France Offers Conference on Sudan’s Debt if US Lifts Sanctions

France will host a conference with Sudan’s international creditors to help Khartoum address debt issues as soon as the United States removes the country from its state-sponsored terrorism list, French President Emmanuel Macron said Monday.

In efforts to stabilize the country and to repair an economy battered by years of U.S. sanctions and government mismanagement during Omar al-Bashir’s 30-year rule, Sudanese transition government led by Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok is holding talks with Washington to see Sudan withdrawn from the list.

“As soon as the Americans make their decision, we will be able to restructure the debt together,” Macron said at a joint press conference with Hamdok in Paris.

“I have decided that France will host an international conference with private and public international creditors,” he added.

Macron provided no timeframe.

“The precise timing of the conference will depend on the timing upon which sanctions are to be lifted,” Macron said.

On the sidelines of a United Nations General Assembly last week, Hamdok expressed hope Sudan would reach an agreement with the United States “very soon.”

Sudan has been unable to tap the International Monetary Fund and World Bank for support because the United States still lists the country as a state sponsor of terrorism.

A senior U.S. official said in August that Washington would test the commitment of Sudan’s new transitional government to human rights, freedom of speech and humanitarian access before it agrees to remove the country from a list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Macron said France had also planned for Hamdok to have a meeting in Paris on Sunday with one of Darfur’s rebel leaders, Abdel Wahid el-Nur.

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Are Missing and Murdered Indigenous Men in US Being Ignored?

Hub Binion Williamson, 34, was last seen in April near Hardin, Montana, about 12 miles away from his home on the Crow Indian Reservation.  It was a trip he made almost daily, said his cousin Rachel Reddog. Along the way, she said he stopped at his aunt’s house for a drink of water.  After that, he vanished without a trace, leaving his family devastated.

“It’s like having a huge splinter in your foot,” Reddog said. “Things just aren’t the same.”

Crow Citizen Hub Binion was last seen walking home to the Crow Reservation from Hardin, Montana, April 9, 2019.

Williamson is one of thousands of American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) men and boys who are missing or murdered in the U.S. but capture little media attention in the shadow of the greater campaign seeking justice for missing and murdered indigenous women (MMIW).

Faulty reporting

Lissa Yellowbird-Chase, a member of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota, steps in where tribal police have failed to locate the missing.

“I can tell you from what I’ve witnessed personally, that men are murdered and missing more than the women,” she said. “But not all their deaths are reported.”

Medical examiners, she explained, trying to avoid the burdensome paperwork required in homicide cases, may note the cause of death as “overdose” or “alcohol-related” for both men and women.

Williamson’s cousin Frankie Backbone, a member of the Crow Nation, cites the example of a another missing relative, his 14-year-old niece, Henny Scott, who disappeared in December 2018 and was later found dead.

“She had a broken nose and bruises all over her body, but the county coroner said she died from ‘exposure,’” he said.

Robert Garrett Steward, Jr., nicknamed “Baby Garrett,” a member of the Crow Nation in Montana, has been missing since October 4, 2013

According to a 2008 Department of Health and Human Services study, medical examiners may also misclassify the deceased as “white,” especially if the victim is of mixed race. 

Several federal agencies collect homicide data, but reporting is mostly voluntary.  Federal law requires police to report all missing juveniles to the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC) but not adults.

Currently, only 47 tribes have access to NCIC.

In 2018, the FBI reported more than 9,900 adult and juvenile Native Americans were missing, but did not break them down by gender.

A better-known database is the Justice Department’s (DOJ) National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) that tracks missing, unidentified and unclaimed persons and allows police, medical examiners and families of the missing to post, search and update cases at no charge.  But participation is voluntary, and its data is also incomplete.

As of late September 2019, NaMus listed 404 missing Native Americans — 250 males and 154 females.

Meskee Yatsayte, a Navajo citizen who tracks and shares information on the missing and murdered on Facebook, believes these numbers represent the tip of the iceberg.

Volunteer citizens planning a search and rescue operation after a 94-year-old elder went missing, Sept. 17, 2019.

“Everybody is talking about MMIW, and that’s good. But our men and boys are missing and murdered in way higher in numbers,” Yatsayte said. “In the Navajo Nation alone, 57 persons are currently missing. Thirty-seven of them are men.”

‘They’ll be back’

So, why aren’t indigenous men getting more attention?

Yellowbird-Chase and Yatsayte both point to gender stereotypes. Women are perceived as more vulnerable; men as more able to take care of themselves.  And because men commit most of the violence against women, families and law enforcement fail to recognize that men, too, are vulnerable.

“I also think they focus more on the women because when that monthly check comes and she is not there to sign it — and the kids are having to be tended for by another family caregiver — well, then, they’re looking for the mother right away,” said Yellowbird-Chase.

Yatsayte believes police ignore cases in which men go missing.

“A lot of our indigenous brothers in the Navajo Nation have alcohol and drug problems,” she said. “You know, it’s kind of routine for them to take off for a couple days, go party with their friends in the border towns.”

Knowing this, families may not report the missing for days, even weeks.

“And when they finally do, the police say, ‘Oh, they’ll be back,’” Yatsayte said.

Mona Sespe, a member of the Pala Band of Mission Indians in California, knows this firsthand. Ten years ago, her 60-year-old cousin Joseph Scott went missing.

“I thought he was down in his trailer,” Sespe said. “He’d come up to eat, and I’d do his wash and stuff.  “He hadn’t come up for like a couple days, so I walked down there and called to him, knocked on the trailer door, and no answer.”

Joseph Lawrence Scott disappeared from his home in Temecula, Cal., in 2009; he may have been spotted in Mexico in 2015.

She called tribal police, who refused to break open the trailer door. Only after she complained to the tribal chairman did lawmakers act. The trailer was empty. Williamson has not been heard from since.  

Reddog cites police apathy, not only in the case of her cousin Hub, but another cousin, Robert “Baby” Garrett, who went missing nearly six years ago.

“Tribal police didn’t know my cousins personally, and it feels like we were almost laughed at for trying so hard to find them,” she said. This indifference has forced her family to organize their own search parties.

“Law enforcement, they showed up once for the first search and rescue,” Reddog said. “They gave us some maps, and that was it.”  

Police stretched thin

More than 200 police departments operate in Indian Country, ranging in size from a single officer to more than 200.  Complex jurisdictional rules mean that some crimes fall under state, local or federal jurisdiction, and some fall through the cracks.

Most tribal police forces are limited in resources and manpower, and some are responsible for reservations the size of small U.S. states.

This means police must pick and choose which cases deserve their attention:  When a 94-year-old citizen of the Navajo Nation disappeared from his front yard in Fort Defiance, Arizona, tribal police searched the desert with helicopters.

Navajo Nation police used helicopters to search for a missing 94-year-old man, Sept. 17, 2019.

“But if there’s no reason to believe that the person is in danger, if they don’t have a disability, they’re not a child, they’re not elderly, helicopters and search parties usually don’t happen,” said Yatsayte.

Legislative remedies

A number of bills have been introduced that would address these issues:

Savanna’s Act would improve tribal access to national databases and require DOJ to develop national guidelines for handling missing and murdered Native Americans and report statistics annually to Congress. 

The Bridging Agency Data Gaps & Ensuring Safety (BADGES) for Native Communities Act would improve sharing of law enforcement agency data and boost officer recruitment and retention.

The Not Invisible Act of 2019 would require the DOJ to allocate more resources toward missing and murdered Native Americans based on input from local, tribal and federal leaders.

Congresswoman Deb Haaland, a Democrat from the Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico, has introduced amendments to the Violence Against Women’s Act (VAWA), which expired in February and is pending reauthorization, that would provide victim advocate services to urban Indians.

In the interim, advocates are calling on the MMIW movement to change their acronym to MMIR — “Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives.”

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San Francisco Tour Guide Charged With Carrying US Secrets to China

A San Francisco tour guide has been charged with being an agent of the Chinese government, accused of picking up U.S. national security secrets from furtive locations and delivering them cloak and dagger style to Beijing, federal prosecutors said Monday.

Xuehua Peng, also known as Edward Peng, was arrested on Friday in the San Francisco suburb of Hayward, California, and was denied bail during an initial court appearance by a U.S. magistrate judge that same day, federal prosecutors said at a Monday morning news conference.

“The conduct charged in this case alleges a combination of age-old spycraft and modern technology,” U.S. Attorney David Anderson said.

“Defendant Xuehua (Edward) Peng is charged with executing dead drops, delivering payments, and personally carrying to Beijing, China, secure digital cards containing classified information related to the national security of the United States,” Anderson said.

Peng, 56, is not accused of stealing secrets from the U.S. government himself, but is charged with acting as a courier who between October 2015 and June 2018 picked up classified information from the “dead drops” in Oakland and Newark, California, and Columbus, Georgia, and delivering them to his handlers from the Ministry of State Security (MSS) in Beijing.

FBI surveillance

FBI agents began conducting surveillance on Peng after a double agent, referred to in court papers only as “the Source,” was told by MSS officers in March 2015 that “Ed,” who had family and business dealings in China, could be relied on.

“I believe that ‘Ed’ — who was later identified as Peng — had been instructed in spycraft, practiced it and knew that he was working for intelligence operatives of the PRC,” FBI Agent Spiro Fokas said in a sworn affidavit filed with the criminal complaint, referring to the People’s Republic of China.

An MSS officer told the Source that the ministry “control(s) everything about Ed’s” company and would “cut him off” if he did not do as told.

Hotel drops

According to Fokas’ affidavit, the double agent on several occasions passed information to Peng for delivery to Beijing, dropping them at the front desk of a hotel or in rooms reserved by Peng.

The dead drops sometimes involved Peng leaving $10,000 or $20,000 taped in white envelopes inside the drawer of a television stand and retrieving secure digital cards with the classified information, according to the court papers.

Peng then flew to Beijing with the digital cards, the affidavit alleges.

Peng, who works as a sight-seeing tour operator for Chinese tourists in the Bay Area, faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted, prosecutors said. He has been ordered to return to court in San Francisco on Oct. 2.

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Former President Jimmy Carter Marks 95th Birthday

Four years after battling life-threatening cancer in his liver and brain, and four months after falling and breaking his hip, requiring surgery and weeks of intense physical therapy, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter took the stage September 18, unassisted, here for the Annual Jimmy Carter Emory University Town Hall, which he’s participated in, uninterrupted, for 38 years.

Standing without assistance for more than 30 minutes, addressing topics ranging from current polarized U.S. politics to his favorite animal, Carter, a distinguished professor at Emory, showed no signs of fatigue or pain as he enthusiastically answered question after question from those who gathered in the cavernous campus gymnasium by the thousands to hear him speak.

“Before this I really didn’t know much about President Carter,”  freshman Stephanie Teng said. “I feel so fortunate to be here.  I know that many students won’t have this opportunity in their lifetime, and this is a uniquely Emory thing, and something I’ll remember the rest of my life.”

“I think it’s a problem when we overly lionize political figures, but I do have a great deal of respect for Jimmy Carter,” another freshman, Gian-Luigi Zaninelli, said. 

“I’ve heard a great many conservatives being credibly critical of Jimmy Carter and basically view him as an ineffectual president,”  he said. However, Zaninelli said that comes from Carter’s presidential term, from 1977 to 1981.

“Because of the good works he’s been doing over the course of the last 30 or more years, we have a high opinion of him as a human being,” Zaninelli said.  “What is indisputable is that Jimmy Carter cares about other people and devotes himself to service, and when he did serve as a president, regardless of the success of his policies, he was doing so as a servant leader and not someone who was intending to enrich himself.”

“I would say I still adhere to the advice my school principal gave me, ‘You must accommodate to changing times – and these are really changing times – but cling to principles that never do change,’” Carter told VOA in an exclusive interview at the Atlanta-based Carter Center.

WATCH: VOA interview with President Carter

President Jimmy Carter Interview September 2019 video player.

“So I have faith in those principles, like telling the truth, and helping other people.”

Carter this year became the oldest living former president in U.S. history, surpassing George H.W. Bush for the record, and October 1 becomes the first former occupant of the White House to reach 95.

He reaches the milestone while continuing to engage with new and younger audiences born years after his presidency, and to work on the sorts of projects that have characterized his post-presidency life.

He is still involved in the Carter Center, which he leads with Rosalynn, his wife of 73 years, and which “wages peace, fights disease, and builds hope” around the world through programs including election monitoring, the elimination of river blindness, and the eradication of Guinea worm disease, among others, he told VOA.

“We still have in the neighborhood of 25 cases of Guinea worm, but we started out with three and a half million,” Carter said, with most of those cases in Africa.

During an August 2015 press conference here, when Carter told the world he was battling cancer that had spread to his brain, he said his one key hope was to witness the eradication of Guinea worm disease in his lifetime. 

There have been setbacks in the Guinea worm fight, including new cases of transmission between dogs, which can pass the worm to humans through water sources, that could ultimately jeopardize his hopes.

“We think we’ve prevented maybe 80 million people from having Guinea worm who may have had it otherwise,” Carter said, “So we’ve made very good progress but we still have a little ways to go.”  

While staff and volunteers around the world continue to work on the various peace and health initiatives that President and Mrs. Carter have championed since establishing the center in 1986, the former peanut farmer continues to participate in the annual weeklong Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project with Habitat for Humanity, a global nonprofit housing organization, building homes for those who need them most.  This year’s event is in Nashville, Tennessee, occurring soon after Carter’s birthday.

While there are no further signs of cancer and Carter says he is in relatively good health, he concedes age may finally be catching up with him.

“I still feel just about as active as I ever was, but my overseas movements are restrained because of age and health.  I used to travel to Africa three or four times a year, and always to China and so forth, so I’ve cut back on my foreign travel,” he said. 

Nevertheless, Carter remains an admired figure.

“President Carter is a kind of secular saint in America today,”  Joe Crespino, the Jimmy Carter professor of history and chair of the history department at Emory University, said.  He said Carter has set a high standard for what is expected of U.S. presidents once they leave office.

“His longevity, his commitment to doing as much good as he can do on the time he had left on earth is really a remarkable model, not just for his fellow Americans but for people around the globe,” he said.

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China Spurns US Criticism of Economic Cooperation With Afghanistan

A regional Chinese diplomat has rebuked the United States for being “ignorant” about his country’s ongoing key economic contributions and cooperation with Afghanistan.

Arrangements are being worked out to enhance the cooperation with Kabul even under Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Yao Jing, the Chinese ambassador to neighboring Pakistan told VOA.

He hailed Saturday’s successful Afghan presidential election, saying China hopes they will boost peace-building efforts in a country wrecked by years of conflicts.

“We hope that with the election in Afghanistan, with the peace development moving forward in Afghanistan, Afghans will finally achieve a peaceful period, achieve the stability,” said the Chinese diplomat, who served in Kabul prior to his posting in Islamabad.

Earlier this month, U.S. officials and lawmakers during a congressional hearing in Washington sharply criticized China for its lack of economic assistance to Afghan rebuilding efforts.

“I think it’s fair to say that China has not contributed to the economic development of Afghanistan. We have not seen any substantial assistance from China,” Alice Wells, U.S. Acting Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia, told lawmakers.

Wells, however, acknowledged that Beijing has worked with Washington on a way forward on peace as have other countries, including Russia and immediate neighbors of Afghanistan.

“She is a little ignorant about what China’s cooperation with Afghanistan is,” ambassador Yao said when asked to comment on the remarks made by Wells.

He recounted that Beijing late last year established a trade corridor with Kabul, which Afghan officials say have enabled local traders to directly export thousands of tons of pine nuts to the Chinese market annually, bringing much-needed dollars. Yao said a cargo train was also started in 2016 from eastern China to Afghanistan’s landlocked northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif.

China is also working on infrastructure projects, including the road linking Kabul to the eastern city of Jalalabad and the road between the central Afghan city of Bamiyan and Mazar-e-Sharif. Chinese companies, Yao, said are also helping in establishing transmission lines and other infrastructure being developed under the CASA-1000 electricity transmission project linking Central Asia to energy-starved South Asia nations through Afghanistan.

Ambassador Yao noted that China and Afghanistan signed a memorandum of understanding on BRI cooperation, identifying several major projects of connectivity.

“But the only problem is that the security situation pose a little challenge. So, that is why China and Pakistan and all the regional countries, we are working so hard trying to support or facilitate peace in Afghanistan,” he said.  

For her part, Ambassador Wells told U.S. lawmakers that China’s BRI is a “slogan” and “not any reality” in Afghanistan. “They have just tried to lockdown lucrative mining contracts but not following through with investment or real resources,” she noted.

Wells said that Washington continues to warn its partners, including the Afghan government about “falling prey to predatory loans or loans that are designed to benefit only the Chinese State.”

U.S. officials are generally critical of BRI for “known problems with corruption, debt distress, environmental damage, and a lack of transparency.” The projects aims to link China by sea and land through an infrastructure network with southeast and central Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa.

But Yao rejected those concerns and cited the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a pilot project of BRI, which has brought around $20 billion in Chinese investment to Pakistan within the past six years. It has helped Islamabad build roads and power plants, helping the country overcome its crippling electricity shortages, improve its transportation network and operationalize the strategic deep-sea Gwadar port on the Arabian Sea.


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Washington Prepares for Trump Impeachment Inquiry

Following Tuesday’s announcement by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of an impeachment inquiry into U.S. President Donald Trump, politicians in Washington are trading allegations over Trump’s dealings with Ukraine and the business activities of Hunter Biden, the son of leading Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden.  Mike O’Sullivan reports, the rhetoric is heated as the Democratic-led investigation of the Republican president gets under way

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Netanyahu, Gantz Trade Blame Over Breakdown in Israel Coalition Talks

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his rival Benny Gantz traded blame Sunday over the failure so far of efforts to reach a unity government deal following deadlocked elections.
A new round of negotiations between Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud and Gantz’s centrist Blue and White broke down Sunday and the two sides appeared far from reaching a compromise.
Likud said Netanyahu would make a “last effort” to reach a deal before informing President Reuven Rivlin he is unable to form a government.
That would leave Rivlin to decide whether to ask Gantz to try to do so or call on parliament to agree on a candidate for prime minister by a vote of at least 61 out of 120 members.
Netanyahu “will make a last effort to realize the possibility of forming a government at this stage, before returning the mandate to the president,” Likud said in a statement.
It called the latest round of negotiations a “big disappointment.”
Blue and White accused Likud of “throwing around slogans with the sole aim of generating support in preparation for dragging Israel into another round of elections at the behest of Netanyahu.”
This month’s poll was the second this year, after Netanyahu failed to form a coalition following April polls.
Israel marks the two-day Rosh Hashanah holiday beginning Sunday night and serious negotiations are not expected during that time.
Likud wants to negotiate on the basis of a compromise set out by Rivlin to form a unity government, which takes into account the possibility of Netanyahu being indicted for corruption in the weeks ahead.
The proposal could see Netanyahu remain prime minister for now, but step aside if indicted.
Gantz would step in as acting premier under such a scenario.
Netanyahu also says he will not abandon the smaller right-wing and religious parties supporting him in parliament, giving him a total of 55 seats backing him for prime minister.
Blue and White says Gantz must be prime minister first under any rotation arrangement, since it finished with the most seats in September 17 elections.
Blue and White won 33 seats, just ahead of Likud’s 32, but neither have a clear path to a majority coalition.
Gantz has 54 parliament members backing him for prime minister, but 10 are from Arab parties who say they will not serve in the ex-military chief’s government.
Rivlin tasked Netanyahu with trying to form a government Wednesday and he has 28 days to do so, with a two-week extension possible.
The deadlocked vote has threatened Netanyahu’s reign as Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.
If another election is called due to the standoff, it would be Israel’s third in a year.


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China to Send Top Trade Negotiator to US For Talks

China says its top trade negotiator will lead an upcoming 13th round of talks aimed at resolving a trade war with the United States.

Vice Commerce Minister Wang Shouwen said Sunday that Vice Premier Liu He would travel to Washington for the talks sometime after China’s National Day holiday, which ends Oct. 7.
Wang repeated the Chinese position that the two sides should find a solution on the basis of mutual respect and benefit.
The Trump administration has imposed tariffs on Chinese imports in a bid to win concessions from China, which has responded with tit-for-tat tariffs. The escalating dispute between the world’s two largest economies has depressed stock prices and poses a threat to the global economy.

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Wind, Heavy Snow Knock Out Power, Close Roads in Rockies

Strong winds and heavy snow caused power outages and temporary road closures in northwestern Montana as a wintry storm threatened to drop several feet of snow in some areas of the northern Rocky Mountains.

The National Weather Service in Great Falls reported 16 inches (41 centimeters) of snow had fallen near Marias Pass just south of Glacier National Park by early Saturday afternoon. The area is forecast to see a total of up to 4 feet (1.2 meters) by the time the storm winds down Sunday night, said meteorologist Megan Syner.

Gusty winds Saturday knocked down trees and damaged power lines, causing scattered outages in northwestern Montana and along the Rocky Mountain Front. Up to 30 large trees were down on the east side of Flathead Lake, the Missoulian reported.

Emergency travel only was recommended in some areas along the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountain Front and treacherous travel was reported around the region, including over Rogers Pass on Montana Highway 200 northwest of Helena, Syner said.

Following the storm, temperatures are expected to drop into the teens and 20s (around minus 13 Celsius) across much of western and central Montana overnight Monday.

The weekend storm system was also bringing strong winds and snow to the mountains of northern Washington and northern Idaho.

Homeless shelters in Spokane, Washington, were relaxing their entrance policies and the city was preparing a backup shelter, if needed.

Dave Wall, a Union Gospel Mission spokesman, said the shelter’s director and Spokane’s mayor agreed the mission would not enforce its drug and alcohol policies while temperatures were below freezing, as long as patrons weren’t acting unsafe, The Spokesman Review reported.

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Horse Dies at Santa Anita, 32nd Since December

A 3-year-old colt sustained a catastrophic injury in the eighth race at Santa Anita and was euthanized Saturday, the 32nd horse to die at the track since December.

Two-time Kentucky Derby-winning jockey Mario Gutierrez was tossed off in the incident on the second day of the fall meet at Santa Anita, where the Breeders’ Cup world championships are to be run in November.

Track officials said Gutierrez wasn’t injured after landing near the inner rail. He was taken away by ambulance.

Track veterinarian Dr. Dana Stead said in a statement that Emtech had two broken front legs and she made the decision to euthanize the colt on the track.

Dr. Dionne Benson, chief vet for The Stronach Group, which owns Santa Anita, said a review would be opened to consider the factors that contributed to Emtech’s injury.

She said the colt would have a necropsy at the University of California Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, which is mandatory for all on-track accidents.

Emtech, trained by Steve Knapp, went down in the middle of the track in the upper stretch of the six-furlong, $40,000 claiming race.

The fatalities at Santa Anita since Dec. 26 have raised alarm within California and the rest of the racing industry. The majority occurred during the winter months when usually arid Santa Anita was hit with record rainfall totaling nearly a foot. 

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More Sanctions as Trump Shows Military Restraint on Iran

U.S. President Donald Trump announced new sanctions Friday on Iran’s central bank, calling them the most severe sanctions ever imposed on a country. But it appears that he wants to avoid military action against Tehran, in response to recent cruise missile and drone strikes against Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities. White House Correspondent Patsy Widakuswara has this story.

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Will US Republicans Feel the Heat from Climate Change?

Francis Rooney is a Republican congressman from a conservative Florida district who opposes federal funding for abortions and supports President Donald Trump’s plans for construction of a wall along the Mexican border.

But he also recently co-sponsored a carbon pricing bill and is one of a handful of lawmakers from his side of the aisle who have bucked orthodoxy and acknowledged human beings are responsible for global warming.

The modern Republican Party is one of the few political forces in the world whose leadership denies manmade climate change, but there are now small yet perceptible signs of changes within its ranks, driven by an increase in extreme weather events and shifting public opinion.

FILE – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., second from left, poses during a ceremonial swearing-in with Rep. Francis Rooney, R-Fla., right, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 3, 2019.

“Seventy-one percent of the people in my district say that climate change is real. We’re scared of sea-level rise and we want the government to do something about it,” Rooney, citing recent polling, said at a talk this week organized by the World Resources Institute.

In late July, he along with Democrat Dan Lipinksi of Illinois introduced a new bill aimed at setting a price on carbon emissions, one of several similar proposed laws currently before the House of Representatives.

Extreme weather

For now, the legislation has no hope of passing: fellow Republicans are highly unlikely to take it up in the Senate, and even if it did clear the upper house, Trump would almost certainly exercise his veto. 

But the bills “indicate that Republicans and Democrats are beginning to agree that a price on carbon is the most efficient way to reduce America’s emissions,” the Citizens’ Climate Lobby wrote in a blog post on the subject.

FILE – A man hangs his clothes after washing them at the Mudd neighborhood, devastated after Hurricane Dorian hit the Abaco Islands in Marsh Harbor, Bahamas, Sept. 6, 2019.

“Republicans are getting very nervous about their lack of any serious policy on climate change, because climate change is beginning to have huge costs to average everyday Americans,” Paul Bledsoe, a former staffer for ex-president Bill Clinton and lecturer at American University, told AFP.  

There is a broad scientific consensus that warmer oceans are supercharging hurricanes, making Category 4 and 5 storms more common. 

New research suggests that warming may also be affecting global atmospheric currents, thus increasing the frequency of ultra slow-crawling hurricanes like last month’s Dorian and 2017’s Harvey.

Rooney and Representative Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, who also supports a carbon tax, are the two most outspoken Republican lawmakers on climate change, but in recent months others have begun talking about the need to reduce emissions.

These include Senator John Barasso from deep red Wyoming, who earlier this year introduced a bill to expand nuclear power, in part citing the need to address climate change, and a handful of others including Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski and John Cornyn of Texas who have made similar calls to expand renewables.

But if the majority of the party of Lincoln remains ostensibly skeptical of the science surrounding climate change, it was not ever thus.

FILE – The coal-fired Plant Scherer in Juliette, Ga., June 3, 2017. The Trump administration is doing away with a decades-old air emissions policy opposed by fossil fuel companies, a move that environmental groups say will result in more pollution.

Rightward lurch

Karolyn Bowman, a senior fellow at the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute told AFP that when Americans first became conscious of it in the late 1960s, environmentalism was a non-partisan cause — indeed, it was under President Richard Nixon that the Environmental Protection Agency was created. 

The practice of imposing taxes to reduce emissions was later used to great effect by former president George H.W. Bush, who in 1990 signed an amendment to the Clean Air Act that placed a price on sulfur dioxide to address the then-serious problem of acid rain, a wildly successful policy.

But Republicans then assumed a harder tack driven by lobbying from special interest groups funded by the likes of the Koch brothers, along with the emergence of an anti-taxation wing under the Republican Congress of the 1990s and the Tea Party movement of the late 2000s.

The question of what happens next is up for debate. 

A Trump victory in 2020 would put to rest any chance of a serious climate policy becoming law in the U.S., according to Bledsoe, even if younger Republicans are starting to care more about the issue.

But David Karol, the author of “Red, Green and Blue: The Partisan Divide on Environmental Issues,” said the emergence in Congress of the bipartisan “Climate Solutions Caucus” in 2016 was an interesting development, even if some environmentalists have deemed it a way for Republican legislators to “check a box and claim to care.”

“Even if that’s true, the fact that the GOP politicians felt a need to do this says something about where they think public opinion is,” Karol said.

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US Marines Charged in Connection With Human Smuggling Ring

Thirteen U.S. Marines arrested in July in connection with an alleged human smuggling operation in Southern California are now facing formal charges from the military.

The charges range from failure to obey an order to drunkenness and theft, and include the alleged transportation of undocumented immigrants, according to a statement from the 1st Marine Division.

Two of the Marines, Lance Corporal Byron Law II and Lance Corporal David Salazar-Quintero, were arrested on July 3 after border patrol agents found them picking up three illegal aliens along a stretch of Interstate 8, about 11 kilometers (7 miles) north of the U.S. border with Mexico.

According to court documents, Law and Salazar-Quintero admitted to having been in contact with a recruiter, who offered to pay them for transporting the illegal immigrants from the interstate to other locations.

Law told authorities he and Salazar-Quintero were never paid for the interaction, according to the complaint.

A third Marine was arrested by U.S. Border Patrol a week later, on July 10.

The other 10 were taken into custody during what some officials described as a sting operation July 25 at Camp Pendleton, a Marine Corps base located about 79 kilometers (49 miles) north of San Diego.

In a statement following the mass arrests, the Marine Corps’ 1st Division said the regiment’s commanding officer “will act within his authority to hold the Marines accountable at the appropriate level, should they be charged.”

In addition to the Marine Corps and U.S. Border Patrol, officials with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service also aided in the initial investigation.

According to the Marine Corps, none of the Marines detained as part of the investigation were assigned to the U.S. military operation to support efforts to secure the U.S. southern border with Mexico.

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Leader of Zimbabwe Doctors Strike Reappears After 5 Days Missing

The Zimbabwean doctor whose disappearance sparked off a wave of doctors’ protests across the country, has reappeared, alive.

Speaking Thursday on VOA Zimbabwe Service’s Livetalk program, a disoriented-sounding Dr. Peter Magombeyi, the president of the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors’ Association, confirmed he was the one on the other end of the phone.

“I honestly don’t know how to truly identify myself, but I am Dr. Peter Magombeyi, I work at Harare Hospital,” he said.

The doctor, who had been spearheading calls for an increase of doctors’ salaries when he disappeared on September 15, said he could not remember exactly what happened to him or how he ended up where he was — an area called Nyabira, about 33 kilometers from Harare.

“That part I’m just so vague about, I need time to recall,” he said.

A Zimbabwean doctor lays on a banner during a protest in Harare, Sept, 18, 2019.

Dr. Magombeyi said his last recollection before being taken by unnamed people was the memory of being electrocuted.

“I remember being in a basement of some sort, being electrocuted at some point, that is what I vividly remember. I, I just don’t remember,” Dr. Magombeyi said, struggling to speak.

Zimbabwe’s government and police have denied involvement in Magombeyi’s disappearance, but said they were doing all they could to find the doctor.  

Officials also suggested a third party could be involved in the disappearance to taint the government’s image.

Responding to the police allegation, and also Twitter posts alluding to the same accusations, Magombeyi said he had no answers.  

“I need time to think about it, I don’t know,” he said.


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Music Starts for Earthlings Around Area 51 Events in Nevada

Sound checks echoed from a distant main stage while Daniel Martinez whirled and danced at dusty makeshift festival grounds just after sunset in Rachel, the Nevada town closest to the once-secret Area 51 military base.

Martinez’s muse was the thumping beat from a satellite set-up pumping a techno tune into the chilly desert night Thursday.

Warm beneath a wolf “spirit hood” and matching faux fur jacket, the 31-year-old Pokemon collectible cards dealer said people, not the military base, drew him drive more than six hours from Pomona, California, alone.

“Here’s a big open space for people to be,” he said. “One person starts something and it infects everybody with positivity. Anything can happen if you give people a place to be.”

Minutes later, the music group Wily Savage started, and campers began migrating toward main stage light near the Little A’Le’Inn.

The music kicked off weekend events — inspired by an internet hoax to “see them aliens” — that Lincoln County Sheriff Kerry Lee said had drawn perhaps 1,500 people to two tiny desert towns.

Lee said late Thursday that more than 150 people also made the rugged trip on washboard dirt roads to get within selfie distance of two gates to the Area 51 U.S. Air Force installation that has long fueled speculation about government studies of space aliens and UFOs.

The Air Force has issued stern warnings for people not to try to enter the Nevada Test and Training Range, where Area 51 is located.

Lee said no arrests were made.

“It’s public land,” the sheriff said. “They’re allowed to go to the gate, as long as they don’t cross the boundary.”

Authorities reported no serious incidents related to festivals scheduled until Sunday in Rachel and Hiko, the two towns closest to Area 51. They’re about a 45-minute drive apart on a state road dubbed the Extraterrestrial Highway, and a two-hour drive from Las Vegas.

Earlier, as Wily Savage band members helped erect the wooden frame for a stage shade in Rachel, guitarist Alon Burton said he saw a chance to perform for people who, like Martinez, were looking for a scene in which to be seen.

“It started as a joke, but it’s not a joke for us,” he said. “We know people will come out. We just don’t know how many.”

Michael Ian Borer, a University of Nevada, Las Vegas, sociologist who researches pop culture and paranormal activity, called the festivities sparked by the internet joke “a perfect blend of interest in aliens and the supernatural, government conspiracies, and the desire to know what we don’t know.”

The result, Borer said, was “hope and fear” for events that include the “Area 51 Basecamp” featuring music, speakers and movies in Hiko, and festivals in Rachel and Las Vegas competing for the name “Alienstock.”

“People desire to be part of something, to be ahead of the curve,” Borer said. “Area 51 is a place where normal, ordinary citizens can’t go. When you tell people they can’t do something, they just want to do it more.”

Eric Holt, the Lincoln County emergency manager overseeing preparations, said he believed authorities could handle 30,000 visitors at the two events in Rachel and Hiko.

Still, neighbors braced for trouble after millions of people responded to the “Storm Area 51” Facebook post weeks ago.

“Those that know what to expect camping in the desert are going to have a good time,” said Joerg Arnu, a Rachel resident who can see the festival grounds from his home.

Those who show up in shorts and flip-flops will find no protection against “critters, snakes and scorpions.”

“It will get cold at night. They’re not going to find what they’re looking for, and they are going to get angry,” Arnu said.

Some cellphones didn’t work Thursday in Rachel, and officials expect what service there was to eventually be overwhelmed.

The Federal Aviation Administration closed nearby airspace, although Air Force jets could be heard in the sun-drenched skies, along with an occasional sonic boom.

George Harris, owner of the Alien Research Center souvenir store in Hiko, said Friday and Saturday’s “Area 51 Basecamp” will focus on music, movies and talks about extraterrestrial lore.

Electronic dance music DJ and recording artist Paul Oakenfold is Friday’s headliner in Hiko.

The event also promises food trucks and vendors, trash and electric service, and a robust security and medical staff.

Harris said he was prepared for as many as 15,000 people and expected they would appreciate taking selfies with a replica of the Area 51 back gate without having to travel several miles to the real thing.

Sharon Wehrly, sheriff in adjacent Nye County, home to a conspicuously green establishment called the Area 51 Alien Center, said messages discouraging Earthlings from trying to find extraterrestrials in Amargosa Valley appeared to work.

She reported no arrests or incidents Thursday.

Her deputies last week arrested two Dutch tourists attracted by “Storm Area 51.” The men pleaded guilty to trespassing at a secure U.S. site nowhere near Area 51 and were sentenced to three days in jail after promising to pay nearly $2,300 each in fines.

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UN Urged by Own Staff to Look at Its Climate Footprint

More than 1,000 United Nations employees have called for the global body to reduce its carbon footprint, including through curbs on their own diplomatic perks like business-class flights and travel handouts, a letter obtained by Reuters showed.

The United Nations calls climate change the “defining issue of our time” and is hosting a New York summit on it next week.

But reformers within say in the letter addressed to Secretary-General Antonio Guterres that it needs more radical change to get its own house in order.

“Our commitments need to be more ambitious and at least as concrete as those of the UN Member States and non-party stakeholders attending the UN Climate Action Summit,” said the letter, signed by more than 1,000 employees. It was organized by a group called Young UN, an internal network committed to ensuring the organization embodies the principles it stands for.

Swedish teen climate activist Greta Thunberg testifies at a Climate Crisis Committee joint hearing on “Voices Leading the Next Generation on the Global Climate Crisis,” on Capitol Hill, in Washington, Sept. 18, 2019.

“As Greta Thunberg just sailed across the Atlantic Ocean and young people across the world continue to strike every Friday, let us look at our own impact and take bold steps to address the climate emergency,” the letter said, referring to the Swedish teenager who has inspired global climate strikes.

The United Nations, a 75-year-old institution employing 44,000 people in more than 60 countries, emitted 1.86 million tones of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2017, its own data show.

That equates to a carbon footprint larger than several of its member states, including Malta and Liberia, according to statistics from the Global Carbon Atlas for the same period.

Among 10 issues identified by Young UN are travel allowances, which the letter said needed to be cut or scrapped “in order to disincentivize travel by UN employees and UN meeting participants motivated by financial gain”.

Allowances, or per diem as they are known internally, are intended to cover travel costs including food and accommodation, and can exceed $400 a day for some locations such as New York, according to the International Civil Service Commission website.

The letter also suggested that staff should be rewarded for downgrading from business class, where a spacious seat generates several times the emissions of an economy class ticket.

Travel accounts for nearly half the United Nations’ emissions, its data show. Last year, under pressure from member states, the head of the U.N. Environment Program, Erik Solheim, stepped down amid criticism of his travels. Other reforms recommended in the letter include a complete divestment of the more than $60 billion U.N. pension fund from fossil fuels and creating offices run entirely on renewable energy. Young UN did not respond to requests for comment.

‘UN needs to lead’

Guterres is seeking to combat climate change from within in order to boost sustainability. A spokesman for his office was not immediately available for comment.

The letter welcomed Guterres’ internal strategy but said it “misses the urgency of the crisis we are facing” The United Nations has also launched a “Greening the Blue” initiative which measures the U.N. system’s greenhouse gas emissions, waste disposal, fresh-water use, and environmental management. According to its latest report, 43 of its entities or just over a third were carbon-neutral in 2017.

But the letter raises doubts about U.N. offset mechanisms, a method that works through purchases of U.N.-certified carbon credits from approved green projects and is widely used by organizations and businesses to tout their green credentials.

This echoes criticism from NGOs about the contribution of offsets to sustainable development.

Isabella Marras, Sustainable UN Coordinator, whose team produces the Greening the Blue report and was a signatory to the letter, said she saw scope for the United Nations to give even greater attention to environmental considerations.

“What we are missing is the aggressive integration of environmental issues into our programs like the UN has done for women,” she told Reuters. But she stressed some of the pragmatic challenges in regions where environmental standards are less strong than in Western countries.

Marie-Claire Graf, a 23-year-old Swiss climate activist visiting the U.N. European headquarters in Geneva, said the number of U.N. vehicles in vast car parks overlooking the lake and mountains was surprising.

“The UN is doing some amazing things on environment but I am shocked by so many SUVs and the amount of travel,” said Graf, who was selected along with 100 young climate leaders to attend the U.N. Youth Climate Summit on 21 September.

“The UN needs to lead on this transformation.”

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Trump Administration Blocks ‘Urgent’ Whistleblower Disclosure

The Trump administration plunged into an extraordinary showdown with Congress over access to a whistleblower’s complaint about reported incidents including a private conversation between President Donald Trump and a foreign leader. The blocked complaint is “serious” and “urgent,” the government’s intelligence watchdog said.

The administration is keeping Congress from even learning what exactly the whistleblower is alleging, but the intelligence community’s inspector general said the matter involves the “most significant” responsibilities of intelligence leadership. A lawmaker said the complaint was “based on a series of events.”

The Washington Post and The New York Times reported Thursday that at least part of the complaint involves Ukraine. The newspapers cited anonymous sources familiar with the matter. The Associated Press has not confirmed the reports.

The inspector general appeared before the House intelligence committee behind closed doors Thursday but declined, under administration orders, to reveal to members the substance of the complaint.

The standoff raises fresh questions about the extent to which Trump’s allies are protecting the Republican president from oversight and, specifically, if his new acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, is working with the Justice Department to shield the president from the reach of Congress.

Trump, though giving no details about any incident, denied Thursday that he would ever “say something inappropriate” on such a call.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said he was prepared to go to court to try to force the Trump administration to open up about the complaint.

“The inspector general has said this cannot wait,” said Schiff, describing the administration’s blockade as an unprecedented departure from law. “There’s an urgency here that I think the courts will recognize.”

Schiff said he, too, could not confirm whether newspaper reports were accurate because the administration was claiming executive privilege in withholding the complaint. But letters from the inspector general to the committee released Thursday said it was an “urgent” matter of “serious or flagrant abuse” that must be shared with lawmakers.

The letters also made it clear that Maguire consulted with the Justice Department in deciding not to transmit the complaint to Congress in a further departure from standard procedure. It’s unclear whether the White House was also involved, Schiff said.

Because the administration is claiming the information is privileged, Schiff said he believes the whistleblower’s complaint “likely involves the president or people around him.”

Trump dismissed it all.

“Another Fake News story out there – It never ends!” Trump tweeted. “Virtually anytime I speak on the phone to a foreign leader, I understand that there may be many people listening from various U.S. agencies, not to mention those from the other country itself. No problem!”

He asked, “Is anybody dumb enough to believe that I would say something inappropriate with a foreign leader while on such a potentially `heavily populated’ call.”

House Democrats are fighting the administration separately for access to witnesses and documents in impeachment probes. Democrats are also looking into whether Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani traveled to Ukraine to pressure the government to aid the president’s reelection effort by investigating the activities of potential rival Joe Biden’s son Hunter, who worked for a Ukrainian gas company.

During an interview Thursday on CNN, Giuliani was asked whether he had asked Ukraine to look into Biden. Giuliani initially said, “No, actually I didn’t,” but seconds later he said, “Of course I did.”

Later, Giuliani tweeted, “A President telling a Pres-elect of a well known corrupt country he better investigate corruption that affects US is doing his job.”

Among the materials Democrats have sought in that investigation is the transcript of a phone call Trump had with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyj on July 25.

This new situation, stemming from the whistleblower’s Aug. 12 complaint, has led to their public concerns that government intelligence agencies and the recently named acting director might be under pressure to withhold information from Congress.

Trump tapped Maguire, a former Navy official, as acting intelligence director in August, after the departure of Director Dan Coats, a former Republican senator who often clashed with the president, and the retirement of Sue Gordon, a career professional in the No. 2 position.

Maguire has refused to discuss details of the whistleblower complaint, but he has been subpoenaed by the House panel and is expected to testify publicly Sept. 26. Maguire and the inspector general, Michael Atkinson, also are expected next week at the Senate intelligence committee.

Atkinson wrote in letters that Schiff released Thursday that he and Maguire had hit an “impasse” over the acting director’s decision not to share the complaint with Congress.

While Atkinson wrote that he believed Maguire’s position was in “good faith” it did not appear to be consistent with past practice. Atkinson said he was told by the legal counsel for the intelligence director that the complaint did not actually meet the definition of an “urgent concern.” And he said the Justice Department said it did not fall under the director’s jurisdiction because it did not involve an intelligence professional.

Atkinson said he disagreed with that Justice Department view. The complaint “not only falls under DNI’s jurisdiction,” Atkinson wrote, “but relates to one of the most significant and important of DNI’s responsibilities to the American people.”

The inspector general went on to say he requested authorization to at the very least disclose the “general subject matter” to the committee but had not been allowed to do so. He said the information was “being kept” from Congress. These decisions, the inspector general said, are affecting his execution of his duties and responsibilities.

Illinois Rep. Mike Quigley, a member of the panel, said Atkinson said that the complaint was “based on a series of events.”

In calling the inspector general to testify, Schiff said Atkinson determined the whistleblower complaint was “credible and urgent” and should be “transmitted to Congress.”

The inspector general’s testimony was described by three people with knowledge of the proceedings. They were not authorized to discuss the meeting by name and were granted anonymity.

Several lawmakers suggested the failure to disclose the complaint’s contents amounted to a failure to protect the whistleblower, another violation. However, the general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Jason Klitenic, wrote in a letter Tuesday to the committee that the agency was indeed protecting the whistleblower.

Andrew Bakaj, a former intelligence officer and an attorney specializing in whistleblower reprisal investigations, confirmed that he was representing the whistleblower but declined further comment.

Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., said on MSNBC that the acting director “broke the law when he decided to basically intercept the inspector general’s report to Congress.”

That’s “never been done before in the history of inspector general reports to the Congress,” Himes said. “And the American people should be worried about that.”

Himes said, “We don’t know exactly what is in the substance of this complaint. It could be nothing. It could be something very, very serious.”


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French Experts Restore Three Sudanese Relics 

A team of French diggers has restored three Sudanese artifacts, including a 3,500-year-old wall relief, and it handed them to the African country’s national museum Thursday, a French archaeologist said. 
The three artifacts were discovered at separate archaeological sites in recent years in Sudan and were restored by a French team of experts. 
The items are a wall painting of an ancient Kandaka Nubian queen, a Meroite stela and a wall relief inscription believed to be almost 3,500 years old. 

A stela, discovered at Sedeinga pyramids, is displayed at the National Museum of Sudan in Khartoum, Sept. 19, 2019.

“The idea is to give back to the museum the most important archaeological pieces discovered and restored,” said Marc Maillot, director of the French archaeological unit deployed in Sudan. 
The wall painting was found at El-Hassa site, the stela at Sedeinga and the relief at the temple of Soleb, where French diggers along with Sudanese counterparts have conducted extensive archaeological work for several years. 
On Thursday, the three artifacts were handed over to the Sudan National Museum to mark the completion of 50 years of French archaeologists’ presence in the country. 
For decades, international archaeologists have worked extensively in Sudan, proving that the northeast African nation has its own extensive wealth of ancient relics and was not merely a satellite of neighboring Egypt. 
Archaeologists are convinced that many kingdoms still lie buried, waiting to be discovered. 

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Iran Envoy: ‘All-out War’ to Result if Hit for Saudi Attack

Any attack on Iran by the U.S. or Saudi Arabia will spark an “all-out war,” Tehran’s top diplomat warned Thursday, raising the stakes as Washington and Riyadh weigh a response to a drone-and-missile strike on the kingdom’s oil industry that shook global energy markets.

The comments by Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif represented the starkest warning yet by Iran in a long summer of mysterious attacks and incidents following the collapse of Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, more than a year after President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the U.S. from the accord.

They appeared to be aimed directly at U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who while on a trip to the region earlier referred to Saturday’s attack in Saudi Arabia as an “act of war.”

Along with the sharp language, however, there also were signals from both sides of wanting to avoid a confrontation.

In his comments, Zarif sought to expose current strains between the Americans and the Saudis under Trump, who long has criticized U.S. wars in the Middle East.

Trump’s close relationship with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been challenged by opponents following the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi last year in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul and the kingdom’s long, bloody war in Yemen. That country’s Houthi rebels claimed the oil field attack Saturday in Saudi Arabia, although the U.S. alleges Iran carried it out.

“I think it is important for the Saudi government to understand what they’re what they’re trying to achieve. Do they want to fight Iran until the last American soldier? Is that their aim?” Zarif asked in a CNN interview. “They can be assured that this won’t be the case … because Iran will defend itself.”

Asked by the broadcaster what would be the consequence of a U.S. or Saudi strike, Zarif bluntly said: “An all-out war.”

“I’m making a very serious statement that we don’t want war. We don’t want to engage in a military confrontation,” he said. “We believe that a military confrontation based on deception is awful.”

Zarif added: “We’ll have a lot of casualties, but we won’t blink to defend our territory.”

Pompeo, who was in the United Arab Emirates, dismissed Zarif’s remarks, saying: “I was here (doing) active diplomacy while the foreign minister of Iran is threatening all-out war to fight to the last American.”

Pompeo said he hoped Iran would choose a path toward peace, but he remained doubtful. He described “an enormous consensus in the region” that Iran carried out the attack.

“There are still those today who think, ‘Boy, if we just give Iran just a little bit more money they’ll become a peaceful nation,’” he said. “We can see that that does not work.”

Pompeo met Abu Dhabi’s powerful crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. The UAE is a close ally of Saudi Arabia and joined the kingdom in its war with the Houthi rebels in Yemen. The 4-year-old war has killed tens of thousands of people and destroyed much of the country, with millions more driven from their homes and thrown into near starvation.

On Wednesday, Pompeo met with the Saudi crown prince in Jiddah about the attack on the kingdom’s crucial oil processing facility and oil field, which cut its oil production in half.

While Pompeo struck a hard line, Trump has been noncommittal on whether he would order U.S. military retaliation. He said separately Wednesday that he is moving to increase financial sanctions on Tehran over the attack, without elaborating. Iran already is subject to a crushing American sanctions program targeting its crucial oil industry.

The UAE said it had joined a U.S.-led coalition to protect waterways across the Middle East after the attack in Saudi Arabia.

The state-run WAM news agency quoted Salem al-Zaabi of the Emirati Foreign Ministry as saying the UAE joined the coalition to “ensure global energy security and the continued flow of energy supplies to the global economy.”

Saudi Arabia joined the coalition on Wednesday. Australia, Bahrain and the United Kingdom also are taking part.

The U.S. formed the coalition after attacks on oil tankers that Washington blamed on Tehran, as well as Iran’s seizure of tankers in the region. Iran denies being behind the tanker explosions, although the attacks came after Tehran threatened to stop oil exports from the Persian Gulf.

Iraq said it would not join the coalition. The government in Baghdad, which is allied with both Iran and the U.S., has tried to keep a neutral stance amid the tensions.

At a news conference Wednesday, the Saudis displayed broken and burned drones and pieces of a cruise missile that military spokesman Col. Turki Al-Malki identified as Iranian weapons collected after the attack. He also played surveillance video that he said showed a drone coming in from the north. Yemen is to the south of Saudi Arabia.

Eighteen drones and seven cruise missiles were launched in the assault, Al-Malki said, with three missiles failing to hit their targets. He said the cruise missiles had a range of 700 kilometers (435 miles), meaning they could not have been fired from inside Yemen. That opinion was shared by weapons experts who spoke to The Associated Press .

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian similarly was skeptical of the Houthi claim of responsibility.

“This is not very credible, relatively speaking,” he told CNews television. “But we sent our experts to have our own vision of things.”

Separately, a U.N. panel of experts on Yemen arrived in Saudi Arabia to investigate the attack, U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said.

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Trumps Denies Improper ‘Promise’ to Foreign Leader

VOA National Security Correspondent Jeff Seldin contributed to this report.
WHITE HOUSE — U.S. President Donald Trump is uttering his oft-cited ‘Fake News’ accusation to rebut reports he made a ‘promise’ to a foreign leader that sparked an American intelligence official to file a whistleblower complaint.

“Is anybody dumb enough to believe that I would say something inappropriate with a foreign leader while on such a potentially ‘heavily populated’ call. I would only do what is right anyway, and only do good for the USA!” the president tweeted on Thursday.

Trump, who has frequently accused the U.S. intelligence community of being part of a ‘Deep State’ opposition to his presidency, said he is aware that “virtually anytime I speak on the phone to a foreign leader, I understand that there may be many people listening from various U.S. agencies, not to mention those from the other country itself. No problem!”

Another Fake News story out there – It never ends! Virtually anytime I speak on the phone to a foreign leader, I understand that there may be many people listening from various U.S. agencies, not to mention those from the other country itself. No problem!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 19, 2019

Trump’s comments came as the House intelligence committee held a closed-door session with Michael Atkinson, the U.S. intelligence community’s inspector general.

The Trump administration is declining to comment on reports that the whistleblower, whose identity has not been disclosed, is an intelligence officer detailed to the National Security Council and was authorized to listen in on the call or have access to its transcript.

Attorney Andrew Bakaj, a former CIA officer, who is “one of the top experts on these issues” and a national security whistleblower himself will represent the official, according to Mark Zaid who runs a Washington law firm specializing in national security.

Our Of Counsel, colleague & client @AndrewBakaj has been confirmed as attorney for #whistleblower. Andrew is one of the top experts on these issues & #natsec whistleblower himself. He authored @CIA‘s PPD-19/ICD 120 regs for CIA while at CIA OIG.

— Mark S. Zaid (@MarkSZaidEsq) September 19, 2019

Lawmakers are hoping to learn more details of the secret whistleblower complaint that has sparked a legal battle between lawmakers and the Trump administration.

Atkinson told lawmakers on Thursday he was unable to confirm or deny anything about the substance of the complaint, including whether it involved the president, reported the New York Times, attributing the information to people who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the closed-door conversation.

Reporters wait outside of a closed hearing room while Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson testifies on a whistleblower complaint, on Capitol Hill, in Washington, Sept. 19, 2019.

Atkinson’s testimony came the morning after the Washington Post reported the complaint involves communications between Trump and a foreign leader that mentioned a ‘promise.’

The Post says its report was based on two former U.S. officials familiar with the matter, but it is not clear which leader was in communication with Trump or what the president may have promised.

White House records indicate Trump spoke with at least five foreign leaders in the preceding five weeks before the reported August 12 date of the complaint when he was at his golf resort in Bedminster, New Jersey.

They are Russian President Vladimir Putin, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, Netherlands’ Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani.

The complaint has triggered the latest tug of war between the executive and legislative branches of the U.S. government.

The acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, is scheduled to testify publicly on September 26 before the House Intelligence Committee, but he is declining, so far, to provide details of the complaint to lawmakers. A lawyer for Maguire’s office says the allegation in the complaint does not meet the “urgent concern” standard.

FILE – House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, a Democrat, speaks during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 24, 2019.

If the inspector general said the complaint is “urgent,” then it cannot wait, according to the committee’s chairman, Adam Schiff, who added that “someone is trying to manipulate the system” to keep information from the lawmakers.

This “likely involves either the president or people around him,” said Schiff.

The “law is written very clearly” on how to handle whistleblowers, according to the congressman, pushing back on the administration’s claim of privilege preventing relevant lawmakers from seeing the complaint.

His committee wants “to make sure national security is protected and this whistleblower is protected,” added Schiff. “If this whistleblower is not protected, then no whistleblower is protected.”
“I obviously trust the judgement” of Schiff, replied House Speaker Nancy Pelosi when asked on Thursday about the matter.

Senator Mark Warner said Thursday he and Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr “have made it very clear” that they expect Maguire and Atkinson to testify and “clear this issue up.”

Warner added that “you cannot end up with some circumstance where you have got a whistleblower muzzled.”


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Washington Monument Reopens

The Washington Monument is reopening to the public after years of closure to replace its aging elevator and security system.

First lady Melania Trump helped with the ribbon-cutting ceremony and took a ceremonial first ride to the top of the monument with fourth-graders from nearby Amidon-Bowen Elementary School.

Fourth graders from Amidon Bowen elementary school in Washington DC with their “Every Kid in the Outdoors” that gives them free access to national parks, Sept. 19, 2019. (P. Widakuswara)

The iconic landmark in the nation’s capital has been closed for most of the past eight years, after a 5.8 magnitude earthquake left 150 cracks in its stones in 2011.

The monument briefly opened in 2016 but closed again after a series of elevator malfunctions.

“We completely rehabbed the elevator,” said Jeffrey Reinbold, National Mall and Memorial Parks superintendent. “There’s new cabling with it, new electronics with it, we refurbished the motor with it. And we also added a new screening facility.”

Reinbold said at first they will limit the number of visitors to 40 to 50 people every half an hour until they figure out the best flow for the security screening system. He said they hope to return to the previous average of about 500,000 visitors per year.

Tickets are available on a first come, first served basis as of Thursday. Online reservations begin October 19.

Named after George Washington, the first president of the United States, the monument is one of the most dramatic, iconic features of the Washington skyline and one of the most popular attractions on the National Mall.

The Washington Monument, Washington, DC. (Photo: Diaa Bekheet)

The 169-meter-tall stone obelisk was constructed in 1848, and took nearly 40 years to complete due the Civil War and lack of funding. At the time of its completion, it was the tallest building in the world, but was soon overtaken by the Eiffel Tower in 1889.

This time, the monument’s repair was funded not only by taxpayer money, but also millions of dollars in donations from philanthropist David Rubenstein and other donors.

The Washington Monument remains the tallest building in the nation’s capital.

The National Park Service is hosting a variety of events to celebrate the monument’s reopening.



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Trump Makes His Mark on Signature Border Wall Project

The border wall literally became President Donald Trump’s signature project Wednesday.

Trump used a permanent marker to sign a new portion of the rust-colored metal barrier, reinforced with concrete and rebar, rising as high as 9 meters at Otay Mesa, a suburb of San Diego that separates California from Tijuana, Mexico.

“It is really virtually impenetrable,” Trump declared.

“There are thousands of people over there that were trying to get in” before this portion of the barricade went up, said Trump, who described the work he inspected Wednesday afternoon as “pretty amazing.”

“The wall does not answer the crisis at the border today,” said Muzaffar Chishti, director of the New York office of the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute. “The situation at the border today is not people sneaking in. The crisis at the border today is asylum-seekers showing up and voluntarily turning themselves in to the Border Patrol.”

Migrants, many who were returned to Mexico under the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” program, wait in line to get a meal in an encampment near the Gateway International Bridge in Matamoros, Mexico, Aug. 30, 2019.

Limiting arrivals

Chishti told VOA that the near-total ban on asylum implemented via administrative regulation, along with the “Migrant Protection Protocol” and metering of asylum claims at ports of entry, will have far more to do with limiting arrivals than will the wall.

The president told reporters that up to 800 kilometers of border wall, about 1 meter thick, was under construction, but that it was premature to end the national emergency he declared in response to attempts by migrants to illegally cross the border from Mexico.

“I think really the success is going to be when the wall’s built, when human traffickers can’t come through,” Trump said. “This is certainly a tremendous national emergency.”

U.S. Army troops stationed at the border would eventually be drawn down and replaced with Border Patrol agents as the wall goes up, the president said.

Trump, asked about his repeated vow that Mexico would pay for the wall, said Wednesday at Otay Mesa that “they’re paying for 27,000 soldiers, as you know,” on the Mexican side, thwarting border-crossing.

“If I took 5% tariff for six months, that pays for the wall,” Trump said of products from Mexico, quickly adding he did not want to do that because of the current cooperation from the Mexican government.

“Now they’re doing yeoman’s work,” Trump said of Mexico.

Government contractors erect a section of border wall along the Colorado River, Sept. 10, 2019 in Yuma, Ariz. Construction began as federal officials revealed a list of Defense Department projects to be cut to pay for the wall.


During much of his time inspecting a section of new wall, Trump touted its strength, claiming “20 mountain climbers” had tried to scale it to test its effectiveness.

“This is the one that was hardest to climb,” he said of the current type being built in the San Diego sector. “This wall can’t be climbed.”

“You can fry an egg on that wall,” he added, noting how it is designed to absorb heat, making it even more difficult to scale.

The border barrier being built is meant to deter even the most well-equipped smuggling operations, according to the president.

“If you think you’re going cut it with a blowtorch, that doesn’t work because you hit concrete,” Trump said, adding that cutting through concrete won’t work because it is reinforced with rebar.

When the president attempted to get an Army general to discuss high-technology security measures that are part of the wall, the officer demurred, saying it would be better not to mention those features.

Trump told reporters that three other countries were studying the new type of wall in hopes of building one of their own. He said he would disclose the names of those countries if he got their approval.

Trump also said the U.S. government would be stopping next week the “catch and release” of undocumented people trying to enter the country, something his administration has opposed from the beginning.

“To the extent they have released people who have been caught, it’s only been because of resource constraints either in the immigration court system or in the detention system,” MPI’s Chishti said. “There is no reason to believe that either of those factors has been addressed in the recent past, so while the administration can announce the end of catch and release, without an effective infrastructure to support it, it’s hard to see how it will be a different day on immigration enforcement.”

Praise for Mexico

Trump noted Tijuana is close by, saying “there are thousands of people over there that were trying to get in.” He then praised Mexico for its efforts that have significantly stemmed the flow of migrants at the border.

Analysts say the reductions in arrivals at the border are a combination of increased Mexican enforcement; the throttling of asylum avenues by the Trump administration with the creation of the Remain in Mexico plan and limits on who can apply for asylum; and seasonal declines in migration at this time of the year.

“This is the wall the agents asked for,” a Border Patrol agent told the president at the border Wednesday.

Trump, however, is not getting one wall option he desired, at least for now: a black coat of paint.

“We can paint it at a later date,” said the president, noting the cost savings can be applied to build even more wall.

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Lawsuit by Relatives of 9/11 Victims Shakes Loose Name of Saudi ‘Mystery Man’ 

Relatives of the victims of the 9/11 attacks who are suing Saudi Arabia for compensation obtained a coveted piece of information last week that they hope will strengthen their case.

The FBI disclosed the name of a Saudi official who is believed to have helped two of the 19 hijackers who carried out the terror attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania on Sept. 11, 2001.

The name, included in a 2012 FBI report on suspected Saudi ties to the terrorists, was released to lawyers representing the families of nearly 3,000 victims of the worst act of terrorism on American soil.

The mystery man allegedly tasked two other Saudis living in the Los Angeles area before the 9/11 attacks — Omar al-Bayoumi and Fahad al-Thumairy — to aid Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar, who crashed American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon.

FILE – Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., right, is flanked by John D’Amato, an attorney for the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, as he faces reporters in New York, July 27, 2003, with a copy of the government report on the attacks.

Al-Bayoumi allegedly did such things as finding the two terrorists an apartment, co-signing their lease and paying their first month’s rent.

Fourteen other hijackers forced two other airliners to crash into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center and a third into a field in Pennsylvania.

“This has been a very important name to our case because it will now tie the kingdom of Saudi Arabia and their officials in an official capacity directing the actions of 9/11,” said Terry Strada, national chair of the 9/11 Families and Survivors United for Justice Against Terrorism, whose husband died in the attack on the North Tower.

Most hijackers were Saudis

Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were Saudi nationals, which has raised persistent suspicion about Saudi involvement. But Saudi Arabia has long denied any connection, and over the years it has waged a vociferous campaign to forestall the litigation and disclosure of damaging information.

Neither the FBI nor the CIA could conclusively say after the attacks that the Saudi government was responsible.

The Saudi Embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment.

Lawyers for the families declined to discuss the name, but they said the disclosure connected the dots between al-Bayoumi and al-Thumairy and the hijackers.

“Our mission here is to uncover facts about what Omar al-Bayoumi and Fahad al-Thumairy did and who they were working with,” said Sean Carter, co-chair of the Plaintiffs’ Executive Committee in the case.

FILE – Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud, then the Saudi Arabia defense minister, arrives to attend the Global Coalition to Counter IS Meeting at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, outside of Washington, July 20, 2016.

Turning point

The disclosure marks a turning point in the case, as the Justice Department acquiesced to demands for disclosure, despite the Trump administration’s close relations with Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.

The litigation grew out of hundreds of lawsuits filed against Saudi Arabia in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. The lawsuits have since been consolidated into one massive case. It seeks billions of dollars from Saudi Arabia for supporting al-Qaida and facilitating the 9/11 attacks.

For nearly 13 years, the case languished in the courts, hampered by a 1976 law that largely protects foreign governments from being sued in U.S. courts.

Then came the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, or JASTA, the 2016 law that allows U.S. citizens to sue foreign governments over terrorist acts carried out on American soil.

That pumped fresh blood into the case. Last year, a federal judge in New York rejected Saudi Arabia’s latest motion to dismiss the lawsuit and ruled that the case could move forward. Attorneys for the 9/11 families were allowed to collect information from Saudi Arabia, the U.S. government and other parties about Saudi support for the hijackers, including the activities of al-Bayoumi and al-Thumairy.

FBI report

Their names were mentioned in the 2012 FBI report, which referenced an unnamed third person who tasked them to help the two hijackers.

The FBI released the report in late 2016 in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by a news site, but kept the name of the third person redacted. The 9/11 families’ lawyers pressed for its release, and Attorney General William Barr consented, while invoking “state secrets” privileges over much of the rest of the report.

The FBI investigated al-Bayoumi and al-Thumairy after 9/11 but released them without bringing any charges. The men are believed to be living in Saudi Arabia.

The families’ lawyers say they want to talk to them.

“We intend to depose all witnesses whose attendance we can compel, whether by U.S. rules, treaties or international law and norms,” Carter said.

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2 US Senators Warn Trump Against Nuclear Deal With Saudis   

Two U.S. senators are warning the Trump administration against a nuclear cooperation deal with Saudi Arabia, fearing it could set off a nuclear arms race in the volatile Middle East.

“Sharing nuclear technology with Saudi Arabia, especially without adequate safeguards, will give Riyadh the tools it needs to turn the crown prince’s nuclear weapons vision into reality,” Democratic senators Ed Markey and Jeff Merkley said in a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Energy Secretary Rick Perry.

FILE – Senator Ed Markey, a Democrat, speaks to reporters at Logan Airport in Boston, Massachusetts, Jan. 21, 2019.

Both lawmakers are members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. They say making such a deal with the Saudis will “fail to promote U.S. leverage or influence.”

“If the Trump administration turns a blind eye to the kingdom’s behavior at home and abroad while concluding an agreement that could fast-track its potential pursuit of a nuclear weapon, Congress will reject any such agreement,” the senators wrote.

They added that Saudi Arabia’s “disregard for fundamental human rights and humanitarian standards” should not be rewarded.

The State Department and Department of Energy have not publicly responded to the letter.

Saudi Arabia has balked at the strict nonproliferation conditions, including U.N. inspections, that would come with nuclear cooperation with the United States.

The inspections are meant to ensure that the Saudis are not enriching uranium and reprocessing spent nuclear fuel that could allow them to build a bomb.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has said his country would seek nuclear weapons if Iran developed a bomb.

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Nigeria’s Diesel-dependent Economy Braces for Clean-fuel Rules

Nigeria’s frenetic commercial capital, Lagos, is plunged into darkness several times a day.

Then its generators roar, and the lights flood back on.

Nigeria is one of the world’s largest economies where businesses rely so heavily on diesel-powered generators.

More than 70% of its firms own or share the units, while government data shows generators provide at least 14 gigawatts of power annually, dwarfing the 4 gigawatts supplied on average by the country’s electricity grid.

The machines guzzle cash and spew pollution, but they are reliable in a nation where nearly 80 million people – some 40% of the population – have no access to grid power. Now diesel costs could spike globally, and many businesses are not prepared.

Diesel prices are expected to surge as United Nations rules aimed at cleaning up international shipping come into effect on Jan. 1, with many ships expected to burn distillates instead of dirtier fuel oil.

Slowing economic growth and nascent trade wars could blunt a price spike, and as the shipping industry adapts to the rules, vessels will likely consume less diesel. But in the short term their impact could be profound.

Estimates vary widely, but observers warn that prices could surge by nearly 20%.

A diesel-run generator is on display at Mikano head office in Lagos, Nigeria, Sept. 9, 2019.

Higher costs for operating generators that power the machinery, computer servers and mobile phone towers that run Nigeria’s economy could impair growth in gross domestic product, already limping along at 1.92% at a time inflation is at 11%.

With the population growing at 2.6% each year, people are getting poorer.

“In an environment like this, where discretionary spending is very limited, this could have a big impact,” said Temi Popoola, West Africa chief executive for investment bank Renaissance Capital.

A 20% price rise could shave 0.2% off GDP growth, he said.

Generators Everywhere

Nigeria and German engineering group Siemens agreed in July to nearly triple the country’s “reliable” power supply to 11,000 megawatts by 2023. But previous such plans have failed.

While many Nigerian household and small business generators are powered by price-capped gasoline, the big generators for larger firms, apartment complexes and more substantial homes can only run on diesel.

“Businesses may struggle to survive, or in the best case scenario, would at least downsize,” said Tunde Leye, a Lagos-based analyst with SBM Intelligence. Diesel is the second or third biggest cost for many Nigerian firms, he said.

The oil industry, the Nigerian economy’s biggest driver, would not take a big hit as it does not rely on Nigerian consumers being willing to absorb extra costs it has to pass on.

As fuel producers in their own right, its firms can also recoup costs more easily.

But other heavyweight industries would feel pain. Bank branches rely on generators, with diesel often accounting for 20-30% of banks’ operating expenses, according to Popoola.

Telecommunications companies need them to run their mobile phone towers across the country. Telecoms giant MTN told local media in 2015 that it spends 8 billion naira ($26 million) annually on diesel.

Even bakeries need diesel. At Rehoboth Chops & Confectioneries Ltd., a bakery in the Ogba district of Lagos, giant diesel-powered ovens bake hundreds of loaves of bread. The factory runs 24 hours a day, six-and-a-half days a week.

The lights, mixers and fans that clear the heat are powered by two large diesel generators outside. The ovens run directly on diesel, so they never cut out.

Chief operating officer Abayomi Awe said they use cheaper grid power when they can but rely on generators for around 20 hours per day. Grid power can be down for days.

“It becomes difficult for us to expand if the price of diesel goes up,” he said as bakers scrambled to pull finished loaves from steaming ovens. “It might result in some companies, some bakeries like ours, shutting down.”

In Crisis, An Opportunity

Many businesses are already searching for solutions. The Lagos Chamber of Commerce wants electricity prices revised upwards so the grid can attract investment – a politically risky move domestically.

It has also lobbied the government to remove tariffs and taxes on imported solar panels, which stand at 10%.

Unity Bank and the Bank of Agriculture have already signed deals with solar firm Daystar Power, while mobile phone tower firm IHS Towers is trying to power more sites using solar panels.

Solar power provider Starsight Power Utility Ltd said it is working with 70% of Nigerian banks, but that cheap diesel has been one of the biggest hurdles for the development of solar.

“I think an increase in the diesel price would be most welcome for our business,” chief executive Tony Carr said.

“There is no market penetration because diesel is so cheap.”

($1 = 305.9000 naira)


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Purdue Pharma to Stay in Business as Bankruptcy Unfolds

A judge cleared the way Tuesday for OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma to stay in business while it pursues bankruptcy protection and settlement of more than 2,600 lawsuits filed against it in a reckoning over the opioid crisis.

At the first court hearing since the Chapter 11 filing late Sunday, Purdue lawyers secured permission for the multibillion-dollar company based in Stamford, Connecticut, to maintain business as usual — paying employees and vendors, supplying pills to distributors, and keeping current on taxes and insurance.

The continued viability of Purdue is a key component of the company’s settlement offer, which could be worth up to $12 billion over time.

Under the proposal, backed by about half the states, the Sackler family, which owns Purdue, would turn the company, its assets and more than $1 billion in cash reserves over to a trust controlled by the very entities suing it.

The Sacklers have also agreed to pay a minimum of $3 billion of their own money to the settlement over seven years, as well as up to $1.5 billion more in proceeds from the planned sale of their non-U.S. pharmaceutical companies.

“This is a highly unusual case in that the debtors have pledged to turn over their business to the claimants,” U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert Drain said. “All of the claimants, in essence, have the same interest in maximizing the value of the business and avoiding immediate and irreparable harm.”

Attorney Joe Rice, who represents a group of plaintiffs in the Purdue Pharma bankruptcy, speak to reporters in White Plains, N.Y., Sept. 17, 2019.

Joe Rice, a lawyer for some of the plaintiffs, estimated it could be more than a year before the bankruptcy and settlement are finalized.

“This is not a sprint. We’ve got a little bit of a marathon here,” he said after the three-hour hearing in New York City’s northern suburbs.

Purdue’s bankruptcy filing has effectively frozen all litigation against the company, which its lawyers said has been spending more than $250 million a year on legal and professional fees, but it has not stopped lawsuits against the Sacklers from moving forward.

New York Attorney General Letitia James, who is suing the Sacklers and opposes the proposed settlement, said last week that her office found that members of the family used Swiss and other accounts to transfer $1 billion to themselves.

Purdue lawyer Marshall Huebner said he hoped states that are opposed to the proposed settlement could be persuaded to change their positions.

“In essence, America itself that stands to benefit or lose from the success or failure of these reorganization proceedings,” Huebner said.

None of the Sacklers attended the hearing, but the family name did come up several times as Purdue lawyers declared that they wouldn’t benefit from any steps taken Tuesday to keep the company in business.

As the bankruptcy unfolds, Purdue will continue to pay its approximately 700 employees under preexisting salary structures.

No member of the Sackler family is an employee and none will receive payments, Purdue lawyer Eli Vonnegut said.

Because of commitments Purdue made before the bankruptcy filing, the company will pay sign-on bonuses to five employees and retention bonuses to about 100 employees. The company agreed to hold off on seeking to continue other bonus plans, such as incentive bonuses.

Drain, the judge, also allowed the company to continue covering legal fees for current and former employees, which Vonnegut estimated wouldn’t exceed $1.5 million per month. The company stopped covering legal fees for members of the family on March 1, he said.

“We swear up and down that no payments will go to the Sacklers,” Vonnegut said.

Purdue lawyers argued that the sign-on and retention bonuses were vital to attracting and keeping top talent in a tumultuous time for the company. Covering employee legal fees is important to morale and sends a strong signal that the company backs the people who work for it, the lawyers said.

Bankruptcy trustee Paul Schwartzberg objected, saying the bonuses went “way beyond” normal compensation and were padding the pockets of employees who already make upward of $300,000 a year.


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