Russia, China taking space into dangerous territory, US says

Washington — Russia and China are edging ever closer to unleashing space-based weapons, a decision that could have far-reaching implications for America’s ability to defend itself, U.S. military and intelligence agencies warn.

Adding to the concern, they say, is what appears to be a growing willingness by both countries to set aside long-running suspicions and animosity in order to gain an edge over the United States.

“I would highlight … the increasing amount in intent to use counterspace capabilities,” said Lieutenant General Jeff Kruse, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.

“Both Russia and China view the use of space early on, even ahead of conflict, as important capabilities to deter or to compel behaviors,” Kruse told the annual Aspen Security Forum on Wednesday. “We just need to be ready.”

Concerns about the safety of space surged earlier this year when House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Turner called for the declassification of “all information” related to what was described as a new Russian anti-satellite capability involving nuclear weapons.

More recently, Turner has warned that the U.S. is “sleepwalking” into a disaster, saying that Russia is on the verge of being able to detonate a nuclear weapon in space, which would impose high costs on the U.S. military and economy.

The White House has responded repeatedly that U.S. officials have been aware of the Russian plans, and that Moscow has not yet deployed a space-based nuclear capability.

It is a stance that Kruse reaffirmed Wednesday, with added caution.

“We have been tracking for almost a decade Russia’s intent to design the ability to put a nuclear weapon in space,” he said. “They have progressed down to a point where we think they’re getting close.”

The Russians “don’t intend to slow down, and until there’s repercussions, will not slow down,” he said.

Russian and Chinese officials have yet to respond to VOA’s requests for reaction to the latest U.S. accusations, but both countries have repeatedly denied U.S. criticisms of their space policies.

In May, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov dismissed U.S. concerns about Moscow trying to put nuclear weapons in space as “fake news.”

But the Chinese Embassy in Washington, while admitting there are some “difficulties” when it comes to China-U.S. relations in space, rejected any suggestion Beijing is acting belligerently in space.

“China always advocates the peaceful use of outer space, opposes weaponizing space or an arms race in space and works actively toward the vision of building a community with a shared future for mankind in space,” spokesperson Liu Pengyu told VOA in an email.

“The U.S. has been weaving a narrative about the so-called threat posed by China in outer space in an attempt to justify its own military buildup to seek space hegemony,” Liu said. “It is just another illustration of how the U.S. clings on to the Cold War mentality and deflects responsibility.”

Despite Beijing’s public posture, the Defense Intelligence Agency’s Kruse suggested Wednesday that China’s rapid expansion into the space domain is just as worrisome.

“They’re in multiple orbits that they did not used to be before,” he told the audience in Aspen, Colorado, warning that Beijing has already invested heavily in directed energy weapons, electronic warfare capabilities and anti-satellite technology.

“China is the one country that more so even than the United States has a space doctrine, a space strategy, and they train and exercise the use of space and counterspace capabilities in a way that we just don’t see elsewhere,” he said.

The general in charge of U.S. Space Command described the Chinese threat in even starker terms.

“China is building a kill web, if you will, in space,” said General Stephen Whiting, speaking alongside Kruse at the Aspen conference. 

“In the last six years, they’ve tripled the number of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance satellites they have on orbit — hundreds and hundreds of satellites, again, purpose built and designed to find, fix, track target and, yes, potentially engage U.S. and allied forces across the Indo-Pacific,” he said.

Whiting also raised concerns about the lack of clear military communication with China about space.

“We want to have a way to talk to them about space safety as they put more satellites on orbit,” he said, “so that we can operate effectively and don’t have any miscommunication or unintended actions that cause a misunderstanding.”

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Trump’s VP pick Vance is pro-Israel, anti-China and creating anxiety in Europe

washington — Senator J.D. Vance, former President Donald Trump’s newly announced running mate, will take center stage Wednesday evening at the Republican National Convention, focusing on the day’s theme, “Make America Strong Again.”

Vance, 39, a former venture capitalist, has less than two years in public office and little foreign policy background. His recent comments mostly align with Trump’s “America First” doctrine and have revealed a worldview that can be summed up as pro-Israel, anti-China and causing anxiety in Europe.

A former U.S. Marine who was deployed in Iraq, Vance is skeptical of American military intervention overseas and, with the exception of Israel, largely opposes foreign aid. He has argued that the United States can’t simultaneously support Ukraine and the Middle East and be ready for contingencies in East Asia.

“It just doesn’t make any sense,” he said in February at the Munich Security Conference. “The math doesn’t work out in terms of weapons manufacturing.”

However, Vance is not an isolationist, as some have described him, said Emma Ashford, senior fellow with the Reimagining U.S. Grand Strategy program at the Stimson Center.

In a recent speech at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, Vance defined his foreign policy goals.

“We want the Israelis and the Sunnis to police their own region of the world. We want the Europeans to police their own region of the world, and we want to be able to focus more on East Asia,” he said.

“You could call him either a realist or perhaps a prioritizer,” Ashford told VOA.

That’s a strong contrast from Biden administration policymakers “who argue that every region is interconnected, and the U.S. has to lead in all of them,” she added. “And it’s definitely a break from the post-Cold War foreign policy in the U.S.”

Yet, Vance’s aim for the United States to pull away from Europe and the Middle East to focus on China is neither new nor uniquely Republican. In fact, former President Barack Obama pursued a Pivot to Asia doctrine from 2009 to 2017.

That pivot has yet to happen, as the U.S. has become bogged down by conflicts in both Europe and the Middle East.

Less support for Ukraine

In terms of priorities, Vance is aligned with Trump’s insistence that Washington reduce support for Ukraine and force Europeans to play a bigger role in the continent’s own security.

“I do not think that Vladimir Putin is an existential threat to Europe,” Vance said in Munich, sending shock waves through European diplomatic circles. He added that Kyiv should pursue a “negotiated peace” with Moscow even if that means ceding territory.

That prompted criticism from John Herbst, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine who is now senior director of the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center. Vance is “completely naive on Putin’s Russia,” Herbst told VOA.

With Trump suggesting he would not protect countries that failed to meet NATO’s defense spending targets, even appearing to encourage Putin to attack them, and Vance’s criticisms of Ukraine, the prospect of a Trump-Vance administration has sparked alarm across Europe.

However, Herbst remains optimistic.

While Ukraine may not be Trump’s first priority, he “perceives himself as a strongman and does not want to be associated with foreign policy failure,” he said. “And a Russian victory in Ukraine if Trump is president would look very much like a foreign policy failure.”

More support for Israel

While Vance has established himself as a key surrogate for America First, Israel may be the exception. Citing his Christian beliefs, Vance is an even more staunch supporter of Israel than President Joe Biden, pushing for continued military aid and opposing limits on Israel’s war conduct.

“Vance’s strong support for Israel is a reflection of the importance of some conservative evangelical views in today’s Republican Party, as well as the stands of white Christian nationalist thinking that has grown under Trump’s grip on the party,” said Brian Katulis, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute.

Vance has criticized the U.S. neoconservative approach that began with the Bush administration as “strategically and morally stupid.” However, while he is against American interventionism elsewhere, in the Middle East he has advocated for a similar strategy of spending U.S. military resources to shore up an alliance of Israel and Sunni Muslim states to deter Iran and maintain peace and stability in the region.

Katulis critiqued the Republican vice presidential nominee’s worldview as “a reflection of the confused hyperpartisan debate” from isolationist camps that emerged in the U.S. following the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, rather than an “actual coherent worldview about what it would take to protect America’s interest and values in the real world.”

Meanwhile, Katulis said that Middle East actors are “anticipating more unpredictability, incoherence and confusion” should a Trump-Vance ticket win in November.

Hawkish on China

Author of the best-selling memoir-turned-movie Hillbilly Elegy, Vance has lived experience with the social and economic harm that deindustrialization has inflicted upon some American communities.

He has echoed Trump’s accusation that China is stealing manufacturing jobs from the U.S., especially those jobs in the Midwestern part of the country from where he hails.

“Vance has supported more economic restrictions and tariffs on Chinese imports and investments,” said Dean Chen, a professor of political science at the Ramapo College of New Jersey. “I expect his position on China to be in line with Trump nationalists in their potential new administration,” he told VOA.

In the U.S. Senate, Vance introduced legislation to restrict Chinese access to U.S. financial markets and to protect American higher education from Beijing’s influence.

On Taiwan, “the thing that we need to prevent more than anything is a Chinese invasion,” Vance said last year during an event at the Heritage Foundation.

“It would be catastrophic for this country. It would decimate our entire economy. It would throw this country into a Great Depression,” he added.

That’s a much more clear-cut stance than Trump, who has suggested at various times that he may not come to Taipei’s defense should Beijing invade. Washington does not have a formal treaty with Taiwan but supplies the democratically self-governing island with arms to maintain a “sufficient self-defense capability.”

In a June interview with Bloomberg Businessweek, Trump indicated he wants Taipei to pay the U.S. for its defense.

“You know, we’re no different than an insurance company,” he said. “Taiwan doesn’t give us anything.”

Taiwan policy aside, Ashford said the biggest shock in a Trump-Vance administration could be on trade policy, with “new tariffs on China or even Europe.”

“It could be quite extreme,” she warned.

Tatiana Vorozhko, Lin Yang and Steve Herman contributed to this report.

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Netherlands marks 10th anniversary of downing of MH17 airliner

Amsterdam — The Netherlands commemorated on Wednesday the 298 victims of flight MH17 with a ceremony attended by the bereaved and representatives from Malaysia, Australia, Britain, Belgium and Ukraine.

Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot down over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, as fighting raged between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces, the precursor of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

All 283 passengers and 15 crew on board, including 196 Dutch citizens, were killed, leaving the plane’s wreckage and the remains of the victims scattered across fields of corn and sunflowers.

Based on an international investigation, a Dutch court in 2022 said there was no doubt the plane was shot down by a Russian missile system and that Moscow had “overall control” of the forces of the separatist “Donetsk People’s Republic” in eastern Ukraine since May 2014. Russia denies any involvement.

During Wednesday’s ceremony, which took place at the MH17 monument in the village of Vijfhuizen near Amsterdam, loved ones read out loud the names of all the victims.

Mark Rutte, who was prime minister when the disaster happened and has been a strong critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin ever since, drew applause for his efforts during his time in office to keep the international spotlight on the incident.

The Dutch court convicted two former Russian intelligence agents and a Ukrainian separatist leader in absentia of murder for their role in the transport into eastern Ukraine of the Russian military BUK missile system used to down the plane.

“Justice requires a long, long breath,” said Prime Minister Dick Schoof, who took office earlier this month, adding that “a conviction is not the same as having someone behind bars.”  

Commemorating the victims in his nightly video message, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said: “There is no doubt that the judicial process and the overall work of international justice will inevitably lead to entirely fair sentences for all responsible for this crime.”

His foreign minster, Dmytro Kuleba, wrote on X that Russia had twice killed the victims. “First with a missile. Second, with lies that abused their memory and hurt their relatives.”  

Moscow denies any responsibility for MH17’s downing and in 2014 it also denied any presence in Ukraine. However, the EU’s outgoing foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on Tuesday called on Russia to finally accept its responsibility.

“The evidence presented makes it abundantly clear that the BUK surface-to-air missile system used to bring down Flight MH17 belonged beyond doubt to the armed forces of the Russian Federation,” Borrell said.

“No Russian disinformation operation can distract from these basic facts, established by a court of law.”

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Kagame opponents and critics say elections in Rwanda neither free nor fair

Kigali — Paul Kagame’s win in Rwanda’s presidential election this week was widely expected, although critics say the vote was neither free nor fair.

Lewis Mudge is the central Africa director at Human Rights Watch. Mudge, who lived in Rwanda for several years, said elections there are a mere performance and always produce big wins for Kagame.

“Notwithstanding the economic progress that President Kagame has made, he’s effectively been in power since July of 1994. That progress has not been matched in terms of political and civil rights and that reflects open space for people to have an independent political platform that disagrees with the RPF,” he said.

Kagame won over 99% of the vote, according to preliminary results announced on Monday.

Earlier this year, like many analysts, Strathmore University lecturer Edgar Githua predicted the 66-year-old Kagame would win big but had no doubt the size of the victory would be greatly exaggerated.

“Rwanda is the paradox of Africa. Paradox of Africa because the Rwandese themselves are afraid to talk about their own elections. If you have a vote where 98% votes for one candidate, that is a red flag. Nobody is that popular in this world,” said Githua.

Kagame, who has held various roles since 1994, won by a similar margin in 2017. At a watch party organized by his ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front, he acknowledged that some people found his margin of victory this year suspicious.

“This is a strange thing, that’s why there are many who don’t understand it, criticize it, but instead it [votes] continues to increase. It’s the uniqueness of RPF and the uniqueness of Rwandans,” he said.

Indeed, Kagame’s supporters, including Samuel Kwazera, said they would vote for him forever if they could.

“During the genocide in 1994, I was four years old; now it’s 30 years until today you can see the progress and you can see democracy going on, I am proud. I wish myself as I love him that he can be forever, and ever,” he said.

Mudge said while there are Rwandans who will continue to vote for Kagame, this was not a free and fair election.

“For our point as an organization that defends civil and political rights of people in Rwanda to express themselves, our point is the context is very different if you want to express yourself differently, if you want to criticize government policy. There’s simply no space for them to operate,” he said.

Kagame faced two opponents — Democratic Green Party Candidate Frank Habineza and independent candidate Philippe Mpayimana. Both received less than 1 percent of the vote.

Other candidates, including some of Kagame’s most vocal critics, were barred from running for president, including Diane Rwigara.

One of the reasons was that she didn’t garner the 600 signatures of support needed in her application.

Mudge said in Rwanda’s political climate, Rwigara had no chance to get the signatures or a place on the ballot.

“For people like Rwigara and [Victoire] Ingabire, it’s not about this technical aspect of signatures. This is about not allowing compelling, articulate women to run, to take attention, and basically challenging the narrative,” he said.

Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, another critic of Kagame who was a presidential candidate in the 2010 elections, was arrested, tried, and jailed on charges of terrorism and threatening national security. She was released eight years later through a presidential pardon.

She said elections in Rwanda have long been predetermined.

“Persistent wins of presidential elections close to 100% is not a sign of popularity but of lack of competition. … I don’t understand why they refuse to allow the most credible challengers to participate against President Kagame in elections in Rwanda. Of course, this is not only in 2024 but it was the case in 2003, 2010 and 2017,” she said.

Recently Kagame called her a “genocidaire” and said her life will not end well.

“I was surprised to hear President Kagame talking about me being from a genocidaire family but those are accusations used by the government to intimidate everyone who challenges the Rwandan government,” she said.

Analysts acknowledge that Kagame does enjoy real popularity among Rwanda’s electorate, mainly for his ability to guide the East African country toward internal stability and economic progress since the 1994 genocide, when an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed by Hutu extremists.

At the same time, they say, Kagame continues to stifle dissent, as support for the president and his policies is not unanimous.

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Pakistan summons Afghanistan diplomat over deadly military base terror attack   

Islamabad — Pakistan lodged an official complaint Wednesday with the Taliban government in Afghanistan over a recent extremist attack against a military compound in the northwest, which resulted in the deaths of eight soldiers and injuries to many others.

The Foreign Ministry said that it summoned the deputy chief of the Afghan Embassy in Islamabad to deliver a “strong demarche” or official diplomatic note regarding Monday’s pre-dawn raid in the garrison city of Bannu. 

The statement urged Taliban authorities to “fully investigate and take immediate, robust and effective action against the perpetrators” of the attack.

The Pakistani military has said that 10 heavily armed men carried out the Bannu assault and were all killed in the ensuing hours-long gun battles with security forces.

The Foreign Ministry asserted that the assailants were allies of the globally designed terrorist group Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP, based in Afghanistan and orchestrating cross-border attacks. 

The statement said the group “is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Pakistani civilians and security forces.” It urged de facto Afghan authorities to “fully investigate and take immediate, robust, and effective action against the perpetrators” of the deadly violence and “prevent the recurrence of such attacks” from Afghan soil.

“Pakistan reiterated its serious concerns over the presence of terror outfits inside Afghanistan that continue to threaten Pakistan’s security,” the foreign ministry stated Wednesday, reiterating Islamabad’s call for “decisive action against terrorism.”

Taliban officials in Kabul have not responded to the charges immediately, though they have previously denied such allegations and claimed no foreign groups are present in Afghan territory. 

Pakistani security officials have claimed that their investigations into the Bannu attack identified one of the slain assailants as an Afghan national. They stated that he was a resident of the eastern Afghan province of Logar and an active Afghan Taliban combatant.

U.S. reaction

On Tuesday, the United States, while commenting on surging militant violence in Pakistan, renewed its call for Taliban authorities to combat extremist threats emanating from Afghanistan.

“We have a shared interest with the Pakistani people and the government of Pakistan in combating threats to regional security,” State Department spokesperson Mathew Miller told reporters in Washington. 

“We do continue to urge the Taliban to ensure that terrorist attacks are not launched from Afghan soil. That has been a priority for us in engagements with them, and it continues to be,” Miller added. 

The United Nations released a report on the security situation in Afghanistan earlier this month, describing the TTP as “the largest terrorist group” operating in the country.

“TTP continues to operate at a significant scale in Afghanistan and to conduct terrorist operations into Pakistan from there, often utilizing Afghans,” said the report by the U.N. sanctions monitoring team. It noted that the ruling Taliban and al-Qaida are increasingly supporting cross-border TTP attacks.

“The Taliban do not conceive of TTP as a terrorist group: the bonds are close, and the debt owed to TTP is significant,” the U.N. report added.

Taliban government spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid rejected the U.N. findings, saying they are part of efforts to malign their Islamic administration in Kabul.

The TTP, commonly referred to as the Pakistani Taliban, is known to have publicly pledged allegiance to the Afghan Taliban. It provided shelter on Pakistani soil and recruits for their Afghan ideological allies to help them wage insurgent attacks against the U.S.-led NATO troops for years until U.S. and international forces withdrew in 2021, and the Taliban reclaimed control of Afghanistan. 

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Hunger drives starving Sudanese to seek refuge abroad

Geneva — Hunger and looming famine are driving a growing number of people to flee war-torn Sudan in search of refuge in neighboring countries, according to World Health Organization officials.

Dr. Shible Sahbani, WHO representative to Sudan, recently told journalists that he met Sudanese refugees on a recent mission to Chad who’d left home only because of hunger.

“They say it is not insecurity, it is not a lack of access to basic services, but because they have nothing to eat,” he said at Tuesday’s press conference in Geneva.

An acute food insecurity analysis by the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, or IPC, in late June indicates that 14 months into the conflict, “Sudan is facing the worst levels of acute food insecurity ever recorded by the IPC in the country,” noting that the number of acutely hungry people has risen from 17.7 million to 25.6 million over the last six months.

“There is a risk of famine in 14 areas in greater Darfur, Greater Kordofan, Al Jazirah states and some hotspots in Khartoum if the conflict escalates further, including through increased mobilization of local militias,” says the report.

Sahbani has previously described refugees fleeing the Darfur and Kordofan regions as “disturbing, heartbreaking even,” explaining that women and children spoke of “loss of life, loss of belongings, hunger, disease, a lack of basic services and violence, including sexual violence.” All of this, he said, has led to a massive influx of refugees in the neighboring countries.

Displacement milestone

The United Nations humanitarian affairs agency, OCHA, on Tuesday said the conflict in Sudan “has reached another grim milestone” in its displacement crisis.

Citing the International Organization for Migration, it said 12.7 million people have become displaced since war broke out in mid-April 2023, with more than 10 million remaining inside Sudan and more than 2 million displaced as refugees in five neighboring countries.

Sahbani said that Chad, which is hosting more than 700,000 refugees from Sudan, reportedly is receiving between 500 and 700 new arrivals every day.

“The Chad government and the people of Adre have been welcoming. They have opened their system and their homes,” he said. “But this is a system already overstretched, and these are people who have nothing more to share.”

The WHO is calling for stepped up cross-regional efforts to provide lifesaving humanitarian aid to millions of people trapped in Sudan’s escalating and ever more brutal conflict. Officials are specifically calling for a humanitarian corridor from Chad so essential relief can reach millions of starving people in Sudan.

The U.N.-linked health agency also says the Darfur, Kordofan, Khartoum and Al Jazira states are “all but cut off from humanitarian and health assistance due to the relentless fighting.”

It says the situation is particularly alarming in El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur where more than 800,000 people are besieged and cut off from access to food, health care and medical supplies.

“The wounded cannot get the urgent care they need; children and pregnant and breastfeeding women are weak due to acute hunger,” WHO representative Sahbani said. “Access is crucially and immediately needed so that we can avert the disastrous health situation.”

Weather could make matters worse

He warned that the situation is likely to worsen with the approaching rainy season, which can affect access to health care across the region.

Sahbani said that he expects flooding to hamper the ability of the WHO and its partners to deliver humanitarian assistance, and that the international community will be needed to urgently “bridge the huge funding gap.”

OCHA said that 30% of the U.N.’s $2.7 billion Humanitarian Response Plan has been funded, “more than halfway through the year.”

“We urgently appeal to donors to make good on their pledges and increase their support,” it said.

Sahbani warned that urgent action and a cease-fire are needed to contain an unfolding humanitarian catastrophe.

“If we do not take action now, the rapidly deteriorating situation in Sudan could spiral out of hand, permitting the unchecked reign of diseases, malnutrition and trauma,” he said.

Commenting on the U.N.-mediated “proximity talks” with Sudan’s warring parties underway in Geneva, the WHO official said, “There were some promising signs.”

“Let us wait for the coming hours, days,” he said. “If we cannot get a cease-fire, we hope that at least we can get the protection of civilians and the opening of humanitarian corridors.”

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A look at high-profile politician assassinations across South Asia

Washington — The recent assassination attempt against former President Donald Trump marks a rare event in U.S. history but shines light on a more common global phenomenon. 

Political assassinations have long been a part of human history, often occurring in countries with limited political competition and strong polarization and fragmentation, according to research by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point. 

These conditions can lead to a decline in political legitimacy and increased violence, especially during elections and domestic strife, the center said in a 2015 report.  

Modern South Asia has been a hotbed of political assassinations. Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated in 1948 by a militant Hindu nationalist upset over his pro-Muslim sympathies. 

Gandhi’s assassination shocked the young nation, but also spurred calls for national unity, with key leaders Jawaharlal Nehru and Vallabhbhai Patel putting aside their differences to unify India, according to historian Ramachandra Guha.  

The type of political violence that took Gandhi’s life is not unique to India. All but two South Asian nations — Bhutan and the Maldives — have lost national leaders to assassins’ bullets or suicide bombs. While heads of state have been frequent targets, many other political leaders, from chief ministers to members of parliament, have also been victims. 

The Combating Terrorism Center’s research found that political assassinations have become more frequent in South Asia in recent decades, with 76% of the total occurring since the mid-1980s. 

Here is a look at major political assassinations across the region and their fallout:  

Afghanistan   

Mohammed Daoud Khan (April 27, 1978): Killed along with his family in a coup led by the leftist People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan. Impact: Led to the establishment of a communist government and increased Soviet influence. 



Nur Muhammad Taraki (October 9, 1979): Assassinated by suffocation on Prime Minister Hafizullah Amin’s orders. Impact: Led to increased political repression and paved the way for Soviet invasion. 



Hafizullah Amin (December 27, 1979): Killed by Soviet special forces during a raid on the Tajbeg palace. Impact: Marked the beginning of the Soviet invasion and decades of war.   



Mohammad Najibullah (September 27, 1996): Deposed communist leader Najibullah was tortured and executed by the Taliban after they captured Kabul. Impact: Marked the beginning of the Taliban’s first stint in power. 



Burhanuddin Rabbani (September 20, 2011): Assassinated in Kabul by a suicide bomber posing as a Taliban peace envoy. Impact: Disrupted peace negotiations and highlighted growing instability. 

 

Bangladesh: 

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (August 15, 1975): Revered as Bangladesh’s founding father, Mujibur Rahman was killed along with most of his family during a bloody coup launched by army officers. Impact: Led to martial law and a period of political instability. 
Ziaur Rahman (May 30, 1981): Ziaur, a former army chief and president, was killed along with six of his bodyguards and two aides during a military coup launched in Chittagong, Bangladesh’s second largest city. Impact: Resulted in further turmoil and the eventual rise of military rule.  

 

India: 

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (January 30, 1948): Shot dead at close range at his daily prayer in Delhi. The assassin, a right-wing political activist, later claimed that he was provoked by Gandhi’s “pandering to the Muslims.” Impact: Prompted key Gandhi followers to set aside differences to unify India. 



Indira Gandhi (October 31, 1984): Shot dead by two of her Sikh bodyguards in her official residence. The assassination was apparently in retaliation for a military operation at a famed Sikh shrine. Impact: Triggered anti-Sikh riots and significant political upheaval.  



Rajiv Gandhi (May 21, 1991): Assassinated in a suicide bombing carried out by a member of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam, a now disbanded Sri Lankan separatist group. Impact: Led to a crackdown on LTTE and changed Indian foreign policy towards Sri Lanka.  

 

Nepal 

King Birendra (June 1, 2001): Assassinated along with eight family members by Crown Prince Dipendra who opened fire during a family gathering at the royal palace in Kathmandu. Impact: Led to the abolishment of monarchy and significant political changes.  

 

Pakistan 

Liaquat Ali Khan (October 16, 1951): Khan, Pakistan’s first prime minister, was shot at a political rally in Rawalpindi and later died in a hospital. The assassin was killed by police, but the case remains unresolved. Impact: Khan’s death steered Pakistan away from democracy and within seven years a military leader seized power.  



Benazir Bhutto (December 27, 2007): Bhutto, a former prime minister, was assassinated in a suicide bombing and subsequent shooting at a political rally. Impact: Sparked a wave of violence and protests and led to the resurgence of Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party the following year.  



Imran Khan (November 3, 2022): The former prime minister survived an assassination attempt as he was leading a protest march. Impact: Highlighted the intense political polarization and threats to political leaders.  

 

Sri Lanka  

Solomon Bandaranaike (September 26, 1959): Sri Lanka’s fourth prime minister was shot and killed by a Buddhist monk at his residence. Impact: Led to political instability and changes in government.  



Ranasinghe Premadasa (May 1, 1993): Sri Lanka’s third president, was killed along with 23 others in a massive suicide bombing carried out by an LTTE bomber. Impact: Escalated the Sri Lankan civil war and intensified government crackdown on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam.  

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Interpol operation nabs 300 in global crackdown on West African crime groups across 5 continents 

DAKAR — In a global operation targeting West African organized crime groups across five continents, police arrested 300 people, seized $3 million and blocked 720 bank accounts, Interpol said Tuesday. 

Operation Jackal III, which ran from 10 April to 3 July in 21 countries, aimed to fight online financial fraud and the West African syndicates behind it, the agency said in a statement. 

“The volume of financial fraud stemming from West Africa is alarming and increasing,” said Isaac Oginni, director of Interpol’s Financial Crime and Anti-Corruption Centre. “This operation’s results underscore the critical need for international law enforcement collaboration to combat these extensive criminal networks.” 

One of the targeted groups was Black Axe, one of the most prominent criminal networks in West Africa. Black Axe operates in cyber fraud, human trafficking, drug smuggling, and is responsible for violent crimes both within Africa and globally, the agency added. 

Black Axe used money mules to open bank accounts worldwide and is now under investigation in over 40 countries for related money laundering activities, the agency said. The suspects include citizens from Argentina, Colombia, Nigeria and Venezuela. 

In Argentina, following a five-year investigation, the police cracked down on Black Axe and seized $ 1.2 million in high-quality counterfeit banknotes, arrested 72 suspects and froze approximately 100 bank accounts. 

Interpol, which has 196 member countries and celebrated its centennial last year, works to help national police forces communicate with each other and track suspects and criminals in fields like counterterrorism, financial crime, child pornography, cybercrime and organized crime. 

The world’s biggest — if not best-funded — police organization has been grappling with new challenges including a growing caseload of cybercrime and child sex abuse, and increasing divisions among its member countries. 

Interpol had a total budget of about 176 million euros (about $188 million) last year, compared to more than 200 million euros at the European Union’s police agency, Europol, and some $11 billion at the FBI in the United States. 

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UK’s new government announces legislation for ‘national renewal’ as Parliament opens with royal pomp 

London — Britain’s new Labour Party government promised to calm the country’s febrile politics and ease its cost-of-living crisis as it set out its plans for “national renewal” at the grand State Opening of Parliament on Wednesday.

Stabilizing the U.K.’s public finances and spurring economic growth were at the center of Prime Minister Keir Starmer ‘s legislative agenda, announced in a speech delivered by King Charles III.

“My government will seek a new partnership with both business and working people and help the country move on from the recent cost of living challenges by prioritizing wealth creation for all communities,” the king said in a speech to hundreds of lawmakers and scarlet-robed members of the House of Lords.

Starmer campaigned on a promise to bring bold change to Britain at modest cost to taxpayers. He aims to be both pro-worker and pro-business, in favor of vast new construction projects and protective of the environment. The risk is he may end up pleasing no one.

In a written introduction to the speech, Starmer urged patience, saying change would require “determined, patient work and serious solutions” rather than easy answers and “the snake oil charm of populism.”

The King’s Speech is the centerpiece of the State Opening, an occasion where royal pomp meets hard-nosed politics, as the king donned a diamond-studded crown, sat on a gilded throne and announced the laws his government intends to pass in the coming year.

Labour won a landslide election victory on July 4 as voters turned on the Conservatives after years of high inflation, ethics scandals and a revolving door of prime ministers. Starmer has promised to patch up the country’s aging infrastructure and frayed public services, but says he won’t raise personal taxes and insists change must be bound by “unbreakable fiscal rules.”

Wednesday’s speech included 40 bills – the Conservatives’ last speech had just 21 – ranging from housebuilding to nationalizing Britain’s railways and decarbonizing the nation’s power supply with a publicly-owned green energy firm, Great British Energy.

The government said it would “get Britain building,” setting up a National Wealth Fund and rewriting planning rules that stop new homes and infrastructure being built.

Economic measures included tighter rules governing corporations and a law to ensure all government budgets get advance independent scrutiny. That aims to avoid a repetition of the chaos sparked in 2022 by then-Prime Minister Liz Truss, whose package of uncosted tax cuts rocked the British economy and ended her brief term in office.

The government promised stronger protections for workers, with a ban on some”zero-hours” contracts and a higher minimum wage for many employees. Also announced were protections for renters against shoddy housing, sudden eviction and landlords who won’t let them have a pet.

The government promised more power for local governments and better bus and railway services – keys to the “levelling up” of Britain’s London-centric economy that former Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised but largely failed to deliver.

Though Starmer eschewed large-scale nationalization of industries, the government plans to take the delay-plagued train operators into public ownership.

The speech said the government “recognizes the urgency of the global climate challenge” — a change in tone from the Conservative government’s emphasis on oil and gas exploration. As well as increasing renewable energy, it pledged tougher penalties for water companies that dump sewage into rivers, lakes and seas.

The speech included new measures to strengthen border security, creating a beefed-up Border Security Command with counter-terrorism powers to tackle people-smuggling gangs.

It follows Starmer’s decision to scrap the Conservatives’ contentious and unrealized plan to send people arriving in the U.K. across the English Channel on a one-way trip to Rwanda.

The speech also tackled an issue that has foxed previous governments: reforming the House of Lords. The unelected upper chamber of Parliament is packed with almost 800 members – largely lifetime political appointees, with a smattering of judges, bishops and almost 100 hereditary aristocrats. The government said it would remove the hereditary nobles, though there was no mention of Starmer’s past proposal of setting a Lords retirement age of 80.

There was no mention of lowering the voting age from 18 to 16, though that was one of Labour’s election promises.

While much of Starmer’s agenda marks a break with the defeated Conservative government of former Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Starmer revived Sunak’s plan to stop future generations from smoking by gradually raising the minimum age for buying tobacco.

The speech confirmed that the government wants to “reset the relationship with European partners” roiled by Britain’s exit from the European Union in 2020. It said there would be no change to Britain’s strong support for Ukraine and promised to “play a leading role in providing Ukraine with a clear path to NATO membership.”

Wednesday’s address was the second such speech delivered by Charles since the death of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, in September 2022.

He traveled from Buckingham Palace to Parliament in a horse-drawn carriage – past a small group of anti-monarchy protesters with signs reading “Down with the Crown” – before donning ceremonial robes and the Imperial State Crown to deliver his speech. Police said 10 members of an environmental activist group were arrested near Parliament over alleged plans to disrupt the ceremony.

For all its royal trappings, it is the King’s Speech in name only. The words are written by government officials, and the monarch betrayed no flicker of emotion as he read them out.

“The king has zero agency in this,” said Jill Rutter, senior research fellow at the Institute for Government think tank.

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UK union fails to win recognition at Amazon site after losing ballot, Amazon says

LONDON — The GMB union has failed to secure the right to formally represent workers at an Amazon warehouse in Coventry, central England, Amazon said on Wednesday.

The ballot result on union recognition is a blow for the U.K. trade union movement as victory in the ballot would have forced the U.S. e-commerce giant to negotiate labor terms with a U.K. union for the first time.

The Coventry workers have been involved in a dispute over pay and union recognition for more than a year and have carried out numerous strikes.

The GMB union has argued Amazon frustrated its recognition bid by recruiting hundreds of additional workers at the site so the union no longer had the numbers to make the ballot threshold.

Amazon’s treatment of workers has been in the spotlight for years. It has historically opposed unionization, saying its preference has been to resolve issues with employees directly rather than through unions.

However, in 2022, workers at its warehouse in Staten Island, New York, forced the company to recognize a trade union in the U.S. for the first time.

That was seen as key moment for the union movement. However, Amazon workers at two other New York warehouses and one in Alabama have since voted against unionizing.

Amazon does interact with unions in countries such as Germany and Italy. But that is largely because it is required to by government.

Amazon employs about 75,000 in the UK, making it one of the country’s top 10 private sector employers.

Britain’s new Labor government has promised to give workers more rights and unions more power.

It plans to update trade union legislation, removing restrictions on trade union activity and ensuring industrial relations are based around good faith negotiation and bargaining.

Labor says British employment laws are outdated, a drag on economic growth and a major factor in the U.K.’s worst period of industrial relations since the 1980s.

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Paris mayor takes pre-Olympics dip to prove Seine clean

Paris — The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, swam in the murky waters of the Seine on Wednesday to demonstrate the river is now clean enough for outdoor Olympic swimming events.

Wearing goggles and a wet suit, the 65-year-old city leader swam breaststroke before immersing her face and beginning a front crawl, covering around 100 meters up and downstream.

She was joined by senior local officials and by Tony Estanguet, a triple Olympic gold medalist in canoeing who heads the organizing committee for the Paris Games, which open next week on July 26.

“Today is a confirmation that we are exactly where we meant to be,” Estanguet said. “We are now ready to organize the games in the Seine.”

Despite an investment of $1.5 billion to prevent sewage leaks into the waterway, the state of the Seine has brought suspense to the build-up to the Paris Games.

But since the beginning of July, with heavy rain finally giving way to sunnier weather, samples have shown the river to be ready for the open-water swimming and the triathlon.

“On the eve of the Games, when the Seine will play a key role, this event represents the demonstration of the efforts made by the city and the state to improve the quality of the Seine’s waters and the ecological state of the river,” Hidalgo’s office said on Tuesday.

The Socialist politician had originally planned to swim last month but had to delay because bacteria indicating the presence of fecal matter were found to be sometimes 10 times higher than authorized limits.

The long wait for her dip had sparked jokes and memes on social media, with one viral AI-generated image showing her looking like the wrinkled Gollum character from the Lord of the Rings movies after her amphibious exploit.

President Emmanuel Macron, who had promised to join the Seine bathers, was a notable absentee as he is occupied by a political crisis caused by his decision to call snap parliamentary elections last month.

The Seine is set to be used for the swimming leg of the Olympics triathlon on July 30-31 and Aug. 5, as well as the open-water swimming on Aug. 8-9.

Strong currents

The locations chosen for open-water swimming have also caused difficulties at past Olympics, notably ahead of the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games and those in Tokyo in 2021.

“It’s been raining all over France. Summer has been very late to arrive and so have the good results,” said Marc Valmassoni from clean-water campaign group Surfrider which has been conducting weekly tests on the Seine since last year.

“They’re not excellent, they’re not terrible, they’re average. But at this time the water is swimmable.”

Cleaning up the Seine has been promoted as one of the key legacy achievements of Paris 2024, with Hidalgo intending to create three public bathing areas for the city’s residents next year, a century after swimming was banned.

“We’re not doing it for three days of competition in the Seine,” Estanguet told AFP during an interview last week. “We’re going it above all for environmental reasons… I’m proud that we’ve served as an accelerator.”

Authorities have invested in new water treatment and storage facilities in and around Paris, as well as ensuring that thousands of homes and canal boats without wastewater connections are linked up to the sewerage system.

Major storms still overwhelm the Paris underground waste-water network, however, some of which dates back to the 19th century.

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Indonesian volunteers teach young refugees

Cisarua, Indonesia — In a middle school level class, students are learning about planetary science from the gases of Jupiter to the exosphere on Mercury.

That might seem no different than lessons at many schools around the world, but this session is happening at a learning center for refugees in Indonesia.

Paying close attention is Afnaan Guleid, a 13-year-old whose family fled from Somalia to the Southeast Asian country. She said in her native country her family had to worry about violence, but now she can focus on her dreams.

“I want to be a scientist when I grow up because I love to do experiments and discover things,” Guleid said.

She is one of the 85 students at the Cisarua Refugee Learning Center. The entire curriculum is in English, whether the students are learning math, science, social studies or basic life skills. And beginning this year, qualified students could join an online program to work toward an American high school diploma.

Massoud Azimi, 15, is one of them. Azimi is a refugee from Afghanistan who has been in Indonesia for eight years but, along with his family, is scheduled to be resettled in the United States within the next few months.

 “The programs at this learning center are helping me prepare for school in America,” Azimi said. “It’s strengthening my academic skills.”

Cisarua is a town in the hills, a few hours’ drive from the country’s largest city, Jakarta, which has become a hub for many refugees in Indonesia.

A spokesperson for the United Nations refugee agency told VOA there are about 12,600 refugees and asylum seekers in the country and approximately 1,300 of them are in Cisarua.

Refugees said the town’s milder temperatures and lower cost of living compared with Jakarta make it an attractive place.

But most, if not all, of these refugees hope to eventually be resettled in a third country. The U.N. refugee agency said the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand are accepting refugees from Indonesia, but the process typically takes at least seven years and placement is not guaranteed.

While Indonesia allows refugees to enroll in public schools, the Cisarua Refugee Learning Center offers its students a chance to focus on their English, which is a skill they will need if they are resettled.

“We are trying to prepare them for the next country that they are going,” said Reza Hussaini, the school’s principal, who is a refugee himself from Afghanistan.

The learning center has refugees who fled violence or persecution in countries in Asia and Africa, including Yemen, Iraq, Sudan, and Myanmar. “We have students from different cultures, students from different religions, students from different countries,” Hussaini said. “There is a diversity of culture here.”

Zahra Sakhawat is a 12-year-old from Afghanistan who dreams of becoming a doctor. She said the students at this learning center feel a connection because it fosters a sense of community.

“Everyone is very kind and dear with each other,” she said.

The facilities are basic, no high-tech science labs. The learning center is funded entirely by private donations. There are also English classes for adults, which often attracts parents of the students.

All the teachers are volunteers, and many are refugees themselves, including a 39-year-old man whose identity VOA agreed to conceal out of concerns for his family’s safety in his native Myanmar. He fled the country’s civil war just four months ago because Myanmar’s junta, which staged a coup in 2021 was about to conscript him into the army.

“They were going to force me to fight for their military. So, I will not do it because I will never help the military,” he said. He has a university degree in computer science and hopes he will have a chance to study artificial intelligence in a new country.

In the meantime, he said he is enjoying the opportunity to share his computer and math knowledge as a volunteer at the Cisarua Refugee Learning Center. The school started 10 years ago and has become a model for similar refugee programs that have opened elsewhere in Indonesia.

“All of the refugees deserve a chance to prepare for their futures,” Hussaini said.

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Japan-Germany security cooperation troubles North Korea, China

washington — North Korea and China are watching for possible regional impacts from Japan’s recent enhanced security cooperation with Germany.

This weekend, Japan will hold joint drills with Germany around the Chitose Air Base in Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost main island. Spain is slated to join them there, while France will join Japan next week for drills over Hyakuri Air Base in Ibaraki Prefecture bordering the Pacific Ocean.

At a joint press conference in Berlin late last week, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said defense cooperation will be enhanced by the planned visits of German aircraft and frigates to Japan and of a Japanese training fleet to Hamburg this summer.

North Korea slammed the security cooperation as “collusion” that crossed a “red line” and is “reminiscent of the Second World War,” according to North Korea’s state-run KCNA on Monday.

“The defeated war criminal nations are in cahoots to stage a series of war games escalating the regional tensions,” KCNA continued.

Kishida said Japan hopes to work with Germany “to deal with the deepening military cooperation between Russia and North Korea as well as China’s moves related to the Russian invasion of Ukraine,” according to Nippon.com, a news agency based in Tokyo.

Kishida and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz agreed in Berlin on Friday to boost their security cooperation after attending a NATO summit in Washington. It was Kishida’s first trip to Germany as prime minister.

Pact enters into force

Also on Friday, a military supply-sharing pact that aims to exchange food, fuel, and ammunition between Japan and Germany entered into force. The agreement was signed in January.

Beijing said the cooperation between Japan and Germany should not create tensions in the Asia-Pacific region.

Liu Pengyu, a spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, told VOA on Monday that “cooperation between countries, including military and security ties, should not target any third party or harm their interests.”

Maki Kobayashi, Japanese cabinet secretary for public affairs, told VOA’s Mandarin Service during the NATO summit that Japan has been working “very closely” with NATO countries on security issues and joint exercises.

“China has been saying there is an attempt at creating NATO in Asia, which is not correct,” she said.

Rather, she said, Japan has been seeking closer ties among like-minded countries “to share situational analyses and also align some policies” in support of an international order based on the rule of law.

In Berlin, Kishida and Scholz also agreed to enhance economic security including safeguarding the resilience of supply chains for key items such as critical minerals and semiconductors.

Cooperation seen two different ways

In Washington last week, the leaders of NATO and four Indo-Pacific countries, Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea, discussed how to ramp up their combined defense capacity.

“A union of defense industrial bases between NATO and IP4 countries would have significant and positive implications for international peace and stability,” said Matthew Brummer, professor at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo.

“Japan has recently moved to provide surface-to-air missiles to the United States, which then sends them to Ukraine,” he added.

In December, Tokyo agreed to ship Japanese-made Patriot guided missiles to backfill U.S. inventory after taking a major step away from its pacifist self-defense policies and easing its postwar ban on the export of lethal weapons.

“In general, the NATO-IP4 cooperation is a good thing, since it symbolizes the recognition that both the Indo-Pacific theater and the European theater are linked,” Elli-Katharina Pohlkamp, visiting fellow of the Asia Program at the European Council on Foreign Relations based in Berlin said via email.

However, she continued, “Strengthening NATO-IP4 ties could exacerbate tensions with China and Russia, who may perceive this cooperation as a containment strategy,” and encourage countries like North Korea to align more closely with them.

Adam Xu contributed to this report.

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At least 40 killed when heavy rains pound eastern Afghanistan

ISLAMABAD — Heavy rains in eastern Afghanistan have killed at least 40 people and injured nearly 350 others, Taliban officials said Tuesday.

Among the dead in Monday’s storm were five members of the same family when the roof of their house collapsed in Surkh Rod district, according to provincial spokesperson Sediqullah Quraishi. Four other family members were injured.

Sharafat Zaman Amar, a spokesperson for the Public Health Ministry, said the 347 injured people had been brought for treatment to the regional hospital in Nangarhar from Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar province, and nearby districts.

About 400 houses and 60 electricity poles were destroyed across Nangarhar, Quraishi said. Power was cut in many areas and there were limited communications in Jalalabad city, he said. The damage was still being assessed.

Abdul Wali, 43, said much of the damage occurred within an hour.

“The winds were so strong that they blew everything into the air. That was followed by heavy rain,” he said. His 4-year-old daughter had minor injuries, he said.

Aid organizations rushed supplies and mobile teams.

International Rescue Committee Afghanistan Director Salma ben Aissa said her group was conducting assessments and providing emergency health services.

“The continuation of climate-induced disasters in Afghanistan ought to be cause for grave concern: Decades of conflict and economic crisis has meant that the country has faced setback after setback as it tries to find its feet. The sad reality is that without a massive increase in support from donors and the international community, many more will lose their lives,” she said in a statement.

In May, exceptionally heavy rains killed more than 300 people and destroyed thousands of houses, mostly in the northern province of Baghlan, according to the World Food Program.

Separately, the official Taliban news agency Bakhtar reported that at least 17 people were killed and 34 others injured when a bus overturned Tuesday morning on the main highway linking Kabul and Balkh in northern Baghlan province.

The cause of the accident wasn’t immediately clear, but poor road conditions and careless driving are often blamed for such incidents in the country.

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Nigeria to resume crude oil refining in August, industry authorities say

Abuja, Nigeria — Nigeria plans to resume local refining of crude oil in early August, national petroleum authorities announced Monday.

The resumption would end years of idleness at Nigeria’s state-owned refineries, and analysts say that if successfully implemented, it would lower fuel prices.

The Nigerian National Petroleum Company made the announcement while addressing an emergency session at the National Assembly. Lawmakers called the session to interrogate central bank authorities, the national economic management team and the NNPC about the country’s economic standing.

The chief executive officer of the NNPC, Mele Kyari, said one of the two Port Harcourt refineries in the oil-rich Niger Delta region will begin operations in about two weeks.

He said the other one will come into operation by the end of the year and allow Nigeria to begin exporting refined oil.

“We’re very optimistic that by December this country will be a net exporter,” he said, “that is [in] combination of production coming from us and the Dangote refinery and other smaller producing companies.”

The Dangote refinery is a privately owned facility being built near Lagos.

Nigeria’s minister of state of petroleum resources, Heineken Lokpobiri, voiced optimism about the impact of the revived refineries.

“The easiest way for Nigeria to come out of its economic problems is through the oil and gas sector,” Lokpobiri said. “As a sector, we have a clear plan to gradually ramp up production. Right now, we have a clear plan to see how we can get 2 million barrels and more.”

This is not the first time officials have announced the resumption of domestic oil refining.

They made similar announcements in December and March. On Monday, authorities said unforeseen technical difficulties hampered previous resumption dates.

All four government-owned refineries, which can process about 450,000 barrels of crude per day, have been moribund for years, forcing the country to rely on imports to meet its petroleum needs, estimated at 66 million liters (17.4 million gallons) per day.

Oil industry analyst Faith Nwadishi voiced doubts the refineries will operate again.

“I’m just keeping my fingers crossed and trying to be very optimistic about this because it will go a long way in reducing the hardship and perhaps also reduce the pump price … especially,” Nwadishi said. “But being somebody who’s in the sector, I become a little bit skeptical. We have an allocation of about 445,000 [barrels per day] for domestic consumption, which, if properly refined, we’ll have about 70 million liters. That covers our daily consumption.”

The Nigerian oil industry has been hampered in recent years by theft and corruption. On Monday, the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative said about 140,000 barrels of crude oil were lost to theft every day between 2009 and 2018.

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