Anti-Taliban Wave Gaining Momentum in Pakistan Province Bordering Afghanistan 

An anti-Taliban wave is gaining momentum in northwest Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, bordering Afghanistan, where many fear the Pakistani Taliban will make a comeback. Residents have questioned Pakistan army-sponsored talks with the militants, saying they put the decade-long peace in the region at stake. Fayaz Zafar reports from Swat Valley, Pakistan, in this report narrated by Fawad Lameh.

your ad here

UN Report Targets Racism Against People of African Descent

A report by the U.N. human rights office finds systemic racism against people of African descent is deep-rooted and says urgent measures are needed to dismantle discriminatory systems.

It took the death of a Black man, George Floyd, 46, at the hands of a police officer in the United States in May 2020 to draw global attention to the problem of systemic racism. There was a groundswell of global support in the immediate aftermath of the event, which has since largely fizzled out. 


The United Nations reports some countries have taken steps to address racism. But those, for the most part, have been piecemeal. They fall short of what is needed to dismantle the entrenched, societal racism that has existed for centuries. 


U.N. human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani says people of African descent in many countries have less access to health, food and education, and they often are victims of enforced disappearance and violence. 


She says the U.N. report finds African migrants and migrants of African descent are victims of excessive use of force and killings by law enforcement officials. She says they are subject to punitive drug policies and arrests and are overly represented in prisons.

“Where available, the data continues to point to disproportionately high rates of death of people of African descent by law enforcement in different countries,” Shamdasani said. “And families of African descent continue to report the immense challenges, barriers and protracted processes that they face in their pursuit of truth and justice for the deaths of their relatives.”

The report focuses in detail on seven cases of police-related fatalities of people of African descent. They include the cases of Floyd and Breonna Taylor, an African American medical worker shot and killed by police in March 2020. 


Shamdasani said their families are still seeking justice, as are the families of five other people of African descent killed by police agents in France, Brazil, the United Kingdom and Colombia. 


“A year later, the report states that while there has been some progress toward accountability in some of these emblematic cases, unfortunately, not a single case has yet been brought to a full conclusion,” she said.

Shamdasani said the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has been mandated by the U.N. Human Rights Council to follow the issue. She said the office would be producing annual reports on progress and on new violations that come to light.

your ad here

Indian Proposal Threatens Nepal’s $61 Million Tea Industry

Nepali tea producers are increasingly worried about a proposal in India’s parliament that could make it much harder for them to sell tea to their giant southern neighbor and most important customer.

The proposal, contained in a June 2022 recommendation from India’s Parliamentary Standing Committee on Commerce, calls for much stricter standards on the certificates of origin required for all Nepali tea imported into India.

Nepali tea exporters say they already face exacting requirements for entry to the Indian market, even when their products have met certification standards maintained by Japan, the United States and the international Certification of Environmental Standards organization.

“There have been constant policy changes that we have to comply [with], which makes it difficult to export tea to India,” said Shanta Banskota Koirala, co-owner and managing director of the Kanchanjangha Tea Estate and Research Center.

“Usually there is also a lot of hassle on borders, things such as asking for more documents than what was initially required, and even if provided the required documents, the work doesn’t get done on time,” Koirala told VOA.

The stakes are high for Nepal, which sells about 90% of its high-grade orthodox tea – loose-leaf tea produced by traditional methods — and about 50% of its lower-grade crush, tear and curl tea – tea whose leaves have been crushed torn and curled into pellets — to India. The industry employs almost 200,000 people in Nepal and contributes more than $40 million a year to its economy.

The orthodox tea, grown at higher altitudes in the Himalayan nation, is especially prized around the world, with its taste and quality attributed to the region’s climatic conditions, soil, the type of bushes planted and even the quality of the air.

But critics in India accuse the Nepalese exporters of mixing their product with similar-tasting tea from the neighboring Indian region of Darjeeling, which sells in India for a much higher price. The recommendation from the parliamentary committee calls for much stricter measures to ensure that all tea sold from Nepal was indeed grown in Nepal.

For the Nepalese growers, the threat of new bureaucratic hurdles is compounded by indignation over the suggestion that their tea is of lower quality than the Darjeeling variety.

“The comments from the committee on the quality of the tea has hurt the traders and farmers in Nepal,” said Bishnu Prasad Bhattarai, executive director of the National Tea and Coffee Development Board Nepal.

“We have raised our concern with the counterpart Indian government officials. We are hopeful that the trade between the two countries will go on smoothly as the two countries share good relation with each other on many fronts including trade,” Bhattarai added.

Suresh Mittal, president of the Nepal Tea Producers Association, also rejected the parliamentary committee’s complaints, pointing out that the quality of all the tea sold into India is certified by India’s Food Safety and Standards Authority.

“Without this proof of origin, we cannot sell even a single leaf abroad. We are exporting tea that has been grown and processed here in Nepal,” Mittal insisted.

Mittal said discussions on the proposal are continuing between the two countries, and that, so far, the trade in tea is proceeding smoothly.

“However, sooner or later it can be a problem for the Nepalese tea industry and will have an adverse effect to over 70% of tea industry of Nepal. We have to start looking for alternate markets,” he said.

your ad here

Taliban Declares Use of Afghan Soil Against Pakistan or Others as Seditious

The Taliban say they will arrest and try for “treason” anyone using Afghanistan’s soil against Pakistan or other countries, as skepticism grows over the Islamist group’s counterterrorism assurances to the world at large.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid issued the warning in a VOA interview, amid a recent spike in cross-border terrorist attacks that have killed dozens of Pakistani security personnel.

The latest attack took place on Friday when “terrorists from inside Afghanistan” opened fire on Pakistani troops, killing one soldier, according to a Pakistani military statement.

Officials in Islamabad believe that since seizing power in Kabul a year ago, the Taliban have turned a blind eye to activities of their Pakistani offshoot, the outlawed Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) — also known as the Pakistani Taliban — operating out of Afghan sanctuaries.

The Taliban reject the allegation and have hosted talks between Pakistani and TTP negotiators in recent months to try to broker a peace deal between the adversaries. But the effort has not eased the terrorism threat originating in Afghanistan and the peace process seemingly has fallen apart.


“Whoever is present here, they aren’t allowed to carry out any such activities because they have assured us, they would not threaten another country,” Mujahid told VOA in his Kabul office earlier this month when asked for a response to allegations TTP insurgents enjoy greater operational freedom and mobility since the Taliban returned to power.

The spokesman argued the Taliban’s return following the withdrawal of the United States and allied troops has brought an end to the two-decade war and peace to much of Afghanistan. But Mujahid acknowledged that border security remains a challenge for Taliban forces.

“Afghanistan and Pakistan are separated by a long (boundary) line running through mountains and treacherous territory. There are even sections where our forces have not yet established a foothold or need air support to secure them,” he said.

“It is quite possible some people might be taking advantage of this situation. And if so, these people are committing treason against Afghanistan first. They must be hunted, arrested and punished,” Mujahid stressed.

“We are seriously committed to this issue and assure Pakistan that our soil will not be used against them. They (Pakistan) should also need to make sure their territory is not used to harm us,” he said.

The border between the two countries is more than 2,600 kilometers long. Kabul disputes the demarcation with Pakistan drawn up by 19th-century British colonial rulers and called the Durand Line.

Islamabad rejects the objection, saying it inherited the international border after Pakistan gained independence from Britain in 1947.

Pakistani officials, however, downplay concerns that the TTP factor threatens to disrupt ties between the two countries, describing the relationship as “positive and thriving” despite frustrations over counterterrorism cooperation.

Pakistan notes that the Taliban have only recently returned to power after two decades and face serious governance as well as financial challenges, saying they need time and political space to address counterterrorism and issues related to human rights of Afghans, especially women.

Engaging Taliban

Funding for Afghanistan has dried up because no country has recognized the Islamist group as the legitimate rulers of the country, citing its restrictions on women’s rights to education and work, among other human rights issues.

“The answer has to be engagement,” Pakistani Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari told an event organized by Washington’s Wilson Center on Wednesday, when asked for his response to the resurgent TTP threat originating in Taliban-governed Afghanistan.

“We have to build their (the Taliban’s) capacity to take on these terrorist groups before we can give a definitive verdict on whether they have demonstrated the will to do so,” Zardari said.

Pakistan has maintained closed ties with the Islamist Taliban since they first ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001.

While U.S. and former Afghan government leaders accused the Pakistani military of covertly supporting Taliban insurgents in the years that followed, the Pakistani Taliban — designated a terrorist group by the U.S. and United Nations — provided recruits and safe havens on Pakistani soil for the insurgency.

The new rulers in Kabul now appear to be returning the favor by refusing to crack down on TTP leaders, as Pakistan has requested. Instead, they have urged both Islamabad and TTP to revert to talks to find a resolution.

Common ideology

Critics remain skeptical that the Taliban would use force against their Pakistani offshoot, noting they share a common ideology, with the TTP leadership renewing its allegiance to Taliban supreme leader Hibatullah Akhundzada after his group took over Kabul last year.

The revelation that deceased al-Qaida leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri had been staying in a safe house in the heart of Kabul also has fueled fears the Taliban are reluctant to cut ties with terrorist groups that supported their insurgent operations over the years. Al-Zawahiri was killed in a U.S. drone strike in July.

Trade links

Despite prevailing skepticism, Pakistan says it has taken a series of measures in recent months to boost economic cooperation with Afghanistan and will continue to do so. The policy has tilted the balance of trade in favor of the crisis-ridden country for the first time in the history of bilateral ties.

The change is attributed mainly to increased purchases of Afghan coal in the wake of rising global prices in a bid to reduce Pakistan’s dependence on expensive supplies from South Africa.

Traders say about 10,000 metric tons of coal is being exported daily to Pakistan, helping the Taliban generate much needed revenue to govern the country.

A high-level Pakistani delegation is expected to visit Afghanistan next month to discuss whether daily coal imports could be raised to around 30,000 metric tons to meet Pakistan’s estimated monthly needs of at least 1 million metric tons.

Taliban spokesman Mujahid echoed Pakistani assertions that sustained Afghan peace and economic stability can help counter “spoilers” threatening peace in both countries.

your ad here

Kenyan Health Officials Investigate Suspected Ebola Case

Kenyan health officials are investigating a suspected case of Ebola in the country’s west near Uganda, where an outbreak of the deadly virus has been blamed for at least 35 cases and seven deaths.

Kenya is on high alert after one patient suspected to have Ebola is being treated at St. Mary’s Hospital in western Kenya.

St. Mary’s Hospital administrator Hildah Apwao told reporters the man recently traveled to Uganda and visited a health facility there for treatment of a cut. The man is now in an isolation unit at St. Mary’s hospital located in Mumias, Kakamega County awaiting laboratory results.

Kenya’s neighbor, Uganda, has recorded 35 Ebola cases and seven deaths since the first case was confirmed last week.

The current outbreak of Ebola is attributed to the Ebola Sudan strain and is believed to have started in the Mubende district in central Uganda.

Last week, Kenya issued health guidelines — like screening travelers from Uganda — following the outbreak. East African health experts advised against closing the border to deal with the virus.

Health officials in Kenya called for more awareness about the disease and better follow-up if symptoms are witnessed. Ebola is a disease spread through contact with an infected person’s body fluids. Symptoms include body aches, vomiting and internal bleeding.

Uganda recorded the presence of a different strain of the virus in 2019 and the Sudan strain was found in 2012.

your ad here

US Hits Russia with Sanctions for Annexing Ukrainian Regions

The U.S. on Friday sanctioned more than 1,000 people and firms connected to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, including its Central Bank governor and families of Security Council members, after President Vladimir Putin signed treaties absorbing occupied regions of Ukraine into Russia, in defiance of international law.

The Treasury Department named hundreds of members of Russia’s legislature, leaders of the country’s financial and military infrastructure and suppliers for sanctions designations. The Commerce Department added 57 companies to its list of export control violators, and the State Department added more than 900 people to its visa restriction list.

President Joe Biden said of Putin’s steps: “Make no mistake: These actions have no legitimacy.” He said the new financial penalties will impose costs on people and companies inside and outside of Russia “that provide political or economic support to illegal attempts to change the status of Ukrainian territory.”

“I look forward to signing legislation from Congress that will provide an additional $12 billion to support Ukraine,” he said.

The U.S. and European Union are stepping up the intensity of sanctions after Russia announced it was mobilizing up to 300,000 more troops to join the invasion of Ukraine and Putin ratified the results of Kremlin-orchestrated annexation “referendums” that Kyiv and the West call sham elections.

Putin warned that Russia would never give up the absorbed regions — the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions — and would protect them as part of its sovereign territory.

In Washington, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said, “We will not stand by as Putin fraudulently attempts to annex parts of Ukraine.”

“The Treasury Department and U.S. government are taking sweeping action today to further weaken Russia’s already degraded military industrial complex and undermine its ability to wage its illegal war.”

your ad here

Cholera Surging Globally as Climate Change Intensifies

Cholera is surging around the globe, the World Health Organization warns.

Flareups of the deadly disease have been reported in 26 countries in the first nine months of this year. In comparison, fewer than 20 countries reported cholera outbreaks per year between 2017 and 2021. In addition to greater frequency, the WHO reports the outbreaks themselves are larger and more deadly. 

While poverty and conflict are major triggers of cholera, climate change is a growing threat. 

Philippe Barboza, WHO team lead for Cholera and Epidemic Diarrheal Diseases, said climate change presents an additional layer of complexity and creates the conditions for cholera outbreaks to explode. 

“This is what we have seen in southern Africa with the succession of cyclones that affected the eastern part of the African Coast,” Barboza said. “The drought in East Africa is driving population movements, reducing access to water, which is already needed. So, of course, it is a key factor, which is fueling the outbreak. And the same in Sahel and other places.”   

Fifteen of the 26 cholera-infected countries are in Africa, according to the WHO. 

Barboza said massive climate-induced floods in Southeast Asia also have resulted in large outbreaks of cholera in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Many countries that have made significant progress in controlling cholera are now back to square one, he added.   

Cholera is an acute diarrheal disease caused by contaminated food or water. It can kill within hours if left untreated. Cholera outbreaks can be prevented by ensuring access to clean water, basic sanitation, and hygiene, as well as stepping up surveillance and access to health care, Barboza said. 

“This is what we need countries to do, but that is easier said than done. Although many of the cholera-affected countries are actively engaged in these efforts, they are facing multiple crises, including conflict and poverty, and this is why international action is so important,” he said.  

Cholera is a preventable and treatable disease, Barboza said, so with the right foresight and action, the current global crisis can be reversed. 


your ad here

Turkey-Greece Relations Tense over Cyprus, Aegean Islands

Tensions between Greece and Turkey over the divided island of Cyprus appear to be escalating. Turkey says it’s increasing its military presence on the island in response to Washington’s lifting of an arms embargo against the Greek Cypriot administration.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu criticized the United States Friday for its stance toward Greece, saying it has become a toy of Athens in the Cyprus dispute.

He said the ones standing with the Greeks just for the sake of pleasing the Greeks should not expect friendship from Turkey.

Earlier this week, Cavusoglu announced that Turkey will increase its military presence on Cyprus after Washington lifted its military arms embargo on the Greek Cypriot administration.

The Mediterranean Island has been divided between Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities since 1974. The Greek Cypriot administration is the only internationally recognized government.

Washington’s action comes as U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price appeared to offer support to Athens amid rising tensions with Ankara over Greek islands in the Aegean Sea.

“Greece’s sovereignty over these islands is not in question,” said Price. “But we call on countries, including our allies, to respect territorial integrity and sovereignty and avoid actions that inflame tensions.”

Ankara has condemned Greece’s militarization of some of its islands close to Turkish shores, which Turkey claims violate an international agreement. Athens insists it’s only protecting its territory from Turkish threats.

University of Athens political scientist Cengiz Aktar said the Greek government is calculating that it has Washington’s support and is in no mood to back down from what it considers Turkish bullying.

“There is a common wisdom in Greece, don’t belittle small countries. We have a live example of Ukraine and Russia. I mean, yes, the Greeks are ready,” Aktar said.

Turkish-Greek tensions are nothing new, with the two countries going to the brink of war in 1996 over an uninhabited islet. U.S. intervention prevented open hostilities.

But with Turkey saying Greece is using U.S.-supplied weapons to militarize its islands, observers say Washington’s status as an honest broker is in question.

Asli Aydintasbas, a visiting fellow of the Brookings Institution, a Washington research group, said he is worried the countries are moving closer to war.

“I think this is significant and potentially very dangerous,” said Aydintasbas. “Clearly, both countries feel each other as a threat. We are used to occasional flare-ups in this relationship, but I think right now, the global environment is very uncertain, chaotic, and almost conducive to a military confrontation between Turkey and Greece.”

For now, neither Athens nor Ankara appears ready to step back. Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu said Friday that Turkey is prepared to resolve tensions diplomatically but warned Turkey wouldn’t hesitate to use hard power if diplomacy failed and Turkish interests are threatened.

your ad here

Former TOLOnews Journalist ‘Every Day We Faced a New Law’

It’s a photo that caught the world’s attention: A news anchor at one of Afghanistan’s most prominent news outlets, pictured with her head in her hands after the Taliban ordered women to cover up.

The woman pictured, TOLOnews anchor Khatera Ahmadi, says that despite increasing restrictions on women in Afghanistan, at the time that photo was taken in May, she still planned to stay and be a voice for other women.

But mounting pressures and a later attack on her husband forced the family to rethink their plans. In June they moved to Pakistan.   

Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders estimates nearly 60% of journalists lost their jobs since the Taliban returned, with women disproportionately affected. Female journalists no longer work in 11 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.

A spokesperson for the Taliban did not respond to VOA’s request for comment. 

At the time when women were ordered to cover up on air, a spokesperson said it was a religious order that “helps with their modesty and honor.” 

The Taliban have also said they would respect media freedom and women’s rights.

In an interview with VOA, Ahmadi says she has no faith in Taliban comments that women are free to work in journalism or other professions, saying the restrictions already imposed are “suppressing (women’s) voices and forcing them to stay home.”  

This interview has been translated and edited for length and clarity. 

VOA: When the Taliban ordered female journalists to cover their faces, your picture was widely shared. How did you feel in that moment?  

Ahmadi: I wanted to reassure myself that everything was fine, and (tell myself) “If you keep fighting, things will get better, you can be the voice of thousands of Afghan women who are oppressed today.” I wanted to boost my morale. 

Our male colleagues, in solidarity, wore masks, and this began with our station, TOLOnews. They wanted to show we were not alone in our fight. 

But after a few days, they received threatening messages. 

Taliban officials tweeted that if the men did not remove the masks they would act against them. The threats increased. Some even received death threats. 

Eventually, they removed their masks.

VOA: How and when did you decide to leave Afghanistan?  

Ahmadi: The situation in Afghanistan is very difficult for everyone, particularly female journalists. Every day, we faced a new law. The [Taliban’s] Vice and Virtue Department had no other job but to make new laws for women. 

Our outfits in the media were not acceptable to them. Faces of women presenters had to be covered. We faced threats on the street. Taliban spokespersons were not willing to be on our shows because we were women. 

Our cars were followed. At every checkpoint, we were stopped and told that as a Muslim woman, as an Afghan woman, we should not appear on TV. Our drivers were slapped and asked where they were taking us and why we sat in the front seat. 

We were known because reputable international media had interviewed us. They knew where we were [living] and working. Even when we went to the bank, we would hear the Taliban saying our names and pointing. 

We were very scared. But we were saying that this is our country, and we have to be there and adjust to the (Taliban’s) laws.

That changed when my husband was attacked.

He was on his way to work when he was taken by the Taliban and beaten.

That was the day I decided we could not stay in Afghanistan anymore. 

Editor’s Note: Ahmadi’s husband Ekram Asmati was a journalist for a local news station. He was left unconscious in the attack. Officials at the time said they would investigate.

VOA: How are your former colleagues in Afghanistan doing?

Ahmadi: They are all depressed, as I was in Kabul. Their situation is worse now.  

They call and ask how life is (in Pakistan).

Being a refugee is difficult. But their situation is worse. Each one of them calls and asks, “How can we find a way out of Kabul to another country?”

I tell them it is not easy to go to a new place. When you become a refugee, the situation becomes more difficult. It is tough when you leave your country and those you know. Getting passports and visas is also a problem [in Afghanistan]. Some of our colleagues had to leave [without families]. They had to make a difficult decision, just like I did. 

VOA: The Taliban claim they have no problem with women working, including female journalists. What is your view? 

Ahmadi: I have no faith in what the Taliban say. People don’t believe them either because they have not fulfilled any of their promises. They said that they would open schools. A year has passed since their return. They have not. 

They said they do not have any problem with women working outside, but we witnessed that women in [government] ministries were told to introduce male members of their families to replace them. 

They said they have no problem with women journalists and women working outside, but all the rules they have imposed on women and girls are aimed at suppressing their voices and forcing them to stay home. 

But as far as I know, [Afghan] women will not stop fighting [for their rights]. 

This story originated in VOA’s Afghan Service.

your ad here

Uzbekistan Says Won’t Deport Russians Fleeing Conscription

Uzbekistan has no plans to deport Russians who are fleeing en masse to Central Asia to evade conscription amid Moscow’s military campaign in Ukraine, the Tashkent government said on Friday.

Hundreds of thousands of men, some with families, have left Russia since President Vladimir Putin ordered a partial mobilization last week; many headed to Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and other Central Asian former Soviet republics.

Some draft dodgers, however, remain concerned about their safety in those countries since their governments have close ties with Moscow.

Uzbekistan’s foreign ministry said in a statement it remained committed to principles such as respecting other states’ sovereignty and territorial integrity and supported a peaceful settlement of the Ukrainian conflict.

“…Foreign citizens who have not broken the law are not subject to forced deportation,” it said.

Uzbekistan has not said how many Russians have arrived in the country since the mobilization announcement. Neighboring Kazakhstan has said it saw about 100,000 arrivals.

Uzbek officials this week reprimanded a Russian ballet dancer for performing to a song in Tashkent that could be seen as supporting Russia’s war effort.

your ad here

Suicide Blast at Kabul School Kills 19

A powerful suicide bomb explosion ripped through a packed classroom in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, early Friday, killing at least 19 students and injuring 27 others.

Witnesses and police officials said the bombing occurred inside the Kaaj Education Center in the western Dash-e-Barchi area of the city, a predominantly Hazara Shiite neighborhood.

Female students were among the victims.

Khalid Zadran, a Kabul police spokesperson, confirmed the casualties to VOA and denounced the violence. He said that Taliban security forces had reached the area and an investigation is under way.

“Students were preparing for an entry exam when a suicide bomber struck the educational center. Unfortunately, 19 people have been martyred and 27 others wounded,” Zadran said.

No one immediately took responsibility for the bombing.

Social media videos and photos showed bloodied victims being carried away from the scene to nearby hospitals.

The local offshoot of the self-proclaimed, Sunni-based, Islamic State group, known as Islamic State Khorasan, or ISIS-K, has previously claimed credit for plotting such attacks in the area and elsewhere in Afghanistan.

ISIS-K has intensified its extremist activities in the country since the Taliban seized power in August of last year, when all U.S.-led foreign troops withdrew from Afghanistan after almost 20 years of war.

your ad here

Russia Scheduled to Celebrate Annexation of Ukrainian Territories

On the day that Russia is set to celebrate its annexation of four Ukrainian territories, a humanitarian convoy was hit by Russian shelling near the town of Zaporizhzhia.

Officials say at least 23 people were killed in the incident and 28 people were wounded.  The convoy was headed to the area to rescue family members from the occupied territory.

Russia is set to formally announce annexation of four Ukrainian territories — Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia — on Friday. The Kremlin is to mark what many view as an illegal move with celebratory concerts and rallies in Moscow.

Meanwhile, Finland is the latest country to close its border to Russians. The Finland closing comes as hordes of Russian men are leaving the country to escape Russia’s military mobilization for continuing the invasion of Ukraine. In addition, Russia has begun opening draft offices at its borders to intercept men who may be leaving the country to avoid the mobilization.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres strongly condemned the planned annexation, saying it is illegal and “must not be accepted.”

“The U.N. Charter is clear,” Guterres told reporters Thursday. “Any annexation of a state’s territory by another state resulting from the threat or use of force is a violation of the principles of the U.N. Charter and international law.”

He said any decision to proceed with the annexation would have “no legal value and deserves to be condemned.”

The move has been dismissed as illegitimate by Ukraine and its allies, who are readying new sanctions against Moscow in response.

“This can still be stopped,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in in his daily address Thursday in a direct appeal to Russians with an indirect reference to Russian President Vladimir Putin. “But to stop it, you have to stop that one in Russia who wants war more than life. Your life, citizens of Russia.”

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters Friday’s ceremony will include Putin, who is to make a major speech, and the Russian-appointed heads of the regions, where the Russian orchestrated referendums ended earlier this week.

U.N. chief Guterres said Thursday, “I want to underscore that the so-called referenda in the occupied regions were conducted during active armed conflict, in areas under Russian occupation, and outside Ukraine’s legal and constitutional framework. They cannot be called a genuine expression of the popular will.”

He warned that if Russia goes ahead with the annexation, it will be a “dangerous escalation” and will further jeopardize the prospect for peace.

“It is high time to step back from the brink,” Guterres said.

Guterres’ spokesperson said the U.N. chief had conveyed this message to the Russians when he spoke with their U.N. ambassador Wednesday.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz tweeted Thursday that he assured Zelenskyy that Germany will never recognize the “so-called results.”

“The sham referendums carried out by Putin in the illegally occupied areas of Ukraine are worthless,” Scholz said.

In Washington, Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal spoke about proposed legislation he and Republican Senator Lindsay Graham are supporting in response to Russia’s latest moves.

“Senator Graham and I are introducing today legislation that would very simply immediately require cutting off economic and military aid to any country that recognizes Vladimir Putin’s illegal annexation of four regions of Ukraine,” he said Thursday.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Wednesday that no matter what Russia says, the areas remain Ukrainian territory.

“In response, we will work with our allies and partners to impose additional economic costs on Russia and individuals and entities inside and outside of Russia that provide support to this action,” she said.

At the U.N. Security Council, the United States is working with Albania on a draft resolution condemning the “sham referenda,” calling on states not to recognize any altered status of Ukraine and compelling Russia to withdraw its troops from Ukraine.

Russia will certainly use its veto to block the measure, but that will then allow member states to move to the General Assembly to seek condemnation there. A similar strategy following Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea drew the rebuke of 100 countries.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Wednesday the EU is planning to respond with “sweeping new import bans on Russian products” and to expand its export ban “to deprive the Kremlin’s military complex of key technologies.”

“This will keep Russian products out of the European market and deprive Russia of an additional 7 billion euros in revenue,” von der Leyen told reporters in Brussels. The EU’s 27 member countries would have to approve the sanctions for them to take effect and the bloc has had difficulty in reaching agreement on some previous sanctions.

“We are determined to make the Kremlin pay for this further escalation,” she said.

The Ukrainian territory Russia wants to annex represents about 15% of the country.

Some information for this story came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.

your ad here

Italy’s New Government to Take Different Position on China

Italy has elected its most right-wing government since the end of World War II, and China watchers are anticipating a different type of relationship between Giorgia Meloni, in position to become Italy’s next prime minister, and Beijing based on her comments about Taiwan during her campaign.

Diplomatic issues in Asia are not usually the focus of political debate in Italian elections, but analysts noted that before the election, Meloni made a rare statement on Taiwan, voicing opposition to China’s military threats to the island. She also said she would promote bilateral contacts between Italy and Taiwan, something Beijing strongly opposes.

In July, Meloni posted on Twitter a pre-election statement on Taiwan. The post showed a photo of her and Taiwan’s representative in Italy, Andrea Lee Sing-ying. Meloni called Lee an ambassador.  The tweet continued by saying she “always stands alongside those who believe in the values of freedom and democracy.”

Taiwan and Italy do not have formal diplomatic relations. Like many other nations, Italy has diplomatic relations with China. Beijing claims democratic Taiwan as part of its territory and bristles at any official contacts between Taipei and other nations.

Last week, in an interview with Taiwan’s official Central News Agency, Meloni said the party that she leads, the Brothers of Italy, would join democratic countries in condemning China’s military threat to Taiwan and that the European Union should use all of its diplomatic and political means to exert pressure to avoid conflicts in the Taiwan Strait.

Taiwan as bridge

Meloni also noted she would deepen exchanges with Taiwan in culture, tourism, public health, scientific research and the semiconductor industry, despite differences in political philosophies with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen.

Meloni did not specify in which areas she differed with Tsai’s philosophies. Tsai is Taiwan’s first female president, and Meloni is set to become Italy’s first female prime minister, but it is widely known that Tsai supports same-sex marriage, something Meloni opposes.

At a regular briefing this week, China Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin voiced confidence that ties with Italy would remain strong but urged “certain individuals” in Italy to recognize the “highly sensitive nature” of what Beijing calls the “Taiwan question.”

“The Taiwan question is purely China’s internal affair, which brooks no foreign interference,” Wang said. He also cautioned against “sending wrong signals to the ‘Taiwan independence’ separatist forces.”

Guido Alberto Casanova, an associate researcher at the Italian Institute for International Political Studies, told VOA Mandarin that as a nationalist, from Italy’s far-right, Meloni’s adversarial position on China speaks to the need to protect the interest of Italian industries from Chinese takeovers. But her position is also aimed at building up her international credibility, he said.

“She has a very controversial background. She comes from a post-fascist era of Italian politics; she was mutating in the far right. … So, she needs to calm people both in Europe and the United States,” he said, speaking with VOA in a phone interview.

“The hot issue, in the United States, at least, is the defense of democracy and human rights. Taiwan, of course, is the key. That’s why she needs to present herself as in solidarity with the American support for Taiwan, because she needs to win approval,” he said.

Belt and Road in the balance?

The Italian government has long had friendly relations with Beijing and has rarely spoken out on China issues. Chinese state media reports on Italy have mostly been positive.

However, the changes in Italy’s political landscape and the dramatic shift in opinion toward China globally, as well as among Italian citizens, could have an effect on relations between Rome and Beijing, analysts said.

One area in question under the new leadership is China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a global infrastructure project that Italy has previously supported.

Italy is the only G-7 country to have signed a memorandum of understanding with China on the BRI. It was signed by then-Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and China’s President Xi Jinping during the Chinese leader’s visit to Italy in 2019. The document is valid for five years and will remain in force if there are no objections from either side.

The Italian government had hoped the deal with Beijing would boost Italian exports to China. However, some observers said China was more interested in building infrastructure in the country and buying up companies than boosting trade. For her part, Meloni has already voiced skepticism and called the signing of the agreement with China a huge mistake.

“If the memorandum is renewed tomorrow, I hardly see the right political conditions,” she said in a September 23 interview with Taiwan’s state Central News Agency.

Francesco Sisci, a longtime political analyst of China affairs and a visiting professor at LUISS University in Rome, told VOA Mandarin that the BRI had practically stopped in Italy.

“The Italian government has promised a lot but very little has been carried out – in fact, almost zero. The memorandum is completely empty,” Sisci told VOA in a phone interview. “The Belt and Road Memorandum is a failure for both Italy and China. Both sides had a big misunderstanding, so the document should not have been signed.”

While Meloni is expected to become the next prime minister of Italy, it will take weeks for the new Italian government to be formed.

Bo Gu contributed to this report.

your ad here

US Charges Russian Oligarch Deripaska with Sanctions Evasion

The Justice Department on Thursday unsealed an indictment charging Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska and three associates with violating U.S. sanctions.

The indictment grew out of Task Force KleptoCapture, an interagency law enforcement group formed in the wake of Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion to enforce the sweeping economic sanctions, export restrictions and other measures the United States and its Western allies imposed on Moscow.

“In the wake of Russia’s unjust and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, I promised the American people that the Justice Department would work to hold accountable those who break our laws and threaten our national security. Today’s charges demonstrate we are keeping that promise,” U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement.

Along with Deripaska, 52, the indictment charged two other Russian nationals — Natalia Mikhaylovna Bardakova, 45, and Ekaterina Olegovna Voronina, 33 — as well as Olga Shriki, 42, a naturalized U.S. citizen.

Bardakova and Shriki face charges of flouting sanctions imposed on Deripaska and one of Deripaska’s companies, Basic Element Limited.

Shriki, who was arrested Thursday morning, is also charged with obstruction of justice for allegedly deleting electronic records related to her role in Deripaska’s alleged sanctions evasion scheme after receiving a grand jury subpoena to produce the records.

Voronina is accused of making false statements to agents of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security when she sought to enter the United States to give birth to Deripaska’s child, according to the Justice Department.

The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned  Deripaska and several other Russian oligarchs and entities in 2018 in response to Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, as well as other malign global activities.

As part of the sanctions, the Russian oligarchs’ assets were frozen, and U.S. nationals were barred from doing business with them.

In the wake of the Treasury Department’s action, however, Deripaska conspired with others “to evade and to violate those sanctions in various ways and over the course of several years,” the Justice Department said in a statement.

Through a company known as Gracetown Inc., the Russian billionaire allegedly used the U.S. financial system to maintain three luxury properties in the United States, the indictment alleges.

According to the document, Deripaska allegedly hired Shriki and Bardakova to use U.S. banks to conduct hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of services on his behalf.

In 2019, Shriki allegedly helped Deripaska sell a California music studio he had owned through a series of shell companies, according to the indictment.

Deripaska then allegedly tried to transfer the more than $3 million in proceeds from the sale through a California shell company to an account in Russia, the indictment alleges.

In a statement, FBI Director Christopher Wray said the indictment “reflects the FBI’s commitment to use all of the tools at our disposal to aggressively pursue those who attempt to evade the United States’ economic countermeasures against the Russian government.”

“We will continue to aggressively prosecute those who violate measures imposed to protect the national security and foreign policy of the United States, especially in this time of Russia’s unprovoked aggression toward Ukraine,” Wray said.   

your ad here

Azerbaijan President Signs Off on Media Registry Rules

Azerbaijan’s president this week approved the rules that will govern a media registry that the country’s journalists warn could further stifle press freedom. 

President Ilham Aliyev on Monday signed off on the “rules for maintaining a media registry” — a set of regulations around media credentials and official recognition that would provide approved media with privileges and benefits, such as accreditation to state and other bodies.  

The rules lay out how the registry will work, the requirements journalists must meet to be eligible for inclusion, what data will be publicly available, and what conditions can result in being excluded or removed from the database.  

The government-run Media Development Agency will oversee the registry and legal entities, and each individual included in it will be issued a certificate and journalistic license.  

Zahid Oruj, chair of the Human Rights Committee of the National Assembly, told VOA that the adoption of the rules is to “continue the will for the formation of free, independent and strong press agencies that was outlined in the new power-building policy that has been implemented since 2019.” 

Journalists, however, have criticized the plan since parliament first passed the law in December 2021. They warn it could allow Azerbaijan’s government to determine who is recognized as a journalist and cited concerns that the registry will include details on reporters and their work contacts.  

Media outlets that operate in exile will also be affected, including through provisions that ban disseminating information from unofficial sources, rights groups including Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said.

Mehman Aliyev, director of the independent Turan News Agency, said independent media already work under restrictive policies and that access to information is difficult. 

Instead of improving access to information, Aliyev believes the new media registry will restrict freedoms.  

 “It is intended to prevent establishment of new media agencies in the future and to create conditions for media outlets that are in the interests of the authorities,” Aliyev said. 

Without an official license, journalists could find it harder to gain access to officials or events.  

Lawyer and media rights expert Alasgar Mammadli said the registry would make it hard for many freelance journalists to obtain the information they need. 

“I believe that keeping [a] journalist registry is an interference with media freedom,” he told VOA. 

Mammadli believes the registry goes against protections for freedom of expression, as laid out in Azerbaijan’s constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights. 

“According to the constitution, everyone can receive information. In other words, it is not important whether you have a title of a journalist in front of your name, or whether or not you are a state-qualified journalist,” he told VOA. “In the future, any dispute related to this will result in the European Court making a decision against Azerbaijan.” 

Criticism rejected

But Azerbaijani officials have dismissed that criticism. 

Oruj said journalists not on the register would still be able to work.  

“Being included in this registry only gives advantages and makes it possible to benefit from various privileges, some subsidies, state measures,” Oruj said. 

RSF said nearly all Azerbaijani media are under government control. The few remaining independent voices find access to information difficult and say that some government agencies refuse to engage with them, according to the organization.  

RSF ranks Azerbaijan 154th out of 180 countries in its World Press Freedom Index, where 1 signifies the best media environment.

This story originated in VOA’s Azerbaijani Service.

your ad here

After Anti-China Campaign, Kenya’s Ruto Does About-Face

Kenya’s newly elected President William Ruto, who talked tough on China while campaigning, has reversed his stance on Beijing since taking office.

“We cherish the robust friendship that Kenya enjoys with China. We will step up and expand these relations, on infrastructure, agriculture, education, among other broad array of issues for the mutual benefit of our countries,” Ruto said when he met with Liu Yuxi, China’s special representative on African affairs, shortly after taking office.

During his campaign, Ruto ran on an anti-China platform, vowing to deport Chinese nationals doing jobs he said should be reserved for Kenyans, promising to make opaque government contracts with Beijing public and pledging to cut borrowing.

Only a few months ago, at a June economic forum, Ruto was reported as saying, “Chinese nationals are roasting maize and selling mobile phones. We will deport all of them.”

The language of his new administration, however, contrasts sharply with the strident tones he used on the campaign trail.

Last week, National Assembly speaker Moses Wetangula met with Beijing’s ambassador to Kenya, Zhou Pingjian, and he assured him of Kenya’s continued cooperation.

“China is one of the most important national development partners for Kenya and has in the last decade extended considerable support to our infrastructure development,” he said in a statement. Wetangula also “assured him that the new administration of President William Ruto has no plans whatsoever to scale down” Kenya’s collaboration with Beijing.

“[I am] delighted that China is also seeking to further enhance our strategic economic partnership, and people-people relations,” he added.

China is Kenya’s biggest bilateral lender and has been responsible for major infrastructure projects, including the recently opened Nairobi Expressway and the controversial and expensive Chinese-built Standard Gauge Railway, which links the capital with the key port city of Mombasa.

Former President Uhuru Kenyatta had signed deals with Beijing on infrastructure projects to develop Kenya, resulting in Kenyan debt to China in the billions of dollars. Ruto was Kenyatta’s deputy. The two men had a falling out, and during the campaign Ruto made a point of trying to distance himself from his boss and alleged corruption.

‘More pragmatic’ situation

The about-face in the new administration’s position on China since taking office is a typical case of the reality of politics winning the day, according to analysts.

“It was entirely predicted and predictable that President Ruto would resile and soft-pedal on his initial Chinese comments,” Aly-Khan Satchu, a political economist in Nairobi, told VOA. “I think we’ve just returned to a more pragmatic policymaking situation. You can’t upset one of your biggest creditors.”

Adhere Cavince, an independent Kenyan analyst and China specialist, echoed this view, saying: “Whatever happened in the campaign doesn’t seem to hold a lot of water, especially now that he has won the seat and he has the responsibility to govern the country. Campaigning is quite different from governing and sometimes the dynamic drastically changes.

“It is clear that William Ruto does not intend to reduce or scale down cooperation between Kenya and China,” he added.

Cavince said a number of factors could account for the change of heart, including the fact there are 400 Chinese companies operating in the country employing tens of thousands of Kenyans, and China is the East African country’s biggest trading partner.

While a large trade imbalance exists between the two, China has made efforts recently to offset them, allowing more exports from Kenya, including of the country’s avocados.

There are also growing cultural ties between the two, with more and more young Kenyans going to China to study, Cavince said.

And he noted it’s not only about Kenya needing China.

“Kenya presents a very formidable gateway into the east and central Africa regions, the markets. … There’s an incentive for China to court Kenya, so it is not a one-way street,” he said.

Chinese President Xi Jinping sent Ruto a message of congratulations shortly after he won the election in August.

“I attach great importance to the development of China-Kenya relations and stand ready to work with President Ruto to advance the development of the China-Kenya comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership to the benefit of the two countries and two peoples,” said China’s leader.

One policy reversal

There’s one election promise Ruto was swift to keep and put into motion, though, despite the fact it could prove unpopular with Beijing. He reversed one of his predecessor’s most controversial policies.

During his presidency, Kenyatta had transferred cargo-clearing operations to the Nairobi and Naivasha inland container depots from the coastal city of Mombasa.

Traders had to use the Chinese-built Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) to ferry goods to Nairobi and Naivasha, with the government saying it was a faster way of transporting goods and would decongest the port of Mombasa.

Some say Kenyatta’s move was motivated by the need to boost traffic on the railway and drive revenue for debt repayment to China. His decision cost thousands of jobs in Mombasa, but with Ruto’s reversal of the policy, critics worry the debt repayment burden for the $3.6 billion SRG will now fall on the Kenyan taxpayer.

“Now importers and their customers are being given the liberty to choose the mode of transport they prefer … that means the SGR has to become more efficient and competitive rather than getting favors from government,” said Cliff Mboya, a Kenyan researcher at the China Global South Project think tank.

“That means that [Ruto] is willing to do the right thing, whether it works for China or not, and that is telling,” he added.

But in terms of one of Ruto’s other major campaign promises – to publish private contracts with China – Mboya said he doubted the president would be able to make it happen.

“Even if he wants to do it, it won’t be easy. It would be a serious diplomatic crisis,” said Mboya. “I know that senior Chinese government officials have already intimated that publishing these contracts goes against the contractual agreements.”

your ad here

NATO Vows Retaliation for Attacks on Infrastructure, Blames Sabotage for Pipe Blasts 

NATO vowed retaliation Thursday for attacks on the critical infrastructure of its 30 member nations, while strongly suggesting the rupture of two Baltic Sea pipelines meant to send natural gas from Russia to Germany was the direct result of sabotage.

Ambassadors to NATO, the West’s key military alliance, said in a statement, “Any deliberate attack against allies’ critical infrastructure would be met with a united and determined response.” They said four ruptures in the pipelines were of “deep concern.”

NATO did not accuse anyone of damaging the pipelines but said that “all currently available information indicates that this is the result of deliberate, reckless, and irresponsible acts of sabotage. These leaks are causing risks to shipping and substantial environmental damage.”

In Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Thursday that the ruptures in the Nord Stream pipelines would not have been possible without a state actor’s involvement.

“It looks like a terror attack, probably conducted on a state level,” Peskov told reporters.  Russian President Vladimir Putin later told Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that “international terrorism” was to blame.

“Judging by the amount of destruction of the Nord Stream, it’s hard to imagine that such action could have been taken without a state involvement,” Peskov said. “It’s a very dangerous situation that requires a quick investigation.”

Some European officials and energy experts have suggested that Russia likely carried out the attacks, to benefit from higher energy prices and to create more economic chaos in Europe for its support of Ukraine in fending off Russia’s seven-month invasion. But other officials urged caution in assessing blame until investigators determine what happened.

Peskov characterized media reports about Russian warships being spotted in the area of the damaged pipelines as “stupid and biased,” adding that “many more aircraft and vessels belonging to NATO countries have been spotted in the area.”

The Swedish Coast Guard confirmed a fourth leak on the Nord Stream pipelines off southern Sweden.

“We have leakage at two positions” off Sweden, coast guard spokesperson Mattias Lindholm said, with two more off Denmark.

Two of the leaks are on the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, where the flow of gas was recently halted, while the other two are on Nord Stream 2, which has never been opened. Although they weren’t running, both pipelines were filled with methane gas, which has escaped and is bubbling to the surface, probably until Sunday, according to energy experts.

The Danish and Swedish governments said they believed the leaks off their shores were the result of “deliberate actions.”

Before the leaks became obvious, explosions were recorded. Swedish seismologists recorded a first explosion early Monday southeast of the Danish island of Bornholm, with a second, stronger blast northeast of the island that night, one that was equivalent to a magnitude 2.3 earthquake. Danish, Norwegian and Finnish seismic stations also registered the explosions.

your ad here

Turkey Cracks Down on Pop Music as Elections Loom

Turkish pop star Gulsen faces jail as a crackdown on popular music broadens. Some see the crackdown as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s attempt to court his religious base as elections loom and young people voice dissatisfaction with the economy. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul.

your ad here

India’s Top Court Legalizes Abortion Regardless of Marital Status

India’s top court on Thursday upheld the right of a woman to an abortion up to 24 weeks into pregnancy regardless of marital status, a decision widely hailed by women’s rights activists. 

The right to abortion has proved contentious globally after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned in June its landmark 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade that had legalized the procedure across the United States. 

“Even an unmarried woman can undergo abortion up to 24 weeks on par with married women,” said Justice D.Y. Chandrachud of India’s Supreme Court, holding that a woman’s marital status could not decide her right to abort. 

A law dating from 1971, the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, had limited the procedure to married women, divorcees, widows, minors, “disabled and mentally ill women” and survivors of sexual assault or rape. 

“The decision to have or not to have an abortion is borne out of complicated life circumstances, which only the woman can choose on her own terms without external interference or influence,” the court ruling said. 

It added that every woman should have the “reproductive autonomy” to seek abortion, without consulting a third party. 

Thursday’s decision came in response to a petition by a woman who said her pregnancy resulted from a consensual relationship, but she had sought abortion when the relationship failed. 

The ruling is a milestone for the rights of Indian women, activists said. 

“It is a first step, it is a progressive step,” said Yogita Bhayana, founder of PARI, or People Against Rapes in India.  

The court added that sexual assault by husbands can be classified as marital rape under the MTP law. Indian law does not consider marital rape an offense, though efforts are being made to change this. 

“In an era that includes Dobbs vs. Jackson, and makes distinctions between the marital status of women who are raped, this excellent judgment on abortion under the MTP Act hits it out of the park,” Karuna Nundy, an advocate specializing in gender law and other areas, said on Twitter. 

She was referring to the case that led to the U.S. Supreme Court judgment in June. 


your ad here

Report: Million Livelihoods in DRC Threatened by Planned Oil and Gas Exploration

The environmental group Greenpeace Africa has released a report saying planned oil and gas exploration in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo could expose more than 1 million people to pollution and disease.

The planned selling of 30 eastern land blocks that extend into a famous gorilla reserve would also threaten wildlife and food security, while fueling conflict, poverty and corruption, according to the report. 

Residents in the area accuse the government of keeping them in the dark and expressed fear of losing their livelihoods when companies start drilling for fossil fuels.  

Representatives for Greenpeace Africa and partner organizations visited about 30 villages in July to gauge the community’s awareness of the planned exploration and how they intend to protect their land and livelihoods. 

Mbong Akiy Fokwa Tsafack, head of communication at Greenpeace Africa, said many communities are not aware of the government’s plan to auction their land.  

“The thought of the government thinking of auctioning their lands for oil was really a shock for them. They were unaware, so they didn’t know this was underway, which is quite shocking given how much the government has said it plans to really put people ahead of everything else,” Tsafack said.

No one asked residents what they thought of the oil and gas drilling project, said Bantu Lukambo, who works with Innovation for the Development and Protection of the Environment, an NGO monitoring the welfare of communities around Virunga National Park.  

The government is supposed to have public input before undertaking such exploration, he said, but failed to do so. Even parliament members were not included in the decision-making process, he added. 

DRC President Felix Tshisekedi defended his government’s plan while speaking at the United Nations General Assembly last week, saying oil discovery would bring economic development to his people.  

Hydrocarbons Minister Didier Budimbu Ntubuanga, speaking at the Africa Oil Week conference in Senegal early this month, said the DRC has received two offers for the oil blocks and said any exploration will follow environmental guidelines. 

Lukambo is doubtful that will be the case. 

He fears all the fish will die if the exploration begins, and fishermen and their families will be in trouble. In addition, he added, 14 of the oil blocks are in Virunga National Park, and the others are in farming areas. If exploration starts on the land, he said, farmers won’t farm their land. 

The oil exploration blocks overlap parts of Congo’s most pristine ecosystems and Virunga Park, which is home to over 1,000 species of animals and birds.  

Tsafack said Congo’s leaders need to reconsider their decision to allow oil exploration in the park and nearby areas.  

“This is a moment when we need to see leadership coming through, in terms of the zeal to uproot corruption, to strengthen good governance and to put the people of the DRC at [the] heart of any kind of development agenda,” Tsafack said. “And putting the people of DRC at the heart of any development agenda means really looking into the communities and finding out what it is that will uplift their lives.” 

The 20-page report from Greenpeace urges the government to halt the projects and encourage alternative investments in renewable energy sources.  


your ad here

Guinea Trial for 2009 Massacre Begins on Anniversary

Oumy Diallo recalls the day she wanted to die. She was attending a pro-democracy protest in 2009 at a stadium in Conakry, Guinea, when a group of government security officials opened fire.

As she attempted to escape, shrapnel pierced her back and forced her to the ground. She felt a pair of hands grab her ankles, she said, then several men took turns raping her.

“Could I even count? Could I even count?” she said, trying to recall how many men raped her. “I just wanted to die.”

Diallo, whose name has been changed to protect her privacy, was among at least 100 women who were raped that day, according to a report by a United Nations-mandated international commission. At least 150 were killed.

Witnesses described horrific scenes: women being pulled from hiding places to be raped by multiple men, some people being knifed to death while others were shot, corpses piled on top of each other and draped over walls.

Following the attack, security forces sealed off the entrances to the stadium and morgues in an effort to cover up the crimes. Bodies were removed and buried in mass graves.

On Wednesday, exactly 13 years after the massacre, a trial accusing 11 former security and government officials of participating in the attack finally opened.

The 2009 protest, which drew tens of thousands of demonstrators, was organized in response to a presidential bid by Guinea’s then-military ruler, Moussa Dadis Camara.

Camara, who came to power in a 2008 coup, has since lived in exile in Burkina Faso, but returned to Guinea to stand trial. He has denied responsibility for the attack, placing the blame on errant soldiers.

One year before the incident, Diallo said she had easily gotten pregnant with her first child, a daughter. But she has since been unable to conceive. Now, at 34 years old, Diallo suspects it’s due to internal injuries sustained from the rape.

“Back then, I didn’t have the strength to explain what had happened to a doctor, so I self-medicated,” she said as she listed off the painkillers and antibiotics she took. “It wasn’t until later that I realized I should have gone to the hospital. But by then it was too late.”

Despite repeated commitments from Guinean authorities to seek justice for the victims, the trial has suffered from numerous delays and obstacles. In 2009, government inaction prompted an examination by the International Criminal Court (ICC), which has since pressured officials to make good on their promise.

Human rights abuses mounted under former Guinean president Alpha Conde, who was overthrown in a coup in September 2021. Guinea’s junta leader, Mamady Doumbouya, has expressed support for victims of the massacre and pushed for the trial to open before the 2022 anniversary.

But a ban on public protests persists, and in August the government dissolved the opposition coalition when it called for credible talks with Guinea’s transitional military rulers.

Guinea also continues to be plagued by high levels of sexual violence against women, according to a report released on the eve of the trial by Amnesty International. More than 400 cases of rape were recorded by Guinean police in 2021, and most of the victims were minors. But true figures are “undoubtably” higher, the report said.

Though Guinea recently established a specialized police unit to respond to sexual violence, cases are often settled out of court and perpetrators are rarely punished, according to the report. Furthermore, it said, officials are not adequately trained on how to respond to accusations of sexual assault.

“When you want to file a complaint, some policemen will not really take you seriously or the victim will not be able to talk freely and in a confidential way,” said Fabien Offner, a researcher for Amnesty International.

The cost of healthcare and the stigma associated with rape create additional barriers, he added.

The first day of the trial was broadcast live on national television and radio. A judge called each of the 11 men to the bar and read out their charges: murder, attempted murder, torture and rape.

“That a military that had been brought to a stadium killed Guineans, raped Guineans, hurt Guineans – that that same government has recognized the actions committed by the state in front of the national and international community – that already is a good thing,” said Mamadou Barry, secretary of the Association of Victims, Relatives and Friends of September 28, 2009.

While the simple recognition of the atrocities brings solace to many, others are demanding more.

“Of course, the organization of a trial is a first step,” said Amnesty’s Offner. “But it’s not justice.”

The trial will resume October 4.

your ad here

Taliban Disrupt Afghan Women’s Rally Supporting Iran Protests

A group of women in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, Thursday staged what was the first demonstration in support of protests in Iran before being forcefully dispersed by Taliban authorities.  

The rally comes as nationwide protests continued in the neighboring country over the death of a young woman, Masha Amini, while in detention by morality police in Tehran for failing to properly cover her hair with a hijab. 

Witnesses in Kabul said that about 30 female activists in headscarves gathered outside the Iranian embassy chanting, “Women, life, freedom” — slogans used during Iranian protests. They also held banners that read, “Iran has risen. Now it’s our turn!” and “From Kabul to Iran say no to dictatorship!” 

Taliban security forces snatched and tore the banners before firing in the air to disperse the rally. Organizers later said the demonstration was held to show “support and solidarity” with the Iranian people and the women in Afghanistan. 

“We are sure that one day, our people will rise in the same way as the Iranian people,” said a protester who spoke on condition of anonymity. 

Since returning to power a year ago, the Islamist Taliban have instructed women to cover their faces in public and told many female public sector employees to stay home. The group’s vice and virtue ministry also requires women not to undertake long road trips unless accompanied by a close male relative.  

The Taliban have barred teenage girls in Afghanistan from attending secondary school education beyond grade six.  

The restrictions have outraged activists and students and have triggered relentless international calls for the Taliban to ease them if they want their government to be formally recognized.  

The Islamist rulers maintain the restrictions are in line with Afghan culture and Islamic principles. 

The protests in Iran have spread to at least 80 cities and towns. Security police have used tear gas, clubs and, in some cases, live ammunition to quell the protests calling for the end to the Islamic establishment’s more than four decades in power.  

Iranian state media said 41 people, including members of the police and a pro-government militia, have been killed during the protests, although Iranian human rights groups have reported a higher toll. 

Amini, 22, was arrested September 13 and died three days later in a hospital after falling into a coma. Her family filed a complaint this week against the Iranian police officers who arrested her, calling for a full investigation.  

The Iranian police have denied responsibility for Amini’s death. 

Some information in this report came from Agence France-Presse. 


your ad here

Vatican Sanctions Nobel Laureate After Timor Accusations

The Vatican said Thursday it had imposed disciplinary sanctions on Nobel Peace Prize-winning Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo in the past two years, following allegations that he sexually abused boys in East Timor during the 1990s.

The Vatican admission came a day after a Dutch magazine, De Groene Amsterdammer, exposed the claims against the revered East Timor independence hero, citing two of Belo’s alleged victims and reporting there were others who hadn’t come forward in East Timor, where the Catholic Church wields enormous influence.

Spokesman Matteo Bruni said the Vatican office that handles sex abuse cases received allegations “concerning the bishop’s behavior” in 2019 and within a year had imposed the restrictions. They included limitations on Belo’s movements and his exercise of ministry, and prohibited him from having voluntary contact with minors or contact with East Timor.

In a statement, Bruni said the sanctions were “modified and reinforced” in November 2021 and that Belo had formally accepted the punishment on both occasions.

The Vatican provided no explanation for why Belo resigned as head of the Roman Catholic church in East Timor two decades early in 2002, and was sent to Mozambique, where he was allowed to work with children.

News of Belo’s behavior sent shock waves through the heavily Catholic, impoverished Southeast Asian nation, where he is a regarded as a hero for fighting to win East Timor’s independence from Indonesian rule.

“We are here also in shock to hear this news,” an official at the archdiocese of Dili in East Timor said Thursday, speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

Neither the Nobel Committee nor the United Nations immediately responded to requests for comment.

De Groene Amsterdammer said two alleged victims, identified only as Paulo and Roberto, reported being abused by Belo and said other boys were also victims. It said its investigation showed that Belo’s abuse was known to the East Timorese government and to humanitarian and church workers.

“The bishop raped and sexually abused me that night,” Roberto was quoted as telling the magazine. “Early in the morning he sent me away. I was afraid because it was still dark. So I had to wait before I could go home. He also left money for me. That was meant so that I would keep my mouth shut. And to make sure I would come back.”

Belo won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996 with fellow East Timorese independence icon Jose Ramos-Horta for campaigning for a fair and peaceful solution to conflict in their home country as it struggled to gain independence from Indonesia, a former Dutch colony.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee, in its citation, praised Belo’s courage in refusing to be intimidated by Indonesian forces. The committee noted that while trying to get the United Nations to arrange a plebiscite for East Timor, he smuggled out two witnesses to a bloody 1991 massacre so they could testify to the U.N. human rights commission in Geneva.

Ramos-Horta went on to become president of East Timor, a former Portuguese colony. Upon his return Thursday from the United States, where he addressed the U.N. General Assembly, Ramos-Horta was asked about the allegations against his co-Nobel laureate and deferred to the Vatican.

“I prefer to await further action from the Holy See,” he said.

Belo, who was believed to be living in Portugal, didn’t respond when reached by telephone by Radio Renascença, the private broadcaster of the Portuguese church.

Belo is a priest of the Salesians of Don Bosco, a Roman Catholic religious order that has long had influence at the Vatican. The Portuguese branch of the Salesians said Thursday that it learned “with great sadness and astonishment” of the news.

The branch distanced itself from Belo, saying he hadn’t been linked to the order since he took charge in East Timor. However, Belo is still listed in the 2021 Vatican yearbook by his Salesian initials “SDB” at the end of his name.

“As regards issues covered in the news, we have no knowledge that would allow us to comment,” the Salesian statement said.

It said the Portuguese Salesians took Belo in at the request of their superiors after he left East Timor in 2002 and because he was highly regarded, but said he had done no pastoral work in Portugal.

The Dutch magazine said its research indicated that Belo also abused boys in the 1980s before he became a bishop when he worked at an education center run by the Salesians.

Paulo, now 42, told the Dutch magazine he was abused once by Belo at the bishop’s residence in East Timor’s capital, Dili. He asked to remain anonymous.

“for the privacy and safety of himself and his family,” the magazine said.

“I thought: this is disgusting. I won’t go there anymore,” the magazine quoted him as saying.

Roberto, who also asked to remain anonymous, said he was abused more often, starting when he was about 14 after a religious celebration in his hometown. Roberto later moved to Dili, where the alleged abuse continued at the bishop’s residence, the Dutch magazine reported.

It is unclear whether or when any alleged victims ever came forward to local church, law enforcement or Vatican authorities.

St. John Paul II accepted Belo’s resignation as apostolic administrator of Dili on Nov. 26, 2002, when he was 54. The Vatican announcement at the time cited canon law that allows bishops under 75 to retire for health reasons or for some other “grave” reasons that make them unable to continue.

In 2005, Belo told UCANews, a Catholic news agency, that he resigned because of stress and poor health.

Belo had no other episcopal career after that, and Groene Amsterdammer said he moved to Mozambique and worked as a priest there.

Belo told UCANews he moved to Mozambique after consulting with the head of the Vatican’s missionary office, Cardinal Cresenzio Sepe, and agreed to work there for a year before returning to East Timor.

Efforts to reach Sepe, who is now retired, were not successful.

By 2002, when Belo retired as head of the church in East Timor, the sex abuse scandal had just exploded publicly in the United States and the Vatican had just begun to crack down on abusive priests, requiring all cases of abuse to be sent to the Vatican’s Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith for review.

Bishops, however, were exempted from that requirement. Only in 2019 did Pope Francis pass a church law requiring abuse and sexual misconduct against bishops to be reported internally, and providing a mechanism to investigate the claims.

It is possible that Belo’s sexual activity with teens might have been dismissed by the Vatican in the early 2000s if it involved 16- or 17-year-olds, since the Vatican in those years considered such activity to be sinful but consensual, not abuse. Only in 2010 did the Vatican raise the age of consent to 18.

Belo is not the only church official in East Timor accused of abuse. A defrocked American priest, Richard Daschbach, was found guilty last year by a Dili court of sexually abusing orphaned and disadvantaged young girls under his care and was sentenced to 12 years in prison, the first such case of its kind in the country.

your ad here

Challenges and Hope as India Makes Home for African Cheetahs

Eight cheetahs have been brought from Africa to India this month to conserve a species that became extinct in the South Asian country seven decades ago. While the project is hugely challenging, conservationists say the benefits go beyond conserving the world’s fastest land animal – if successful, it could help save neglected ecosystems such as grasslands. Anjana Pasricha report from New Delhi

your ad here

Ethiopian Security Forces Accused of Killing Civilian

Ethiopia’s government-funded human rights commission says security forces killed dozens of civilians following clashes with rebels in the country’s Gambella region in June.

According to the state-appointed rights body’s report published Thursday, the killings happened after an hourslong gun battle June 14 between regional security forces and militants from the Oromo Liberation Army and rebel groups from the Gambella Liberation Front.

After the OLA and GLF militants withdrew from the city, Gambella regional security force members searched houses and targeted civilians whom they accused of harboring weapons and fighters, the rights commission said.

The 13-page report concluded “at least 50 civilians” were killed “individually and in mass extrajudicial executions” by regional security forces between June 14 and June 16.

The bodies were then buried “en masse” with relatives denied access to them, said the commission, which also found that security force members had looted homes.

At the time, a Gambella city resident told VOA that he could hear sporadic shooting from his home in the days following the rebel groups’ assault.

Abel Adane, the Gambella office head for the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, said the killings took place in several locations across the city.

“Some people were killed at their homes, and some others were killed when they were walking on the streets of the town. For instance, one of the findings of our report is that one special force and city police of the regional government killed at least 11 civilians, all just in one house,” said Adane.

Abel added that several other people were taken to the local police commission where they were subsequently killed.

The report from the human rights commission was based on interviews with 58 people, including eyewitnesses and relatives of victims.

It also concluded that the OLA and the GLF rebel groups killed seven civilians while in the city, adding that six more people died after they were caught in crossfire.

A message to a government spokesperson requesting comment went unanswered.

Gambella’s regional police commission has said the rebels were responsible for the killings in the town.

your ad here

Uganda Fights Deadly Ebola Outbreak as President Assures It’s Under Control

Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni has assured the country that an Ebola outbreak is under control and that no restrictions on movement are needed. The country’s health officials confirmed cases of a deadly Sudan ebolavirus with six reported deaths out of 31 confirmed cases. Uganda’s medical association says some of its members are critically ill and has threatened to join a strike by medical interns over what they say is inadequate personal protective equipment. 

In an address to the nation Wednesday night, President Yoweri Museveni urged Ugandans to avoid coming in contact with body fluids such as blood, feces and vomit from infected people.

Even though the source for the Sudan ebolavirus, a strain for which the World Health Organization says cross-protection of vaccine for other Ebola strains has not been established, Museveni warned Ugandans against eating meat from monkeys, chimpanzees and gorillas.

“I want to reassure Ugandans and all residents that the government has the capacity to control this outbreak as we have done before. Therefore, there’s no need for anxiety, panic, restriction of movement or unnecessary closure of public places like schools, markets, places of worship etc. as of now,” he said.

The 31 Ebola cases confirmed so far include six health care workers, including four doctors, one anesthesiologist and one medical student who was exposed to the first case in the district of Mubende, Kyegegwa and Kassanda.

Museveni who cautioned Ugandans against shaking hands also says Uganda is still discussing a vaccine for the Sudan ebolavirus that was first reported on August 6. Uganda only has a stock of the Zaire ebolavirus that was reported in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo. There is currently no approved vaccine for the Sudan ebolavirus.

“One of the issues we were debating the other day was, why not use the vaccine of Ebola Zaire. Even though it’s not specific for Ebola Sudan, but it’s Ebola,” he said. “They share some of the characteristics. And it is safe. And we have used it on our soldiers. So, is there any harm in trying it?”

The government has now set up an Ebola treatment unit with a 51-bed capacity for confirmed cases and 80 beds for suspected cases.

To shorten the turnaround time of sampling, processing and improving patient care, two mobile diagnostic laboratories will be deployed in the Mubende district by Friday.

Health Minister Dr. Jane Ruth Acheng also allayed fears among health workers especially those infected with the virus.

“We want to appreciate the work that they are doing. But also reassure them that they will be taken care of and given the necessary supportive care and treatment so that we ensure that we don’t lose them,” she said.

President of the Uganda Medical Association Dr. Sam Oledo, however, describes a different situation in the affected districts for health workers.

“When we start losing health workers, I don’t think it can be under control. It’s painful that this morning the intern and the SHO [Senior Health Officer] are on oxygen, and they are not doing well. What we are trying to mobilize now is ICU management. We cannot afford to have the corpse of a medic at such a time. And I assure you, if the worst happens, we shall withdraw services in Mubende,” he said.

The Sudan ebolavirus is less common than the Zaire ebolavirus and has no current, effective vaccine. Sudan ebolavirus was first reported in Southern Sudan in 1976. Although several outbreaks have been reported since then in both Uganda and Sudan, the deadliest outbreak in Uganda was in 2000 claiming over 200 lives.

Uganda’s last Ebola outbreak, in 2019, was confirmed to be the Zaire ebolavirus. It last reported a Sudan ebolavirus outbreak in 2012.

your ad here