So, the problem is, how could we be held responsible for their negligence? VOA: Throughout last year, at rallies, your narrative was the U.S. conspired with your political opponents to remove you from office [a claim the Biden administration has denied]. If you come back to power, what kind of challenges do you see in repairing your relationship with Washington? Khan: Well, firstly, international relationships should not be based on personal egos. They should be based on the interest of the people of your country. The people of Pakistan, their interest is that we have [a] good relationship with the U.S. U.S. being a superpower and our biggest trading partner. Pakistan exports more to the U.S. than any other country. Whatever happened, now as things unfold, it wasn't the U.S. who told Pakistan [to oust me]. It was unfortunately, from what evidence has come up, Gen. Bajwa who somehow managed to tell the Americans that I was anti-American. And so, it [the plan to oust me] wasn't imported from there. It was exported from here to there. VOA: Do you still believe the U.S. played a role in removing you from office? Khan: Well, the cipher is a reality. It was an official meeting [that] initiated [conversation on] both sides, between Donald Lu, the Undersecretary of State for South Asia, and the Pakistan ambassador, and this was brought to the National Security Council and cabinet. Having said that, it's in the past, we have to move on. It's in the interest of Pakistan to have good relations with the U.S. and that's what we intend to do. VOA: In your interview with The New Yorker, you were asked about your stance on human rights and China’s treatment of its Uyghur Muslims. In the past, first your position was, this is not happening. Later on, you said that you would rather discuss [this issue with China] in private. But [in the interview] you said that you didn't essentially call China out for its abuse of the Uyghurs because it could cost Pakistan a lot, because Pakistan relies very heavily on China. Does that mean that you speak for Palestinians or for Kashmiris, because there are no serious political consequences for Pakistan? Is this how a country should manage its moral positions? Khan: Remember, the prime minister of a country, his main responsibility is his own people. So, you do not want to make moral statements about other countries, which would affect the lives of your population. I'd give you an example. We were told to take [a] position on [Russia’s war in] Ukraine. We decided to stay neutral. India decided to stay neutral, biggest strategic partner of the U.S. Why? Because India sensibly thought about its own people. It got oil from Russia at 40 percent discount. So, by actually taking sides, you can actually affect the lives of your own people. My responsibility as a prime minister was the 220 million people of my own country, and it's exactly what the Western countries do, they don't take positions when it hurts their economic interest. Kashmir — the United Nations Security Council has passed resolutions on Kashmir, a disputed territory. India took over Kashmir unilaterally. No response from the Western countries because it is a strategic partner. So, countries like us who have large populations that are hovering around the poverty line, we at least do not have the luxury of making moral statements.
Trudeau Orders US Warplane to Shoot Down Object Over Canadaabout 1 month ago
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Saturday that on his order a U.S. warplane shot down an unidentified object that was flying high over northern Canada, acting a day after U.S. planes took similar action over Alaska. Shortly before Trudeau's tweet, the North American Aerospace Defense Command said it had detected an object flying at high altitude over Canada. NORAD gave no further information, including when the object was first spotted or what it is. On Twitter, Trudeau said: "I ordered the take down of an unidentified object that violated Canadian airspace. @NORADCommand shot down the object over the Yukon. Canadian and U.S. aircraft were scrambled, and a U.S. F-22 successfully fired at the object." The object was the third known to have violated North American airspace in the past two weeks. In a second tweet, Trudeau said: "I spoke with President Biden this afternoon. Canadian Forces will now recover and analyze the wreckage of the object. Thank you to NORAD for keeping the watch over North America." A suspected Chinese spy balloon spent nearly a week flying through Canada and U.S. airspace before it was shot down by U.S. warplanes last Sunday. The U.S. military shot down a second object in Alaskan airspace Friday, though authorities have not provided details on what it was.
Looting, Hygiene Worries Add to Burden in Turkeyabout 1 month ago
Volunteers struggling to find ever fewer survivors in the quake-hit Turkish city of Antakya said Saturday that ransacking and hygiene problems were adding to their daunting task. One resident searching for a colleague buried in a collapsed building said he witnessed looting in the first days after Monday's quake before leaving the city for a village. "People were smashing the windows and fences of shops and cars," said Mehmet Bok, 26, now back in Antakya and searching for a work colleague in a collapsed building. German aid organizations suspended rescue operations in the quake region Saturday, citing security problems and reports of clashes between groups of people and gunfire. Authorities pledge to deal firmly with looters Turkish authorities have not commented on any unrest, but President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Saturday the government would deal firmly with looters and other criminal behavior, noting that a state of emergency had been declared. The death toll has surpassed 25,300 in Turkey and Syria. Another rescuer, Gizem from the southeastern province of Sanliurfa, said she had also seen looters in the four days she had been in Antakya. "We cannot intervene much as most of the looters carry knives. They caught a looter today, people chased after him," she said in the city where there was a heavy police and military presence directing traffic, helping rescuers and handing out food. She described Antakya as a place of death and destruction when she arrived. "We could not hold back our tears," she said as ambulance sirens wailed in the background. "If people don't die here under the rubble, they'll die from injuries, if not they will die from infection. There is no toilet here. It is a big problem," she said, adding that there were not enough body bags for all the dead. "The bodies are all over the roads, with only blankets on them." Townsfolk were wearing masks to cover the smell of death. Not enough working lavatories Others echoed concerns about hygiene, especially insufficient numbers of working lavatories. There were long lines at temporary mobile toilets, but many people said they were simply finding a hidden spot, leading to complaints about the stench. "I think right now what's needed most is hygiene products. We have toilet problems, I am scared that some disease will spread," said one man, who declined to give his name and who traveled from Antalya to help in rescue operations. He said there was little coordination, with everyone doing what they can to save lives and some collapsed buildings still untouched in side streets. "We are digging for hours and hours," he said, describing pulling alive from the rubble overnight a 56-year-old woman, her face covered with dust, who had fallen into the stairwell of an apartment building. "We've pulled out some 150-200 dead bodies."
Huge Paris Rally Urges EU Terror Listing for Iran Guardsabout 1 month ago
Thousands of Europe-based Iranians — including relatives of victims of repression in the Islamic republic, lawmakers and campaigners — on Saturday urged the European Union at a rally in Paris to list Iran's Revolutionary Guards as a terror group. Speakers at the rally at Place Vauban in the heart of the French capital insisted that such a listing for the Guards was the biggest contribution EU ministers could make to help the protest movement that erupted in September. The demonstrators chanted the slogan of the protest movement "Woman. Life. Freedom" and one of its anthems the song "Bella Ciao" as well as slogans against the Islamic republic. "The main goal is to make EU ministers finally hear the voices of the Iranians," Swedish MP Alireza Akhondi, a prominent voice in the campaign, told AFP on the sidelines of the rally before giving an impassioned speech in Persian. "We want the Revolutionary Guards to be labelled as a terror group. It is the key point," he said, adding he was disappointed with progress so far. 'Revolutionary Guards are terrorists' The protesters also urged European countries to cut economic ties with Iran over the crackdown on the protest movement, brandishing the slogan "your economic interests shed the blood of our innocent youth" against the background of EU, French and German flags. Prominent French Green MP Yannick Jadot told the crowds there should be "no European ambassadors in Tehran" and that the "Revolutionary Guards are terrorists and should be listed as such." The Guards are the branch of the Iranian armed forces entrusted with ensuring the security of the regime. They are accused by campaigners of rights abuses against protesters and prisoners. Many protesters sported eyepatches or red makeup streaming from their eyes in reference to accusations security forces fired into the faces of protesters. 'We were killed a second time' The protests, sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini who had been arrested for allegedly violating the dress code for women, have subsided in the last months but the opposition insists they still pose an unprecedented challenge to the regime. The rally was addressed by the daughter of the France-based blogger Ruhollah Zam who was executed by Iran in 2020 after being lured from Paris to Iraq where he was abducted by Iranian security forces. "Ruhollah Zam was the definition of the word freedom," said Niaz Zam, who was 15 at the time of her father's execution, which outraged campaigners. When Iran executed a total of four prisoners over the protests "we were killed a second time, but we were not scared," she said, making her first ever public comments after her father's hanging. Among at least a dozen people who according to the Iranian judiciary still risk the death penalty is the rapper Toomaj Salehi who backed the protests and was arrested in October and charged with capital crimes.
Suspected Militants Kill 10 Niger Soldiers, Defense Ministry Saysabout 1 month ago
At least 10 soldiers died in an ambush in southwestern Niger — close to the Mali border — by a group of what the defense ministry Saturday called armed terrorists. The toll from Friday's attack could rise because 16 people are still missing and 13 soldiers were wounded, a ministry statement said. The troops were on patrol in the northern part of the Banibangou department when they "came under a complex ambush by a group of armed terrorists" the ministry said, referring to jihadi groups. The statement also said several attackers were killed during the fighting but did not specify how many. The attack took place in Niger's vast western region of Tillaberi, which straddles Burkina Faso and Mali — two countries hit by jihadi insurgency — and has faced repeated attack since 2017 by armed groups linked to al-Qaida and Islamic State. The region neighbors the Tahoua area, where heavily armed attackers stormed a camp housing refugees from neighboring Mali last week. Nine people were killed in that assault, which a local official said was carried out by "heavily armed terrorists" on motorcycles who fled back into Mali. More than 61,000 Malian refugees shelter in Tahoua and Tillaberi, according to the United Nations. After the departure of French soldiers from Mali last year and a scheduled pullout shortly from Burkina Faso, France will field only 3,000 troops in the restive Sahel region, in Niger and Chad, where jihadi groups roam. All of the countries involved are former French colonies.
New Zealand wants to tax cow burps – here’s why that’s not the best climate solutionabout 1 month ago
Iran Marks Anniversary of Islamic Revolution Amid Protestsabout 1 month ago
Iran celebrated the 44th anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution amid nationwide anti-government protests Saturday and heightened tensions with the West. Thousands of Iranians marched through major streets and squares decorated with flags, balloons and placards with revolutionary and religious slogans. The military put on display its Emad and Sejjil ballistic missiles and cruise missiles as well as its Shahed-136 and Mohajer drones. Protesters began pouring into the streets in September after the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, an Iranian-Kurdish woman detained by the country's morality police. Those demonstrations — which initially focused on Iran's mandatory headscarf, or hijab — soon morphed into calls for a new revolution. In a speech at Azadi Square in the capital Tehran, President Ebrahim Raisi referred to the protests as a project by Iran's enemies aimed at stopping the nation from continuing its achievements. Raisi called the celebration "epic" and a show of "national integrity" while praising post-revolution achievements in the country. The remarks prompted the crowd to chant "Death to the U.S." Meanwhile, Telewebion, a web TV service affiliated with Iranian state TV, was briefly hacked during Raisi's speech, Iranian media reported. The khabaronline.ir news website said the interruption lasted 19 seconds. "Edalate Ali" or "The Justice of Ali" hackers group in a 44-second video published on Twitter invited people to take part in nationwide protests next week and urged Iranians to withdraw their money from their banks. Chants including "Death to Khamenei" and "Death to the Islamic Republic" could be heard on the video and a masked person with a woman's voice read the message. The group previously hacked into the notorious Evin prison and other government facilities. Show of power The anniversary comes after two years in which celebrations were largely limited to vehicles due to the pandemic that killed more than 140,000 people, in Iran according to official numbers — the highest national death toll in the Middle East. Processions in Tehran on Saturday started out from several points and converged at Azadi Square. TV showed crowds in many cities and towns and said hundreds of thousands of people participated. The celebration was a show of power to the protesters. State television refers to the demonstrations as a "foreign-backed riot" rather than homegrown frustration over the death of Amini. Anger also has spread over the collapse of the Iranian rial against the U.S. dollar and Tehran's arming Russia with bomb-carrying drones in its war on Ukraine, which has also angered the West. Iran says it gave the drones to Russia before the war. The Iranian government has not offered an overall death toll or number of individuals it has arrested. However, activists outside of the country say at least 528 people have been killed and 19,600 people detained in the crackdown that followed. Last week, Iran's state media said the supreme leader ordered an amnesty or reduction in prison sentences for "tens of thousands" of people detained during the protests, acknowledging for the first time the scale of the crackdown. The decree by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, part of a yearly pardoning the supreme leader does before the anniversary, came as authorities have yet to say how many people they detained in the demonstrations. Referring to the amnesty Saturday, Raisi urged those who were "deceived by the enemy" to "return to the nation" and promised his administration would show mercy on them, too. Crowds carry 'Death to America' signs Crowds waved Iranian flags, chanted slogans, and carried placards with traditional anti-West slogans such as "Death to America" and "Death to Israel." Some burned flags of the U.S. and Israel, a ritual in pro-government rallies. The Islamic Revolution began with widespread unrest in Iran over the rule of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. The shah, terminally and secretly ill with cancer, fled Iran in January 1979. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini then returned from exile and the government fell on Feb. 11, 1979, after days of mass demonstrations and confrontations between protesters and security forces. Later in April, Iranians voted to become an Islamic Republic, a Shiite theocracy with Khomeini as the country's first supreme leader, with final say on all matters of state. Months later, when the U.S. allowed the shah into the country for cancer treatment in New York, anger boiled over in Tehran leading to the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in November 1979 by militant students. The subsequent hostage crisis kindled decades of enmity.
Argentina Issues Health Warnings Amid Record Heatabout 1 month ago
Suffering under the worst heat wave in more than six decades, Argentina has issued health warnings to nine southern and central provinces, the National Meteorological Service, said Saturday. This is the eighth heat wave to hit the country in this Southern Hemisphere summer, with temperatures close to 40 Celsius (104 Fahrenheit). Over the past decade, Argentina has never seen more than four or five such heat waves per season, the SMN said. The three months from November through January were the warmest such period since 1961 — about 1.7 C higher than normal, the weather service said. While occasional heat waves are normal, climate change has made them "more persistent and more intense" on every continent, even in Argentina's mountainous Patagonia region, meteorologist Enzo Campetella told Agence France-Presse. Buenos Aires residents awoke Saturday to temperatures of 36 C with a predicted high of 38 C, which would be the highest in February in 61 years. The SMN issued an "orange alert" Saturday for the provinces of Corrientes, Misiones, San Luis, Mendoza, La Pampa and Buenos Aires, as well as a "yellow alert" for Cordoba, Entre Rios and San Juan. In Patagonia, temperatures hit 42 C along the coast of Rio Negro province Thursday, but shifting winds brought welcome cooling. The La Nina cycle of the El Nino weather phenomenon brought historically high temperatures throughout Argentina last year, leading to crop losses estimated at some $10 billion, according to the Rosario Grain Exchange.
Violence Outside British Hotel for Asylum Seekers Leads to 15 Arrestsabout 1 month ago
British police said Saturday that 15 people, including a 13-year-old child, had been arrested after a protest by crowds outside a hotel housing asylum seekers turned violent, causing injuries and a police van being set on fire. Offenders threw missiles including lit fireworks at police officers following an initially peaceful protest and counter-protest Friday evening in Knowsley near Liverpool in northwest England, police said. Knowsley Council said the protests occurred outside the Suites Hotel, which has been providing refuge to asylum seekers since January last year under a British government contract. One officer and two members of the public received slight injuries, police said, adding that a total of 13 men and two women had been arrested. "A number of individuals who turned up at the Suites Hotel last night were intent on using a planned protest to carry out violent and despicable behavior," Merseyside Police Chief Constable Serena Kennedy said. Some individuals turned up armed with hammers and fireworks to "cause as much trouble as they could," she added. Rumors and misinformation had circulated on social media ahead of Friday's violence following an incident on February 6 in Knowsley in which a man made inappropriate advances toward a teenage girl, Kennedy said. "We know that those involved in the violent activity last night used this as an excuse to commit violence and intimidate members of the public," she said, adding an investigation into the incident involving the teenage girl was ongoing. As the number of migrants crossing the English Channel to reach Britain rises, the government has been using hotels across the country as temporary accommodation while it processes their applications for asylum. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has made cracking down on illegal migration one of his government's top priorities and is planning new legislation to address the issue. Migrants arriving on small boats have become a major political issue, particularly in working-class areas in the north and central England, where they are blamed for making it harder for people to find work and stretching public services. Police said they would enforce a dispersal order in the area around the Suites Hotel for two days and extra officers will carry out high visibility policing to prevent further incidents.
France Protests Look to Test Government's Resolve on Pension Reformsabout 1 month ago
Hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated across France on Saturday seeking to keep up pressure on the government over its pension reform plans, including a move to raise the retirement age to 64 from 62. After three days of nationwide strikes since the start of the year, unions are hoping to match a mass turnout from January 19 when more than a million people marched in opposition to the plans. "If they're not able to listen to what's happening on the streets, and are not able to realize what is happening with the people, well they shouldn't be surprised that it blows up at some point," Delphine Maisonneuve, a 43-year-old nurse told Reuters as a protest in Paris kicked off. The French spend the largest number of years in retirement among OECD countries - a benefit which, opinion polls show, a substantial majority of people are reluctant to give up. President Emmanuel Macron says the reform is "vital" to ensuring the viability of the pension system. Early estimates showed that numbers had increased in Paris by about 20% from the last protest on Tuesday, Le Figaro newspaper reported. Unions were hoping for a huge turnout for the first weekend protests since the movement began and to draw people from all ages and backgrounds to show the government that the anger against the reform runs deep. In the central western city of Tours where the turnout appeared substantially higher than in mid-January, 40-year-old fireman Anthony Chauveau told Reuters that opposing the reform was crucial because the difficulties of his job were simply not being taken into consideration. "They are telling us that we will need to work two more years... our life expectancy is lower than the majority of workers," he said. The peaceful protests in Paris were partly marred by some minor clashes. A car and some rubbish bins were set on fire and police forces used teargas and stun grenades in their attempt to disperse some of the more radical elements in the protests. Shutting down France In a joint statement ahead of Saturday's marches all the main unions called for the government to withdraw the bill. They warned that they would seek to bring France to a standstill from March 7 if their demands were not met. A strike is already scheduled for February 16. "If the government continues to remain deaf then the inter-union grouping will call for France to be shut down," they said ahead of Saturday's marches. The protests are the first on a weekend, when workers do not need to strike or take time off. They follow the first week of debate on the pension legislation in parliament. The opposition has suggested thousands of amendments to complicate the debate and ultimately try to force the government to pass the bill without a parliamentary vote and through decree, a move that could potentially sour the rest of Macron's mandate. He was re-elected in April 2022 for five years. Raising the retirement age by two years and extending the pay-in period would yield an additional $19.18 billion in annual pension contributions, allowing the system to break even by 2027, according to Labor Ministry estimates. Unions say there are other ways to do this, such as taxing the super-rich or asking employers or well-off pensioners to contribute more. "Even though at my age, I'm not really affected [by the pension reforms], it's important to be vigilant about our society, that there is solidarity, that it's one where people are very close to one another, and to be vigilant about caring not only for our elderly but also for our children," said Kamel Amriou, 65, a retired graphic artist.
Kenya’s Electric Transport Plan for Clean Air, Climateabout 1 month ago
On the packed streets of Nairobi, Cyrus Kariuki is one of a growing number of bikers zooming through traffic on an electric motorbike, reaping the benefits of cheaper transport, cleaner air and limiting planet-warming emissions in the process. “Each month one doesn’t have to be burdened by oil change, engine checks and other costly maintenance costs,” Kariuki said. Electric motorcycles are gaining traction in Kenya as private sector-led firms rush to set up charging points and battery-swapping stations to speed up the growth of cleaner transport and put the east African nation on a path toward fresher air and lower emissions. But startups say more public support and better government schemes can help further propel the industry. Ampersand, an African-based electric mobility company, began its Kenyan operations in May 2022. The business currently operates seven battery-swapping stations spread across the country's capital and has so far attracted 60 customers. Ian Mbote, the startup's automotive engineer and expansion lead, says uptake has been relatively slow. “We need friendly policies, taxes, regulations and incentives that would boost the entry into the market," said Mbote, adding that favorable government tariffs in Rwanda accelerated its electric transport growth. Ampersand plans to sell 500 more electric motorbikes by the end of the year. Companies say the savings of switching to electric and using a battery-swap system, rather than charging for several hours, are key selling points for customers. “Our batteries cost $1.48 to swap a full battery which gives one mobility of about 90 to 110 kilometers (56 to 68 miles) as compared to the $1.44 of fuel that only guarantees a 30 to 40 kilometer ride (19 to 25 miles) on a motorcycle,” Mbote said. Kim Chepkoit, the founder of electric motorbike-making company Ecobodaa Mobility, added that "electricity costs are going to be more predictable and cushioned from the fluctuation of the fuel prices.” Ecobodaa's flagship product is a motorcycle with two batteries, making it capable of covering 160 kilometers (100 miles) on one battery charge. The motorcycle costs 185,000 shillings ($1,400) without the battery, about the same as a conventional motorbike. Other cleaner transport initiatives in the country include the Sustainable Energy for Africa program which runs a hub for 30 solar-powered charging stations for electric vehicles and battery-swapping in Kenya’s western region. Electric mobility has a promising future in the continent but “requires infrastructural, societal and political systemic changes that neither happen overnight nor will be immune to hesitance,” said Carol Mungo, a research fellow at the Stockholm Environment Institute. The move to electric transport “will require African governments to rethink how they deliver current services such as reliable and affordable electricity” and at the same time put in place adequate measures to address electric waste and disposal, Mungo added. Some financial incentives are on the way. Earlier in February the African Development Bank announced that it will provide $1 million in grants for technical assistance in Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and South Africa. The African continent records a million premature deaths annually from air pollution, according to a soon-to-be-released study by the U.N. environment agency, Stockholm Environment Institute and the African Union obtained by The Associated Press. Studies by the Climate and Clean Air Coalition say a reduction of short-lived climate pollutants can cut the amount of warming by as “much as 0.6 degrees Celsius (1.1 degrees Fahrenheit), while avoiding 2.4 million premature deaths globally from annual outdoor air pollution.” But Mungo warned that cleaning up transport is just one step toward better air quality. “There are so many emission factors in cities,” she said. “E-mobility, however, looks broadly beyond the transport sector to infrastructure development and urban planning, which in the end can solve complex pollution issues on in Africa.”
Australian Indigenous Rock Art Collection Nominated for UN Heritage Statusabout 1 month ago
Australia has nominated a culturally sensitive Aboriginal area that is home to the world's largest collection of rock art for United Nations heritage protection. The Burrup Peninsula, 1,500 kilometers north of Perth, the Western Australian state capital, has 50,000 years of First Nations history, including millions of a type of rock carving called petroglyphs. It is the world’s densest known concentration of hunter-gatherer petroglyphs. The site has been nominated as a United Nations World Heritage site. If accepted by UNESCO, it would become the second site in Australia listed for World Heritage for its Aboriginal cultural heritage. Environment and Water Minister Tanya Plibersek told reporters Friday the site is a “natural wonder of the world.” “This place has to be protected forever, and it has to be managed for the benefit of people who have connection to it but managed for the benefit of all of humanity," said Plibersek. Reece Whitby, Western Australia’s environment minister, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. on Friday that the region has global significance. “It is putting it on par with such things as Stonehenge and the Great Wall of China, and I think it deserves that status," said Whitby. "So, this is very important and it is a very emotional and important day for local traditional owners here.” The peninsula is also home to a huge fertilizer plant. Indigenous campaigners have blamed industrial emissions for damaging the region’s ancient art. A federal investigator is assessing the claims that First Nations heritage is under threat. However, resources company Woodside, which operates in the region, has disputed any risk to its ancient heritage. It said in a statement that it had “demonstrated its ability to work alongside Aboriginal people and the heritage values of the peninsula.” The site’s inclusion on the U.N. World Heritage List is expected to be considered by the World Heritage Committee next year.
Australia Sends Search Teams to Turkey Earthquake Zoneabout 1 month ago
Australia is sending emergency services personnel to earthquake-hit regions in Turkey. The group of 72 includes fire and rescue specialists, mostly from New South Wales state. Monday’s 7.8 magnitude earthquake in Turkey and neighboring Syria has killed an estimated 24,000 people and injured many more. Time is running out for rescuers trying to reach victims trapped in freezing conditions under rubble following Monday’s earthquake in southeastern Turkey and northeastern Syria. Australia is the latest country to send specialist search and rescue teams as well as medical staff and engineers. It is also sending 22 metric tons of emergency equipment, including first aid supplies, cameras, and underground listening equipment to allow them to search for survivors. The United States, China and India have also sent disaster response teams. In a statement Friday, Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong said she extended her country’s “condolences to families and communities that have lost loved ones, and those whose lives and livelihoods have been affected.” Emergency Management Minister Murray Watt told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. Friday that the country is eager to help. “I would like to think that by Australia playing a role, we might be able to save a few more lives," Watt said. "Obviously with every day that goes by, it becomes less and less likely that there will be survivors, but these are really highly trained expert personnel from Australia, and I am really proud that Australia is playing a role, and I really thank those emergency personnel for being willing to go and do it.” Several Australian citizens are reported missing in the earthquake zone. At least two have been killed. Community groups and aid organizations in Australia, including Muslim charities and mosques, have set up fundraising campaigns to help victims of the earthquake that has left millions homeless in Turkey and Syria. The government has committed $7 million in aid that will be distributed through the Red Cross and other humanitarian agencies.
Mob Lynches Man in Pakistan Police Custody over Alleged Blasphemyabout 1 month ago
An enraged mob in central Pakistan stormed a police station Saturday, grabbed a detainee facing blasphemy charges and lynched him before setting the body on fire. The incident happened in Nankana Sahib, a remote city in the most populous Punjab province of the Muslim-majority country. Area police officials said the victim had been taken into custody for allegedly desecrating the Quran. They said news of the alleged crime outraged residents and hundreds of them later surrounded the police station, demanding the accused be handed over to them. The large crowd prompted duty police officers to flee the facility, allowing protesters to grab the 35-year-old man and drag him out on the street before beating him to death. Videos circulating on social media showed protesters dragging the body naked, through the streets before burning it. A provincial police statement said senior staff at the police station had been suspended for failing to prevent the mob assault and an immediate inquiry into the incident had been ordered. Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif also denounced the mob assault and ordered authorities to quickly investigate it, his office said in a statement. “Why didn’t the police stop the violent mob? The rule of law should be ensured. No one should be allowed to influence the law,” Sharif was quoted as saying. Sharif’s special representative for interreligious harmony, Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi, said in a statement the “inhuman torture and killing” of the suspected blasphemer was a “cruel and criminal act.” “The Islamic Shariah and the law of Pakistan do not allow anyone to be a litigant by himself, a judge and an arbitrator by himself,” Ashrafi wrote on Twitter. Blasphemy is a highly sensitive issue in predominantly Muslim Pakistan, and the offense is punishable by death. Mere allegations of blasphemy are enough to cause riots and the killing of the accused by vigilante groups. Suspects are often attacked and sometimes lynched by mobs. Domestic and international rights groups say mere allegations of blasphemy are enough to cause mob attacks and the the killing of accused. Blasphemy laws are also used to fulfill personal vendettas and disputes and intimidate religious minorities. Saturday’s incident came nearly two weeks after Pakistan assured a meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council that it was taking steps to counter misuse of blasphemy laws. Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar told the January 30 Geneva meeting the government had instituted safeguards against the misuse of the blasphemy law. She cited legal provisions calling for action against anyone falsely accusing someone of blasphemy. Blasphemy laws in Pakistan have enabled and encouraged Islamist extremists to operate with impunity, easily targeting religious minorities or those with differing beliefs, including nonbelievers, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom said in its 2022 country report. The commission alleged the Sharif government also “weaponized the discriminatory blasphemy laws” against former prime minister Imran Khan and his cabinet members. “Religious minorities, however, remain particularly vulnerable to aggression and accusations under these laws as they continue to face threats of violence in a society that has grown increasingly intolerant of religious diversity,” the report said.
Lawsuit Seeks White Woman’s Arrest in Emmett Till Kidnappingabout 1 month ago
A relative of Emmett Till is suing to try to make a Mississippi sheriff serve a 1955 arrest warrant on a white woman in the kidnapping that led to the Black teenager’s brutal lynching. The torture and killing of Till in the Mississippi Delta became a catalyst for the civil rights movement after his mother insisted on an open-casket funeral in Chicago and Jet magazine published photos of his mutilated body. In June, a team doing research at the courthouse in Leflore County, Mississippi, found an unserved 1955 arrest warrant for Carolyn Bryant, listed on that document as “Mrs. Roy Bryant.” Till’s cousin Patricia Sterling of Jackson, Mississippi, filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against the current Leflore County sheriff, Ricky Banks. The suit seeks to compel Banks to serve the warrant on Carolyn Bryant, who has since remarried and is named Carolyn Bryant Donham. “We are using the available means at our disposal to try to achieve justice on behalf of the Till family,” Sterling’s attorney Trent Walker told The Associated Press on Friday. The AP left a phone message for Banks on Friday, seeking comment. The sheriff did not immediately respond. Court records showed that the lawsuit had not been served on him by Friday. Till, who was 14, had traveled south from Chicago to visit relatives in Mississippi in August 1955. Donham accused him of making improper advances on her at a grocery store in the small community of Money. A cousin of Till’s who was there has said Till whistled at the woman, an act that flew in the face of Mississippi’s racist social codes of the era. Evidence indicates a woman, possibly Donham, identified Till to the men who later killed him. The arrest warrant against Donham was publicized in 1955, but the Leflore County sheriff at the time told reporters that he did not want to “bother” the woman since she was raising two young children. Weeks after Till’s body was found in a river, her husband Roy Bryant and his half-brother J.W. Milam were tried for murder and acquitted by an all-white jury. Months later, the men confessed in a paid interview with Look magazine. Now in her late 80s, Donham has lived in North Carolina and Kentucky in recent years. She has not commented publicly on calls for her prosecution. The U.S. Justice Department announced in December 2021 that it had ended its latest investigation into the lynching of Till, without bringing charges against anyone. After researchers found the arrest warrant last June, the office of Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch said in July there was no new evidence to try to pursue a criminal case against Donham. In August, a district attorney said a Leflore County grand jury had declined to indict Donham. Walker, the attorney for Till’s cousin, said Friday that the South has a history of cases of violence that were not brought to justice until decades later — including the 1963 assassination of Mississippi NAACP leader Medgar Evers, for which white supremacist Byron de la Beckwith was convicted of murder in 1994. “But for Carolyn Bryant falsely claiming to her husband that Emmett Till assaulted her, Emmett would not have been murdered,” Sterling’s lawsuit says. “It was Carolyn Bryant’s lie that sent Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam into a rage, which resulted in the mutilation of Emmett Till’s body into (an) unrecognizable condition.”