Russia's information and propaganda ecosystem

by ShareAmerica, 4 days ago

Russia's state-owned media remain loyal to the government and stifle opposing views. The outlets spread disinformation about other nations.

Russia's despicable disinformation campaign in Ukraine

by ShareAmerica, 4 days ago

Russia's state media continue to publish stories that they know are untrue. Find out how one story in Ukraine was distorted.

VOA Exclusive: US AFRICOM Commander Says Russian Mercenaries in Mali

4 days ago

The U.S. has now confirmed reports that Russian mercenaries known as the Wagner Group have deployed in Mali and are supported by the Russian military. "Wagner (Group) is in Mali. They are there, we think, numbering several hundred now," General Stephen Townsend, the commander of U.S. Africa Command, told VOA in an exclusive interview Thursday via Skype from his headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany. "Russian air force airplanes are delivering them. The world can see this happening, so it's a great concern to us," he added. Townsend, who took over U.S. Africa Command in 2019, also said that China is the "most active" of America’s global competitors in Africa and is "intent on building a military air base and/or naval facility in Equatorial Guinea." "We're not asking them (Equitorial Guinea) to choose between China and us. What we're asking them to do is consider their other international partners and their concerns, because a Chinese military base in Equatorial Guinea is of great concern to the U.S. and all of their other partners," Townsend said. In addition to Chinese military expansion, Townsend said he was also monitoring a less obvious threat to U.S. interests on the continent — inroads from the "arm of the Iranian security apparatus that engages in malign activity in the Middle East," a not-so-veiled description of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). "I think their inroads are going to be very malign in nature. It's very nascent, but it's happening now, and we're watching," he said. A U.S. official later confirmed to VOA that the IRGC had plotted assassination attempts on American diplomats in Africa and was still looking for revenge plot targets there. Iran has denied the plot accusations, calling them baseless. The official said that due to concerns about increased threats from Iran, China and others over the past year, the U.S. military has brought in new and improved defense systems and anti-drone weapons to Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, its only military base in Africa. In Somalia, where local and international partners are battling the al-Qaida affiliate al-Shabab, U.S. forces have continued to "commute to work" while leaving fewer than 100 troops in the war-torn country. Donald Trump ordered most of the 800 U.S. troops out of Somalia in 2020 in one of his last foreign policy moves as American president. "We are working hard to get our tasks done. I think that there's more effective and efficient ways to do that. We’ve provided those recommendations to the secretary of defense, and we're waiting for decisions there," Townsend said. The U.S. is still training and building up Somalia's vanguard Danab forces, which came under review late last year; albeit that work has slowed a bit while the threat from al-Shabab continues to grow, according to Townsend. "If increased pressure is not applied to al-Shabab, I'm concerned there's going to be a significant al-Shabab attack," he told VOA. Below is a transcript of the interview, edited for brevity. (00:02:57 - 00:03:14) VOA: We just had the Global Posture Review completed at the end of the year. I'm a little confused though because the Pentagon summary for Africa used about 40 words in their summary that told me next to nothing. So what have you seen change in U.S. Africa Command? U.S. AFRICOM COMMANDER GEN. STEPHEN TOWNSEND: Well, quite frankly, I think the Global Posture Review, this is our third review in about three years. Before the Global Posture Review we had the “blank slate” review and before that we had a review called “optimization.” So we've been through a lot of reviews, and as a result, I think we are on pretty solid ground with what we're doing in Africa, the tasks that America expects of us, the department expects of us, but also the resources that we have to do those tasks. And so the global review has basically ratified what AFRICOM is doing and what we're doing. VOA: OK, so just to get a little specifics, you mentioned still about 6,000 troops. You just told me that. What about the percent of Africa's intelligence reconnaissance surveillance? What would you say is the percentage of your needs this being met right now? TOWNSEND: Well, so it's common knowledge, especially across the DOD enterprise and the government, that there's never enough intelligence surveillance reconnaissance (ISR) assets to go around. So we don't have all that I would like to have nor does any combatant commander. But we have what we must have. … There's a DOD metric and it's called a validated requirement. We're probably at something like 25-30% of our validated requirement. But quite honestly, I think our validated requirement is probably a little inflated. And so I look at what my own assessment is of what we need and we have a much higher percentage. VOA: OK, what about exercise funds? You had mentioned the need for more funds to exercise with partners. Did you get any more of that? TOWNSEND: No. In fact, we've had a decrement in exercise funds. I know that the department is still reviewing the budget allocations for FY ‘22 and FY ’23. But I think that we've suffered a significant reduction in exercise funds and we've made the case to the department that that should be reconsidered, and I think it will be. (00:07:03 - 00:07:28) VOA: VOA had pointed out in a report earlier this month that airstrikes have been significantly reduced by AFRICOM, also by CENTCOM, but AFRICOM went from 72 airstrikes in 2020 to just 10 in 2021, and most of those occurred during the Trump administration in the month of January. So, tell us why the strikes have been reduced? TOWNSEND: Well, the new administration has come in and they've re-evaluated the conditions and why we’re doing the strikes and how we're doing the strikes, and some of those decisions are still being considered by the current administration, and I think that's you got to let those decisions play out. I know this that right now we have the authorities we need to protect our American troops in Africa should that become necessary. And it's not been necessary over the last 10 or 11 months. But if it becomes necessary, we have the authorities we need. ... I'm expecting that what the administration is trying to do is get very comfortable and to be able to support what the president wants the U.S. military to do in the world. … That's what I think is going on. And that's painstaking and deliberate work. But I wouldn't expect to see an elimination or an expansion, but I would think that we'll get clear guidance on how to proceed in the interim there are procedures that we can rely on. VOA: The last time we spoke I asked you about the threat of al-Shabab in Somalia and you said that the threat was higher, the threat is higher. And you had said that that was the reason for the increase in strike activity that we were seeing at the time. So kind of run through what is the threat of al-Shabab today. TOWNSEND: I believe that the threat of al-Shabab has increased over about the last eight to 12 months or so, the threat of al-Shabab has increased. I think COVID certainly had an effect, but emerging out of COVID, I think the threat has gone up. And as you know, the last administration had us reposition U.S. forces largely out of Somalia where we are now we still have the same tasks to do there, to disrupt al-Shabab, al-Qaida’s largest, wealthiest and most kinetically active arm in the world, and they are a threat to the United States and the American people by their own aspiration. Their leadership charge their followers to attack Americans wherever they find them. So I think we ought to take that very seriously, and we are. I think that threat is growing because of the lack of counterterrorism pressure on al-Shabab over the last year That's coming from a lot of factors. One of them is inactivity from AMISOM. Another one is because of COVID and other things. Another one is political friction and dysfunction. As you know, their president's term expired. … There’s a lot of friction to try to get a new head of state elected. And so I think all of that is affecting the fight against al-Shabab, and our own our own posture is also calculates into that. So I think the threat of al-Shabab is growing. And if increased pressure is not applied to al-Shabab, I'm concerned that there's going to be a significant al-Shabab attack. We've seen just suicide bombs going off in Mogadishu over the last two weeks to include one fairly large vehicle-borne IED, so I think they're expanding and they're growing. VOA: Do we still have a few dozen on the ground? I know it was fewer than a hundred as of this around this time last year. Has it stayed that way? Have you been able to increase the presence? Have you asked for more troops to match the growing threat? TOWNSEND: So what I've advised the administration will stay between me and the administration's leaders right now because those decisions are still, we're still awaiting decisions on those recommendations. But what the last administration required us to do is reposition our troops. We had only about 800 to 850 troops in Somalia at that time, and we were directed to reposition them out of Somalia. They are in bases in the region and we commute to work. And so who's in Somalia every day is less than 100, and then our numbers go up as we commute to work at a couple of bases where we go in to work with our Somali and AMISOM partners. We have two of these engagements going on right now in Somalia. And so our numbers go up, and they stay that way for a while, and then they go down to again something less than 100 is sort of the steady state number. VOA: How is that affecting the mission? TOWNSEND: Well, I think that we are working hard to get our tasks done. I think that there's more effective and efficient ways to do that. We provide those recommendations to the secretary of defense and we're waiting for decisions there. But we're constantly looking for ways to improve what we're doing there. (00:14:12 - 00:14:25) VOA: The last question on Somalia. Questions arose with the Danab training back in October. Are U.S. forces still training the Danab? What was, basically, the result of that review on the training? TOWNSEND: The elite force training, yeah, we still are training the Danab and for your audience, it may not know what the Danab is. Danab stands for Lightning Battalion, Danab Battalion, and it there are special light infantry formation Advanced Infantry Battalion, and we're training them and they're our counterterrorism partner there, and so they're sort of, I would hesitate to use the word elite, but they sort of are the vanguard of Somali national army operations. And we're still training them and we're still building the Danab. That has slowed a bit and we’re looking for ways to accelerate that, but we're still working with the Danab ,and it's it's been a successful program. The Somali people hold the Danab in very high regard and they are probably doing probably something like approaching 50% of the Somalis operations that YNAB are involved in, and they're a very small force, only about 1,500 troops. VOA: One quick question, last one on the Horn of Africa. Ethiopia, the U.N. has been warning for months about the intensifying conflict and they were concerned that this could you know if it gets to full blown civil war, it could threaten the entire stability of the Horn of Africa. Do you share those concerns? What do you see as concerns? TOWNSEND: Yes, I do share those concerns with regards to Ethiopia. So Ethiopia has been, you know they're the second-largest country in Africa. They've been a powerhouse economically and security wise in East Africa for decades. And they're there what America has referred to as anchor state. However, the civil war has turned their focus inward, this war between the government and the Tigrayans. … They’re not an anchor state right now because they can't because their turned inward, so I think we very much want to see the Ethiopians work through these disagreements and come to a peaceful resolution. The situation has stabilized there over the last few weeks and has calmed a bit, a significant bit from what it was right before Christmas. So, yeah, we're worried about Ethiopia. Ethiopia is very important to the stability of the entire Horn of Africa, so we want to see Ethiopia work through this problem in a peaceful way. (00:17:18 - 00:17:31) VOA: Let's switch over to West Africa. You know you've talked about a lot of problems in West Africa. One of them that's in the middle of the media right now is Mali. Can you tell us, is the Wagner Group in Mali. What have you seen? TOWNSEND: Mali has been in the news a lot. In less than probably the last nine to 12 months, as you know they've had two successive coups there, which are of great concern. So now there are military leaders leading that country. And then more recently, we've seen Mali’s coup government reach out to Russia and specifically to the Wagner private military company. And you probably saw a press release from our Department of State sometime last month about this, and so the United States and the international community are very concerned and so are the African neighbors very concerned about the Russians, Russia's intervention into Mali. And I'll be more specific about it, Wagner is in Mali. They are there, we think, and numbering several hundred now. They're deploying there, supported by the Russian military, Russian Air Force airplanes are delivering them. The world can see this happening. So it's a great concern to us. And the reason it concerns me and it concerns the neighbors there is we have watched Wagner, this mercenary outfit, work on the African continent. We've watched them in the Central African Republic, Sudan, Libya. They don't follow anybody's rules but their own. They will exploit the country. They will create, they will break laws. They will do a gross violations of human rights. They will kill innocents and civilians. And then when the Malian people get tired of them, they won't leave. In fact, they’ll probably bring in proxy fighters. We saw them do this in Libya where they brought in over 2,000 Syrian fighters. And those Wagner and Syrian fighters are still in Libya and the Libyans can't get them to go. And I predict, unfortunately, something very similar to that will likely happen in Mali. So if I were the neighbors of Mali and if I were the Malian people, I'd be very concerned about it. And if I were the neighbors, I'd be even more concerned about it. VOA: What are they doing Are they training or are they protecting? Are they protecting, helping to protect the military? What's going on there? TOWNSEND: Well, it's a little early in their deployment so we're not exactly sure what they're doing just yet. I know that they will do first, they will protect the regime there, which is a coup government, but they'll make sure that that government is protected, first and foremost. Then, we probably expect, they will train and they will conduct operations. We haven't seen that taking place just yet, but that's what we expect will happen. I just think there's going to be a lot of bad will intended. VOA: OK, I have one more question on the Sahel and then I'll go as long as you want to, I want to talk about China. So as long as you have the time, we'll keep talking about China. But the last question on the Sahel, under your leadership, rankly combined joint task force, Operation Inherent Resolve was able to take down Islamic State in Libya, Syria, Iraq simultaneously. And now we're seeing these violent extremists in Africa. So, you know frankly what do you need to help partners do it again? (00:21:05 - 00:21:23) Because obviously the videos, the violent extremists, the attacks are increasing. TOWNSEND: In the Sahel region, which is sort of local shorthand for a middle band across Africa, it's between the Sahara Desert and the jungles in Central Africa, that region is called the Sahel. In the Sahel region, there are a number of violent extremist groups, three of which are of the greatest concern. The first one is a group called JNIM (Jamaat Nasrat al-Islam wal Muslimin) and they are the West Africa arm of al-Qaida, the Sahel arm of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb. So they are part of corporate al-Qaida. They’re probably the strongest VEO (violent extremist organization) group right now in the Sahel region, and they are spreading from Mali into Burkina Faso, southwestern Niger and working towards the coastal states. And so we're starting to see attacks emerge in the coastal states of West Africa, in the northern tiers of those states. Then the other groups that concern me are two ISIS groups There's a group called ISIS Greater Sahara. They are sort of in the same battle space as JNIM and in competition with JNIM. And then further to the east, on the other side of Nigeria, the east side in the Lake Chad basin area, we see this group called ISIS (00:22:30 - 00:23:31) West Africa, this group is large, powerful and growing. And recently they have competed with a group that your audience may be familiar with from a few years ago, Boko Haram, and Boko Haram has been largely overtaken by ISIS West Africa. So these groups are there. I can't say that any of them are threats directly to the United States today. I don't assess that they are they are definitely a threat to American interests in that part of the world. And they are now starting to threaten countries that the world should be even more concerned about as they move out of Mali into Burkina Faso and into the northern coastal states like Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, Benin, Togo. All those states are now coming under threat of these violent extremist groups. (00:23:32 - 00:24:00) So our role is mostly to support our African partners and our international partners. And the lead international partner has been France. And they've put their boots on the ground and we've been helping them and also helping all of those African partners in that region. So the United States is not leading there by any means, but we're trying to support our partners while the African partners and European and other international partners help the Africans more directly dealing with this problem. Our contributions are pretty small, some training, some equipping, helping with some logistics, helping with some intelligence and some ISR (intelligence surveillance reconnaissance) that you mentioned earlier. That's what we're doing there to help our partners. The U.S. is not in the lead in West Africa. VOA: OK, understood. Lastly, let's turn to China. China's had a lot of interest in Africa. So what specifically are you seeing China do on the Atlantic seaboard right now? (00:24:33 - 00:24:48) TOWNSEND: As I mentioned earlier, global competitors are very active in Africa, probably the one that's the most active is China. China considers Africa to be their second continent. I've even heard the term fifth Island chain, those phrases ought to tell you what you need to know. China requires huge amounts of natural resources for their economy and their population, and they're looking to Africa to get many of those resources, arable land, fishing, strategic minerals, etc., energy concerns, are all in Africa. And so China's very actively competing there, economically primarily, but also militarily. VOA: Do you think they're trying to build a naval base in Gulf of Guinea still? TOWNSEND: Yes, I think that China definitely has a plan, they would aspire to have a militarily useful base on the Atlantic coast of Africa. They've laid down bets from as far south as Namibia and all the way up to Mauritania, where we think they have the most traction today is Equatorial Guinea, which is on the Gulf of Guinea. (00:25:57 - 00:26:57) And we think they are intent on building a base there, and there was a recent article in The Wall Street Journal about a month ago that talked about this. And I think that I think The Wall Street Journal got it about right China is intent on building a military, air base and/or naval facility in Equatorial Guinea. VOA: When you say exhibits what do you mean by that? What specifically tangible things are they doing? TOWNSEND: Yeah, no I think I said “placing bets.” So what they're doing is they're putting chips down in all of these countries on the Atlantic Coast. They know that they won't get a yes in many cases from many of those countries, but by asking and trying to get a base in all these countries, one or two of them may say yes. And we think that the place that they've got traction right now is Equatorial Guinea. And I know that their African neighbors are very concerned about that. (00:26:58 - 00:27:52) Our government has spoken to the Equatoguinean government about this. We're not asking them to choose between China and us. What we're asking them to do is consider their other international partners and their concerns, because a Chinese military base in Equatorial Guinea is of great concern to the U.S. and all of their other partners. And I would point out that the Equatoguinean economy is primarily fueled by oil investments. A lot of those are from the United States. VOA: Can we just get a broad understanding of Chinese interest? How would you say the Chinese military interest is? Has it been a steady increase in Africa? Are you seeing exponential changes, would you consider them more active than ever right now? How would you characterize it? (00:27:54 - 00:28:02) TOWNSEND: Well as I said earlier, I think China's primary mode of competition in Africa has been economic. They've invested a lot in economic concerns, and they've invested a lot in infrastructure. They're doing that to a slightly lesser degree now. As far as their military investments go, I would say, I would not characterize them as exponential. I would characterize them as slow, steady, creeping strategic progress. That's how I would characterize it. So they've got their first international base in Djibouti, they built that some years ago now, about seven years ago they built that base and they're seeking other bases in Africa. We know that they would like to have multiple other bases in Africa. And so they're just slowly chipping away at that and doing it in a way that doesn't draw a lot of international attention. VOA: You mentioned Djibouti, they basically used the playbook, it started off with antipiracy assistance and then they needed infrastructure to help with that antipiracy assistance to get the base in Djibouti. (00:29:04 - 00:29:14) Are you seeing the same playbook, same tactics over in Guinea, where they're starting to be more involved in the antipiracy? Are they trying to use the same playbook you think? (00:29:15 - 00:29:39) TOWNSEND: Yes I do. In fact, in the Gulf of Guinea, there is an illegal fishing problem there. There is a piracy problem there. The Chinese discuss those problems as a reason for a naval task force, a maritime task force in that region. And then of course, there's a base that has to support that task force. (00:29:40 - 00:29:58) I think that the West and African partners are starting to respond to a more coherent approach to the counter piracy, counter illegal fishing problem in the Gulf of Guinea. I would also point out that the No. 1  purveyor of the illegal fishing in the Gulf of Guinea are Chinese fishing. (00:30:00 - 00:30:15) VOA: And you mentioned the economic interest but would you have you seen China start to militarize its Belt and Road Initiatives? Are you seeing direct associations with the Chinese military on how they're trying to expand upon those economic initiatives? (00:30:20 - 00:31:20) TOWNSEND: I think the Belt and Road Initiative and their military expansion plans are all linked, because I mean this is a state-controlled, party-controlled government and a state-controlled economy, so it's all linked. That said, I can't say that I'm seeing them, their first foot in the door is a Belt and Road and their second foot in the door is a military initiative, we don't see that playing out. What we've seen them do a lot of belt and road activity across the African continent, much of which can be to the benefit of African partners, right. The recipients of those initiatives can also be a problem for them with, you know you've heard about debt-trap diplomacy and other things like that, but the military progress that we're seeing is more strategic and patient, I think. VOA: And thank you so much for speaking with Voice of America on a wide range of topics about what you're dealing with in the African continent. My final question to you would be, since we've talked about China's influence, Russia's. Influence, the U.S., France, Europe has influence there, but are there any other state actors that are trying to make inroads in Africa that you've seen that we should be aware of? (00:31:46 - 00:32:39) TOWNSEND: Well, there are a number of countries that are active on the African continent, and in many ways these activities are very supportive of Africa and the African people. The only other country that I'm keeping my eye on right now in a negative way, negative thing is Iran. So Iran hasn't had a lot of presence in Africa for a number of years, but we are starting to see them express increasing interest in Africa and starting to make some inroads there. I think their inroads are going to be malign in nature, and so we're just keeping an eye on it. It’s very nascent. But it's happening now and we're watching. VOA: Can you give us any examples? TOWNSEND: I think I'd rather not, because these examples. Well, I'll just say that they are intelligence related and the arm of the Iranian security apparatus that engages in malign activity in the Middle East is the same arm that's now engaged on the African continent, so I won't be more specific than that, but it's not helpful to any African partner. VOA: Thank you, General Townsend, the head of U.S. Africa Command, thank you so much for speaking with Voice of America. TOWNSEND: Thanks, Carla, I really appreciate the opportunity to talk to your audience today.   

North Korea offers amnesty to criminals, marking important holidays

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Rights Groups: Taliban Arrest 4 Afghan Women at Homes

4 days ago

A female Afghan human rights activist, her two sisters and another activist have been taken from their homes after recent protests in Kabul, friends and activists say, prompting suspicions they were detained by the Taliban. Shafi Karimi, a freelance journalist, told VOA that Tamana Paryani and her two sisters have been missing since Wednesday night. "Tamana's father went to all the Taliban offices today and found no clues about his daughters," Karimi said. The Associated Press, citing eyewitnesses, said the Taliban "stormed" an apartment in Kabul, "smashing the door in" and arresting Paryani and her sisters. Another woman who took part in Sunday's protest against a Taliban directive making wearing hijabs, or Islamic headscarves, compulsory for women is also believed to have been detained. The Taliban denied arresting the women, however. "This news is baseless, and no women [have been] arrested in Kabul," Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid told the BBC. Despite the Taliban government's denials, activists are preparing for more detentions. A women's rights activist and friend of Paryani's who asked not to be named for security reasons told VOA via telephone, "We have reports that the Taliban will conduct more raids tonight. We are not safe at our homes. We are changing our homes and numbers. The Taliban have access to our phone numbers and other information through our arrested friends' phones." Human Rights Watch condemned the Taliban's treatment of the protesters, calling it a "violent crackdown." Heather Bar, the associate director of the women's rights division of Human Rights Watch, told VOA the suspected detentions were "deeply alarming." "This looks to be a serious escalation in the Taliban's desire to crush women's rights protests. The international immunity should urgently defend the protesters," she said. 'Help, please' An Afghan media outlet has broadcast a video that it says Paryani recorded on her phone. The video, which VOA has not independently verified, was broadcast on Aamaj News and appears to show Taliban security forces banging on her door while she calls out for help. "Help, please, the Taliban have come to our home … only my sisters are home," Paryani is saying in the footage, according to AP. In the background, other women are heard saying, "I can't open the door. Please … help!" The Taliban's detention of female protesters has faced widespread criticism from politicians and civil society activists. Afrasiab Khattak, a human rights activist and a former member of Pakistan's Senate, denounced the detention of the activists. It shows the "brutality of the lawless militia in a country without constitution and law-based state system," he said. "Afghans are thrown to wolves. Silence of the U.N. and international community is deafening." Fawzia Koofi, a former deputy speaker of parliament in Afghanistan — the first female to hold the post — and a former chairperson of Afghanistan's Women, Civil Society and Human Rights Commission, condemned the arrests, calling them extrajudicial detentions. Koofi tweeted Thursday: "Many women activists live under tremendous fear & horror. Women of Afg. deserve to live in safety and enjoy every right that is granted for them in the laws. Extra judiciary arrest must stop." Four detained On Tuesday, the Taliban detained four activists — Azeem Azeemi, Ahmad Shah, Abdul Karim Bilal and Hayatullah Raufi — for organizing a protest against Pakistani national security adviser Moeed Yusuf's visit to Kabul. Inayatullah Qazizada, an activist, told VOA Deewa in a phone interview that his friends were still in Taliban detention and that no one had been allowed to talk to them. From time to time, women's rights activists in Afghanistan have staged demonstrations demanding their rights to education and employment. Human rights violations in Afghanistan have been repeatedly highlighted in recent reports by the United Nations, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. This report originated in VOA's Deewa Service. Some information came from The Associated Press.

US Charges 4 Belarus Officials With Air Piracy in Reporter's Arrest

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U.S. prosecutors charged four Belarusian government officials Thursday with aircraft piracy for allegedly using a bomb threat ruse to divert a Ryanair flight last year in order to arrest an opposition journalist. The charges, announced by federal prosecutors in New York, recounted how a regularly scheduled passenger plane traveling between Athens, Greece, and Vilnius, Lithuania, on May 23 was diverted to Minsk, Belarus, by air traffic control authorities in Belarus. "Since the dawn of powered flight, countries around the world have cooperated to keep passenger airplanes safe. The defendants shattered those standards by diverting an airplane to further the improper purpose of repressing dissent and free speech," U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said in a news release announcing the charges. Ryanair said Belarusian flight controllers told the pilots that there was a bomb threat against the jetliner and ordered them to land in Minsk. The Belarusian military scrambled a MiG-29 fighter jet in an apparent attempt to encourage the crew to comply with the orders of the flight controllers. In August, President Joe Biden levied sanctions against Belarus on the one-year anniversary of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko's election, in a vote the U.S. and international community said was fraught with irregularities. The arrested journalist and activist, Raman Pratasevich, ran a popular messaging app that helped organize mass demonstrations against Lukashenko. The 26-year-old Pratasevich left Belarus in 2019 and faced charges there of inciting riots. Lukashenko was awarded a sixth term leading the Eastern European nation last year. Widespread belief that the vote was stolen triggered mass protests in Belarus that led to increased repressions by Lukashenko's regime on protesters, dissidents and independent media. More than 35,000 people were arrested, and thousands were beaten and jailed. Those charged in court papers were identified as Leonid Mikalaevich Churo, director general of Belaeronavigatsia Republican Unitary Air Navigation Services Enterprise, the Belarusian state air navigation authority; Oleg Kazyuchits, deputy director general of Belaeronavigatsia; and two Belarusian state security agents whose full identities weren't known to prosecutors.   

US Charges Haitian in Connection with Moise Assassination

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Rodolphe Jaar, 49, a Haitian businessman who holds Haiti-Chilean dual nationality, was charged Thursday in U.S. federal court in Miami in connection with the assassination Haitian President Jovenel Moise. Jaar is accused of “conspiring to commit murder or kidnapping outside the United States and providing material support resulting in death, knowing or intending that such material support would be used to prepare for or carry out the conspiracy to kill or kidnap.” Moise was shot and killed inside his residence in an upscale Port-au-Prince suburb in the early hours of July 7, 2021. His wife, Martine, was injured during the attack and was flown to Miami for treatment. If convicted, Jaar faces a maximum sentence of life in prison, U.S. Magistrate Judge Lauren Louis of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida told the defendant. Jaar, who appeared via Zoom because of COVID-19 restrictions, was transferred to Miami from the Dominican Republic on Wednesday afternoon, Assistant U.S. Attorney Walter Norkin said during the hearing. Jaar wore a beige prison uniform and was handcuffed. Four law enforcement officers and two other defendants were also in the room. According to the complaint seen by VOA, Jaar provided housing for 20 Colombians with military experience who were recruited to execute an arrest warrant for Moise. Jaar answered the judge's questions in English. He said he had not earned any income for six months, had no U.S. bank account, real estate, assets or vehicles in the U.S. and that he had about $2,000 in a Haitian bank account. Louis appointed him an attorney based on his testimony. Attorney Joaquin Padilla will represent him for the time being. Padilla asked the judge to give him a few days to speak to his client before going forward. The request was granted. Norkin argued that Jaar should be held without bond, noting that he has no legal status in the United States and has a criminal record. Reports by U.S. media that Jaar worked as an informant for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) after he was arrested in South Florida in 2013 were not confirmed by the FBI when asked by VOA. The judge asked Norkin if the Haitian Consulate had been notified of Jaar's detention. He replied, "not yet" and was ordered to do so by Friday. VOA Creole contacted the Haitian Embassy in Washington to ask about the notification. They responded that Ambassador Bocchit Edmond had no comment because the investigation is ongoing. Jaar's next scheduled court appearance, a preliminary hearing, is set for Jan. 26 in Miami. He will then appear Jan. 27 for an arraignment hearing. Haiti has charged more than 40 people in connection with the assassination. Some are detained in Haiti, one died of COVID-19 during his detention, and others were released because there was insufficient evidence against them. In addition to Jaar’s detention after crossing the Haitian border into the Dominican Republic last week, former Haitian Senator John Joel Joseph was detained by Jamaican officials in Kingston. Another suspect, Samir Handal, was arrested by Turkish officials in Istanbul after arriving at the airport Nov. 16, upon request of Haiti’s then-Foreign Minister Claude Joseph. U.S. law enforcement officials have assisted Haiti in the investigation into the assassination of the president at the request of the Haitian government. “The United States supports a thorough, independent investigation into President Moise’s assassination consistent with both Haitian law and international rule of law standards,” a State Department spokesperson told VOA. “We want to see those who planned, funded, and carried out the assassination of former President Moise held accountable.” VOA State Department Correspondent Nike Ching contributed to this report. 

Jury Selected for Federal Trial in George Floyd's Killing

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A jury was picked Thursday for the federal trial of three Minneapolis police officers charged in George Floyd's killing, with the judge stressing repeatedly that fellow Officer Derek Chauvin's conviction on state murder charges and guilty plea to a federal civil rights violation should not influence the proceedings.  J. Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao are broadly charged with depriving Floyd of his civil rights while acting under government authority as Chauvin used his knee to pin the Black man to the street. Separately, they're charged in state court with aiding and abetting both murder and manslaughter in the videotaped killing that triggered worldwide protests, violence and a reexamination of racism and policing.  Jury selection took just one day for the federal trial. The judge said opening statements would be Monday, with the court taking up some evidentiary matters on Friday.  U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson questioned potential jurors – who had already answered an extensive questionnaire – in groups to get a pool of 40 people. Each side then used their challenges to strike jurors until they had 18 people – 12 who will deliberate and six alternates.  By comparison, at Chauvin's state trial, the judge and attorneys questioned each juror individually and spent more than two weeks picking a panel. Magnuson told potential jurors they must be able to decide the case based on its own evidence, setting aside anything else. He singled out some jurors by number and asked them pointedly if they could do so, saying he was "harping and harping and harping" because state and federal law are different and he wanted to ensure they could be objective.  Legal experts say the federal trial will be more complicated than the state trial, scheduled for June 13, because prosecutors in this case have the difficult task of proving the officers willfully violated Floyd's constitutional rights – unreasonably seizing him and depriving him of liberty without due process.  Phil Turner, a former federal prosecutor, said prosecutors must show that officers should have done something to stop Chauvin, rather than that they did something directly to Floyd.  Jury pool Among the jurors Magnuson excused was a man who said he has a problem watching video of Floyd's arrest. Several other excused jurors said they could not be impartial, including a man who said his faith also prevents him from judging a human being.  One woman was excused after she said she had difficulty with vandalism in the community. Afterward, Magnuson said he understood such concerns about "anarchy in streets" but "that fear cannot control in a courtroom."  The jury pool was selected from throughout the state – much more conservative and less diverse than the Minneapolis area from which the jury for Chauvin's state trial was drawn. That jury was evenly divided among whites and nonwhites. The federal court declined a request to provide demographic information on jurors in the civil rights trial.  Floyd, 46, died on May 25, 2020, after Chauvin pinned him to the ground with his knee on Floyd's neck for 9 1/2 minutes while Floyd was facedown, handcuffed and gasping for air. Kueng knelt on Floyd's back and Lane held down his legs. Thao kept bystanders from intervening.  Accusations A statement from attorneys for the Floyd family Thursday said bystander video showed that the three officers "directly contributed to (Floyd's) death and failed to intervene to stop the senseless murder" and that the family expects them to be held accountable.  Several activists gathered in front of the courthouse to call for conviction.  "Considering the fact that he moaned in agony, that he could not breathe for minutes on end until he passed, I believe for a fact that they denied him of his civil rights," said Courteney Ross, Floyd's girlfriend at the time of his death. "I demand justice, and I hope everyone remembers what they did on that day."  Federal prosecutors face a high legal standard to show that an officer willfully deprived someone of their constitutional rights. Essentially, prosecutors must prove that the officers knew what they were doing was wrong but did it anyway.  Magnuson said he expects the trial to last four weeks. Kueng, Lane and Thao are all charged with willfully depriving Floyd of the right to be free from an officer's deliberate indifference to his medical needs. The indictment says the three men saw Floyd needed medical care and failed to help him. Thao and Kueng are also charged with a second count alleging they willfully violated Floyd's right to be free from unreasonable seizure by not stopping Chauvin as he knelt on Floyd's neck. It's not clear why Lane is not mentioned in that count, but evidence shows he asked twice whether Floyd should be rolled on his side. Both counts allege the officers' actions resulted in Floyd's death. Such federal civil rights violations are punishable by up to life in prison or even death, but those stiff sentences are extremely rare, and federal sentencing guidelines indicate the officers would get much less if convicted.   

Antimicrobial resistance killing more than HIV and malaria

by Sanjeet Bagcchi, 4 days ago

Antibiotic-resistant infections killed 1.27 million people in 2019, with children most vulnerable, study shows.

Iran, Russia Tout Closer Ties Amid Tensions With Europe, US

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Iran’s president visited Russia this week on a visit Iranian officials called a “turning point” in their relations, as officials also announced a planned joint naval exercise that includes China for later this week. The visit by President Ebrahim Raisi to Moscow comes amid rising tensions between Russia and Western countries over Moscow’s troop buildup on Ukraine’s border, broadly seen as preparation for a possible invasion. Russia claims it has no plans to invade. In a speech Thursday before Russia’s parliament, the Duma, Raisi accused NATO of expanding into “various geographical areas with new coverings that threaten the common interests of independent states.” Raisi and Russian President Vladimir Putin met at the Kremlin on Wednesday, but despite the red-carpet welcome, there were no substantial country-to-country agreements announced. “The significance of the trip at the moment is still mostly symbolic,” Alex Vatanka, director of the Middle East Institute’s Iran Program, told VOA. “There's talk of closer military cooperation. There's talk of strategic cooperation in the energy sector. We've heard this before. Time will show if any tangible deals can be reached.” In his only tweet about Raisi’s trip to Russia, Iran’s foreign minister, Hossein Amirabdollahian, was cryptic. “The presidents of the two countries agreed on a long-term roadmap,” he wrote, without clarifying what the map was about or whether an agreement was signed. During Raisi’s travels, Iranian state-run media reported planned joint naval exercises among Iranian, Russian and Chinese forces in the north of the Indian Ocean on Friday. Iran's armed forces and Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps will take part in the drills, an Iranian military official said. Iran became a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in September 2021, thanks to strong Russian support. Uncertainty ahead of nuclear talks The Iranian president also gave assurances in remarks before Russian officials that his country was not seeking nuclear arms. “We are not looking for a nuclear weapon, and such weapons have no place in our defense strategy,” Raisi told Russian lawmakers. The United States and its allies accuse Iran of trying to make nuclear weapons and using terrorism to destabilize countries in the Middle East – charges Tehran rejects. Iranian diplomats are in talks with U.S. and European counterparts to revive the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal, which former President Donald Trump pulled out of, calling it “one-sided and unacceptable.” The talks are at a “decisive moment,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Thursday. The top U.S. diplomat warned that Washington and its allies might change tactics if a deal isn’t reached in the coming weeks. Speaking in Vienna on Thursday alongside Blinken, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock indicated that European nations had sought to ensure China and Russia also maintained pressure on Iran. In Moscow, the Iranian president said his country was “serious about reaching an agreement if the other parties are serious about lifting the sanctions effectively and operationally.” Opportunistic alliance? Russia and Iran both have critical disagreements with the U.S. on issues ranging from Iran’s nuclear program and alleged backing of terrorist groups in the Middle East to Russia’s security and strategic threats to NATO. The two countries have also cooperated in some areas, such as countering U.S. interests in Syria and Afghanistan. But on other topics, divides include Iran’s existential threats to Israel and Russia’s official objection to Iran’s proliferation of nuclear arms. “This is not a matter of two nations which agree on politics or ideology to, somehow, form an alliance. It is basically an opportunistic alliance where both countries would really ignore their differences because of their hostility to the United States,” Anthony Cordesman, an expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told VOA. It’s unclear to what extent Putin will go with Iran and against the West, experts say. With the U.S. departure from Afghanistan, which shares a long border with Iran and three Central Asian republics, analysts say Moscow and Tehran will find a common agenda in countering drugs, refugees and terrorist groups like the Islamic State’s Khorasan branch. “Russia and Iran will probably blame everything that will go wrong in Afghanistan on the U.S. policies. But the reality is now Afghanistan is on its own, and neighboring states like Russia and Iran have every reason to shape the internal dynamics of Afghanistan in a way that their actual interests are not jeopardized,” said Vatanka of the Middle East Institute. Before their seizure of power in Afghanistan, the Taliban signed an agreement with the U.S. that requires them to deny territory and support to any group that poses threats to the U.S. security and interests. Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and RFE/RL.

US Drops Case Against MIT Professor Accused of Ties to China

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The Justice Department dropped charges Thursday against a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor accused of concealing ties to the Chinese government, a further setback to a federal initiative that was set up to prevent economic espionage and theft by Beijing of trade secrets and academic research. The department revealed its decision in the case against Gang Chen in a filing in federal court in Boston, saying it could no longer meet its burden of proof. U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins, the top federal prosecutor in Massachusetts, said the move was "in the interests of justice" and was the result of new information the government had received about the allegations.  "After a careful assessment of this new information in the context of all the evidence, our office has concluded that we can no longer meet our burden of proof at trial," Rollins said. "As prosecutors, we have an obligation in every matter we pursue to continually examine the facts while being open to receiving and uncovering new information."  The outcome, which had been expected and was earlier recommended by prosecutors in Boston, is a blow to a Justice Department effort known as the China Initiative, which was set up in 2018 to crack down on Chinese economic espionage and trade secret theft. A key prong of the initiative has focused on academics in the U.S. accused of concealing research ties to China on grant applications. But critics have long said the effort unduly targets researchers based on ethnicity and that it chills academic collaboration.  The Justice Department is reviewing the future of the program, a process expected to be completed in the coming weeks, said spokesperson Wyn Hornbuckle.  In a statement, Chen thanked his supporters and said he would have more to say soon.  "While I am relieved that my ordeal is over, I am mindful that this terribly misguided China Initiative continues to bring unwarranted fear to the academic community and other scientists still face charges," Chen said. Accusations against Chen Chen, a mechanical engineering professor, was arrested in January 2021 in the final days of the Trump administration and charged with concealing ties to Beijing while also collecting U.S. payment for his nanotechnology research. Prosecutors accused him at the time of entering into undisclosed contracts and appointments with Chinese entities, including acting as an "overseas expert" for the Chinese government at the request of the People's Republic of China Consulate Office in New York. Many of those roles were "expressly intended to further the PRC's scientific and technological goals," authorities in court documents.  He was accused of failing to disclose information about connections to China in an application for an Energy Department grant. Chen's lawyers have consistently said that he did nothing wrong and that he disclosed what he needed to disclose. The case began to wobble as the government received new information, including from the Energy Department, a person familiar with the matter said last week. In a statement Thursday, defense attorney Robert Fisher called the case a "wayward prosecution" and said his client was eager to return to work. He thanked the "many witnesses who came forward and told the government how badly they misunderstood the details surrounding scientific and academic collaboration."  "Our defense was this: Gang did not commit any of the offenses he was charged with. Full stop. He was never in a talent program. He was never an overseas scientist for Beijing. He disclosed everything he was supposed to disclose, and he never lied to the government or anyone else," Fisher said in a statement.  Other China Initiative cases  Many of the China Initiative cases against academics and professors have centered on false statement or fraud allegations, rather than accusations of espionage or passing along academic research or technical or scientific expertise to China.  The initiative has resulted in some significant guilty pleas and convictions and did score a high-profile win last month with the conviction of a Harvard University professor on charges that he hid his ties to a Chinese-run recruitment program.  But other big cases brought as part of the China Initiative have faltered.  A federal judge in September, for example, threw out all charges against a University of Tennessee professor accused of hiding his relationship with a Chinese university while receiving research grants from NASA, and the university has since offered to reinstate him.  Critics of the China Initiative have called for the Justice Department to shut the program down. The department's top national security official, Matthew Olsen, met Wednesday with members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, who expressed their concerns.  Andrew Lelling, who was the U.S. attorney in Boston when Chen was charged, wrote in a LinkedIn post several weeks ago that the China Initiative was created in response to "concerns about economic espionage involving an emerging political rival."  Now, he wrote, the "initiative has drifted, and in some significant ways, lost its focus. DOJ should revamp, and shut down, parts of the program, to avoid needlessly chilling scientific and business collaborations with Chinese partners."   

Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) - Day 12

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Thursday, January 20, 2022 Sierra Leone vs Equatorial Guinea | 0-1 Ivory Coast vs Algeria | 3-1 Gambia vs Tunisia | 1-0 Mali vs Mauritania | 2-0  

At UN: US, Partners Call for North Korea Sanctions Enforcement 

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The United States and several allies on Thursday issued a joint condemnation of North Korea’s most recent ballistic missile launches and urged the thorough implementation of U.N. sanctions.  “It is extremely important that member states take the necessary steps to implement the sanctions in their jurisdictions or risk providing a blank check for the DPRK regime to advance a weapons program,” U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said, using the acronym for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the North’s official name.  She spoke to reporters at the United Nations flanked by her counterparts from Albania, Brazil, Britain, France, Ireland, Japan and the United Arab Emirates. All but Japan are current security council members.  This is the second time in 10 days that the council has met behind closed doors to discuss North Korea’s missile launches.  Since the start of the year, North Korea has conducted two tests of what it described as a hypersonic missile, launched a pair of ballistic missiles from a train, and fired a pair of tactical guided missiles from an airport in Pyongyang.  “We will continue to speak out against the DPRK’s destabilizing actions as affronts to regional and international peace and security,” Thomas-Greenfield said. “We call on the DPRK to cease these unlawful actions and return to dialogue.”  North Korea has ignored repeated offers by the United States to restart negotiations, saying Washington must first drop its “hostile policy.”  Thomas-Greenfield also called on the U.N. Security Council Sanctions Committee on North Korea to support sanctions designations on individuals and entities contributing to Pyongyang’s illicit weapons programs, including five individuals whom the U.S. proposed to be sanctioned last week.  Diplomats said Thursday that China and Russia were holding up the designations. The committee must unanimously agree to new designations. 

In Ethiopia, Guinea and Mali, Fears Rise Over Losing Duty-Free Access to US Market

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For Sammy Abdella, the new year has brought bad tidings: the prospect of a steep drop in sales of scarves, rugs, baskets and other textile goods produced by Sammy Handmade in Ethiopia. “The U.S. market is our main destination,” said Abdella, who estimates it accounts for nearly two-thirds of sales for his Addis Ababa-based home decor and fashion company. “So, losing that put us in a very, you know, bad situation.” The source of Abdella’s stress? Effective January 1, Ethiopia was one of three countries — including Guinea and Mali — dropped from a U.S. trade program authorized by the African Growth and Opportunity Act of 2000.  AGOA gives sub-Saharan African countries duty-free access to U.S. markets for 6,500 products — if those countries meet eligibility requirements such as promoting a market-based economy and good governance and eliminating barriers to U.S. trade and investment. Ethiopia lost its AGOA trade benefits for alleged “gross violations” of human rights in the conflict spreading beyond the northern Tigray region, and the West African nations of Guinea and Mali were disqualified for “unconstitutional change” in their respective governments, the U.S. Trade Representative’s office said.  Guinea experienced a coup d’etat in September. Mali has had two coups since 2020, and its military-led transitional government recently delayed elections. Mali also had been suspended from AGOA for all of 2013 after an earlier coup A second AGOA delisting will have “serious consequences on the trade in Mali,” Mamadou Fofana, a Mali Chamber of Commerce and Industry spokesman, told VOA. Mohamed Kaloko, head of Guinea’s Export Promotion Agency, said losing AGOA status raises the duty fee from zero to “at least 35%” for Guinean textiles, which he said were “well sought after on the American market.” Gracelin Baskaran, a development economist at Cambridge University, predicted the suspensions would have limited impact on Guinea and Mali. Each sends relatively little to U.S. markets — less than 1% of their total exports, based on 2019 trade data. But Ethiopia likely will feel “much larger effects,” Baskaran said. While the country ranks 88th among U.S. trade partners, its export-driven economic growth model has the American market as a key destination. “China is the biggest destination,” accounting for 16.6% of Ethiopian exports, “but the U.S. is only one percentage point behind,” at 15.6%, she said, citing data from the Observatory of Economic Complexity. ‘Transformative’ program Through AGOA, African businesses overall exported $8.4 billion worth of goods to U.S. markets in 2019, according to the U.S. Trade Representative’s office.  “AGOA has been transformative for the continent,” Baskaran said, noting that textile and apparel imports from Africa to the U.S. “skyrocketed” through the program, “increasing from $356 million in 2001 to $1.6 billion within three years.” But when a country gets suspended from AGOA, it loses its competitive edge and increases the chance that investors and businesses will seek other, more stable markets.  “What we’ve seen over and over is that they [countries] don’t necessarily recover,” Baskaran said, “even years after benefits have been reinstated.” She cited the experience of Eswatini (formerly Swaziland). In 2015, the U.S. government cut AGOA access to the tiny, landlocked southern African nation over labor and human rights violations. Many of the 30 textile and apparel factories established to produce for the American market closed down or moved to nearby Lesotho, and the value of Eswatini textile and apparel exports to the U.S. fell from $73 million in 2011 to just $319,000 in 2017, Baskaran said. “Uncertainty around AGOA benefits creates long-term effects that undermine growth,” Baskaran said. Kassahun Follo, president of the Confederation of Ethiopian Trade Unions, estimated that more than 200,000 jobs will be directly affected and more than 1 million indirectly, mostly in textiles, apparel and leather, by the loss of Ethiopia’s AGOA benefits. Abdella expressed concern for Sammy Handmade and its 57 full-time workers. “We also outsource to about 135 people,” he said, including weavers and others who produce handicrafts such as ponchos, baskets and leather purses. The loss will also be felt in the United States, Abdella said. Along with his company’s direct sales to high-end department stores and boutiques, “we’ve had many wholesalers that actually buy from us, and then they in turn sell to retailers. Our wholesale clients are worried. … The market has become so competitive.” ‘People will be scared’ The Ethiopian Economic Association’s executive chairman, Mengistu Ketema, suggested the loss might prompt the Horn of Africa country to turn more to China, already Ethiopia’s top source of direct foreign investment.  China pays little heed to a trading partner’s internal affairs, in contrast with the U.S. government, Mengistu told VOA. “They don't have any conditions attached when they support or do business with you,” he said of Chinese officials. “So, if you see where Ethiopia is now, when the U.S. and so many countries are turning their backs on her, considering China as an alternative is a good move. At least that would help her during her difficult time.” In an emailed response to VOA, the U.S. State Department called China “a global strategic competitor. We offer alternatives in collaboration with our African and other partners consistent with our shared values.” The email also said, in part: “The United States promotes democratic governance, respect for human rights, and transparency. Our focus is on strengthening local capacity, creating African jobs, and working with our allies and partners to promote economic growth that is beneficial, sustainable, and inclusive over the long term.” Trade and statecraft Trade is a tool of economic statecraft, “one of the best ways of promoting democracy,” said economist Baskaran, noting how economic sanctions effectively pressured South Africa to end apartheid in the 1990s. Unfortunately, Baskaran said, “there are trade-offs” with sanctions. Businesses and individuals can “fall victim to the drive for large-scale change.” In Mali’s capital, Bamako, Moussa Bagayoko weaves and dyes cotton fabric for a living. He sees the AGOA delisting as another blow on top of the pandemic, one that will land heavily on tradespeople like him. “There is no more work for America,” Bagayoko said. “The coronavirus had completely shut us out of everything. … The U.S. government suspends us based on the fact that we do not have a good model of democracy at home. This suspension affects us craftsmen, not authorities.” Bagayoko has participated in the trade program since 2013. “I earn my living through AGOA,” he said, “but not if it is taken away from me.” The U.S. Trade Representative’s office has said it would help the governments of each delisted country work toward “clear benchmarks for a pathway to [AGOA] reinstatement.” Each country’s status could be reviewed as soon as it meets the program’s statutory requirements. The overall AGOA trade program is up for renewal in 2025. Contributors to this VOA report were Moctar Barry in Bamako, Mali, and Kadiatou Traore for the Bambara Service; and Zakaria Camara in Conakry, Guinea, for the French Service. Dereje Desta of the Horn of Africa Service and Carol Guensburg also reported from Washington.

Guard Chief Details Changes to Combat Sexual Assault, Harassment > U.S. Department of Defense > Defense Department News

by Jim Garamone, 4 days ago

The National Guard is instituting changes to better combat sexual assault and harassment in the ranks, Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson told the House Armed Services military personnel subcommittee.

Groups: 6 Killed in Rocket Attack on Northern Town in Syria

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A rocket attack on a northern Syrian town controlled by Turkey-backed opposition fighters killed six civilians and wounded over a dozen people on Thursday, Syrian rescuers and a war monitor said. Both blamed U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish forces for the attack. The town of Afrin has been under the control of Turkey and its allied Syrian opposition fighters since 2018, following a Turkey-backed military operation that pushed Syrian Kurdish fighters and thousands of Kurdish residents from the area. Since then, Afrin and surrounding villages have been the site of attacks on Turkish and Turkey-backed targets. Ankara considers Kurdish fighters who control a swath of Syrian territory along Turkey's border to be terrorists, allied with Kurdish insurgents within Turkey. Turkey has carried out three military offensives into Syria, mostly to drive the Syrian Kurdish militia away from its border. The White Helmets, a Syrian civil defense group operating in opposition-held areas, said the rockets also caused a fire in a residential area of Afrin which its volunteers put out. In a White Helmets video, rescuers are seen pulling a burned, lifeless body from a damaged building as others are putting out a raging fire that also left a couple of vehicles charred. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a war-monitoring group, also put the death toll at six, saying two children were among the killed and 30 people were wounded. Syrian Kurdish fighters were allied with the U.S.-led coalition in the fight against Islamic State militants who captured a third of Iraq and Syria in 2014. IS was defeated, and Kurdish forces have since created an autonomous administration in northeastern Syria, where a small U.S. force is still based. Prison incident Also Thursday, the Kurdish-led forces reported an attempted escape from a prison in northeastern Syria that holds IS militants. According to the report, militants first started to riot inside the Ghuwayran prison in the city of al-Hasaka, but the Kurdish forces subdued the riots. This was followed by a car bomb, which was detonated in a facility for storing and distributing petroleum products close to the prison. After this, clashes ensued with security forces in the area. It was not immediately clear if any prisoners had managed to escape as the situation continued to develop late into the evening. SOHR said the U.S-led coalition provided air cover for the Kurdish-led forces, known as the Syrian Democratic Forces.   

US Travel Advisory Dismays Canadians Amid Omicron Wave

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Canadians, quietly prideful about their relatively high rates of COVID-19 vaccination and face mask compliance, were taken aback last week when the United States declared the country unsafe and advised Americans not to travel across their northern border. “That the U.S. government … has placed Canada at the top COVID threat level for Americans to travel is baffling to me,” said Grant Perry, who worked with pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline on Canada’s H1N1 response. “COVID is rampant across the continent, but Canada is not the worrying location,” Perry said in an interview. The January 10 advisory on the U.S. State Department website, saying bluntly, “Do not travel to Canada due to COVID-19,” marked a sharp reversal of fortune after months in which Canada had fared much better than its southern neighbor against the virus. With 78% of the population fully vaccinated compared with 63% in the U.S. and far less resistance to the use of face masks, a certain complacency — even smugness — had set in in some quarters before the arrival of omicron. Even today, per capita caseloads and hospitalizations are lower than in the United States, but medical experts are no less alarmed by a surge of cases that is now straining the country’s government-run health care system. 'Neck deep,' but promising signs “Canada is currently neck deep in omicron right now and our health care system is stretched,” said Isaac Bogoch, a medical expert with the University of Toronto department of medicine who is frequently interviewed by Canadian news outlets. “There may be some very early signs that this wave is peaking in some regions,” Bogoch added. “All parts of the country have some form of mitigation effort, ranging from mask use indoors to vaccine certificate required for nonessential businesses.” Canada’s seven-day average of new cases peaked at more than 46,000 on January 10, the day of the U.S. advisory, and currently stands at more than 26,000. Those figures compare with previous peaks of fewer than 9,000 daily new cases in January and April 2021, according to a Google database. The same database shows hospitalizations at about 9,700 and rising, compared with a previous peak of fewer than 4,800. The strain has led to calls for systemic reform of the health care system, which was struggling in some regions even before the pandemic. In the Atlantic province of Nova Scotia, there has been a crushing doctor shortage for years. Provincial Premier Tim Houston led his Conservative Party to an upset victory last year, at least in part on promises to address the health care crisis, even though the province was experiencing few COVID-19 cases at the time. Nigel Rawson, a senior fellow at the pro-market Fraser Institute think tank, told VOA: “The current COVID situation yet again demonstrates the fragility of the health system, which normally runs at full capacity because governments insist on paring the numbers of health care providers, hospital beds and most other services to the bone, while being overburdened with administrators.” 'They are doing their best' Taylor James, a recovering COVID-19 sufferer living in the western city of Calgary, has a more forgiving view of the government’s dilemma. “As much as I am not a fan of any of our current elected leaders, I do think for the most part they are doing their best,” said James, a truck driver who gave up his previous job as a city transit driver to reduce his exposure to the coronavirus. “The problem comes in when they try and please both sides. You have anti-mask, anti-vax on one side and pro-mask, pro-vax on the other. “They can't win,” he said. “Go all out and shut everything down and you make one group rebel. Or do the opposite and have an overloaded health care system and cause the professionals running that to leave or worse.” James believes, ironically, that he contracted the disease on a work trip to the United States. “Can't say 100% that I caught it in the USA. However, it is very likely, seeing as how everywhere I was in Canada still had mandatory mask and vaccination mandates to enter,” he said.

Myanmar's Junta Arrests More Journalists

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Three journalists at Dawei Watch, an independent news website in Myanmar, were arrested this week on unspecified charges, an editor at the publication said. The editor, who asked to remain anonymous for his own safety, said the arrests occurred Tuesday and Wednesday in the southern city of Dawei, where the website is based. He said the reason for the arrests remained unclear. "Family members were allowed to send food and medicine. We do not know what will happen next," the editor told VOA Burmese. "Families were not allowed to sit down and talk with them — just to look at them." The journalist said none of those detained showed signs of being beaten. "They are fine and stable, according to family members," he said. The first to be arrested was Moe Myint. The 35-year-old journalist, who has three children, was detained Tuesday. Two of her colleagues, journalist Ko Zaw and web designer Thar Gyi, were arrested the following day. Respect, but with rules The junta has said that it respects the role of media but will not allow reporting that is false or incites unrest. "There is no reason to arrest, charge or jail media personnel if they do their media job," military spokesperson Major General Zaw Min Tun told VOA Burmese recently. He said that foreign and local journalists are working in Yangon, Naypyidaw and Mandalay and that journalists are invited to press briefings. "They can freely move," Zaw Min Tun said. "However, if those media personnel encourage or instigate or involve in terrorist's activities, action would be taken as criminals, as I have said it before." The Dawei Watch editor has called for his colleagues to be released. "It is getting worse for journalists being arrested like this," he said. "The main thing is that all of our reporters have the right to report on what is really happening on the ground." Opposition activists in Dawei have come under pressure. In late December, more than 30 people, including student activists, were sentenced to prison, some for up to 19 years, according to local reports. Media crackdown Since seizing power in a coup in February 2021, the junta has revoked broadcast licenses and arrested dozens of journalists. At least one journalist died in military custody in December, and two others have been killed. One of those, Khonumthung Media Group founder Pu Tuidim, had fled to neighboring India from Chin state but was arrested when he returned. His body was found on January 9, two days after being taken by the military, along with those of nine others, according to reports. Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) described the recent deaths of journalists as "a sign of the absolutely unacceptable practices increasingly employed by the junta." "We appeal to the international community to toughen the sanctions imposed on the junta's members in order to end this headlong escalation in terror," RSF Asia-Pacific desk head Daniel Bastard said in a statement. At least 115 journalists have been detained since the February 1 coup, with 44 still behind bars, according to Reporting ASEAN, a Southeast Asia media advocacy group. The Dawei Watch editor defended the work of the news website's staff. "Our reporters are not doing anything wrong. They are doing their job covering the ground situation," he said.  Khin Soe Win contributed to this report, which originated in ​VOA's Burmese Service. Some information is from Reuters.

Senate Panel Moves Forward With Bill Targeting Big Tech

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Legislation that would bar technology companies from favoring their own products in a way that undermines competitiveness moved forward Thursday after a Senate panel voted to move the bill to the Senate floor.  The American Innovation and Choice Online Act received bipartisan support in a 16-6 vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee.  The bill targets Amazon; Alphabet, the parent company of Google; Apple; and Meta, which was formerly called Facebook.  The companies had worked strenuously to sink the bill, arguing it could disrupt their services.  Smaller tech companies that supported the bill argued it will benefit consumers through adding competition.  "This bill is not meant to break up Big Tech or destroy the products and services they offer," said Senator Chuck Grassley, the top Republican on the judiciary panel. "The goal of the bill is to prevent conduct that stifles competition."  Matt Schruers, president of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, was critical of the bill and said he thought it would not pass the full Senate.  "Antitrust policy should aim to promote consumer welfare — not punish specific companies," he said in a statement.  Another bill aimed at Big Tech, which has bipartisan sponsorship, is also working its way through Congress. The Open App Markets Act would prevent the Apple and Google app stores from requiring app makers to use their payment systems.  The House of Representatives is also considering versions of both bills.  Some information for this report came from Reuters. 

Medical Leaders Address COVID-19 Concerns During Blue Star Families Forum > U.S. Department of Defense > Defense Department News

by Terri Moon Cronk, 4 days ago

The sheer volume of COVID-19 infections makes the virus and its variants a real challenge, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told a Blue Star Families forum.

US Capitol Riot Probe Seeks Ivanka Trump’s Cooperation

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The congressional committee investigating the January 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol on Thursday asked former President Donald Trump’s daughter to voluntarily cooperate with its probe.  In a letter to Ivanka Trump, committee Chairman Bennie Thompson said the panel wants her to tell them what she knows about her father’s efforts to thwart congressional certification that he lost the November 2020 election. They also want to know what he was doing as his supporters rampaged through the Capitol while lawmakers were in the initial stages of certifying Democrat Joe Biden as the new president. It was not immediately known whether the former first daughter would cooperate with the investigation. Thompson said the committee wants to meet with Ivanka Trump, a White House adviser to her father, because she was in direct contact with him at key moments on January 6, 2021, two weeks before Biden was inaugurated and Donald Trump left Washington.  Thompson said the committee wants to know about the former president’s efforts to pressure then-Vice President Mike Pence to block congressional certification of election results in key states where Biden outpolled Trump. “One of the president’s discussions with the vice president occurred by phone on the morning of January 6th,” Thompson wrote in the letter to Ivanka Trump. “You were present in the Oval Office and observed at least one side of that telephone conversation.”  The committee also said it wanted to learn about Ivanka Trump’s efforts to get her father to call off rioters after they had stormed into the Capitol. At an earlier rally near the White House that day, then-President Trump urged supporters to go the Capitol and “fight like hell” to stop Biden from being declared the winner of the 2020 election.  “Testimony obtained by the committee indicates that members of the White House staff requested your assistance on multiple occasions to intervene in an attempt to persuade President Trump to address the ongoing lawlessness and violence on Capitol Hill,” Thompson wrote.  Then-President Trump remained publicly silent for more than three hours about the rampage of hundreds of his supporters at the Capitol but late in the afternoon he released a short video urging them to leave.  As he does to this day, Donald Trump mentioned in the video the false conspiracy theory that he won the election, saying, "I know your pain; I know you're hurt. We had an election that was stolen from us. It was a landslide election, and everyone knows it. Especially the other side. But you have to go home now. We have to have peace."  After the Capitol was cleared of protesters, Congress certified Biden’s election victory in the early hours of January 7. More than 700 rioters have been charged with an array of criminal offenses, some as minor as trespassing and others with felonies, such as attacking police and vandalizing the Capitol.  At a political rally last Saturday, Donald Trump called the arrests “an appalling persecution of political prisoners."  The investigative committee has interviewed more than 300 witnesses and issued subpoenas to dozens more. This week, they included Rudy Giuliani and other members of Trump’s legal team who filed bogus legal challenges to the 2020 election supporting the former president’s false claim that he had been cheated out of a second term. The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected the former president’s bid to keep the National Archives from sending hundreds of his White House documents related to the election and day of the riot to the investigative panel.

Tongan Man Dubbed ‘Aquaman’ After He Survived 27 Hours at Sea

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A 57-year-old partially disabled Tongan man is being called a real-life “Aquaman” for surviving 27 hours at sea after being swept away by a tsunami generated by the massive volcanic eruption near the island nation Saturday.  In an interview with Tongan media agency Broadcom Broadcasting, Lisala Folau told the story of how he was painting his home Saturday evening on the small, isolated island of Atata when, about 7 p.m., his brother alerted him to the impending tsunami.  Officials say the massive eruption of the Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha'apai volcano generated large tsunamis throughout the region and across the Pacific. Folau said a wave no less than 6 meters swept him and his niece out to sea. He said the two called out to each other for a time until he could no longer hear her.  He said he just floated, all night, “bashed around by the big waves that kept coming." At dawn, he said, he tried to flag down a police boat, but it could not see him. He said he kept floating and managed to slowly swim 7.5 km to the main island of Tongatapu, reaching the shore 27 hours later, about 10 p.m. Sunday.  Folau said he is disabled and cannot walk properly.  The story of Folau's heroics went viral among Tongan groups on Facebook and other social media. Western media trying to reach Folau to verify his story have so far been unsuccessful.  His home island of Atata, which has a population of about 60 people, is 8 km northwest of Tonga’s capital, Nuku'alofa, or a 30-minute boat ride. It was almost entirely destroyed in the tsunami that hit the islands. Tongan naval boats are still surveying the smaller islands and evacuating people to the main islands.  Some information in this report came from Reuters.

The Inside Story-Biden's First Year Episode 23

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Joe Biden's first year as President of the United States has been marked with challenges ranging from the COVID pandemic to Russia's threat to Ukraine. The Inside Story examines the president's first year in office and how it might shape year two. The Inside Story-Biden's First Year. Air date: January 20, 2022.  

Superbugs Deadlier Than AIDS, Malaria, Study Shows

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More than 1.2 million people are dying every year directly from bacterial infections that are resistant to several antibiotics, according to a new study, making multiresistant bacteria far deadlier than HIV/AIDS or malaria. A further 4.95 million deaths were associated with these multiresistant bacteria. “It is estimated that if we don’t find alternatives by 2050, millions of lives will be lost and there will be $100 trillion of lost [economic] output,” Antonia Sagona, an expert on bacterial infections at England's University of Warwick, said in an interview with VOA.  The study, published in The Lancet and led by the University of Washington in Seattle, analyzed data from 204 countries and territories. It showed that poorer nations were worst hit by antibiotic resistance, especially those in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. “Lower respiratory infections accounted for more than 1.5 million deaths associated with [antibiotic] resistance in 2019, making it the most burdensome infectious syndrome,” the report said. The authors cautioned there is an urgent need for more research. “There are serious data gaps in many low-income settings, emphasizing the need to expand microbiology laboratory capacity and data collection systems to improve our understanding of this important human health threat,” they wrote.  Antibiotic misuse Scientists say the misuse of antibiotics over decades has encouraged microorganisms to evolve into “superbugs.” “For example, people have viral infections, and they have been prescribed antibiotics for very many years now. And this over the years has made the problem very severe, so the bacteria have become really resistant to these antibiotics,” Sagona said. The World Health Organization last year warned that none of the 43 antibiotics in development or recently approved was enough to combat antimicrobial resistance. New hope?  So what can be done? Sagona – along with other scientists around the world – is working on new treatments called phages. “These are viruses that can specifically target bacteria. And they can be used in combination with antibiotics or on their own to clear bacterial infections of multiresistant strains,” she told VOA. Despite the promising new treatments, scientists say it’s vital that existing antibiotics are not overused – to help slow down the development of the ever-deadlier superbugs.

A year after Navalny's return, Putin remains atop a changed Russia

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Macron’s Call for EU Talks With Kremlin Unnerves European Allies

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French President Emmanuel Macron’s call for the European Union to pursue its own talks with the Kremlin is raising fears of a split developing in the Western response to the threat of a Russian invasion in Ukraine. Macron has struggled in the past to convince his EU partners of the need for Europe to take regional security into its own hands and depend less on the United States. His speech to European lawmakers Wednesday, though, in which he called for the bloc to negotiate its own security and stability pact with the Kremlin, was welcomed by Russian state-owned media. But some Central European and Baltic leaders said Macron’s comments were ill-timed and risk encouraging the Kremlin to try to play the U.S. and EU against each other, and cause a divide as the U.S. calls for Western unity. Carl Bildt, the former Swedish prime minister, said he was at a loss to understand what Macron means about coming up with “a new order of security and stability.” “These next few months, rather, seem to call for firm defense of the existing post-1989 order,” he tweeted. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said Russia could “attack at very short notice.” Also, there have been reports that Russia has moved Iskander short-range ballistic missiles to the border, placing them within striking range of Kyiv. Russia has deployed an estimated 127,000 troops along Ukraine’s borders, according to Ukrainian intelligence assessments.   Some Russian detachments currently in Belarus, a Russian ally, have been moved closer to the Ukrainian border, according to the Conflict Intelligence Team (CIT), a group of independent Russian researchers, who say Russian military hardware has been spotted in Belarus’s Gomel region, a short distance from Ukraine. Russian officials deny they have any intention to attack Ukraine and that Russian forces are in Belarus for joint military exercises. In his speech before the European Parliament, Macron said: “It’s good for Europe and the U.S. to coordinate, but it is vital that Europe has its own dialogue with Russia.” He said Europeans should build a new framework “between us, Europeans, share it with our allies in NATO, and propose it for negotiation to Russia," he told EU lawmakers. Additionally, Macron emphasized that borders should be inviolable, and that the EU must not allow Russia to veto Ukraine or any other state from joining NATO, a key Russian demand. Macron’s floating of an EU security pact with Russia is “exactly the wrong thing to do,” tweeted Edward Lucas, of the Center for European Policy Analysis, a U.S.-based think tank, and author of the book “The New Cold War.” EU officials say they were blindsided by Macron’s call for Europeans to conduct their own dialogue with the Kremlin that’s distinct from the United States. Western diplomats said the French leader had not consulted other national leaders before the speech. On Thursday, senior EU officials sought to reassure Washington.   Macron aides also scrambled to walk back some of the French leader’s comments, with one saying Paris is very much in favor of close coordination with the U.S. And he said Macron’s call for a new security framework would help reinforce “the unity of the NATO alliance.” The EU has not been directly involved in the most substantive talks with the Kremlin over Ukraine and a series of other Russian demands, including an end to NATO enlargement and a rollback of any NATO military presence in the former Communist states of central Europe that have joined the Western alliance. Russian officials held meetings last week with the U.S. and with NATO, though EU representatives participated in a meeting of the 57 states of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Twenty-one of the EU’s 27 members also are NATO members. Asked whether the European Commission backed Macron’s proposal for separate talks with Russia, a spokesperson said the EU was formulating is strategy “within the framework of the ongoing contacts and coordination, both within the EU and between the EU and the transatlantic partners such as the U.S., Canada, NATO and the OSCE.” EU and NATO allies have been unanimous in rejecting Russian demands for Ukraine never to join the Western alliance, but there have been signs of divisions among them about how the West should seek to deter a Russian invasion of Ukraine and what steps to take if Russia does so.   Current and former Western diplomats have told VOA that while there’s broad agreement among Western powers about sanctioning Russia in the event of a military incursion, there is not yet a final deal on the details. And there have been disagreements between NATO allies on re-arming Ukraine, with Baltic NATO allies Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia pushing for weeks to be allowed to transfer American-made lethal weapons, including anti-armor and ground-to-air missiles, to Ukraine. Midweek they received a go-ahead from the U.S. State Department. But Germany is opposed to large arms transfers to Ukraine, fearing it risks escalating the East-West confrontation. U.S. President Joe Biden hinted Wednesday at the challenge of keeping all the NATO allies united. Biden reiterated warnings that Russia would face devastating Western sanctions, if an attack went ahead. But at a press conference in Washington, he also said: “It's one thing if it's a minor incursion, and we [in NATO] end up fighting about what we should do, not do.” Ukrainian officials reacted angrily to Biden’s comments, saying they fear the U.S. leader was inadvertently giving Russian leader Vladimir Putin the green light to mount an incursion short of a full-scale invasion. Ukrainian officials said they were surprised Biden distinguished between incursion and invasion. Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, told the Wall Street Journal: “Speaking of minor and full incursions or full invasion, you cannot be half-aggressive. You’re either aggressive or you’re not aggressive.” He added: “We should not give Putin the slightest chance to play with quasi-aggression or small incursion operations. This aggression was there since 2014. This is the fact.” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki issued a clarification amid the Ukrainian backlash, saying, “President Biden has been clear with the Russian President: If any Russian military forces move across the Ukrainian border, that's a renewed invasion, and it will be met with a swift, severe, and united response from the United States and our Allies.”  At a joint press conference in Berlin on Thursday, neither Secretary Blinken nor his German counterpart Annalena Baerbock directly addressed Macron’s comments. Both foreign ministers emphasized the intensity of consultations between all Western allies “The coordination and consultation amongst us allies couldn’t be more intensive than it is,” said Baerbock. Blinken added: “All of these engagements are part of wide-ranging, ongoing consultations with our European allies and partners — more than a hundred in recent weeks alone, including with Ukraine, NATO, the European Union, the OSCE, the Bucharest Nine, as well as many bilateral conversations with individual countries — to ensure that we are speaking and acting together with one voice when it comes to Russia.”

US Air Travel Safety Questions Linger Amid 5G Rollout

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An unresolved disagreement between U.S. wireless communications carriers and commercial airlines over the rollout of new 5G networks continues to generate confusion about whether air travel is safe in the United States.  On Wednesday, AT&T and Verizon, the two largest providers of mobile voice and internet service in the U.S., began turning on new wireless towers across the United States, making the ultra-fast 5G spectrum available to consumers, primarily in the more densely populated parts of the country. Up until the last moment, there was a dispute between the carriers and major U.S. airlines over whether or not the new service would be deployed near airports. This caused a handful of international carriers, including British Airways, Lufthansa, All Nippon, Japan Airlines and Emirates, to announce that they would suspend some service to the United States until the issue was resolved. Emirates President Tim Clark described the situation as “utterly irresponsible,” speaking earlier this week on CNN. By Thursday morning, most of the concern about international flights had been resolved, but lingering questions remain for the United States’ vast system or regional air travel. Interference with landing instruments possible The 5G C-band spectrum signal used for mobile communications - for which mobile carriers paid more than $80 billion in an auction last year - is similar to the signal that commercial airlines use to measure the altitude of planes landing during inclement weather. Airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration have expressed concern that some aircraft devices, called radar altimeters, could experience interference from the new 5G signals, creating dangerous conditions. On Wednesday, in a deal brokered by the Biden administration, mobile carriers said they would delay activating 5G towers near airport runways, leaving about 10% of the planned rollout inactive. In addition, the FAA specifically cleared several kinds of radar altimeters, including those commonly used in the Boeing 777, saying the data shows that 5G signals do not interfere with their systems. In a press release Wednesday, the FAA said its new approvals “allow an estimated 62 percent of the U.S. commercial fleet to perform low-visibility landings at airports where wireless companies deployed 5G C-band.” Regional airports waiting for answers While the FAA’s steps to clear large passenger planes for continued use following the 5G rollout have helped prevent problems at large airports, the new technology is causing concern about safety at regional airports across the country, which are served by a wide variety of passenger planes, typically smaller than those that fly into major hub airports. As of Wednesday, the FAA had not updated guidance for many smaller planes. Because there were relatively few severe weather systems in the U.S. on Wednesday, that did not translate into major delays. However, industry representatives said that it was only a matter of time before challenging weather conditions would begin causing problems. Faye Malarkey Black, the president and CEO of the regional Airline Association, used Twitter to air her concerns about the situation, saying, “Situational update: 0% of the regional airline fleet has been cleared to perform low visibility landings at #5G impacted airports if/when weather drops below minimums. Today’s fair weather is saving rural America from severe air service disruption.” Not a new problem The battle between the airlines and mobile carriers is particularly frustrating to many in the U.S., because it is a problem that has been successfully resolved in other countries around the world. China, the U.K., and France, for example, have managed to roll out 5G service without any significant impact on air travel. That was achieved by agreements between the parties that limited the number of cell towers near airports and the power levels at which they operate. In a warning to its members, the International Federation of Airline Pilots’ Associations noted that, in the U.S., “The power levels and proximities of the 5G signals are at higher power levels than any other deployment currently in use elsewhere in the world.” The situation in the U.S. was complicated by the fact that the slice of spectrum being used for 5G services is slightly different here than it is in Europe. In the U.S., mobile carriers bought the rights to the band between 3.7 and 3.98 gigahertz, putting their signals somewhat closer to the 4.2 to 4.4 GHz being used by airlines than the European mobile carriers, which are limited to a range of 3.4 to 3.8 GHz. The issue was raised during a press conference that U.S.President Joe Biden held at the White House on Wednesday afternoon. After being asked whether his administration bore part of the blame for confusion about flight safety, Biden characterized it as a fight between two private entities, over which the federal government exerts limited control. “The fact is that you had two enterprises — two private enterprises — that had one promoting 5G and the other one are airlines,” Biden said. “They’re private enterprises. They have government regulation, admittedly.” “And so, what I’ve done is pushed as hard as I can to have 5G folks hold up and abide by what was being requested by the airlines until they could more modernize over the years so that 5G would not interfere with the potential of the landing,” he said. “So, any tower — any 5G tower within a certain number of miles from the airport should not be operative.” Bureaucratic dysfunction The confusion resulting from the 5G rollout this week is at least partly attributable to dysfunction within the federal bureaucracy. Analysts say lines of authority between agencies responsible for auctioning off the rights to the wireless spectrum and those charged with managing conflicts are unclear.  The Federal Communications Commission is responsible for spectrum auctions, but it is the Federal Aviation Administration, a part of the Department of Transportation, which makes decisions about airline safety. Further complicating matters is that the agency in charge of mediating spectrum disputes, which is located within the Commerce Department, was without a director for two-and-a-half-years, until President Biden’s nominee was confirmed last week. That situation has led to multiple problems in the rollout of new communications technology over the years, including a recent battle during the Trump administration over whether new spectrum auctions would interfere with the satellite-based Global Positioning System

Supreme Court rejects Trump's blocking of Jan. 6 docs: 3 key takeaways from ruling

4 days ago

January 20, 2022

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

Why some decisions feel right while others don't

by ETH Zurich, 4 days ago

Feeling like you've really thought through all the different options makes us feel more confident in our choices, researchers report.

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