Security agencies warn election officials to brace for attacks on US presidential race

washington — U.S. intelligence and security agencies are trying to prepare election officials for a wave of new attacks aiming to destroy voter confidence in November’s presidential election, just as a series of reports warn some familiar adversaries are starting to ramp up their efforts.

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), along with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) and the FBI, issued a new warning on Wednesday that “the usual suspects” — Russia, China and Iran — are looking for ways to stoke tensions and divide American voters.

All three countries, the guidance said, are “leveraging influence operations exploiting perceived sociopolitical divisions to undermine confidence in U.S. democratic institutions.”

The new guidance warned that the three countries are using fake online accounts and various proxies, including state-sponsored media organizations, to spread disinformation and sow doubt.

It also cautioned that Russia, China and Iran are using real people, including social media influencers, “to wittingly or unwittingly promote their narratives.”

“The elections process is the golden thread of American democracy, which is why our foreign adversaries deliberately target our elections infrastructure with their influence operations,” CISA senior adviser Cait Conley said in a statement to reporters. “CISA is committed to doing its part to ensure these [state and local] officials — and the American public — don’t have to fight this battle alone.”

Agency warns of new tactics

The latest guidance, posted on CISA’s website, warns that in addition to resorting to familiar tactics, Russia, China and Iran are likely to employ new tricks to try to  confuse U.S. voters and erode confidence in the election process.

One such technique is voice cloning — using a fake recording of a public official or figure to try to cause confusion. The agencies cited an example from last year’s election in the Slovak Republic, when a fake recording of a key party leader purported to show him discussing how to rig the vote.

The guidance also warned that Iran could try to employ “hack and leak” cyberattacks in the U.S., using lessons learned from similar operations against Israel in recent months.

And it said Russia and China have separately sought to spark alarm among voters by spreading fake documents alleging to show evidence of security incidents impacting physical buildings or computer systems.

China denied the allegations.

“China has always adhered to noninterference in other countries’ internal affairs,” Liu Pengyu, the spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, said in an email to VOA.

“Speculating or accusing China of using social media to interfere in the U.S. politics is completely groundless and malicious,” Liu added.

VOA also contacted representatives for the Russian and Iranian governments, who have yet to respond.

For now, CISA, ODNI and the FBI are advising U.S. election officials that they can try to mitigate the impact of election meddling attempts by creating trusted portals for information, such as official U.S. government websites, and by proactively debunking false information.

But the challenge is likely to grow.

Russia already interfering, says Microsoft

Tech giant Microsoft warned on Wednesday it is seeing signs that Russia, at least, is already ramping up its election interference efforts.

“The usual Russian election influence actors kicked into gear over the last 45 days,” according to a report by Microsoft’s Threat Analysis Center.

The Russian effort so far, the report said, “employs a mix of themes from 2020 with a renewed focus on undermining U.S. support for Ukraine.”

Microsoft further warned that Russia, China and Iran have “leveraged some form of generative AI [artificial intelligence] to create content since last summer.”

“We anticipate that election influence campaigns will include fakes — some will be deep, most shallow — and the simplest manipulations, not the most complex employment of AI, will likely be the pieces of content that have the most impact,” the report added.

At the same time, there is concern about domestic extremists impacting the presidential election.

“There is a serious risk of extremist violence,” the Council on Foreign Relations wrote in a report issued Wednesday.

“While the risk of far-right election-related violence is greater, the possibility of far-left extremist violence cannot be dismissed,” it said, pointing to the possibility of attacks on pre-election political events or gatherings, on polling places during Election Day, and against election offices in the days following the election.

Such warnings are consistent with those issued by U.S. officials in recent months.

“Some DVEs [domestic violent extremists], particularly those motivated by conspiracy theories and anti-government or partisan grievances, may seek to disrupt electoral processes,” the U.S. Department of Homeland Security warned in a threat assessment issued this past September.

“Violence or threats could be directed at government officials, voters, and elections‑related personnel and infrastructure, including polling places, ballot drop box locations, voter registration sites, campaign events, political party offices and vote-counting sites,” it said.

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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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American RFE/RL reporter marks 6 months jailed in Russia

washington — An American journalist jailed in Russia will mark six months behind bars on Thursday over charges that press freedom groups have condemned as bogus and politically motivated.

Alsu Kurmasheva, an editor at the Tatar-Bashkir Service of VOA’s sister outlet Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, was arrested on October 18, 2023, and has been held in pretrial detention since then.

The dual U.S.-Russian national stands accused of failing to register as a “foreign agent” and spreading what Moscow views as false information about the Russian military.

Kurmasheva and her employer reject the charges against her, which carry a combined sentence of 15 years in prison.

U.S. Ambassador to Russia Lynne Tracy told VOA in an emailed statement that cases of all U.S. citizens detained in Russia have her full attention.

“Six months in, we remain deeply concerned by Alsu’s continued detention,” Tracy said. “We have been outspoken in condemning the Kremlin’s continued attempts to silence, intimidate and punish journalists, civil society voices and ordinary Russians who speak out against the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine.”

International press freedom groups have widely called for Kurmasheva’s immediate release.

“The six-month anniversary of Alsu’s detention is important because she shouldn’t have been jailed even for a single day. It’s an absolutely unjust, absurd case with fabricated charges,” said Gulnoza Said, Europe and Central Asia program coordinator at the Committee to Protect Journalists, or CPJ.

“Alsu should be freed from jail immediately and be able to travel back to Prague and see her family,” she told VOA from New York.

Russia’s embassy in Washington did not reply to VOA’s email requesting comment.

Emergency visit

Based in Prague, Kurmasheva traveled to Russia in May 2023 for a family emergency. Her passports were confiscated when she tried to leave the country in June, and she was waiting for them to be returned when she was arrested about four months later.

Earlier in April, Kurmasheva’s pretrial detention was again extended, this time until June.

“It’s not a legal process, it’s a political ploy, and Alsu and her family are unjustifiably paying a terrible price. Russia must end this sham and immediately release Alsu without condition,” RFE/RL President Stephen Capus said in a statement about the latest extension.

The Russian government labeled RFE/RL as an “undesirable organization” in February.

At her recent court hearing, Kurmasheva told reporters she was “not very well physically” and that she was receiving “minimal” medical care. The living conditions in the prison “are very bad,” she said, adding that a hole in the floor of her cell functions as the toilet.

That description has press freedom advocates concerned.

“The living conditions are quite bad, and we’re worried about the deterioration of her health,” said Jeanne Cavelier, the Paris-based head of the Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk at Reporters Without Borders, or RSF.

To date, the Russian government has denied the U.S. Embassy’s requests for consular access to Kurmasheva.

“We are deeply concerned about Alsu Kurmasheva’s detention in Russia,” a State Department spokesperson said in a statement. “The charges against Ms. Kurmasheva are another sign of the weakness of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s regime.”

RFE/RL’s parent organization, the U.S. Agency for Global Media, or USAGM, has also advocated for Kurmasheva’s immediate release.

“Alsu’s time in detention is unlike anything anyone could imagine,” USAGM CEO Amanda Bennett told VOA in an emailed statement. “Russia’s delaying and obfuscating shows this is purely a political stunt to advance the Kremlin’s agenda. She is being treated like a bargaining chip as opposed to a human being.”

First to be targeted

Kurmasheva is the first person to be targeted by Russia for not self-registering as a foreign agent, according to press freedom experts. Her arrest has had a chilling effect on other journalists in Russia who fear they could be targeted next.

“Russian laws, and Russian repressive legislation more specifically, is broad by nature. It’s conceptualized as something intentionally broad and vague,” said Karol Luczka, who leads the International Press Institute’s work on Eastern Europe. He cited Russia’s foreign agent law as an example.

“Most anyone these days in Russia can be considered a foreign agent because of any past activity. So, it’s very significant that they weaponize this legislation, because it shows that even when they have no real charges against anyone, they will always be able to find something,” said Luczka, who is based in Vienna.

For months, press freedom groups have called on the State Department to declare Kurmasheva wrongfully detained, which would open up additional resources to help secure her release.

Earlier this month, Roger Carstens, the U.S. special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, told VOA that U.S. officials were still deciding whether to declare Kurmasheva wrongfully detained.

“We’ve been looking at her case very closely. It’s not yet been decided that she’s wrongfully detained,” Carstens said. “But it’s something that we’re still sussing out.”

“The Department of State continuously reviews the circumstances surrounding the detentions of U.S. nationals overseas, including those in Russia, for indicators that they are wrongful,” a State Department spokesperson said in response to a detailed list of questions, in a statement identical to ones previously sent to VOA.

“When making assessments, the department conducts a legal, fact-based review that looks into the totality of the circumstances for each case individually,” the statement said.

Kurmasheva is one of two American journalists jailed in Russia. The second, The Wall Street Journal’s Evan Gershkovich, has been declared wrongfully detained by the State Department.

That determination came less than two weeks after Russian authorities arrested Gershkovich and accused him of espionage in late March 2023. Like Kurmasheva, the 32-year-old is still being held in pretrial detention.

Gershkovich, his employer and the U.S. government deny the charges against him. The reporter marked one year behind bars last month.

In November 2023, Washington made a prisoner swap offer to the Russian government to secure the release of Gershkovich and Paul Whelan, another U.S. citizen jailed in Russia and declared wrongfully detained. Moscow rejected that offer.

Carstens told reporters earlier this month that the U.S. government was putting together a new offer.

“We are working exceedingly hard and creatively to cobble together that offer,” he said.

Kurmasheva and Gershkovich count themselves among 22 journalists jailed in Russia, according to CPJ data from the end of 2023.

Russia ranks fourth in the world in terms of journalist jailings, but it has the most jailed foreign journalists. Of the 22 journalists imprisoned in Russia, 12 are foreign nationals. Beyond Kurmasheva and Gershkovich, Moscow has jailed 10 Ukrainian reporters, according to the CPJ.

Pressure stepped up

Tracy said Moscow’s repression has only intensified since the Russian army invaded Ukraine in February 2022.

“Authorities have shuttered dozens of outlets using fines and repressive legislation, censored thousands of websites and continue to persecute journalists,” she said. 

“This trend is deeply concerning, and the U.S. will continue to call for respect for Russians’ fundamental freedoms — including freedom of speech — that are guaranteed in Russia’s own constitution.”

One of the main factors that unites the cases of Gershkovich and Kurmasheva is that trials won’t be what ultimately gets them free, according to Said.

“There is no way for their lawyers to prove their innocence through court, because courts are not independent in Russia. Political solutions and diplomatic solutions are the only way to get them free,” she said.

“That’s why it’s important that the U.S. uses all it has to put pressure on the Russian authorities and to get them free,” she said.

Jeff Seldin contributed to this report.

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Doubts cast China will be ready to invade Taiwan by 2027

washington — A senior U.S. intelligence official is casting doubt on China’s ability to make good on plans to possibly reunify Taiwan by force by its self-imposed deadline.

Various U.S. military and intelligence officials have testified publicly in recent years that Beijing’s own planning documents show President Xi Jinping has ordered the Chinese military to be ready to take Taiwan by force should efforts to reunify the island by other means fail.

They also have said China’s unprecedented military modernization and expansion efforts have been in line with the order to have an invasion plan ready to go by 2027 at the latest.

But Dave Frederick, the U.S. National Security Agency’s assistant deputy director for China, is not sure they can meet that deadline.

“It’s a pretty ambitious goal, so [I] won’t make any predictions on whether they hit it or not,” Frederick said at a security conference in Nashville, Tennessee. He added that China “remains focused on that 2027 capabilities” goal but that obstacles remain.

One of those challenges, he said, is the ability of China’s military to land troops on the island of Taiwan.

An amphibious landing “would be a really, really challenging military problem for them,” Frederick said. “[A] very difficult military problem for them to pull off.”

However, he acknowledged that China is building a fourth amphibious landing craft and that “history’s got many examples of [a] government deciding to pursue a policy that may not even be in their best self-interest, and certainly in cases where military victory isn’t guaranteed.”

Chinese officials dismissed the talk, though, telling VOA by email the situation with Taiwan is “a matter that must be resolved by the Chinese [people].”

“If the U.S. truly hopes for peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, it should abide by the one-China principle and the three China-U.S. joint communiqués,” said Liu Pengyu, a spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Washington.

Washington should “stop meddling in the Taiwan question and stop creating new factors that could lead to tensions in the Taiwan Strait,” Liu added.

Frederick is not the first U.S. official to caution that China’s military expansion, buoyed by new equipment and weapons systems, may be outpacing its actual capabilities.

The U.S. Defense Department’s annual China Military Power Report issued late last year cautioned that Beijing itself believes it still faces some deficits as it tries to field a force capable of fighting and winning wars against other capable adversaries.

“They still have a long way to go in terms of having the level of military capability that we judge that they think that they need to advance their global security and economic interests,” a senior U.S. defense official told reporters at the time.

The official called the lack of combat experience “one of the shortcomings that the PRC highlights in a lot of their own self assessments.”

Top U.S. intelligence officials have said that despite China’s desire to be able to take Taiwan by force, perhaps as early as next year, they believe Xi has not decided whether to use that option.

“Beijing will continue to apply military and economic pressure as well as public messaging and influence activities while promoting long-term cross-Strait economic and social integration to induce Taiwan to move toward unification,” according to last month’s annual threat assessment by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

A separate assessment by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency published last week concluded that “Beijing appears willing to defer the use of military force as long as it calculates that its unification with Taiwan ultimately can be negotiated.”

“The costs of armed conflict would outweigh the benefits, and its stated red lines have not been crossed by Taiwan, the United States, or other countries,” the DIA report added.

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NASA chief warns of Chinese military presence in space

Washington — China is bolstering its space capabilities and is using its civilian program to mask its military objectives, the head of the U.S. space agency said Wednesday, warning that Washington must remain vigilant.

“China has made extraordinary strides especially in the last 10 years, but they are very, very secretive,” NASA administrator Bill Nelson told lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

“We believe that a lot of their so-called civilian space program is a military program. And I think, in effect, we are in a race,” Nelson said.

He said he hoped Beijing would “come to its senses and understand that civilian space is for peaceful uses,” but added: “We have not seen that demonstrated by China.”

Nelson’s comment came as he testified before the House Appropriations Committee on NASA’s budget for fiscal 2025.

He said the United States should land on the moon again before China does, as both nations pursue lunar missions, but he expressed concern that were Beijing to arrive first, it could say: “‘OK, this is our territory, you stay out.'”

The United States is planning to put astronauts back on the moon in 2026 with its Artemis 3 mission. China says it hopes to send humans to the moon by 2030.

Nelson said he was confident the United States would not lose its “global edge” in space exploration.

“But you got to be realistic,” he said. “China has really thrown a lot of money at it and they’ve got a lot of room in their budget to grow. I think that we just better not let down our guard.”

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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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Biden on campaign trail, Trump at criminal trial

U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump is in a New York courtroom this week for jury selection in a case about his allegedly falsifying business records. Meanwhile, his Democratic opponent President Joe Biden is on the campaign trail talking about the candidates’ competing visions of economic fairness. VOA’s Scott Stearns has our story.

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Schumer says he’ll move to end Mayorkas’ impeachment trial in Senate as soon as it begins

Washington — Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Wednesday that he will move to dismiss impeachment charges against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, a move that would end the Senate trial before arguments even begin.

Schumer, D-N.Y., said that the two articles of impeachment brought against the secretary over his handling of the U.S.-Mexico border “fail to meet the high standard of high crimes and misdemeanors” and could set a dangerous precedent. 

“For the sake of the Senate’s integrity and to protect impeachment for those rare cases we truly need it, senators should dismiss today’s charges,” Schumer said as he opened the Senate. 

An outright dismissal of House Republicans’ prosecution of Mayorkas, with no chance to argue the case, would be an embarrassing defeat for House Republicans and embattled House Speaker Mike Johnson, who made the impeachment a priority. And it is likely to resonate politically for both Republicans and Democrats in a presidential election year when border security has been a top issue. 

Republicans argue that President Joe Biden has been weak on the border as arrests for illegal crossings skyrocketed to more than 2 million people during the last two years of his term, though they have fallen from a record-high of 250,000 in December amid heightened enforcement in Mexico. Democrats say that instead of impeaching Mayorkas, Republicans should have accepted a bipartisan Senate compromise aimed at reducing the number of migrants who come into the U.S. illegally. 

The House narrowly voted in February to impeach Mayorkas for his handling of the U.S.-Mexico border, arguing in the two articles that he “willfully and systematically” refused to enforce immigration laws. House impeachment managers appointed by Johnson, R-La., delivered the charges to the Senate on Tuesday, standing in the well of the Senate and reading them aloud to a captive audience of senators. 

As Johnson signed the articles Monday in preparation for sending them across the Capitol, he said Schumer should convene a trial to “hold those who engineered this crisis to full account.” 

Schumer “is the only impediment to delivering accountability for the American people,” Johnson said. “Pursuant to the Constitution, the House demands a trial.” 

Once the senators are sworn in on Wednesday, the chamber will turn into the court of impeachment, with Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington presiding. Murray is the president pro tempore of the Senate, or the senior-most member of the majority party who sits in for the vice president. 

The entire process could be done within hours after the trial is called to order. Schumer said he will seek an agreement from Republicans for a period of debate — an offer they are unlikely to accept — and then allow some Republican objections. He will them move to dismiss the trial and hold a vote. 

To win that vote, Schumer will need the support of all of the Senate’s Democrats and three independents. 

In any case, Republicans would not be able to win the support of the two-thirds of the Senate that is needed to convict and remove Mayorkas from office — Democrats control the Senate, 51-49, and they appear to be united against the impeachment effort. Not one House Democrat supported it, either. 

While most Republicans oppose quick dismissal, some have hinted they could vote with Democrats. 

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said last week he wasn’t sure what he would do if there were a move to dismiss the trial. “I think it’s virtually certain that there will not be the conviction of someone when the constitutional test has not been met,” he said. 

At the same time, Romney said he wants to at least express his view that “Mayorkas has done a terrible job, but he’s following the direction of the president and has not met the constitutional test of a high crime or misdemeanor.” 

Mayorkas, who was in New York to launch a campaign for children’s online safety, reiterated that he’s focused on the work of his department. “The Senate is going to do what the Senate considers to be appropriate as that proceeds,” he said. “I am here in New York City on Wednesday morning fighting online sexual exploitation and abuse. I’m focused on our mission.” 

The two articles argue that Mayorkas not only refused to enforce existing law but also breached the public trust by lying to Congress and saying the border was secure. The House vote was the first time in nearly 150 years that a Cabinet secretary was impeached. 

Since then, Johnson delayed sending the articles to the Senate for weeks while both chambers finished work on government funding legislation and took a two-week recess. Johnson had said he would send them to the Senate last week, but he punted again after Senate Republicans said they wanted more time to prepare. 

House impeachment managers previewed some of their arguments at a hearing with Mayorkas on Tuesday morning about President Joe Biden’s budget request for the department. 

Tennessee Rep. Mark Green, the chairman of the House Homeland Security panel, told the secretary that he has a duty under the law to control and guard U.S. borders, and “during your three years as secretary, you have failed to fulfill this oath. You have refused to comply with the laws passed by Congress, and you have breached the public trust.” 

Mayorkas defended the department’s efforts but said the nation’s immigration system is “fundamentally broken, and only Congress can fix it.” 

Other impeachment managers are Michael McCaul of Texas, Andy Biggs of Arizona, Ben Cline of Virginia, Andrew Garbarino of New York, Michael Guest of Mississippi, Harriet Hageman of Wyoming, Clay Higgins of Louisiana, Laurel Lee of Florida, August Plfuger of Texas and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia. 

If Democrats are unable to dismiss or table the articles, they could follow the precedent of several impeachment trials for federal judges over the last century and hold a vote to create a trial committee that would investigate the charges. While there is sufficient precedent for this approach, Democrats may prefer to end the process completely, especially in a presidential election year when immigration and border security are top issues. 

If the Senate were to proceed to an impeachment trial, it would be the third in five years. Democrats impeached President Donald Trump twice, once over his dealings with Ukraine and a second time in the days after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. Trump was acquitted by the Senate both times. 

At a trial, senators would be forced to sit in their seats for the duration, maybe weeks, while the House impeachment managers and lawyers representing Mayorkas make their cases. The Senate is allowed to call witnesses, as well, if it so decides, and it can ask questions of both sides after the opening arguments are finished. 

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China-South Korea competition grows in Vietnam

taipei, taiwan — A Vietnamese delegation’s visit to China last week has underscored increasingly close economic ties between the territorial rivals, which analysts say is posing a challenge to the dominance of South Korean investment in Vietnam.

Vietnam’s National Assembly Chairman Vuong Dinh Hue led the high-level delegation from April 7 to 12 and met with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Hue proposed the two countries create a new push for trade development and “connect Vietnam to China’s large development strategies.”

He also met with the heads of many large Chinese companies that want to participate in Vietnam’s infrastructure construction.

China is Vietnam’s largest trade partner and on the way to becoming its biggest foreign direct investor.

A representative of the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry, or KCCI, in Vietnam last week told Nikkei Asia that Chinese companies are pushing back South Korean firms as China steps up investment in Vietnam.

“Looking at the cumulative amount of investment in Vietnam since 1988, South Korea ranks first with $85.8 billion, ahead of Singapore and Japan. However, in recent years, Korea has been in a neck-to-neck competition with China,” Kim Hyong-mo told the Japan-based Asia news magazine.

More current figures provided by Vietnam’s Ministry of Planning and Investment put South Korean foreign direct investment since 1988 at $87 billion, accounting for more than 18% of the total, followed by Singapore at $76 billion, Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

But in 2023, South Korea ranked fifth after Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong and China, which led in terms of newly registered projects.

According to Joeffrey Maddatu Calimag, an assistant professor at the Department of Global Business Management at Kyungsung University in Busan, South Korea, competition between South Korean and Chinese companies is increasingly fierce.

“South Korean conglomerates like Samsung Electronics Limited have notably ramped up or increased their investment or R&D spending to counter the investments of China’s in terms of this sector, the mobile technology,” he told VOA.

“And Chinese companies have demonstrated impressive R&D growth, which can heighten the competition for South Korean firms in Vietnam. These combined with China’s technological advancements, presents a formidable challenge to South Korean companies operating in the region,” he said.

South Korea’s Samsung is by far the largest single foreign investor in Vietnam.

Vietnam’s Hanoi Times newspaper reports Samsung invested more than $1 billion in Vietnam in 2023, for a total of more than $22 billion, and is expected to invest a further $1 billion per year.

South Korean lens module manufacturer LG Innotek announced last year that it would invest an additional $1 billion in capital in Haiphong City, bringing the company’s total investment in Vietnam to more than $2 billion.

But China’s investment is heating up.

Vietnam’s Trade Ministry said this month that Chinese automaker Chery signed a joint venture agreement with a Vietnamese company to build a factory in Vietnam at an investment of $800 million, becoming the first Chinese EV manufacturer in Vietnam. China’s BYD, the world’s largest EV maker, also plans to set up a factory in Vietnam.

Reuters reported in November that Chinese solar panel manufacturer Trina Solar, one of five Chinese solar firms the U.S. says used plants in Southeast Asia to avoid duties on panels made in China, plans to nearly double its investment in Vietnam to almost $900 million.

China-based economist and finance commentator He Jiangbing notes that since U.S.-China trade tensions erupted in 2018, many Chinese companies have invested in Southeast Asia to avoid made-in-China tariffs. He says China’s domestic overcapacity has also forced Chinese companies to accelerate their overseas deployment.

“The focus of Southeast Asia is Vietnam because [China and Vietnam] are geographically closer. Vietnam also has a large population, with more than 100 million people. It also hoards a large part of the industrial chain transferred from mainland China,” He said. “Wherever the industrial chain moves, Chinese companies will follow.”

Nguyen Tri Hieu, a Vietnamese American economist, says Vietnam is politically closer to China, a fellow one-party communist state, than democratic South Korea.

“In Vietnam, there is a saying that the relationship between China and Vietnam is just like the teeth and the lips,” he told VOA. “South Korea is politically more remote. I would say [South] Korea is important but is not in the same position as China.”

But unlike Hanoi, Seoul has no territorial dispute with Beijing that could threaten to upend the relationship.

China’s and Vietnam’s competing claims to areas in the South China Sea have not halted trade and investment but they have at times slowed it down amid clashes and tensions.

Beijing claims most of the South China Sea as its own, putting it in conflict with Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

  Adrianna Zhang contributed to this report.

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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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Swedish Parliament votes to make it easier for people to legally change their gender

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — The Swedish parliament passed a law Wednesday lowering the age required for people to legally change their gender from 18 to 16.

Young people under 18 will still need approval from a guardian, a doctor, and the National Board of Health and Welfare.

However, a gender dysphoria diagnosis — defined by medical professionals as psychological distress experienced by those whose gender expression does not match their gender identity — will no longer be required.

Following a debate that lasted for nearly six hours, 234 lawmakers voted for the plans, 94 against and 21 were listed as absent.

The center-right coalition of Sweden’s conservative prime minister, Ulf Kristersson, has been split on the issue, with his own Moderates and the Liberals largely supporting the law while the small Christian Democrats were against it. Sweden Democrats, the populist party with far-right roots that support the government in parliament but are not part of the government, also opposed it.

Denmark, Norway, Finland and Spain are among countries that already have similar laws.

Last Friday, German lawmakers approved a similar legislation, making it easier for transgender, intersex and nonbinary people to change their name and gender in official records directly at registry offices.

In the U.K., the Scottish parliament in 2022 passed a bill allowing people aged 16 or older to change their gender designation on identity documents by self-declaration. It was vetoed by the British government, a decision that Scotland’s highest civil court upheld in December. The legislation set Scotland apart from the rest of the U.K., where the minimum age is 18 and a medical diagnosis is required.

Jimmie Akesson, the leader of the Sweden Democrats, told reporters it was “deplorable that a proposal that clearly lacks the support of the population is so lightly voted through.”

But Johan Hultberg, of Kristersson’s Moderates, said that the outcome was “gratifying.”

The newly approved law was “a cautious but important reform for a vulnerable group. I’m glad we’re done with it,” he said.

Peter Sidlund Ponkala, chairman of the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex Rights, known by its Swedish acronym RFSL, called Wednesday’s news “a step in the right direction” and “a recognition for everyone who has been waiting for decades for a new law.”

Elias Fjellander, chairman of the organization’s youth branch, said it “will make life better for our members.”

“Going forward, we are pushing to strengthen gender-affirming care, to introduce a third legal gender and to ban conversion attempts,” Fjellander said in a statement.

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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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NPR suspends editor who criticized employer for what he calls an unquestioned liberal worldview

NEW YORK — National Public Radio has suspended a veteran editor who wrote an outside essay criticizing his employer for, in his view, journalism that reflects a liberal viewpoint with little tolerance for contrary opinions.

Uri Berliner, a senior editor on NPR’s business desk, was suspended five days without pay, according to an article posted Tuesday by NPR’s media correspondent, David Folkenflik. He wrote that Berliner was told he violated the company’s policy that it must approve work done for outside news organizations.

Berliner told NPR that he was not appealing the suspension. An NPR spokeswoman said the company would not comment on individual personnel matters.

He wrote his essay last week for The Free Press. Berliner wrote that NPR has always had a liberal bent, but for most of his 25-year tenure had an open-minded, curious culture.

“In recent years, however, that has changed,” he wrote. “Today, those who listen to NPR or read its coverage online find something different: the distilled worldview of a very small segment of the U.S. population.”

His commentary became an instant hit with outside conservative activists who have made similar criticisms of NPR. He specifically criticized his employer for its coverage of former President Donald Trump, of accusations against the president’s son, Hunter Biden, and of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Following publication, NPR’s top editor, Edith Chapin, said she strongly disagrees with Berliner’s conclusions and is proud to stand behind NPR’s work.

One of his NPR colleagues, “Morning Edition” co-host Steve Inskeep, wrote on Substack Tuesday that Berliner’s essay in The Free Press was filled with errors and assumptions.

“If Uri’s ‘larger point’ is that journalists should seek wider perspectives, and not just write stories that confirm their prior opinions, his article is useful as an example of what to avoid,” Inskeep wrote.

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Biden seeks higher tariffs on Chinese steel as he courts union voters

SCRANTON, Pa. — President Joe Biden is calling for a tripling of tariffs on steel from China to protect American producers from a flood of cheap imports, an announcement he planned to roll out Wednesday in an address to steelworkers in the battleground state of Pennsylvania.

The move reflects the intersection of Biden’s international trade policy with his efforts to court voters in a state that is likely to play a pivotal role in deciding November’s election.

The White House insists, however, that it is more about shielding American manufacturing from unfair trade practices overseas than firing up a union audience.

In addition to boosting steel tariffs, Biden also will seek to triple levies on Chinese aluminum. The current rate is 7.5% for both metals. The administration also promised to pursue anti-dumping investigations against countries and importers that try to saturate existing markets with Chinese steel, and said it was working with Mexico to ensure that Chinese companies can’t circumvent the tariffs by shipping steel there for subsequent export to the U.S.

“The president understands we must invest in American manufacturing. But we also have to protect those investments and those workers from unfair exports associated with China’s industrial overcapacity,” White House National Economic Adviser Lael Brainard said on a call with reporters.

Biden was set to announce that he is asking the U.S. Trade Representative to consider tripling the tariffs during a visit to United Steelworkers union headquarters in Pittsburgh. The president is on a three-day Pennsylvania swing that began in Scranton on Tuesday and will include a visit to Philadelphia on Thursday.

The administration says China is distorting markets and eroding competition by unfairly flooding the market with below-market-cost steel.

“China’s policy-driven overcapacity poses a serious risk to the future of the American steel and aluminum industry,” Brainard said. Referencing China’s economic downturn, she added that Beijing “cannot export its way to recovery.”

“China is simply too big to play by its own rules,” Brainard said.

Higher tariffs can carry major economic risks. Steel and aluminum could become more expensive, possibly increasing the costs of cars, construction materials and other key goods for U.S. consumers.

Inflation has already been a drag on Biden’s political fortunes, and his turn toward protectionism echoes the playbook of his predecessor and opponent in this fall’s election, Donald Trump.

The former president imposed broader tariffs on Chinse goods during his administration, and has threatened to increase levies on Chinese goods unless they trade on his preferred terms as he campaigns for a second term. An outside analysis by the consultancy Oxford Economics has suggested that implementing the tariffs Trump has proposed could hurt the overall U.S. economy.

Senior Biden administration officials said that, unlike the Trump administration, they were seeking a “strategic and balanced” approach to new tariff rates. China produces around half of the world’s steel, and is already making far more than its domestic market needs. It sells steel on the world market for less than half what U.S.-produced steel costs, the officials said.

Biden’s announcement follows his administration’s efforts to provide up to $6.6 billion so that a Taiwanese semiconductor giant can expand facilities that it is already building in Arizona and better ensure that the world’s most-advanced microchips are produced in the U.S. That move could be seen as working to better compete with China chip manufacturers.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, during a recent visit to China, warned against oversaturating the market with cheap goods, and said low-cost steel had “decimated industries across the world and in the United States.” The Chinese, in turn, expressed grave concern over American trade and economic measures that restrict China, according to the China’s official news agency. U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken also has an upcoming visit to China.

Also potentially shaking up the steel industry is Japanese Nippon Steel’s proposed acquisition of Pittsburgh-based U.S. Steel. Biden said last month that he opposed the move.

“U.S. Steel has been an iconic American steel company for more than a century, and it is vital for it to remain an American steel company that is domestically owned and operated,” Biden said then.

At a rally last weekend in Pennsylvania, Trump tore into Biden over Nippon Steel’s efforts to buy U.S. Steel, ignoring the president’s objections to the merger.

“I would not let that deal go through,” Trump said.

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Thousands homeless after demolition in Ivory Coast’s main city

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast — Dame Touré rushed to quickly gather what she could as bulldozers rolled into her neighborhood in Ivory Coast’s fast-growing economic hub of Abidjan. Her three children joined her, stuffing plastic bags with clothes and whatever other items they could grab, before their home was reduced to rubble as armed security forces looked on.

The Touré home was among hundreds crushed in a February wave of demolitions targeting Abidjan’s underdeveloped areas.

The government says it’s because of public health concerns as the poor areas — built along a lagoon in this port city of 6.3 million on West Africa’s southern coast — suffer deadly floods during the rainy season. More than 300 people have been killed since 2005, and officials say the deluges become breeding grounds for diseases.

“My children and I now sleep under the sun,” said Touré, 50. “We don’t know where to go.”

Demolitions in low-income neighborhoods are nothing new in Abidjan, where rapid urbanization has led to a population boom and housing shortages, with nearly one in five Ivorians residing in the city. It’s a challenge in many parts of Africa where economic woes pushed more people into cities in search of better opportunities, straining an already overstretched infrastructure.

However, the latest Abidjan demolition — mainly in impoverished suburbs in the Gesco and Sebroko districts — is one of the largest in years, with an estimated hundreds of thousands of residents affected since it began in late January. Evicted families and rights groups say that this time, it’s being done without prior notice or compensation.

Analysts say many African governments struggle to manage population explosions in cities and meet growing infrastructure needs. Chimezie Anajama, a policy researcher and founder of Blooming Social Pen development nonprofit, says few administrations have managed to solve the developmental problem.

“There must be a strong commitment by different African governments to come up with creative solutions to address the infrastructure gaps in African cities,” Anajama said.

Local authorities have defended the demolitions, and say relocations of families left homeless to safer areas has started.

Some 35% of Ivorians are poor. Water shortages are a daily curse, with many forced to fetch water from streams for their daily needs. The country has also had to contend with other challenges, such as jihadi attacks that have spread to coastal states in West Africa, including Ivory Coast.

“The aim is to provide a decent … living environment for these people,” the Ivory Coast’s communications minister, Amadou Coulibaly, has said of the demolition campaigns. He claimed in February that some of those evicted in neighborhoods like Boribana are being resettled in at least 1,000 houses built by the government.

Many families, however, remain homeless, stranded in several parts of the city.

The demolitions are being carried out in “a brutal manner … causing disastrous consequences for many families already vulnerable,” the Ivorian League for Human Rights said in a statement. It urged authorities to halt the campaign.

Among those affected by the demolitions were nearly 2,000 schoolchildren of Cha Hélène College in the Yopougon neighborhood, which was reduced to rubble in February.

The school was not informed it would be demolished — neither by the Ivory Coast’s ministry of construction nor the national education ministry, said Sévérin Okpo Abe, the school’s founder. The children were eventually enrolled in other nearby schools.

Most of the evicted residents who are not sleeping out in the open have either relocated to other parts of Ivory Coast or are squatting with residents elsewhere.

“We have been made homeless in our own country,” said Aimée Ouédraogo, a spokesperson for women affected by the forced evictions.

The evictions broke up families and the homeless were scattered across the city, she added. “We no longer have a home, we no longer have our family, we no longer have our children next to us.”

Amid the outrage and protest from the evicted, Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara has asked Abidjan’s local authorities to “show solidarity … to preserve cohesion and social peace.”

However, city’s officials say the demolitions are part of a broader project to reconstruct and provide basic amenities in the areas. Plots of land would be leased to those evicted for up to 25 years, for about $16 a month, they say.

On April 8, the government announced it’s started to compensate affected households and that each would get about $405 to support the relocation. In a country where the minimum wage is about $121 a month, some believe it’s not enough to afford the growing cost of housing.

“All displaced people will receive the necessary support for their relocation,” said Belmonde Dogo, the minister in charge of efforts to alleviate poverty.

The Yopougon municipality, mostly of working-class residents, also announced plans to help those affected.

But many like Touré say they were overwhelmed by helplessness watching bulldozers rampage through their neighborhoods.

“I don’t have anyone in Abidjan and I don’t have money to buy a house,” said the mother of three, not knowing how she would go on. “I can’t do it.”

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Ousted Myanmar leader Suu Kyi moved from prison to house arrest

BANGKOK — Myanmar’s jailed former leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been moved from prison to house arrest as a health measure due to a heat wave, the military government said. On Wednesday it also granted amnesty for over 3,000 prisoners to mark this week’s traditional New Year holiday.

Suu Kyi, 78, and Win Myint, the 72-year-old former president of her ousted government, were among the elderly and infirm prisoners moved from out of prison because of the severe heat, the military’s spokesperson, Maj. Gen. General Zaw Min Tun, told foreign media representatives late Tuesday. The move has not yet been publicly announced in Myanmar.

Suu Kyi’s transfer comes as the army has been suffering a string of major defeats in its fight against pro-democracy resistance fighters and their allies in ethnic minority guerrilla forces. The nationwide conflict began after the army ousted the elected government in February 2021, imprisoned Suu Kyi and began suppressing nonviolent protests that sought a return to democratic rule.

Suu Kyi has been serving a 27-year prison term on a variety of criminal convictions in a specially-built wing of the main prison in the capital Naypyitaw, where Myanmar’s meteorological department said temperatures reached 39 degrees Celsius (102.2 degrees Fahrenheit) on Tuesday afternoon. Win Myint was serving an eight-year prison sentence in Taungoo in Myanmar’s Bago region.

Suu Kyi’s supporters and independent analysts say the charges were fabricated in an attempt to discredit her and legitimize the military’s seizure of power. The military had claimed that her National League for Democracy Party used widespread electoral fraud to win a landslide victory in the 2020 general election, an allegation independent observers found unconvincing.

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, an independent group that monitors casualties and arrests, more than 20,351 people arrested on political charges since the 2021 army takeover are still in detention, most of whom have not received criminal convictions.

Suu Kyi’s health has reportedly deteriorated in prison. In September last year, reports emerged that she was suffering from symptoms of low blood pressure including dizziness and loss of appetite, but had been denied treatment at qualified facilities outside the prison system.

Those reports could not be independently confirmed, but her younger son Kim Aris said in interviews that he had heard that his mother has been extremely ill and has been suffering from gum problems and was unable to eat. Aris, who lives in England, urged that Myanmar’s military government be pressured to free his mother and other political prisoners.

News about Suu Kyi is tightly controlled by the military government, and even her lawyers are banned by a gag order from talking to the media about her cases. Her legal team has faced several hurdles, including being unable to meet with her to receive her instructions since they last saw her in person in December 2022.

Whether the latest move was meant to be temporary was not announced.

Before being sent to prison, Suu Kyi was reportedly held in a military safe house inside an army base.

Other prisoners were released for the Thingyan New Year holiday, state-run MRTV television announced Wednesday, but it wasn’t immediately clear if those released included pro-democracy activists and political prisoners who were detained for protesting army rule.

MRTV said that the head of the ruling military council, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, had pardoned 3,303 prisoners, including 28 foreigners who will be deported from Myanmar. He also reduced sentences for others. Mass amnesties on the holiday are not unusual in Myanmar.

Suu Kyi, the daughter of Myanmar’s martyred independence hero Gen. Aung San, spent almost 15 years as a political prisoner under house arrest by previous military governments between 1989 and 2010. Her tough stand against military rule turned her into a symbol of the nonviolent struggle for democracy and won her the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize.

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