Germany arrests 2 for allegedly spying for Russia, plotting sabotage to undermine Ukraine aid

BERLIN — Two German-Russian men have been arrested in Germany on suspicion of espionage, one of them accused of agreeing to carry out attacks on potential targets including U.S. military facilities in hopes of sabotaging aid for Ukraine, prosecutors said Thursday.

The two, identified only as Dieter S. and Alexander J. in line with German privacy rules, were arrested Wednesday in the Bavarian city of Bayreuth, federal prosecutors said.

Prosecutors allege Dieter S. had been discussing possible acts of sabotage in Germany with a person linked to Russian intelligence since October, and that the main aim was to undermine military support given by Germany to Ukraine.

The suspect declared himself willing to carry out bombing and arson attacks on infrastructure used by the military and industrial sites in Germany, prosecutors said in a statement. They added that he gathered information on potential targets, including U.S. military facilities.

Alexander J. allegedly helped him to do so starting in March at the latest, while Dieter S. scouted out some of the sites, took photos and videos of military goods and passed the information to his intelligence contact.

A judge on Wednesday ordered Dieter S. kept in custody pending a possible indictment, and Alexander J. was ordered held on Thursday.

Dieter S. also faces separate accusations of belonging to an armed unit of pro-Russian separatist forces in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine between December 2014 and September 2016.

Germany has become the second-biggest supplier of weapons to Ukraine after the United States since Russia started its full-scale invasion of Ukraine more than two years ago. The U.S. has a large military presence in Germany, including in Bavaria.

Prosecutors did not name any specific locations in the suspects’ sights. German news agency dpa and magazine Der Spiegel reported, without citing sources, that the locations allegedly snooped on include the U.S. Grafenwoehr military base.

Germany’s top security official, Interior Minister Nancy Faeser, said Russia’s ambassador was summoned to the Foreign Ministry in Berlin.

She vowed that Germany will continue to thwart any such Russian threats. “We will continue to give Ukraine massive support and will not let ourselves be intimidated,” she said.

Faeser wouldn’t comment on details of the investigation. She said that Germany has increased its security measures since Russia sent its troops into Ukraine in 2022 and will keep evaluating them.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he couldn’t comment on the reported arrests, saying that he doesn’t have “any information on this matter.”

European officials have recently warned of Russia-linked interference networks trying to undermine European support for Ukraine in its war against Russia.

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In India’s election, Modi flags development, while opposition says democracy ‘at risk’

India’s mammoth phased election that begins April 19 will pit Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party against an opposition alliance of over two dozen parties. While Modi is wooing voters by promising to continue the country’s development, the opposition has raised concerns about threats to democracy. Anjana Pasricha reports from New Dehli.

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UK, EU face significant medicine shortages, study says

LONDON — Patients in the U.K. and European Union are facing shortages of vital medicines such as antibiotics and epilepsy medication, research published Thursday found.

The report by Britain’s Nuffield Trust think-tank found the situation had become a “new normal” in the U.K. and was “also having a serious impact in EU countries.”

Mark Dayan, Brexit program lead at the Nuffield Trust think tank, said Britain’s decision to leave the European Union had not caused U.K. supply problems but had exacerbated them.

“We know many of the problems are global and relate to fragile chains of imports from Asia, squeezed by COVID-19 shutdowns, inflation and global instability,” he said.

“But exiting the EU has left the U.K. with several additional problems -– products no longer flow as smoothly across the borders with the EU, and in the long term our struggles to approve as many medicines might mean we have fewer alternatives available,” he said.

Researchers also warned that being outside the EU might mean Britain is unable to benefit from EU measures taken to tackle shortages, such as bringing drug manufacturing back to Europe.

It said that this included the EU’s Critical Medicines Alliance which it launched in early 2024.

Analysis of freedom of information requests and public data on drug shortages showed the number of notifications from drug companies warning of impending shortages in the UK had more than doubled in three years.

Some 1,634 alerts were issued in 2023, up from 648 in 2020, according to the report, The Future for Health After Brexit.

Paul Rees, chief executive of the National Pharmacy Association (NPA), said medicine shortages had become “commonplace,” adding that this was “totally unacceptable” in any modern health system.

“Supply shortages are a real and present danger to those patients who rely on life-saving medicines for their well-being,” he said.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said the U.K. was not alone in facing medical supply issues.

It said most cases of shortages had been “swiftly managed with minimal disruption to patients.” 

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Georgia presses on with ‘foreign agents’ bill opposed by EU

TBILISI, GEORGIA — Georgia’s parliament gave initial approval on Wednesday to a bill on “foreign agents” that the European Union said risked blocking the country’s path to membership and triggered protests for a third straight night.

The fate of the bill is widely seen as a test of whether Georgia, 33 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, intends to pursue a path of integration with the West or move closer toward Russia.

Critics compare the bill to a law that Russia has used extensively to crack down on dissent.

As many as 10,000 opponents of the bill gathered outside the parliament, sitting atop cars and buildings — a day after police used pepper spray to clear protesters away from part of the building.

Several thousand protesters moved over to the government building, heavily guarded by police, to demand a meeting with Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze, the bill’s principal backer.

Some demonstrators, many wearing helmets and masks, scuffled with police outside the building.

Eighty-three of 150 deputies voted in favor, while opposition MPs boycotted the vote. The bill must pass two more readings before becoming law.

It would require organizations receiving more than 20% of their funding from abroad to register as agents of foreign influence.

Soon after the vote, the EU said in a statement, “This is a very concerning development, and the final adoption of this legislation would negatively impact Georgia’s progress on its EU path. This law is not in line with EU core norms and values.”

It said the proposed legislation “would limit the capacity of civil society and media organizations to operate freely, could limit freedom of expression and unfairly stigmatize organizations that deliver benefits to the citizens of Georgia.”

The EU urged Georgia to “refrain from adopting legislation that can compromise Georgia’s EU path.” The United States and Britain have also urged Georgia not to pass the bill.

The prime minister, in comments quoted by the Interpressnews, said Western politicians had not produced a single valid argument against the bill, and their statements would not prompt the government to change its mind.

President Salome Zourabichvili, whose role is mostly ceremonial, said she would veto the law if it was passed. But parliament has the power to override her veto.

The ruling Georgian Dream Party, which has faced accusations of authoritarianism and excessive closeness to Russia, says the bill is necessary to promote transparency and combat “pseudo-liberal values” imposed by foreigners.

Protesters call bill ‘Russian’

The Interior Ministry said two people were detained at the latest protest. On Tuesday, 11 were detained, and one police officer was injured in altercations.

Protesters who denounced the bill as the “Russian law” appeared undaunted.

“It is very hard to predict any scenario, because the government is unpredictable, unreliable, untruthful, sarcastic and cynical,” said activist Paata Sabelashvili. “People here are just flowing and flowing and flowing like rivers.”

Parliament passed the law on first reading in a rowdy session during which four opposition lawmakers were removed from the chamber amid shouts of “No to the Russian law” and “Traitors.”

Russia is viewed with deep suspicion by many in the South Caucasus country of 3.7 million people, which in 2008 lost a brief war with Moscow over the Moscow-backed breakaway territory of South Ossetia.

Russia defends legislation as ‘normal’

Russia said on Wednesday it had nothing to do with the law and defended it as a “normal practice.” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said it was being used by outside actors to stoke anti-Russian sentiment.

The bill was initially introduced in March 2023. but was shelved after two nights of violent protests and has increased divisions in a deeply polarized Georgia.

A coalition of opposition groups, civil society, celebrities and the president have rallied to oppose it.

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US prepared to ‘take further steps’ as it warns China against enabling Russia

state department — The United States warned China on Wednesday against helping Russia in its war on Ukraine and said it is “prepared to take further steps as necessary.” In Italy, foreign ministers from the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations gathered to reaffirm their support for Ukraine’s defense.

“We believe that the PRC is supporting Russia’s war effort and is doing so by helping ramp up its defense production,” State Department principal deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel told reporters during a briefing in Washington.

“Specifically,” he said, “the PRC is providing Russia with significant quantities of machine tools, microelectronics, optics, UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones] and cruise missile technology, and nitrocellulose, which Russia uses to make propellants for weapons.”

Patel said the United States believes these materials “are filling critical gaps in Russia’s defense production cycle” and helping to revitalize Russia’s defense industrial base.

“China’s support is actively enabling Russia’s war in Ukraine, and it poses a significant threat to European security,” he added. “We’ve sanctioned relevant firms in the PRC and are prepared to take further steps as necessary.”

Blinken, G7 leaders talk

In Capri, Italy, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is holding talks this week with foreign ministers from the other G7 countries — Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom — as well as representatives from the European Union. Topics include Ukraine support, the Middle East crisis, Haitian instability and global partnerships.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock on Wednesday said the G7 ministers would discuss how to get more air defense to Ukraine as Kyiv faces increasing pressure from Russia.

“We and our partners around the world must now be just as resolute in our defense against Russian terror from the air,” Baerbock said in a statement.

Blinken will later visit China, where he is expected to bring up Washington’s concerns about China’s support for Russia’s defense industrial base.

On the margins of the G7 meeting Wednesday, Blinken and Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani signed a memorandum of understanding to counter the manipulation of information by other countries.

Blinken said the two nations are collaborating on “all of the most critical issues,” including aiding Ukraine in defending itself against Russian aggression, addressing challenges in the Middle East and sharing approaches to challenges posed by China.

Beijing rejected what Chinese officials described as Washington’s “smear.”

“China regulates the export of dual-use articles in accordance with laws and regulations. Relevant countries should not smear or attack the normal relations between China and Russia and should not harm the legitimate rights and interests of China and Chinese companies,” Mao Ning, a spokeswoman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said during a briefing.

China continues supporting Russia

After Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to Beijing last week, Chinese officials said China would “continue to support Russia in pursuing development and revitalization under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin.”

They said the two nations “have committed themselves to lasting friendship” and a deepened comprehensive strategic partnership.

Russian missile kills at least 17

In Washington, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo met with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal. The two discussed the U.S. Commerce Department’s work with partners to coordinate export controls and restrict sales of advanced technologies to Russia.

Deputy U.S. Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo said G7 finance leaders have been working toward a plan to unlock the value of frozen Russian sovereign assets to aid Ukraine in the near term. But he noted the talks are still a work in progress.

In Ukraine, officials said earlier Wednesday that a Russian missile attack hit the northern city of Chernihiv, killing at least 17 people and injuring 61 others.

Denise Brown, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Ukraine, condemned the latest wave of strikes. She also emphasized that under international humanitarian law, civilians and hospitals must be protected.

In Chernihiv, aid workers provided on-the-ground support to those affected by the strikes, including psychosocial and legal assistance. Their efforts complement the work of first responders and rescue services.

Some information for this report came from Reuters.

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25 years after massacre in Kosovo, survivors appeal for justice

Twenty-five years ago this week, Serbian forces killed 53 Albanians in the Kosovar village of Poklek, making it one of the worst massacres of the war in Kosovo. Today, some survivors still seek justice for their families. VOA’s Keida Kostreci reports. Camera: Burim Goxhuli, Bujar Sylejmani.

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Hospitals in eastern DRC face vaccine shortages

Goma — In the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, specifically in the Beni and Butembo region, parents are finding it hard getting vaccines for their children. Health care providers report that vaccines have been in short supply for several months, leaving thousands of children unvaccinated. Parents worried about their children’s health are calling on authorities to quickly resolve the situation.

In the town of Butembo, vaccination programs have come to a stop. The head nurse of the Makasi health area, Kambale Wangahikya, confirms the absence of vaccines in certain areas of North Kivu province.

He said they’re missing several vaccines, such as the one that fights pneumonia and helps children fight coughs, and also the vaccine that fights meningitis and mumps. He said that all children born and unborn are therefore still at risk.

This situation creates frustrations for breastfeeding women. One mother, Kasoki, is worried because her infant son has not yet received the BCG vaccine against tuberculosis.

She said she has a 4-month-old baby, but he’s having trouble getting BCG and other vaccines. She went to the hospital four times and couldn’t find anything. The doctors gave her several appointments but when she arrived, she could hardly find anything. She’s worried that her baby will catch serious diseases.

Another mother, Stephanie’s, said she made several trips to health facilities to have her child vaccinated. It was only last week, she said, that her son received his first dose of any vaccine. She told us about the fear she felt.

She said she felt very bad because the vaccine she had been looking for a long time was very important for her child, because if he didn’t get it, he would be exposed to disabilities and diseases when he grew up. She said that the health authorities should force themselves to bring in the vaccines, because this shortage could cause problems for the children later on.

Kasoki Defrose, a nurse at Beni’s university clinic, said that not vaccinating children has consequences for the physical health of newborns. She said that local authorities are working hard to respond to this shortage.

She said that if children aren’t vaccinated against polio, for example, they risk becoming weak and their muscles won’t be strengthened. She said the authorities intend to respond to the shortage soon.

According to officials from the Beni health zone, which oversees dozens of hospitals in the region, over 1,000 children are waiting to be vaccinated in several towns in the Beni and Butembo region.

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Haitian business leaders ‘extremely concerned’ over delay to Kenya-led mission

Port-au-Prince, Haiti — Haitian business leaders said in a letter addressed to Kenyan President William Ruto that they were “extremely concerned” over a delay to a United Nations-backed security mission his government has pledged to lead to fight gangs in the Caribbean nation.

In a letter dated Monday but distributed on Wednesday, the leaders of eight top business chambers said they were concerned as the mission has yet to deploy more than six months after its approval and as the end of its initial mandate fast approaches.

The U.N. Security Council had on October 2 approved a voluntary corps of international troops to deploy to Haiti to help its under-resourced police battle gangs that have cemented their control over nearly all of the capital, Port-au-Prince.

The authorization is valid for 12 months with a review after nine, but the mission has yet to deploy, and some countries that did pledge funds or troops have struggled to get these approved by their parliaments or have been slow to hand over the resources.

Kenya is the only country that has offered to lead the mission, but as of early March, it had not yet presented a letter to the United Nations formalizing its contribution.  

On March 11, Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who had first requested the deployment back in 2022, announced his resignation, prompting Kenya to put its plans on pause. Days earlier, Henry and Ruto had signed a deal intended to fast-track the force.

Haiti has yet to formally install a transition council to take over from Henry, though it named the designated representatives on Tuesday after extended delays that prompted critics to accuse the government of delaying the process.

Meanwhile, gangs have further escalated their assaults on parts of the capital they do not yet control. Key ports have been closed for over a month, blocking supplies of food and essential goods while millions go hungry, and hundreds of thousands are internally displaced.

Pointing to the transition council’s “imminent formation,” the letter said Haiti’s business leaders “look forward to welcoming the Kenyan forces in a relatively short order.”

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Pakistan claims to have killed 7 ‘terrorists’ near Afghan border

ISLAMABAD — Pakistan said Wednesday that its border security forces killed a group of seven “terrorists,” who were attempting to cross over from Afghanistan. 

A military statement said the overnight infiltration occurred in North Waziristan, a volatile Pakistani district on the Afghan border. It stated that “the infiltrators were surrounded, effectively engaged, and, after an intense fire exchange,” all of them were killed.  

The statement said that Pakistani security forces also “recovered a large quantity of weapons, ammunition, and explosives” from the slain militants. 

The veracity of the official claims could not immediately be ascertained from independent sources.  

 

The military said in its statement that Islamabad had consistently asked the Taliban government to “ensure effective border management” on the Afghan side, and it “is expected to fulfill its obligations” to prevent “acts of terrorism against Pakistan.”  

No group claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s alleged border incident.  

Pakistan blames fugitive commanders and fighters of an anti-state militant group known as the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP, for orchestrating cross-border attacks from sanctuaries in Afghanistan.   

Authorities say the violence has intensified and killed hundreds of Pakistanis, including security forces, since the Taliban reclaimed power in the neighboring country in 2021. 

Last month, Pakistani fighter planes carried out strikes against TTP hideouts inside Afghanistan, raising bilateral military tensions. 

The United States and the United Nations have designated TTP as a global terrorist organization. 

The Taliban deny they are allowing anyone to threaten neighboring countries from their territory, claiming no foreign militants, including TTP, are based in Afghanistan. 

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Cameroon doctors flee to Europe, North America for lucrative jobs

YAOUNDE, CAMEROON — The state of health care in Cameroon is a source of growing concern, with thousands of doctors fleeing the central African country for lucrative jobs elsewhere, especially in Europe and North America, according to officials. 

The number of people, including doctors, acquiring passports and applying for visas has increased by 70 percent, officials say. In addition, 75 percent of the 1,000 doctors that Cameroon’s government trains each year are leaving.  

Cameroon’s Ministry of Public Health reports that several hundred doctors are enrolled in what members of the profession see as lucrative schemes to emigrate to Canada. Also, the number of health workers, including doctors, applying for the U.S. government’s Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, also known as the Green Card Lottery, is rising. 

The Cameroon Medical Council, an association of doctors, says the doctor-patient ratio in Cameroon has sunk to one doctor per 50,000 people, instead of the World Health Organization’s recommended ratio of one doctor per 10,000 patients. The group reports that the doctors are fleeing to escape hardship, poor pay, difficult working conditions and unemployment. 

Doctor Peter Louis Ndifor, the council’s vice president, said it is unfortunate that Cameroon trains but does not recruit thousands of its doctors. He spoke to VOA via telephone from Buea, an English-speaking town in southwestern Cameroon. 

“The number of registered doctors on the roll[s] of the Cameroon Medical Council is about 13,000, but we have 5,000 to 6,000 doctors in Cameroon presently,” he said. “Doctors quitting Cameroon is an eloquent testimony that doctors are in discomfort, doctors are in distress.” 

Cameroon says it currently needs at least 30,000 health workers, including doctors. The country is facing attacks from Boko Haram that have left more than 36,000 people dead, a separatist crisis that has killed more than 6,000 people and displaced about 750,000 others, and the spillover of sectarian violence from neighboring Central African Republic.  

The Cameroon Medical Council says the central African country in 2013 launched a program to train about 1,000 doctors in order to improve the doctor-patient ratio, which was then one doctor per 17,000 patients. 

However, the government recruits less than 100 doctors each year due to financial constraints, officials say. Cameroon’s Ministry of Public Health says it expected privately owned hospitals to recruit a majority of the doctors upon graduation from medical school, but hospitals owned by individuals, communities and churches also recruit less than 100 doctors each year.  

Even when recruited, the doctors say they are paid about $100 per month in private hospitals and about $220 per month in government hospitals.

Jathor Godlove, 29, is an unemployed doctor. After seven years of study at the faculty of medicine of Cameroon’s University of Bamenda, he says hardship is forcing him to consider leaving the country. 

“I find myself being very restrained and restricted in my capacity to help my family,” he said. “I even have some peers who venture out of medicine because they see that as a medic, when you get somewhere to offer your services, they will tell you they want to pay you 50,000 [Central African CFA] francs a month [around $80 U.S.], which is very funny. Some of them have families, when they find themselves in such situations, they see better opportunities abroad. I think you can’t blame them.”  

He says poor working conditions — including the lack of hospital equipment and poor pay — are pushing nurses, midwives and laboratory technicians to join doctors in leaving Cameroon for Europe and North America. 

However, some medical staff members who have not been able to travel out of Cameroon offer voluntary services in hospitals like in Bamenda, capital of Cameroon’s English-speaking Northwest Region.  

Doctor Denis Nsame, director of the Regional Hospital in Bamenda, says unemployed health care workers outnumber health workers hired by the government. 

“At the Regional Hospital in Bamenda, out of 600 staff, only 146 are state-employed staff, and we consult on average 45,000 patients per year, carry out about 1,900 surgeries per year, we have deliveries [of babies] close to 250 to 300 every month,” Nsame said. 

The Cameroon Medical Council says that some health workers, including doctors, at times go several months without pay. Many of the health workers count on donations and consultation fees from well-wishers and patients to make a living.  

In a message to Cameroonian youths last February 11, Cameroonian President Paul Biya said young people’s growing desire to emigrate is increasingly a cause for concern. He said Cameroonians should be patriotic and serve their homeland because the country is facing difficulties and leaving is not a solution.  

Doctors and other health workers say the president, if he wants to curb emigration, should improve their living conditions and hospital equipment.

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India treads carefully amid rising Middle East tensions

New Delhi — Mounting hostility between Israel and Iran is creating a diplomatic problem for India, which has long-standing and important relations with both countries.

Kallol Bhattacherjee, a senior foreign affairs analyst, says in the event of an Iran-Israel war, New Delhi cannot afford to support or oppose either of them.

Speaking to VOA, Bhattacherjee said 7 million Indians work in the Gulf countries and send more than $90 billion in foreign exchange to India annually. In the event of a war in the Middle East, Indian workers will be the most affected and remittances will stop.

Senior foreign affairs analyst Umashankar Singh says India has a strategic relationship with Israel and has a historical relationship with Iran.

He said India and Israel have been cooperating in various fields, including defense and technology, for decades, and Israel is the largest supplier of arms to India.

According to him, Iran was the second-largest supplier of oil to India before sanctions were imposed on it due to its nuclear program. Although India has not been able to buy oil from Iran for the past four years, the two countries still have close relations.

India and Iran signed a defense pact in 2002, while New Delhi has invested in the construction of Iran’s Chabahar Port.

According to Bhattacherjee, Iran has helped India on issues including relations with Central Asian countries, communications with the Taliban and other security and defense matters.

Iran, Russia and India established the multilateral corridor model in September 2000 to promote cooperation in the transport sector. Later, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Ukraine, Belarus, Oman, Syria and Bulgaria were included in this corridor.

The number of Indian workers in Iran is not high. According to India’s ministry of external affairs, there are 4,000 Indian immigrants in Iran, while 18,000 Indians are working in Israel, many of them as caregivers, according to The Hindu newspaper. Another 6,000 are expected to arrive shortly to fill construction jobs left vacant by Palestinians because of the Israel-Hamas war, the newspaper said. 

India and Israel had signed an agreement to send another 1,500 Indian workers to Israel, of whom the first group of 65 people arrived on April 2. The dispatch of a second group was postponed because of the threat of further Iran-Israel conflict.

Naor Gilon, Israeli ambassador in India, has said protection will be provided to the Indian workers.

This story originated in VOA’s Urdu Service. 

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US bars 4 former Malawi officials over corruption, State Department says 

Washington — The United States has barred four former officials of the Malawi government from entry because of their involvement in significant corruption, the State Department said on Wednesday.

The officials designated are former solicitor general and secretary of justice Reyneck Matemba, former director of public procurement and disposal of assets John Suzi-Banda, former Malawi Police Service attorney Mwabi Kaluba, and former Inspector General of the Malawi Police Service George Kainja, the department said.

The four were cited by the State Department as having “abused their public positions by accepting bribes and other articles of value” from a private business person in exchange for a government police contract.

“The United States stands with Malawians working towards a more just and prosperous nation by promoting accountability for corrupt officials, including advocating for transparency and integrity in government procurement processes,” department spokesman Matthew Miller said in a statement.

Matemba expressed surprise when contacted by Reuters.

“I am still in Malawi and have never traveled outside the country since 2021. I am on bail, therefore I can’t travel because my passport is technically with the police,” Matemba said.

Malawi President Lazarus Chakwera has waged a crackdown on corruption in recent years. In January 2022, he dissolved the country’s entire Cabinet on charges of corruption against three serving ministers.

Later that year, Malawi’s Anti-Corruption Bureau arrested and charged the country’s vice president, Saulos Klaus Chilima, over graft allegations.

The group has been investigating public officers in Malawi over alleged plundering of state resources by influencing awarding of contracts through the country’s public procurement system.

Malawi is one of the world’s poorest countries, with nearly three-quarters of the population living on less than $2 a day. Though small in size, it features in the top 10 in Africa in terms of population density.

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G7 foreign ministers meet in Italy amid calls for sanctions on Iran

CAPRI, Italy — Foreign ministers from the Group of Seven (G7) major democracies gathered on the Italian island of Capri on Wednesday for three days of talks overshadowed by expectations of an Israeli retaliation against Iran for missile and drone attacks.

The continuing escalation of tensions between Israel and Iran and the wars in Gaza and in Ukraine will dominate the agenda of the ministers from the United States, Britain, France, Italy, Germany, Canada and Japan.  

Italy, which holds the G7’s rotating presidency, is pushing for a ceasefire in Gaza and a de-escalation of Middle East tensions, but Israel looks very likely to retaliate against Iran’s weekend attacks despite Western calls for restraint.

“Against a background of strong international tensions, the Italian-led G7 is tasked with working for peace,” Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani said in a statement.

The G7 nations pledged support for Israel after the attack, which came in response to a presumed Israeli airstrike on Iran’s embassy compound in Damascus on April 1 which killed two generals and several other Iranian officers.

The U.S. said on Tuesday it was planning to impose new sanctions on Tehran’s missile and drone program in the coming days and expected its allies to follow suit. Tajani told Reuters this week that any sanctions might just focus on individuals.

The Iranian missiles and drones launched on Saturday were mostly shot down by Israel and its allies, and caused no deaths. But Israel says it must retaliate to preserve the credibility of its deterrents. Iran says it considers the matter closed for now but will retaliate again if Israel does.

Ukraine

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will also be a major topic in Capri, with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg scheduled to join the talks on Thursday.

Germany said on Wednesday the G7 ministers would discuss how to get more air defenses to Ukraine as Kyiv faces increasing pressure from relentless Russian air strikes on its energy network.

Another key issue will be ways of utilizing profits from some $300 billion of sovereign Russian assets held in the West to help Ukraine, amid hesitation among some European Union member states over the legality of such a move.

The opening session of the meeting on Wednesday evening will focus on Gaza and Iran, with the situation in the Red Sea under scrutiny on Thursday morning. Before turning to Ukraine, the ministers will look at ways of strengthening ties with Africa.

The G7 ministers will also discuss stability in the Indo-Pacific region, Italy has said, and hold debates on issues including infrastructure connectivity, cybersecurity, Artificial Intelligence and the fight against fake news.

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