Journalists Reflect on the Legacy of Mikhail Gorbachev

As soon as he arrived with a small motorcade in rural Eureka, Illinois — population 5,400 — he was the center of attention.

“It looks like everyone in this small town is a photographer!” former Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev exclaimed through his translator amid the crowd of cameras.

He wasn’t the biggest name to visit these parts, however. That distinction belongs to the man who was both Gorbachev’s adversary and his partner in reshaping geopolitics: former U.S. President Ronald Reagan.

Well before he was in the White House, Reagan attended Eureka College, graduating in 1932. In 2009, the college invited Gorbachev to accept an honorary degree, nearly two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

I diligently followed Gorbachev throughout his campus visit, managing to place myself on one side of a segment of the iconic Berlin Wall, gifted to the college in honor of Reagan, while Gorbachev stood across from me on the other side, reflecting on their historic relationship and the fall of that wall in Europe, both figuratively and literally, as my camera rolled.

“Ronald Reagan said, ‘Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.’ And when I am asked what was my impression when he said that, I said that didn’t have much of an impact on us. We knew that Mr. Reagan, in his initial career, was an actor! But I still must say that my feelings about Ronald Reagan remain very high,” Gorbachev said through his translator.

“Mikhail Gorbachev was a patriot of his country, and that was immediately obvious when you encountered him or you listened to him. And to be clear, his country was the Soviet Union,” said Jeffrey Trimble, a former Moscow bureau chief for U.S. News & World Report who covered Gorbachev during the height of the Cold War. He later served as deputy director of U.S. international broadcasting.

“Mikhail Gorbachev was remarkably accessible to the journalistic community. This was the time of glasnost, of course, so it was relatively easy as a foreign correspondent to get direct access to Gorbachev,” Trimble said.

“He appeared genuinely interested in connecting with people,” said Andrew Nagorski, who worked in Moscow as a correspondent for Newsweek magazine. “He did want to be respected. He did want to project a view of a younger generation,” he told VOA’s Russian Service.

That view continued into Gorbachev’s later years, when he delighted in answering questions from college students 60 years younger than him.

“What do you want to most be remembered for?” a young Eureka College student asked Gorbachev in a question-and-answer session during his 2009 visit.

“I reply to this question always the same way: History is a fickle lady,” Gorbachev replied.

“I think outside Russia, he will be remembered as a transformational figure,” Nagorski said.

When asked just how transformational, Gorbachev himself said, while standing near the section of Berlin Wall at Eureka College in 2009, that the global opinion of him might not be unanimous.

“There is still a debate as to what was done right by Gorbachev and Reagan and what was not done right,” Gorbachev admitted. “But no one can deny one very important fact: The Cold War was ended. We started the process of eliminating nuclear weapons, and relations between our two nations at that time turned into an excellent relationship. There was even euphoria in the Soviet Union for cooperation with the United States.”

Euphoria that has since transformed into apprehension amid a continuing war in Ukraine that has put Russia and the United States on opposing sides of a conflict.

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As Boris Johnson Departs, Britain’s Next Leader Faces Daunting Challenges

Britain will have a new prime minister next week, nearly two months after the resignation of Boris Johnson in July, following a series of scandals. As Henry Ridgwell reports, Johnson’s successor faces a series of daunting challenges — while Britain’s allies, including Ukraine, are watching closely.

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To Ukrainians, Gorbachev Remains an ‘Imperialist’

Mikhail Gorbachev could have been celebrated for involuntarily opening a path toward Ukraine’s independence, but his support for Crimea’s annexation and silence in the face of Russia’s invasion have stained his reputation there.

Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, triggered its demise in 1991, which led to the formation of 15 new independent countries including Ukraine.

But it is no accident that the Ukrainian government is still mute, a day after the death of Gorbachev, whose mother and wife were of Ukrainian origin.

Ukrainians walking through the streets of Kyiv on Wednesday did not mince their words about the leader of the “occupying” and “imperialist” Soviet power.

“I’m very happy he died. The more enemies and their supporters die, the happier I’ll be,” said 32-year-old Oleksandr Stepanov.

Katerina Boyuk, a 17-year-old student, is convinced that Gorbachev “did not really care” about Ukraine and that the country’s independence has “nothing to do” with him.

“He was just the ruler of the USSR, and he couldn’t manage to keep his throne,” she said.

“I think he’s as much of an aggressor as the current Kremlin leaders,” said Vytalya Formantchuk, 43, adding that Gorbachev “put a lot of effort into destroying Ukrainians, their culture and their language.”

The visible hostility of Ukrainians toward Gorbachev also stems from his silence regarding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Gorbachev, mostly popular in the West, never publicly commented on what has turned out to be the worst conflict in Europe since World War II.

One member of his close circle, Russian journalist Alexei Venediktov, said in July that Gorbachev was “disappointed, of course.”

Even worse, Gorbachev said he “approved” Moscow’s annexation of Crimea to Russia in 2014.

He argued that “the people” had spoken in the referendum on the unification of the peninsula to Russia, widely regarded as a sham.

Kyiv never forgave him for that.

Gorbachev is perceived in Ukraine “with a lot of skepticism — we do not share the enthusiasm we’ve been seeing in obituaries all around the world,” said Volodymyr Yermolenko, philosopher and editor-in-chief of the website.

“His destiny is the same destiny as many Russian reformers who want reforms, but only up to a certain point: when people start questioning Russian imperialism and decolonization,” he said.

Gorbachev was Soviet leader in 1986, when Chernobyl’s No. 4 nuclear reactor exploded, causing the world’s worst nuclear accident and spreading radioactive contamination across Europe.

Moscow first tried to downplay the extent of the disaster, which delayed evacuation of locals.

Gorbachev is widely blamed for this and for the decision to maintain the May 1 parade in Kyiv five days later.

Thousands of people, including many children, marched through the city holding flowers and singing songs, blissfully unaware of the radioactive cloud surrounding them.

Gorbachev “was an ordinary Russian imperialist. He simply did everything he could to save the USSR and restore the Russian Empire, which is now waging war against us,” popular blogger and activist Yuri Kasyanov posted on Facebook.

Disliked by Russians, rejected by Ukrainians, Gorbachev still regularly talked about his Ukrainian roots.

“I am, after all, half Ukrainian. My mother was Ukrainian, and my wife, Raisa, was too. I spoke my very first words in Ukrainian, and the first songs I heard were Ukrainian,” he said in a 2015 interview with German news magazine Der Spiegel.

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American Nun, 83, Abducted by Jihadists in Sahel is Free

An 83-year-old American nun who was abducted by jihadists in northern Burkina Faso in April has been released, the Catholic Church said. 

Sister Suellen Tennyson, a nun with the Congregation of Marianites of the Holy Cross, had been kidnapped in the parish of Yalgo, where she had worked since 2014. 

In a statement, the bishop of the diocese of Kaya, Theophile Nare, announced “to all, that with great joy and gratitude to God,” Tennyson “has been released by her kidnappers.” 

She is “currently in a safe place … [and] in good health,” Nare said, in the statement that reached AFP on Wednesday, adding that he had no details about the conditions of her release but was “deeply grateful to all those who worked for it.” 

In Washington, a U.S. State Department spokesman confirmed “the release of a U.S. citizen in Niger who had been held hostage in West Africa.” 

The spokesman did not identify the individual, but Tennyson was the only known American hostage in the region. 

“This individual will soon be reunited with loved ones. It is the wish of the individual to remain private at this time, and we ask that all respect that wish,” the spokesman said. 

Yalgo lies between the towns of Kaya and Dori, in the heart of a region of northern Burkina Faso that, like neighboring Niger, has been plagued by jihadists linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group. 

Thousands of people have died and nearly 2 million people have fled their homes in the 7-year-old insurgency. 

In April 2021, three Europeans who had been reported missing after an attack in eastern Burkina — two Spaniards and an Irishman — were “executed by terrorists,” the authorities said at the time. 


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UN Report: At least 50 Killed in April By Malian Army, ‘Foreign Troops’

At least 50 civilians were killed and more than 500 arrested during a military operation conducted by Mali’s army and “foreign troops” on April 19, the United Nations said in a report on Wednesday.

The alleged massacre took place on market day in Hombori municipality, in the central region of Douentza, after a Mali military convoy hit an improvised explosive device.

The victims included a woman and a child, the U.N.’s peacekeeping mission MINUSMA said in a quarterly report on human rights violations between April and June.

Mali’s military spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The U.N. has repeatedly accused Malian soldiers of summarily executing civilians and suspected militants over the course of their decade-long fight against groups linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State.

The military has in some cases acknowledged that its forces were implicated in executions and other abuses, but few soldiers have faced criminal charges.

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Namibia Plane Crash Kills Family of German Tourists

Authorities in Namibia have confirmed a family of four German tourists and their pilot were killed when their plane crashed Tuesday during take-off in the country’s northern Zambezi Region.

Namibia’s Ministry of Works and Transport says it is investigating what caused the six-seater Cessna 210 to crash shortly after take-off, killing all five people on board.  

The ministry says the plane crashed on Tuesday afternoon near Impalila Island, on the Zambezi river in the Kavango–Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area.

The plane was carrying four members of a German family on holiday. Namibian media report the pilot was South African.

Ministry spokesman Julius Ngweda told VOA the plane belonged to a local company, Scenic Air, but could provide no further details.

Scenic Air Managing Director Michael Bottger said in a press release the cause of the crash is not known.  

“Everyone at Scenic Air is devastated by this tragic event,” read the release, “and our deep and heartfelt condolences go out to the families and friends who lost loved ones.”

Namibia’s Police Chief Inspector Elifas Kuwinga told VOA authorities would release the names of the deceased after their next-of-kin were notified.

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Borrell Says EU Members Agree on Suspension of Visa Deal for Russians

The European Union’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, says the bloc’s 27 members have agreed to suspend an agreement with Russia, which had made it easier for Russians to obtain tourist visas, as a sanction for Moscow’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

Borrell announced the decision, which falls short of the total ban on visa issuance some countries sought, on Tuesday after the second day of a meeting of EU foreign ministers in the Czech capital.

A 2007 visa agreement to ease EU entry requirements for Russians was partially suspended in late February, targeting people close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, such as Russia’s official delegations and holders of diplomatic passports. But it left so-called “ordinary Russians” untouched, allowing them to continue to enjoy EU visa-facilitation benefits, such as reduced waiting times and costs and the need to present fewer documents when applying.

Countries that share borders with Russia — the Baltic states, Poland, and Finland — have led the drive for more restrictive bans on visas for Russian tourists. With air service barred by the EU on flights from Russia, most travelers are using their land borders to travel on to other EU countries.

Borrell said the agreement is aimed at stopping Russians from “visa shopping” by applying for their travel documents with countries in the bloc where the rules are not as strict. Once granted a visa to an EU country, the holder of the document can then travel freely within the EU’s Schengen Area.

The suspension of the pact makes the EU visa process more complicated, more expensive, and more bureaucratic, as well as increasing waiting times for approval, according to European Commission guidelines.

Germany and France have led the other side of the debate, saying the limiting of visas to Russians would be counterproductive as the EU tries to fight for the “hearts and minds” of those Russians who don’t support Moscow’s aggression against Ukraine.

Kyiv has called for the bloc to ban issuing visas to all Russians except political dissidents.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told RFE/RL in an interview on August 30 that “calling this war a ‘Putin problem’ and not the problem of the Russian society that mostly supports its president is self-deception.”

All 27 EU members had to agree to any measure adopted that would limit the issuance of visas throughout the bloc.

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Fans of Princess Diana Gather to Mark Her Death 25 Years Ago

Fans of the late Princess Diana placed tributes outside the gates of her Kensington Palace home on Wednesday, marking the 25th anniversary of her death in a Paris car accident.

An arrangement of white chrysanthemums spelling out “Princess Diana” sat among dozens of photos and messages left by admirers, some of whom said they make annual pilgrimages to the spot to remember the tragedy.

“We just come here, do the memorial and, you know, we just chat about things that she used to do, you know, to … let people know that we will never forget the princess, we will never forget what she’s done,’’ said Julie Cain, 59, who traveled 300 miles (480 kilometers) from Newcastle in northern England. “We just want her legacy kept, like, going as long as possible.”

Diana died on Aug. 31, 1997, at the age of 36, stunning people around the world who felt they knew the princess after seeing her successes and struggles play out on TV screens and newspaper front pages for 17 years. The tributes left outside Kensington Palace on Wednesday were a small reminder of the mountains of flowers piled there in the days after Diana’s death.

Diana was the focus of constant media attention from the moment she was engaged to marry Prince Charles until the night she died. Her fairytale wedding, ugly divorce and efforts to build a new life all made headlines.

The public watched as she blossomed from a shy teenager into an international style icon who befriended AIDS patients, charmed Nelson Mandela and walked through a minefield to promote the drive to eradicate landmines. Along the way, she showed the royal family, particularly her sons William and Harry, how to connect with people and be relevant in the 21st century.

On Wednesday morning, Cain and her friend Maria Scott, 51, paid their respects to Diana as dawn broke over the palace, just as they do every year.

“There was just something about that girl that really stood out. And of course, I watched the wedding, the fairy-tale princess,’’ Scott said. “And, you know, you see, she was like part of your life because you were seeing that every day on the television. She was in newspapers, magazines. She was all over. And you felt like she was part of your life.” 


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Extreme Weather Events in Kashmir Blamed on Climate Change 

Flash floods, cloudbursts and unusually high temperatures in Jammu and Kashmir are blamed for a loss of livestock, damage to infrastructure and dozens of deaths in what are seen as manifestations of global warming and human-caused climate change.

In one incident, 16 people died in a flash flood during an annual Hindu pilgrimage in Indian-administered Kashmir. Sonam Lotus, director of the meteorological department of Jammu and Kashmir, said in an interview, “even though we monitor the weather constantly, sometimes it is beyond our control.”

The region witnessed the heaviest rainfall between May and July, resulting in a dozen flash floods in the environmentally fragile valley, which damaged agricultural crops and other assets. The Kashmir highway, the entrance to the valley from central India, has frequently been closed by landslides and shooting stones brought on by heavy rains.

“We have analyzed that there has been rapid temperature increase in the valley from the past 40 years, 1980 to 2020. The max temperature is showing a higher increase as compared to minimum temperature,” explained Sumira Nazir Zaz, a faculty member at the University of Kashmir Department of Geoinformatics.

Zaz said weather stations have recorded the most significant temperature increases at higher elevations, such as Gulmarg, Pahalgam and Qazigund, while an urban island effect has driven up temperatures at Srinagar, the regional capital. She also noted increased precipitation, especially in winter, even though the valley is far from any ocean.

An 80-year-old resident of Kashmir, Abdul Salam Bhat, told VOA that he has watched temperatures rise over the decades. “Rarely did we use electric ceiling fans during the summer night. However, nowadays ceiling fans won’t cool the room. Air conditioners are becoming a new norm in the valley,” Bhat said.

Across India, floods have become more common in recent years, claiming the lives of about 6,000 people and causing damage estimated at $7.4 billion over the past three years. This amount is approximately equal to one-third of the India’s infrastructure budget for its roads and highways.

In June this year, after four days of nonstop rain, the Jhelum River in Kashmir reached the danger mark in some places, bringing back memories of a devastating 2014 flood that claimed 300 lives and destroyed billions of dollars’ worth of property.

The water level in the major rivers and tributaries surged significantly, flooding several low-lying districts in Srinagar and elsewhere in Kashmir. As a result, many Srinagar residents shifted to the upper floors until the rains ended after four days.

Official records reported by a local media site showed that Jammu and Kashmir experienced nine extreme weather events between May and July, including flash floods and cloudbursts.

The extreme weather has not spared livestock. According to the region’s sheep husbandry department, the valley’s grasslands provide summer shelter for about 2 million sheep. However, herders in the highlands of south Kashmir suffered severe losses this year as a result of the unusual occurrence of snow in June.

The shepherds in these areas confirm that heavy snowfall between June 19 and June 22 blanketed the region’s green meadows with a layer of snow 2 to 3 feet deep. The authorities in the region declared the heavy snowfall as a state-specific natural disaster.

A resident in the village of Zampathri, who takes his livestock to higher elevations for grazing in the summer, told VOA that he used to take his sheep to an area known as Gaadar but in recent years has had to venture farther because of reduced vegetation in the area.

“The pastoralist community belong to poor communities and are most vulnerable to climate-related disasters,” wrote researchers Sajad Ahmad Mir and Maliha Batool in a paper titled “Impact of Climate Change on Gujjar and Bakarwal Communities of Jammu and Kashmir.” They said the convergence of land-use change and climate insecurity “is impairing the resilience of various social and ecological systems.”

Faizan Arif Keng, an independent weather forecaster who has become popular on social media, told VOA he believes authorities need to prepare for additional climate change to come.

“Floods, droughts, lightning strikes, cloudbursts, snowstorms — everything is happening. Extreme events are going to increase furthermore,” he said. “Local and global actions are required to guard our planet and ourselves from any catastrophes. There is an immediate need to take climate change seriously.”

Zaz said that weather patterns originating in the North Atlantic Ocean have weakened since 1980, contributing to the weather anomalies. “Precipitation in the form of snow has decreased and rain has increased. Land use and cover of Kashmir valley has changed rapidly, affecting the runoff and causing rapid urban flows, and as a result we have increased floods.”

The regional government says it is currently revising its plan for climate action, which cites climate change as “a serious threat to the species diversity, habitats, forests, wildlife, fisheries and the water resources in the region.”

A veteran hiker, Shafkat Masoodi, told VOA he has noted the disappearance of glaciers over the decades in several mountain areas surrounding the valley. Just recently, he said, “We were in a place that used to be surrounded by a glacier, however, to our utter surprise we couldn’t find one and had to trek for six hours to get some water.”

Like many other trekkers, he said, he has learned to pay closer attention to the weather forecasts before setting out on a hike. “Earlier we used not to, but now we check the weather forecast before we plan for a trek as extreme weather could be life-threatening deep inside the woods.”

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Global Tributes Pour in Following Death of Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev

Condolences and tributes are pouring in from around the world following Tuesday’s death of the former president of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev. VOA’s Michael Brown reports on some of the early reactions.

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Health Official: Air Strike Hits Capital of Ethiopia’s Tigray Region

An air strike has hit near a hospital in the capital of Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region, said the head of another hospital which received casualties, less than a week after fighting shattered a four-month ceasefire.

At war since late 2020, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which controls the region, and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s central government have blamed each other for renewed conflict that is disrupting desperately-needed food aid.

Kibrom Gebreselassie, chief executive of Ayder General Hospital, tweeted that an area near Mekelle General Hospital had been hit late on Tuesday.

The extent of damage and casualties was unclear.

Ethiopian government spokesperson Legesse Tulu, military spokesperson Colonel Getnet Adane and the prime minister’s spokesperson Billene Seyoum did not respond to requests for comment.

Getachew Reda, the TPLF spokesperson, said on Twitter that at least three bombs had been dropped and that the Mekelle hospital was among the targets.

Another doctor at Ayder confirmed to Reuters he had heard three explosions late at night.

Reuters was unable to reach people in Mekelle for confirmation because the region has not had phone communication since Ethiopian troops pulled out more than a year ago.

The latest strike follows a hit on a children’s play area on Friday that killed seven people, including women and children.

Humanitarian convoys halted

Almost all of Tigray’s 5.5 million people need food aid, but humanitarian deliveries via the last remaining route — through neighboring Afar region — has been halted due to security concerns, a United Nations official said.

On Tuesday, the TPLF said an offensive had been broken and a counter-offensive launched. He underscored the devastation in the region, which has not had banking, phone or electricity services for more than a year.

Fuel restrictions have also limited aid distribution, while patients are dying for lack of medicine and equipment.

Restoring services is a key demand of the TPLF before peace talks. The government wants talks to begin without conditions.

On Saturday, the Ethiopian government communication service said it had pulled its forces out of the town of Kobo, in the Amhara region bordering Tigray, blaming the TPLF for sending “human waves” against the town and endangering civilians.

The government said Tigrayan forces were attacking in two directions — along the border with Amhara to the south and along the border with Afar to the east.

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For Pakistan Flood Victims, Waters Hit Swiftly and Brutally

Rubina Bibi was cooking food for her family in her mudbrick home in her village in northwest Pakistan when the nearby mosque blared a warning from its loudspeaker. Flood waters were coming, it announced, everyone should move to safer ground.

She and her family didn’t take it seriously. There had been flooding in their village of Majooki more than a decade ago, and they hadn’t needed to flee.

This time, however, it was on a different scale entirely. Days of torrential rains had sent a massive surge of water down the nearby Swat River — so powerful that on that day, last Friday, it broke through a reservoir that usually controls the river’s flow.

When the water hit Majooki hours after the warning, it poured into the house where the 53-year-old Bibi lived with her two sons, a daughter-in-law and her grandchildren.

One of her grandchildren, 5-month-old Dua Humayun, was sleeping on a cot in the house’s courtyard. In an instant, the baby was swept away by the rushing waters. It was too fast for anyone to even think of saving her. She was gone.

Pakistani officials say the flooding that has hit across the country over the past weeks is like nothing they have seen before. It has been caused by unprecedented heavy and unrelenting monsoon rains, fueled they say by the world’s changing climate.

Millions in villages, towns and cities around Pakistan were caught off guard by the swiftness and power of the waters.

Bibi spoke to The Associated Press at a tent camp set up in a sports complex in the city of Charsadda for hundreds of people left homeless by the deluge. She spoke of her granddaughter’s death with composure, but inside the tent, her daughter-in-law could be heard sobbing.

“The floodwaters entered our house suddenly. We didn’t have time to take anything as we were leaving,” Bibi said. She, her sons and daughter-in-law carried her surviving grandchildren tightly as they waded through waist-deep water out of their home. They then walked in the stifling summer heat for four kilometers (2.5 miles) to Charsadda.

More than 1,160 people have been killed in flooding across Pakistan since mid-June, hundreds of them in the major surge that began last week. More than 33 million people in the country of 220 million have been affected, including those left homeless by the destruction of more than 1 million homes. Pakistani officials have put the economic damage at some $10 billion, including everything from collapsed bridges and roads to destroyed crops.

The district around Charsadda has been one of the hardest hit areas. The Swat River meets the Kabul River nearby, and the nearby farmlands are laced with tributaries — all of them still surging with swollen waters despite a pause in rain in recent days.

Authorities have warned that more rains are expected in coming weeks.

The city of Charsadda, home to more than 120,000, has been trashed. On Tuesday, some neighborhoods remained flooded with water shin-deep or higher.

Residents whose homes still stood took out their soggy blankets and furniture and other possessions to dry. Others surveyed wrecked mud-brick or shoddy cinder-block homes with collapsed walls and roofs. Deep, thick mud coated everything.

Bibi’s home village of Majooki, once home to 2,500 people, remains under waist-deep water. The rice and wheat that residents stored in their homes to meet the year’s need have been ruined. Hundreds of thousands of villages across Pakistan lost crops.

Many of Majooki’s residents are now at the tent camp in Charsadda’s Abdul Wali Khan Sports Complex. Hundreds of tents stood in rows, and children lay inside on plastic mats with what few belongings they took with them piled nearby. Some eat rice or other staples being distributed by the government.

“It is very hot here. We have a tent and a plastic mattress, but there is no fan. We are not getting enough food,” Bibi said.

A widow, Bibi had worked washing clothes and cleaning in homes, and one of her sons was a construction worker. Now they are without work for the foreseeable future. She and others from the village have not been able to return and have no idea what remains of their homes.

“We are facing a lot of difficulties. We want more help so that we can start our life again,” Bibi said.

The floods’ devastation has hit Pakistan as it is already struggling to keep its crisis-stricken economy from collapse. The government is severely strapped for cash, and inflation has been spiraling. The International Monetary Fund gave a boost this week by releasing a long-awaited, $1.17 billion tranche of a bailout negotiated in 2019, but only after the government promised painful austerity measures.

The United Nations on Tuesday launched an emergency appeal for $160 million in aid to help flood victims. Planeloads of food, medical supplies and other aid have arrived in recent days. But Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif warned on Tuesday that any delay in the provision of help would be disastrous.

At the sport complex tent camp, another Majooki resident, Saifoor Khan, recalled how he too ignored the call to flee that came from the mosque loudspeaker that day.

Majooki was hit by the last major floods in 2010, but in that case no houses were destroyed and no one fled, he said. When the waters hit on Friday, the 50-year-old taxi driver, his wife and his seven children also had to wade their way to safety.

“I have no idea for how many days and weeks we will have to live in these tents,” he said.

“I pray that no one faces such an ordeal.”

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India and China to Take Part in Joint Military Drills with Russia

India and China are among several countries taking part in Russia’s weeklong joint military drills scheduled to get underway on Thursday in the east of the country, according to Russia’s state-owned news agency Tass. 

While India has previously taken part in multinational military drills in Russia — an Indian contingent was part of Zapad military exercises held in September 2021 — analysts say its participation in the “Vostok-2022” military exercises in the midst of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine reaffirms New Delhi’s friendly ties with Moscow despite a tightening strategic partnership with the United States. 

“India’s participation in exercises in Russia is not unusual, but this time, they are also making a political point,” said Manoj Joshi, distinguished fellow at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi. “New Delhi is emphasizing that it will adhere to the independent position that it has taken in the wake of the Ukraine crisis and continue to remain neutral between the U.S. and Russia.”   

India has refrained from condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and has not joined Western sanctions against Moscow. Its oil imports from Moscow have risen sharply this year as it takes advantage of deep discounts. 

India has defended its oil purchases as necessary for what it says is an energy deficient, developing country like India. “We have been very honest about our interests,” India’s Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said earlier this month in Bangkok. “I have a country with a per capita income of $2,000. These aren’t people who can afford higher energy prices.”

Although India is currently purchasing weapons from other countries, including Israel and the United States, much of its existing weaponry is of Russian origin.

Analysts point out that India is unlikely to turn away from Russia anytime soon.

“India has an important relationship with Moscow with regard to defense and it has really no direct stake in the Ukraine crisis,” said Joshi. “If our national interest is served by maintaining ties with Russia, we will do so — that is India’s position.”  

For the time being, Washington appears to have accepted India’s position. Questioned about India’s participation in the Vostok military exercises earlier this month, State Department spokesman, Ned Price, said that the U.S. recognizes that reorienting a country’s foreign policy is a long-term challenge. 

“At the same time, we also recognize that there are countries around the world that have longstanding relationships, including security relationships, with countries like Russia, for example,” he told reporters at a press briefing. “Reorienting a country’s foreign policy or a country’s security establishment or defense procurement practices away from a country like Russia is not something that we can do overnight.” 

However, there are questions about how long India can continue to walk the middle ground between the United States and Russia amid the deepening tensions between the two countries. 

Analysts in Washington say that the U.S. appears to be taking a long view, with an eye toward trying to convince New Delhi that a long-term security partnership with Moscow is untenable. 

“Washington certainly worries about New Delhi’s enduring security partnership with Moscow,” said Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia program at the Wilson Center. “In the coming months, we can expect Washington to make the case to New Delhi that eventually Russia, sanctioned and cash-strapped, will no longer have the capacity to keep manufacturing and exporting weaponry to India.”

India for its part has maintained a low profile about the Russian drills — there has been no official word on its participation but sources in the Defense Ministry have confirmed that a contingent from India will take part. 

India’s military partnership with the United States is growing rapidly amid mutual worries over China. In mid-October, India and the U.S. will hold a joint military exercise as part of an annual military exercise known as “Yudh Abhyas” or “War Practice.” The location of the exercises — which according to reports will be 100 kilometers from the disputed India China border — is significant. 

For New Delhi, striking a balance between Russia and its partners in the Quad grouping that consists of India, U.S., Japan and Australia is also challenging. According to a report in the Deccan Herald newspaper, India will not take part in naval drills in the Sea of Japan that are part of the military exercises. New Delhi has close ties with Tokyo, which along with the U.S. and Australia is an important partner in efforts to counter China’s expansionism in the Indo-Pacific.

The strengthening Russia-China relationship could also emerge as a concern for New Delhi as tensions between India and Beijing over their border disputes show no signs of abating. While Beijing has joined drills with Moscow earlier, its participation in the Vostok military exercises reflects growing defense ties between the two countries amid tensions with the West, analysts say. 

“It is the first time the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) has sent its Army, Navy and Air Force at the same time to a joint drill with Russia,” points out Bonnie S. Glaser, director with the Asia Program at the German Marshall Fund of the United States. “With the alignment between Moscow and Beijing growing closer, it can be expected that bilateral military ties will also likely increase.”

From Russia’s point of view, the participation of both India and China, who have tense bilateral ties with each other, underscores the country’s efforts to strengthen ties with both the large Asian economies.

Jagannath Panda, head of the Stockholm Center for South Asian and Indo-Pacific Affairs said Moscow is hoping to ensure “Eurasian unity” against the West, “owing to its traditional partnership with India and the ideological friendship with China.

“Such a role has served Moscow well amidst Ukraine, as both countries have refrained from condemning Russian actions,” Panda said. 

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Nigerian Authorities Pledge Support to Find Missing People

The International Committee of the Red Cross, or ICRC, says there were 64,000 cases of persons reported as having disappeared across Africa in the past year — nearly one-third more than the previous year. The ICRC says armed conflict is to blame for most of the disappearances, and Nigeria alone accounts for more than 25,000 missing people, including nearly 14,000 children, the highest in Africa.

A joint team of officials from the ICRC, National Human Rights Commission, the Humanitarian Affairs ministry and the army addressed journalists in Abuja Tuesday to commemorate the International Day of the Displaced.

Officials say the latest figures include more than 2,000 cases registered since January of last year, and do not represent the true state of things.

Officials said more than half of the missing persons were minors when they vanished, and that disappearances were mainly from armed conflicts, disasters, and risky migration via the desert and Mediterranean Sea.

Arrests, detentions and abductions were also cited as reasons for disappearances.

Yann Bonzon is the head of delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

“The number of missing persons continues to rise every year, yet the ICRC knows that this figure represents a fraction of a wider undocumented humanitarian tragedy. These figures reveal [an] alarming fact that children are particularly more vulnerable than adults to disappearance in Nigeria as the conflict continues raging in the country,” he said.

Thirty-five active armed conflicts are raging in Africa, including the insurgency in northeast Nigeria that began more than 12 years ago. The war has spilled into neighboring Cameroon, Chad and Niger.

Officials of the Nigeria humanitarian affairs and disaster management ministry have pledged to collaborate with other relevant authorities to help families of missing people reunite with their loved ones.

Nasir Sani-Gwarzo is the permanent secretary of the Humanitarian Affairs Ministry.

“I want to assure you that the ministry is working earnestly to develop humanitarian policies and provide effective coordination of national and international intervention to ensure strategic disaster mitigation, preparedness and response, managing the implementation of fair social inclusion and protection programs in Nigeria. We will work with the National Human Rights Commission, the ICRC to continue to pursue important initiatives to tackle the issue of missing persons in Nigeria,” he said.

Nigerian authorities last year launched a register for missing people and said they have had some success finding and reuniting them with their families.

They also say the ongoing conflict poses huge risks to progress.

Anthony Ojukwu is the executive secretary of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).

“The issue of missing persons [has] become increasingly prominent in Nigeria, not only because of the consequence of the conflicts in the various parts of the country, but as a result of acts of criminality nationwide, senseless and ruthless killings, and armed hostilities. We have established the database of missing persons in Nigeria, which would address the gap which exists in documentation of cases, and also gives families the platform to engage with in addressing the cases of their missing loved ones,” he said.

Nigeria has been waging a war against armed conflicts ravaging its northeastern Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states.

The U.N. estimates that more than 37,000 people have been killed and more than 2 million displaced.

As the world remembers the missing people, authorities are renewing efforts not only to find them but to help families get closure.

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Global Reaction to Death of Mikhail Gorbachev

Mikhail Gorbachev, who ended the Cold War without bloodshed but failed to prevent the collapse of the Soviet Union, died on Tuesday at the age of 91, hospital officials in Moscow said.

Below are some reactions from around the world:

Russian President Vladimir Putin: He expressed “his deepest condolences,” his spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Interfax news agency. “Tomorrow he will send a telegram of condolences to his family and friends.”

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres: “I was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Mikhail Gorbachev, a one-of-a kind statesman who changed the course of history. He did more than any other individual to bring about the peaceful end of the Cold War.

“On behalf of the United Nations, I extend my heartfelt condolences to Mikhail Gorbachev’s family and to the people and government of the Russian Federation.

“The world has lost a towering global leader, committed multilateralist, and tireless advocate for peace.”

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen: “Mikhail Gorbachev was a trusted and respected leader. He played a crucial role to end the Cold War and bring down the Iron Curtain. It opened the way for a free Europe. … This legacy is one we will not forget.”

Former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker III: “History will remember Mikhail Gorbachev as a giant who steered his great nation towards democracy. He played the critical role in a peaceful conclusion of the Cold War by his decision against using force to hold the empire together. … The free world misses him greatly.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson: “I always admired the courage & integrity he showed in bringing the Cold War to a peaceful conclusion. … In a time of Putin’s aggression in Ukraine, his tireless commitment to opening up Soviet society remains an example to us all.”

The Reagan Foundation and Institute: “The Reagan Foundation and Institute mourns the loss of former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, a man who once was a political adversary of Ronald Reagan’s who ended up becoming a friend. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Gorbachev family and the people of Russia.”

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Mikhail Gorbachev, Last Soviet Leader, Dies at 91

Mikhail Gorbachev, who presided over the demise of the Soviet Union and helped end decades of Cold War fear, earning a Nobel Peace Prize and the lasting enmity of millions of Russians bitter about the chaos unleashed by the collapse of the world’s largest country, has died at age 91.

The Central Clinical Hospital on the outskirts of Moscow told the state news agency Tass that Gorbachev died Tuesday night “after a serious and prolonged illness.”

Born in a rural corner of Russia less than 15 years after the Bolshevik Revolution to parents whose families had been peasants, Gorbachev became one of the most influential figures of the 20th century, gathering global accolades for his role in reducing the threat of a nuclear apocalypse and in freeing millions of people from Soviet oppression in his country and beyond.

Just as notably, he was a target of the scorn of millions of Soviets who blamed him for the life-changing economic and social upheaval that accompanied the country’s collapse and for the loss of a mighty empire that spanned 11 time zones.

This was Gorbachev’s paradox: loved and loathed for a process that he set in motion and whose ultimate result was foreseen by few. It was a result that Russian President Vladimir Putin, who rose to power less than a decade after Gorbachev resigned and remains in the Kremlin today, once called the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century.

Gorbachev made clear he never meant to bring down the country, repeating almost as a mantra that “the union could have been preserved.”

But despite occasional reversals, he ultimately sided with the forces of change that he helped unleash. And in retrospect, a dozen years after the Soviet Union was done, Gorbachev insisted that those momentous changes were the result of a conscious and very personal decision.

“Other people could have [come into office] and they might have done nothing to put the country on the road to humane, free and democratic development,” he said in an interview with RFE/RL in 2003.

Humble beginnings

In any case, Gorbachev will rank alongside such towering 20th-century figures as Winston Churchill, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Josef Stalin and Mao Zedong — leaders who changed the fate of nations and had a profound impact on the lives of millions of people.

Born on March 2, 1931, into a poor family in Privolnoye, a village in southern Russia’s Stavropol region, Gorbachev grew up amid the immense upheavals that roiled the Soviet Union in the first two decades of his life: collectivization, Stalin’s “Great Terror,” and the Great Patriotic War, as World War II is best known within Russia.

At about age 21, he joined the Communist Party while studying law at Moscow State University in 1952.

After marrying classmate Raisa Titorenko, Gorbachev returned to southern Russia, where he began to climb the ladder of the regional Communist bureaucracy, specializing in agriculture.

By 1970, he had risen to the top of the party hierarchy in Stavropol.

‘The state is there to serve the people’

In 1980, Gorbachev was appointed a full member of the Communist Party’s Politburo in Moscow.

To the surprise of many Kremlin watchers and Soviet citizens, he almost immediately began calling for reform, espousing twin doctrines that would become bywords for his time: “glasnost” (openness) and “perestroika” (restructuring).

“The state is there to serve the people,” he said. “The people are not there to serve the state.”

That, according to Gorbachev, would be the new guiding principle.

Gorbachev and Raisa brought new style to the Kremlin, traveling around the USSR and abroad, plunging into crowds and leading impromptu discussions on the street.

A relaxation of economic regulations brought the rebirth of small businesses, cafes and restaurants for the first time since Lenin’s New Economic Policy in the 1920s. A partial lifting of censorship led to a renaissance in cultural life. Literary journals published previously banned authors, and theaters staged ever-more daring productions.

The disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine in 1986 forced a reluctant leadership to allow even greater freedom of expression and information. The government began to release political prisoners, most famously Andrei Sakharov, the physicist who designed nuclear weapons and later campaigned against them, resulting in his internal exile from 1980 to 1986.

Gorbachev called for an end to the arms race, and he improved relations with Washington, helping remove thousands of warheads that threatened Europe with destruction by signing the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty with U.S. President Ronald Reagan in 1987. In 1989, he ended the Soviet war in Afghanistan, begun 10 years earlier under Leonid Brezhnev.

End of an empire

But all was not well in the empire. By 1989, what had begun as an effort to reform the Soviet Union’s economy and foreign policy had precipitated a crisis in industry and encouraged cries for self-determination that would soon engulf the entire region.

Gorbachev vastly underestimated the degree of economic decay. Shortages of basic household goods and foodstuffs were growing, and conservatives within the Communist Party grew ever-more strident in their criticism of his leadership.

He had also not counted on the fact that greater freedom would fan the forces of nationalism.

In October 1989, during a visit to East Berlin to mark the 40th anniversary of the establishment of the German Democratic Republic, Gorbachev signaled that Moscow would not try to turn back the clock.

A month later, the Berlin Wall fell.

“We have given up pretending to have a monopoly on truth,” Gorbachev said a few weeks after that, in a speech in Rome a day before a historic meeting with Pope John Paul II. “We no longer think that those who don’t agree with us are enemies.”

‘Freedom of choice’

In 1990, Gorbachev was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his contribution to reducing East-West tensions, but he had precious little time to reflect on his achievement. While feted across Europe and the rest of the world, he continued to confront growing unrest at home.

On August 4, 1991, Gorbachev left with his family for his annual vacation in Crimea on the Black Sea, intending to complete a new version of a union treaty aimed to keep the USSR together as centrifugal force was pulling it apart.

On August 18, his chief of staff, accompanied by a group of senior government officials, arrived at the presidential dacha at Foros. They demanded that Gorbachev sign a decree declaring a state of emergency or resign. Gorbachev refused to do either. The officials confiscated the codes needed to launch the Soviet Union’s nuclear weapons. Gorbachev and his family were, in effect, under house arrest.

State television announced the imposition of a state of emergency “starting at 1600 Moscow time, on August 19, 1991,” claiming it was in response “to demands by broad sections of the population for the most decisive measures to prevent society from sliding toward a national catastrophe.”

Three days later, the coup collapsed, thanks to the incompetence of the plotters and the resistance demonstrated by Russia’s nascent political leader, Boris Yeltsin, and crowds of citizens who came out into the streets to oppose the attempted takeover.

‘A different direction’

In the months that followed, more republics declared independence from Moscow. On December 8, Yeltsin, along with the leaders of Belarus and Ukraine, signed accords proclaiming the Soviet Union’s end and announcing the creation of a new entity called the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

Gorbachev stayed on in the Kremlin for a few more weeks, but power had slipped from his hands. On December 25, he resigned — stepping down as the leader of a country that had effectively ceased to exist.

In 1991, he founded The Gorbachev Foundation in an effort to maintain a voice in Russian affairs. In 1996, he ran for president but came in a distant seventh in a field of 10, with 0.5% of the vote. Later, he became a sometime critic of Putin, to whom Yeltsin handed the presidency on the last day of 1999.

Gorbachev was an approving voice for some of Putin’s most controversial actions on the international stage, including Moscow’s 2014 seizure of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. Suggesting he viewed the annexation in terms of Russia’s national interests, he told the media he would have acted “the same way” had he had the choice.

However, he continued to criticize many of Putin’s repressive domestic policies and opposed Putin’s decision to return to the presidency in 2012, when Dmitry Medvedev turned out to have been a placeholder after four years of hinting at reform. In 2013, Gorbachev commented that “politics is increasingly turning into imitation democracy.”

Gorbachev was also harshly critical of the United States, largely blaming Washington for poor ties by charging that it failed to develop good relations with Russia after the Soviet collapse.

In positions echoed by or echoing Putin’s, he accused the United States of relishing its status as the world’s sole superpower and lambasted the eastward expansion of NATO. He opposed NATO’s bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999 and the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. He criticized U.S. President Donald Trump’s 2018 decision to withdraw from the INF Treaty, which he had negotiated and signed with Reagan in 1987, as “not the work of a great mind.”

The ailing Gorbachev, who turned 91 a week after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, had made few public comments, about the war in Ukraine or anything else.

RFE/RL’s Jeremy Bransten contributed to this report.

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Russian Media: Ex-Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev Is Dead at 91

Russian news agencies are reporting that former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev has died at 91.

The Tass, RIA Novosti and Interfax agencies cited the Central Clinical Hospital.

Gorbachev’s office said earlier that he was undergoing treatment at the hospital.

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Ukraine Lawmaker Questions Kyiv’s Strategic Partnership With Beijing

While China’s strategic partnership with Russia “without limits” has been widely reported since the start of the war in Ukraine, much less known is the strategic partnership Ukraine and China forged in 2011. Now, that partnership is being questioned by a key lawmaker in Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy earlier this month sounded a soft tone on China, casting Beijing’s role in the conflict as “neutral” and inviting Chinese government and business to play an active role in his country’s rebuilding.

Back in June 2011, then-Chinese President Hu Jintao visited Ukraine after stopping in Moscow. China and Ukraine agreed to boost cooperation in energy, technology, agriculture and trade. The two sides also upgraded their ties to a “strategic partnership.”

China is now Ukraine’s number one trading partner. While Ukraine figures less prominently in China’s overall trading, Beijing has been acquiring items of importance from Ukraine, including military equipment and critical minerals, such as those produced only in Mariupol and Odesa.

But a key lawmaker in Kyiv says the bilateral relationship should not be based only on those factors, given China’s officially declared “strategic partnership with Russia with no limit,” while Moscow has engaged in an all-out war on Ukraine.

Beijing “has failed this partnership,” Oleksandr Merezhko told VOA in a written interview from Kyiv. 

“In my personal view, Ukraine should seriously reconsider [its] strategic partnership with [the People’s Republic of China],” he said. “In fact, it’s totally absurd to have a strategic partnership with a country which: 1) has strategic partnership without limits with Russia (aggressor state committing genocide against Ukrainian nation); 2) amplifies Russian propaganda; 3) helps Russia to circumvent Western sanctions; 4) holds joint military drills with Russia,” Merezhko wrote.

“I don’t think that strategic partner of the aggressor state can be simultaneously our strategic partner. It makes no sense,” he added. 

Zelenskyy sounded a more conciliatory note toward Beijing during a recent online town hall with college students from Australia and during an on-camera interview with the South China Morning Post, published in Hong Kong but owned since 2016 by the mainland-based Alibaba Group.

China, Zelenskyy said, on both occasions, has shown “neutrality” in his country’s conflict with Russia. Zelenskyy underscored that “I really wanted the relationship with China be reinforced and developed every year” in a video clip put out by the South China Morning Post on August 3. He also highlighted China’s role in Ukraine’s reconstruction. 

“I would like China to participate in the rebuilding of all Ukraine,” he said, noting Ukraine’s rebuilding is going to be a huge undertaking. “I would like China and the Chinese business to join in the rebuilding process, and the [Chinese] state to join this,” Zelenskyy said in the video clip.

The largest international conference on Ukraine’s rebuilding to date has been the Lugano Conference held in July in Switzerland. China was not seen in the official “family photo” taken at the conference, which featured top officials from more than 20 democratic nations that have provided large amounts of aid to Ukraine.

Asked to comment on Zelenskyy’s recently published remarks, Merezhko said: “In democratic society, members of parliament might have a different point of view on some issues of parliamentary diplomacy than executive power.”

“I also believe that in economic matters, Ukraine should more rely upon Western business rather than Chinese business,” he added. 

According to recent reports, China’s purchases of Russian oil and gas products have almost doubled from a year ago; Chinese spending on Russian energy in July alone reached $7.2 billion, while China’s economy is showing significant signs of slowing.

Commenting on social media, Merezhko wrote that “Russia’s allies bear moral and political responsibility for its crimes against peace and global security” and “the West should introduce secondary sanctions against those Russia’s allies.”

Trade and economics weren’t the only factors Merezhko had in mind when he called into question his country’s decade-old “strategic partnership” with Beijing. Following recently published investigative reports that Chinese authorities have been putting dissidents in psychiatric hospitals and subjecting them to torture, Merezhko said such practices bring to mind “the same cruel totalitarian practices which were used by the Soviet repressive regime.”

“I don’t think such a country can be a strategic partner of any democratic country, including Ukraine,” he concluded.

Recently, Merezhko and more than a dozen fellow parliamentarians from three Ukrainian political parties formed a Taiwan friendship group. “Democracies should support each other to survive and win,” he wrote on Twitter.

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Angolan Opposition UNITA Rejects Ruling Party’s Election Win

Angola’s opposition party has filed a complaint against the election victory of the ruling MPLA party in which President Joao Lourenco won a second term and the party got a reduced majority in the legislature.

The main opposition party, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, known as UNITA, said Tuesday that it has submitted an objection to the results.

“UNITA reiterates that it will not recognize the results announced by the National Electoral Commission until the complaints already in its possession are resolved,” the party said in a statement.

If UNITA’s written complaint is rejected, the party can take the objection to the Constitutional Court, which must rule on the complaint within 72 hours, according to Angola’s electoral regulations.

The Peoples Movement for the Liberation of Angola, known by its Portuguese acronym MPLA, won with 51% of the votes cast, extending its 47-year rule of the country, according to the electoral commission’s results.

As the party’s leader, Lourenco, 68, welcomed the official results which have given him a second five-year presidential term.

UNITA got its best-ever result, coming in second with about 44% of the votes, according to the electoral commission.

However, UNITA on Tuesday claimed that according to its calculations it should have won the election with 64% of the vote.

Although UNITA’s leader, Adalberto Costa Junior has rejected the official results, he has urged calm. There have been no reports of major demonstrations in the capital, Luanda, or other cities.

Voter turnout was low on voting day last week with just 45.7% of registered voters casting their ballots.

In the national legislature, the MPLA lost the two-thirds majority that it needs to pass major bills, although it won a majority with 124 of the National Assembly’s 220 seats. UNITA has nearly doubled its presence in the legislature to 90 seats. The remaining seats were won by smaller parties.

UNITA had campaigned for the support of Angola’s young, urban population and it won in Luanda, Angola’s most populous province, and in Cabinda and Zaire, the country’s main oil-producing provinces.

Angola is Africa’s second-largest producer of oil and has rich diamond deposits, but the majority of the southern African country’s 34 million people remain in poverty, according to the U.N, and unemployment is currently above 30%.

Both the MPLA and UNITA are former rebel movements that fought Portuguese colonial rule. The MPLA won power with backing from the Soviet Union and established Marxist rule when Angola became independent in 1975.

UNITA fought a bitter civil war against the MPLA, with support from the U.S. and apartheid-ruled South Africa.

In a negotiated truce, the MPLA agreed to multiparty elections held in 1992. UNITA furiously rejected the MPLA’s win and the country was plunged back into civil war that only ended in 2002.

Since then, UNITA has transformed itself from a rebel group into a political party, particularly under the new leadership of Costa Junior, who didn’t fight in the civil war. Costa Junior has succeeded in gaining support from other opposition politicians and intellectuals.

UNITA legally challenged its loss in the 2017 election but the courts ruled in favor of the MPLA.

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First Ship Carrying Ukrainian Grain to Africa Since Beginning of Conflict Arrives in Djibouti

The first shipment of Ukrainian grain to Africa since Russia’s invasion arrived in Djibouti on Tuesday. The grain will be distributed in Ethiopia to help the drought-stricken nation cope with worsening hunger that threatens to become a famine. 

Mike Dunford, East Africa regional director for the U.N.’s World Food Program (WFP), spoke to reporters at the port.  

“The food on the [U.N.-chartered ship] Brave Commander will feed 1.5 million people, for one month in Ethiopia,” he said. “So, this makes a very big impact, for those people who currently have nothing and now WFP will be able to provide them with their basic needs.” 

A Russian blockade of Ukraine’s seaports forced Ukraine to halt nearly all deliveries of grain, which sparked worries of a worldwide food crisis. Russia invaded the country in February. 

A settlement between Kyiv and Moscow that was mediated by the U.N. and Turkey in July, known as The Black Sea Initiative, saw a resumption in exports of wheat, other foodstuffs, and fertilizers from three Black Sea ports at the beginning of August. 

The WFP said 150,000 tons of additional wheat grain from Ukraine will be sent in the coming weeks thanks to funding provided by the United States. 

In landlocked Ethiopia, where the grain is now headed, more than 5 million people have been displaced because of conflict. A total of 17 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance as the Horn of Africa endures another year of drought.  

Dunford said the Black Sea Initiative is a step toward easing the situation.  

“We’ve already seen a reduction of 15% in wheat prices globally, since the Black Sea Initiative commenced,” he said. “What we want to see is more food flowing. We need, from WFP’s perspective, millions of tons in this region. In Ethiopia alone, three quarters of everything that we used to distribute originated from Ukraine and Russia.” 

There are concerns the resumption of exports from Ukraine may not be enough to make a dent in the crisis. 

Adullahi Halakhe, with the Washington-based advocacy group Refugees International, said the amount of grain arriving to Ethiopia is not enough. 

“When you consider over 20 million people are in need of humanitarian aid, food inflation stands at 40%, I think this is very important,” he said. 

Humanitarian organizations say parts of Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region may be in a state of famine, because of the conflict there and a de facto humanitarian blockade imposed by Ethiopia’s federal government. 

Although limited aid was entering the region, renewed fighting between the government and Tigrayan forces that began last week led to the U.N. announcing Monday that it has suspended aid convoys into the region.  


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UN Gearing Up for Massive Flood Relief Operation in Pakistan

U.N. agencies are urging a robust response to the $160 million appeal launched Tuesday by the government of Pakistan and the United Nations for emergency aid for millions of people hit by devastating monsoon floods in the south Asian country.

Torrential rains have been pounding Pakistan since June. The government estimates some 33 million people have been affected and that more than 1,000 have died, among them hundreds of children.

Jens Laerke, spokesman for the U.N. office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs, said nearly one million homes have been damaged, and more than 700,000 livestock lost in what is seen as the worst flooding in decades.

“Some 500,000 people displaced by the floods are sheltering in relief camps, with many more living with host families,” he said. “Access to assistance is difficult due to the flooding and landslides, with around 150 bridges washed away and nearly 3,500 kilometers of roads damaged.”

In the meantime, the World Meteorological Organization forecasts the heavy rains are set to continue. WMO spokeswoman Clare Nullis said the worst rainfall in decades follows the worst drought in decades, and the worst heatwave in decades.

“Even before the latest flooding incident, Pakistan and northwest India had been witnessing above average monsoon rainfall.…This is the footprint of climate change,” she said. “The weather is becoming more extreme.”

The World Health Organization warns of disease outbreaks, such as cholera and diarrhea because of the flooding and lack of safe drinking water. WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier said at least 888 health facilities have been damaged, including 180 that have been destroyed. He said this will make it difficult for anyone affected to receive treatment.

“All the noncommunicable diseases will severely lack support,” he said. “People cannot reach health facilities for simple things like diabetes. Women in pregnancy or giving birth have immense problems having safe access to health facilities or even having safe hygiene situations.”

The joint Pakistan-U.N. $160 million response plan aims to reach 5.2 million of the worst affected and most vulnerable people over the next six months. It will provide food, water, shelter, and other essential relief. U.N. agencies will work to prevent large outbreaks of disease and provide protection and care for people with disabilities and other special needs. 

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Vatican Seeks to Clarify Pope’s Stance on Ukraine

The Vatican sought on Tuesday to clarify the pope’s position on Ukraine, after the pontiff’s comment on the death of a Russian ultranationalist’s daughter ruffled feathers in Kyiv.

“The Holy Father’s words on this dramatic issue are to be read as a voice raised in defense of human life and the values associated with it, and not as political positions,” the Vatican said in a statement.

It stressed that the war in Ukraine had been “initiated by the Russian Federation” and that Pope Francis had been “clear and unequivocal in condemning it as morally unjust, unacceptable, barbaric, senseless, repugnant and sacrilegious.”

Speaking on Ukraine’s Independence Day on August 24, the pope had said of the conflict: “So many innocents… are paying for madness.”

He cited as one example Daria Dugina — the daughter of a Russian ultranationalist ally of President Vladimir Putin’s — who was killed when a bomb exploded under her car.

Ukraine’s ambassador to the Holy See, Andriy Yurash, responded that the pope should not have put “aggressor and victim” in the same category and the Vatican’s envoy to Kyiv was summoned to the foreign ministry to explain.

Pope Francis, who has repeatedly condemned the conflict, has, on several occasions, been criticized in some quarters for not painting the war in black and white terms, and for leaving the door open to discussions with Moscow.

“Someone may say to me at this point: but you are pro Putin! No, I am not,” the pope stressed in an interview published in June by Jesuit journal Civilta Cattolica.

“I am simply against reducing complexity to… good guys and bad guys, without reasoning about roots and interests, which are very complex.”

In July, the head of the Roman Catholic Church repeated his wish to visit Ukraine.

The 85-year-old pontiff is due to attend a congress of religious leaders in Kazakhstan in mid-September.

Patriarch Kirill, the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church and a fervent supporter of both Putin and his war in Ukraine, had been due to attend the congress but has now said he will not be going.

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Russian Prosecutors Ask for 24-Year Sentence for Ex-Reporter

Russian prosecutors at the trial of a former journalist asked the court Tuesday to hand him a 24-year prison sentence on treason charges.

Ivan Safronov who worked as a journalist for a decade before becoming an adviser to the head of the Russian space corporation Roscosmos, has been in custody since his July 2020 arrest in Moscow. He has rejected the charges of passing military secrets to Czech intelligence and insisted on his innocence. 

Safronov’s case reflects the challenges faced by Russian journalists, which have grown even tougher amid Moscow’s military action in Ukraine.

Safronov, who covered military and security issues for the leading Russian business daily Kommersant before joining Roscosmos, stated that he had collected all the information from open sources in the course of his work and did nothing illegal. He has argued that the investigators have failed to spell out the treason charges and explain what secrets he had allegedly revealed.

Many Russian journalists and human rights activists have pushed for Safronov’s release, and some have alleged that the authorities may have wanted to take revenge for his reporting that exposed Russian military incidents and shady arms deals.

Roscosmos has said that Safronov didn’t have access to state secrets, and claimed that the charges didn’t relate to Safronov’s work for the corporation, which he joined in May 2020.

Rights activists, journalists, scientists and corporate officials who have faced treason accusations in Russia in recent years have found it difficult to defend themselves because of secrecy surrounding their cases and a lack of public access to information.

Safronov’s father also worked for Kommersant covering military issues after retiring from the armed forces. In 2007, he died after falling from a window of his apartment building in Moscow.

Investigators concluded that he killed himself, but some Russian media outlets questioned the official version, pointing to his intent to publish a sensitive report about secret arms deliveries to Iran and Syria. 

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UN Chief Says Flood-Hit Pakistan Facing ‘Monsoon on Steroids,’ Seeks $160 Million in Aid  

The United Nations appealed Tuesday for $160 million to support Pakistan’s response to more than two months of destructive nationwide flash flooding triggered by climate-driven erratic monsoon rains.

Pakistani officials say the calamity has “badly” impacted more than 33 million people and killed more than 1,100 people since the seasonal rainfall began in June.

The U.N., together with the Pakistani government, launched the flash funding appeal simultaneously in Islamabad and Geneva.

“Pakistan is awash in suffering,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the event in his pre-recorded video message.

“The Pakistani people are facing a monsoon on steroids — the relentless impact of epochal levels of rain and flooding,” he warned. “Millions are homeless, schools and health facilities have been destroyed, livelihoods are shattered, critical infrastructure wiped out, and people’s hopes and dreams have been washed away.”

Guterres said the U.N.’s flash appeal will help provide 5.2 million people with food, water sanitation, emergency education, protection and health support in the South Asian nation.

He noted that Pakistani authorities were responding to “the climate catastrophe” by releasing funds, including immediate cash relief, to flood victims. But the scale of needs was rising like the flood waters, requiring collective and prioritized attention, the U.N. chief said.

“Let us work together to respond quickly and collaboratively to this colossal crisis.”

Climate Change

Guterres said that South Asia is one of the world’s global “climate crisis hotspots” and people living in these hotspots are 15 times likely to die from climate impacts.

“Let’s stop sleepwalking towards the destruction of our planet by climate change. Today, it’s Pakistan. Tomorrow, it could be your country,” he warned.

The U.N. chief criticized the lack of action in tackling the climate emergency even as the world continues to experience more and more extreme weather events.

Guterres said “it is outrageous that climate action is being put on the back burner as global emissions of greenhouse gases are still rising, putting all of us – everywhere – in growing danger.”

Pakistani Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari told Tuesday’s televised launching ceremony Pakistan has been battling one of the most severe, totally anomalous cycles of torrential monsoon weather since June, noting rainfall during this period has been equivalent to 3 times the 30-year national average.

“In some cases, the water is just everywhere, in an unbroken horizon of inundation,” Zardari said.

The National Disaster Management Authority, or NDMA, leading the country’s response in coordinating assessments and directing humanitarian relief to affected people, has listed 72 out of the country’s 160 districts as calamity-hit. More than 33 million residents there have been affected, tens of thousands of others displaced, with massive losses inflicted on key cash crops.

The death toll from the floods is likely to increase as some flood-hit towns and villages in the hardest-hit Baluchistan, Sindh provinces as well as in the mountainous north remain cut off due to landslides and flooding, hampering rescue and relief efforts.

The rest of the two provinces, northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and central Punjab had also suffered significant losses.

The NDMA noted that more than a million homes, 162 bridges, and nearly 3,500 kilometers of roads across the South Asian nation have been damaged or destroyed. The flooding has also killed more than 800,000 farm animals and damaged vital farmlands and crops, it added.

The flash floods in Pakistan are comparable to those of 2010 when more than 2,000 people were killed.

Pakistani officials informed Tuesday’s event that the economic impact of the flooding could reach at least $10 billion, and it may take the country years to rehabilitate the victims.

Some countries, including China, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, have already sent cargo planes that are carrying tents, food, medicines and other relief supplies, and rescue teams. More relief aid is on the way, according to Pakistani officials.

The International Rescue Committee anticipates a sharp increase in food insecurity and a severe impact on the national economy. “Our needs assessment showed that we are already seeing a major increase in cases of diarrhea, skin infections, malaria and other illnesses,” the group said in a statement.

Pakistan is home to more than 7,000 glaciers, but experts warn rising global temperatures are causing them to melt fast, creating thousands of glacial lakes. The South Asian nation says it is responsible for only less than 1% of greenhouse gas emissions but listed among the top ten countries suffering from the climate change effects.

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Malawi Police Welcomes Country’s First Albino Officers

Malawi’s police service has welcomed two officers with albinism into its ranks, the first people with the rare genetic pigment disorder in Malawi’s state security organization. Rights groups say the hirings should help efforts to crack down on attacks against albinos and restore confidence in police after some officers were connected to such attacks.

Police constables Hamid Vasco and Brenda Mhlanga graduated Friday after six-months of training and were welcomed into the police service Monday along with other new recruits.

Vasco, who is 25 years old, said he decided to join the police to help stop attacks on people with albinism in Malawi.

Statistics show that since 2014, more than 170 albinos have been attacked or killed in Malawi because of false beliefs that concoctions mixed with their body parts bring luck and wealth.

“So, this gave me the [opportunity] to apply to be a police officer so that I can work hand in hand with my fellow officers on issues of investigating the cases and crimes concerning the killing and abduction of persons with albinism,” said Vasco.

Rights groups say the hiring of albino officers will help rebuild public confidence in the police, after some officers were connected to such attacks.

In June, the High Court in Blantyre sentenced police officer Chikondi Chileka and four others to 30 years imprisonment with hard labor, after finding them guilty of transacting in human tissue. The body parts came from MacDonald Masambuka, a man with albinism murdered in 2018.

Vasco and Mhlanga are also the first people with the rare genetic pigment disorder working in Malawi’s state security organization.

Young Mahamba is the president of the Association of Persons with Albinism in Malawi or APAM.

He said there was a change in policy after his association and other campaigners lobbied for police to hire albinos.

“APAM as an organization, and all other stakeholders, we have been advocating for people to understand albinism and to know that albinism is not a limit. So, we have seen positive development. For example, we have seen a person with albinism [for the first time] being a member of parliament. This shows that the attitude is changing, and we will gear up,” said Mhlanga.

However, a representative for Malawi Police Service, Peter Kalaya, said there was no change in policy. He said the problem was that people with albinism were not applying for police jobs.

“There is no specific change of policy because we have the requirements which each and every person who wants to join the police service must be satisfied. And these two managed to meet those conditions and they even managed to succeed in both physical and classroom training,” said Kalaya.

He said police do not expect any special contribution from Vasco and Mhlanga toward combating attacks on albinos.

“Their coming will of course add something because having them in the service might be a message to those people who perpetrate these acts. For example, sending a message to perpetrators that ‘Okay, these people they can also be police officers, they can also carry guns.’ But in terms of efforts at investigating, prosecuting or following up on cases to do with attacks and killings of people with albinism, we were capable, and we are still capable,” he said.

Kalaya encourages other people with albinism to apply for jobs in the police service, saying the service does not discriminate against anyone in terms of skin pigment disorders.

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Ukraine Reports Heavy Fighting in Kherson Amid Southern Offensive

Ukraine’s presidential office reported heavy fighting Tuesday in the Kherson region in southern Ukraine, an area occupied by Russian forces where Ukraine says it has launched a counteroffensive to try to retake territory.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy vowed in his nightly address Monday that Ukrainian forces would take back their territory. He said Ukraine would chase Russia’s forces “to the border.”

“If they want to survive — it’s time for the Russian military to run away. Go home,” he said.

Britain’s defense ministry said Tuesday that as of early Monday, “several brigades of the Ukrainian Armed Forces increased the weight of artillery fires in front line sectors across southern Ukraine.”

It added that since the start of August, Russia has worked to reinforce its presence on the western bank of the Dnipro River in the Kherson area.

“Most of the units around Kherson are likely undermanned and are reliant upon fragile supply lines by ferry and pontoon bridges across the Dnipro,” the British defense ministry said.

Russia’s defense ministry said Monday that Russian forces had stopped Ukrainian attacks in the Kherson and Mykolaiv regions and inflicted “heavy losses” on Ukrainian forces.

A senior U.S. defense official told reporters Monday that the United States would know more about Ukraine’s offensive near Kherson “in the next 24-36 hours.” The official said Ukrainian force numbers are gaining parity with Russian forces in the south.

“Are they on the offensive? I think they are,” the official said.

Russia failed to capture the capital, Kyiv, in northern Ukraine in its initial attack that began in late February, but later took control of wide swathes of land in the south along the Black Sea coast.

Fighting for months has centered on eastern Ukraine in the Donbas region, where Russia-supported separatists and Kyiv’s forces have fought since 2014, the same year Moscow seized Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in a move not recognized by the international community.

The conflict in eastern Ukraine has been at somewhat of a standstill for weeks, with Russia and Ukraine gaining or losing territory incrementally.

But Western allies, led by the United States, have continued to ship armaments to the Kyiv government, possibly giving Ukraine new confidence to attack farther in the southern reaches of the country.

Some information for this story came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters. VOA’s Carla Babb contributed to this report.

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