Ukraine’s Kalush Orchestra Wins Eurovision Song Contest

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Ukrainian band Kalush Orchestra won the Eurovision Song Contest in the early hours of Sunday in a clear show of support for the war-ravaged nation. The six-man band that mixes traditional folk melodies and contemporary hip hop in a purposeful defense of Ukrainian culture was the sentimental and bookmakers' favorite among the 25 bands and performers competing in the grand finale. The public vote from home was decisive in securing their victory. The band's front man, Oleg Psiuk, took advantage of the enormous global audience to make impassioned plea to free fighters still trapped beneath a sprawling steel plant in the southern port city of Mariupol following the six-man band's performance. "I ask all of you, please help Ukraine, Mariupol. Help Azovstal, right now,'' he said to the live crowd of about 7,500, many of whom gave a standing ovation, and global television audience of millions. The plea to free the remaining Ukrainian fighters trapped beneath the Azovstal plant by Russians served as a somber reminder that the hugely popular and at times flamboyant Eurovision song contest was being played out against the backdrop of a war on Europe's eastern flank. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy gave signs that he was watching from Kyiv and rooting for Ukrainian band. "Indeed, this is not a war, but nevertheless, for us today, any victory is very important,'' Zelenskyy said, according to a presidential statement. "So, let's cheer for ours. Glory be to Ukraine!" 25 bands Kalush Orchestra was among 25 bands performing in the Eurovision Song Contest final in front of a live audience in the industrial northern city of Turin, while millions more watched on television or via streaming around the world. Fans from Spain, Britain and elsewhere entering the Italian venue from throughout Europe were rooting for their own country to win. Still, Ukrainian music fan Iryna Lasiy said she felt global support for her country in the war and "not only for the music." Russia was excluded this year after its Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, a move that organizers said was meant to keep politics out of the contest that promotes diversity and friendship among nations. The band’s song Stefania was written as a tribute to Psiuk’s mother but has transformed since the war into an anthem to the beleaguered nation, as lyrics take on new meaning. "I'll always find my way home, even if all roads are destroyed," Psiuk wrote.The six-member, all-male band received special permission to leave the country to represent Ukraine and Ukrainian culture at the music contest. One of the original members stayed to fight, and the others plan to return as soon as the contest is over. ‘World supports us’ Back in Ukraine, in the battered northeastern city of Kharkiv, Kalush Orchestra's participation in the contest is seen as giving the nation another platform to garner international support. "The whole country is rising, everyone in the world supports us. This is extremely nice," said Julia Vashenko, a 29-year-old teacher. "I believe that wherever there is Ukraine now and there is an opportunity to talk about the war, we need to talk," said Alexandra Konovalova, a 23-year-old makeup artist in Kharkiv. "Any competitions are important now, because of them more people learn about what is happening now." The winner is chosen in equal parts by panels of music experts in each competing nation and votes by the viewing public — leaving room for an upset. Britain's Sam Ryder and Sweden's Cornelia Jakobs are each given a 10% shot while the Italian duo of Mahmood & Blanco have a 6% chance of winning. The winner takes home a glass microphone trophy and a potential career boost. The event was hosted by Italy after local rock band Maneskin won last year in Rotterdam. The victory shot the Rome-based band to international fame, opening for the Rolling Stones and appearing on Saturday Night Live and numerous magazine covers in their typically genderless costume code. Twenty bands were chosen in two semifinals this week and were competing along with the Big Five of Italy, Britain, France, Germany and Spain, which have permanent berths because of their financial support of the contest. 

Taliban Announce First Annual Afghan Budget

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Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban unveiled their first annual budget Saturday. Officials said it will be fully funded by domestic revenues and faces a fiscal deficit of 44 billion Afghanis, or nearly $500 million. Deputy Prime Minister Abdul Salam Hanafi told a news conference in Kabul that his interim government foresees spending of 231.4 billion Afghanis ($2.6 billion) and estimates domestic revenues of 186.7 billion Afghanis this financial year. He did not explain how the gap between proposed spending and expected revenues will be bridged.  “The entire budget, including spending on education, health, development, defense or other sectors, will be funded by our national revenue sources without any foreign contributions,” Hanafi said. He added that 27.9 billion Afghanis ($0.33 billion) would be spent on development projects. “Our maximum focus and attention will be on how to pave the way to bring education to each and every corner of the country so our children can receive quality education, including technical education and higher education,” Hanafi said. A finance ministry spokesman explained that revenues are collections from departments related to customs, ministries and mines. The budget runs to February 2023. The formerly insurgent Taliban seized power from the now defunct Western-backed Afghan government in mid-August 2021. The last U.S.-led foreign troops withdrew from Afghanistan on August 30, 2021, ending nearly two decades of war with the Islamist group. Successive governments in Kabul mostly relied on foreign financial assistance, but the Taliban takeover prompted the United States and other Western donor nations as well as institutions to immediately halt the flow of aid to Afghanistan. The aid suspension and other financial sanctions have almost choked the Afghan banking system, deteriorating an already bad humanitarian crisis and pushing the country to the brink of an economic meltdown. The international community has not yet recognized the Taliban government, citing a lack of political inclusivity, curbs on women’s rights and terrorism-related concerns. The United Nations says more than half the country’s estimated 40 million people need assistance. International aid groups are still trying to figure out how to urgently help Afghans without giving the Taliban direct access to funds. The ruling Islamist group is also under intense domestic and international criticism for its increasing restrictions on Afghan women’s rights despite repeated public pledges not to do so. On Sunday, the hard-line group decreed that Afghan women must be covered from head to toe, including their faces, in public, drawing international outrage and condemnation. The move follows curbs in place on women, limiting their ability to work and travel. The Taliban have not yet allowed all girls to return to school. On Thursday, foreign ministers of the Group of Seven (G-7) criticized the Taliban rulers for increasing restrictions on the rights of Afghan women and girls. "With these measures, the Taliban are further isolating themselves from the international community,” said the G-7 foreign ministers and the European Union foreign policy chief in a joint statement. They called on the Taliban to take urgent action to ease these curbs and respect the human rights of all Afghans. The Islamist group justifies the restrictions, saying they are in accordance with Islam and Afghan culture.  Some information for this story came from Reuters. 

North Korea Reports 42 Total Deaths in 4th Day of Lockdown

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North Korea said on Sunday a total of 42 people had died as the country began its fourth day under a nationwide lockdown aimed at stopping the impoverished country's first confirmed COVID-19 outbreak.  On Thursday North Korea acknowledged for the first time a COVID-19 outbreak and ordered the lockdowns. State news agency KCNA said the country was taking "swift state emergency measures" to control the epidemic.  "All provinces, cities and counties of the country have been totally locked down and working units, production units and residential units closed from each other since the morning of May 12 and strict and intensive examination of all the people is being conducted," KCNA reported on Sunday.  A day earlier North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said the spread of COVID-19 had thrust his country into "great turmoil" and called for an all-out battle to overcome the outbreak.  Health authorities had set up more epidemic prevention posts and urgently transported medical supplies to hospitals and clinics, while senior officials had donated reserve medicines, KCNA reported.  At least 296,180 more people came down with fever symptoms, and 15 more had died as of Sunday, the outlet said.  Experts say North Korea appears to lack the capacity to test those tens of thousands of symptomatic patients. KCNA did not report how many of those suspected cases had tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.  Overall North Korea has reported 820,620 suspected cases, with 324,550 still under medical treatment, KCNA said. 

Justice Thomas Says Abortion Opinion Leak Changed Supreme Court

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Justice Clarence Thomas says the Supreme Court has been changed by the shocking leak of a draft opinion earlier this month. The opinion suggests the court is poised to overturn the right to an abortion recognized nearly 50 years ago in Roe v. Wade.  The conservative Thomas, who joined the court in 1991 and has long called for Roe v. Wade to be overturned, described the leak as an unthinkable breach of trust.  "When you lose that trust, especially in the institution that I'm in, it changes the institution fundamentally. You begin to look over your shoulder. It's like kind of an infidelity that you can explain it, but you can't undo it," he said while speaking at a conference Friday evening in Dallas.  The court has said the draft does not represent the final position of any of the court's members, and Chief Justice John Roberts has ordered an investigation into the leak.  Thomas, a nominee of President George H.W. Bush, said it was beyond "anyone's imagination" before the May 2 leak of the opinion to Politico that even a line of a draft opinion would be released in advance, much less an entire draft that runs nearly 100 pages. Politico has also reported that in addition to Thomas, conservative justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett had voted with the draft opinion's author, Samuel Alito, to overrule Roe v. Wade and a 1992 decision, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, that affirmed Roe's finding of a constitutional right to abortion.  Thomas said that previously, "if someone said that one line of one opinion" would be leaked, the response would have been: "Oh, that's impossible. No one would ever do that."  "Now that trust or that belief is gone forever," Thomas said at the Old Parkland Conference, which describes itself as a conference "to discuss alternative proven approaches to tackling the challenges facing Black Americans today."  Thomas also said at one point: "I do think that what happened at the court is tremendously bad...I wonder how long we're going to have these institutions at the rate we're undermining them."  Thomas also touched in passing on the protests by liberals at conservative justices' homes in Maryland and Virginia that followed the draft opinion's release. Thomas argued that conservatives have never acted that way.  "You would never visit Supreme Court justices' houses when things didn't go our way. We didn't throw temper tantrums. I think it is ... incumbent on us to always act appropriately and not to repay tit for tat," he said.  Protests at the Supreme Court and around the nation were planned for Saturday.  Neither Thomas nor any of the attendees at the Dallas session made mention of the Jan. 6 insurrection or the actions of Thomas' wife, Virginia, in fighting to have the results of the 2020 presidential election overturned.  Clarence Thomas was speaking before an audience as part of a conversation with John Yoo, who is now a Berkeley Law professor but worked for Thomas for a year in the early 1990s as a law clerk.  Each justice generally has four law clerks every year and the current group of law clerks has been a focus of speculation as a possible source of the draft opinion's leak. They are one of a few groups along with the justices and some administrative staff that have access to draft opinions.  Thomas also answered a few questions from the audience, including one from a man who asked about the friendships between liberal and conservative justices on the court, such as a well-known friendship between the late liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the late conservative Justice Antonin Scalia. "How can we foster that same type of relationship within Congress and within the general population?" the man asked.  "Well, I'm just worried about keeping it at the court now," Thomas responded. He went on to speak in glowing terms about former colleagues. "This is not the court of that era," he said.  Despite his comments, Thomas seemed in good spirits — laughing heartily at times. Yoo, who is known for writing the so-called "torture memos" that the George W. Bush administration used to justify using "enhanced interrogation" techniques after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, said at one point that he had taken pictures of notes Thomas had taken during the conference.  "You're going to leak them?" Thomas asked, laughing.  Yoo responded: "Well, I know where to go...Politico will publish anything I give them now." 

At Least 8 Dead in Shooting at New York Supermarket 

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At least eight people have been killed in a shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, law enforcement officials told The Associated Press.  Buffalo police said earlier Saturday afternoon that the suspect was in custody.  The two officials were not permitted to speak publicly on the matter and did so on the condition of anonymity.  Details on the number of people shot at the Tops Friendly Market and their conditions weren't immediately available. The suspect has not been identified.  A spokesperson for the supermarket chain did not immediately respond to messages from The Associated Press seeking comment.  The supermarket is in a predominantly Black neighborhood, about 5 kilometers north of downtown Buffalo. The surrounding area is primarily residential, with a Family Dollar store and fire station near the store.  Police closed off the block, lined with spectators, and yellow police tape surrounded the full parking lot. Mayor Byron Brown was at the scene late Saturday afternoon and expected to address the media.  Governor Kathy Hochul tweeted that she was "closely monitoring the shooting at a grocery store in Buffalo," her hometown. She said state officials have offered help to local authorities.  The Erie County Sheriff's Office said on social media that it ordered all available personnel to assist Buffalo police.  The shooting came little more than a year after a March 2021 attack at a King Soopers grocery in Boulder, Colorado, that killed 10 people. Investigators have not released any information about why they believe the man charged in that attack targeted the supermarket. 

South Africa Has New Surge of COVID From Omicron Sub-Variants

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South Africa is experiencing a surge of new COVID-19 cases driven by two omicron sub-variants, according to health experts. For about three weeks the country has seen increasing numbers of new cases and somewhat higher hospitalizations, but not increases in severe cases and deaths, said professor Marta Nunes, a researcher at Vaccine and Infectious Diseases Analytics at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto. "We're still very early in this increase period, so I don't want to really call it a wave," Nunes said. "We are seeing a slight, a small increase in hospitalizations and really very few deaths." South Africa's new cases have gone from an average of 300 per day in early April to about 8,000 per day this week. Nunes says the actual number of new cases is probably much higher because the symptoms are mild and many who get sick are not getting tested. South Africa's new surge is from two variations of omicron, BA.4 and BA.5, which appear to be very much like the original strain of omicron that was first identified in South Africa and Botswana late last year and swept around the globe. "The majority of new cases are from these two strains. They are still omicron ... but just genomically somewhat different," said Nunes. The new versions appear to be able to infect people who have immunity from earlier COVID infections and vaccinations, but they cause generally mild disease, she said. In South Africa, 45% of adults are fully vaccinated, although about 85% of the population is thought to have some immunity based on past exposure to the virus. "It looks like the vaccines still protect against severe disease," Nunes said. Nunes said that the BA.4 and BA.5 strains of omicron have spread to other countries in southern Africa and a few European countries, but it is too early to tell if they will spread across the globe, as omicron did. The increase in COVID cases is coming as South Africa is entering the Southern Hemisphere's colder winter months and the country is seeing a rise in cases of flu. At a COVID testing center in the Chiawelo area of Soweto, many people are coming in to be tested for COVID but are learning they have the flu. "Now we're in flu season ... so it's flu versus COVID-19," said Magdeline Matsoso, site manager at the Chiawelo vaccination center. She said people come for testing because they have COVID symptoms. "When we do the tests, you find that the majority of them, they are negative when it comes to COVID, but they do have flu symptoms," said Matsoso. "So they get flu treatment and then they go home because the majority is related to flu and not COVID." Vuyo Lumkwani was one of those who came to get tested. "I wasn't feeling well when I woke up this morning. I woke up with body pains, a headache, blocked (nose), feeling dizzy, so I decided to come here," she said. "I was terrified about my symptoms because I thought it might be COVID-19, but I told myself that I'd be OK because I have been vaccinated," said Lumkwani. She said she was relieved to be diagnosed with the flu. She was advised to go home with some medications and get some rest.

Hezbollah Weapons at Heart of Lebanon's Elections Sunday

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It was a sea of yellow as thousands of men, women and children waving Hezbollah flags and wearing the group's trademark yellow caps rallied in the ancient eastern city of Baalbek in support of the heavily armed militant group. One after another, many attendees vowed to vote Sunday for the Shiite Muslim Hezbollah and its allies in Lebanon's closely watched parliamentary elections, rejecting any attempt to disarm the powerful group. Despite a devastating economic collapse and multiple other crises gripping Lebanon — the culmination of decades of corruption and mismanagement — the deeply divisive issue of Hezbollah's weapons has been at the center of the vote for a new 128-member parliament. Disarming the group has dominated political campaigns among almost all of the group's opponents. Those include Western-backed mainstream political groups and independents who played a role in nationwide protests since the start of the economic meltdown in October 2019. "This is the biggest misinformation campaign. Why? Because they are implementing America's policy against the resistance weapons," senior Hezbollah official Hussein Haj Hassan told The Associated Press on Friday ahead of the rally in Baalbek. Hezbollah was the only group officially allowed to keep its weapons after the 1975-90 civil war because it was fighting Israeli forces occupying parts of south Lebanon. In 2000, Israel withdrew from Lebanon, but Hezbollah and others in the small Mediterranean nation insisted its weapons were necessary to defend it against Israel, which has one of the strongest armies in the region. Hezbollah has since fought a monthlong war with Israel in 2006 that ended in a draw. After the start of the conflict in neighboring Syria, the Iran-backed group sent thousands of fighters to support President Bashar Assad's forces, helping him tip the balance of power in his favor. Hezbollah's rivals say its weapons and its backing of regional forces such as Assad's and the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen have harmed Lebanon's relations with oil-rich Persian Gulf nations. Those nations have categorized the Lebanese group as a terrorist organization and withheld crucial financial support for the country. Haj Hassan, a legislator since 1996 and a Cabinet minister three times, said claims that Hezbollah is responsible for Lebanon's collapse were "a big lie." "They forgot the political system, economic system, corruption, the war in Syria and its effects on Lebanon and they forgot the American sanctions," he said at his home near Baalbek. Hezbollah maintains its weapons are to defend Lebanon and not for internal use. But the group used them against rivals in May 2008 in the worst fighting at the time in many years. The Hezbollah offensive came after the government of then-Hezbollah opponent Fouad Saniora decided to dismantle the group's military telecommunications network. "No Lebanese group should have the right to be armed while other Lebanese are not," said Samy Gemayel, head of the right-wing Kataeb party, in comments to the local LBC station Friday night. The vote this year is the first after the economic collapse, described by the World Bank as one of the worst the world has witnessed in more than 150 years. It is also the first since the August 2020 blast at Beirut's port that killed more than 200, injured thousands and caused large scale damage in the capital. Three former Cabinet ministers allied with Hezbollah were charged in the port blast investigation but have refused to face questioning by the investigative judge. Hezbollah's leader has criticized the judge and called for his replacement, and the investigation has been suspended for months following legal challenges by politicians. Parliamentary elections are held once every four years, and the last vote in 2018 gave a majority of seats to Hezbollah and its allies with 71 legislators. As Lebanon sinks deeper into poverty, many Lebanese have been more openly critical of Hezbollah. They blame the group — along with the ruling class — for the devastating, multiple crises plaguing the country, including a dramatic currency crash and severe shortages in medicine and fuel. Some expect its main Christian ally, the Free Patriotic Movement founded by President Michel Aoun, to lose seats. Others have expressed disappointment at Hezbollah's unshakable alliance with Nabih Berri, Lebanon's longtime parliament speaker seen by many as the godfather of Lebanon's corrupt sectarian-based and elite-dominated political system. Still, a win by Hezbollah is not in doubt. The group has a solid base and masterfully maneuvers its alliances and the electoral system. Intimidation ensures no Shiite threat emerges: Three Shiite candidates allied with the Saudi-backed Lebanese Forces group withdrew from the race in the Baalbek region within days. In a Shiite village in southern Lebanon, residents were attacked last month as they headed to a rally for candidates running against Hezbollah. Weapons were fired in the air to disrupt a gathering by a Shiite cleric running against the Hezbollah-led alliance in Baalbek. Hezbollah was blamed for intimidating the Shiite candidates, a claim Haj Hassan denied. "They don't want opposition within the (Shiite) sect. This is clear," said Hilal Khashan, political science professor at the American University of Beirut. Khashan added that Hezbollah and its Shiite ally the Amal group of Berri are trying to maintain control of the 27 seats allocated for the sect. Little change is expected from the election as mainstream political parties and politicians remain strong while opposition candidates are fractured. Still, Western-backed mainstream parties are hoping to strip the parliamentary majority from Hezbollah, while many independents are hoping to break through traditional party lists and candidates. The vote comes after a powerful Sunni leader, former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, suspended his work in politics. Some have warned this may help Hezbollah's Sunni allies to win more seats. "I consider the ballot box as a line of defense for us," said nurse Hoda Falah during the rally in Baalbek. Falah said Hezbollah's weapons have defended eastern Lebanon from attacks by the Islamic State group and al-Qaida-linked militants over the years. Top Hezbollah official Nabil Kaouk said in a speech last month that the elections will show that his group enjoys the most support in the small nation. He claimed that money flowing from Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and the U.S. into Lebanon will not change results.

One Killed as Price Protests Continue in Iran

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Protests over soaring food prices continued in several cities in Iran on Saturday, according to postings on social media, while an Iranian lawmaker told a local media outlet that one person was killed in a demonstration in the southwest. The protests were triggered last week by a cut in state subsidies for imported wheat that caused price increases of as much as 300% for a variety of flour-based staples. The government of President Ebrahim Raisi also raised prices of basic goods such as cooking oil and dairy products. The northern city of Rasht, the central town of Farsan, and the northeastern city of Neyshabur, were among areas hit by protests, according to videos posted on social media. "Raisi, have some shame, let go of the country!" chanted protesters on one such video. Reuters could not independently authenticate the videos. Local lawmaker Ahmad Avai told the semi-official ILNA news agency that one person had been killed during rallies in Dezful, a city in the oil producing southwestern province of Khuzestan. State media earlier said an estimated 300 people were dispersed by security forces in Dezful and 15 were arrested late Thursday. In the first signs of discontent over price increases, Iranian media last week reported disrupted internet services, an apparent attempt to stop the use of social media to organize rallies and disseminate videos. NetBlocks, which reports on internet blockages, on Saturday reported a disruption that lasted hours on Iran's MobinNet. "The disruption is the latest in a series of telecoms cuts amid protests," NetBlocks said on Twitter. Wheat prices have sharply risen globally since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, adding to the cost of subsidies in Iran. Iranian officials have also blamed the price increases on the smuggling of heavily subsidized flour into neighboring Iraq and Afghanistan.

Protests Rock Nigerian City After Blasphemy Killing

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Hundreds of people in Nigeria's northwestern city of Sokoto demonstrated Saturday over the arrest of two students following the murder of a Christian student accused of blasphemy, residents said. Africa's most populous country is roughly divided between Muslims and Christians, but religious tensions and deadly clashes are not uncommon, particularly in the north. Deborah Samuel, a student of Shehu Shagari College of Education was stoned to death Thursday and her body was burnt by a mob of Muslim students at the college after she posted something on social media they deemed insulted the Prophet Muhammad. Police said they made two arrests following the incident and that they had begun a search for other suspects who appeared in footage of the gruesome murder which circulated on social media. In the early morning of Saturday, Muslim youths took to the streets of the city, lighting bonfires and demanding the release of the two detained suspects despite the earlier deployment of police officers to maintain order, residents said. Some of the protesters besieged the palace of the Muhammad Sa'ad Abubakar, the Sultan of Sokoto and the highest spiritual figure among Muslims in Nigeria who condemned the killing and demanded those involved face justice. "It was more of a riot by a mob of young men and women who were demanding the release of the two people arrested over the killing of the Christian student," Sokoto resident Ibrahim Arkilla told AFP. "The crowd which made bonfires on the streets were also demanding the police stop the manhunt for those identified to have taken part in the killing," said Arkilla who witnessed the protests. Protesters besieged the palace of Abubakar chanting "Allahu akbar" or God is Great, said resident Bube Ando who lives near the palace. "Some among the security men deployed to protect the palace tried to ask the protesters to leave but they became unruly," Ando said. "Policemen and soldiers who stood outside the palace hurled tear gas canisters and fired into the air and succeeded in dispersing the crowd," he said, without giving details about whether anyone was hurt.   The irate mob retreated downtown where they attempted to loot shops belonging to Christian residents but were dispersed by security patrol teams, said another resident Faruk Danhili. Saturday afternoon, the Sokoto Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal urged the protesters to return home and announced a curfew. "Following the sad incident that happened at the Shehu Shagari College of Education on Thursday and sequel to the developments within (Sokoto) metropolis this morning till afternoon... I hereby declare, with immediate effect, a curfew... for the next 24 hours," he said in a statement. "Everyone should, please, in the interest of peace go back home." Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari has "strongly condemned" the murder of Deborah Samuel. "No person has the right to take the law in his or her own hands in this country. Violence has and never will solve any problem," Buhari said in a statement Friday.

Police in Mogadishu Announce Lockdown Ahead of Presidential Poll

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Somalia’s police force says it will impose a lockdown in the capital beginning late Saturday to maintain security for the Sunday presidential election. According to the directive, city residents will be required to stay in their homes while vehicles also remain banned from the city streets. Somali Police Force spokesman Abdifatah Adan Hassan said the ban on pedestrian and vehicle traffic in Mogadishu takes effect Saturday at 9 p.m. and will last until 6 a.m. Monday.  He said recognizing the importance of movement of the people and vehicles in Mogadishu, the police force still has to ensure the overall security of the country during the presidential election in the Federal Republic of Somalia. Members of parliament will meet in a heavily guarded compound at Mogadishu’s airport to choose the next president Sunday. Incumbent President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, also known as Farmaajo, is running for reelection against close to 40 other candidates.  Professor Abdiwahab Abdisamad, chairman of the Nairobi-based Institute for Horn of Africa Strategic Studies, thinks the lockdown is unnecessary. “There's not much threat coming from the outside of Mogadishu, even inside Mogadishu," he said. "And hopefully, the public must follow the instruction of the security, the police and security agents of the country.... And hopefully, tomorrow's election will go ahead and will be one of the most beautiful elections so far in the country for almost 10 years.” Abdurahman Sheikh from the Centre for Analysis and Strategic Studies in Mogadishu, however, argues the lockdown is a wise move.  The curfew imposed on Mogadishu at this time is valid, he said. The police have the right to provide security since security at the polling station was transferred to African Union forces. According to Sheikh, the militant group al-Shabaab poses a real threat to the elections.  Al-Shabaab has mounted several attacks in the run-up to the election.  Eleven days ago, the group attacked an African Union base in the Middle Shabelle region, killing at least 30 Burundian soldiers.  The group struck again Wednesday, killing at least four people at a checkpoint near the airport where presidential candidates were addressing lawmakers. Sheikh said there are fears that al-Shabaab will carry out attacks, especially tomorrow and tonight, during the time the elections are expected to take place. Explosions are feared to take place near Mogadishu airport. Al-Shabab has the proven ability to fire mortar shells which can reach the airport and sneak vehicles loaded with explosives into the city. Somali police believe that if the streets of the capital are empty, they can head off any attacks before disaster strikes.

Tanzania Raises Minimum Wage by Nearly 25%

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Tanzania's president on Saturday approved a nearly 25% increase in the minimum wage, marking a departure from the policies of her autocratic predecessor amid protests about the high cost of living. President Samia Suluhu Hassan decided on an increase of 23.3%, while also increasing the salaries of government workers for the first time since 2016, her office said in a statement.   "The salary increment was approved considering the country's gross domestic product, domestic revenue and developments in both the local and global economies," the presidency said. Since coming to power last year following her predecessor John Magufuli's death, Hassan has attempted to break with some of his policies by reaching out to the opposition and reversing course on his approach to the coronavirus pandemic, which he downplayed. Magufuli refused to review wages following his election in October 2015, pursuing ambitious infrastructure plans instead by developing ports and railways and reviving the national airline.   Tanzania's economy slowed to 4.8% in 2020, barely edging upward to 4.9% the following year, as COVID-19 travel restrictions battered the tourism sector, a key earner in the East African country. Meanwhile, the cost of fuel and food has risen as supplies have tightened following the war in Ukraine. During Labour Day celebrations on May 1, trade unions and civil servants led demonstrations in Tanzania's capital Dodoma calling for an increase in wages, with many holding up placards saying: "Better salaries and benefits for workers is our demand." The International Monetary Fund (IMF) last year loaned Tanzania more than half a billion dollars in emergency financing, saying the country faced "urgent" health, economic and humanitarian costs due to a pandemic-induced downturn. Under Magufuli, whose uncompromising leadership style earned him the nickname "the Bulldozer," Tanzania was an outlier in the global fight against the coronavirus and dismissed the gravity of the disease. Magufuli shunned foreign-made vaccines in favor of the healing power of prayer and dismissed masks and testing as unnecessary. Hassan has taken a different path, promoting measures to curb the spread of the virus and launching a coronavirus vaccination drive in July.

India Bans Wheat Exports, Irks G7

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India banned wheat exports without government approval Saturday after its hottest March on record hit production, in a blow to countries reeling from supply shortages and soaring prices since Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The announcement drew sharp criticism from the Group of Seven industrialized nations' agriculture ministers meeting in Germany, who said that such measures "would worsen the crisis" of rising commodity prices. "If everyone starts to impose export restrictions or to close markets, that would worsen the crisis," German Agriculture Minister Cem Ozdemir said at a press conference in Stuttgart. Global wheat prices have soared on supply fears following Russia's February invasion of Ukraine, which previously accounted for 12% of global exports. The spike in prices, exacerbated by fertilizer shortages and poor harvests, has fueled inflation globally and raised fears of famine and social unrest in poorer countries. It has also led to concerns about growing protectionism following Indonesia's halting of palm oil exports and India putting the brakes on exports of wheat. India, the world's second-largest wheat producer, said that factors including lower production and sharply higher global prices meant it worried about the food security of its own 1.4 billion people. Export deals agreed to before the directive issued Friday could still be honored, but future shipments need government approval, it said. But exports could also take place if New Delhi approved requests from other governments "to meet their food security needs". "We don't want wheat to go in an unregulated manner where it may either get hoarded and is not used for the purpose which we are hoping it will be used for –- which is serving the food requirements of vulnerable nations and vulnerable people," said BVR Subrahmanyam, India's commerce secretary. On Thursday New Delhi said it was sending delegations to Morocco, Tunisia, Thailand, Vietnam, Turkey, Algeria and Lebanon "for exploring possibilities of boosting wheat exports from India". It was unclear whether these visits would still take place. Global help Possessing major buffer stocks, India previously said it was ready to help fill some of the supply shortages caused by the Ukraine war. "Our farmers have ensured that not just India but the whole world is taken care of," Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal said in April. India said that it planned to increase wheat exports this financial year, starting April 1, to 10 million tons from seven million tons the year before. While this is a tiny proportion of worldwide production, the assurances provided some support to global prices and soothed fears of major shortages. Egypt and Turkey recently approved wheat imports from India. But India endured its hottest March on record - blamed on climate change - and has been wilting in a heatwave in recent weeks, with temperatures upwards of 45 degrees Celsius. This has hit farmers hard, and this month the government said that wheat production was expected to fall at least five percent this year from 110 million tons in 2021 -- the first fall in six years. Indian wheat exports in the past have been limited by concerns over quality and because the government buys large volumes at guaranteed minimum prices. The country's exports have also been held back by World Trade Organization rules that limit shipments from government stocks if the grain was bought from farmers at fixed prices. Urgent need The Ukrainian agriculture minister has traveled to Stuttgart for discussions with G-7 colleagues on getting its produce out.   About "20 million tons" of wheat were sitting in Ukrainian silos and "urgently" needed to be exported, Ozdemir said. Before the invasion, Ukraine exported 4.5 million tons of agricultural produce per month through its ports – 12% of the planet's wheat, 15% of its corn and half of its sunflower oil. But with the ports of Odesa, Chornomorsk and others cut off from the world by Russian warships, the supply can only travel on congested land routes that are much less efficient. G-7 ministers urged countries not to take restrictive action that could pile further stress on the produce markets.   They "spoke out against export stops and call as well for markets to be kept open", said Ozdemir, whose nation holds the rotating presidency of the group. "We call on India to assume its responsibility as a G-20 member," Ozdemir added. The agriculture ministers would also "recommend" the topic be addressed at the G-7 summit in Germany in June, which India's prime minister, Narendra Modi, has been invited to attend.

Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Becomes UAE's President

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Rulers in the United Arab Emirates on Saturday unanimously appointed Abu Dhabi's Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan as the autocratic nation's president, signaling both unity and stability in this key energy-rich country that hosts Western militaries. The ascension of Sheikh Mohammed, 61, had been expected after the death Friday of his half-brother and the UAE's president, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, at the age of 73. The transition of power marks only the third time this U.S.-allied nation of seven sheikhdoms has selected a president since becoming an independent nation in 1971. Under Sheikh Mohammed, who has been the nation's de facto leader since Sheikh Khalifa suffered a stroke in 2014, the UAE had tried to project power militarily across the wider region as it joined a Saudi-led war in Yemen. But since the lockdowns of the coronavirus pandemic, Sheikh Mohammed and the wider UAE has tried to recalibrate its approach by largely pulling out of the war and seeking diplomatic détentes with rivals. The UAE also diplomatically recognized Israel, which shares Sheikh Mohammed's longstanding suspicion of Iran. However, ties to the U.S. have strained in recent years — something Washington hopes to address with Vice President Kamala Harris leading a delegation Monday to Abu Dhabi. The state-run WAM news agency described the vote at Al-Mushrif Palace in Abu Dhabi as unanimous among the rulers of the country’s hereditarily ruled sheikhdoms, which includes the skyscraper-studded city of Dubai. “His assumption of the responsibility of the presidency represents a new historical era and a new birth," said Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. "We look forward to the acceleration of development aimed at consolidating the global sovereignty and pioneering of the Emirates.” There had been only one death of a president before Friday in the country's history, which saw Sheikh Khalifa take over for both his and Sheikh Mohammed's father, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, after his death in 2004. Sheikh Zayed, whose name graces a major highway linking the Emirates and whose face appears everywhere in the nation, is widely viewed as the country's founding father. The UAE is observing a three-day mourning period, which will see businesses shut across the country and performances halted in Sheikh Khalifa's honor. Electronic billboards all showed the late sheikh's image in Dubai on Friday night as flags flew at half-staff. A wider mourning period of 40 days will go on beyond that. Oman's sultan was among the first leaders to visit Sheikh Mohammed on Saturday night. Others are expected in the coming days, including French President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday. Harris also will meet with Sheikh Mohammed. Known by the acronym MbZ, Sheikh Mohammed cultivated ties with the West that proved valuable for Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE that commands tens of billions of dollars in wealth funds from its oil and gas deposits. A U.S. diplomatic cable from 2004 released by WikiLeaks referred to him as “charismatic, savvy and very comfortable in the West.” He hosted then-President George W. Bush in 2008 at his desert estate, a visit complete with Bedouin tents and falcons. The country hosts some 3,500 U.S. troops, many at Abu Dhabi’s Al-Dhafra Air Base, from where drones and fighter jets flew missions combating the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. Dubai also is the U.S. Navy’s busiest port of call abroad. Both France and South Korea also maintained a military presence here. Sheikh Mohammed trained at the British military academy at Sandhurst and is a helicopter pilot. His military-first approach saw the UAE join Saudi Arabia in their bloody, yearslong war in Yemen that still rages to this day. Sheikh Mohammed has had a close relationship with neighboring Saudi Arabia’s own upstart crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman. However, the Emirates has largely withdrawn its troops from Yemen. Sheikh Mohammed also long has been suspicious of both the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran, likely organizing a campaign targeting Islamists in the UAE after the 2011 Arab Spring and urging the West to take a harder line toward Tehran over concerns about its nuclear program and its support of paramilitary groups throughout the region. The UAE's recognition of Israel in 2020, while opening new trade and tourism, also serves as a hedge in dealing with Iran. Strains have emerged in recent years between Sheikh Mohammed and the U.S., long a guarantor of security in the wider Persian Gulf. Then-President Barack Obama and world powers reaching a nuclear deal with Iran in 2015 soured the Emirates. The chaotic American withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021 under President Joe Biden worsened concerns about the U.S.'s pullback from the region. Sheikh Mohammed found himself entangled in special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on then-President Donald Trump and Russian interference in America’s 2016 election. The chair of Trump’s 2017 inaugural committee was arrested in 2021 on charges alleging he secretly conspired to influence U.S. policy to benefit the United Arab Emirates. A planned U.S. sale of advanced F-35 fighter jets to the UAE also appears stalled in part over American concerns about the Emirates' relationship with China. Meanwhile, the UAE has been careful not to alienate Russia as Moscow wages war on Ukraine. But Biden offered a warm statement Saturday saying he wanted to “congratulate my longtime friend" on “his election.” “The UAE is an essential partner of the United States,” Biden said. “I look forward to working with Sheikh Mohammed to build from this extraordinary foundation to further strengthen the bonds between our countries and peoples.”

Rights Group Accuses Cameroon Police of Abuses Against LGBTI People

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Human Rights Watch (HRW) says Cameroonian security forces are not protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex, or LGBTI, people from violent attacks and are instead arresting victims. HRW said in a report this week that there has been an uptick in violence and abuse against LGBTI people in Cameroon as authorities continue to arrest and detain LGBTI and suspected LGBTI persons. The report said since March 9, security forces have arbitrarily arrested at least six LGBTI people and detained 11, and that all of those arrested and detained were victims of group attacks for alleged consensual same-sex conduct and gender nonconformity. Officers beat two of those in detention, HRW said in the report. Ilaria Allegrozzi, Human Rights Watch central Africa researcher, said Cameroon police are failing to protect LGBTI people from mob violence, conducting arbitrary arrests and detentions, perpetrating violence against LGBTI people and failing to bring perpetrators of mob violence on LGBTI people to book. "The law criminalizing same-sex relations is [a] repressive, draconian backward law which does not only violate Cameroon’s obligation under national and international laws, but also contributes to create a climate of violence, to institutionalize an atmosphere of hate against LGBTI people," Allegrozzi said. "And the criminalization of same-sex conduct renders LGBTI people vulnerable to violence at the hands of ordinary citizens as well as law enforcement officials." The HRW report said that on April 10 a crowd of about eight men armed with machetes, knives, sticks, and wooden planks, attacked a group of at least 10 LGBTI people attending a party at a private home in Messassi, a neighborhood in Cameroon’s capital, Yaounde.  HRW said in the report that a local official took two of the victims to gendarmeries for protection from the mob but that the gendarmes beat and humiliated the LGBTI persons and released them after a $24 bribe was paid. The other victims remained in the hands of the violent crowd for at least two hours. Some were injured and their money and phones were seized by the mob, HRW said. Shashan Mbinglo, a solicitor and member of the Cameroon Bar Council, an association of lawyers, said abuses of LGBTI people’s rights are rampant in Cameroon because the central African country criminalizes same-sex relations. "They (HRW) will say our law is discriminatory, unfair but they forget that our laws are founded not just on principles of justice, fairness, equality as obtains globally, but on traditions and customs peculiar to us, Mbinglo said. "The laws do not permit, the laws do not accommodate, the laws are against what the LGBTI stand for. Most of them (LGBTI persons) think it is normal to come out on social media forgetting that they expose themselves to assault and attacks." On state broadcaster CRTV, Cameroonian police denied HRW's allegations that they abuse LGBTI persons’ rights. The police said they are there to enforce the laws and protect all civilians from violence and brutality. Under Cameroon’s penal code, people found guilty of same-sex relations risk up to five years in prison.  HRW said by criminalizing LGBTI relations, Cameroon not only violates its obligations under national and international law but condones an atmosphere of violence and hate against LGBTI people.

20 Injured in Two Milwaukee Shootings After Bucks Playoff Game

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Twenty people were injured in two shootings in downtown Milwaukee near an entertainment district where thousands of people were watching the Bucks play the Celtics in the NBA's Eastern Conference semifinals, authorities said. None of the injuries from either shooting were believed to be life-threatening. The first shooting Friday night, involving three victims, occurred adjacent to the Deer District — an entertainment district with numerous bars and restaurants where large crowds often assemble for major sporting events. The Milwaukee Fire Department said authorities took two people to a hospital, a 30-year-old man and a 16-year-old girl, and a third person drove to a hospital. Police said a 29-year-old man was in custody. Seventeen more people were injured in a second shooting about two hours later, which happened a few blocks away. Ten people were taken into custody and nine guns were recovered, local station WTMJ-TV reported. There was no immediate indication whether the two shootings were related or involved fans who were watching the game. Witnesses told WTMJ-TV that they saw a fight outside a bar following the basketball game. Bill Reinemann, a parking attendant at lot adjacent to Deer District, said he heard gunshots but didn’t see anyone get shot or see the shooter during the earlier shooting. “It sounded like six to eight gunshots,” he said “It was close.” After the shots were fired, scores of fans began running toward the Deer District, he said. Reinemann, who has worked the lot for 18 years, remained at his post even as fearful Bucks fans ran past him. “I sat in my chair here the whole while,” he said. “The incident took place outside of the Deer District area. We direct all questions to the Milwaukee Police Department,” Bucks spokesman Barry Baum said. Boston defeated Milwaukee in the game to force a Game 7 in the series.

Guinea Junta Bans Political Protests

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The military junta ruling Guinea has banned political protests after announcing a three-year transition period before civilian rule is restored. "All demonstrations on public roads, whose nature is to jeopardize social tranquility and the correct implementation of activities in the (transition) timetable are banned for the moment until the period of electoral campaigns," the National Rallying Committee for Development (CNRD) said in a statement late Friday. "The CNRD invites all political and social actors to contain all forms of political protest and gatherings to their headquarters," added the committee set up by the junta and headed by Colonel Mamady Doumbouya. Failure to comply will entail legal consequences, it said. Army officers led by Colonel Doumbouya ousted elected president Alpha Conde in the impoverished former French colony in September last year. Conde, now aged 84, had drawn fierce opposition after he pushed through a new constitution in 2020 that allowed him to run for a third presidential term. Guinea earlier this month opened a judicial investigation into Conde and several other former top officials for murder, torture, kidnappings, looting and rapes. Guinea's legislative body on Wednesday announced a three-year transition period before the return of civilian rule, defying regional partners in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which had called for a swifter timetable. The West African bloc suspended Guinea's membership after the coup. U.N. chief Antonio Guterres this month called for the military juntas in Burkina Faso, Guinea and Mali to hand power back to civilians as soon as possible.

What's behind the US baby formula shortage – and how to make sure it doesn't happen again

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G7 to Continue Economic Pressure on Russia, Tackle 'Wheat War'

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Group of Seven foreign ministers vowed on Saturday to reinforce Russia's economic and political isolation, continue supplying weapons to Ukraine and tackle what Germany's foreign minister described as a "wheat war" being waged by Moscow. After meeting at a 400-year-old castle estate in the Baltic Sea resort of Weissenhaus, senior diplomats from Britain, Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Japan, the United States and the European Union also pledged to continue their military and defense assistance for "as long as necessary." They would also tackle what they called Russian misinformation aimed at blaming the West for food supply issues around the world due to economic sanctions on Moscow and urged China to not assist Moscow or justify Russia's war, according to a joint statement. "Have we done enough to mitigate the consequences of this war? It is not our war. It's a war by the president of Russia, but we have global responsibility," Germany's Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock told reporters at a closing news conference. Key to putting more pressure on Russia is to ban or phase out buying Russian oil with EU member states expected next week to reach an agreement on the issue even if it remains at this stage opposed by Hungary. "We will expedite our efforts to reduce and end reliance on Russian energy supplies and as quickly as possible, building on G-7 commitments to phase out or ban imports of Russian coal and oil," the statement said. The ministers said they would add further sanctions on Russian elites, including economic actors, central government institutions and the military, which enable President Vladimir Putin "to lead his war of choice." The meeting in northern Germany, which the foreign ministers of Ukraine and Moldova attended, also spotlighted food security concerns and fears that the war in Ukraine could spill over into its smaller neighbor Moldova. "People will be dying in Africa and the Middle East and we are faced with an urgent question: how can people be fed around the world? People are asking themselves what will happen if we don't have the grain we need that we used to get from Russia and Ukraine," Baerbock said. She added that the G-7 would work on finding logistical solutions to get vital commodities out of Ukraine storage before the next harvests. Attention now turns to Berlin as ministers meet later on Saturday with Sweden and Finland gearing up to apply for membership of the transatlantic alliance, drawing threats of retaliation from Moscow and objections from NATO member Turkey. "It is important that we have a consensus," Canada's Foreign Minister Melanie Joly told reporters when asked about Turkey possibly blocking their accession. Putin calls the invasion a "special military operation" to disarm Ukraine and rid it of anti-Russian nationalism fomented by the West. Ukraine and its allies say Russia launched an unprovoked war. "More of the same," EU Foreign Policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters. "The one thing that is missing is pushing for a diplomatic engagement to get a ceasefire. It is missing because Vladimir Putin has been saying to everybody that he doesn't want to stop the war."

New Zealand Prime Minister Tests Positive for COVID-19

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New Zealand’s prime minister has tested positive for COVID. Jacinda Ardern’s office said in a statement Saturday that she has mild symptoms and has been in isolation since Sunday, when her partner, Clarke Gayford, tested positive. Ardern is required to be in isolation until May 21, preventing her from being in Parliament for the release of the Government’s Emissions Reduction Plan on Monday and the country’s budget on Thursday. “This is a milestone week for the government, and I’m gutted I can’t be there for it,” Ardern said. Meanwhile, an Associated Press report says that four U.S. Air Force Academy cadets may not graduate or receive a military commission because they have refused COVID-19 vaccinations. AP reports that Air Force officials say the cadets may also have to “pay back thousands of dollars in tuition costs.” The Asian Football Confederation announced Saturday that the Chinese Football Association will not be able to host the 2023 AFC Asian Cup. The confederation said in a statement that it “acknowledges the exceptional circumstances caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to the relinquishment by China PR of its hosting rights.” China maintains a zero-COVID policy that has forced thousands of people to go into quarantine for long periods of time. The Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center reported more than 520 million COVID-19 cases early Saturday and over 6 million deaths.

Outcry After Israel Police Beat Mourners at Journalist Funeral

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The U.S. and EU led an international outcry Saturday after Israeli police charged the funeral procession in Jerusalem of Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh and beat pallbearers who almost dropped her coffin. Thousands of people packed Jerusalem's Old City on Friday for the burial of the veteran Al Jazeera journalist, two days after she was killed in an Israeli army raid in the occupied West Bank. Television footage showed the pallbearers struggling to stop Abu Akleh's coffin from falling to the ground as baton-wielding police officers charged towards them, grabbing Palestinian flags from mourners. The United States said it was "deeply troubled" by the scenes, while the European Union said it was "appalled" by the "unnecessary force." The Jerusalem Red Crescent said 33 people were injured, of whom six were hospitalized. Israeli authorities said six arrests were made after mourners had thrown "rocks and glass bottles." Israel and the Palestinians traded blame for the death of Abu Akleh on Wednesday who was shot in the head during the Israeli army raid on the Jenin refugee camp. The Israeli army said an interim investigation could not determine who fired the fatal bullet, noting stray Palestinian gunfire or Israeli sniper fire aimed at militants were both possible causes. But the Palestinian prosecutor's office in the West Bank city of Ramallah said later the initial results of an investigation showed "the only origin of the shooting was the Israeli occupation forces." Al Jazeera has said Israel killed her "deliberately" and "in cold blood." In a rare, unanimous statement, the U.N. Security Council condemned the killing and called for "an immediate, thorough, transparent, and impartial investigation," according to diplomats. 'Deeply disturbed' Abu Akleh, a Christian and a Palestinian-American, was a star reporter, and her funeral drew massive crowds. As her body left St Joseph's hospital in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, Israeli police stormed mourners who had hoisted Palestinian flags. Police said about "300 rioters" had arrived at the hospital for the procession and "prevented the family members from loading the coffin onto the hearse to travel to the cemetery — as had been planned and coordinated with the family in advance." The police then intervened "to disperse the mob and prevent them from taking the coffin, so that the funeral could proceed as planned." Glass bottles and other objects were thrown at the police, it added in a statement. The United States was "deeply troubled to see the images of Israeli police intruding into her funeral procession today," Secretary of State Antony Blinken said. "Every family deserves to be able to lay their loved ones to rest in a dignified and unimpeded manner." The EU said it was "appalled by the violence in the St Joseph Hospital compound and the level of unnecessary force exercised by Israeli police throughout the funeral procession." U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was also "deeply disturbed" by the violence, according to a spokesperson. Thousands of Palestinian mourners attempted to follow the coffin towards the cemetery just outside the walled Old City. Police briefly attempted to prevent them but ultimately relented, allowing thousands to stream towards the graveside, and did not intervene as Palestinian flags were waved, AFP reporters said. 'Sister of all Palestinians' In a sign of Abu Akleh's prominence, she was given what was described as a full state memorial service on Thursday at Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas's compound in Ramallah before her body was transferred to Jerusalem. The United States, European Union and United Nations have backed calls for a full investigation into Abu Akleh's killing. Israel has publicly called for a joint probe, which the Palestinian Authority has rejected. Grief over Abu Akleh's killing spilt beyond the Palestinian territories, with protests erupting in Turkey, Sudan and elsewhere. She "was the sister of all Palestinians," her brother Antoun Abu Akleh told AFP. Fresh violence Fresh violence erupted Friday in the West Bank, including a raid and clashes around Jenin refugee camp in which an Israeli commando was killed. The Islamic Jihad group said its fighters were responsible. The Israeli officer killed was identified as Noam Raz, a 47-year-old father of six. Police said he was wounded "during a shootout with armed terrorists," and later died. The Palestinian health ministry said 13 Palestinians were wounded in the clashes, one of them seriously. An AFP photographer said Israeli forces had surrounded the home of a suspect, besieging two men inside and firing anti-tank grenades at the house in an effort to flush them out. Tensions were already running high after a wave of anti-Israeli attacks that have killed at least 18 people since March 22, including an Arab-Israeli police officer and two Ukrainians. A total of 31 Palestinians and three Israeli Arabs have died during the same period, according to an AFP tally, among them perpetrators of attacks and those killed by Israeli security forces in West Bank operations. 

Interfaith Group Asks Starbucks to Drop Vegan Milk Surcharge

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A group of Christian, Hindu, Buddhist and Jewish leaders is asking Starbucks to stop charging extra for vegan milk alternatives, saying the practice amounts to a tax on people who have embraced plant-based lifestyles. In a statement issued Friday, an interfaith coalition led by Nevada-based Hindu activist Rajan Zed pressed the coffee chain to end the surcharges it called “unethical and unfair.” “A coffee company should not be in the business of taxing individuals who had chosen the plant-based lifestyle,” said Zed’s statement, which was also signed by Thomas W. Blake, an Episcopal priest; Greek Orthodox clergyman Stephen R. Karcher; Buddhist priest Matthew Fisher; and Jewish rabbi ElizaBeth Webb Beyer. The religious leaders cited numerous reasons why some Starbucks customers prefer alternatives to dairy, including dietary restrictions, ethical issues, environmental concerns, lactose intolerance, milk allergies and animal welfare. Those who want plant-based milk should not have to pay more, they said, calling on the Seattle-based company’s CEO, Howard Schultz, and board chair Mellody Hobson to immediately drop the surcharge. Starbucks outlets in the United States typically charge 50 cents to a dollar more for drinks made with plant-based milks.

Native Americans: Federal Report on Boarding Schools a Start

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Chippewa citizen John Wallette was 20 years old in 1910 when he left his home on the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation in North Dakota and enrolled at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania. There, he trained as a blacksmith, played left end on the school football team and spent at least three summers on “outings,” laboring on regional farms. His parents, Moses and Melanie, were thrilled to welcome him home five years later. But many other parents who sent their children to boarding schools in the 19th and early 20th centuries weren’t so lucky. Some children died at school, some died shortly after returning home sick, and many simply disappeared, their fates unknown. This week, Native Americans have welcomed the first volume of a long-anticipated U.S. Interior Department report that follows a nine-month probe into federal Indian boarding schools. "The consequences of federal Indian boarding school policies — including the intergenerational trauma caused by the family separation and cultural eradication inflicted upon generations of children as young as 4 years old — are heartbreaking and undeniable," Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland said in a statement Wednesday. She expressed hope that this would be the start of a healing process for “Indian Country, the Native Hawaiian Community and across the United States, from the Alaskan tundra to the Florida everglades, and everywhere in between.” Native reaction “This is really personal for me,” said Wallette’s granddaughter, Christine Diindiisi McCleave, who admitted she cried while reading the report. “As a descendant of boarding school survivors and as the former CEO of the Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition (NABS), I worked for six years to try and advocate for truth and justice and healing. I feel like this report is very validating for survivors and descendants to have the Department of the Interior and the federal government acknowledge that,” she told VOA. NABS, a nationally recognized nonprofit organization, collaborated with the DOI for months to develop the report. In a statement released Wednesday, NABS CEO Deborah Parker, a member of the Tulalip Tribes in Washington state, called the report’s release a “historic moment” that reaffirms the stories Native Americans have grown up with and the “immense torture” elders and ancestors experienced in these schools. Preliminary findings, detailed by Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Bryan Newland in the 106-page report, show that between 1819 and 1969, the federal government “operated or supported” 408 boarding schools in 37 states or former territories, including 21 in Alaska and seven in Hawaii. Previously, NABS had counted only 367 schools. So far, investigators have discovered marked and unmarked graves at 53 schools and counted 500 student deaths, but the DOI anticipates the number of dead could ultimately rise to the “thousands or tens of thousands.” The report does not say how the children died or who was responsible; VOA has previously reported that many died from infectious diseases that thrived in crowded school dormitories. The report confirms that schools used “systematic militarized and identity-alteration methodologies” in their effort to Americanize Native children, giving them English names, banning their languages and cultural practices, and organizing children into units to drill like soldiers. Former Osage Nation Principal Chief Jim Gray, whose great-grandfather Henry Roan also attended the Carlisle school says the report is a good first step, but more work is needed. “The policy of the day was to ‘kill the Indian and save the man,’” he told VOA via Facebook. “The discovery of unmarked graves around these schools is testament to the fact that this policy was cruel and a complete failure. This country needs to acknowledge this disaster and stop pretending it didn’t happen and stop trying to whitewash its long-term impacts of generational trauma.” Sunny Red Bear is a Lakota from the Cheyenne River Reservation South Dakota and director of racial equity at the NDN Collective, an Indigenous-owned advocacy group based in Rapid City, South Dakota. She said that while she welcomed the report, it represented only the first step in the long road toward healing. “The children aren't home,” she said. “I think that they need to be brought home, and we really need to get some answers, because this is a huge part of our history as Indigenous people — the erasure of our culture, our languages, our stories. We really need to get to the bottom of it.” Looking forward Secretary Haaland this week announced the launch of “The Road to Healing,” a yearlong tour across the U.S. to give American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian survivors of the federal Indian boarding school system a chance to share their stories, to help connect communities with trauma-informed support and to begin work on collecting a permanent oral history. On Thursday, the Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States held a legislative hearing on a proposed bill that would establish a truth and healing commission to study the impacts and ongoing effects of the federal Indian school policy, to be patterned after a similar commission in Canada. If passed, H.R. 5444, sponsored by Kansas Democrat Rep. Sharice Davids, an enrolled member of the Ho-Chunk Nation in Wisconsin, would establish a truth and reconciliation commission to investigate the historic and present-day impacts of forced attendance at the boarding schools. The commission would also work on ways to protect unmarked graves, support repatriation of children’s remains, and identify the nations from which they were taken. Further, the legislation would work to stop state social services, foster care and adoption agencies from removing Native children from families and communities, a practice still prevalent in states across the country. NABS is requesting people who attended a boarding school or who descend from boarding school students to submit written testimonies to the U.S. House of Natural Resources Committee by May 26th.

Storm Chasers Face Host of Dangers Beyond Severe Weather

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The deaths of four storm chasers in car crashes over the last two weeks have underscored the dangers of pursuing severe weather events as more people clog back roads and highways searching for a glimpse of a lightning bolt or tornado, meteorologists and chasers say. Martha Llanos Rodriguez of Mexico City died Wednesday when a semitrailer plowed into her vehicle from behind on Interstate 90 in southwestern Minnesota. The car's driver, Diego Campos, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that he and Rodriguez and two other weather experts had been chasing violent weather and were hit after he stopped for downed power lines on the road. More people are hopping into their cars and racing off after storms, jamming up roads, running stop signs and paying more attention to the sky than traffic, said Marshall Shepherd, director of the atmospheric sciences program at the University of Georgia. "There is such a volume of chasers out there on some storms sometimes that it creates potential traffic and other hazards," Shepherd said. "Seeing storms within their natural context has scientific and broader value so I am not anti-chasing, however, there are elements that have become a little wild, wild West-ish." Popularized in the 1996 movie "Twister," storm chasing involves pursuing severe weather events such as electrical storms and tornadoes, often in cars or on foot. Some are researchers looking to gather data, such as verifying computer models predicting storm behavior. Some are looking to get in touch with nature. Others are photographers. And still others are just looking for a rush, said Greg Tripoli, an atmospheric and oceanic sciences professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who taught a class on storm chasing. "Seeing a tornado is a life-changing experience," Tripoli said. "You want to see one instead of just talking about them. It's really just one of the excitements of life. You've got to take chances and go out there and go after your passions. It's no different from rock-climbing or deep-sea diving." The storms themselves present dangers to inexperienced chasers who get too close. They can get hit by debris, struck by lightning or worse. Tripoli said he decided to stop teaching his storm chaser class and taking students into the field in the early 1990s after university officials stopped insuring the trips. Nature isn't the only threat. Storm chasers spend long hours on the road traveling from state to state like long-haul truckers, inviting fatigue. When they catch up to the storms, they can often keep their eyes on the skies instead of the road, sometimes with deadly consequences. Tripoli said he would warn students in his storm chaser class that the most likely way they would get hurt is in a car crash. Three University of Oklahoma students were killed on April 30 after traveling to Kansas to chase a tornado. According to the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, the students' car hydroplaned on the interstate in Tonkawa, about 85 miles (137 kilometers) north of Oklahoma City. They slid off and back onto the interstate before a semitrailer hit them. The University of Oklahoma has a policy stating that anyone who chases storms does so at their own risk and that storm chasing isn't part of the school's meteorology curriculum. The mother of one of the students, 19-year-old Gavin Short of Grayslake, Illinois, told WMAQ-TV that her son loved to chase storms. "He loved it, and we were so happy for him," Beth Short said. "And it just, this is just the worst nightmare for us and two other sets of parents." Chaser traffic jams are becoming more common, said Kelton Halbert, a University of Wisconsin atmospheric and oceanic sciences doctoral student. He said he's been chasing storms since he was 16 because he wants to feel closer to nature's beauty and verify his forecast modeling, mostly by taking video of storms' behavior. "Unless you're with one of these research institutions, storm chasers don't have the ability to collect a lot of hard data," he said. "For most ... it's the beauty, it's the photography and then obviously the thrill seekers and adrenaline seekers. You can have people tailgating you, people in the middle of the road. If you're in Texas, Oklahoma or Kansas on a high-risk day, yeah, you can see hundreds of them. Given the recent couple weeks, I've definitely felt more apprehensive. It brings back to the forefront that every time you do this you're taking a risk." Wednesday's storm in the Upper Midwest left tens of thousands of homes and businesses without power into Thursday. More potentially severe weather was forecast into Thursday evening that could bring hail, high winds and tornadoes from the Dakotas and Minnesota into other parts of the Midwest, the Storm Prediction Center said.

US Big City Hate Crimes Spiked By 39% in 2021, Report Finds

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Preliminary data from more than three dozen U.S. police departments indicate a double-digit spike in hate crimes last year and a continued rise into 2022, with incidents targeting Asian and Jewish Americans accounting for the bulk of the increase. On average, bias-motivated incidents in 37 major U.S. cities increased by nearly 39%, with the 10 largest metropolitan areas reporting a record increase of 54.5%, according to an analysis of national police data compiled by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino. Brian Levin, executive director of the center, said the uptrend in hate crime extended into the first quarter of 2022 with bias incidents rising by an average of 30% in 15 large cities and is likely to continue. “Historically, in midterm election years, hate crimes almost always peak, or come close to peaking much later in the year – often in September and October, with the first quarter usually significantly lower than the rest of the year,” Levin said. “This suggests a turbulent year-end 2022 may be ahead.” The university’s data, shared with VOA, offer an early peek into hate incidents in 2021 and come months before the FBI releases its annual hate crime report. While large cities account for a disproportionate number of hate crime incidents in the United States, they can be a prognosticator of the overall national trend, Levin said. The yearly FBI tally is based on voluntary data submissions by more than 15,000 law enforcement agencies. The bureau said the 2021 data are slated for release in the fall, a typical lag of several months. Last October, the FBI reported that hate crime jumped to 8,263 incidents in 2020, the highest level in more than two decades. The overall increase in hate crimes in 2021 came as anti-Asian incidents jumped 224% to a record 369 incidents in 20 of the largest U.S. cities, while anti-Jewish and anti-gay incidents posted increases of more than 50% to 373 incidents, according to the data. Anti-Asian assaults and other types of incidents have been on an upswing since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, fueled in part, community activists and experts say, by rhetoric blaming China for the deadly virus. The Stop AAPI Hate coalition, created during the pandemic to track bias incidents, received nearly 11,000 anti-Asian hate reports from March 2020 to December 2021. More than 60% of the incidents were reported by women, including women using public transit, according to Cynthia Choi, co-executive director of Chinese for Affirmative Action, one of the founding partners of the anti-hate coalition. Asian women reported being verbally harassed, coughed and spat on, physically assaulted and refused entry onto urban transit trains. “What I see through the report is that horrible things are being said that are racist and sexist that I can’t even repeat to you now,” Choi said in an interview. “And of course, there's always a fear that that type of verbal harassment, that type of racial profiling and targeting will escalate to violence.” The FBI defines hate crimes as criminal offenses motivated by the perpetrator’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender or gender identity. While the majority of the incidents tracked by Stop AAPI Hate did not rise to the level of hate crimes, violence targeting Asian Americans continued to rise. In Atlanta, a 21-year-old man shot and killed eight people, including six women of Asian descent, at massage parlors in March 2021. Although the suspect, Robert Aaron Long, said he was motivated by sex addiction, not racism, prosecutors alleged anti-Asian animus. In San Francisco, home to one of the largest Asian communities in the United States, several Asian Americans were violently attacked last year, including an 84-year-old man who died in January after being shoved to the ground. The violence has rattled the Asian American community. A Pew survey released this week found that more than one-third of Asian Americans worry they might be threatened or attacked and have made changes in their daily routine because of that concern. Anti-Jewish hate crimes The rise in anti-Jewish hate crimes came as fresh violence between Israel and Hamas in May 2021 spurred a wave of antisemitic incidents in the United States. Last month, the Anti-Defamation League reported that it had tallied 2,717 antisemitic incidents of assault, harassment and vandalism in 2021, the highest number since it started tracking such cases in 1979. New York City, the city with the largest Jewish American population in the U.S., was particularly hard hit. Police data show that anti-Jewish hate crimes increased by 71% to 207 incidents in 2021. Of the 88 assaults on Jewish victims reported to the ADL last year, more than half took place in New York, noted Scott Richman, ADL regional director for New York and New Jersey. Visibly identifiable Jews such as members of New York’s Hassidic community were frequent targets. In November, three teenage girls were accused of attacking a 12-year-old Orthodox Jewish boy walking home with his 3-year-old brother. The New York Post, citing authorities, reported that one of the girls slapped the toddler in the face before fleeing the scene. “That was very disturbing,” Richman said. Similar attacks on New York’s Orthodox Jews have continued in recent weeks. Last week, a 32-year-old Hassidic man was punched in the face and the head by a stranger as he walked down a street in the city’s Crown Heights section. “The Nazis should have killed you Jews,” the attacker allegedly said before taking off. Richman said the incidents have terrorized the Hassidic community. “People don’t know if they can walk in the streets, what’s going to happen,” Richman said.

Georgia's Breakaway South Ossetia Sets Vote to Join Russia

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The leader of the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia announced Friday that a referendum on joining Russia would be held in July. Russia has exercised effective control over the region since fighting a brief war with Georgia in 2008. Russia and a handful of other countries recognize South Ossetia as an independent state, but most of the world still considers it to be part of Georgia. “We did it!” South Ossetian leader Anatoly Bibilov wrote on Telegram Friday, announcing that he had signed a decree setting the referendum for July 17. “In legalese, we fulfilled yet another important legal requirement,” he said. “And in normal language, we took a life-changing step -- we are going home, we are going to Russia.” About a month into Russia's war with Ukraine, Bibilov said South Ossetia would take the legal steps necessary to join Russia. The referendum roughly follows the pattern of Crimea. After Russia seized the Black Sea peninsula from Ukraine in 2014, a referendum was held on joining Russia and 97% were said to have voted in favor. The referendum was held while Crimea was under the control of Russian troops and the result was not recognized by most countries. Russia then annexed Crimea.

Russia's Inter RAO to Halt Power Exports to Finland Due Lack of Payment

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Russian state-owned utility Inter RAO will stop exporting electricity to Finland from Saturday because it has not been paid, the company's Finnish subsidiary said Friday. Inter RAO has not received payments for electricity sold via pan-European power exchange Nord Pool since May 6, the subsidiary said, without giving any reason. "This situation is exceptional and happened for the first time in over 20 years of our trading history," RAO Nordic said in a statement. Power imports to Finland will be halted from 1 a.m. local time on Saturday (2200 GMT on Friday) "for the time being," Finnish grid operator Fingrid said in a separate statement, citing RAO Nordic. Fingrid added there was no threat to Finnish supplies and that power from Russia accounted for some 10% of Finland's total consumption. "Missing imports can be replaced in the electricity market by importing more electricity from Sweden and also by domestic production," it said. Fingrid three weeks ago prepared for the prospect of Russia cutting electricity flows to Finland by restricting the transmission capacity by a third. Fingrid said RAO Nordic had told it that it would halt imports because it had problems receiving payments from Nord Pool. "Nord Pool is the one paying for them. Fingrid is not a party in this electricity trade. We provide the transfer connection from Russia to Finland," Reima Paivinen, Fingrid's senior-vice president for operations, told Reuters. The halted payments were also reported through urgent market messages (UMMs) used by market participants to share information. A spokesperson for Nord Pool said the company did not comment on information reported in UMMs. Asked whether payments had been required to be made in rubles, the spokesperson told Reuters: "We have never had settlements in rubles, only in euros, Norwegian crowns, Swedish crowns and Danish crowns, in line with our standard procedures." Speaking generally, the spokesperson said Nord Pool was "a safe counter party for all its customers" and that it always settled the trades.

Chinese Spy Ship Did Not Breach Sea Law, Australia Says

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A Chinese intelligence ship tracked off Australia's west coast within 50 nautical miles of a sensitive defense facility did not breach international maritime laws, Australia said on Saturday. Australia tracked the spy ship over the past week as it sailed past the Harold E Holt naval communications station at Exmouth, in Western Australia, which is used by Australian, U.S. and allied submarines. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Friday the Chinese navy vessel was not in Australian territorial waters but its presence was "concerning," amid an election campaign where China's behavior in the region has been center stage. The question of a national security threat posed by China, including its expanding influence in the Pacific, has been a major theme in the campaign for the May 21 general election. Asked on Saturday about whether the vessel's conduct was a "red line", Morrison said freedom of navigation was permitted around the world and the ship had not broken maritime laws. "International law of the sea has not been breached," he told reporters on the campaign trail in Melbourne. But he said the issue highlighted challenges Australia faced from China "seeking to impose its will across the region." The opposition Labor Party leader Anthony Albanese said on Saturday that he shared the government's concerns about the vessel and had sought a briefing. Defense Minister Peter Dutton said this week that he considered the vessel's movement "an act of aggression" for travelling so far south. China's foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian, asked about Dutton's comments on Friday, said he was not aware of specifics, but that China always abided by international law and urged Australian politicians to "refrain from alarmism." China's embassy in Australia did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Saturday. Relations between Australia and China, major trading partners, have been strained recently over growing Chinese influence in the Solomon Islands, after the small Pacific island nation signed a security pact with China. Chinese navy vessels have been tracked off Australia's northern and eastern coasts several times in recent years. The same Chinese vessel monitored Australian navy exercises with the U.S. military off the east coast last year. In February, China and Australia traded barbs over an incident in which Australia said one of its maritime patrol aircraft detected a laser directed at it from a People's Liberation Army Navy vessel.

Canada Blazes Path in Space Law

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The Canadian government is amending its criminal law to include any crimes committed by citizens who one day go to the moon. While the move seems far-fetched, experts say that because of the growing interest in and feasibility of space tourism, countries should begin thinking about how crimes committed in space will be adjudicated, and they suggest the coming Canadian legislation could become a model for other countries. Legal procedures are already in place to deal with crimes committed aboard the International Space Station, which is divided into different sections controlled by individual countries. If two Americans were involved in a crime in the American part of the station, it would be prosecutable under U.S. law. If an astronaut of one nationality was accused of a crime against a one of a different nationality, the two countries would have to negotiate which would prosecute or possibly extradite the suspect. Now Canada is looking beyond the laws governing low Earth orbit and considering legal scenarios on another celestial object — in this case, the moon. Language buried deep within the 443 pages of this year's budget implementation bill stipulates that any Canadian crew member who commits an offense in space is deemed to have committed it in Canada. Steven Freeland, a professor emeritus of international law at Western Sydney University in Australia, says current laws on the space station will not work for something more complex, such as a lunar settlement. Freeland, who has been involved extensively with space law for several years, told VOA that Canada's action has created interesting questions about rights and obligations because space travel now includes tourists going into orbit and — one day — possibly staying on the moon. He says new laws are needed that will apply to every person, regardless of their earthly nationality. "And it's not just about murder," Freeland says. "It's about, you know, those people might want to get married. (Under) what law did they get married? Those people might want to have children. You know, what nationality, you know, what is the nationality of the child and etc., etc. ... as those quote-unquote 'settlements' become more and more sophisticated?" Professor Ram Jakhu, acting director of the Institute of Air and Space Law at McGill University in Montreal, says that as technological advances make space travel more common, laws must reflect that reality. "The technology is being tested. It is becoming safer. I think five, six years, and here you will see a number of people going to space for all kinds of things — for tourism, for, you know, having lunch or dinner somewhere. There are honeymoons or manufacturing of some products," he said. "And those things are going to happen. And this is no more science fiction. That is for sure." Michelle Hanlon, co-director of the Center for Air and Space Law at the University of Mississippi School of Law, says the original international treaties concerning outer space were designed in the 1950s and were less about human space flight than about assets such as satellites. The Canadian amendment is a reminder to space-bound humans that earthly laws follow them, she says. "And so, to just sort of reinforce the fact that as a Canadian, and soon Americans will probably do the same thing, and then it will probably be a requirement in order to join Lunar Gateway," a U.S.-led international project to establish a space station in lunar orbit that can serve as a launching pad for exploration of the moon and deep space. "You know, just a reminder, you're human, but all of these laws still apply to you. Your laws will follow you into space," Hanlon said. Canadian Minister of Justice David Lametti was unavailable for an interview, but in a written statement, his office called the new amendment a response to a bilateral memorandum of understanding between Canada and the United States over the Civil Lunar Gateway Initiative. It said the amendment is required to ensure that Canada's criminal jurisdiction can also apply to the country's Lunar Gateway crew members. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is working toward an unmanned Orion capsule lifting off to the moon on top of the Artemis 1 rocket this summer. The first crewed mission is scheduled for May 2024.

Finnish President, Prime Minister announce support for joining NATO

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Latest Developments in Ukraine: May 14

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For full coverage of the crisis in Ukraine, visit Flashpoint Ukraine. The latest developments in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. All times EDT: 12:02 a.m.: The New York Times reports that Ukraine's general prosecutor has 41 Russian suspects for war crimes. The prosecutor's office is investigating more than 11,000 suspected war crimes. Some information in this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.


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