IMF Delegation Visits Crisis-hit Sri Lanka With Time Running Out 

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An International Monetary Fund (IMF) team arrives in Sri Lanka on Monday for talks on a bailout program, but time is short for a country just days from running out of fuel and likely months from getting any relief money.  Sri Lanka is battling its worst financial crisis since independence in 1948, as decades of economic mismanagement and recent policy errors coupled with a hit from COVID-19 to tourism and remittances, shriveling foreign reserves to record lows.  The island nation of 22 million people suspended payment on $12 billion debt in April. The United Nations has warned soaring inflation, a plunging currency and chronic shortages of fuel, food and medicine could spiral into a humanitarian crisis.  The IMF team, visiting Colombo through June 30, will continue recent talks on what would be Sri Lanka's 17th rescue program, the IMF said on Sunday.  "We reaffirm our commitment to support Sri Lanka at this difficult time, in line with the IMF’s policies," the global lender said in a statement.  Colombo hopes the IMF visit, overlapping with debt restructuring talks, will yield a quick staff-level agreement and a fast track for IMF board disbursements. But that typically takes months, while Sri Lanka risks more shortages and political unrest.  "Even if a staff-level agreement is reached, final program approval will be contingent upon assurances that official creditors, including China, are willing to provide adequate debt relief," said Patrick Curran, senior economist at U.S. investment research firm Tellimer. "All considered, the restructuring is likely to be a protracted process."  Waiting for guess, for  But the crisis is already overwhelming for average Sri Lankans, like autorickshaw driver Mohammed Rahuman, 64, who was recently standing in line for gasoline for more than 16 hours.  "They say petrol will come but nothing yet," he told Reuters. "Things are very difficult. I cannot earn any money, I cannot go home and I cannot sleep."  Snaking lines kilometers long have formed outside most fuel pumps since last week. Schools in urban areas have closed and public workers have been asked to work from home for two weeks.  Bondholders expect the IMF visit to give clarity on how much debt Sri Lanka can repay and what haircuts investors may have to take.  "This IMF visit is very important – the country will need every help and support it can get," said Lutz Roehmeyer, portfolio manager at Berlin-based bondholder Capitulum Asset Management. "For many international bondholders, this will be a key requirement to ensure they come to the table and talk about a debt restructuring in the first place."  Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said this month an IMF program is crucial to access bridge financing from sources such as the World Bank and Asian Development Bank.  Representatives from Sri Lanka's financial and legal advisers, Lazard and Clifford Chance, are in Colombo.

Zelenskyy Expects Increase in Russian Hostility Ahead of EU Vote

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said “we should expect greater hostile activity from Russia” this week as European Union leaders consider whether to support candidate status for Ukraine in the EU. “And not only against Ukraine, but also against other European countries. We are preparing. We are ready. We are warning partners,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly address Sunday. The European Commission recommended last week that Ukraine receive candidate status. The 27 member states will discuss the issue and give their votes during a summit Thursday and Friday. If Ukraine does advance to candidate status, the process for joining the EU in full could take several years. Zelenskyy said, “fierce fighting continues in Donbas,” the eastern region of Ukraine that has been the focus of Russian efforts in recent months. Leaders implore West for support NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg warned Sunday that Russia’s war in Ukraine could be long-lasting, but said Western allies should not curb their support for Kyiv’s forces. “We must prepare for the fact that it could take years,” Stoltenberg told the German weekly Bild am Sonntag. “We must not let up in supporting Ukraine, even if the costs are high, not only for military support, also because of rising energy and food prices.” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who visited Kyiv on Friday with an offer of training for Ukrainian forces, also warned against the risk of “Ukraine fatigue” as the war grinds on toward the four-month mark in the coming days. In an opinion piece in London’s Sunday Times, Johnson said this meant ensuring “Ukraine receives weapons, equipment, ammunition and training more rapidly than the invader.” Zelenskyy said he had visited forces in the southern Mykolaiv region, about 550 kilometers south of Kyiv. "Their mood is assured: they all do not doubt our victory," he said in a video Sunday that appeared to have been recorded on a moving train. "We will not give the south to anyone, and all that is ours we will take back" from the Russians. Zelenskyy said Russian forces had destroyed parts of the Mykolaiv and Odesa regions. “The losses are significant,” he said. “Many houses have been destroyed; civilian logistics have been disrupted.” Battles continue in east While Russia failed early in the war to topple Zelenskyy’s government and capture the capital, Kyiv, intense fighting rages in the eastern part of the country, centering on the embattled industrial city of Sievierodonetsk in Luhansk province, which is part of the broader Donbas region that Russia is trying to control. Shelling continues, but Luhansk Governor Serhiy Haidai told Ukraine television, “All Russian claims that they control the town are a lie. They control the main part of the town, but not the whole town.” But he said the battles made evacuations from the city impossible. Haidai said that in Sievierodonetsk’s twin city of Lysychansk, residential buildings and private houses had been destroyed. “People are dying on the streets and in bomb shelters,” he said. Russia’s defense ministry said its forces have taken control of Metolkine, just southeast of Sievierodonetsk, with Russian state news agency TASS claiming that many Ukrainian fighters had surrendered there. Ukraine’s military acknowledged that Russia had “partial success” in the area. Analysts at a Washington-based think tank, the Institute for the Study of War, said in a note that “Russian forces will likely be able to seize Sievierodonetsk in the coming weeks, but at the cost of concentrating most of their available forces in this small area.” Some information from this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.

Female Asian Journalists Face Harassment in Allegedly Beijing-backed Campaign

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Threats of violence and rape. Accusations of being a traitor. Insults regarding appearance. Asian journalists covering politics or human rights in China, especially women, risk a barrage of online assault every time they hit publish. Top China journalists and other China analysts are facing an "ongoing, coordinated and large-scale online information campaign” on Twitter, according to an Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) report, which says women of Asian descent facing the worst of the vitriol. The think tank, based in Australia’s capital of Canberra, determined that the inauthentic Twitter accounts behind the operation are likely another iteration of “Spamouflage,” a pro-Chinese Communist Party (CCP) network that Twitter attributed to Beijing in 2019. The goal of the current campaign is to discredit the women’s work in the eyes of both domestic and international audiences, analysts told VOA. The strategy meshes with Beijing’s broader global media effort, as documented by the International Federation of Journalists, to improve its reputation around the world by influencing coverage in its favor and quelling criticism. “This kind of targeted trolling that female activists and journalists are facing has become so vicious, so concerted that it is driving some either off social media altogether or to practice some degree of self-censorship,” said Mei Fong, chief communications officer at the non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch (HRW), in an email to VOA. She added that the campaign aims “to viciously silence those speaking truth to power.” Fong is among the women named in the ASPI report who have faced the latest slate of harassment. “This campaign shows that the Chinese government is very likely increasing the sophistication of the campaigns that harass these women,” said ASPI researcher Albert Zhang, who co-authored the report. “I can’t imagine being on the receiving end of these types of activities." Liu Pengyu, a spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, told VOA that “China condemns the harassment of female groups and opposes linking it to the Chinese government without evidence. “China always welcomes media agencies and journalists from other countries to report in China in accordance with laws and regulations, and provides convenience and assistance for them to work and live here,” he said. “What we oppose is ideological bias against China, fake news under the cover of freedom of the press, and violation of professional ethics.” According to a Twitter spokesperson, the activity identified in ASPI's report was part of the "Spamouflage" network, and the company has suspended more than 400 associated accounts for violating platform policies. The spokesperson called the investigation ongoing. Distinctly different Some of the world’s top China analysts have been on the receiving end of this smear campaign, including journalists like Lingling Wei of The Wall Street Journal, Alice Su of The Economist, Jiayang Fan of The New Yorker, and Muyi Xiao of The New York Times, according to the ASPI report. Some of the women named in the ASPI report declined to speak with VOA, citing safety concerns. “Even speaking publicly about the problem risks inviting more online abuse,” HRW’s Fong told VOA. China experts have faced harassment online for many years, with some of the harassment tied to the Chinese government, according to Zhang. But this recent campaign is distinct because it appears to be — by design — exclusively targeting women of Asian descent. ASPI identified hundreds of Twitter accounts that were created with the singular objective of targeting these women. “This time they specifically targeted the Asian female cohort,” HRW China researcher Yaqiu Wang told VOA in an interview. Targeting this subset in such an intentional way is “a new phenomenon,” she added. Wang said she has faced online harassment, including sexual harassment, over the years due to her work. “There’s inherent misogyny within the disinformation propaganda apparatus,” Wang said. “It’s easier to discredit women. When you say misogynistic, sexist things about women, there’s an audience — more so than if you’re attacking men.” The focus on women underscores “a strain of misogynistic nationalism that seems prevalent in China today,” according to Louisa Lim, a senior lecturer in journalism at the University of Melbourne. She cited a recent campaign against effeminate men as an example of this misogynistic nationalism. Much of the English- and Mandarin-language campaign has focused on accusing the target of purveying anti-China coverage or fake news. But other aspects of the campaign have been tailored to the individual target, such as the hashtag #TraitorJiayangFan, targeting The New Yorker staff writer, according to the ASPI report. Attacks also include messages like "traitors don't die well" and "traitors often come to a bad end." The Coalition Against Online Violence, a consortium of groups working to address online harassment facing women journalists, condemned the smear campaign in a June 10 statement.   Familiar pattern The harassment outlined in the report is all too familiar for Melissa Chan, an independent journalist based in Berlin. Chan was not named in the report, but she, too, has faced this kind of harassment for several years over her coverage of China, she told VOA. “Rape threats, death threats, race-traitor accusations — I’ve had the whole gamut. This pretty much happens every week if not every day,” Chan wrote in an email to VOA. “Some of this harassment is from anonymous accounts, but there have been plenty of real users — often Chinese users who have access to Twitter and so presumably are living in the U.S. or elsewhere — who attack." The Chinese state and many Chinese citizens view ethnic Chinese people of other nationalities as betraying and slandering the “motherland” when they criticize Beijing, Chan told VOA, which is consistent with ASPI’s findings on the recent campaign. Chan has found certain topics tend to trigger harassment, particularly social media posts related to U.S. foreign policy on China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, human rights in China, and her own identity. But for Chan, the harassment motivates her to continue doing her job. “If anything, online harassment only makes me double down on my commitment [to] reporting on authoritarian states like China and covering the voices of the voiceless, including Uyghurs, Tibetans, and other groups that face existential threats against Beijing’s unitary vision of China,” she wrote. In recent years, the Chinese government has made it increasingly difficult for foreign journalists to report on China from inside the country, according to CNN. The ASPI report refers to this particular Twitter campaign as an example of “digital transnational repression,” suggesting that Beijing is now looking to hinder journalists outside the country from covering China in ways it finds unacceptable. Although “this activity is escalating,” according to the report, ASPI also found that Twitter has taken down some — but not all — of the accounts. Chan and Fong said that platforms such as Twitter have a responsibility to do more to protect users. Although it’s difficult to measure how effective this strategy has been at silencing journalists, ASPI’s Zhang said, “our qualitative assessment is that definitely it is having really quite a severe impact on the ability of Asian female journalists and journalists generally in the Western world to be able to speak about China.”

Despite Push, US States Slow to Make Juneteenth a Paid Holiday 

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Recognition of Juneteenth, the effective end of slavery in the U.S., gained traction after the police killing of George Floyd in 2020. But after an initial burst of action, the movement to have it recognized as an official holiday in the states has largely stalled. Although almost every state recognizes Juneteenth in some fashion, many have been slow to do more than issue proclamations or resolutions, even as some continue to commemorate the Confederacy. Lawmakers in Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee and other states failed to advance proposals this year that would have closed state offices and given most of their public employees paid time off for the June 19 holiday. That trend infuriates Black leaders and community organizers who view making Juneteenth a paid holiday the bare minimum state officials can do to help honor an often overlooked and ignored piece of American history. "Juneteenth marks the date of major significance in American history. It represents the ways in which freedom for Black people have been delayed," said Democratic Representative Anthony Nolan, who is Black, while arguing in favor of making Juneteenth a paid holiday in Connecticut on the House floor. "And if we delay this, it's a smack in the face to Black folks." Juneteenth commemorates when Union soldiers brought the news of freedom to enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas, in 1865, two months after the Confederacy had surrendered in the Civil War and about 2½ years after the Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves in Southern states. Recognized officially in 2021 Last year, Congress and President Joe Biden moved swiftly to make Juneteenth a national holiday. It was the first time the federal government had designated a new national holiday since approving Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1983. Yet the move didn't result in an automatic adoption from most states. In Alabama this week, Republican Governor Kay Ivey issued another proclamation making Juneteenth a state holiday after state lawmakers refused to act on a bill during their legislative session, even after she voiced strong support for making it a permanent holiday back in 2021. The state closes down for Confederate Memorial Day in April. Similarly, Wyoming's Republican Governor Mark Gordon issued a statement last June saying he would work with lawmakers to make it a state holiday, but no legislation was filed during the 2022 session. In Tennessee, Republican Governor Bill Lee quietly tucked enough funding — roughly $700,000 — to make Juneteenth a state paid holiday in his initial spending plan for the upcoming year. The bill did gain traction in the state Senate, yet GOP legislative leaders maintained there wasn't enough support for the idea, even as Tennessee law currently designates special observances for Robert E. Lee Day, Confederate Decoration Day, and Nathan Bedford Forrest Day. "I asked many people in my district over the last few days, well over 100 people, if they knew what Juneteenth was and only two of them knew," said Republican Senator Joey Hensley, who is white and voted against the proposal. "I just think we're putting the cart before the horse making a holiday that people don't know about." In South Carolina, instead of working to approve Juneteenth as a holiday, Senate lawmakers unanimously advanced a bill that would allow state employees to choose any day they want to take off instead of the Confederate Memorial Day currently enshrined as a paid holiday in state law. However, the House sent the bill to a committee, where it died without a hearing when the Legislature adjourned for the session. At the same time, many of these Republican-led areas have advanced bills limiting what can be taught about systematic racism in classrooms, while also spiking proposals aimed at expanding voting rights and police reform. Six recent adoptions This year, nearly 20 states are expected to close state offices and give most of their public employees time off. At least six states officially adopted the holiday over the past few months, including Connecticut, Colorado, Georgia, Maryland, South Dakota, Utah and Washington. A bill introduced in California passed the Assembly and moved to the Senate this month, and individual cities such as Los Angeles have already signed proclamations making Juneteenth official. "Becoming a state holiday will not merely give employees a day off, it will also give residents a day to think about the future that we want, while remembering the inequities of the past," said Democratic Delegate Andrea Harrison, who sponsored the Juneteenth legislation in Maryland this year. "It will help us to reflect how far we've come as a nation, how much more we need to do as humankind." Attempts to give Juneteenth the same deference as Memorial Day or July Fourth didn't begin to gain traction until 2020, when protests sparked a nationwide push to address race after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the deaths of other Black people by police officers. "George Floyd protests against police brutality brought awareness to Juneteenth because there were people of all races learning about its significance for the first time following a public push to self-educate and learn more about Black history, culture and injustices," said Tremaine Jasper, a resident and business owner in Phoenix who has attended Juneteenth celebrations across Arizona with his family. Some cities in Arizona, including Phoenix, have declared Juneteenth an official holiday, paying city employees and closing municipal buildings. However, lawmakers are not currently considering statewide recognition. "There are so many other important issues that we need to tackle — education, political issues, reparations — before we prioritize making Juneteenth a statewide holiday," Jasper said, noting that those looking to celebrate know where to go. Jasper, who was born and raised in Arizona, said it is going to be an "uphill battle" to get the state to recognize Juneteenth because there is not a large enough Black population outside its largest cities to make the push. Arizona was also slow in recognizing Martin Luther King Jr. Day, not doing so until 1992. It was one of the last states to officially recognize the civil rights leader.

Armed Men Kill at Least 20 Civilians in Mali 

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Raiders in Mali killed at least 20 civilians in attacks on villages near the northern town of Gao over the weekend, while a landmine killed a U.N. peacekeeper in the troubled region.  "Criminal terrorists" on Saturday killed at least 20 civilians in several hamlets in the Anchawadj commune, a few dozen kilometers north of Gao, said a senior police officer, who asked to remain anonymous.  A local official blamed the attacks on jihadists and put the death toll at 24, saying the killings occurred at Ebak, some 35 kilometers (23 miles) north of Gao, the region's main town.  The official described a "general panic" in the area.  The situation in Anchawadj was "very concerning," and civilians were fleeing the area fearing further violence, he added.  Peacekeeper killed Following the bloodshed on Saturday, a landmine killed a U.N. peacekeeper on Sunday as he was out on patrol further north in Kidal, the head of the U.N.'s MINUSMA Mali force, El Ghassim Wane, tweeted.  The spokesperson for U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the killing of the peacekeeper, who he said was from Guinea.  "Attacks targeting United Nations peacekeepers may constitute war crimes under international law," deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said.  While there has been no official confirmation that the attacks were carried out by jihadist groups, fighters affiliated to either al-Qaida or the Islamic State group are active in the region.  Growing unrest The region has become increasingly violent and unstable since Tuareg separatist rebels rose up against the government in 2012.  Jihadist fighters took advantage of their rebellion to launch their own offensive, threatening the capital Bamako in the south until a French-led force pushed them back in 2013.  The Tuareg separatists and the government agreed to a peace accord in 2015, but it has yet to be applied.  So now Mali's weak, national government faces both separatist and jihadist insurgencies in the north of the country — a largely desert region that is all but devoid of state infrastructure.  "A good part of the Gao region and that of Menaka" are occupied by the jihadists, said the official in Gao. "The state must do something."  Some of the rebel groups have also been fighting each other as they battle for influence and territory. Adding to the volatile mix are traffickers and other criminal groups.  Government stability meanwhile has been interrupted by military coups in August 2020 and May 2021.  Following his latest report into the area, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres last month warned that instability in Mali and Burkina Faso were undermining attempts to stabilize the region.  The security situation in the Gao region had badly deteriorated in recent months, he said.  He also voiced concern over Menaka, the eastern region bordering Niger.  Initially captured by a Tuareg rebel group a decade ago, it was subsequently taken over by Islamist groups.

Latest Developments in Ukraine: June 20

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For full coverage of the crisis in Ukraine, visit Flashpoint Ukraine. The latest developments in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. All times EDT:   12:01 a.m.: Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiyy predicted Russia will escalate its attacks this week as European Union leaders consider whether to back his country’s bid to join the bloc and Russia presses its campaign to win control of east Ukraine, Reuters reported.  “Obviously, this week we should expect from Russia an intensification of its hostile activities,” Zelenskiyy said in a Sunday nightly video address. "We are preparing. We are ready."  Ukraine applied to join the EU four days after Russian troops poured across its border in February. The EU's executive, the European Commission, on Friday recommended that Ukraine receive candidate status.  Leaders of the 27-nation union will consider the question at a summit on Thursday and Friday and are expected to endorse Ukraine's application despite misgivings from some member states. The process could take many years to complete.  The EU's embrace of Ukraine would interfere with one of Russian President Vladimir Putin's stated goals when he ordered his troops into Ukraine: to keep Moscow's southern neighbor outside of the West's sphere of influence.  Putin on Friday said Moscow had "nothing against" Ukraine's EU membership, but a Kremlin spokesperson said Russia was closely following Kyiv's bid especially in light of increased defense cooperation among EU members. Some information in this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.

Medal of Honor Monday: Navy Cmdr. Clyde Everett Lassen > U.S. Department of Defense > Story

by Katie Lange, 8 days ago

Not many helicopter pilots could pull off a mission to fly into enemy territory in complete darkness and rescue their stranded comrades. During the Vietnam War, however, Navy Cmdr. Clyde Everett Lassen did just that.

South Korean Pianist, 18, Wins Van Cliburn Competition 

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An 18-year-old from South Korea has won the 16th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, one of the top showcases for the world's best pianists.  The competition held in Fort Worth, Texas, ended Saturday night with Yunchan Lim becoming the competition's youngest winner of the gold medal. His winnings include a cash award of $100,000 and three years of career management.  The silver medalist was Anna Geniushene, a 31-year-old from Russia, and the bronze medalist is Dmytro Choni, a 28-year-old from Ukraine.  Lim told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that he'll discuss with his teacher what the next move for his career should be.  "I am still a student and I feel like I have to learn a lot still," Lim said. "This is a great competition and I feel the burden of receiving this great honor and award so I will just push myself to live up to the honor I received today."  The competition was founded in 1962 in honor of the celebrated pianist Van Cliburn, who lived in Fort Worth. Cliburn, who died in 2013 at age 78, played for U.S. presidents, royalty and heads of state around the world. He is best remembered for winning the first International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1958, at the height of the Cold War.  The competition is traditionally held every four years. This year's competition was originally scheduled for last year but was postponed due to the pandemic.

Magnitude 6.0 Earthquake Shakes Central Taiwan Coast 

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A magnitude 6.0 earthquake shook Taiwan on Monday morning. There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries.  The quake struck at 9:05 a.m. at a depth of 6.8 kilometers (4.2 miles) in Hualien county, halfway down the east coast of the island, Taiwan’s Central Weather Bureau said.  It was felt across most of the island of 24 million people including to the north in Taipei, the capital. It was also felt across the Taiwan Strait in mainland China’s Fujian province, Chinese state broadcaster CCTV said.

Third Aircraft Carrier to Help China Match US, Japan in Western Pacific, Say Analysts

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China has launched a third aircraft carrier, likely a way to upgrade overall defenses in the face of stronger navies rather than to target any specific future battleground, analysts believe.  The carrier, called the Type 003 and christened Fujian, left its drydock at a shipyard outside Shanghai Friday morning and tied up at a nearby pier, state media reports said.  A third aircraft carrier would place China in a group of just 16 countries worldwide with the massive seaborne military airports. Around the Pacific, India, Japan and the United States operate carriers or are developing them.  China is after the same thing others are, experts say, which is proving to themselves and foreign governments that its carriers can someday work well together alongside older military units, if needed, as Western-backed rivals gain their own strength at sea.  The People’s Liberation Army Navy China received its first carrier, named the Liaoning, in 2012. It’s an overhauled former Soviet vessel bought from Ukraine. In December 2019, the navy got the Shandong, its second carrier and the first one built domestically. “To develop aircraft carriers and enhance the ability to safeguard world peace is a necessary requirement for China to fulfill its international obligations,” said Liu Pengyu, spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C. “China is committed to the path of peaceful development and firmly pursues a national defense policy that is defensive in nature. The possession of aircraft carriers will never change that.”  Slow uptake  The latest Chinese carrier must train for another two to three years before making any formal deployments, analysts believe.  Huang Chung-ting, associate research fellow with the Institute for National Defense and Security Research in Taipei, suggested the Type 003 may have been rushed into production to satisfy Chinese officials and some of its parts might not work as designed or as well as peers from other countries.  “Whether China’s technology can reach its ideal capabilities, we need to monitor their training and sea trial results and see,” Huang said.  “I think these PLA’s aircraft carriers have no way to do long-term activities outside the first-island chain,” he added. “Their power is actually, for the most part, in the near seas inside the first-island chain.”  The first-island chain runs south from Japan through Taiwan and the Philippines to Indonesia. Japanese and U.S. forces have traditionally had more strength than China in the wider Pacific Ocean to the east. Japan has two carriers under construction and the U.S. Navy operates 11.  Type 003’s aircraft-carrying technology is energy consumptive and some of it might do poorly in a battle outside the first-island chain – far from Chinese ports — Huang said.  Eventually, Type 003 will put to use technology that’s better than many foreign peers, said Chen Yi-fan, assistant professor of diplomacy and international relations at Tamkang University in Taiwan.  He pointed to a “very advanced” domestically made electronic magnetic catapult. “It was jumping at least two generations ahead of other aircraft carriers,” he said.  But Type 003 would struggle outside the first-island chain for lack of bases where it could resupply, Chen said. The United States, in contrast, has bases in Hawaii, Guam and Japan.  Future battlefields?  Type 003 is expected to report back to Fujian province in China’s southeast near Taiwan, Chen said. The Liaoning and Shandong are assigned to other nearby seas, he added.  China has claimed self-ruled Taiwan as its territory since the Chinese civil war of the 1940s, when Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists lost to Mao Zedong’s Communists and rebased in Taipei. Beijing says it will use force, if needed, to unite the two sides. Since mid-2020, it has flown land-based military planes over part of Taiwan’s air defense identification zone almost daily.  The Shandong has done at least one exercise in the South China Sea, according to the Chinese state-monitored Global Times news website. The first carrier, Liaoning, is believed to cover the East China Sea.  Beijing claims about 90% of the 3.5 million-square-kilometer South China Sea as its own, clashing with the claims of Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan. Japan and the United States have urged China to leave the sea open for international use and both have voiced support for Taiwan. Washington periodically passes its own carriers near the island as a warning to Beijing. PLA see their aircraft power as “weakening” now as Vietnam and the Philippines acquire missiles that could attack back, Huang said.  The Philippines was moving earlier this year to buy BrahMos anti-ship missiles from an Indian-Russian joint venture. Vietnam has expressed interest in the same missiles.  “I think it is very risky for the regional security in the future, when China can have like three aircraft carriers, not only the South China Sea, but also the East China Sea,” said Nguyen Thanh Trung, a faculty member at Fulbright University Vietnam in Ho Chi Minh City. 

Russia-West Tensions Inflame UN Debate on Mali Peacekeepers

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Tensions between Russia and the West are aggravating talks about the future of one of the United Nations' biggest and most perilous peacekeeping operations, the force sent to help Mali resist a decadelong Islamic extremist insurgency. The U.N.'s mission in the West African nation is up for renewal this month, at a volatile time when extremist attacks are intensifying. Three U.N. peacekeepers have been killed this month alone. Mali's economy is choking on sanctions imposed by neighboring countries after its military rulers postponed a promised election. France and the European Union are ending their own military operations in Mali amid souring relations with the governing junta. U.N. Security Council members widely agree the peacekeeping mission, known as MINUSMA, needs to continue. But a council debate this week was laced with friction over France's future role in Mali and the presence of Russian military contractors. "The situation has become very complex for negotiations," said Rama Yade, senior director of the Africa Center at the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think tank. "The international context has a role, and Mali is part of the Russian game on the international stage," she said. The peacekeeping mission began in 2013, after France led a military intervention to oust extremist rebels who had taken over cities and major towns in northern Mali the year before. MINUSMA now counts roughly 12,000 troops, plus about 2,000 police and other officers. More than 270 peacekeepers have died. France is leading negotiations on extending the mission's mandate and is proposing to continue providing French aerial support. The U.N.'s top official for Mali, El-Ghassim Wane, said the force particularly needs the capabilities of attack helicopters.  But Mali strongly objects to a continued French air presence. "We would call, therefore, for respect for our country's sovereignty," Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop told the council Monday. Mali asked France, its onetime colonial ruler, for military help in 2013. The French military was credited with helping to boot the insurgents out of Timbuktu and other northern centers, but they regrouped elsewhere, began attacking the Malian army and its allies and pushed farther south. The government now controls only 10% of the north and 21% of the central region, according to a U.N. report this month. Patience with the French military presence is waning, though, especially as extremist violence mounts. There have been a series of anti-French demonstrations in the capital, which some observers suggest have been promoted by the government and a Russian mercenary outfit, the Wagner Group. Mali has grown closer to Russia in recent years as Moscow has looked to build alliances and gain sway in Africa — and both countries are at odds with the West. High-ranking Malian and Russian officials have been hit with European Union sanctions, sparked by Russia's actions in Ukraine since 2014 and by Mali's failure to hold elections that had been pledged for this past February. Against that backdrop, Security Council members squared off over the Wagner Group's presence in Mali. The Kremlin denies any connection to the company. But Western analysts say it's a tool of Russian President Vladimir Putin's campaign to gain influence in Africa. The Wagner Group has committed serious human rights and international humanitarian law violations, according to allegations by the EU and human rights organizations. In Mali, Human Rights Watch has accused Russian fighters and Mali's army of killing hundreds of mostly civilian men in the town of Moura; Mali said those killed were "terrorists." The U.N. peacekeeping force is investigating, as is the Malian government. The recent U.N. report on Mali remarked on "a significant surge" in reports of abuses committed by extremists and Malian forces, sometimes accompanied by "foreign security personnel." It didn't name names, but British deputy U.N. Ambassador James Kariuki said council members "are under no illusions – this is the Russian-backed Wagner Group." Mali says otherwise. While officials have said Russian soldiers are training the Malian military as part of a longstanding security partnership between the two governments, Diop insisted to the Security Council that "we don't know anything about Wagner."  However, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in a TV interview in May that the Wagner Group was in Mali "on a commercial basis." Russian deputy U.N. Ambassador Anna Evstigneeva told the Security Council that African countries have every right to engage soldiers-for-hire. And she suggested they have every reason to, saying Mali's security "continues to unravel" despite European military endeavors. She blasted Western unease about Russia's tightening ties to Mali as "neocolonialist approaches and double standards." Secretary-General Antonio Guterres plans a six-month review to consider ways to retool MINUSMA. To Sadya Touré, a writer and the founder of a women's organization called Mali Musso, told the council her country "should not be a battlefield between major powers. ... People are the ones who are suffering the consequences of these tensions." 

EU Seeks to Release Ukrainian Grain Stuck Due to Russia's Sea Blockade

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European Union foreign ministers will discuss ways to free millions of tons of grain stuck in Ukraine due to Russia's Black Sea port blockade at a meeting in Luxembourg on Monday. Ukraine is one of the top wheat suppliers globally, but its grain shipments have stalled, and more than 20 million tons have been trapped in silos since Russia invaded the country and blocked its ports. Moscow denies responsibility for the food crisis and blames Western sanctions for the shortage that has led to a jump in global food prices and warnings by the United Nations of hunger in poorer countries that rely heavily on imported grain.   The EU supports efforts by the United Nations to broker a deal to resume Ukraine's sea exports in return for facilitating Russian food and fertilizer exports, but that would need Moscow's green light. Turkey has good relations with both Kyiv and Moscow and has said it is ready to take up a role within an "observation mechanism" based in Istanbul if there is a deal. It is unclear if the EU would get involved in militarily securing such a deal. "Whether there will be a need in the future for escorting these commercial ships, that's a question mark and I don't think we are there yet," an EU official said. Meanwhile, talks among EU member states on a new package of sanctions against Russia are continuing, according to the EU official who signaled that fresh measures are not imminent. The existing sanctions are already extensive and there is not much scope for agreement to impose sanctions on Russia's gas exports to the EU, the official said. 

Four Months Into War, More Ukrainians Decide to Flee Besieged Areas

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Four months into the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Lilya, a 22-year-old mother from the eastern city of Bakhmut, decided the time has come to leave the beleaguered region.   "It is very difficult. No electricity, no water, no gas, nothing," Lilya, who would give only her first name, said, sitting on a train at the Pokrovsk train station in Ukraine's Donetsk region and breastfeeding her year-old baby. "How are we to live? Shelling. It has become very scary. We decided to leave."  With Russia's intense pummeling of the broader Donbas area, which is comprised of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in Ukraine's east and south, for some there the World Refugee Day on Monday will be a day when they fled their home. Since the start of the Russian invasion Feb. 24, the United Nations estimates that more than one-third of Ukrainians have been forced from their homes, with 7 million displaced internally and more than 5 million fleeing the country. And while some Ukrainian refugees have since returned home after Russian forces have focused efforts away from the capital Kyiv and onto trying to take complete control of the Donbas, a growing number of families in that region have decided to flee. "I am a single parent, I have three children, there are no benefits there, the only way to survive is to rely on humanitarian aid," said Viktoria, a 36-year-old woman from Krematorsk, a city in the northern area of the Donetsk region. "I am leaving with the children so that I can get some child support." The United Nations also estimates that some 13 million Ukrainians continue to be stranded in affected areas or unable to leave due to heightened security risks, the destruction of bridges and roads, as well as a lack of resources. Luhansk Governor Serhiy Haidai said Sunday that fighting made evacuations from the city of Sievierodonetsk impossible and Russia said it had taken control of Metolkine, just southeast of the besieged city. "There is no electricity, no gas, no water, permanent shelling," said 57-year-old Lyuba, who decided to flee a small village near Bakhmut. "Life is extremely difficult, that's why we decided to leave. To save ourselves, our lives, the lives of our children and relatives." The residents of Bakhmut, a city located some 55 kilometers (34 miles) southwest of the twin cities of Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk, where fierce fighting is taking place, have endured continued Russian shelling.  "Our mission here is to move people from the frontline areas out to safer areas," said Mark Poppert, a volunteer from Nebraska for the U.K.-based RefugEase charity, while directing people at the Pokrovsk train station. Kyiv described the battle for Donbas as "one of the most brutal battles in Europe and for Europe." Moscow calls its actions a "special military operation" to disarm Ukraine and protect it from fascists. Ukraine and its allies in the West say the fascist allegation is baseless and the war is an unprovoked act of aggression. 

Bitcoin-Boosting Salvadoran Leader Asks for Patience 

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El Salvador's Bitcoin-boosting president has asked people to be patient after the price of the cryptocurrency fell below $20,000 — less than half the price the government paid. According to the tracking site nayibtracker.com, El Salvador under President Nayib Bukele's administration has spent about $105 million on Bitcoin, starting last September and paying an average of almost $46,000 per coin. The value of that investment in the currency, also known as "BTC," is now calculated to have fallen by more than 57%, or around $61 million. "I see that some people are worried or anxious about the #Bitcoin market price," Bukele wrote on his Twitter account late Saturday. "My advice: stop looking at the graph and enjoy life. If you invested in #BTC your investment is safe and its value will immensely grow after the bear market." "Patience is the key," the president wrote. On Tuesday, when a Bitcoin publication crowed that El Salvador had lost "only" $40 million on its investment, Bukele tweeted with apparent incredulity: "You're telling me we should buy more #BTC?" Bukele became the first leader in the world to make the cryptocurrency legal tender last year and was a devoted booster at least up to May, when he boasted of "buying the dip" in the currency's price. But the coin has slid further since then. No real loss, minister says Finance Minister Alejandro Zelaya sought to put a good face on the situation Wednesday in an interview with a local television station, saying that because El Salvador hadn't sold any of its Bitcoins, it hadn't really suffered any loss. "When they tell me that El Salvador's budgetary risk has increased because of the supposed loss, that loss doesn't exist," Zelaya said. "That must be made clear, because we have not sold." Most companies and governments do write down the value of what accountants call an "unrealized loss," even if they don't sell the distressed asset. Zelaya also insisted the Bitcoin slide didn't matter very much for El Salvador, saying, "This doesn't even represent 0.5% of our budget." That might prove a hard sell in a country where about one-fifth of the people lives on less than $5.50 per day. In January, El Salvador rejected a recommendation by the International Monetary Fund to drop Bitcoin as legal tender. Zelaya said at the time that "no international organization is going to make us do anything, anything at all," calling it an issue of "sovereignty." The IMF recommended that El Salvador dissolve the $150 million trust fund it created when it made the cryptocurrency legal tender and return any of those unused funds to its treasury. The IMF cited concerns about the volatility of Bitcoin prices, and the possibility of criminals using the cryptocurrency. Bukele has touted Bitcoin as a way to significantly increase financial inclusion, drawing millions of people who previously lacked bank accounts into the financial system. He has also spoken of the parallel tourism promotion targeting Bitcoin enthusiasts. Bukele led the push to adopt Bitcoin as legal tender alongside the U.S. dollar. El Salvador's Legislative Assembly made the country the first to do so in June 2021.

IS Claims Attack on Sikh Temple in Kabul

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The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for an attack on a Sikh temple in Kabul, Afghanistan, that killed at least one worshipper and wounded seven others. IS made the claim in a statement on its Amaq website late Saturday. It said the assault on "the Sikh and Hindu temple" was in response to alleged insults made against the Prophet Muhammad, the central figure of the Islamic religion, by an Indian government official. It did not name the official. Gunmen attacked the Sikh house of worship, known as a gurdwara, Saturday morning, and a firefight between the attackers and Taliban fighters seeking to protect the building ensued, Afghan officials said. A vehicle filled with explosives was detonated outside the temple, but that resulted in no casualties. Before that, the gunmen threw a hand grenade that caused a fire near the temple's gate, the officials said. The IS said Abu Mohammed al-Tajiki, a member of the group, stormed the temple after killing the guard and then targeted the people inside with a machine gun and hand grenades. IS fighters outside the temple detonated four explosive devices and a car bomb targeting patrols of Taliban militia who tried to protect the temple. The battle ended after three hours, the Amaq report said. 'Predictable and preventable' The Sikh Coalition, the largest Sikh civil rights organization in the United States, said the gurdwara was significantly damaged by the attack. "The recurring tragic violence targeting the Afghan Sikh community is devastating, but also entirely predictable and preventable," said Anisha Singh, the group's executive director, in a statement late Saturday. "The international community, and in particular the United States, continues to fall short of urgently needed efforts to protect and safely resettle all Afghan Sikhs and Hindus." Videos posted on social media showed plumes of black smoke rising from the temple in Kabul's Bagh-e Bala neighborhood, and gunfire could be heard. Kabul police said the gunfight with the militants ended after the last attacker was killed several hours after the assault began. They said one Sikh was killed and seven others were wounded in the attack and a Taliban security force member was killed during the rescue operation. It was unclear how many IS militants were involved or how many were killed in the gunbattle with the Taliban. Earlier this month, for the first time since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan last year, Indian officials held talks with the Taliban in Kabul on the distribution of humanitarian aid. The Indian delegation was led by J.P. Singh, a secretary in the External Affairs Ministry. It wasn't immediately clear whether J.P. Singh was the "Hindu" the IS referred to in its statement or what comments he might have made that provoked the IS attack. It was also unclear why the extremist organization would target a Sikh temple in retaliation for comments made by an Indian official. Narendra Modi, India's prime minister, tweeted late Saturday: "Shocked by the cowardly terrorist attack against the Karte Parwan Gurudwara in Kabul." Modi added, "I condemn this barbaric attack, and pray for the safety and well-being of the devotees." IS affiliate An Islamic State group affiliate, known as Islamic State Khorasan Province or IS-K, has been operating in Afghanistan since 2014. It is seen as the greatest security challenge facing the country's Taliban rulers, who seized power in Kabul and elsewhere in the country last August. They have launched a sweeping crackdown against the IS in eastern Afghanistan. In March 2020, a lone IS gunman rampaged through a different Sikh temple in Kabul, killing 25 worshippers, including a child, and wounding eight others. As many as 80 worshippers were trapped inside the gurdwara as the gunman lobbed grenades and fired an automatic rifle into the crowd. The Sikh Coalition has advocated for the resettlement of Afghan Sikhs and Hindus since the 2020 attack. During his presidential campaign, President Joe Biden supported resettlement for these families. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in the House and Senate also advocated for resettlement. Despite these shows of support, however, little has been done to help Afghan Sikhs and Hindus to leave the country or assist those temporarily evacuated to nations including India. There were fewer than 700 Sikhs and Hindus in Afghanistan at the time of the 2020 attack. Since then, dozens of families have left but many cannot financially afford to move and have remained in Afghanistan, mainly in Kabul, Jalalabad and Ghazni.

2 Men Charged in Fatal Fireworks Explosion That Killed 4 in Missouri

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Two men have been charged with murder in a house explosion near St. Louis that authorities say killed four people who were assembling fireworks in a garage. St. Louis County prosecutors say Terrell Cooks, 37, and Seneca Mahan, 43, made fireworks and directed younger people on how to load the canisters and attach a fuse for lighting. They would then sell the fireworks to others. Neither Cooks nor Mahan had a license to make or sell fireworks. Cooks and Mahan are each charged with three counts of second-degree murder and several other charges in Friday's explosion near the town of Black Jack. They were charged before a fourth victim died Saturday. The victims in the powerful blast that shook other homes and blew out neighbors' windows were identified as Travell Eason, 16; Christopher Jones, 17; Damario Cooks, 18; and William Jones, 21. Authorities have said a 12-year-old child was also injured in the explosion, but the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that police could not provide details Sunday about how many others were still hospitalized. Cooks and Martin were being held on a $350,000 cash bail. Online court records had not listed the cases yet, so it wasn't clear if the men had attorneys who could comment on the charges. Court documents said Cooks admitted that he and Mahan made explosive devices designed to make a loud bang and bright flash. Investigators saw Cooks moving boxes of chemicals used to make explosives to his vehicle after Friday's explosion, and they found large quantities of "completed explosive weapons and components to manufacture them" when they searched a home and other vehicles connected to Cooks. 

China Further Reins in Business Activities of Officials' Families

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China's ruling Communist Party has issued rules to further rein in the business activities of the families of senior government officials, in the latest move to fight corruption, the official Xinhua news agency said Sunday. Officials must report business activities of their spouses and children and those who fail to do so or seek to skirt the rules will be "dealt with seriously in accordance with regulations and laws," Xinhua said, citing provisions issued by the Communist Party's Central Committee. Officials' spouses and children must withdraw from their business activities or the officials themselves will have to step down from their current posts and "accept job adjustments" and face other forms of punishments, Xinhua said. Such business activities include investing in enterprises, holding senior positions in private enterprises or foreign-funded enterprises, private equity fund investment, and engaging in paid social intermediary and legal services, Xinhua said. The extended families of Communist Party cadres have become a key battleground in President Xi Jinping's war on corruption, which has punished thousands of officials since he came to power in late 2012 Many cases of corruption have involved officials registering businesses and property under the names of relatives, allowing them to meet the letter of party guidelines while still using their influence to amass wealth. "Strengthening the management of leading cadres' spouses, children and their spouses running businesses is an important measure to strictly manage the party and supervise cadres in an all-round way," the party's rules said, according to Xinhua.

120 Partygoers Arrested in North Iran, State Media Say

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Police have arrested 120 people for breaking Iran's segregation and morality rules at a party in the forest in the northern province of Mazandaran, state media reported Sunday. "Members of this illegal tour … were arrested by the morality police and a lawsuit has been filed," provincial judiciary chief Mohammad Sadegh Akbari said, according to state broadcaster IRIB. Akbari said the "criminal acts" conducted in a forest near the city of Neka included "drinking alcohol, having illicit relationships, mixed-sex dancing and uncovering the hijab." Iranians, seeking reprieve from the hustle and bustle of city life, often choose the north of the country as a destination for sightseeing and enjoying their free time. Under Islamic law in force in Iran since its 1979 revolution, women must wear a hijab that covers the head and neck while concealing the hair. But many women have pushed the boundaries over the past two decades by allowing their veils to slide back and reveal more hair, especially in Tehran and other major cities. Under Iranian law, only non-Muslim citizens are permitted to consume alcohol for religious purposes, while dancing with the opposite sex is forbidden. In April, Iranian police arrested three young women after a video online showed them dancing in a cemetery. Single-sex dancing is not a crime in Iran, but legal experts say that if someone dances in public or on the internet in a manner seen as offending public decency, the person can face prosecution.               

New York Pushes to Get Fired Workers Vaccinated, Rehired 

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New York City is making a push to give city workers fired earlier this year for not getting the COVID-19 vaccine a chance to get their old jobs back — if they get fully vaccinated. In February, Mayor Eric Adams fired more than 1,400 workers who failed to comply with the vaccine mandate put in place by his predecessor, Bill de Blasio. Just short of 600 unvaccinated non-Department of Education workers are receiving a letter with details, and DOE employees are expected to receive a letter later in the summer, a city spokesperson said, adding that 97% of workers are vaccinated and that the goal has always been "vaccination rather than termination." The development was first reported by the New York Post. It wasn't clear how many workers would be affected and a timeline for returning to work was not disclosed. The mandate required vaccinations as a workplace safety rule. In March, Adams was the target of criticism for exempting athletes and performers not based in New York City from the city's vaccine mandate, while keeping the rule in place for private and public workers. 

US Treasury Chief: Biden Considering Gas Tax Holiday, Chinese Tariff Cuts  

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U.S. President Joe Biden is considering declaring a federal gas tax holiday and curbing some tariffs on imported Chinese goods to help Americans cope with the surging cost of consumer goods, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said Sunday.  “President Biden wants to do anything he possibly can to help consumers,” Yellen told ABC’s “This Week” show. “Gas prices have risen a great deal and it’s clearly burdening households.”  U.S. gasoline prices are at an all-time high of about $5 a gallon (3.8 liters), up more than 48% over a year ago. She said eliminating the 18.4-cent-per-gallon federal gas tax for a time was “an idea that’s certainly worth considering” and that Biden was willing to work with Congress to enact it.  Biden last week called on major oil refinery companies to take "immediate actions" to increase supply, telling them in a new letter that "historically high" profit margins were unacceptable as prices at service station pumps for Americans continued to soar.  American Petroleum Institute Chief Executive Mike Sommers rebuffed Biden’s complaint, saying, “The administration’s misguided policy agenda shifting away from domestic oil and natural gas has compounded inflationary pressures and added headwinds to companies’ daily efforts to meet growing energy needs while reducing emissions.”  'Caught unaware' Yellen, on ABC, said, “What’s happened is production has gone down. Refinery capacity has declined in the United States and oil production has declined. I think producers were partly caught unaware by the strength of the recovery in the economy.  High prices should induce them to increase supply.”  But she called the higher prices “a medium-term matter,” stressing the need to continue to move to renewable energy sources.  Food prices, monthly rental payments, airline fares, housing and other costs of daily life in the United States have risen sharply, up 8.6% in May compared with a year ago, the fastest increase in 40 years.   Analysts point to a variety of causes for the inflation: strong consumer demand, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, worldwide supply chain disruptions and sizable government payments to most American consumers that put extra cash in their pockets as the coronavirus pandemic swept into the country.   Yellen said Biden was also reviewing the tariff policy toward China because some tariffs imposed by the previous administration of former President Donald Trump served “no strategic purpose and raise costs to consumers."  “Inflation really is unacceptably high,” Yellen said. Part of the reason, she said, is that Russia’s war on Ukraine has boosted gas and food prices.  She said American consumers cannot expect immediate relief, but “over time, I would certainly expect inflation to come down.”  Yellen said she expected the American economy, the world’s largest, to slow in the coming months, but added, “I don’t think a recession [two successive three-month periods of declining growth] is at all inevitable.”

Witnesses Say More Than 200 Killed in Ethiopia Ethnic Attack 

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Witnesses in Ethiopia said Sunday that more than 200 people, mostly ethnic Amhara, had been killed in an attack in the country's Oromia region, and they blamed a rebel group, which denied it.  It was one of the deadliest such attacks in recent memory as ethnic tensions continue in Africa's second most populous country.  "I have counted 230 bodies. I am afraid this is the deadliest attack against civilians we have seen in our lifetime," Abdul-Seid Tahir, a resident of Gimbi county, told The Associated Press after barely escaping the attack on Saturday. "We are burying them in mass graves, and we are still collecting bodies. Federal army units have now arrived, but we fear that the attacks could continue if they leave."  Another witness, who gave only his first name, Shambel, over fears for his safety, said the local Amhara community was now desperately seeking to be relocated "before another round of mass killings happen." He said ethnic Amhara who settled in the area about 30 years ago in resettlement programs were now being "killed like chickens."  Both witnesses blamed the Oromo Liberation Army for the attacks. In a statement, the Oromia regional government also blamed the OLA, saying the rebels attacked "after being unable to resist the operations launched by [federal] security forces."  An OLA spokesman, Odaa Tarbii, denied the allegations.  "The attack you are referring to was committed by the regime's military and local militia as they retreated from their camp in Gimbi following our recent offensive," he said in a message to the AP. "They escaped to an area called Tole, where they attacked the local population and destroyed their property as retaliation for their perceived support for the OLA. Our fighters had not even reached that area when the attacks took place."  Ethiopia is experiencing widespread ethnic tensions in several regions, most of them over historical grievances and political tensions. The Amhara people, the second-largest ethnic group among Ethiopia's more than 110 million people, have been targeted frequently in regions like Oromia.  The government-appointed Ethiopian Human Rights Commission on Sunday called on the federal government to find a "lasting solution" to the killing of civilians and protect them from such attacks.

Two Nigeria Churches Attacked; Worshippers Killed, Abducted

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Gunmen attacked two churches in rural northwestern Nigeria on Sunday, killing three people, witnesses and a state official said, weeks after a similar attack in the West African nation left 40 worshippers dead. The attack in Kajuru area of Kaduna state targeted four villages, resulting in the abduction of an unspecified number of residents and the destruction of houses before the assailants escaped, locals said. It wasn't clear who was behind the attack on the Kaduna churches. Much of Nigeria has struggled with security issues, with Kaduna as one of the worst-hit states. At least 32 people were killed in the Kajuru area last week in an attack that lasted for hours across four villages. Worshippers were attending the church service at the Maranatha Baptist Church and at St. Moses Catholic Church in Rubu community of Kaduna on Sunday morning when assailants "just came and surrounded the churches," both located in the same area, said Usman Danladi, who lives nearby. "Before they [worshippers] noticed, they were already terrorizing them; some began attacking inside the church, then others proceeded to other areas," Danladi said. He added that "most of the victims kidnapped are from the Baptist [church], while the three killed were Catholics." The Kaduna state government confirmed the three deaths by bandits who "stormed the villages on motorcycles, beginning from Ungwan Fada, and moving into Ungwan Turawa, before Ungwan Makama and then Rubu. Security patrols are being conducted in the general area" as investigations proceed, according to Samuel Aruwan, Kaduna commissioner for security. The Christian Association of Nigeria condemned Sunday's attacks and said churches in Nigeria have become "targets" of armed groups. "It is very unfortunate that when we are yet to come out of the mourning of those killed in Owo two Sundays ago, another one has happened in Kaduna," Pastor Adebayo Oladeji, the association's spokesman, told The Associated Press. Many of the attacks targeting rural areas in Nigeria's troubled northern region are similar. The motorcycle-riding gunmen often arrive in hundreds in areas where Nigeria's security forces are outnumbered and outgunned. It usually takes months for the police to make arrests. Authorities have identified the attackers as mostly young herdsmen from the Fulani tribe caught up in Nigeria's pastoral conflict between host communities and herdsmen over limited access to water and land.

Amtrak to run services to Burlington, Vermont starting July 29

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‘Let’s Go Home’: Thousands of Rohingya Demonstrate in Camps in Bangladesh

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Thousands of Rohingya refugees Sunday held peaceful rallies in Bangladesh, saying they wanted to return to Myanmar, which they fled amid waves of ethnic and religious persecution dating to 1978.  Just a day before World Refugee Day, the Rohingya Muslims, who live in 34 crowded camps in Bangladesh’s southeastern district of Cox’s Bazar, staged demonstrations under the banner “Let’s go home.”  Amid intermittent rain, they were seen marching on the dirt roads that meandered through the camps, chanting slogans and holding placards.  The Rohingya handed out leaflets with a 19-point demand that includes their safe repatriation to Myanmar at the earliest opportunity and the cancellation of that country’s controversial 1982 law that does not recognize them as citizens.  While some camps held small rallies, a much larger one involving about 10,000 people took place at Kutupalong.  At the camp’s football field, Mohammad Zubair, a Rohingya leader, asked the crowd, “Do you want to go back to Arakan?”  The crowd replied in unison, “Yes, we want to go back.”  Arakan is another name for Myanmar’s western Rakhine state, where the military launched its crackdown on the ethnic Muslim Rohingya minority in 2017. An estimated 700,000 Rohingya fled across the border to the refugee camps in Bangladesh. Myanmar is predominantly Buddhist.   Failed repatriations  Even though the Rohingya expressed a desire to return to Myanmar, Bangladesh’s attempts to repatriate them have failed at least twice in the last five years. Since fleeing the military crackdown, which the United Nations said Myanmar conducted with “genocidal intent,” these Rohingya refugees have been living in the Bangladeshi camps with minimal facilities, no work and little access to education.  In March, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken determined that the military in Myanmar, also known as Burma, committed genocide and crimes against humanity against the Rohingya.   Myanmar has faced sanctions from the United States and other countries over the treatment of the Rohingya as well as a military coup that overthrew the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in February 2021. Military officials claimed fraud in the November 2020 vote, which Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won in a landslide. Myanmar’s electoral commission denies the allegations. Zubair, who is a leader of the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights  (ARSPH), a camp-based organization working for the rights and justice of Rohingya people, said the Rohingya want a change in the status quo.   “We don’t want to live here in Bangladesh as refugees. We want the world to put pressure on Myanmar so that they create acceptable conditions for our return home,” he told VOA.  “We have arranged these rallies to mark the World Refugee Day and remind the world that we have all the desire to go back to our homeland if our dignified return is ensured,” Zubair said.  For that, the ARSPH leader said, the Myanmar government should first recognize them officially as “Rohingya.”   “We also want our properties in Arakan state back. We simply want basic rights and freedoms enjoyed by other communities of the nation,” Zubair added.  Nur Mohammad, another Rohingya leader, said the message from Sunday’s rally was simple.  “We wanted to tell the world that the Rohingya are citizens of Myanmar. The state of Arakan is our birthplace. And we want to return to our homeland,” he said.  Not a new campaign  The campaign by the refugees was started in 2019 by Rohingya leader Mohib Ullah. He was shot and killed in the Kutupalong camp in September.   Last week, Bangladesh police arrested 15 Rohingya in connection with his death and are searching for 14 others.     Ullah was the former chair of ARSPH and rose to prominence in 2019 for organizing a 100,000-strong rally in the Kutupalong camp, where he demanded justice for “Rohingya genocide” and a “dignified return” to Myanmar.  Since that massive rally, the Rohingya were banned from organizing large-scale gatherings inside the camp. Shamsud Douza, a Bangladesh refugee relief and repatriation commissioner, told VOA that they allowed the Rohingya to organize Sunday’s rallies to mark World Refugee Day.  “Rohingyas from different camps were rallying independently to demand repatriation. The largest one was organized from the Kutupalong camp. Our law enforcement forces closely monitored the whole situation,” he said, adding that the rallies were peaceful.  About the possibilities of their repatriation, Douza said, “It’s a complex matter. Rohingyas have expressed their desire to go back — that much, I can say.”  Maung Zarni, a Britain-based Burmese human rights activist, told VOA that as long as the military, which has “institutionalized the intentional destruction of Rohingyas,” is in power, “the repatriation has zero chance.”  Zarni, co-founder of the Free Rohingya Coalition, said Bangladesh needs to realize that its policy of “focusing 100% on repatriation has proven to be a complete failure.”  “Repatriation has been tried in every single wave since 1978 but look at the greatest number of Rohingyas who came back to Bangladesh to seek refuge from the genocidal violence and destruction in [the] 2016 and 2017 waves,” he said.  Zarni said Bangladesh needed to stop viewing the Rohingya as a “burden” dumped on them by Myanmar and instead consider them as a “persecuted people who need to be empowered and supported.” Abdul Aziz from Cox’s Bazar contributed to this report.

Biden Adviser Jake Sullivan Tests Positive for COVID-19 

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White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan tested positive Saturday for COVID-19, according to the White House. Sullivan typically has frequent contact with President Joe Biden but last was in contact with the president earlier in the week, according to a senior administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity. Sullivan had been keeping his distance from Biden after “a couple” of people he had been in close contact with had tested positive for the virus, the official said. Adrienne Watson, a National Security Council spokeswoman, said Sullivan “is asymptomatic and he has not been in close contact with the president.” The White House confirmed Thursday that Biden had tested negative that day. White House officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether Biden has been tested more recently.

June 19, 2022

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

Swimming—FINA Votes to Restrict Transgender Participation in Elite Women's Competition 

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Swimming's world governing body FINA on Sunday voted to restrict the participation of transgender athletes in elite women's competitions and create a working group to establish an "open" category for them in some events as part of its new policy. Transgender rights has become a major talking point as sports seek to balance inclusivity while ensuring there is no unfair advantage. The decision, the strictest by any Olympic sports body, was made during FINA's extraordinary general congress after members heard a report from a transgender task force comprising leading medical, legal and sports figures. The new eligibility policy for FINA competitions states that male-to-female transgender athletes are eligible to compete only if "they can establish to FINA’s comfortable satisfaction that they have not experienced any part of male puberty beyond Tanner Stage 2 (of puberty) or before age 12, whichever is later." The policy was passed with a roughly 71% majority after it was put to the members of 152 national federations with voting rights who had gathered for the congress at the Puskas Arena. “We have to protect the rights of our athletes to compete, but we also have to protect competitive fairness at our events, especially the women’s category at FINA competitions," said FINA President Husain Al-Musallam. “FINA will always welcome every athlete. The creation of an open category will mean that everybody has the opportunity to compete at an elite level. This has not been done before, so FINA will need to lead the way. I want all athletes to feel included in being able to develop ideas during this process.” The issue of transgender inclusion in sport is highly divisive, particularly in the United States where it has become a weapon in a so-called "culture war" between conservatives and progressives. The new FINA policy also opens up eligibility to those who have "complete androgen insensitivity and therefore could not experience male puberty." Swimmers who have had "male puberty suppressed beginning at Tanner Stage 2 or before age 12, whichever is later, and they have since continuously maintained their testosterone levels in serum (or plasma) below 2.5 nmol/L." are also allowed to compete in women's races. Female-to-male transgender athletes (transgender men) are fully eligible to compete in men's swimming competitions. Advocates for transgender inclusion argue that not enough studies have yet been done on the impact of transition on physical performance, and that elite athletes are often physical outliers in any case. The debate intensified after University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas became the first transgender NCAA champion in Division I history after winning the women's 500-yard freestyle earlier this year. That followed New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard becoming the first transgender athlete to compete at the Olympic Games in Tokyo last year.

Monsoon Floods Kill 42 people, Millions Stranded in Bangladesh, India 

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At least 25 people were killed by lightning or landslides over the weekend in Bangladesh while millions were left marooned or homeless in low-lying northeastern parts as the country faces the worst monsoon floods in its recent history, officials said. In the neighboring Indian state of Assam, at least 17 people were killed during the wave of flooding that began this month, police officials said on Sunday. Many of Bangladesh's rivers have risen to dangerous levels and the runoff from heavy rain from across Indian mountains exacerbated the situation, said Arifuzzaman Bhuiyan, the head of the state-run Flood Forecasting and Warning Centre. Thousands of policemen, army personnel have been deployed to parts of the country to help search and rescue efforts. About 105,000 people have been evacuated so far but police officials estimated that over four million were still stranded. Syed Rafiqul Haque, a former lawmaker and ruling party politician in Sunamganj district, said the country was facing a humanitarian crisis if proper rescue operations were not conducted. "Almost the entire Sylhet-Sunamganj belt is under water and millions of people are stranded," he said, adding victims have no food, drinking water and communication networks were down. Regional officials said about 3.1 million people were displaced, 200,000 of whom are staying in government run makeshift shelters on raised embankments or on other highlands. Bangladesh and India have experienced increasing extreme weather in recent years, causing large-scale damage. Environmentalists warn climate change could lead to more disasters, especially in low-lying and densely populated Bangladesh.

New Hong Kong Cabinet Includes 4 Under US Sanctions 

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Beijing on Sunday appointed a new Hong Kong administration that includes four senior officials under US sanctions its incoming leader has decried as an attempt to "bully" China. The United States hit 11 Hong Kong and Beijing officials with sanctions two years ago after a sweeping national security law was imposed to snuff out dissent in the semi-autonomous city following the massive, sometimes violent democracy protests of 2019. Seven were members of the Hong Kong government, and four will continue in the new administration, including leader-in-waiting John Lee, security minister Chris Tang, mainland affairs minister Erick Tsang and newly appointed chief secretary for administration Eric Chan. The other three sanctioned were retired police chief Steven Lo, outgoing city leader Carrie Lam and Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng, who will be replaced. Under the sanctions, Lam has said she was forced to receive her salary in cash due to banking restrictions. Introducing his new cabinet to reporters Sunday, Lee said he "scoffed at the so-called sanctions" and paid them no attention. "Some countries of bullies tried to intimidate [Hong Kong] officials with measures like sanctions, especially after their plots to sabotage our national security failed because of the measures we deployed," Lee said. "This made us more determined in continuing to discharge our duties of defending national security." Sunday's appointment of 26 principal officials comes less than two weeks before the new government assumes office on July 1, the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong's transfer from British to Chinese rule and halfway point of the "One Country, Two Systems" political model. While speculation has been rampant that Xi will visit Hong Kong for the anniversary celebrations in what would be a symbolic endorsement of Lee's new administration, the trip has yet to be confirmed. Such a visit would mark the first time Xi has travelled outside the Chinese mainland since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. John Lee, 64, a former security chief who oversaw the crackdown on Hong Kong's democracy movement, was chosen as the next chief executive by a small committee of Beijing loyalists in early May. During Lee's visit to Beijing for his formal appointment last month, Xi said Lee had the "courage to take responsibility" and "had made contributions to safeguarding national security and Hong Kong's prosperity and stability." Lee was the sole candidate in the race and received 99 percent of the vote after China overhauled Hong Kong's electoral system in 2021 to ensure anyone deemed unpatriotic would be ineligible to run. Under a restructuring plan proposed by the outgoing Lam, Lee's administration will be expanded, including the addition of two new policy bureaus and creation of three deputy secretary positions for administration, finance and justice.

French Voters Cast Ballots in Legislative Runoff   

8 days ago

    France voted Sunday in the second-round runoff of legislative elections that saw a new left-wing alliance threatening President Emmanuel Macron’s majority in the National Assembly, the lower house of the country’s Parliament. Voters trickled out of Neuilly Plaisance’s city hall, shopping carts in tow. After casting their ballots, their next stops were the bakery and Sunday market to finish their errands. Gregory, an electrician in this eastern Paris suburb, had cast his ballot for France’s new leftist coalition, known as NUPES. He said French President Emmanuel Macron is breaking everything the country has worked for when it comes to social and environmental issues. Pre-vote polls suggested Macron’s centrist alliance, Ensemble, or Together, would earn the largest share of votes — but not necessarily a ruling majority. The NUPES was hoping for an upset victory that would force Macron to pick its leader, far-left politician Jean-Luc Melenchon, as prime minister. Michelle, another Neuilly Plaisance voter, said she believes that scenario would be a disaster. Certainly not the NUPES, she said. If they win, France will be in a mess.   Retiree Raymond offered a similar reaction. He said he doubts the feasibility of programs pushed by the leftist coalition. "Where’s the money to pay for them?" he asked.       Macron won a second term against his far-right rival Marine Le Pen just two months ago. But the abstention rate was high, and many French are underwhelmed by their president. Some criticized Macron for not campaigning enough for this crucial parliamentary vote, where this time his main rival was the far left. These elections for the powerful National Assembly, or lower house of Parliament, will be critical in determining whether Macron can push through fiscal and retirement reforms that mark his second term agenda. The NUPES coalition has vowed to block them and enact tougher environmental policies. Like the April presidential elections, these legislative elections have also been marked by high voter abstention.  


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