Kosovo Delays License Plate Plan After Border Tensions

The Kosovo government postponed implementation of a decision that would oblige Serbs in the north of the country to apply for car license plates issued by Pristina institutions after tensions rose between police and local communities that set roadblocks.

Late on Sunday the protesters parked trucks filled with gravel and other heavy machinery on the roads leading to the two border crossings, Jarinje and Bernjak, in a territory where Serbs form a majority. Kosovo police said they had to close the border crossings.

“The overall security situation in the Northern municipalities of Kosovo is tense,” NATO-led mission to Kosovo KFOR said in a statement.

In Moscow, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova blamed the heightened tension on what she called “groundless discriminatory rules” imposed by Kosovo authorities

Fourteen years after Kosovo declared independence from Serbia, some 50,000 Serbs living in the north use license plates and documents issued by Serbian authorities, refusing to recognize institutions under the capital, Pristina. Kosovo has been recognized as an independent state by more than 100 countries but not by Serbia or Russia.

The government of Prime Minister Albin Kurti said it would give Serbs a transitional period of 60 days to get Kosovo license plates, a year after giving up trying to impose them because of similar protests.

The government also decided that as of August 1, all citizens from Serbia visiting Kosovo would have to get an extra document at the border to grant them permission to enter.

A similar rule is applied by Belgrade authorities to Kosovars who visit Serbia.

But following tensions on Sunday evening and consultations with EU and U.S. ambassadors, the government said it would delay its plan for one month and start the implementation on September 1.

Earlier on Sunday, police said there were shots fired “in the direction of police units but fortunately no one was wounded.”

It also said angry protesters beat up several Albanians passing on the roads that had been blocked and that some cars had been attacked.

Air raid sirens were heard for more than three hours in the small town of North Mitrovica inhabited mainly by Serbs.

A year ago, after local Serbs blocked the same roads over license plates, Kosovo’s government deployed special police forces and Belgrade flew fighter jets close to the border.

Tensions between the two countries remain high, and Kosovo’s fragile peace is maintained by a NATO mission that has 3,770 troops on the ground. Italian peacekeepers were visible in and around Mitrovica on Sunday.

The two countries committed in 2013 to a dialog sponsored by the European Union to try to resolve outstanding issues but little progress has been made.

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Iran Says Border Guards Clashed With Afghan Taliban

Iranian border guards clashed Sunday with the Afghan Taliban, Iranian media reported, the latest cross-border exchange since the former insurgents seized power in neighboring Afghanistan a year ago.

The official IRNA news agency quoted Meisam Barazandeh, governor of the border country of Hirmand in eastern Iran, as saying that the incident is under investigation. He did not provide details about the clash or report any casualties.

There was no immediate comment from the Taliban.

Iran’s semiofficial Tasnim news agency, which is close to Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard, said the Taliban opened fire on houses on the eastern edge of the county, in the area of Shoqalak, across the border from Afghanistan’s Nimruz province.

The report said also that Taliban forces tried to raise the Taliban flag in an area that is not part of the territory of Afghanistan and that after the exchange, calm returned.

Tasnim later quoted Majid Mirahmadi, the country’s deputy interior minister, as saying the Taliban first opened fire on Iranian guards, forcing them to return fire until the exchange subsided when the Iranian guards brought the situation under control.

The exchange lasted for an hour and a half and ended early on Sunday afternoon.

Mirahmadi also said a similar clash took place on Saturday because the Taliban do not respect the “geographical and official border” between the two countries.

Clashes have repeatedly erupted between Iranian security forces and Afghan Taliban forces in various spots along the border since the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan last August. The exchanges of fire are often over local issues such as disputes over farmland, water or smuggling, and usually end quickly.

In some of the worst clashes, last December, the Afghan Taliban seized several checkpoints on the Iranian side but soon withdrew, and both sides called the incident a “misunderstanding.”

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UN Peacekeepers Involved in Deadly Shooting at DRC Border Post

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was outraged after two people were killed and several others were injured when U.N. peacekeepers opened fire during an incident in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo on the Uganda border on Sunday.

The U.N. force, MONUSCO, admitted that some of its peacekeepers had opened fire “for unexplained reasons,” adding that arrests had been made.   

Guterres was “saddened and dismayed” to learn of the shooting, a U.N. statement said.

“The Secretary-General stresses in the strongest terms the need to establish accountability for these events,” it said.

“He welcomes the decision of his special representative in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to detain the MONUSCO personnel involved in the incident and to immediately open an investigation,” it added.

Video of the incident, shared on social media showed men, at least one in police uniform and another in army uniform, advancing toward the U.N. convoy stopped behind a closed barrier in Kasindi.  

The town is in eastern DR Congo’s Beni territory on the border with Uganda.  

After a verbal exchange, the peacekeepers appeared to open fire before opening the barrier and driving through while people scattered or hid.

“During this incident, soldiers from the intervention brigade of the MONUSCO force returning from leave opened fire at the border post for unexplained reasons and forced their way through,” the U.N. mission in Kasindi said in a statement earlier Sunday.

“This serious incident caused loss of life and serious injuries,” it said.

The Democratic Republic of Congo “strongly condemns and deplores this unfortunate incident in which two compatriots died and 15 others were injured according to a provisional roll,” government spokesman Patrick Muyaya said in a statement.

The government said it launched an investigation with MONUSCO to establish who was responsible, why the shooting took place and would ensure “severe penalties” are given.

The U.N. envoy in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Bintou Keita, said she was “deeply shocked and dismayed by this serious incident,” according to the mission’s statement.  

“In the face of this unspeakable and irresponsible behavior, the perpetrators of the shooting have been identified and arrested pending the conclusions of the investigation, which has already begun in collaboration with the Congolese authorities,” MONUSCO said.

The U.N. mission said the troops’ home countries had been contacted so legal action could begin promptly, with the involvement of witnesses and survivors, which could lead to exemplary penalties.  

Earlier Barthelemy Kambale Siva, the North Kivu governor’s representative in Kasindi, said that “eight people, including two policemen who were working at the barrier, were seriously injured” in the incident.

Kambale Siva, interviewed by AFP, did not say why the U.N. convoy had been prevented from crossing.

There are more than 120 militias operating in the DRC’s troubled east. The U.N. first deployed an observer mission to the region in 1999.  

In 2010, it became the peacekeeping mission MONUSCO — the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo — with a mandate to conduct offensive operations.

There have been 230 fatalities among the force, according to the U.N.

Last week, deadly demonstrations demanding the departure of the United Nations took place in several towns in eastern DRC.  

A total of 19 people, including three peacekeepers, were killed.

Anger has been fueled by perceptions that MONUSCO is failing to do enough to stop attacks by the armed groups.

U.N. under-secretary-general for peace operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix was in the central African country on Saturday to “talk to the Congolese authorities,” he said.

“(They would) examine ways in which we can both avoid a recurrence of these tragic incidents and, above all, work better together to achieve our objectives,” he said.

“We hope that the conditions will be met, in particular the return of state authority, so that MONUSCO can complete its mission as soon as possible. And to leave room for other forms of international support.”

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Ukraine War Hangs Over UN Meeting on Nuclear Treaty’s Legacy

There was already plenty of trouble to talk about when a major U.N. meeting on the landmark Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty was originally supposed to happen in 2020.

Now the pandemic-postponed conference finally starts Monday as Russia’s war in Ukraine has reanimated fears of nuclear confrontation and cranked up the urgency of trying to reinforce the 50-year-old treaty.

“It is a very, very difficult moment,” said Beatrice Fihn, the executive director of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.

Russia’s invasion, accompanied by ominous references to its nuclear arsenal, “is so significant for the treaty and really going to put a lot of pressure on this,” she said. “How governments react to the situation is going to shape future nuclear policy.”

The four-week meeting aims to generate a consensus on the next steps, but expectations are low for a substantial — if any — agreement.

Still, Swiss President Ignazio Cassis, prime ministers Fumio Kishida of Japan and Frank Bainimarama of Fiji, and more than a dozen nations’ foreign ministers are among attendees expected from at least 116 countries, according to a U.N. official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly before the conference.

In force since 1970, the Nonproliferation Treaty has the widest adherence of any arms control agreement. Some 191 countries have joined.

Nations without nuclear weapons promised not to acquire them, while nuclear-armed Britain, China, France, Russia (then the Soviet Union) and the United States agreed to negotiate toward eliminating their arsenals someday. All endorsed everyone’s right to develop peaceful nuclear energy.

India and Pakistan, which didn’t sign, went on to get the bomb. So did North Korea, which ratified the pact but later announced it was withdrawing. Non-signatory Israel is believed to have a nuclear arsenal but neither confirms nor denies it.

Nonetheless, the Nonproliferation Treaty has been credited with limiting the number of nuclear newcomers (U.S. President John F. Kennedy once foresaw as many as 20 nuclear-armed nations by 1975) and serving as a framework for international cooperation on disarmament.

The total number of nuclear weapons worldwide has shrunk by more than 75% from a mid-1980s peak, largely thanks to the end of the Cold War between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union. But experts estimate roughly 13,000 warheads remain worldwide, the vast majority in the U.S. and Russia.

Meetings to assess how the treaty is working are supposed to happen every five years, but the 2020 conference was repeatedly delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Challenges have only grown in the meantime.

When launching the Ukraine war in February, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that any attempt to interfere would lead to “consequences you have never seen” and emphasized that his country is “one of the most potent nuclear powers.” Days later, Putin ordered Russia’s nuclear forces to be put on higher alert, a move that U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called “bone-chilling.”

“The prospect of nuclear conflict, once unthinkable, is now back within the realm of possibility,” he said.

The events in Ukraine create a tricky choice for the upcoming conference, said Patricia Lewis, a former U.N. disarmament research official who is now at the international affairs think tank Chatham House in London.

“On the one hand, in order to support the treaty and what it stands for, governments will have to address Russia’s behavior and threats,” she said. “On the other hand, to do so risks dividing the treaty members.”

Another uncomfortable dynamic: The war has heightened some countries’ apprehensions about not having nuclear weapons, especially since Ukraine once housed but gave up a trove of Soviet nukes.

Ukraine is hardly the only hot topic.

North Korea appears to have been preparing recently for its first nuclear weapons test since 2017. And talks about reviving the deal meant to keep Iran from developing nukes are in limbo.

The U.S. and Russia have only one remaining treaty curtailing their nuclear weapons and have been developing new technologies. Britain last year raised a self-imposed cap on its stockpile. China says it’s modernizing — or, the U.S. claims, expanding — the world’s third-largest nuclear arsenal.

U.S. Ambassador Adam Scheinman, the presidential special representative for nuclear nonproliferation, said Washington hopes for a “balanced” outcome that “sets realistic goals and advances our national and international security interests.”

The Associated Press sent inquiries to Russia’s U.N. mission about Moscow’s goals for the conference. There was no immediate response.

In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said his country wants to work toward improving global nuclear governance and upholding the international order and will “firmly safeguard the legitimate security and development interests and rights of China and the developing world.”

If the world can’t speak with one voice, disarmament advocates say a strong statement from a large group of countries could send a meaningful message.

In recent years, frustration with the Nonproliferation Treaty catalyzed another pact that outright prohibits nuclear weapons. Ratified by more than 60 countries, it took effect last year, though without any nuclear-armed nations on board.

At a recent meeting in Vienna, participating countries condemned “any and all nuclear threats” and inked a lengthy plan that includes considering an international trust fund for people harmed by nuclear weapons.

Fihn, whose Geneva-based group campaigned for the nuclear ban treaty, hopes the vigor in Vienna serves as inspiration — or notice — for countries to make progress at the U.N. conference.

“If you don’t do it here,” she said, “we’re moving on without you elsewhere.”

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England Beats Germany in Extra Time to Win Women’s Euro 2022

England beat Germany 2-1 in the final of the European Championship after extra time on Sunday to win its first major women’s soccer title.

Chloe Kelly scored the winning goal on a rebound in the second half of extra time after Germany failed to clear a corner. The game had finished 1-1 after 90 minutes at Wembley Stadium with Lina Magull for Germany canceling out Ella Toone’s goal for England.

After the final whistle, the England players danced and the crowd sang their anthem “Sweet Caroline.” The good-natured atmosphere inside the stadium Sunday drew contrasts with the violent scenes when the England men’s team lost its European Championship final to Italy at the same stadium a year ago.

“I always believed I’d be here, but to be here and score the winner, wow. These girls are amazing,” said Kelly, who returned from a serious knee injury in April. “This is amazing, I just want to celebrate now.”

Kelly took her shirt off to celebrate her goal, earning a yellow card but also a shout-out from Brandi Chastain, who celebrated in similar style when her penalty kick won the World Cup for the U.S. in 1999.

“Enjoy the free rounds of pints and dinners for the rest of your life from all of England. Cheers!” Chastain wrote on Twitter.

The tournament-record crowd of more than 87,000 underlined the growth of women’s soccer in Europe since the last time England and Germany played for a continental title 13 years ago.

On that occasion, Germany surged to a 6-2 win over an England team that still relied on part-time players. Two years later, England launched its Women’s Super League, which has professionalized the game and grown into one of the main competitions worldwide.

That has meant increasing competition for Germany, which was a pioneering nation in European women’s soccer and increasingly faces well-funded rivals in England, Spain and France. England’s title comes 56 years after the nation’s only major men’s title which was also an extra-time win at Wembley over Germany at the 1966 World Cup.

Wiegman remains unbeaten in 12 games as coach at the European Championships after winning the tournament first with the Netherlands and now with England. One of her first moves after England won was to share a hug with 35-year-old midfielder Jill Scott, the only remaining player on either team from England’s 2009 loss to Germany.

The game was refereed by Ukrainian Kateryna Monzul, who fled her home country after Russia invaded. One of Europe’s leading referees, Monzul left her home in Kharkiv, a major city that has been heavily bombarded by Russian forces — and spent five days living in a basement at her parents’ house before leaving the country and eventually living and working in Italy.

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Police Fire Tear Gas on Sudanese Protest

Thousands of protesters marching towards Sudan’s presidential palace were blocked by police firing tear gas, as an anti-military campaign entered its 10th month. 

Protests have continued weekly since an Oct. 25 military takeover that halted a transition to democracy and plunged the country into turmoil. 

Police on Sunday blocked protesters from reaching the kilometer-long road that leads to the presidential palace and chased them into nearby side streets, Reuters journalists said. 

Military leaders have said they are prepared to step aside if civilian groups can agree on a new government but political parties have been skeptical. 

However, former Sovereign Council member Mohamed al-Faki Suleiman said in an interview with local media outlet Sudan Tribune on Saturday that new constitutional arrangements were being discussed between the former ruling Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) coalition and other “revolutionary forces.” 

Sunday’s protests were the latest in a series of demonstrations since multi-day sit-ins in Sudan’s capital prior to the Eid holiday. Last week, a protest called for by the FFC was attacked by unidentified assailants. 

At least 116 people have been killed in the protests, and thousands injured, many by gunfire, according to medics. 

Protesters assume they will be arrested, injured, or killed, said an injured protester, who asked to be referred to by his nickname Karika. 

“We don’t think we’ll make it back home, and so we have only one message: the military should go to the barricades and the Rapid Support Forces should be dissolved,” he said, referencing the country’s powerful paramilitary group. 

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Crises Pushing Up Acute Malnutrition at Refugee Sites

The U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, this week reported that global crises have combined to raise levels of acute malnutrition in dozens of refugee sites surveyed, most of them in Africa. UNHCR’s 2021 Annual Public Health Global Review was released Friday.

UNHCR officials say they are concerned by their findings, which show a significant deterioration in the nutritional condition of refugees. Monitoring refugees’ nutritional status resumed last year after stopping in 2020 because of COVID-19 restrictions.

The officials say a third of the 93 sites surveyed in 12 African countries and in Bangladesh showed serious levels of global acute malnutrition, a measurement of a population’s nutritional status, and 14% of locations recorded life-threatening levels of malnutrition.

UNHCR spokeswoman Shabia Mantoo tells VOA the rates of malnutrition are particularly troubling as they were recorded before the war in Ukraine sent food and commodity prices rising.

“This is a key concern because nutritional intake is really key to building healthy and resilient communities,” she said. “The leading causes of illness for refugees remain upper respiratory tract infections and malaria and lower respiratory tract infections. And we had noncommunicable diseases also accounting for about 5% of consultations as well as mental health services.”

These concerns are playing out at a particularly difficult time marked by the COVID-19 pandemic and record levels of people being forcibly displaced by conflict, violence, and natural disasters.

Despite these problems, the UNHCR says gains were made in the inclusion of refugees into national health policies. A survey of 46 countries found 76% included refugees in their national health plans and practically all refugees were able to use primary health facilities.

In another promising result, by the end of last year, the report says 162 countries had included refugees and asylum-seekers in national COVID-19 vaccination plans.

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Al-Shabab Militants Execute 7 by Firing Squad in Somalia  

Somali-based militant group al-Shabab has executed seven men in Somalia’s southwestern region of Bay. 

The execution that was conducted publicly took place in the vicinity of Buula-Fulay in Somalia’s Bay region late Saturday.

Six of the executed men were accused of spying for the Somali government and the U.S.

Three of them were also accused of providing intelligence that led to the killing of senior al-Shabab leaders, Yusuf Jiis and Abdulkadir Commandos, who were targeted in U.S. airstrikes in 2020.

An al-Shabab judge told local spectators that the six men have confessed, without providing evidence. Al-Shabab courts don’t allow lawyers who can defend the accused.

Meanwhile, Ethiopia’s Somali state president Mustafe Omar said that the region’s special forces operations against al-Shabab militants inflicted the group heavy casualties.

He said they believe that the troops killed 600 al-Shabab fighters during their operations against the militant group who a week ago infiltrated Ethiopia, sparking new confrontations near the Ethiopian border with Somalia.



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US Envoy Urges Progress on Ethiopia Peace Talks, Aid 

The new U.S. envoy for the Horn of Africa called Saturday for progress in holding Ethiopian peace talks and for unrestricted aid deliveries to stricken areas of the country.

Mike Hammer, who arrived in Addis Ababa Friday, held talks with Ethiopian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Demeke Mekonnen, the U.S. embassy said.

They discussed the “need for continued progress on ensuring unfettered humanitarian assistance delivery, human rights accountability & political talks to end the conflict & achieve a lasting peace”, the embassy said on Twitter.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government and the rival Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) have both raised the prospect of peace talks to end the brutal conflict that erupted in November 2020.

But major obstacles have emerged, not least over who should mediate any negotiations.

Abiy wants the African Union, which is based in Addis Ababa, to broker any talks, while the TPLF is insisting that the negotiations are led by neighboring Kenya.

Abiy’s national security adviser Redwan Hussein said on Twitter this week that the government was ready to talk “anytime anywhere” and that negotiations should begin “without preconditions.”


Meanwhile, TPLF-linked Tigrai TV quoted the rebels’ leader Debretsion Gebremichael warning that basic services would have to be restored in Tigray before negotiations could begin.

Fighting has eased in northern Ethiopia since a humanitarian truce was declared at the end of March, allowing the resumption of desperately needed aid convoys.

Malnutrition and food insecurity

Untold numbers of people were killed in the war and the UN says more than 13 million people need food aid across Tigray and the neighboring regions of Afar and Amhara, with high levels of food insecurity and malnutrition.

Tigray itself is lacking in food, fuel and essential services such as electricity, communications and banking, with hundreds of thousands living in dire conditions because of what the United Nations has described as a de facto blockade.

The UN’s humanitarian response agency OCHA said that since the resumption of humanitarian convoys on April 1, 4,308 trucks had arrived in Tigray’s capital Mekele as of July 19.

In Addis, Hammer also “reviewed” the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), the large-scale hydroelectric project on the Blue Nile, the embassy said.

On Friday, Egypt said it had protested to the U.N. Security Council against Ethiopian plans to fill the reservoir of the controversial dam for a third year without agreement from downstream countries.

The multi-billion-dollar GERD is set to be the largest hydroelectric scheme in Africa but has been at the center of a dispute with Egypt and Sudan ever since work began in 2011.

“We are actively engaged in supporting a diplomatic way forward under the African Union’s auspices that arrives at an agreement that provides for the long-term needs of every citizen along the Nile,” Hammer said on a visit to Egypt this week.

Addis Ababa deems the GERD essential for the electrification and development of Africa’s second most populous country.

But Cairo and Khartoum fear it could threaten their access to vital Nile waters.

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Sri Lanka President Seeks Unity Government to Save Economy 

Sri Lanka’s new president Ranil Wickremesinghe has formally invited MPs to join an all-party unity government to revive the bankrupt economy by undertaking painful reforms, his office said Sunday.

Wickremesinghe took office earlier this month after public anger over the island nation’s worst economic crisis forced his predecessor Gotabaya Rajapaksa to flee the country and quit.

In a meeting Saturday with the influential monks of the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, one of Buddhism’s most sacred shrines, Wickremesinghe outlined his plans.

“As the president, I wish to start a new journey,” Wickremesinghe was quoted as telling the monks in his first meeting with the powerful Buddhist clergy since taking office.

“I would like to get all the parties together and go on that journey as well as to form an all-party government.”

He has written to all lawmakers asking them to join a unity government.

A former opposition MP, Wickremesinghe, 73, took up the premiership for the sixth time in May after Rajapaksa’s elder brother Mahinda resigned and there were no other takers for the job.

Wickremesinghe went onto become the president after Gotabaya escaped on July 9 when tens of thousands of protesters angry at the economic crisis stormed the presidential palace.

He fled to Singapore from where he resigned five days later and Wickremesinghe became interim president and later won a vote in parliament confirming his ascension.

Sri Lanka’s 22 million people have endured months of lengthy blackouts, record inflation and shortages of food, fuel and medicines.

Since late last year, the country has run out of foreign exchange to finance even the most essential imports.

In April, Sri Lanka defaulted on its $51 billion foreign debt and opened bailout talks with the International Monetary Fund.

Wickremesinghe told monks that the economy would decline further this year with a contraction of 7% but expected a recovery next year.

“I am working to re-stabilize this economy and build the economy in such a way that the country can be developed by 2023, 2024.

“It is a difficult task. But if you don’t do it now, it will be more difficult. We should think about whether we should try to cure the patient by giving medicine or let the patient die without giving medicine,” he added.

He said inflation currently running at 60.8% could go up further.

After his election as president, Wickremesinghe, while ordering security forces to clear protest sites, has appointed an interim cabinet leaving the door open for others to join.

He has called a new session of parliament from Wednesday and is expected to expand the 18-member cabinet to accommodate members from opposition parties.

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Nigerian Street Vendor Brutally Killed in Italy

Hundreds of people from the Nigerian community of the central Italian city of Civitanova Marche took to the streets Saturday to protest the slaying of a Nigerian street vendor.

The killing was caught in cellphone video, but no one intervened to stop the slaying of the disabled man.

Police say an Italian man, Filippo Claudio Giuseppe Ferlazzo, 32, has been arrested in connection with the brutal beating of Alika Ogorchukwu, a 39-year-old husband and father.

The footage of the incident shows Ferlazzo using the vendor’s crutch to strike him down. Ogorchukwu had lost his job as a laborer after being hit by a car. He needed to use a crutch to walk after the accident.

The street vendor was unable to get up after Ferlazzo attacked him, the video shows, because the Italian man used his weight to keep Ogorchukwu down.

“The aggressor went after the victim, first hitting him with a crutch,” police investigator Matteo Luconi said at a press conference.  “He made him fall to the ground, then he finished, causing the death, striking repeatedly with his bare hands.”

An autopsy has been ordered to determine the cause of Ogorchukwu’s death.

“My condemnation is not only for the [crime], but it is also for the indifference,” Civitanova Marche’s mayor, Fabrizio Ciarapica, told Sky News.

“A father was killed in an atrocious and racist way while passersby took video without stopping the aggressor,” said former Premier Matteo Renzi.  He urged people to reflect “on what we are becoming.”

Some information in this report came from The Associated Press.

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Cameroon Becomes a Go-To Country for Foreign Fishing Vessels 

Off the coast of West Africa, the Trondheim is a familiar sight: a soccer field-sized ship, plying the waters from Nigeria to Mauritania as it pulls in tons of mackerel and sardines — and flying the red, yellow and green flag of Cameroon.

But aside from the flag, there is almost nothing about the Trondheim that is Cameroonian.

Once, it operated under the name of the King Fisher and sailed under the flag of the Caribbean nation St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Then it switched to Georgia, the former Soviet republic. It was only in 2019 that it began flying the banner of Cameroon.

The Trondheim is one of several vessels reflagged under Cameroon’s growing fishing fleet that have changed names and been accused of illicit activities at sea. Currently, an investigation by The Associated Press found, 14 of these vessels are owned or managed by companies based in European Union member states: Belgium, Malta, Latvia and Cyprus.

The AP examined over 80 ship profiles on MarineTraffic, a maritime analytics provider, and matched them with company records through IHS Maritime & Trade and the International Maritime Organization or IMO.

“They’re interested in the flag. They’re not interested in Cameroon,” said Beatrice Gorez, coordinator for the Coalition for Fair Fisheries Arrangements, a group of organizations highlighting the impacts of EU-African fisheries arrangements that identified the recent connection between companies in EU member states and the Cameroon fleet.

Each of the vessels changed flags to Cameroon between 2019 and 2021, though they had no obvious link to the country and did not fish in its waters. The Trondheim and at least five others have a history of illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, according to a report by the environmental group Greenpeace. Both the vessels and their owners conceal what they catch, where it goes and who is financially benefiting from it, maritime and company records show.

In recent years, Cameroon has emerged as one of several go-to countries for the widely criticized “flags of convenience” system, under which companies can — for a fee — register their ships in a foreign country even though there is no link between the vessel and the nation whose flag it flies.

The ships are supposed to abide by that nation’s fishing agreements with other countries. But experts say weak oversight and enforcement of fishing fleets by countries with open registries like Cameroon offer shipping companies a veil of secrecy that allows them to mask their operations.

That secrecy, the experts say, also undermines global attempts to sustainably manage fisheries and threatens the livelihoods of millions of people in regions like West Africa. Cameroonian officials say all the ships that fly its flag are legally registered and abide by all of its laws. But regulators in Europe recently warned the country that its inability to provide oversight of its fishing fleet could lead to a ban on fish from the country.

Cameroon’s flagged fishing fleet is minuscule compared to countries such as Liberia, Panama or the Marshall Islands. But the rapid adoption of the country’s flag by some shipping companies accused of illegal fishing is raising alarm.

“This is a big issue,” said Aristide Takoukam, a biologist and founder of the African Marine Mammal Conservation Organization, a non-profit based in Cameroon that monitors illegal fishing. “I don’t think Cameroon is able to monitor these vessels that are flying Cameroon flags outside its waters.”

A history of lax oversight

Cameroon has long been criticized for lax oversight of its fishing fleet. A study published last year in the journal African Security documented deep-rooted corruption in the ministries that oversee the fishing industry. In that same year, the European Commission issued a “yellow card” to the country, warning it to step up its actions against illegal fishing.

The commission identified a series of shortcomings, including that the country had registered several fishing vessels — some of them accused of illegal fishing — under its flag in the past few years, raising concerns about the nation’s ability to control and monitor the activities of its fleet.

If Cameroon does not comply after its initial warning, the commission can issue a “red card,” effectively listing them as a non-cooperating country. And it can ban their fish products from entering EU markets.

The commission’s report named a dozen fishing vessels registered between 2019 and 2020 whose names were not provided to them by Cameroonian authorities. At least eight of the 12 identified vessels are managed or owned by European companies. The AP found six more vessels not included in the EU report.

The European Commission did not respond to the AP’s requests for comment.

Data from two maritime intelligence companies, Windward and Lloyd’s List Intelligence, reveals an accelerated growth in the number of vessels that sail under the Cameroonian flag in the past four years, from 14 vessels in 2018 to more than 129 in 2022. According to the Environmental Justice Foundation, Cameroon’s fishing capacity is now nine times larger than it was before 2018.

While the number of flagged ships has grown, the resources to monitor them have not kept pace, a review of budget documents show. The documents show that the budget for the Ministry of Livestock, Fisheries and Animal Industries’ control and supervision of fisheries declined 32% from 2019 to last year.

While countries have a right to allow vessels to adopt their nationality and fly their flag, Article 91 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea requires a “genuine link” to be established between a vessel and its flag state.

Despite this, foreign vessels in countries with open registries often have little to no relationship with their flag states. The responsibility falls on the flagged country to control operations of the vessels in their fleet, including any illegal activity caused in other nations’ waters or on the high seas.

“The very point of flags of convenience is that it’s easy, it’s cheap, you can do it quickly, and they are not necessarily looking at your history of compliance,” said Julien Daudu, senior campaigner at the Environmental Justice Foundation, a British NGO focusing on environmental and human rights issues.

Paul Nkesi, a representative of the agency that oversees fisheries, the Ministry of Livestock, Fisheries and Animal Industries, says that although the government recognizes the need to step up its surveillance of industrial trawlers, all vessels are registered lawfully in Cameroon.

All of the 14 EU-linked vessels registered to Cameroon are massive trawler ships at least 100 meters long; none operate in Cameroonian waters. Tracking data show the ships journeying between ports in Mauritania, Angola, South Africa, and Namibia.

Still, for the local fishermen who already compete with the Chinese-owned vessels in their waters, the pressure of a growing fleet is creating concerns that Cameroon will be completely overpowered by foreign-owned vessels.

“Their business is only fishing; they can fish more than 1,000 local boats. If those bigger [international] vessels enter here, we’ll be really affected,” said Simeon Oviri, a local fisherman in Youpwe, a coastal area near Douala, Cameroon’s largest city.

Maurice Beseng, a research associate at the University of Sheffield’s Institute for Sustainable Development and visiting fellow in maritime security at Coventry University, said ships operating the flags of convenience appear to be using the system to circumvent the limits on fishing imposed by the European Union.

Differing sets of rules

The EU has fishing agreements with numerous countries, and EU-flagged vessels are subject to stricter fishing restrictions around the world, including in West Africa. But ships flagged to other countries outside the union are not subject to the same fishing limits.

For example, data from Global Fishing Watch, which uses satellite data and machine learning to monitor activity at sea, shows most of the EU-affiliated, Cameroonian-flagged trawlers appear to be fishing in Mauritania, a country that has one of the most robust fishing agreements with the EU.

Under this agreement, trawlers fishing with an EU flag have a total fishing capacity of 225,000 tons for a maximum of 19 vessels. Once that quota is met, all fishing activity has to stop.

But foreign vessels not under any agreement can fish in Mauritania under a free license. For the Cameroon-flagged trawlers, this means they can go above the EU limit without having to land their catches in Mauritania.

The same goes for Gambia, where industrial fishing vessels flagged to Cameroon may fish for any species outside the 7-mile nautical limit. However, if the vessel is flagged to an EU member state, the vessel can only fish for tuna and hake, according to current sustainable fisheries partnership agreements between the small West African country and the EU.

“They are able to use that as a loophole to go beyond the agreements,” said Charles Kilgour, director of fisheries analysis for Global Fishing Watch.

The trawler vessels catch small fish species, including horse mackerel, sardinella and anchovy, which recent stock assessments have shown are overfished along the Atlantic coast of West Africa.

These species are a lucrative and vital food source across the region, with an estimated 6.7 million people dependent directly on them. Sardinella in particular are locally consumed in the region as an affordable source of protein and nutrients. Currently, the Food and Agriculture Organization lists most of the targeted species as either fully exploited or overexploited.

Although it’s unclear where the fish goes after being unloaded in ports, Beseng notes that the fish targeted by these vessels commonly enter EU markets to be used as fish meal and fish oil.

“Their impact is huge. These are species that the local population depend on,” Beseng said. “The increase in catch has increased food security challenges for coastal communities.”

While environmental and maritime security experts applauded the EU for issuing the yellow card to Cameroon for the lax oversight of its fishing fleet, they say not enough is being done to target the EU-based companies that are the culprits.

“If you have European companies that are working under this flag,” Daudu said, “you should also demonstrate exemplary behavior by going after your own nationals.”

But just finding the trail can be a daunting — and sometimes insurmountable — challenge. “It’s really like an ink bottle. You can get so far, and then at some point it becomes completely opaque,” Gorez said. “It makes it really difficult to find information on who owns these vessels.”

The companies

The AP tracked the 14 vessels ultimately to four active companies: Ocean Whale Co. Ltd in Malta, INOK NV in Belgium, Sundborn Management Ltd in Cyprus and Baltreids SIA in Latvia.

Ocean Whale operates several former Soviet trawlers, including a ship formerly known as the Coral that has changed the flag under which it operates seven times since 2005. Recently, it switched to the Cameroon flag after two months under the Russian flag.

Other ships in the company’s fleet were involved in a 2010-12 fishing license scandal in Senegal. Under an agreement that was neither allowed by law nor publicly disclosed, the fisheries ministry granted several of its vessels licenses to catch small fish that were in danger of being overfished. The company and the minister denied wrongdoing.

The company did not respond to the AP’s requests for comment.

On its website, the Ocean Whale Co. said it catches fish in Mauritania, Guinea-Bissau, Angola, Namibia, and that “the company is only engaged in legal fishing activities under the licenses issued by the coastal States and strictly adheres to all applicable environmental regulations.”

Another group of ships registered to EU companies and recently flagged to Cameroon were also named in the Senegalese fishing scandal. Data from the IMO, the Maritime & Trade database and the Russian maritime register of shipping identifies the fleet’s owners as various companies in Cyprus and Belgium, with each ultimately managed by Sundborn Management Ltd, a company registered in Cyprus and INOK NV, a company registered in Belgium.

Both INOK and Sundborn Management offer vessel registration services. Among them: choosing a “flag of convenience and a ship register for a vessel,” in Malta, Cyprus, Panama, Belize and other countries.

Neither company responded to requests for comments from the AP.

Belgium’s Department of Agriculture and Fisheries said it has been contacted by the European Commission about vessels managed by INOK that have reflagged to Cameroon between 2019 and 2020 but said it couldn’t comment on ongoing investigations.

Baltreids Ltd, a Latvian fishing company established in 1998, manages five Cameroon-flagged vessels. The company structure includes two other holdings listed as official owners of the vessels in 2021, Limmat Inter SA, based in the Seychelles, and Oceanic Fisheries NB Ltd, based in Canada.

Baltreids has been accused of a number of suspicious activities, including insurance fraud and illegal fishing in the Atlantic Ocean. A 2020 Canadian Broadcasting Corp. investigation found that Oceanic Fisheries N.B., was flagged by global banks for more than $31 million in suspicious money transfers, according to documents shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and other news organizations as part of the FinCEN Files.

When trying to track down a physical presence of the company in Canada, the CBC hit a dead end.

The Latvian IUU Single Liaison Office, the team that works with the EU Commission to regulate IUU fishing in Latvia, told the AP that the Marshal Vasilevskiy was excluded from the Latvian Ship Register in November 2019, when the ship reflagged to Cameroon, and the Kaptian Rusak was never registered under the Latvian flag. Instead, the vessel is listed as owned by Fishing Company SA, a company based in the British Virgin Islands.

IMO data lists ownership of the five Cameroon-flagged vessels owned by either Baltreids Ltd, Limmat Inter SA or Oceanic Fisheries NB Ltd, effective between 2019 and 2021. The New Brunswick corporate register indicates that Oceanic Fisheries N.B. has been inactive since October 2021.

Baltreids denied ever having links to Oceanic Fisheries N.B. or to engaging in any illegal fishing or money laundering to the CBC. In response to the AP, the company said it presently owns two vessels registered in Latvia.

Upping the accountability

According to Gorez, the timing of the ships’ reflagging to Cameroon in recent years seem to correspond with the 2017 adoption of the Sustainable Management of External Fishing Fleets , a regulation adopted by the European Parliament aimed to monitor EU vessels that operate outside EU waters.

The regulation requires fishing vessels to provide information regarding their operations’ sustainability and legality before their EU member state can issue them an authorization to fish in the waters of third countries.

“This regulation is really trying to catch these guys, but as soon as it becomes too complicated, then the easy way out is to change the flag,” Gorez said. “It’s like when you try to catch soap with your hands. It slips and goes somewhere else.”

Since 2010, the EU has incorporated other provisions to make its nationals more accountable for fisheries operations, regardless of country or vessel flags — most notably by penalizing EU nationals who engage in or support illegal or unregulated fishing anywhere in the world, under any flag.

But it’s up to the member states to address the issue. Gorez says the states involved in this matter — Latvia, Malta, Belgium and Cyprus — have so far shown little interest.

“We can see the duplicity of the EU in terms of their effort to fight IUU fishing. They’ve come up with good regulations, but when you go deep into how this is implemented in practice, you see that there are a lot of loopholes,” Beseng said.

Part of the SMEFF regulation is to maintain a database including information on the beneficial owners of operations by vessels flagged in an EU member state. As of now, the information remains confidential.

“How can you expect an official in a remote country that sees a vessel coming to be able to easily retrace the whole history of the vessel by himself if the former flag state does not put that information online?” said Daudu. “It would cost a lot of time. It would take a lot of verification. Sometimes it’s so well concealed that you can’t even find information.”

This story was supported by funding from the Walton Family Foundation and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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Zambia Debt Relief Pledge Clears Way for $1.4 Billion, IMF Says

Zambia’s creditors pledged to negotiate a restructuring of the country’s debts on Saturday, a move International Monetary Fund managing director Kristalina Georgieva welcomed as “clearing the way” for a $1.4 billion IMF program. 

The creditor committee, co-chaired by China and France, said in a statement released by G-20 chair Indonesia that it supported Zambia’s “envisaged IMF upper credit tranche program and its swift adoption by the IMF Executive Board.” 

In 2020, Zambia became the first African country in the pandemic era to default. The restructuring of its external debt, which amounted to more than $17 billion at the end of 2021, is seen by many analysts as a test case. 

“Very pleased the Official Creditor Committee for Zambia has provided its financial assurances clearing the way for a Fund program,” IMF managing director Kristalina Georgieva said in a tweet.  


“The delivery of these financing assurances will enable the IMF Executive Board to consider approval of a Fund-supported program for Zambia and unlock much needed financing from Zambia’s development partners,” Georgieva said in a statement released by the IMF after her tweet. 

Zambia reached a staff-level agreement with the IMF on a $1.4 billion, three-year extended credit facility in December, conditional upon its ability to reduce debt to levels the IMF deems sustainable. 

Zambia’s government welcomed the creditors’ pledge and its unlocking of IMF support. 

“Zambia remains committed to implementing the much needed economic reforms, being transparent about our debt and ensuring fair and equitable treatment of our creditors,” Finance Minister Situmbeko Musokotwane said. 

On Friday, the finance ministry said it was canceling $2 billion in undisbursed loans. 

Zambia’s creditor committee said that the restructuring terms would be finalized in a memorandum of understanding, without providing further details. 

It also called on private creditors to “commit without delay” to negotiating debt relief on terms at least as favorable. 

Kevin Daly, who chairs a committee of holders of Zambia’s Eurobonds, welcomed the bilateral creditors’ statement, but repeated a call to be given access to the IMF’s Debt Sustainability Analysis (DSA), which forms the basis of negotiations. 

“That’s where you could have delays with the restructuring, if all of a sudden we get the DSA and … (it) is just way too conservative, in terms of the forecasts,” Daly, of emerging markets investor abrdn, formerly Standard Life Aberdeen, told Reuters by telephone. 

The first bilateral creditor meeting was held in June, after Zambia’s government complained of delays to the restructuring. Talks are taking place under the Common Framework, a debt relief process launched by the Group of 20 major economies in 2020 that has been criticized by some for being slow to yield results. 

“This shows the potential of the #G20CommonFramework for debt treatment to deliver for countries committed to dealing with their debt problems,” Georgieva said in the tweet. 

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Zelenskyy Calls for Evacuation of Eastern Donetsk

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called Saturday for the evacuation of eastern Donetsk province, the region that has seen the fiercest fighting as Russia seeks to fully control it.

Hundreds of thousands of people, including children and the elderly, remain in combat zones of the larger Donbas region, which includes Donetsk and Luhansk. It is also the region where Ukrainian prisoners of war died in a missile attack earlier this week.

Zelenskyy made the announcement Saturday during his nightly video address to his nation.

“The more people leave [the] Donetsk region now, the fewer people the Russian army will have time to kill,” he said, adding that residents who left would be given compensation, he said according to Reuters.

Zalenskyy promised logistical support to persuade people to leave.

“Many refuse to leave but it still needs to be done,” the president said. “If you have the opportunity, please talk to those who still remain in the combat zones in Donbas. Please convince them that it is necessary to leave.”

Earlier Saturday, Ukraine demanded that Russia be held accountable for a missile attack that killed dozens of Ukrainian prisoners of war at a Russian-operated detention facility in eastern Ukraine.

The Ukrainian government on Saturday called on the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross to immediately investigate Friday’s attack.

With international outrage building over the missile strike, the United Nations pledged support to help investigate the prison attack.

“In relation to the recent tragedy at the prison in Olenivka, we stand ready to send a group of experts able to conduct an investigation, requiring the consent of the parties,” said Farhan Haq, deputy spokesperson for the U.N. secretary-general in a statement released Saturday.

Russia and Ukraine have accused each other of carrying out the attack. Neither claim could be independently verified. So far, no international aid organizations have been granted access to the bombed-out site. The Red Cross requested access to help evacuate the wounded.

In a statement Sunday, Russia said it has invited United Nations and Red Cross experts to investigate the deaths at the prison, according to Reuters.

The statement from the defense ministry said it was acting “in the interests of conducting an objective investigation” into what it called an attack on the prison earlier in the week.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said 40 prisoners were killed and 75 were wounded at the detention facility located in the Russian-occupied Donetsk region. Russia insisted Ukraine used American-made weapons to hit the prison to prevent its own fighters from surrendering to Russian forces.

Ukraine’s armed forces disputed the claim and said Russian artillery targeted the prison camp to hide the mistreatment of the prisoners.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called the attack a deliberate Russian war crime and a mass murder of Ukrainian prisoners of war.

The Ukrainian army is trying to get the bodies of those killed returned, but Russia has only released the names of the dead.

Meanwhile, fighting raged on as Ukraine’s military claimed its forces killed more than 100 Russian soldiers in the southern area of Kherson. Military officials Saturday said its forces bombed railway and road bridges inside Russian controlled territories.

Russia announced Saturday its forces killed more than 130 elite Ukrainian soldiers aboard a train in the Donbas region last week and were making gains in other locations on the battlefield.

Grain shipments

In other developments, the first ship loaded with Ukrainian grain is set to sail from the Black Sea port of Chornomorsk.

Last week Russia and Ukraine agreed to unblock grain exports from Black Sea ports, which have been threatened by Russian attacks since the invasion. The blockade of grain in Ukraine, one of the world’s biggest exporters, has led to sharp increases in global food prices.

Grain shipments from the country were allowed to resume after a U.N. brokered agreement was signed in Turkey last week.

On Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke by phone with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and mentioned the importance of Russia following through on the agreement.

Blinken also warned of consequences should Moscow move ahead with suspected plans to annex portions of eastern and southern Ukraine.

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.

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2 Died in Friday Explosion at Kabul Cricket Game, Taliban Say

The Taliban on Saturday raised the casualty toll from a hand grenade explosion during a cricket game in the capital of Kabul the previous day, saying two civilians at the stadium died from the blast. 

No one has so far claimed responsibility for the explosion, but the blame is likely to fall on militants from the Islamic State group, the Taliban’s chief rivals since they took over the country nearly a year ago as U.S. and NATO forces pulled out of Afghanistan after 20 years of war. 

Previously, 13 people were reported wounded in the Friday afternoon blast at the International Cricket Stadium in Kabul, where several hundred people had gathered to watch the match. 

At the time, the Italian-run Emergency Hospital in Kabul had confirmed on Twitter that 12 of the wounded were hospitalized while one other patient was treated and discharged. 

On Saturday, the Taliban-appointed Kabul police spokesman, Khalid Zadran, said that two people had died. It wasn’t immediately clear if the two had died instantly or later, in the hospital. 

The game, between cricket teams Band-e-Amir Dragons and Pamir Zalmi, was briefly halted because of the explosion but later continued. The match was part of the domestic T20 Shpageza Cricket league games held every year. Cricket is a hugely popular sport in Afghanistan. 

Since the Taliban takeover last August, the Islamic State group’s regional affiliate — known as the Islamic State Khorasan Province — has claimed attacks in Kabul and other parts of the country. 

The IS affiliate, which has been operating in Afghanistan since 2014, is seen as the greatest security challenge facing the country’s new rulers. The Taliban have launched sweeping crackdowns against IS Khorasan, which has a foothold in eastern Nangarhar province. 

Friday’s attack was widely condemned, including by Ramiz Alakbarov, the deputy at the U.N. mission in Afghanistan, who was at the stadium at the time of the attack but was unharmed. He was to address the Afghan cricket association. 

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Iran Arrests Swedish Citizen on Espionage Charges

Iran has arrested a Swedish citizen on espionage charges, the official IRNA news agency reported on Saturday, after a court in Stockholm sentenced a former Iranian official for war crimes earlier this month.

Iran has arrested dozens of foreigners and dual nationals in recent years, mostly on espionage and security-related accusations. Rights groups call that a tactic to win concessions from abroad by inventing charges, which Tehran denies.

“The suspect had been under surveillance by the intelligence ministry during several previous trips to Iran because of (their) suspicious behavior and contacts,” IRNA quoted the Iranian intelligence ministry statement as saying.

It did not give a name or say when the arrest was made but added that the suspect had a history of going to the Palestinian territories, went to non-tourist destinations in Iran, and contacted people, including Europeans, under surveillance.

The intelligence ministry statement accused Sweden of “proxy spying” on behalf of Iran’s archenemy Israel, which it said would draw a “proportional reaction” from Iran.

Sweden’s Foreign Ministry said it was aware of the case.

A spokesperson said the case is that of a Swedish man whom the Foreign Ministry had said in May had been detained in Iran. Tehran did not report that arrest at that time. 

Relations between Sweden and Iran have been difficult since Sweden detained and put on trial a former Iranian official on charges of war crimes for the mass execution and torture of political prisoners at an Iranian prison in the 1980s.

On July 14, a Swedish court sentenced the man, Hamid Noury, to life in prison.

Iran condemned that as politically motivated.

Among other foreigners and dual nationals held in Iran are Ahmad Reza Jalali, a Swedish-Iranian researcher sentenced to death on charges of spying for Israel.

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