Jackson Set to Make US Supreme Court Debut In Brief Ceremony

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson is making her first appearance on the Supreme Court bench in a brief courtroom ceremony three days ahead of the start of the high court’s new term.

President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and their spouses are expected Friday at the invitation-only ceremonial investiture for Jackson, the first Black woman on the Supreme Court.

During the ceremony the 52-year-old Jackson will follow the custom of every other new justice since 1972 and sit in a chair that once belonged to John Marshall, who served as chief justice for 34 years in the early 1800s.

Marshall also was a slaveholder, perhaps adding a special poignancy to Jackson taking her place in his onetime possession. She is only the third Black justice in the court’s history, along with her new colleague Justice Clarence Thomas and the late Justice Thurgood Marshall.

Friday’s ceremony includes the reading of the proclamation appointing Jackson to the court. She will also repeat the oath she took when she formally joined the court in June, just after the retirement of Justice Stephen Breyer.

Jackson was confirmed in April on a 53-47 vote in the Senate, with three Republican senators joining all Democrats to support her.

Biden had pledged during his presidential campaign that he would nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court.

Jackson is the first justice appointed by a Democratic president since Justice Elena Kagan joined the court in 2010. Kagan was appointed by former President Barack Obama, who also appointed Justice Sonia Sotomayor in 2009.

It appeared Obama would get a third high court pick when Justice Antonin Scalia died in February 2016. But Senate Republicans refused to take up Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland, then serving as a federal appeals court judge. Garland, now attorney general, will also participate in Friday’s ceremony.

Former President Donald Trump eventually chose Justice Neil Gorsuch, the first of his three Supreme Court appointees, to fill Scalia’s seat.

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SKorea, US and Japan Hold Anti-NKorean Submarine Drills

South Korea, U.S. and Japanese warships launched their first trilateral anti-submarine drills in five years Friday, after North Korea renewed missile tests this week in an apparent response to bilateral training by South Korean and U.S. forces.

The North’s recent five missile launches, the first such tests in a month, also came before and after U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris visited South Korea on Thursday and reaffirmed the “ironclad” U.S. commitment to the security of its Asian allies.

The one-day three-nation training off the Korean Peninsula’s east coast is meant to cope with a North Korean push to advance its ability to fire missile from submarines, according to a South Korean navy statement.

North Korea has been building bigger submarines including a nuclear-powered one and testing sophisticated missiles that can be fired from them in recent years. That’s an alarming development for its rivals because it’s harder to detect underwater-launched missiles in advance.

South Korean officials said last weekend that they had detected signs that North Korea was preparing to test-fire a missile from a submarine.

Friday’s drills involve the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan as well as U.S., South Korean and Japanese destroyers, the navy statement said. During the training, the navy ships from the three nations were to search and track a U.S. nuclear-powered submarine posing as a North Korean submarine while exchanging related information, according to media reports.

“We will respond and neutralize any forms of North Korean provocations in an overwhelming and decisive manner,” Capt. Cho, Chung-ho, commander of South Korean navy troops who took part in the training, was quoted as saying in the statement.

In addition to its submarine-launched missiles, North Korea has also a variety of nuclear-capable missiles that place both the United States and its allies South Korea and Japan within striking distance. This year, North Korea has performed a record number of missile tests as it refuses to resume long-stalled nuclear diplomacy with the United States.

Friday’s training comes as South Korea and Japan are looking to mend ties frayed over history and trade disputes. The two Asian countries together host a total of 80,000 American troops. Earlier this week, the Reagan took part in joint U.S.-South Korean drills near the peninsula, the first such bilateral involving a U.S. aircraft carrier since 2017.

The North’s most recent missile tests happened Thursday, hours after Harris left South Korea. During her visit to the Demilitarized Zone separating the two Koreas, Harris said: “In the South, we see a thriving democracy. In the North, we see a brutal dictatorship.”

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Russia Scheduled to Celebrate Annexation of Ukrainian Territories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Italy’s New Government to Take Different Position on China

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

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

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

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

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

Taiwan as bridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Belt and Road in the balance?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bo Gu contributed to this report.

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Comedian Trevor Noah to Leave ‘The Daily Show’ After 7 Years

Comedian Trevor Noah, host of The Daily Show on Comedy Central, said he was going to leave the program after hosting it for seven years, indicating he wanted to dedicate more time to stand-up comedy.

The 38-year-old comedian — who was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, and moved to the United States in 2011 — had big shoes to fill when he took over in 2015 after the exit of longtime host Jon Stewart.

He quickly established himself with his own brand, suited for an era where online influence was often greater than that of content on cable.

His reign on The Daily Show required him to delicately cover some crucial moments in American history, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement and the 2021 attacks on the U.S. Capitol.

“I spent two years in my apartment (during COVID-19), not on the road. Stand-up was done, and when I got back out there again, I realized that there’s another part of my life that I want to carry on exploring,” Noah told his studio audience late on Thursday. The Daily Show posted a clip of Noah’s remarks on social media.

“We have laughed together; we have cried together. But after seven years, I feel like it’s time,” Noah said. He ended his remarks by thanking his viewers as his studio audience stood up to applaud him.

Noah, who roasted U.S. politicians and the media at the White House Correspondents Association dinner in April, did not mention his exact departure date in his remarks Thursday. It is not known who would succeed him.

The key to addressing current affairs through a comedic lens lies in a comedian’s intention, Noah said in a 2016 interview with Reuters, adding that he learns from his mistakes.

“I don’t think I would ever have been ready, but that’s when you must do it, you will not be ready,” the comedian told Reuters in the context of having succeeded his legendary predecessor.

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Hurricane Ian Headed for Carolinas, Georgia

Ian, which had been downgraded to a tropical storm, is now a hurricane again, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said Thursday.

Ian is “taking aim,” the center said, “at the Carolinas and Georgia with life-threatening flooding, storm surge and strong winds.”

Ian is predicted to approach the coast of South Carolina on Friday, with its center moving farther inland across the Carolinas on Friday night and Saturday.

Ian could slightly strengthen before making landfall Friday, forecasters said, but could “rapidly weaken over the southeastern United States late Friday into Saturday.”

Ian has left a path of destruction in Florida, and U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday pledged the federal government will do whatever has to be done to help Florida rebuild.

Speaking from the headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency in Washington, Biden said he had spoken with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and approved his requests for an expedited major disaster designation.

He said that means the federal government will cover the costs of removing all debris and rebuilding public buildings. The federal government will also provide funds to help cover the costs of rebuilding homes and recovering property for those who do not have enough insurance.

Biden said Ian could prove to be the deadliest storm ever to hit Florida by the time its effects are finally determined.

At a news conference earlier in the day, DeSantis said the extent of deaths and injuries was unclear, as rescue workers were only starting to respond to calls after not being able to go out during the treacherous conditions. Rescue crews were working by land, sea and air to reach stranded residents.

DeSantis said more than 2 million people were without power, and the amount of water rising in Florida is “basically a 500-year flooding event.”

“We’ve never seen a flood event like this. We’ve never seen a storm surge of this magnitude. And it hit an area where there’s a lot of people,” DeSantis said.

Ian came ashore Wednesday near Cayo Costa as a strong Category 4 hurricane, with maximum sustained winds of nearly 250 kph, along with a powerful storm surge and heavy rains that combined to flood coastal areas.

The Collier County Sheriff’s Office said it carried out at least 30 rescue missions Wednesday and cautioned residents that Thursday was likely to be “frustrating and heartbreaking for many” as people began to assess damage from the storm. The county was one of several that instituted overnight curfews.

Hurricane Ian earlier hit western Cuba, killing two people and leaving the entire island without power after its aging electrical grid, which has been struggling to remain operational amid a dire economic crisis, collapsed late Tuesday.

Ian left behind a trail of destruction across Pinar del Rio province, Cuba’s main tobacco-growing region, ripping the roofs off homes and buildings and making streets impassable because of downed trees and power lines, and flooding.

Authorities evacuated as many as 40,000 people from low-lying areas of Pinar del Rio.

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

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US Charges Russian Oligarch Deripaska with Sanctions Evasion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Azerbaijan President Signs Off on Media Registry Rules

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Criticism rejected

But Azerbaijani officials have dismissed that criticism. 

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

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

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

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

This story originated in VOA’s Azerbaijani Service.

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