Trump, Turkey’s Erdogan Discuss Gulf Crisis Involving Qatar

President Donald Trump spoke with his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on Friday to discuss the ongoing feud between Qatar and several Arab states, a conflict that some are calling the worst Gulf Arab crisis in years.

Trump and Erdogan talked by phone to discuss how to resolve the dispute “while ensuring all countries work together to stop terrorist funding and to combat extremist ideology,” the White House said in a statement.

Turkey has been a supporter of Qatar, whose ties with some of its Gulf and Arab neighbors were severed after Qatar was accused of funding terrorism and fomenting regional instability. Qatar denies the accusations. Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates cut ties with Qatar.

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Congo Denies ‘Security Concerns’ Caused Cancellation of Military Parade

Democratic Republic of Congo officials are denying a report that security concerns led them to cancel the annual military parade.

Congo celebrated 57 years of independence Friday, but the country is grappling with militia violence in the central Kasai region, a Kinshasa prison break that freed 4,000 inmates last month and political tension over the delay in the presidential election.

President Joseph Kabila’s deputy chief of staff said there would be no parade Friday because of “security reasons,” according to the report from the Reuters news agency.

Government spokesman Lambert Mende and Congo’s deputy interior and security minister, Basile Olongo, denied that report in separate interviews with VOA.

Olongo, talking to VOA’s French to Africa Service, noted the parade has been cancelled before and implied that dominance by foreign powers played a role in this year’s decision. “When you are no longer considered a sovereign country, it is high time to stop and think,” he said, without elaborating.

Mende, speaking to VOA English to Africa, denied allegations from opposition parties that Kabila is procrastinating on holding the election. The president’s second term expired in December 2016, but he has remained in office. The government says the delay is due to slow voter registration and a lack of funding.

Mende said the electoral commission has now registered 30 million of 42 million prospective voters.

A December 2016 political deal between Kabila and opponents calls for elections to be held by the end of this year.

VOA’s James Butty and Eddie Isango contributed to this report.

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7 Killed by Roadside Bomb in Eastern Afghanistan

Mines believed to have been planted by Islamic State killed seven civilians Friday in the eastern region of Afghanistan.

The Nangarhar governor’s office told VOA that five civilians, including women and children, were injured in the explosion when a pickup truck in the Achin district was hit by a roadside bomb — apparently placed by IS militants.

No one has claimed responsibility.

Officials at the local Ghani Khil hospital told VOA the wounded civilians are in stable condition.

IS militants are active in the Achin district, where U.S. forces in April dropped the “mother of all bombs,” the largest non-nuclear weapon, in an effort to root them out and destroy some of their tunnels.

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US Travel Ban Implementation Moves Ahead with Little Protest

President Donald Trump’s modified travel ban has been implemented with little immediate protest as immigration lawyers gathered at U.S. airports to aid travelers from six affected countries.

The U.S. activated the new rules Thursday evening, requiring visa applicants from six majority-Muslim nations to have a “bona fide” relationship with a family member or business in the U.S. to be admitted into the country.

Before the rollout, senior administration officials explained how consular officials should proceed with the visa applications for people from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

Anyone in transit to the U.S. with travel scheduled before July 6 will be allowed to enter. Those with travel booked after that date will be addressed “later,” according to senior administration officials.

Previously scheduled visa application appointments will not be canceled, administration officials said, but all new applicants will have to prove their bona fide relationship to a family member or business in the U.S. in addition to passing traditional screening.

Acceptable close family relationships include a parent, spouse, child, adult son or daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law or sibling who already is in the United States.

Relationships that do not meet the requirement include grandparent, grandchild, aunt, uncle, niece, nephew, cousin, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, fiance or other extended family. The officials said these distinctions were based on those included in the Immigration and Naturalization Act.

First court suit

Late Thursday, the Trump administration added fiance to the acceptable list after Hawaii filed an emergency motion in federal court, asking a judge to clarify that the ban can’t be enforced against relatives, including fiances, not mentioned in the administration’s guidelines.

U.S. District Court Judge Derrick Watson ordered the Justice Department to respond by Monday and gave Hawaii until July 6 for a rebuttal.

“I think the Supreme Court actually laid it out very clearly,” New York Immigration Coalition Director of Political Engagement Murad Awawdeh told VOA. “A bona fide relationship is anyone who has a relationship with anyone in the United States or an American entity. And for the department of state to come out with such a new version of what that word actually means, it is kind of disheartening.”

He added that the Trump administration is trying to “redefine what family means.”

Awawdeh spoke Thursday at an anti-travel ban protest of about 150 people in New York’s Washington Square.

Also at the protest was Yemeni American Widad Hassan, who says that choosing between family and country is nothing new. Her sister-in-law and newborn nephew are in Yemen, while her brother is in the U.S., unable to reunite with his family.

“Do they leave to join their family in Yemen or do they stay here? So, that is pretty much how the ban has impacted us,” said Hassan, adding that the battle is a recurring one. “It is just mentally and emotionally draining, especially when you have family members who are being directly impacted by it.”

“Hey hey! Ho ho! Syrian refugees have got to go!” shouted an older white man, hoisting a black-and-white “Keep Syrians Out” poster outside a #NoMuslimBanEver Emergency Town Hall in New York.

Travel ban supporter Pauline Pujol told VOA, “I think Donald Trump is 100% correct. He is protecting the country. A president is supposed to protect the country; there is nothing racist about it. It’s about security.”

Refugee numbers

A 120-day ban on refugees and yearly cap of 50,000 total refugees coming to the United States also went into effect Thursday evening; however, any refugee who can prove a relationship to a family member in the U.S. may be allowed entry.

Senior administration officials said 49,009 refugees had been admitted to the U.S. in fiscal year 2017 as of Wednesday night, nearing the cap three-quarters of the way through the fiscal year that begins in October. But the cap is likely to be exceeded as additional refugees are accepted on the basis of family ties. Officials said about half of refugees admitted to the U.S. have family in the country.

The Supreme Court partially reinstated the president’s executive order limiting travel after it was halted by two lower courts. The high court will hold its own hearing on the legal challenges in October.

Trump says the order is necessary to protect national security, with the entry freezes meant to give the government time to strengthen vetting procedures.

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Suicide Attack on Niger Displaced Persons Camp Kills 2, Wounds 11

The United Nations refugee agency says two female suicide bombers attacked a camp for internally displaced people in eastern Niger’s Diffa region, killing two people and wounding 11.

The agency says the attackers entered the Kabelawa camp late Wednesday.

It calls this the first suicide attack in the eastern part of the Diffa region in a year and the first-ever attack against the camp.

Kabelawa camp is about 50 kilometers (31 miles) from the border with Nigeria. It hosts more than 10,000 people who have fled violence by Nigeria-based Islamic extremists Boko Haram.

Niger contributes to the multinational force set up to fight Boko Haram in the region.

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Escalating Violence in CAR Threatens Thousands of Civilians

The U.N. refugee agency warns renewed violence in the Central African Republic is threatening thousands of civilian lives, forcing many to flee and destroying villages and camps for displaced people.

United Nations officials describe a chaotic scene of attacks by rival warring groups in different parts of CAR. UNHCR spokesman Andreij Mahecic tells VOA that violence has broken out near the capital of Bangui, in central parts of the country, and close to the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“It is of concern to us because it in many places affects the population that has been displaced already — most likely more than once — and these are the most vulnerable,” Mahecic said. “And, as you know, there is a plethora of armed groups within the CAR. … It is very concerning that we have recorded this escalation of violence over the past days and weeks.” 

While clashes are going on between self-defense groups and other armed groups, the UNHCR says civilians and humanitarian workers also are being targeted.

In Zemio, a town near the border of DRC, the agency says houses close to its office were burned down.  It says more than 1,000 people fled their homes, and many refugees in a nearby camp returned to DRC in fear for their lives. 

Mahecic says clashes in the town of Bria were so violent that all 2,400 inhabitants of a camp for internally displaced people fled, leaving it empty.

“Indiscriminate attacks in Bria have left some 136 people dead and 36 wounded, with 600 houses burned and an additional 180 looted,” he said. “These are conservative estimates. People fleeing the violence speak of having witnessed brutal attacks, killings, robberies, lootings and kidnappings.” 

It has not been possible to assess the full extent of damage or displacement from the recent violence because of the ongoing dangers, Mahecic says. The UNHCR reports more than five years of civil war in CAR has uprooted more than half a million people inside the country and sent nearly as many fleeing across borders.

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