Xinjiang cotton found in German clothing manufacturers' shirts, researchers say Researchers in western Germany say that an isotope analysis has found that shirts by the German companies Puma, Adidas, Hugo Boss and Jack Wolfskin contain traces of cotton related to Uyghur forced labor in the Xinjiang region, according to The Guardian. Chinese officials reportedly paid Uyghurs to dance on Eid al-Fitr Ahead of the U.N. human rights chief's anticipated visit to Xinjiang later this month, Chinese authorities allegedly paid Uyghur residents to dance at a mosque square in Kashgar in southern Xinjiang on Eid al-Fitr, a holiday marking the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month, according to Radio Free Asia. State media filmed and released the dance performance on YouTube. Chinese government razes famous Uyghur bazaar in Xinjiang Radio Free Asia reported that Chinese authorities recently destroyed the Kashgar Grand Bazaar, a Uyghur traditional market that has been promoted as a travel destination in guidebooks such as Lonely Planet. New book describes China's repression of Uyghurs In "No Escape," Nury Turkel, the Uyghur American vice chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, tells his own and other Uyghurs' stories of mistreatment by China, according to a report by NPR. News in brief According to The Cornell Daily Sun, a graduate student at Cornell University co-founded a charitable organization to help the Uyghur diaspora in Turkey. Rizwangul NurMuhammad, a Fulbright scholar, co-founded Empower Communities Charitable Trust, which aims to provide funding and training to meet the Uyghur community's employment and educational needs. NurMuhammad has been outspoken about Uyghur rights, including raising awareness of her brother's imprisonment by the Chinese government. Quote of note "The stories are simply disturbing. It shocks the conscience. They are forcing Uyghur women that are the source of education for Uyghur kids when it comes to values, religious beliefs, manners, even, to go through this transformation process, which is a code word for human re-engineering." — Nury Turkel, author of the book "No Escape," on conditions for Uyghur women in Chinese camps
The lease to the Washington, D.C., hotel run by Donald Trump's family company while he was president, a symbol of his power to Republican politicians who gathered there and of corruption to his critics, has been sold to a Miami-based investor fund. The Trump Organization said Wednesday that it had completed the sale of a long-term lease of the Trump International Hotel to CGI Merchant Group of Miami for what it described as a record price per room for the city. Sources close to the deal demanding anonymity to discuss the private transaction have said that the price was $375 million, handing the Trump family business perhaps as much as $100 million in profit. The new owners plan to remove the Trump name from the facade and rebrand the hotel a Waldorf Astoria. The Associated Press reported earlier this year that the group of investors includes former Yankee slugger Alexander Rodriguez. Many hotel brokers, owners and consultants did not expect the 263-room hotel down the street from the White House to fetch such a high price. The hotel lost more than $70 million during the four years of Trump's presidency, including in each year before pandemic shutdowns. The high price, equivalent to more than $1.4 million a room, has drawn scrutiny from Democratic lawmakers. The U.S. House Oversight Committee earlier this month requested documents from CGI listing all of its investors. The hotel was a magnet for lobbyists, diplomats and others seeking to curry favor with the president. Democrats said it it sullied the reputation the presidency, pitted his financial interest against public interest and possibly broke the law. Several lawsuits challenging his ownership were unsuccessful. The hotel is the former Old Post Office building, and its still formally owned by the federal government. The Trump Organization won rights to fix up the building and run it as a hotel in paying the government annual rent and cut of profit.
A settlement has been reached in a lawsuit twelve women brought last summer against Liberty University, accusing the Christian institution of fostering an unsafe environment on its Virginia campus and mishandling cases of sexual assault and harassment, according to court documents filed Wednesday. A notice of dismissal filed by the plaintiffs' attorney, Jack Larkin, said the case had been settled but provided no details about the terms. Larkin did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press. But in an email to TV station WDBJ, he said: "The terms of the settlement are confidential in nature and there's really nothing I can say about it beyond that the parties to the suit have resolved their differences, and the matter is settled." Liberty also did not immediately respond to questions from the AP, though spokesperson Ryan Helfenbein acknowledged receiving them. The development comes as the prominent evangelical school in Lynchburg faces continued scrutiny over its handling of sex assault cases. It is facing other lawsuits that raise similar allegations and recently acknowledged to news outlets that the U.S. Department of Education is reviewing its compliance with the federal Clery Act, which requires colleges and universities to maintain and disclose crime statistics and security information. In a statement, the department acknowledged the oversight work was ongoing but said no further comment would be provided until "the outcome officially has been communicated to the institution." The recently settled lawsuit was filed in federal court in New York and made various claims under Title IX, the federal law that protects against sex discrimination in education. It alleged that Liberty's strict honor code makes it "difficult or impossible" for students to report sexual violence. It said the university had a "tacit policy" of weighting investigations in favor of accused male students, and it said the university retaliated against women who did make such reports. The women, former students and employees, all filed suit anonymously and were identified as Jane Doe 1-12. Their allegations spanned more than two decades. Some plaintiffs in the lawsuit described being raped or sexually harassed and having their cases mishandled or effectively ignored. One woman alleged pregnancy discrimination. The school said at the time the lawsuit was filed that the allegations were "deeply troubling" and pledged to "make things right" if the claims against it were true. A status report filed in the case in February said that if it was not resolved "amicably" an amended complaint would be filed adding new plaintiffs, including a current student. Liberty has also been in the spotlight recently for its acrimonious split with former president and chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. in 2020. Litigation between Falwell and the school is ongoing.
President Joe Biden on Wednesday hailed American farmers as the “backbone of freedom,” pledging hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of support and calling on them to offset a global grain shortage caused by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. “You're literally the backbone of our country, it's not hyperbole,” he said, speaking at a family farm in Kankakee, Illinois, where, earlier in the day, he stood in front of a tractor and gazed over growing waves of grain. “But you also feed the world. And we're seeing, with Putin's war in Ukraine, you're like the backbone of freedom.” Russia’s 11-week-old invasion of Ukraine has imperiled global supplies of wheat, corn, barley, oilseeds and cooking oil, and it has disrupted fertilizer supplies. World food prices have risen nearly 13% in the wake of the invasion, the White House says. Biden has announced a number of interventions for American farmers. Those include support that would allow farmers to plant two sets of crops in one year; access to technology that would allow for less fertilizer use, and the doubling of funding for domestic fertilizer production, to $500 million. Biden told the gathered farm community that blame for the crisis rested on Putin, whose navy is blocking Ukrainian exports from Black Sea ports. “But we’re doing something about it,” Biden said. “And our farmers are helping ... on both fronts, reducing the ... price of food at home and expanding production and feeding the world in need.” The head of the European Investment Bank (EIB) this week sounded the alarm, saying that Ukraine is sitting on a staggering amount of wheat it can’t export. "Ukraine is a rich country,” EIB President Werner Hoyer said. “Ukraine is the wheat basket of Europe, and it's sitting on €8 billion (U.S. $8.5 billion) worth of wheat right now from last year's harvest. They cannot export it; they have no access to the sea. “This is one of the key issues that we must address, because they are industrious people,” he added. “They are sowing like crazy right now, and they will expect probably a good harvest, maybe 70% of last year's harvest, in a couple of months — and then what to do with it? So these are issues that need to be addressed immediately, in addition to the social needs and the daily problems that Ukrainian citizens face.” Worldwide effects The European Union’s top diplomat warned of global impact. "They are causing scarcity,” EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said of the Russian military, which invaded Ukraine on February 24. “They are bombing Ukrainian cities and provoking hunger in the world.” Already the effects have spread across the world. Last month, farmers in Sri Lanka participated in strikes over rising food and fuel prices. That movement ultimately resulted in the resignation of the island nation’s Cabinet and prime minister. And the crisis is likely to hit hardest in parts of the world where resources are already stretched thin, analysts said. “This is a real reversal for the global economy,” Desmond Lachman, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, told VOA. “And those are the countries that are impacted the most — countries that are very reliant on food and energy imports are really going to get hit very hard. And politically, it's going to be extremely difficult for those countries.” Analysts say food price inflation could lead to instability on the world’s least-developed continent. "Most African governments will scramble to cushion the loss of purchasing power stemming from higher inflation,” said Jacques Nel, head of economic-focused research firm Africa Macro. “Many will not be able to provide the necessary relief. Unrest is a matter of when and where, and not if." History shows that the humble grain holds immense power, perhaps no more famously than when the price of bread nearly doubled in 1788 France. Peasants revolted against the monarchy, hungry for governance ruled by the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity. Revolution came the following year.
North Korea officially confirmed its first COVID-19 outbreak Thursday, with state media reporting a sub-variant of the highly transmissible omicron virus, known as BA.2, had been detected in Pyongyang. "There has been the biggest emergency incident in the country, with a hole in our emergency quarantine front, that has been kept safely over the past two years and three months since February 2020," the state media said. The report said people in Pyongyang contracted the omicron variant, without providing details on case numbers or possible sources of infection. The report was published as the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un chaired a Workers' Party meeting to discuss responses to the first outbreak of the coronavirus.
Nearly three years after U.S.-backed forces in Syria seized the last remaining territory held by Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate, members of the global coalition charged with eradicating the terror group warn their task is not getting any easier. Despite IS’s loss of several key leaders and intelligence that suggests a dwindling number of fighters in the core areas of Iraq and Syria, coalition members say the reputation and ideology of the group — also known as ISIS or by the Arabic acronym of Daesh — continues to hold its affiliates together while fostering its growth. Officials attending Wednesday’s ministerial in Marrakesh, Morocco, say nowhere is the threat more worrisome than in Africa, where a joint coalition communiqué described IS as an “evolving threat.” "Our shared assessment of the dangerous rise of terrorist threat in Africa has led to the emergence of a tailored approach of the coalition's support to the African continent,” Moroccan Minister of Foreign Affairs Nasser Bourita said following the meeting. IS in Africa The United States, which co-hosted the ministerial with Morocco, emphasized the need to strengthen African members of the Defeat ISIS coalition with what U.S. officials have called a civilian-focused approach. “ISIS and other terrorist groups frequently style themselves as alternatives to the state, and so it is critical that we work with our partners to increase state capacity to provide services and security to their people,” said U.S. Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland. “The United States is committed to working with our partners in West Africa to confront the challenges that have allowed this group to flourish. Among them, the lack of state legitimacy, persistent rights violations, and food insecurity,” she added. Other U.S. officials have told VOA the threat from IS in Africa has become increasingly dire, with affiliates in West African countries and the Sahel finding ways to increase their numbers, in many cases simply by preying on local grievances. Intelligence estimates from countries working with the United Nations put the number of IS affiliated fighters in Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon, Chad, Mali and Mozambique at more than 7,000, with some U.S. and Western counterterrorism officials warning that the numbers are growing still. For all the focus on pushing back against IS in Africa, however, the global coalition, and U.S. officials in particular, stressed the need not to lose sight of the threat still posed by IS in Iraq and Syria, and in Afghanistan. “ISIS in Iraq is a clandestine threat and a very serious one to carry out massive attacks,” Doug Hoyt, acting U.S. deputy envoy to the coalition, told VOA prior to the ministerial. Iraq “We're still seeing ISIS elements, really, in the seam between Iraqi Kurdistan and greater Iraq, as well as some of the border territories in Nineveh,” Hoyt said. “And I think that's going to be a problem for Iraq until we solve Syria.” Intelligence shared by various countries with U.N. counterterrorism officials indicate the terror group has between 6,000 and 8,000 fighters spread across Iraq and Syria, with a U.N. report issued this past February describing IS as "an entrenched rural insurgency." Earlier U.S. intelligence estimates warned IS numbers in Iraq and Syria could be even greater, in the 8,000-16,000 range. And information shared by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency for a recent Defense Department inspector general report said the terror group appears to be operating mainly in Syria’s central desert, while continuing what the agency called a strategic retreat. Other measures, though, indicate that the threat from IS in Syria may again be growing. Syria U.S. counterterrorism officials have raised concerns about IS’s attack on the al-Sina’a prison in Hasakah, Syria, this past January, a bold and complex plot that sought to free as many as 4,000 IS prisoners. More recently, the Rojava Information Center, a pro-Kurdish research group, said IS sleeper cells carried out 54 attacks across northeastern Syria in April, a 184% increase over the previous month. There are also ongoing concerns about the approximately 10,000 IS fighters, including about 2,000 foreign fighters, still being held in prisons run by the U.S-backed Syrian Democratic Forces. For years, the U.S. has urged other nations to repatriate their IS fighters from Syria. And officials told VOA that effort continues. “We're trying to set an example in the U.S. by repatriating individuals that are U.S. citizens, and we're also working to help countries that have questions or have issues to repatriate,” said Dexter Ingram, acting director of the State Department’s Office of the Special Envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS. “A lot of folks are kind of looking to change their laws so that when these individuals are prosecuted — if they're prosecuted — that they have longer sentences,” Ingram added. In the meantime, the State Department on Wednesday pledged another $350 million to communities in northeastern Syria and another $350 million to Iraq to help stabilize communities that had been ravaged by IS. For some officials in Syria, that money cannot come soon enough. “This is very important to create jobs for the young people in order to avoid them to be recruited by ISIS,” Sinam Mohamad, U.S. representative for the SDF’s political wing, the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), told VOA. Afghanistan Coalition members Wednesday also acknowledged growing fears about a possible resurgence of IS in Afghanistan, with the communiqué calling the affiliate, also known as IS-Khorasan Province, “a growing threat to the South and Central Asian region.” “Everybody's watching that right now,” the State Department’s Ingram told VOA before the ministerial meeting. “The reality is that we are already starting to engage with our Central Asian partners, even if they're at the observer status, at the highest level,” he said. U.S. defense and counterterrorism officials began warning more than a year ago that IS in Afghanistan had begun laying a foundation for a revival, while observers in the region told VOA the group was looking to gain footholds in neighboring countries, including Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and parts of Tajikistan. Intelligence estimates shared by the U.N. earlier this year said the affiliate had more than doubled in size, to more than 4,000 fighters, since U.S. forces left Afghanistan last August. On Tuesday, DIA Director Lieutenant General Scott Berrier told lawmakers in Washington that IS-Khorasan could reconstitute its ability to launch attacks on targets outside of Afghanistan in “probably a year, (or) slightly longer." “The fact that they have had some successful and catastrophic attacks … does not portend well for the future," Berrier added. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
A Nigerian military commander said at least 51,000 Boko Haram terrorists and their families have surrendered in the country's northeast in just the first three months of this year. Major General Chris Musa said Tuesday that the mass surrender of insurgents is a sign that Nigerian security forces are winning the 13-year-conflict against Boko Haram. But some analysts remain skeptical. Musa, the commander of operation Hadin Kai, made the announcement Tuesday to reporters in Abuja. He said among those who surrendered were 11,000 people who had been enslaved by, conscripted by or born to the insurgents. Musa said they had surrendered because of successful military operations. He spoke to a Lagos-based television show on Monday. "We want to assure the public that we're doing the best we can and we're working together because this operation is for Nigeria, it is a Nigerian war,” Musa said. The army commander said the death of Boko Haram sect leader Abubakar Shekau also played a role. Shekau was declared killed in May 2021 during fighting with splinter group Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP). According to the country's 2016 Safe Corridor plan, which provides recruits with a voluntary exit from Boko Haram, many defectors could have a normal civilian life. But analysts said the program, if not properly managed, could pose risks. Darlington Abdullahi, a retired air commander, said if reintegration is not carried out properly, problems could emerge. “There’s a possibility that they might go back into the kinds of activities they were engaged in previously,” Abdullahi said. The Safe Corridor program is part of a national strategy to reduce militant activity in the country’s northeast but critics argue it is offering amnesty to terrorists. Musa said surrendered terrorists were being held in a camp in Maiduguri and would be closely monitored before being allowed back into their communities. But Abdullahi said it wouldn't be easy to change their ideologies. "For them to fit into the larger society, they must change their mindsets,” Abullahi said. “They must begin to behave like normal people. They must begin to feel that they belong to the society." Last week, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres visited the camp in Borno state during his two-day visit to Nigeria and praised the reintegration program.
Shelling thundered from several directions, and black smoke drifted upward in the distance as Zhanna Protsenko pedaled off for a house call in a war-hit Ukrainian town. She's a social worker who has chosen to stay on the job even as the strikes have come ever closer, in large part because she is tasked with looking after people who won't or simply can't evacuate. That means she is staying too, for now, and is visiting them in their homes. "How can I leave them here?" the 56-year-old asked, standing near a hospital that was hit by a strike in the past week. "We work. We have no time to hide," she said as contractors repaired rows of the hospital's blown-out windows and an oil drum-sized hole blasted in its brick facade. She works in the southeastern town of Orikhiv that is still in government hands but dangerously close to the line between Ukrainian and Russian forces. At least three people have been killed by explosive strikes in the past 10 days, authorities said. The fighting in the area is mostly done by artillery, missiles or other deadly projectiles fired from potentially kilometers away, and which kill indiscriminately. Homes hit by enemy fire stand next door to undamaged houses in a town surrounded by farmland, while a fire ignited by shelling has been burning for days in several long brick buildings that stored tons of harvested sunflower seeds. With the blaze's smoke in the sky above her, Protsenko pedaled a beaten-up blue bicycle to a small house with a neat row of tulips in the black dirt of the garden. The woman who lives there, Nyna Provontsova, 65, moved slowly on a set of wooden crutches and sank to a seat on a wooden bench outside. "I will not survive without someone's help. I need to be taken care of every day," Provontsova said, reeling off a list of medical problems. "Sometimes I call her when I need something — to wash my legs. I can't do it myself. I can't lean forward — my hip joints were replaced." The social worker jotted down a list of items Provontsova asked her to buy and will also go to pick up her pension. Though the woman has two daughters, they're both in Kyiv and struggling to find work and take care of themselves as the war disrupts every aspect of life. The war is never far away and feels like it's getting closer. The house across the road, no more than 15 meters away, was hit by a strike and looks like it's now abandoned. "It's one shell after another. When it hit the neighbors, I was almost knocked out of bed by the impact," Provontsova said. If the woman evacuates, which she may be forced to do, she'll have to leave behind the special mobility aids in her bathroom and on her bed that help her. "I don't want to go anywhere," she said. As she spoke, the social worker was listening, her hands clasped in front of her. "You asked why we don't leave?" Protsenko said. "This is why."
Over 560 soldiers from Ukraine's National Guard, a force that includes the Azov regiment currently holed up in Mariupol's steelworks, have been killed since the war with Russia began, its leader said Wednesday. Besides the 561 dead, an additional 1,697 troops had been wounded since the invasion began on February 24, National Guard chief Oleksiy Nadtochy said in an online briefing. Wednesday's statement marked a rare move as both Ukrainian and Russian officials have been tight-lipped about their losses in the war. Figures about troops killed in battle have very rarely been released by Ukrainian officials, with neither the defense ministry in Kyiv nor its counterpart in Moscow offering any information on their own military losses. In mid-April, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said between 2,500 and 3,000 Ukrainian soldiers had been killed while around 10,000 others had been wounded, admitting it was "difficult to say how many of them would survive.” Ukraine's National Guard, which falls under the interior ministry, was created in March 2014 as Russia seized control of the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea and massed troops on Ukraine's eastern border. By law, it can have up to 60,000 soldiers in its ranks and has notably absorbed several self-defense groups that were on the front line of the 2014 Maidan revolution, as well as various nationalist outfits like Azov. Previously known as the "Azov Battalion," the unit was created in 2014 by far-right activists and first deployed against pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. It has since shaken off the far-right ideology and been integrated into the National Guard, experts say. It is now known as the "Azov Regiment" and has a reputation for being a tough fighting unit. Kyiv on Tuesday said more than 1,000 fighters remained trapped inside the besieged Azovstal steel plant in the southern port city of Mariupol, hundreds of whom are injured. Some Azov soldiers have also died at the plant, but it remained unclear how many.
Top Intelligence Chiefs Testify on Global Threats > U.S. Department of Defense > Defense Department Newsby Terri Moon Cronk, 5 days ago
Two top U.S. intelligence officials testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on global threats to the United States and its allies emanating from China, Russia and Iran, as well as terrorist organizations.
DOD Focused on Hypersonic Missile Defense Development, Admiral Says > U.S. Department of Defense > Defense Department Newsby David Vergun, 5 days ago
The Missile Defense Agency mission is to develop and deploy a layered missile defense system to defend the United States, its deployed forces, allies and friends from missile attacks in all phases of flight, Navy Vice Adm. Jon A. Hill, director of the agency, said.
U.S.-U.K. Leaders Discuss Aid to Ukraine, NATO Issues During Pentagon Meeting > U.S. Department of Defense > Defense Department Newsby Jim Garamone, 5 days ago
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III continued DOD's close cooperation with the United Kingdom as he sat down for Pentagon talks with the UK’s Secretary of State for Defense Ben Wallace.
Ninety-nine-year-old Unto Hakuli and his fellow veteran and friend Tapio Niemi, 94, still live among the forests and frozen lakes of Finland's border region, where they fought invading Russian soldiers more than 80 years ago. The bravery and skill of the defenders in what is known as the Winter War is feted far beyond Finland's borders. Soviet forces invaded on Nov. 30, 1939. Despite outnumbering and outgunning Finnish soldiers, they suffered heavy losses amid the unforgiving Nordic winter. Invasion Niemi recalls the day of the invasion. "It was a really scary situation for a little boy. I was 12 and at school, when the teacher came to the classroom and told us that a war has started between Finland and Russia and the school will be closed from now on." Five years later, Niemi joined the army, serving on the home front. His tasks included carrying the bodies of comrades killed in action. Finland resisted full Soviet occupation. But at the end of World War II, it was forced to concede the region of Karelia, around 10 percent of its territory, to Russia. We met the veterans in Niemi's family home in Taipalsaari, around 30 kilometers from the Russian border, where he lives alone in a wooden house among forests of spruce and silver birch. In early May, the vast lakes of the region are still frozen. The log stove, which has burned through the long winter, is recently extinguished. Unto Hakuli joined the army in 1942, three years after the Soviet invasion. He fought for more than two years on the frontline. "The secret was that we were probably a little bit more competent than the Russians," Hakuli told VOA. "There were good fighters in the Russian army, but most of them didn't know how to fight." Historical resonance Hakuli and Niemi have been closely following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which has particular historical resonance for the Finnish people. Finland is expected to apply to join NATO in coming days in response to the invasion and perceived threat from Russia, its neighbor to the east. Finland's border with Russia stretches some 1,300 kilometers from Karelia to north of the Arctic Circle. "Joining NATO would give us broader shoulders regarding our security," Niemi told VOA. "There are many different opinions about it, and Russia, of course, disapproves that its neighbors would join. Still, when we look at other Baltic states and, for example, Poland, they have not suffered any harm because they belong to NATO." Russian relations Finland and Russia have lived in relative peace for decades. The war veterans frequently visited battle sites across the border. "When the war in Ukraine started, our opinion about the Russians changed totally," Hakuli said. "Especially how cruel the Russians are towards Ukrainians. And it also affects Finland when we consider whether or not to join NATO. I would definitely think of joining if they asked my opinion. "It is clear that if we have to fight against Russia alone, we can't win. We will lose the war and our independence, which is very important to us." Both veterans believe Ukraine will defeat the Russian forces. "I don't believe that there will be a Third World War. I think that Russia will have enough of this war, as it has already lost a lot of men and military equipment," Niemi said. Hakuli voiced agreement, saying, "When Russia loses this war in Ukraine, it will calm down again." Mari-Leena Kuosa contributed to this report.
Austin Says 2023 Budget Built on New Defense Strategy > U.S. Department of Defense > Defense Department Newsby DoD News, 5 days ago
The fiscal 2023 defense budget request was built on the bones of the new National Defense Strategy, and the request is adequate for today's military and ensures the military remains strong in the future, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III said.
The United States has joined the Vatican in expressing concern after Hong Kong police arrested a prominent Catholic cardinal and other pro-democracy activists on national security charges. Cardinal Joseph Zen, 90, former bishop of Hong Kong, was arrested Wednesday on charges of collusion with foreign forces. He is a fierce critic of the Beijing government. Zen was later released on bail. “We're increasingly troubled by steps in Hong Kong to pressure and eliminate civil society” and concerned by the clampdown in Hong Kong against those who “speak out both in the media, in religious circles and in academia,” said Kurt Campbell, White House National Security Council coordinator for the Indo-Pacific. White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre also weighed in. “Freedom of expression is critical to prosperous and secure societies,” Jean-Pierre told reporters aboard Air Force One. “We call on PRC and Hong Kong authorities to cease targeting Hong Kong advocates and to immediately release those who have been unjustly detained and charged, like the Cardinal Joseph Zen ... and others arrested today.” At the Vatican, spokesperson Matteo Bruni said in a statement that “the Holy See has learned with concern of the news of the arrest of Cardinal Zen and is following the developments of the situation with extreme attention.” A Hong Kong government spokesperson told VOA a statement would be provided as soon as it was available. Freedom of speech and assembly in Hong Kong have been eroded as the Beijing government has exerted greater control over the former British colony in recent years, say critics. In a recent report, the State Department denounced actions by Chinese authorities that eliminated the ability of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy opposition to play a meaningful role in the city’s governance and effectively criminalized peaceful political expression critical of the central and local governments. In a seminar to preview the upcoming special summit between the U.S. and Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Campbell said the U.S. would continue to have “dialogue and conversations with the interested parties including Great Britain” about the status of Hong Kong. The senior U.S. official also laid out Washington’s goal for a free and open Indo-Pacific region, including stability in the Taiwan Strait. “The United States wants to take steps to maintain peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” said Campbell. “We are not seeking to take provocative actions. We want clarity about the desire to deter steps that would be provocative and we believe it's critical for other countries to both publicly and privately underscore that what has taken place in Ukraine must never happen in Asia.”
China's multimillion-dollar loans to Latin American governments have come to a standstill. No new state-to-state loans have been issued over the past two years. According to experts, however, China has instead prioritized commercial loans for its companies' projects in the region. Since 2005, China’s policy banks have been lending to countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, with the top three recipients being Brazil, Ecuador and Venezuela, often with conditions guaranteeing Beijing access to those countries’ natural resources. The region borrowed $138 billion from the China Development Bank and the Export-Import Bank (Exim) of China, distributed in 117 loans throughout the region. The trend accelerated with the global financial crisis in 2008, which reduced the financial options for emerging markets. Countries, such as Argentina, Ecuador and Venezuela were deeply in debt with Western institutions and turned to Beijing. China's loans to Latin America and Caribbean governments reached a peak of $34.5 billion in 2010; however, the financing came with conditions. According to Stephen Kaplan’s book, Globalizing Patient Capital: The Political Economy of Chinese Finance in the America, those conditions included requiring the borrowing countries to pay back part of their loans with oil; to purchase Chinese products such as machinery; or to give Chinese firms access to industries including telecommunications and energy. More recently, Chinese banks are focused on financing Chinese firms that operate in the region, according to a March report by the Inter-American Dialogue and the Boston University Global Development Center. Two decades ago, Chinese firms “had no connection to the region at all. They knew nobody. They didn't understand the operating environments [or] the investment environments,” said Margaret Myers, one of the authors of the report and director of the Asia and Latin America Program at the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington. So, the earlier strategy of conditional lending to countries “was a sort of natural means by which to help Chinese companies to establish.” Now, Myers told VOA, the Chinese companies “have the network in place, right, so, they don't need that assistance anymore. They can strike their own deals. They can find their own opportunities, and now, they simply need the finance in place to be able to make all of that happen. So, it's a very different mechanism.” China’s policy banks stopped offering new loans to Latin American governments in 2020. Instead, the new Chinese financial approach to the region is focused on private financing initiatives in the energy, mining, and infrastructure sectors. In 2020 and 2021, Chinese state-owned commercial banks, which include the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, provided 12 loans in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Peru. These loans are devoted to projects with a Chinese component such as a Chinese firm working in partnership with a local company. While the earlier lending strategy enabled Chinese companies to become established in Latin American and Caribbean markets, the borrowing governments became heavily indebted. In his book, Kaplan argues that the loans were made without regard for the countries’ ability to repay, which may have encouraged them “to spend beyond their means, catalyzing future debt problems.” 'Unfavorable' Chinese loans for Ecuador Ecuador owes China close to $5 billion, equal to 11% of its total external debt. Forty-two percent of that debt is expected to be repaid with oil by 2024. When Ecuadorean President Guillermo Lasso visited China in February, he discussed the possibility of decoupling the debt from oil and extending the term to pay it back. Mauricio Pozo, Ecuador’s minister of finance in 2020 and 2021, said the conditions of China's loans were very "disadvantageous" due to short loan terms and high interest rates. Ecuadorean state oil company Petroecuador reported losing money for each barrel of oil exported to China. Petroecuador is now renegotiating with oil and gas company PetroChina to change the formula that calculates the oil price and to extend the terms of the contracts to be able to sell some of the oil on the open market. Following Lasso’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, China’s state news agency, Xinhua, reported Xi hoped “Ecuador will continue to provide a fair and convenient business environment for Chinese enterprises to invest and operate in Ecuador.” VOA sent several inquiries to the Chinese embassies in Ecuador, Venezuela and Washington for this story but did not receive a response. Myers said China’s brake on lending to regional governments may have been driven in part by concerns over the ability of those governments to repay their debts. “China has faced this problem prior to the pandemic, and during the pandemic it's become even more of a challenge,” she said. “We've seen efforts by China to restructure the terms of a few of the tranches of debt in Venezuela and also in Ecuador.” Jorge Heine, a member of the China Global Initiative at Boston University’s Global Development Policy Center, told VOA that China "burned its fingers" with Venezuela, where the government "continues to owe $19 billion to China … and the payment is uncertain." Venezuelan’s oil production experienced a decline from 2015 to 2021. China had granted grace periods on principal payments as Venezuela pays the interest on the debt. Heine suggested another reason that China shifted its lending in Latin American from governments to companies was so that Beijing could “concentrate more on [domestic] development and internal investment in the coming years." Heine added that Chinese companies no longer depend on conditional loans to secure construction contracts. Now, they are able to openly compete for contracts in countries whose governments have not borrowed from China, such as Chile, Colombia, Mexico or Peru. "Chinese companies have realized that to participate in projects in Latin America they have to be able to win them in open tenders, open contests, because, if not, they will not have access to the projects," Heine told VOA. Even with changes in recent lending strategies, analysts expect China to continue relationships with Latin America, selling more products to the region and gaining access to new sources of oil.
The U.S. and ASEAN are celebrating 45 years of collaboration and partnership with a special summit in Washington May 12–13.
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Parents' mental health was worse during the pandemic, a new study finds. Dealing with inconsistent school plans while working made things tougher.
Oyster shell fossils show the American West was once as hot as today's tropics. "Imagine the climate of Bali, Indonesia, in places like Utah or Wyoming."
A first-of-its-kind federal study of Native American boarding schools that for over a century sought to assimilate Indigenous children into white society has identified more than 400 such schools that were supported by the U.S. government and more than 50 associated burial sites, a figure that could grow exponentially as research continues. The report released Wednesday by the Interior Department expands the number of schools that were known to have operated for 150 years, starting in the early 19th century and coinciding with the removal of many tribes from their ancestral lands. The dark history of the boarding schools — where children who were taken from their families were prohibited from speaking their Native American languages and often abused — has been felt deeply across Indian Country and through generations. Many children never returned home. The investigation has so far turned up over 500 deaths at 19 schools, though the Interior Department said that number could climb to the thousands or even tens of thousands. "Many of those children were buried in unmarked or poorly maintained burial sites far from their Indian Tribes, Alaska Native Villages, the Native Hawaiian Community, and families, often hundreds, or even thousands, of miles away," the report said. A second volume of the report will cover the burial sites as well as the federal government's financial investment in the schools and the impacts of the boarding schools on Indigenous communities, the Interior Department said. "The consequences of federal Indian boarding school policies — including the intergenerational trauma caused by the family separation and cultural eradication inflicted upon generations of children as young as 4 years old — are heartbreaking and undeniable," Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement. Haaland, who is Laguna, announced an initiative last June to investigate the troubled legacy of boarding schools and uncover the truth about the government's role in them. The 408 schools her agency identified operated in 37 states or territories, many of them in Oklahoma, Arizona and New Mexico. The Interior Department acknowledged the number of schools identified could change as more data is gathered. The coronavirus pandemic and budget restrictions hindered some of the research over the last year, said Bryan Newland, the Interior Department's assistant secretary for Indian Affairs. The department has so far found at least 53 burial sites at or near the U.S. boarding schools, both marked and unmarked. The U.S. government directly ran some of the boarding schools. Catholic, Protestant and other churches operated others with federal funding, backed by U.S. laws and policies to "civilize" Native Americans. The Interior Department report was prompted by the discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves at former residential school sites in Canada that brought back painful memories for Indigenous communities. Haaland also announced Wednesday a yearlong tour for Interior Department officials that will allow former boarding school students from Native American tribes, Alaska Native villages and Native Hawaiian communities to share their stories as part of a permanent oral history collection. "It is my priority to not only give voice to the survivors and descendants of federal Indian boarding school policies, but also to address the lasting legacies of these policies so Indigenous Peoples can continue to grow and heal," she said. Boarding school conditions varied across the U.S. and Canada. While some former students have reported positive experiences, children at the schools often were subjected to military-style discipline and had their long hair cut. Early curricula focused heavily on outdated vocational skills, including homemaking for girls. Tribal leaders have pressed the agency to ensure that any children's remains that are found are properly cared for and delivered back to their tribes, if desired. The burial sites' locations will not be released publicly to prevent them from being disturbed, Newland said. Accounting for the whereabouts of children who died has been difficult because records weren't always kept. Ground penetrating radar has been used in some places to search for remains. The National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition, which created an early inventory of the schools, has said Interior's work will be an important step for the U.S. in reckoning with its role in the schools but noted that the agency's authority is limited. Later this week, a U.S. House subcommittee will hear testimony on a bill to create a truth and healing commission modeled after one in Canada. Several church groups are backing the legislation.
Research with monkeys shows that when eyes meet, neurons fire in multiple parts of the brain. It gets at how we figure out the meaning of a "social gaze."
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The Cameroon-headquartered Bank of Central African States (BEAC) has urged the Central African Republic (CAR) to annul a law it passed in late April that made the cryptocurrency Bitcoin legal tender. The bank warned in a letter made public last week that the move breached its rules and could affect monetary stability in the region. BEAC said the CAR's decision to make Bitcoin legal tender could compete with the Central African Franc (CFA), the region’s France-backed currency. A letter from the bank’s governor to the CAR’s finance minister dated April 29, and made public last week, said the move suggests the CAR wants a currency beyond the bank’s control. The regional bank’s letter goes on to suggest using the cryptocurrency could upset monetary stability in the six-member Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC). CEMAC members, including the CAR, Cameroon, Chad, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, and the Republic of Congo, use the CFA Franc as currency. The bank urged the CAR to comply with CEMAC in promoting economic and financial cooperation and avoiding policies that may lead to monetary fluctuations. But economists note cryptocurrency is growing in popularity and difficult to control. Financial Capital economist Willy Delort Heubo said Bitcoin transactions have quadrupled in the region in the past three years. He said the decision by the CAR to adopt Bitcoin as legal tender is a violation of a community pact signed by the six member states of (CEMAC) to protect the economic block’s financial integrity and economic development. However, Heubo said despite the region’s policies against making Bitcoin legal tender, it is very difficult to stop cryptocurrency transactions when people agree to use it as a means of payment. The BEAC has also expressed concern that cryptocurrencies could make it easier for criminals to launder money and sponsor terrorism or rebellions in the region. The CAR has been in conflict between rebels and central authorities since 2013. Cameroon is fighting separatists, and Chad is fighting a spreading Islamist insurgency. Last week, Cameroon’s Employers Union said armed groups in central African countries use Bitcoin to hide their financial transactions. The union said Cameroon in 2021 reported Bitcoin transactions of $260 million – 40% of them to separatists in western regions. The central African bank said instead of adopting Bitcoin, the CAR should implement CEMAC monetary policies to reduce endemic poverty. CEMAC economist and consultant David Kunde said if the CAR does not annul the law on Bitcoin, the bank could punish it. He said when the CAR or any CEMAC member states want to buy from the international market, they rush to the Bank of Central African States for liquidity for their transactions. Kunde said the Bank could withhold the CAR’s reserves if it violates the economic bloc’s laws. The BEAC declined to answer questions from a reporter on what pressure it might use to get the CAR to annul the Bitcoin law. The Central African franc (CFA) was pegged to the French franc following agreements signed between Cameroon, Chad, the Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and the Republic of Congo in 1948. The CEMAC member states agreed to keep at least half of their financial reserves in the French treasury in return for a convertibility guarantee. Since 1999, the CFA franc has been pegged to the Euro at about 660 CFA francs to one Euro.
Five years ago, France's Emmanuel Macron saw big when it came to Africa. Days after his presidential inauguration, he flew to northeastern Mali, meeting with French troops and vowing, alongside his Malian counterpart, Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, to wage an "uncompromising fight" against Islamist terrorism. A few months later in another Sahel country, nearby Burkina Faso, he laid another pillar of his Africa strategy based on a "rupture" of traditional French-Africa relations. France's 39-year-old leader told students from the University of Ouagadougou he was "from a generation that doesn't come to tell Africans what to do." Today, the Sahel insurgency is expanding southward, and both Mali and Burkina Faso are under military rule. France's counter-insurgency military operation in the Sahel is downsizing, regrouping and recasting itself under a European umbrella. Meanwhile, Macron's ambitious promise of transforming France's relationship with Africa is still in the works. "The goal should be to accompany local efforts rather than expanding French interests in Africa," Cameroonian intellectual Achille Mbembe told French broadcaster RFI. If that happens, he added, "It would be possible to finally get out of France-Afrique," describing Paris' old and tangled ties with its former colonies. Yet, as Macron officially begins his second term this Friday, Africa appears to be taking a back seat to other, more immediate priorities, both domestic and European, as the war in Ukraine takes center stage. French-African relations barely figured into an election campaign that saw him facing off anti-immigration, far-right leader Marine Le Pen in the runoff. "It would be hard to see Macron completely changing his African strategy" in his second term, Africa analyst Antoine Glaser told France 24 TV in a recent interview. "I think what will change will be the method ... he will be a lot less on the front lines," giving African and European partners a bigger spotlight. Other analysts agree France should be more attentive to African concerns, mindful it now competes against many other foreign players on the continent, including in former French colonies. "France and Europe fail to properly listen to the priorities of different African states," said Africa-Europe researcher Cecilia Vidotto Labastie, from the Paris-based Montaigne Institute research institution. "This creates space for other partners — or competitors or enemies — to act." Breaking with the past Still in his first term Macron did listen and respond to several key African priorities, recognizing more painful aspects of France's legacy on the continent — and in doing so, going further than his predecessors. He acknowledged his country's role in Rwanda's genocide and crimes committed by French soldiers and police during Algeria's war of independence — although he ruled out an official apology to France's former colony. In both cases, Paris set up expert commissions to dig into historical archives. Those steps, among others, helped cement ties between Macron and Rwandan President Paul Kagame, following years of rocky French-Rwandan relations. Ties with Algeria remain strained, however, including over other, more recent issues, like French visas and Macron's remarks about Algeria's post-colonial rule. Nonetheless, Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune congratulated his French counterpart on his reelection last month and invited him to visit. Macron also became France's first leader to restore looted colonial-era treasures — returning a dozen artifacts to Benin and a sword to Senegal. Those gestures helped to unleash a broader restitution debate and similar moves elsewhere in Europe. "The fact he has so much energy and interest in this, in a way it obliged other countries to do the same," said analyst Vidotto Labastie. "This is something that is new. In a way, it's now part of Europe-Africa relations." Less successful has been Macron's support for efforts to reform the West and Central African CFA currency, and for a France-Africa summit that featured civil society rather than the continent's leaders last October. Aimed to "reinvent" France's relationship with the continent, the summit in Montpellier, France, also offered a forum for young Africans to air grievances against Paris' alleged tolerance of corruption and dictators in Africa. "Emmanuel Macron wanted to shake up French-Africa relations," one participant, Ivorian historian Arthur Banga told Jeune Afrique news magazine, but still described changes the president has realized to date as largely in form, rather than substance. Over Macron's next term, Banga said, "The first steps he initiated over five years must now deliver results." Sahel setbacks and moving forward Macron's biggest challenge and setback, analysts say, has been in the Sahel. The civilian presidents he met with five years ago in Mali and Burkina Faso have been ousted and replaced by military juntas. The Islamist insurgency that French and African troops hoped to conquer has spread. Russia-based Wagner mercenaries are implanted in Mali, and anti-French sentiment is mounting in some countries. Last month, Mali's military rulers suspended French broadcasters France 24 and RFI, over their reports of alleged rights abuses by Malian forces. Last week, as the two countries traded accusations over hundreds of bodies found buried in the Malian desert, Mali announced it had terminated a nearly decade-old military cooperation agreement with France — even as French troops were already leaving the country, as part of a full withdrawal planned over several months. Macron's strategy in the Sahel was a failure, France's Le Monde newspaper wrote, its fallout "casting a sandy veil over his record." Not everyone agrees. Montaigne Institute's Vidotto Labastie believes Macron's Sahel setbacks were partly due to a mix of factors beyond his control — including the death of Chadian leader Idriss Deby, whose country was a linchpin of the regional counterinsurgency fight. They should also be seen within a wider European Union context, she adds. "It depends on how you define failure; France was never alone," she said, noting Denmark's announcement in January it would withdraw its forces from Mali and West Africa. "Was it a failure for Denmark? For the EU?" Moving forward, Vidotto Labastie said, France and Europe need to be more attentive to Africa's demands in sectors like energy and migration. "The more France and the EU lack clarity in the region, the more space there is for Russia and also Turkey" along with other foreign powers, she said. "They will be ready to exploit any difficulty of the Sahel strategy and French action." Analyst Glaser agrees France's Africa strategy needs to be attuned to a more competitive and opportunistic reality. "France was in a dominant position for 30 years, until the fall of the Berlin wall," he said. "Now it's a globalized Africa … the world is changing, and Africa is changing even faster."
The U.S. set another record for drug overdose deaths last year with more than 107,000 fatalities, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated Wednesday. The provisional 2021 total represents a 15% jump from the previous record in 2020, and means there is roughly one overdose death in the country every 5 minutes. While drugs like opioid painkillers, other opioids and heroin cause many deaths, fentanyl is the leading killer, causing 71,000 deaths last year, which was a 23% jump from the year before. Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, called the latest numbers "truly staggering." Drug overdose deaths in the U.S. have been rising for more than two decades. “It is unacceptable that we are losing a life to overdose every five minutes around the clock,” said Dr. Rahul Gupta, Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. “That is why [U.S.] President [Joe] Biden’s new National Drug Control Strategy signals a new era of drug policy centered on individuals and communities, focusing specifically on the actions we must take right now to reduce overdoses and save lives," he said. "Those actions include expanding access to high impact harm reduction tools like naloxone, quickly connecting more people to treatment, disrupting and dismantling drug trafficking operations, and improving data to systems that drive the Nation’s drug policy.” One reason fentanyl is responsible for so many deaths is that it is cheap and often mixed into other drugs without the buyer’s knowledge. "The net effect is that we have many more people, including those who use drugs occasionally and even adolescents, exposed to these potent substances that can cause someone to overdose even with a relatively small exposure," Volkow said in a statement. Methamphetamine caused 32,856 overdose deaths, cocaine in 24,538 deaths, and prescription pain medications in 13,503 deaths in 2021. COVID-19 lockdowns had an impact on overdose deaths as they made getting treatment more difficult for drug users. Some information in this report came from The Associated Press.
Within FY23 Budget Request, Three Approaches Help DOD Meet Defense Strategy > U.S. Department of Defense > Defense Department Newsby DoD News, 5 days ago
This year's $773 billion presidential budget request for the Defense Department uses three approaches to support the nation's defense strategy, Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen H. Hicks said during a keynote address at the Reagan Institute.
Mozambique has been battered by five tropical storms along its northern coastal areas since the start of this year. Tens of thousands of families have been affected, including refugees and people internally displaced by ongoing violence in the oil-rich province of Cabo Delgado. The last storm, Tropical Cyclone Gombe, made landfall on March 11. It affected some 736,000 people, including tens of thousands of refugees, asylum-seekers and the communities hosting them. Grainne OHara, the Division of International Protection for the U.N. refugee agency, recently participated in a high-level mission to Mozambique to view the impact of the climate disasters and assess the needs. She said a visit to Maratane, Mozambique’s main refugee hosting settlement, was an eye-opening experience and that the devastation caused by Cyclone Gombe was huge. She noted that upward of 80 percent of the shelters of both the refugees and hosting communities have been damaged. “We saw remnants of peoples’ homes, which quite literally had just melted away with the force of the cyclone…and we met with many families who had nothing left but the contents of their kitchen and some bamboo and some small amounts of plastic that they were able to salvage,” Ohara said. She added that the impact of conflict in Cabo Delgado and extreme weather events have left people extremely vulnerable, and that they are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance as well as physical, material, and legal protection. “Unfortunately, the situation on the ground is one of chronic underfunding," she said. "And I came away from this visit having had the opportunity to see with my own eyes how serious the situation is there with a sense that this is one of those hidden, overlooked, and forgotten emergencies.” OHara said the UNHCR needs $36.7 million to scale up its assistance and protection operation in Mozambique this year.