Colombia Elections: The Specter of Political Assassination

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Every time Colombian leftist presidential candidate Gustavo Petro, who leads opinion polls, steps out in public the scene is striking: he is surrounded by a wall of nervous-looking bodyguards brandishing bulletproof shields. The specter of assassination is haunting the electoral campaign in which the left has a real chance of taking power for the first time in a country that has a history of political careers ending in a hail of bullets. In the 20th century, five presidential candidates were assassinated by opponents, drug traffickers or paramilitaries working in complicity with the state. Three were from the left or far left, and the other two were liberals. The country was gripped by more than five decades of conflict between the state and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) that ended with a 2016 peace deal. And while the level of violence has dropped since then, Colombia remains wracked by a multifaceted conflict involving drug traffickers and a multitude of armed groups. 'Very high' risk "The specter of death accompanies us," Petro told AFP in February. "It does not stop appearing to me like a flash, when I'm in a crowd, when I'm on a platform and there is a full square, someone could shoot from anywhere." Earlier this month, the 62-year-old senator, a former left-wing guerrilla, had to call off a public appearance after his team received "firsthand information" about an assassination plot by two paramilitaries. Two days later he did appear in the northern city of Cucuta behind the bulletproof shields. His 60-strong bodyguard has since been beefed up while local security forces have provided extra officers for his numerous trips to provincial areas that have contributed to his successful campaign. The assassination risk "is very high," according to Felipe Botero, a political science professor at the Andes University. "They won't just (try to) kill Petro the candidate, but it is also highly likely they will try to assassinate him if he wins the presidency," Botero told AFP. His running mate, Francia Marquez, a black environmentalist, has also received threats. Conservative candidate Federico Gutierrez has spoken of his concern, not just for Petro but also himself, having claimed to have been threatened by the Marxist National Liberation Army (ELN), the last remaining recognized rebel group in the country. "Take care of Federico Gutierrez," said former president Alvaro Uribe, who escaped a FARC assassination attempt using explosives in 2002. Fear of the left In the history of modern Colombia a date that stands out is April 9, 1948, when liberal presidential candidate Jorge Eliecer Gaitan was shot dead on a street in Bogota. His murder inflamed the city and set off a bloody internal conflict that, more than a half century later, has still not been extinguished. Four decades later, communist Jaime Pardo Leal (1987), liberal Luis Carlos Galan (1989), and leftists Bernardo Jaramillo and Carlos Pizarro (1990), all presidential hopefuls, were assassinated. Alexander Gamba, a professor at Saint Thomas University, says there are three reasons for a "possible" attack on Petro. Firstly, Colombia has "violence professionals" like the almost two dozen mercenaries who took part in the assassination of Haiti's president last year. Secondly, Petro's opponents have claimed his victory would be "a huge national catastrophe," which has contributed to an atmosphere in which his assassination would almost be presented as a "patriotic act." Lastly, the country has "never had political change" involving the left wing, which conservatives continue to link to the armed rebellion. "In a country like Colombia, marked by political violence and with the record for the murder of social leaders, we obviously take all threats against Mr. Petro seriously," said Alfonso Prada, one of the candidate's advisers. "If we hope to run the country, we need to be capable of looking after our own security," he added. For its part, the outgoing government of President Ivan Duque, has said Petro "is one of the best-protected people" in the country.

Syria Says Israel Fired Missiles on Central Town, Killing 5

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Israeli missiles targeted central Syria on Friday, killing five people, including a civilian, and ignited fires in farmlands in the area, Syrian state media reported.  The official news agency SANA said the missiles were fired at the town of Masyaf in the Hama countryside, adding that several of them were shot down by Syrian air defenses. An unnamed military official was quoted as saying that five people were killed, including a civilian, and seven were wounded.  The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Syrian war monitor, said Israeli aircraft fired at least eight missiles that struck weapons depots and sites belonging to Iranian militias in the Masyaf area, which led to several fires. Ambulances were seen rushing to the area, it added.  There was no immediate comment from the Israeli military on the attack, which the observatory said was the 12th Israeli attack on Syrian territory since the beginning of the year. The observatory has a network of activists on the ground in Syria.  Israel has staged hundreds of strikes on targets in Syria over the years but rarely acknowledges or discusses such operations. It says it targets bases of Iran-allied militias — such as Lebanon's militant Hezbollah group that has fighters deployed in Syria and fighting on the side of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government forces — and arms shipments believed to be bound for the militias.

Jan. 6 Committee Subpoenas Republican Congressmen

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The congressional committee investigating the January 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol by a mob supporting former President Donald Trump took the extraordinary step Thursday of issuing subpoenas to five sitting members of the House of Representatives, demanding that they provide testimony about their knowledge of the events leading up to the attack, the attack itself and its aftermath. The representatives who received subpoenas, all Republicans, are Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, the most senior Republican in the House; Jim Jordan of Ohio; Scott Perry of Pennsylvania; Andy Biggs of Arizona; and Mo Brooks of Alabama. All five members were asked to testify voluntarily but refused to do so, the committee's chairman, Representative Bennie Thompson, a Democrat from Mississippi, said in a statement. "The Select Committee has learned that several of our colleagues have information relevant to our investigation into the attack on January 6th and the events leading up to it," Thompson said. "Before we hold our hearings next month, we wished to provide members the opportunity to discuss these matters with the committee voluntarily. "Regrettably, the individuals receiving subpoenas today have refused and we're forced to take this step to help ensure the committee uncovers facts concerning January 6th," Thompson said. "We urge our colleagues to comply with the law, do their patriotic duty, and cooperate with our investigation as hundreds of other witnesses have done." Reasons outlined The committee is investigating the assault on the Capitol, during which the mob attempted to block Congress from certifying President Joe Biden's victory in the 2020 presidential election. It is also looking into the efforts to convince various state and federal authorities to falsely assert that the election was tainted by fraud. In its release, the committee laid out why it wants to speak with each of the five members. McCarthy, it said, was in communication with former President Trump and White House staff before, during and after the assault. Evidence has been made public that McCarthy said he had heard Trump accept that he was, to some degree, personally responsible for the attack. Jordan, the committee said, was in contact with the president and the White House throughout, including during discussion about "overturning" the election. Perry, among other things, "was directly involved with efforts to corrupt the Department of Justice" by installing a Trump loyalist as acting attorney general, the committee said. Biggs was involved in planning the events of January 6 and in bringing protesters to Washington, the committee said. He participated in pressuring state officials to overturn election results and reportedly sought a preemptive pardon from President Trump. Brooks, the committee said, participated in encouraging the attack on January 6 and had described conversations in which the former president pressed him to "rescind" the election results. Brooks and his staff also pressured then-Vice President Mike Pence to illegally refuse to accept electoral votes from certain states. Next steps unclear The letters sent to the five congressmen include dates for them to appear before the committee later this month, but whether they will comply remains an open question. So far, the committee has seen several of its subpoenas go ignored. A number of associates of former President Trump, including some former White House staff, have refused to testify voluntarily before the committee, and when subpoenaed, have refused to comply, often citing executive privilege, the ability of the president to keep certain internal White House communications confidential. Some now face potential criminal prosecution, after the committee referred them to the Justice Department. Former White House Chief Strategist and Senior Counselor Steve Bannon was indicted last November and faces trial on a charge of contempt of Congress. Other refusals Others who have refused to testify include former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, former White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Communications Dan Scavino, and former Director of the Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy Peter Navarro. The committee has referred all three to the Department of Justice. It is unclear whether federal prosecutors will indict Meadows, Scavino and Navarro. Their claims of executive privilege might carry more weight because they were employed in the White House before, during and after the attack on the Capitol. In the early stages of the inquiry, Meadows had been cooperating with the investigation and provided text messages he sent and received in the days surrounding January 6. The committee has used these messages to establish who was in contact with the former president during the assault. Meadows has since withdrawn his cooperation. Committee options In theory, the House has the legal authority to arrest individuals who defy congressional subpoenas. The House sergeant-at-arms could take into custody any of the members who refuse to appear before the committee. In practice, however, that authority is virtually never exercised, and doing so would create a precedent that Democratic leaders in the House would almost certainly prefer to avoid. It is also unclear whether the Justice Department would indict sitting members of Congress for refusing to comply with its subpoena, so it is far from certain that the threat of criminal liability will compel the five subpoenaed lawmakers to appear. The committee could opt to take its case to civil court. However, its aim is to hold hearings presenting its findings beginning on June 9. Any civil suit is bound to drag on for months, at minimum. Authority unclear Since the creation of the committee last year, legal experts have been wondering what would happen if it issued subpoenas to sitting members of Congress. "Will these subpoenas withstand legal scrutiny?" University of Baltimore law professor Kimberly Wehle wrote in The Atlantic in August. "There is no established historical or legal precedent regarding congressional power to enforce subpoenas against members of Congress." There would be strong arguments in favor of the committee's position, she said, but vindicating its claims might take time. "Presumably, reluctant GOP members in receipt of subpoenas from the select committee would welcome a court battle, as litigation would delay the committee's work for months and any ruling would likely be appealed to the Supreme Court," Wehle wrote. An appeal to the Supreme Court would take time — something the committee does not have in abundance. The midterm elections are likely to shift control of Congress to the GOP, which would almost certainly disband the committee and put an end to its investigation.

Owner Caught Off Guard by Downpour; 8 Still Trapped in Burkina Mine

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Executives at Canada-based Trevali Mining Corp. said the company was caught unawares by a torrential downpour during the dry season last month in Burkina Faso that left eight men trapped underground in its Perkoa zinc mine. Rescue efforts have continued since the flood on April 16, but there has been no communication with the missing miners, and it is not known whether any survived. "Given the dry season obviously we do not expect rain and we had an absolute torrential downpour," said Hein Frey, vice president of operations at Trevali, adding that the water crossed a bridge and broke safety barriers. "It's not only us that have been affected, it's also the communities around us that are affected by completely unexpected rain," he said in an interview with Reuters at the site. The company called for help immediately and by the next day other mining companies in Burkina Faso had sent rescue teams and pumps, said Frey. Water is still being pumped out of the mine. While most workers were able to safely evacuate, the eight missing were below Level 520, which is 520 meters (1,706 feet) from the surface, at the time of the flooding, the company said. There are two safety chambers stocked with food and water below that level, but it is not known if any of the men were able to reach them. "There's always hope, but we also have to be realistic," Trevali CEO Ricus Grimbeek said in a separate interview with Reuters. "Those chambers are not designed to be submerged in water. The chambers are designed for falling ground accidents and when there's toxic environments like smoke," he said. The company and Burkina Faso's government have launched investigations into what caused the accident. "We need to understand ... what do we need to do in future so that what happened here never happens again," Grimbeek said.

DOD Must Take Action to Keep Tech Edge > U.S. Department of Defense > Defense Department News

by DoD News, 3 days ago

As America's strategic competitors advance their technological advantage, the U.S. must take action to avoid losing its edge, the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering said.

NATO Expansion in Focus as Blinken Travels to Europe for Talks on Russia-Ukraine War

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The possible expansion of NATO will be a focus of talks Saturday, as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken heads to Berlin for an informal NATO foreign ministerial meeting. Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin have expressed their approval for joining the alliance, a move that would complete a major policy shift for the Scandinavian countries in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Friday his country does not support Finland and Sweden joining NATO, citing their support of what Turkey considers terrorist organizations, such as Kurdish militant groups. "We are following developments concerning Sweden and Finland, but we are not of a favorable opinion," Erdogan told reporters in Istanbul. Any NATO enlargement requires the unanimous consent of the existing members. US stance U.S. officials said they were working to "clarify Turkey's position," while reiterating that the "United States would support a NATO application by Finland and/or Sweden should they choose to apply." "We strongly support NATO's Open Door policy," U.S. Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Karen Donfried told reporters Friday. "I think that it's important to remember that a fundamental principle the U.S. is defending in terms of its support for Ukraine is the right of every sovereign country to decide its own future foreign and security policy arrangement." Both Sweden’s and Finland's foreign ministers will participate in the North Atlantic Council informal dinner Saturday in Berlin. From Germany, Blinken heads to France on Sunday, where he will attend the second ministerial meeting of the U.S.-EU Trade and Technology Council, known as the TTC. U.S. President Joe Biden talked with Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Finland's Niinisto on Friday. "President Biden underscored his support for NATO's Open Door policy and for the right of Finland and Sweden to decide their own future, foreign policy, and security arrangement," the White House said in a readout of the call, adding the leaders "reiterated their shared commitment to continued coordination in support of Ukraine and the Ukrainian people affected by the war." Impact of NATO expansion The German Marshall Fund's Michael Kimmage told VOA that Finland’s joining NATO would shake up the security order in Europe, both for NATO and for Russia. "It's a very, very long border, and of course it brings NATO very close to — or will bring NATO if it all goes through — very close to St. Petersburg. And at the same time, it will give NATO a lot more territory right on the Russian border to defend. So those are big steps. Those are big changes," Kimmage said. Russia has warned against NATO expansion and said Finland’s and Sweden’s joining would bring "serious military and political consequences." "The expansion of NATO and the approach of the alliance to our borders does not make the world and our continent more stable and secure," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Thursday. U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke by phone with his Russian counterpart Sergey Shoygu for the first time since February 18. Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a statement that Austin "urged an immediate cease-fire in Ukraine and emphasized the importance of maintaining lines of communication." US aid to Ukraine Austin also spoke Friday with Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov about Ukraine's "evolving battlefield needs." "Secretary Austin highlighted the President's May 6 announcement of $150 million in Presidential Drawdown Authority to provide Ukraine's Armed Forces with artillery, counter-artillery radars, and electronic jamming equipment," Kirby said in a statement. "Minister Reznikov shared his assessment of the situation on the ground in eastern Ukraine." On Thursday, U.S. Senator Rand Paul blocked a vote on a $40 billion aid package for Ukraine, slowing U.S. efforts to quickly deliver more help to Ukraine as it battles a Russian invasion. "We cannot save Ukraine by dooming the U.S. economy," Paul said. A unanimous Senate vote would have expedited the delivery of aid to Ukraine. Paul's move, however, has delayed the vote for another week, when the Senate is expected to pass the bill. War crimes trial In Ukraine, a 21-year-old Russian soldier was brought before a Kyiv court Friday, in the first war crimes proceeding since the war began. Ukrainian prosecutors say Vadim Shishimarin fired several shots from a car in the Sumy region of northeastern Ukraine on February 28, just days after the conflict began, killing an unarmed 62-year-old man who was pushing a bike on the side of the road. Ukraine's government says it is investigating more than 10,000 war crimes involving Russian forces, with cases of torture and mutilation having often been revealed after Russian forces left a Ukrainian city, as in the case of Bucha. Russia has denied committing war crimes in Ukraine, and the Kremlin on Friday said it had no knowledge of the trial. Putin-Scholz call In Moscow, Russian President Vladmir Putin on Friday spoke by phone with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz about the stalled Ukrainian-Russian peace talks. In a tweet, the German leader said he had called during the 75-minute conversation for an immediate cease-fire, countered the Russian claim "that Nazis are in power" as false and also reminded Putin "about Russia's responsibility for the global food situation."   G-7 meeting The call came as G-7 ministers meeting in Germany pledged unity and more weapons and aid to Ukraine. The European Union's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell announced an additional $520 million worth of military support to Ukraine for heavy weaponry, while expressing hope that member states would agree to a Russian oil embargo. British Foreign Minister Liz Truss also announced new sanctions against members of Putin's inner circle, including his former wife and cousins. VOA Senior Diplomatic Correspondent Cindy Saine contributed to this report. Some information for this story came from The Associated Press and Reuters.

Former US National Security Adviser McFarlane Dies at 84

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Former White House national security adviser Robert C. McFarlane, a top aide to President Ronald Reagan who pleaded guilty to charges for his role in an illegal arms-for-hostages deal known as the Iran-Contra affair, has died. He was 84.  McFarlane, who lived in Washington, died Thursday from complications of a previous illness at a hospital in Michigan, where he was visiting family, according to a family statement.  "As his family we wish to share our deep sadness at the loss of our beloved husband, father and grandfather, and note his profound impact on our lives," the family said in the statement. "Though recognized as a strategic political thinker, we remember him for his warmth, his wisdom, his deep belief in God, and his commitment to serving others."  McFarlane, a former Marine lieutenant colonel and Vietnam combat veteran, resigned his White House post in December 1985. He was later pressed into service by the administration as part of a secret — and illegal — plan to sell arms to Iran in exchange for the freedom of Western hostages in the Middle East and to pass along the proceeds to the Contra rebels in Nicaragua for their fight against the Marxist Sandinista government.  Led secret delegation He played a major role in the affair, leading the secret delegation to Tehran, then as now a U.S. adversary, to open contact with so-called moderate Iranians who were thought to hold influence with kidnappers of American hostages. He brought with him a cake and a Bible signed by Reagan.  The scheme began to unfold after a cargo plane carrying a CIA-arranged shipment of arms was shot down in October 1986 by the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, setting off what eventually became one of the biggest modern political scandals.  McFarlane was rushed to a Washington-area hospital in February 1987 after taking an overdose of Valium the day before he was scheduled to testify before a presidential commission investigating the affair.  He pleaded guilty in March 1988 to four misdemeanor counts of withholding information from Congress. His lawyer said he was being unfairly singled out because he, unlike other key figures in the affair, testified willingly before investigative panels. He also admitted his role.  "I did indeed withhold information from the Congress," he told reporters at the time. "I believe strongly that, throughout, my actions were motivated by what I believed to be in the foreign policy interest of the United States."  President George H.W. Bush pardoned him and five other figures from the scandal.  McFarlane, a career Marine known as "Bud" to his friends, had risen to lieutenant colonel and to positions in the Nixon and Ford administrations. He served as national security special assistant to Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford during their presidencies.  During the Carter administration, he was on the Republican staff of the Senate Armed Services Committee. He returned to the executive branch with Reagan's election, serving as a State Department counselor until moving to the White House as national security adviser William Clark's deputy in January 1982. He was appointed to the top national security post in 1983.  McFarlane, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, was the son of a former Democratic congressman from Texas, William Doddridge McFarlane, who served from 1932 to 1938. He is survived by his wife of 63 years, two daughters and a son. 

'Explosive' Fever Produces 1st COVID-19 Death: North Korea State Media 

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North Korea reported its first COVID-19-linked deaths Friday, one day after it acknowledged a coronavirus outbreak within its borders. It also said hundreds of thousands of people had come down with a fever of unknown origin since late April. Pyongyang's official Korea Central News Agency (KCNA) said one of six people who died after showing symptoms had the BA.2 omicron subvariant. Up to 187,800 patients were being “isolated and treated” including 18,000 cases recorded across the country in just the previous day. It is unprecedented reporting from a state that until recently had insisted it was maintaining a status of “zero" COVID-19 cases, broadcasting about disinfection efforts on state TV for months alongside news briefs on how the “malicious virus” was crippling other parts of the globe. Visiting the state-run emergency epidemic-prevention headquarters Thursday, North Korea leader Kim Jong Un criticized its system as having a "vulnerable point," noting the capital city was emerging as the center of transmission. The month of April held two significant anniversaries — the 110th anniversary of North Korea’s founder Kim Il Sung’s birth on April 15, followed 10 days later by the 90th Military Foundation Day. The events drew massive, unmasked crowds to tight spaces in Pyongyang, now the center of the wave of infections. KCNA’s latest COVID-19 situation report indicated that fewer than half of an estimated 350,000 people sickened by the fever's “explosive” spread have recovered. Experts fear the actual number of people impacted is even higher. Damage control As the news carried by KCNA sank in, a spokesperson for South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol said the administration stands ready to assist North Korea with vaccines and other medical supplies. “It’s worse than it appears,” a second presidential official told reporters, without providing details. “It is not a simple problem.” Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the Seoul-based University of North Korean Studies, told VOA that Pyongyang’s voluntary disclosure of a severe COVID-19 situation appears to have two objectives. “North Korea publicized its COVID-19 situation likely because, one, it requires the engagement of its people in order to overcome the virus,” he said. “And two, it was indirectly sending a message to the international community, that if it came to it, it would need help.” Answering reporters' questions on whether working-level talks would be initiated, President Yoon on Friday said, “Of course. We’ll start with channels at our Unification Ministry.” Yoon's pledge came after Kwon Young-se, his nominee for unification minister in Yoon’s new cabinet, said during a confirmation hearing that he would push for humanitarian assistance for the North, including COVID treatment, syringes and other medical supplies. North Korea remained unresponsive to overtures from the previous Moon Jae-in government after the highly trumpeted U.S.-North Korea Singapore Summit of 2018 fell apart. Now some in Seoul are cautiously optimistic that South Korea's successful strategies for battling omicron could, given the circumstances, be shared as part of broader efforts to facilitate a peninsular thaw. “The Yoon Suk-yeol government has said it would practice a ‘principles-based’ North Korea policy with the South Korea-U.S. alliance as its foundation," said professor Yang. While many of Seoul's top officials maintain a worldview of "denuclearization first, inter-Korean exchange second," Yang added, they've also expressed a willingness to separate humanitarian assistance from political and military issues. “Thus, I view a potential cooperation effort on COVID-19 as a starting point for bringing inter-Korean dialogue back to life,” he said. North Korea has yet to take practical steps toward seeking outside help. The World Health Organization’s DPRK representative Edwin Salvador told VOA Korean this week the office has yet to receive an official report from Pyongyang’s health ministry on the state’s COVID-19 cases or related deaths. Although there are currently no vaccines earmarked for North Korea, he said the WHO was committed to working with state authorities. North Korea so far appears to be sticking to its long-established cultural ideology of self-reliance. Addressing officials at the epidemic-prevention headquarters in Pyongyang, KCNA reported, Kim Jong Un expressed his conviction that North Korea would “perfectly block and terminate” sources of the virus and lead a “breakthrough victory in the great epidemic-prevention campaign.” Weapons program U.S. President Joe Biden is expected to visit South Korea and Japan from May 20-24 and hold talks with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts. North Korea will be "front and center in the agenda" for talks with Yoon, said White House spokesperson Jen Psaki on Monday. Authorities in Seoul and Washington have warned that Pyongyang is planning another nuclear test in the future, a move that would irritate even its closest allies, China and Russia. “North Korea looks to have completed preparations for a nuclear test,” Yoon's spokesperson told reporters Friday. “But before they conduct a nuclear test, there is a possibility it would test a series of missiles first.” Noticeably absent from KCNA's Friday coverage were reports of three projectiles Pyongyang launched into waters east of the Korean Peninsula on Thursday, which the South Korean military said were short-range ballistic missiles. It marks the third straight missile test that North Korea's state media has failed to report. “They probably have not mentioned it because the missiles were not the finalized advanced missiles North Korea is aiming for, but tests toward completing the advanced missile,” said Yang of the University of North Korean Studies. “The leadership likely made an internal decision that it would be unnecessary to make the tests an issue.”  

Enforcing unprecedented subpoenas for GOP lawmakers turns on complex legal precedent going back centuries

3 days ago

Pentagon Announces Deployments to Replace Forces in Europe > U.S. Department of Defense > Defense Department News

by Jim Garamone, 3 days ago

Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby announced the deployment of U.S. troops to Europe to replace forces ordered there earlier this year. 

Turkey’s Erdogan Says He Opposes NATO Membership for Sweden, Finland

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Veto-wielding NATO member Turkey is voicing opposition to Sweden and Finland joining the alliance, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan telling reporters Friday he does not positively view the countries’ membership bid. Analysts warn the Turkish leader’s stance will likely rekindle questions over Ankara’s allegiances given its close ties with Moscow. “At the moment, we are following the developments regarding Sweden and Finland, but we don't hold positive views,” Erdogan said. “Because in the past, previous Turkish governments made a mistake about Greece's membership, and you know Greece's current attitude against Turkey.” Turkey and neighboring Greece are bitter rivals with numerous disputes, including ongoing tensions over disputed territorial waters in the Aegean Sea. But Erdogan’s stance has more to do with his close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, said Huseyin Bagci, head of the Ankara-based Foreign Policy Institute. “Turkey has very good relations with Russia, and Russia supplies defense systems,” he said. “Russia is, for now and for the future, one of the biggest energy suppliers to Turkey. The good relations between Erdogan and Putin are also the reason why Tayyip Erdogan plays this card. The second, Tayyip Erdogan tries to increase the leverage of Turkish bargaining process through this.” Turkey remains at loggerheads with NATO over its purchase of the Russian S-400 missile system which saw the United States hit Ankara with military sanctions claiming the purchase compromised NATO defense systems. International relations expert Soli Ozel of Istanbul’s Kadir Has University warned Ankara risks a backlash from its NATO partners over its opposition to Sweden’s and Finland’s membership. “I am sure this is how it will be interpreted, and there will be those who say let's expel Turkey from NATO, although to the best of my knowledge there is no expulsion mechanism in NATO,” Ozel said. But relations between Turkey and its allied partners, in particular Washington, had improved with Ankara’s condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Turkey has recently used goodwill over its stance on Ukraine to improve ties with its Western allies. Some analysts suggest Erdogan could be looking for concessions from Sweden and Finland. Erdogan criticized the two countries Friday for being sympathetic to Kurdish groups accused by Ankara of carrying out terrorist attacks in Turkey. Helsinki and Stockholm are strongly critical of Turkey’s human rights record and both countries have given political asylum to many opponents of the Turkish government. Analyst Ozel said Erdogan could be looking for a deal but questions his approach. “Turkey would like to use its power to veto as leverage in order to get those two countries to do as it would please it,” Ozel said. “How wise it is, is pretty debatable in my judgment; I don’t particular[ly] find it very advisable. Because if Turkey is on a charm offensive and it's trying to rebuild bridges that it burnt with almost everyone, you can actually make your case, but you don’t have to do it so publicly.” Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said patience was needed to overcome Erdogan’s opposition. NATO foreign ministers, including from Turkey, are to meet in Berlin this weekend.

More Than Two Dozen Killed in Fire in Western Delhi Suburb 

3 days ago

At least 26 people died Friday in a fire that broke out in a four-story building near a railway station in a western suburb of city-state Delhi, police said. Television footage showed smoke billowing out of windows as firefighters helped those trapped on the upper floors to escape and hundreds watched. Police broke windows of the building to help rescue those inside "and got the injured admitted in the hospital," the police statement said, adding that 12 were admitted to a local hospital. The fire broke out on the first floor of the building, which houses the office of a surveillance camera manufacturing company, police said. The building, which rents out office space, is near a railway station in the western Delhi suburb of Mundka and is about 23 kilometers (14 miles) from the national capital, New Delhi. More than 50 people have been rescued, and police said that firefighters were working to control the fire and that ambulances were also on site. "More than 30 fire tenders of fire brigade were pressed into service to control the fire," police said.

Federal Judge Hears Arguments on Pandemic-era Asylum Limits

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A federal judge heard arguments Friday on whether the Biden administration can lift pandemic-related restrictions soon on migrants requesting asylum.  U.S. District Judge Robert Summerhays did not say when he will rule but indicated it will be soon. The administration plans to lift the restrictions on May 23.  Summerhays' earlier rulings in the case have been favorable to the states challenging the plan.  Drew Ensign, an attorney for Arizona, said the administration did not follow proper administrative procedures requiring public notice and gathering of public comments on the decision to end the restrictions imposed under what is known as Title 42 authority. And, he said, proper consideration wasn't given to likely resulting increases in border crossings and their possible effects, including pressure on state health care systems and the diversion of border law enforcement resources from drug interdiction to controlling illegal crossings.  Jean Lin, with the Justice Department, argued that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was within its authority to lift an emergency health restriction it felt was no longer needed. She said the CDC order was a matter of health policy, not immigration policy.  "There is no basis to use Title 42 as a safety valve," Lin told Summerhays.  Migrants have been expelled more than 1.8 million times since March 2020 under federal Title 42 authority, which has denied them a chance to request asylum under U.S. law and international treaty on grounds of preventing the spread of COVID-19.  On April 1, the CDC announced President Joe Biden's plan to end the restriction by May 23, drawing criticism from Republicans and some Democrats who fear that the administration is unprepared for a widely anticipated influx of migrants.  Arizona, Louisiana and Missouri quickly sued and were later joined by 18 other states in the legal challenge being heard Friday. Texas sued independently.  After the administration acknowledged last month that it had begun phasing out the pandemic restriction by processing more migrants under immigration law instead of Title 42, Summerhays ordered the phaseout stopped.  An appointee of then-President Donald Trump, Summerhays wrote last month that winding down restrictions before May 23 would inflict "unrecoverable costs on health care, law enforcement, detention, education, and other services" on the states seeking to keep the policy in effect.  He also said the administration likely failed to follow federal rule-making procedures in planning the May 23 end of the policy. Friday's arguments pertained to whether to keep restrictions in place beyond that date while litigation proceeds. It's unclear how quickly Summerhays will rule.  Several migrant advocacy groups have asked Summerhays to at least allow Title 42 to be lifted as planned in California and New Mexico, two border states that have not challenged the administration's decision.  Separately, Congress has presented another potential obstacle to ending Title 42. Several moderate Democrats have joined Republicans to voice concern that authorities are unprepared for an influx of migrants.  Large numbers of illegal crossings have emboldened some Republicans to try to make the border and immigration an election-year issue. U.S. authorities stopped migrants more than 221,000 times at the Mexican border in March, a 22-year high. Many of those were repeat crossers because Title 42 carries no legal or criminal consequences.  Title 42 authority has been applied unevenly across nationalities. Mexico has agreed to take back migrants from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Mexico — and limited numbers from Cuba and Nicaragua. High costs, strained diplomatic relations and other considerations have made it more difficult to remove migrants from other countries, who must be flown home.  Title 42 is one of two major surviving Trump-era policies to deter asylum at the border.  Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on whether to allow the administration to force asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico for hearings in U.S. immigration court. That case originated before another Trump-appointed judge, in Amarillo, Texas.   

May 13, 2022

3 days ago

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

This is the first image of the black hole at our galaxy's center

by Camden Flath-Futurity, 3 days ago

Researchers have shared the very first image of the black hole at the center of our galaxy, the Milky Way. Meet Sagittarius A*.

Custom program increases healthy eating for families with Mexican roots

by Rachel Cramer-Iowa State, 3 days ago

Families with Mexican roots who took part in Abriendo Caminos, a culturally-tailored healthy living program, ate less junk food and more vegetables.

April 2022 Tied for Earth's 5th Warmest Ever, NOAA Reports

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Scientists with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported Friday that April 2022 tied April 2010 as the fifth warmest April on record.  In a release, NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information said the average global temps in April were 0.85 of a degree Celsius above the 20th century average of 13.7 C.  NOAA said the global temperature for the year through April 2022 was 0.87 of a degree C above average, making it the fifth warmest such year through April on record.  They report Asia recorded its warmest April ever this year, with temperatures running 2.62 degrees above average. The agency says unusually high temperatures in India and Pakistan during the month contributed to the region's record heat.  The agency's Global Annual Temperature Rankings Outlook reports there is a virtual certainty — greater than 99% — that 2022 will rank among the 10 warmest years on record.  NOAA reports that the 10 warmest Aprils globally have all occurred since 2010, with 2014-2022 all ranking among the 10 warmest Aprils on record.   

Malawi Moves to Administer Cholera Vaccines as Cases Rise

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Plans are underway in Malawi to start administering the cholera vaccine in some southern districts, as the number of cholera cases has been rising since an outbreak began in January. According to a daily update released Thursday by the Ministry of Health, Malawi has registered more than 200 cases, with seven deaths and 26 hospital admissions.  The update says the outbreak that started in Nsanje district in January has spread to four other areas in southern Malawi: Neno, Chikwawa, Machinga and Blantyre.  Records show that as of Thursday, Nsanje had 97 registered cases, Blantyre had 53, Neno had 38, Chikwawa had 12 and Machinga had two.  Wongani Mbale, deputy spokesperson for the district health office in Blantyre, blames the outbreak on poor sanitation.  "According to what we have gathered, it seems that a lot of people are using unprotected wells, which are a source of infections," Mbale said. "The water is contaminated. So as a district, we think that the cause is the use of contaminated water."  Cholera is an acute diarrheal infection caused by ingesting food or water contaminated with bacteria. The disease affects both children and adults and, if untreated, can kill within hours.  To contain the outbreak, Malawi's government has announced plans to start administering the cholera vaccine this month in all affected districts.  Health Ministry spokesperson Adrian Chikumbe told a local newspaper that the government has 2.9 million doses of vaccine to be administered orally starting May 23.  Mbale of the Blantyre health office said his office has started taking measures to combat the vaccine hesitancy that hindered the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine.  "Starting from next Monday, we are having some briefings to health workers to train HSAs (Health Surveillance Assistants) on how they can implement this activity," he said. "After that, we will have orientation and sensitization meetings with the community so that they can receive the vaccine without any doubt, as you know that the majority are fearing the vaccine, saying that maybe it's for COVID."  George Jobe, executive director for Malawi Health Equity Network, a health rights organization, said cholera aside, there is a need for the government to address sanitation problems in many rural areas in Malawi.    "In Neno, for example, water has been a challenge. There was a time when [people in] Neno suffered typhoid because of water. And we also understand that the places that have been affected are relying on the Lisungwi River. In this case, there is a need for clean water to be made available even in hard-to-reach rural areas," Jobe said.  The government said it is distributing chlorine in affected areas for water treatment, as well as sending out cholera control information to people through various channels of communication.   

U.S., Thai Defense Leaders Look to Future in Indo-Pacific > U.S. Department of Defense > Defense Department News

by Jim Garamone, 3 days ago

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III welcomed Thailand's Prime Minister and Defense Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to the Pentagon to build on the more than 200-year-old history between the two countries. 

Motion on transgender women in sports defeated in Queensland Parliament

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EU Says Talks With Iran 'Positive Enough' to Reopen Nuclear Negotiations

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The EU's foreign policy chief said on Friday that he believed there had been enough progress during consultations between his envoy and Iranian officials in Tehran this week to relaunch nuclear negotiations after two months of deadlock.  Talks to revive Iran's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers have been on hold since March, chiefly over Tehran's insistence that Washington remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from the U.S. list of designated terrorist organizations.  Speaking as talks coordinator Enrique Mora arrived back in Europe, Josep Borrell said Iran's response had been "positive enough" after Mora had delivered a message that things could not continue as they were.  "These things cannot be resolved overnight," Borrell told reporters at a G7 foreign ministers' meeting in northern Germany. "Let's say the negotiations were blocked and they have been de-blocked," with the prospect of "reaching a final agreement."  The broad outline of the deal that aims to revive the accord which restrains Iran's nuclear program in return for relief from economic sanctions was essentially agreed in March.  However, it has since been thrown into disarray after last-minute Russian demands and the dispute over the U.S. Foreign Terrorist Organization list.  Western officials are largely losing hope that it can be resurrected, sources familiar with the matter have said, forcing them to weigh how to limit Iran's atomic program even as Russia's invasion of Ukraine has divided the big powers.  "It has gone better than expected — the negotiations were stalled, and now they have been reopened," Borrell said.  A senior EU official sounded a more cautious tone.  "We still have difficult obstacles on the way for an agreement," he told reporters, adding that at least Iran and the U.S. remained engaged.  Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said Mora’s trip had been "an opportunity to focus on initiatives to resolve the remaining issues."  "A good and reliable agreement is within reach if the United States makes a political decision and adheres to its commitments," he said.  A French diplomatic source said on Thursday he saw little chance of the United States agreeing to remove Iran's elite security force from its list of foreign terrorist organizations any time soon.  Mora has been in Tehran this week in what has been described as the last chance to salvage the 2015 accord, which then U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from in 2018. Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia are also parties to the accord.  Detained at airport In a bizarre incident, Mora and his team were held at Frankfurt airport for several hours on return from the Iranian capital on Friday.  "We were kept separated. Refusal to give any explanation for what seems a violation of the Vienna Convention," he said on Twitter.  A German Interior Ministry spokesperson said German police would make a statement on the incident, telling reporters: "There can be many reasons that have to do with the flight, the travel route, and not necessarily with the person."  Iran's official IRNA news agency alleged, without evidence, that Israel was behind the incident.  "What has happened in Frankfurt has to do with opposition to the progress in the nuclear talks. ... The Zionist lobby has influence in the German security apparatus," it said. 

How non-deadly parasites create greener ecosystems

by Talia Ogliore-WUSTL, 3 days ago

A world with more sublethal parasitic infections is a greener world. New research clarifies how that relationship works.

Detention of WNBA's Griner in Moscow Extended for 1 Month

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The lawyer for WNBA star Brittney Griner said Friday her pre-trial detention in Russia has been extended by one month. Griner’s lawyer Alexander Boikov told The Associated Press he believed the relatively short extension of the detention indicated the case would come to trial soon. Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, was detained at the Moscow airport after vape cartridges containing oil derived from cannabis were allegedly found in her luggage, which could carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. The Biden administration says Griner, 31, is being wrongfully detained. The WNBA and U.S. officials have worked toward her release, without visible progress.

Will Sri Lanka's New Prime Minister Be Able to Steer a Troubled Country?

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A new prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, has taken charge in Sri Lanka but there are doubts about whether he can restore political stability to a country wracked by civil unrest and on the verge of bankruptcy, according to analysts. Others say he has the experience to handle the severe economic crisis confronting the island nation. Wickremesinghe was appointed to the post after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa's elder brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa, stepped down as prime minister earlier this week following deadly violence triggered by attacks on anti-government protesters by his supporters. This is the sixth stint for Wickremesinghe as prime minister, although he has never completed a full term in office. The 73-year-old veteran politician last held the post for about four years until 2019. “We want to return the nation to a position where our people will again have three meals a day,” Wickremesinghe said after being sworn in. "I have taken on a challenge of uplifting the economy and I must fulfil it." The challenges he faces are immense. Sri Lanka is running out of money to import food and fuel. Shortages and surging inflation have led to huge hardships for ordinary people. In the streets of Colombo, his appointment has not appeased protesters, who have vowed to press on with their campaign for the ouster of President Rajapaksa. “People have been calling for a system change, loudly and clearly. Wickremesinghe’s appointment does not address that demand so there is anger among people,” says Bhavani Fonseka, senior researcher at the Center for Policy Alternatives in Colombo. “He is seen as close to the Rajapaksas’ and has no credibility. So, the political stalemate in the country continues.” The prime minister's first challenge will be to prove his majority in parliament but rallying legislators behind him will be a tough task. He is the lone representative in parliament of his United National Party – in his own words “a party of one.” He does not command much support within the opposition and, while he will need the support of rival parties, so far, his efforts to reach out to the opposition have not made much headway. The opposition has been insisting that the president must step down and the sweeping powers of the executive presidency be curbed before they join a unity government. “People are not asking for political games and deals, they want a new system that will safeguard their future,” prominent opposition leader Harsh de Silva said in a statement. However, some analysts note that while Wickremesinghe does not have much political capital, he might be well placed to handle the economic crisis the country faces. He is a seasoned politician, who has built strong links during his political career with the international community, including India and Japan, and is well placed to negotiate with the International Monetary Fund, from whom Sri Lanka is seeking a bailout. Sri Lanka’s central bank head warned this week the economy was just days away from “collapse without redemption” unless a new government was urgently appointed. “Wickremesinghe will be a good crisis manager and has very good understanding of the nature of the economic problems and what needs to be done,” said Murtaza Jafferjee, chair of Advocata Institute, a research organization in Colombo. “He has connections with India and Japan that could help secure financing that the country needs.” In recent weeks, the country has been relying on credit lines from allies like India to buy basic necessities. On Friday, Wickremesinghe met with the Indian and Japanese envoys. In an interview with the BBC, the new prime minister described the Sri Lankan economy as "broken," but he said his message was to "be patient, I will bring things back." However, Wickremesinghe’s lack of political legitimacy poses a problem. “In the eyes of the people, he will be seen as a person who made a deal with the Rajapaksas,” said Jafferjee. The powerful Rajapaksa political family is the target of massive public anger in a country where they are being blamed for economic mismanagement and corruption. Former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa was evacuated from his residence and taken to a naval base in the north after anti-government protesters stormed his home earlier this week. Violence that gripped the country killed nine people and led to soldiers being deployed on the streets of the capital. His brother, the president, however, has defied calls to resign. In an address to the nation on Wednesday, he promised to hand over much of the powers of the powerful presidency, appoint a new prime minister and a “young cabinet without any Rajapaksas.” But analysts say that has neither appeased the public nor convinced the opposition to join a unity government. “There are a lot of questions on how Wickremesinghe got appointed when opposition parties had indicated that they were ready to form a government on certain conditions such as President Rajapaksa stepping down,” says Fonseka. "After all, he commands only one seat in parliament."

A Look at Chronic Kidney Disease

3 days ago

A look at your kidneys and how they impact your health! An expert discusses chronic kidney disease and how to protect yourself. Plus, are you getting enough sleep? We have some tips. And, music therapy reaches some elderly in Nigeria through virtual reality.

UAE's Long-Ailing Leader Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Dies At 73

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The United Arab Emirates' long-ailing ruler, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, died Friday, the government announced in a brief statement. He was 73. Khalifa, the president of the UAE, oversaw much of the country's blistering economic growth and his name was immortalized on the world's tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, after bailing out debt-crippled Dubai during its financial crisis over a decade ago. The UAE's Ministry of Presidential Affairs announced a 40-day period of mourning and a three-day suspension of work across the government and private sector, including flags to be flown at half-staff. An outpouring of messages of condolences poured in from around the region and world, foremost the leaders of Arab countries supported by Abu Dhabi. Sheikh Khalifa had long ceased having involvement in the day-to-day affairs of ruling the country after suffering a stroke and undergoing emergency surgery in 2014, a decade after becoming president. His half-brother, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, was seen as the country's powerful de-factor ruler and the decision-maker of major foreign policy decisions, such as joining a Saudi-led war in Yemen and spearheading an embargo on neighboring Qatar in recent years. There was no immediate announcement about a successor, although Mohammed bin Zayed is anticipated to claim the presidency as Abu Dhabi's crown prince. Sheikh Khalifa's father, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, is widely revered by Emiratis as the country's founding father. The country was founded in 1971, having recently marked its 50-year-anniversary. Sheikh Khalifa, trained at Sandhurst, the royal military academy in England, was his eldest son. Though he had been out of public sight since the stroke, Sheikh Khalifa's image was ubiquitous, gracing every hotel lobby and major government office across the country. On occasion, Emirati state media published rare photographs and videos of Sheikh Khalifa. "The UAE has lost a loyal son, and the leader of its blessed empowerment journey, " Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed wrote on Twitter after news of his brother's death was officially announced on state media. "Khalifa bin Zayed, my brother, supporter and mentor, may Allah Almighty grant you eternal peace." The late president held the most powerful position among the seven semi-autonomous city-states stretching along the shores of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. His role as president derived from his standing as hereditary ruler of Abu Dhabi, the UAE's largest and richest emirate. Historically, the president of the UAE is from Abu Dhabi and the vice president and prime minister is from Dubai, currently Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. The UAE's regional power and influence, however, emanates from Abu Dhabi, which has most of the country's oil and gas reserves. Dubai provides the UAE with a swirl of publicity and headline-grabbing lifestyle and entertainment stories that rights groups say distracts from controversial policies decided in Abu Dhabi. Despite its size and wealth, Abu Dhabi often finds itself overshadowed by the glitzy emirate of Dubai, the commercial hub that showcases both the UAE's bold visions and, at times, debt-fueled pipe dreams, including a massive palm-shaped man-made island that sits empty years after its creation. As Dubai's fortunes began to falter along with the global economy in 2009, Sheikh Khalifa led efforts to protect the federation by pumping billions of dollars in emergency bailout funds to Dubai. The two emirates do not always see eye-to-eye on foreign policy decisions and compete commercially with one another. In 2003, Sheikh Khalifa ordered the creation of a new airline, Etihad Airways, which competes with Dubai's much larger Emirates Air. Khalifa increasingly used Abu Dhabi's oil wealth to attract cultural and academic centers, such as a branch of the Louvre museum and satellite campuses of New York University and the Sorbonne. He also presided over efforts to move the OPEC country beyond its reliance on petrodollars with investments in renewable energy research, including a vision for a futuristic low-carbon desert city known as Masdar. The UAE announced last year a net-zero emissions pledge by 2050, even as it expands investments in oil and gas for export. Abu Dhabi's big spending overseas during Khalifa's rule helped shape its investment strategy. The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority is now one of the world's largest sovereign wealth funds with close to $700 billion in assets, according to estimates by the Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute. Khalifa also helped boost the UAE's regional profile by sending warplanes to the NATO-led mission against Moammar Gadhafi's regime in Libya in 2011. In September 2014, the Emirates became one of the most prominent Arab participants in U.S.-led airstrikes against the Islamic State militant group in Syria, deploying its first female air force pilot on the initial raid. Khalifa was born in 1948 in the inland oasis of Al Ain, near the border with the sultanate of Oman, and named after his great grandfather, Sheikh Khalifa bin Shakhbout. In 1969, while the area was still a British protectorate, Khalifa was named as Abu Dhabi prime minister and chairman of the emirate's Department of Defense, which later became the core of the UAE's armed forces. After independence in 1971, he became defense minister. Although the UAE's ruling sheikhs hold near absolute power, Khalifa began an experiment with elections by allowing limited voting — by a hand-picked electorate — for half the members of a 40-seat federal advisory body in 2006. Subsequent rounds of elections in 2011 and 2015 failed to attract even two out of five of those given a chance to vote. The UAE saw none of the Arab Spring street protests that shook other parts of the region, though in the wake of that unrest, Khalifa oversaw crackdowns on Islamists and other activists in the country, drawing criticism from international rights groups. The UAE, which views Islamist movements as a threat to its ruling system, also supported efforts in the region to quash the Muslim Brotherhood, including in Egypt. Under his presidency, the UAE joined Saudi Arabia in sending forces to Bahrain to quell an uprising there by the country's majority Shiite population demanding greater rights from the island-nation's Sunni leadership. Questions were raised during Khalifa's rule about the UAE's use of foreign military contractors, including one linked to the founder of the former Blackwater security firm, Erik Prince, who moved to Abu Dhabi in 2009. Prince was involved in a multimillion-dollar program to train troops to fight pirates in Somalia, according to an official who spoke to The Associated Press in early 2009. A U.S. diplomatic cable made public by WikiLeaks in 2010 uncharitably described the president as "a distant and uncharismatic personage." The final years of his presidency are likely to be associated with his half-brother, Mohammed bin Zayed, who is also the deputy supreme commander of the armed forces and who has shepherded the UAE's budding ties with Israel after the two normalized relations in 2020. Sheikh Khalifa was believed to be among the world's richest rulers with a personal fortune estimated by Forbes magazine in 2008 at $19 billion. He built a palace in the Seychelles, an island-chain nation in the Indian Ocean, and faced complaints there about causing water pollution from the construction site. Khalifa's personal life was not much in the public eye. Like many in the Gulf, he was passionate about the traditional sport of falconry and was said to enjoy fishing. He is known to have had eight children — two sons and six daughters — with his first wife, Sheikha Shamsa bint Suhail Al Mazrouei. He is also survived by several grandchildren.

US, China Vie for Africa Mobile Phone Sector

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Africa, in recent years, has become the new frontier where China and the United States, the world’s two biggest economic superpowers, are competing for influence in a key industry: telecommunications. This week, Ethiopia celebrated the launch of a 5G network powered by China’s telecom giant Huawei in Addis Ababa. Just before that, on a visit to the continent last week, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman visited U.S. mobile company Africell’s offices in Angola, where the firm has amassed some 2 million users since it was launched just over a month ago.   “Today in Luanda, I visited @AfricellAo, an innovative, state-of-the-art U.S. company expanding 5G access in Angola with trusted technology components,” she wrote in a tweet. Asked in a subsequent press briefing whether the tweet wasn’t a dig at Huawei - which already has a huge digital foothold in Africa but which was sanctioned in the U.S. in 2019 by then-President Donald Trump – Sherman was unequivocal.   “It’s not about throwing shade (being critical) on Huawei. We’ve been very direct. We believe that when countries choose Huawei, they are potentially giving up their sovereignty,” she said. “They are turning over their data to another country. They may find themselves bringing in a surveillance capability they didn’t even know was there.”   Washington has long expressed concern that Beijing is trying to monopolize networks and possibly use them for espionage, while Huawei has repeatedly denied the allegations.   “So, we’ve been very public about our concerns about Huawei, and so we are glad that Africell can provide to the people of Angola a safe, capable tool in their hands to reach out to the world,” Sherman added.   The deputy secretary’s comments raised ire in Beijing, where they were met with a stiff rebuke from Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian.   “Chinese companies including Huawei have conducted mutually beneficial cooperation with many countries in Africa and the world beyond, contributed to the improvement and development of the countries’ communications infrastructure, provided advanced, quality, safe and affordable services for the local people and won great support,” he said on Chinese state media.   “There is not a single case of cyber security accident, surveillance or wiretapping in the course of the cooperation,” he added, going on to allege that the U.S. has long been responsible for such spying activities itself.   Zhao noted that it is up to African governments to decide with whom to cooperate. In Angola, the company already has a significant presence, with mobile operator Unitel linked to Huawei, which is also building two technological training centers, worth $60 million, in the country in order to develop the digital economy.   And with Huawei widely available in South Africa, only one of the five people VOA spoke to at a local shopping center was even aware of the controversy over the brand.   Cheris Fourie, a sales consultant at a cellphone shop in Cape Town’s Blue Root Mall, said Huawei handsets aren’t that popular anymore, not because of concerns over any nefarious activities by the company, but rather because Google services are no longer on the devices. Google is no longer available because of a U.S. Huawei ban.   David Devillieras, who was sitting at a cafe at the mall using his Samsung phone, told VOA he’d never heard of the possibility Huawei was involved in surveillance. He added that he wouldn’t buy a Huawei phone having heard that.   “I wouldn’t go there at all, not for one second. I wouldn’t buy a Chinese phone,” he said. One shopper, Steve Elliot-Jones, said he “wouldn’t trust anything that comes out of China,” but thought other countries could also be using mobile networks to spy. “It wouldn’t surprise me if technology companies including the states or anywhere else for that matter… I wouldn’t say anyone’s actually innocent. I think they’re all probably all up to selling information and making money on the side and denying it if it comes out.”

Some jumping spiders spot blood-red mosquito bellies

by Kirsten Romaguera-U. Florida, 3 days ago

A species of jumping spider in Kenya appears to use the blood-red abdomen of mosquitoes to target them as prey. 

How to brainstorm brilliant ideas in teams – without sliding into 'groupthink'

3 days ago

Abortion funds are in the spotlight with the likely end of Roe v. Wade – 3 findings about what they do

3 days ago

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