Beyond Harvey: Deadly Floods Cause Havoc in Africa, Asia

Harvey has gathered headlines as the most powerful storm to hit Texas in half a century, but floods have killed many more people in Africa and Asia this year amid extreme weather worldwide.

Here are some of them:

South Asia

Floods in India, Bangladesh and Nepal have killed more than 1,200 people and affected 40 million, and are likely to intensify as monsoon rains continue, aid agencies say.

All three countries suffer frequent flooding during the June-September monsoon season, but aid agencies say things are worse this year, with thousands of villages cut off and people deprived of food and clean water for days.

Tens of thousands of houses, schools and hospitals have been destroyed as humanitarians prepare for more deaths, hunger and waterborne diseases.

“These are some of the worst floods we’ve seen in South Asia in decades, and the impact is likely only going to get worse,” Madara Hettiarachchi, Christian Aid’s humanitarian head in Asia, said in a statement. “Farms and livestock have been washed away, so food security is going to be a huge problem.”

The worst floods in a decade struck Nepal, killing 150 people and destroying 90,000 homes.

Monsoon floods submerged more than a third of low-lying, densely populated Bangladesh, causing more than 130 deaths and widespread crop damage.

The latest disaster zone is Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi, where overnight floods killed at least a dozen people, officials said  Thursday.

West Africa

Widespread flooding has killed at least 40 people in Niger since the rainy season began in June, leaving thousands homeless, without cattle or crops.

Aid agencies are increasingly worried about waterborne diseases like cholera as the waters are not expected to subside until rains end in September.

A mudslide in Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown, on August 14 killed about 500 people after heavy rains, with hundreds still missing.

Sporadic downpours continue, flooding parts of the coastal city and washing away more mud containing human remains.

Heavy rainfall also sparked a landslide at a rubbish dump in Conakry, the capital of neighboring Guinea, last week, killing 10 people, while at least 200 people are thought to have died in another slide in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.


At least 18 people were killed in Yemen in flooding caused by heavy rains, the government-run news agency Saba reported Wednesday.

Aid organizations say the rains could exacerbate Yemen’s cholera epidemic, which has infected more than half a million people and killed nearly 2,000 since April.

Sources: Oxfam, International Committee of the Red Cross, UNICEF, Thomson Reuters Foundation, Reuters

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UN: 28 Afghan Civilians Killed in Recent US Airstrikes

Two American counterinsurgency airstrikes in Afghanistan this week have killed at least 28 civilians and injured 16 others, all women and children, the United Nations said it confirmed Thursday.

The U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), while releasing initial findings of its probe into the attacks, urged authorities to ensure independent, impartial and prompt investigations of both incidents.

UNAMA also called for appropriate steps to be taken to ensure accountability, compensation for victims and the prevention of such incidents in the future.

The first strike took place Monday in western Herat province, where a drone reportedly targeted Taliban insurgents in the Shindand district. The attack left 15 civilians dead and four others injured after munitions hit at least two civilian homes in the area, UNAMA said.

The second airstrike, in the Pul-e-Alam district of eastern Logar province, occurred Wednesday and killed at least 13 civilians and injured 10 others. That attack reportedly targeted a civilian compound used by insurgents to attack aircraft, according to the preliminary findings.

The U.S. military has stated an official investigation is under way into Wednesday’s attack in Logar, saying it takes all allegations of civilian casualties seriously and is working with Afghan partners to determine the facts of the incident.

“I am deeply saddened to hear that women and children have once again suffered so terribly from the conflict,” said UNAMA head Tadamichi Yamamoto. “This is unacceptable. All parties must live up to their obligations to take all feasible measures to protect civilians.”

UNAMA vowed to continue its independent probe to establish facts around the harm caused to civilians from these attacks, including looking into allegations that insurgents used civilians as human shields.

UNAMA warned it already had recorded a 43 percent rise in civilian casualties, including 95 deaths, from aerial operations during the first six months of 2017, with a substantial increase in deaths of women and children.

The latest Afghan civilian casualties came days after U.S. President Donald Trump announced his new war strategy for Afghanistan, which will increase airpower assistance to Afghan security forces and raise the number of American troops in the country.

It was not clear, however, whether the airstrikes against Taliban insurgents in Herat and Logar suggested implementation of Trump’s plan.

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Mattis Signs Orders for More US Troops in Afghanistan

U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis says he has signed orders to deploy additional American troops to Afghanistan beyond the 11,000 currently serving in the war-torn country.

Speaking to reporters Thursday at the Pentagon, Mattis said the additional troops would mostly advise and “enable the Afghan forces to fight more effectively” against the Taliban and more than a dozen terror groups in Afghanistan.

The secretary said he would provide the public with more information once he had completed the orders and notified Congress next week of the military’s next steps.

“I’ve signed orders, but it’s not complete. In other words, I’ve signed some of the troops that will go and we’re identifying the specific ones,” Mattis said.

News of the new deployment orders comes a day after the Pentagon announced that approximately 11,000 U.S. troops are currently serving in Afghanistan, not 8,400 troops, as the Defense Department had previously reported.

The higher number emerged following Mattis’s call for a more accurate troop-strength estimate, as the Trump administration worked on a new U.S. policy in Afghanistan.

The chief spokesperson at the Pentagon, Dana White, told reporters Wednesday the estimate of 11,000 troops is based on a simplified accounting method that provides greater “transparency” while “increasing commanders’ ability to adapt to battlefield conditions.”

The lower number of troops cited previously excluded service members on assignment in Afghanistan for less than 120 days — short-term duty that could include temporary combat support or materiel recovery missions.

Lieutenant General Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie Jr., staff director on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the new method of counting troops in the field uses approximations rather than exact numbers of troops. This, he said, allows commanders “more flexibility” when it comes to battlefield deployments.

“We all recognize that whole units are inherently more prepared and more ready than units that are fragmented in order to meet an arbitrary force management level,” McKenzie said.

White and McKenzie said the changes made in calculating troop strength in Afghanistan eventually will be applied to American troops fighting the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.

Officials have suggested that Secretary Mattis is looking to deploy about 4,000 additional troops to Afghanistan to fulfill the commander’s needs on the ground.

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UN Committee: Britain ‘Going Backwards’ on Rights of Disabled

The U.N. Committee on the rights of disabled people said on Thursday it had more concerns about Britain – due to funding cuts, restricted rights and an uncertain post-Brexit future — than any other country in its 10-year history.

The committee, which reviews states’ compliance with the 2006 Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, published a 17-page report with recommendations about how Britain could do better.

“The UK is at the moment going backwards in accordance to the information that we have received,” committee member Stig Langvad told a news conference in Geneva.

Britain said it was disappointed by the report. It said it did not reflect the evidence it had provided to the committee, nor did it recognize progress that had been made.

The U.N. committee’s chairwoman Theresia Degener has described the situation in Britain as a “human catastrophe.”

“The austerity measures that they have taken – they are affecting half a million people, each disabled person is losing between 2,000 and 3,000 pounds per year, people are pushed into work situations without being recognized as vulnerable, and the evidence that we had in front of us was just overwhelming,” she said.

The most acute concern was the limitations on independent living.

“Persons with disabilities are in our view not able to choose where to live, with whom to live, and how to live,” Langvad said.

Britain was also not fulfilling its commitment to allow inclusive education, and there was a high incidence of bullying at schools. A growing number of disabled people were living in poverty.

Budgets for local authorities had not only been slashed, but they were no longer ear-marked for disabled people, another committee member, Damjan Tatic, said.

Langvad said people with disabilities should be involved in preparations for Britain’s Brexit talks with the European Union, to avoid losing protections that historically came from the EU.

“Persons with disabilities are afraid of the future since they do not know what is happening and since they do not feel that they are involved in the discussions on how to secure the rights of people with disabilities afterwards,” he said.

Britain’s government said it was a recognized world leader in disability rights, and almost 600,000 disabled people had moved into work in the last four years.

“We spend over 50 billion pounds a year to support disabled people and those with health conditions — more than ever before, and the second highest in the G7,” a government spokesperson said.

Debbie Abrahams, the opposition Labour party’s spokeswoman for Work and Pensions, said the “damning” report was a vindication of Labour’s criticism of the government’s policies.

“This confirms what Labour has been saying all along, that the lack of progress on all convention articles, including cruel changes to social security and the punitive sanctions regime, are causing real misery for sick and disabled people.”

A Labour government would incorporate the convention fully into British law, she said in a statement.

Reporting by Tom Miles, editing by Pritha Sarkar and Richard Balmforth

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Huge WWII Bomb to Be Defused Close to German Gold Reserves

Frankfurt’s city center, an area including police headquarters, two hospitals, transport systems and Germany’s central bank storing $70 billion in gold reserves, will be evacuated on Sunday to allow the defusing of a 1.8-metric ton World War II bomb.

A spokesman for the German Bundesbank said, however, that “the usual security arrangements” would remain in place while experts worked to disarm the bomb, which was dropped by the British air force and was uncovered during excavation of a building site.

The Bundesbank headquarters, less than 600 meters (650 yards) from the location of the bomb, stores 1,710 metric tons of gold underground, around half the country’s reserves.

“We have never defused a bomb of this size,” bomb disposal expert Rene Bennert told Reuters, adding that it had been damaged on impact when it was dropped between 1943 and 1945. Airspace for 1.5 kilometers (nearly a mile) around the bomb site will also be closed.

Frankfurt city officials said more than 60,000 residents would be evacuated for at least 12 hours. The evacuation area will also include 20 retirement homes, the city’s opera house and the diplomatic quarter.

Bomb disposal experts will use a wrench to try to unscrew the fuses attached to the bomb. If that fails, a water jet will be used to cut the fuses away, Bennert told Reuters.

The most dangerous part of the exercise will be applying the wrench, Bennert said.

Roads and transport systems, including the underground, will be closed during the work and for at least two hours after the bomb is defused, to allow patients to be transported back to hospitals without traffic.

It is not unusual for unexploded bombs from World War II air raids to be found in German cities, but rarely are they so large and in such a sensitive position.

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US Orders Russian Consulate in San Francisco to Close

U.S. officials have ordered Russia to close three diplomatic buildings in the United States, part of the ongoing quarrel between the two countries over U.S. sanctions.

The action follows Russia’s demand earlier this month that the U.S. reduce the number of personnel at its diplomatic missions in the country.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, to tell him that the United States has fully implemented the decision by the Russian government to reduce the size of the U.S. mission in the country.  

In a statement, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert called the Russian decision “unwarranted and detrimental to the overall relationship between our countries.”  

Nauert continued, “In the spirit of parity invoked by the Russians, we are requiring the Russian government to close its Consulate General in San Francisco, a chancery annex in Washington, D.C. and consular annex in New York City.”

She said the closures would need to be completed by September 2.

Nauert stressed that the U.S. “has chosen to allow the Russian government to maintain some of its annexes in an effort to arrest the downward spiral in our relationship.” A senior administration official stressed that Tillerson and Lavrov both still want to improve U.S.-Russian relations, and described their phone call as professional.

Russia Today reported that Lavrov responded to the closures by “expressing regret” over the escalation of tensions.  He said that Moscow would study the new measures carefully and inform Washington of its reaction.

The diplomatic retaliations stem from U.S. sanctions of Russia over its annexation of Crimea, as well as Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Last month, the U.S. Congress overwhelmingly passed a bill preventing President Donald Trump from easing sanctions on Russia without congressional approval. After Trump signed the bill, Russian authorities denounced it as “trade war.”

A senior U.S. administration official told reporters the Russian Consulate General in San Francisco is the oldest Russian consulate in the United States.  She said the two annexes ordered closed in Washington and New York were primarily trade missions.  She said no Russian diplomats are being expelled – the diplomats in those three building may be reassigned  to other Russian consulates in the U.S.

The senior official said the U.S. has complied with the Russian order to reduce its presence in Russia down to 455 staff members.  The official stressed that with this new U.S. order to close three buildings, the Russian would still have more consulates and annexes in the United States than the U.S. has in Russia.

The U.S. president’s response to the tensions has also sparked controversy.  When Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the U.S. diplomats were being expelled, Trump responded by saying,  “I want to thank him because we’re trying to cut down the payroll.”

White House officials later told reporters the president was being sarcastic.

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Explosions Rock Flooded Houston-Area Chemical Plant

A Houston-area chemical plant that lost power after Harvey engulfed the area in extensive floods was rocked by two explosions early Thursday, the plant’s operator said.

Arkema Inc. said in a statement on its website that the Harris County Emergency Operations Center reported two explosions and black smoke coming from the plant at about 2 a.m.

The Harris County Sheriff’s Office said in a tweet that a deputy was taken to the hospital after inhaling fumes. Nine other deputies drove themselves to the hospital as a precaution.

The Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office said there had been “a series of chemical reactions” at the plant and advised people to stay away from the area.

A spokeswoman for the plant in Crosby, Texas, said late Wednesday that the flooded facility had lost power and backup generators due to the flooding, leaving it without refrigeration for chemicals that become volatile as the temperature rises. The plant is about 25 miles (40 kilometers) northeast of Houston.

“The fire will happen. It will resemble a gasoline fire. It will be explosive and intense in nature,” spokeswoman Janet Smith told The Associated Press late Wednesday.

There was “no way to prevent” the explosion, chief executive Rich Rowe said earlier Wednesday.

Arkema manufactures organic peroxides, a family of compounds used for making a variety of products including pharmaceuticals and construction materials.

“As the temperature rises, the natural state of these materials will decompose. A white smoke will result, and that will catch fire,” Smith said. “So the fire is imminent. The question is when.”

Harvey struck Southeast Texas last week, slamming into the coast as a Category 4 hurricane, then weakening to a tropical storm that dumped record amounts of rain on the state, in particular the Houston area. The storm was downgraded to a tropical depression late Wednesday.

The company shut down the Crosby site before Harvey made landfall last week, but a crew of 11 had stayed behind. That group was removed and residents living within a 1.5-mile (2.4-kilometer) radius were told to evacuate Tuesday after the plant lost power.

Harris County Fire Marshal spokeswoman Rachel Moreno said late Wednesday that the 1.5-mile radius was developed in consultation with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and other subject-matter experts.

“The facility is surrounded by water right now so we don’t anticipate the fire going anywhere,” Moreno said.

The plant falls along a stretch near Houston that features one of the largest concentrations of refineries, pipelines and chemical plants in the country.

Arkema was required to develop and submit a risk management plan to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, because it has large amounts of sulfur dioxide, a toxic chemical, and methylpropene, a flammable gas. The plans are supposed to detail the effects of a potential release, evaluate worst-case scenarios and explain a company’s response.

In its most recently available submission from 2014, Arkema said potentially 1.1 million residents could be impacted over a distance of 23 miles (37 kilometers) in a worse case, according to information compiled by a nonprofit group and posted on a website hosted by the Houston Chronicle.

But, Arkema added, it was using “multiple layers of preventative and mitigation measures” at the plant, including steps to reduce the amount of substances released, and that made the worst case “very unlikely.”

Daryl Roberts, the company’s vice president of manufacturing, technology and regulatory services in the Americas, did not dispute that worst-case scenario but said that assumed all the controls in place failed and strong winds blew directly toward Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city.

“We have not modeled this exact scenario but we are very comfortable with this 1.5-mile radius,” Roberts told the AP. He added that it mostly resembled less serious scenarios that would affect a half-mile radius and a few dozen people.

Roberts said the vessels containing the organic peroxide are equipped with controls to slow the release of chemicals. He said the chemicals will quickly vaporize because of the water, reducing the size and scope of the fire.

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Key Chinese Communist Party Congress to Start Oct. 18

China on Thursday said a key Chinese Communist Party meeting held once every five years will start on Oct. 18, marking the formal countdown to the gathering at which President Xi Jinping will begin his second five-year term as head of the ruling party.

The 19th National Party Congress will also see the selection of new members of key bodies, including the all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee that Xi is expected to pack with allies to the detriment of rival factions. The congress typically runs for about 10 days.

Xi has emerged as China’s most powerful leader in decades, dominating the party, government, military and state economy. The congress will also be scrutinized for signs that Xi intends to remain beyond the 10-year terms served by his predecessors, the most telling of which would be the failure of a clear successor to emerge.


Xi, who has already assumed the title of “core” of the party leadership, is also expected to further cement his authority by having his thoughts on political theory written into the party constitution.


The congress will also offer an opportunity to reinvigorate Xi’s campaign against corruption that has been his signature political achievement, alongside a muscular foreign policy and efforts to shore up the party’s presence and influence in the economy and society, including among academia and the vibrant online sector.


In its announcement read on the national evening news report, the official Xinhua News Agency said the congress would review the achievements of the past five years, thoroughly analyze the current domestic and international situation, and “mobilize the entire party and people… to strengthen self-confidence in the in the road of socialism with Chinese characteristics.”


The congress “is an extremely important meeting being held at a crucial time for the development of socialism with Chinese characteristics,” said the announcement, which also referenced Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought and the political theories of other Chinese leaders.



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French Labor Reform Gives Firms Flexibility

The French government said on Thursday it would cap unfair dismissal payouts and give companies more flexibility to adapt pay and working hours to market conditions in a labor reform France’s biggest union said was disappointing.

The reform, President Emmanuel Macron’s first major policy step since his election in May, is also the first big test of his plans to reform the euro zone’s second-biggest economy.

For decades governments of the left and right have tried to reform France’s strict labor rules, but have always diluted them in the face of street protests.

The government said in a document presenting the reform that it will make it possible to adapt work time, remuneration and workplace mobility to market conditions based on agreements reached by simplified majority between employers and workers.

Workers compensation for dismissal judged in a labor court to be unfair would be set at three months of wages for two-years in the company with the amount rising progressively depending on how long a worker was with the firm, unions said.

However, normal severance pay would be increased from 20 percent of wages for each year in a company to 25 percent, Liberation reported.

The government consulted with unions for weeks as it drafted the reform, and only the hardline CGT union, the country’s second biggest, said from the start that it would hold a protest, set for Sept. 12.

France’s biggest union, the reformist CFDT, said that it would not call a strike against the reform but described the reform as a missed opportunity to improve labor relations.

“CFDT disappointed,” the union’s leader Laurent Berger told reporters after a meeting with the government, but he added: “Taking to the streets is not the only mode of action for unions.”

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Mourners Mark 20 Years Since Princess Diana’s Death

People gathered Thursday at Britain’s Kensington Palace and a site in Paris to mark the 20th anniversary of the death of Princess Diana.

Those paying their respects left flowers and lit candles outside the palace where Diana once lived with her two sons, Prince William and Prince Harry.

On Wednesday, William, Harry and William’s wife, Kate, toured a garden at the palace dedicated to Diana. They also met with representatives from some charities Diana supported, as well as some of the well-wishers who had come to remember the late princess.

William and Harry were expected to spend Thursday in private.

In Paris, the remembrance was focused at the Flame of Liberty statue, which is a replica of the torch on the Statue of Liberty in New York, but has become a de facto memorial for Diana. It sits atop the tunnel where she died in a car crash in 1997.

Diana died along with her boyfriend, Dodi Fayed and their driver, Henri Paul, when the car speeding away from paparazzi crashed into a pillar in the Alma Tunnel.

She became internationally known after marrying Britain’s Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, in 1981, and was referred to as the “the people’s princess.” But their relationship soured and the couple divorced in 1996.

David Flint, the national convener of Australians for a Constitutional Monarchy, told VOA the reaction to Diana’s death was extraordinary.

“The grief which was so public, not only in the United Kingdom but in a number of other countries, including Australia and the United States and Canada, quite remarkable reaction to her passing,” Flint said.

Diana was 36 year old at the time of her death, while her sons were ages 15 and 12.

“Her beauty will be particularly remembered because she was an extraordinary beautiful woman, but also that sense of tragedy, that sense of dying still young and beautiful, which impacted on all of us,” Flint said. “And that she might have been queen but never was going to be and the fact that she was in many ways seen as wronged by a large number of people, I think all of that will be her legacy. But her greatest legacy will be her two sons.”

Victor Beattie in Washington contributed to this report.

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Pope Francis’ Visit to Myanmar Raises Hopes, Concerns

When Pope Francis comes to Myanmar later this year for the first papal visit to this largely Buddhist country, he will be arriving in a land in need of healing.

Since independence in 1948, Myanmar has been beset by ethnic and civil strife, decades of military dictatorship and, since 2011, an uneasy transition to democracy that culminated in election victory for Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi in 2015.

Myanmar’s peace process has stalled as fighting continues between the military and armed ethnic groups in the north. In the west, tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims have fled to Bangladesh as security forces battle a new Rohingya insurgency, which struck anew Aug. 25.

A challenge for the pope

So can Francis, who has made his voice known on, among other issues, the environment, immigration and the migrant crisis, help ease tensions in Myanmar? Or will his presence further inflame them?

“The motto of his visit is love and peace,” said Father Mariano Soe Naing, a spokesman for the pope’s trip who works with the Catholic Bishops Conference of Myanmar.

“So I think he would speak of love, the country here as a whole, they value love a lot, like metta [loving-kindness] in Burmese Buddhism also. Love is something very special for us. So his message, I think, he will try to emphasize this aspect of love, which will bring us to peace and harmony in the country,” he said.

Myanmar established diplomatic relations with the Vatican in May. The pope is expected to travel to Myanmar from Nov. 27 to 30. He will visit Yangon and Naypyitaw, and proceed to Bangladesh for a similar visit.

​Rohingya crisis

Discussion around his visit has inevitably landed on the Rohingya crisis. The pope has mentioned their plight several times in sermons, most recently in the wake of new clashes.

Numbering around 1.1 million, the Rohingya are the largest stateless group in the world, and more than 120,000 live in IDP camps in Rakhine State following religiously motivated violence in 2012.

The crisis worsened last year when the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, a relatively unknown group, attacked police border posts, killing nine. The military launched “clearance operations” that rights groups have said could amount to crimes against humanity. The government has denied the claims.

Pope Francis’ vocal support for the Rohingya has created the impression that he is speaking for their rights alone, not the Rakhine Buddhists involved in the conflict.

Radical monk Wirathu was quoted in an interview as saying the trip was “political instigation,” but there has been little substantive pushback from religious leaders in general.

Christians are a small minority in Myanmar

One obstacle may be in the numbers. The pope’s upcoming visit to Colombia in a few weeks could have more sway because of its sizeable Catholic population, but Myanmar is almost 90 percent Buddhist and only 6 percent Christian, not all of them part of the Catholic Church.

And because the pontiff only makes the news in Myanmar when talking about the conflict, his image has been distorted, Father Mariano said.

“The reactions that we see in Facebook under the news of the arrival of the pope. Many would comment that they think the pope is the activist for the rights of those people, and some even do not even see that he is the head of the Catholic Church,” he said.

“Most of the time when they speak of the pope this issue is always in the media of Myanmar. So they really distort the image of the pope because the people in Myanmar know always the association is made with him and this case.”

Comments by the pope have not helped downplay the image.

The attacks have killed 11 police officers, one soldier and a civil servant, while a counteroffensive has caused the deaths of scores of Rohingya militants, according to state media. A number of ethnic minorities have also been killed. But on the Sunday following the violence, Francis spoke only about the persecution of the Rohingya.

“Maybe some people who brought the message to him did not give the complete message,” Father Mariano said. “That is the reason he prayed only for those people, but not those who were slain, not those who were brutally killed, the people who have to leave their house and run away, he did not mention those things.”

The Vatican declined to comment.

History of papal visits

But given the historic nature of the pope’s trip, and the way other popes have been able to influence positive change, there is still optimism.

“A visit by the pope is always very significant, politically and spiritually, and especially so when it is an historic first visit and to a country emerging from decades of dictatorship but still torn apart by conflict,” Benedict Rogers, author of three books on Myanmar and East Asia Team Leader at Christian Solidarity Worldwide, said in an email.

“One only has to think of John Paul II’s visit to Poland early on in his pontificate, which is credited with sparking the Solidarity movement that ultimately led to freedom across Eastern Europe.”

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US, South Korea Give North Korea a Show of Air Power

The United States flew some of its most advanced warplanes in bombing drills Thursday with ally South Korea, a clear warning after North Korea launched a midrange ballistic missile designed to carry nuclear bombs over Japan earlier this week, South Korea’s military said. North Korea hates such displays of U.S. military might at close range and will likely respond with fury.


Two U.S. B-1B supersonic bombers and four F-35 stealth fighter jets joined four South Korean F-15 fighters in live-fire exercises at a military field in eastern South Korea that simulated precision strikes against the North’s “core facilities,” an official from Seoul’s Defense Ministry said. The B-1Bs were flown in from Andersen Air Force Base in Guam while the F-35s came from a U.S. base in Iwakuni, Japan, the official said. He didn’t want to be named, citing office rules. 


The North, which claims Washington has long threatened Pyongyang by flaunting the powerful U.S. nuclear arsenal, describes the long-range B-1Bs as “nuclear strategic bombers” although the United States no longer arms them with nuclear weapons. A strong North Korean reaction to the drills is almost certain.

Annual military drills wrap up


The bombing exercise came as the United States and South Korea wrapped up their annual Ulchi Freedom Guardian joint military drills that involved tens of thousands of soldiers. North Korea condemns the annual U.S.-South Korea war games as rehearsals for an invasion and described Tuesday’s launch over Japan as a countermeasure against the drills. Washington and Seoul faced calls to postpone or downsize this year’s drills. 


The United States often sends its warplanes to South Korea, mostly for patrols, when animosity rises on the Korean Peninsula, which is technically in a state of war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. 

North Korea missiles


North Korea on Tuesday flew a potentially nuclear capable Hwasong-12 intermediate range missile over northern Japan and later called it a “meaningful prelude” to containing the U.S. territory of Guam. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said the launch was a “curtain-raiser of its resolute countermeasures” against the U.S.-South Korea war games and called for his military to conduct more ballistic missile launches targeting the Pacific Ocean. 


North Korea has been maintaining a torrid pace in weapons tests this year as it openly pursues an arsenal of nuclear-armed, intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching deep into the U.S. mainland. Experts say Kim wants a real nuclear deterrent against the United States to ensure the survival of his government and likely believes that it will strengthen his negotiating position when North Korea returns to talks. 

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After Tense Talks, UN Agrees to Renew Peacekeepers in Lebanon

The United Nations Security Council unanimously voted to renew the mandate for a

peacekeeping mission in Lebanon on Wednesday, following tense negotiations amid U.S. and Israeli criticism that U.N. troops should do more to stop Hezbollah gaining arms.

The U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) — established in 1978 – patrols Lebanon’s southern border with Israel. Washington regards Hezbollah, which supports the Syrian government and has a strong presence in south Lebanon, as a terrorist organization.

US supports resolution

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said Washington wanted the French-drafted resolution to renew UNIFIL’s mandate to “ensure UNIFIL is doing its job to the fullest extent possible.”

After a 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, the UNIFIL mandate was expanded to task peacekeepers with making sure southern Lebanon was “free of any armed personnel, assets and weapons” other than those belonging to the Lebanese government.

“For too long UNIFIL’s leadership has failed to make sure this goal is realized,” Haley told the council after the vote.

Mandate is the same

The mission mandate has not changed, but the resolution adopted on Wednesday spells out that peacekeeping operation is authorized to “take all necessary action in areas of deployment of its forces … to ensure that its area of operations is not utilized for hostile activities.”

The resolution also asks U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to look at ways the peacekeeping mission can increase its visible presence, including through patrols and inspections.

“At the direction of its patron, Iran, the terrorist organization Hezbollah is stockpiling an offensive arsenal in southern Lebanon,” Haley told the 15-member council after the vote. “It is preparing for war.”

“They have thousands of missiles and thousands of trained fighters all beyond the control of the Lebanese government. It is apparent to everyone who cares to see it,” she said.

Hezbollah defends its possession of weapons as necessary to defend Lebanon, but does not say where they are.

Israel says force is too soft

Deputy French U.N. Ambassador Anne Gueguen described the negotiations on the resolution as “difficult.”

“UNIFIL, of course, can do better and can do more, but no-one in this council can imagine for one second the environment existing there without UNIFIL,” she told the council.

Israel has regularly complained that UNIFIL has too soft an approach toward enforcing the 2006 ceasefire and would like to see stronger action against Hezbollah military deployment that Israel alleges is taking place in violation of the ceasefire.

Lebanon also accuses Israel of violating the ceasefire by sending warplanes into its airspace.


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China Accuses Exiled Tycoon Guo Wengui of Rape

Escalating efforts to repatriate one of the ruling Communist Party’s most wanted exiles, Chinese police have opened an investigation on a new allegation, rape, against New York-based billionaire Guo Wengui, who has been releasing what he calls official secrets ahead of a pivotal party leadership conference. 

Two Chinese officials with direct knowledge of the investigation told The Associated Press that police are requesting a second Interpol arrest notice for Guo, 50, for the alleged sexual assault of a 28-year-old former personal assistant. 

Guo and his representatives did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Sprawling case against Guo

The rape allegation represents a new element in the sprawling case that Chinese prosecutors are building against the real estate tycoon, who is being investigated for at least 19 major criminal cases. Allegations against him include bribing a top Chinese intelligence official, kidnapping, fraud and money laundering.


The Associated Press reviewed documents related to the rape investigation and confirmed their contents with Chinese official sources in Beijing, who requested anonymity to discuss an ongoing case. The Chinese officials’ disclosures to the AP — an unusual move given the political sensitivity of Guo’s case in China — underscores Beijing’s urgent effort to not only bring a fugitive to heel on criminal charges but also silence a potent irritant in the run-up to a key Communist Party congress during which political stability and the stifling of any challenges to the party head, President Xi Jinping, are paramount.


Although the United States does not have an extradition agreement with China, Beijing hopes that a mounting body of evidence could sway the U.S. government against extending the exiled businessman’s visa, which is believed to expire in October, the Chinese officials said.


Senior U.S. and Chinese officials have discussed the allegations against Guo, according to a third person with direct knowledge of the talks. The Chinese officials are asking the U.S. to cancel Guo’s visa, according to the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity. 

It’s unclear what steps Washington plans to take, if any. The White House would not comment on the matter.

Repatriating elite Chinese

The Guo saga highlights how China’s efforts to repatriate elite Chinese seeking refuge on American soil have become increasingly contentious in the bilateral relationship. The U.S. government has often refused Beijing’s demands to extradite corruption suspects, citing flimsy evidence and China’s opaque justice system. But the U.S. has sent back two Chinese fugitives in the past three months, including one suspected of rape.

Pressure on Guo has been building since April when Interpol issued a “red notice” seeking his arrest on corruption-related charges. Chinese authorities later sentenced several of his employees for fraud in June. 


Police in central China opened the rape investigation July 5 after a former employee came forward, the officials said.

In interviews with police, the woman described how she was plucked from her human resources position at Guo’s real estate company in Hong Kong in 2015 and sent overseas to become his personal assistant. The woman, whose identity is being withheld by the AP, said that over the next two years, she was raped several times in New York, London and the Bahamas by Guo, who she said demanded sex from female employees as a test of their loyalty. 


At times, she said, she languished in virtual detention after Guo’s staff confiscated her smartphone, computer, passport and keys and forbade her from leaving her room in his luxury apartment in the high-end London neighborhood of Belgravia. To prove her case, the woman surreptitiously met a lawyer friend in London earlier this year to give a written statement about her ordeal and kept her underwear, pregnancy tests and abortion pills as evidence, according to police documents.


In a brief phone interview with the AP arranged by Chinese officials, the woman confirmed the account and described fleeing Guo’s apartment to the Chinese Embassy in London in April to apply for a new passport before returning to China. She said she was speaking of her own volition and that police had assured her she could bring charges against Guo without facing repercussions for having worked for a highly sought-after fugitive.

Calls to Guo’s mobile phone since Tuesday evening in New York rang unanswered. Guo also did not respond to multiple requests for comment sent by an AP reporter to his WhatsApp mobile messaging account since Tuesday. Lawyers representing him at the New York firm Boies Schiller Flexner did not respond to requests for comment. 


Interpol declined to comment about the latest warrant China is seeking for Guo’s arrest, referring questions to national authorities as is the policy in ongoing investigations.

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Trump Takes His Tax Reform Plan to American Workers in Missouri

U.S. President Donald Trump has chosen the Midwestern U.S. state of Missouri to push for a major tax overhaul that he said would spur economic growth and help ordinary Americans. He appealed to lawmakers to shun partisanship and to act swiftly for the benefit of the country. Trump proposed to cut the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 15 percent and slash individual taxes, but offered few other details. VOA’s Zlatica Hoke reports.

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US-funded Ethiopian Abattoir Hopes to Help Herders During Drought

An abattoir located among herding communities in Ethiopia’s eastern Somali region, known more for droughts and famine than business opportunities, is an unusual stop for a U.S. aid administrator.

But USAID chief Mark Green stopped at the Jijiga Export Slaughter House (JESH) during a visit to the town of Jijiga on Wednesday to see the effects of a crippling drought that has pushed some areas to the south to the brink of famine.

The abattoir buys goats, sheep, cows and camels for slaughter from herders for export to the Middle East, giving families cash to buy food during the drought.

A $1.5-million loan from Feed the Future, a $1 billion-a-year agricultural program launched during U.S. President Barack Obama’s presidency in 2010, helped purchase refrigerators and trucks for the facility, which employs 100 people from local villages.

To Green, the slaughterhouse represents what USAID can do to help attract private-sector money into investments that boost the productivity of small farmers in developing countries.

While at the abattoir, Green announced 12 countries that will benefit from Feed The Future investments in 2017, signaling that the program will survive proposed deep cuts to USAID’s budget this year.

The 12 countries are Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guatemala, Honduras, Kenya, Mali, Nepal, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Uganda.

Green said investments like the Jijinga slaughterhouse not only created markets for American businesses but helped communities out of poverty. Herders can earn as much as $80 per goat when they sell to the slaughterhouse.

“I’m under no illusions; the development journey in many places in the world is a long one, but I want us to always be thinking what we can do that nudges something towards a day when people get to take care of themselves,” he said.

“This is a place where we see some of the benefits and the potential for Feed the Future,” Green added.

JESH Chief Executive Faisal Guhad said the abattoir had been open for a year but was forced to close for three months last year because of the drought.

The facility currently processes about 10,000 animals a month. Guhad said he hoped to quadruple that in the second year of operation.

Demand for Ethiopian goat meat was currently high because of the annual haj pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca, said Guhad.

“We opened at the wrong time. El Nino happened to us and we started again after it rained,” said Guhad. “We’re now in the second month of starting again.”

The facility employs about 108 people from the community and plans to increase hiring to 200, said Guhad.

In the Jijinga area, planting for the March to May rains, known as the belg, is already delayed, and aid workers say they have seen a growing number of women and children at food distribution centers. The hunger crisis is predicted to worsen until the harvest begins in September.

Many parts of the Ethiopian highlands are still recovering from the 2016 drought, which was attributed to the El Niño weather phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean.

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