Protesters March Through Washington Streets for Racial Justice

Activists with the March for Racial Justice and the March for Black Women took to the streets Saturday in Washington to protest what they called “racist policing practices” in America.

The two groups held individual rallies in the nation’s capital and then converged before marching together to the Justice Department building and the National Mall.

Videos of the march posted on social media showed the protest group marching down Pennsylvania Avenue, past the Capitol, while chanting, “No justice, no peace” and “If we don’t get it, shut it down.”

The protest march spanned several blocks as activists moved through the city before reaching their final destination on the mall.

Organizers of the two marches planned the events on September 30 to mark the anniversary of the Elaine Massacre of 1919, in which 200 black people were killed by law enforcement officers and citizens in Arkansas.

Farah Tanis, who planned the March for Black Women, told The Washington Post she came up with the idea because she felt black women weren’t properly celebrated during the large Women’s March on Washington following President Donald Trump’s inauguration.

“I said to myself that there will not be another March for Racial Injustice that does not truly center on black women and their issues,” she told the newspaper.

On its website, the March for Racial Justice said its mission was to “harness the national unrest and dissatisfaction with racial injustice into a national mobilization” aimed at promoting racial equity.

WATCH: Marchers in DC Seek Racial Justice

“Over the past few years, the movement against racist policing tactics and police killings has transformed the U.S. political terrain and brought much-needed attention to police brutality that is endemic in the U.S.,” the group said in a statement.

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Turkey Opens Largest Foreign Military Base in Mogadishu

Turkey’s largest foreign military base in the world opened Saturday in Mogadishu, in a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by Somali leaders, top Turkish military officials and diplomats.

Somali Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire and the head of the Turkish military, General Hulusi Akar have jointly inaugurated the 4 square kilometer (1.54 square mile) facility, which holds three military residential complexes, training venues, and sports courts. It had been under construction for the last two years.

General Akar said the base is the biggest sign of how Turkey wants to help Somalia.

“We are committed to help [the] Somali government, and this base will cover the need for building strong Somali National Army. And it is biggest sign showing our relationship.”

Speaking at the inauguration ceremony, Prime Minister Khaire highlighted the significance of the training base for his country.

“Today our country goes to the right direction toward development and the re-establishment of Somali Army, capable and ready for the defense of their nations,” said Khaire “This base is part of that on ongoing effort.”

More than 200 Turkish military personnel will train some 1,500 Somali troops at a time, according to Somalia’s defense Ministry. The Somali prime minister said it will manufacture an inclusive united Somali Army.

“This training base has a unique significance for us because it is a concrete step taken toward building an inclusive and integrated Somali National Army,” said Khaire. “My government and our Somali people will not forget this huge help by our Turkish brothers. This academy will help us train more troops.”

The inauguration ceremony was held amid tight security around the base located in the Jaziira coastal area in southern tip of the capital.

Hulusi Akar, the Turkish Army chief said, “the Turkish government would continue to support our Somali brothers until their country becomes militarily stronger.”

Other diplomats who attended the event said the training is part of an international effort to strengthen the Somali National Army to a point where it can take over security responsibilities from African Union troops currently fighting al-Shabab militants. The African Union has said it wants to begin withdrawing troops from Somalia next year.

Prime Minister Khaire said the base also will help to defeat the extremism and the ideology that drives young Somali men into violence and terrorism.

“To defeat terrorism and fight against the poverty, we have keep in mind that building our national security and eliminating corruption is the key,” he said.

Somalia has a significant number of military personal, but they are ill-trained and poorly equipped. Last week, the government repeated its plea for world leaders to lift an international arms embargo.

The U.S. already had deployed dozens of American soldiers to Mogadishu, and their presence marked the first American military forces in Somalia, except for a small unit of counterterrorism advisers, since March 1994.

The United Arab Emirates also has a military facility where they train the Somali Army, which many politicians condemn for taking orders directly from UAE commanders.

“The good news is not only the opening of this training base but also …that when Turkey trains our troops it will also equip them,” said Somali Military Chief, Ahmed Mohamed Jimale.

Al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab is attempting to overthrow the Somali government and install a strict form of Islamic law throughout the country. On Friday, 30 people were killed when al-Shabab militants stormed a Somali military army base in the town of Barire, 47 kilometers southwest of Mogadishu.

 

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Spaniards Divided Over Catalonian Independence Vote

Thousands of demonstrators have gathered in Barcelona to oppose Sunday’s referendum on Catalonian independence from Spain.

Waving Spanish flags, the protesters filled the square in front of Barcelona’s regional government buildings Saturday.

Madrid has declared the vote illegal, and authorities in Spain began sealing off polling stations and confiscating ballots. While the Spanish national government said there would be no Catalonian independence vote, Catalonia’s regional government continued preparations for it.

Hundreds of people supporting the referendum camped out in schools in an attempt to keep them open for Sunday’s vote.

Enric Millo, the highest-ranking Spanish security official in the northeastern region, said Saturday that police had already blockaded half of the more than 2,300 polling stations designated for the referendum vote.

He said Spanish authorities also had dismantled the technology Catalan officials planned on using for voting and counting ballots, which he said would make the referendum “absolutely impossible.”

The president of the Catalan National Assembly appealed directly to the “conscience” of police officers deployed to the polling stations while speaking to reporters Saturday.

“I am aware they have a job to do, that they have their orders and have to carry them out. We are aware of that. But we also know that they have feelings, conscience,” he said.

“So tomorrow, when they carry out their orders they will undoubtedly receive, I hope they keep in mind — during the situations they find themselves in — that these could be their children, their mothers or their nephews, members of their family who just want to be able to  express themselves in freedom.”

Spanish Culture Minister Inigo Mendez de Vigo said Friday that the independence vote would violate Spanish law and that the government would not accept the results.

“We are open to dialogue within the framework of the law. As you would understand, nobody can ask us … to engage in dialogue outside the framework of the law. It’s impossible,” he said. “No European political leader can even consider dealing with an issue that is not in [Spanish] government hands.”

Catalan authorities said they would declare independence from Spain within 48 hours of the vote if residents there chose to secede.

On Friday, Catalan farmers rode tractors through the streets of Barcelona, driving slowly and waving pro-independence flags and banners. The tractors eventually stopped, converging on the regional government building.

At the same time, European Union officials said they would not mediate the dispute between Spain and Catalonia, calling it a matter of Spanish law.

“[It is] a Spanish problem in which we can do little. It’s a problem of respecting Spanish laws that Spaniards have to resolve,” said European Parliament President Antonio Tajani.

European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans called on Europeans to respect the constitution and rule of law in their countries. He said people in the EU need to organize themselves “in accordance with the constitution of that member state.”

“That is the rule of law — you abide by the law and the constitution even if you don’t like it,” he said.

Catalan authorities previously had appealed to the EU for help, saying the Spanish government undermined their democratic values.

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Spanish Authorities Blockade Polling Stations, Dismantle Equipment Ahead of Catalonia Referendum

Authorities in Spain have begun sealing off polling stations and confiscating ballots ahead of a planned referendum vote Sunday that possibly could lead to the Catalonian region’s independence.

The Spanish government says there will be no Catalonia independence vote Sunday, even as the regional government continues preparations for the referendum.

Enric Millo, the highest-ranking Spanish security official in the northeastern region, said Saturday police had already blockaded half of the more than 2,300 polling stations designated for the referendum vote.

He said Spanish authorities also had dismantled the technology Catalan officials had planned on using for voting and counting ballots, which he said would make the referendum “absolutely impossible.”

Catalan officials have said they plan to move forward with the vote despite the actions taken by Spain’s central government.

The president of the Catalan National Assembly appealed directly to the “conscience” of police officers deployed to the polling stations while speaking to reporters Saturday.

“I am aware they have a job to do, that they have their orders and have to carry them out. We are aware of that. But we also know that they have feelings, conscience,” he said.

“So tomorrow, when they carry out their orders they will undoubtedly receive, I hope they keep in mind – during the situations they find themselves in — that these could be their children, their mothers or their nephews, members of their family who just want to be able to  express themselves in freedom.”

Spanish Culture Minister Inigo Mendez de Vigo said Friday the independence vote violates Spanish law and the government will not accept the results of the referendum.

“We are open to dialogue within the framework of the law. As you would understand nobody can ask us … to engage in dialogue outside the framework of the law. It’s impossible,” he said. “No European political leader can even consider dealing with an issue that is not in [Spanish] government hands.”

Catalan authorities say they will declare independence from Spain within 48 hours of the vote if residents there choose to secede. The Spanish government has fought the measure and declared the vote illegitimate.

On Friday, Catalan farmers rode tractors through the streets of Barcelona, driving slowly and waving pro-independence flags and banners. The tractors eventually stopped, converging on the regional government building.

At the same time, European Union officials say they will not mediate the dispute between Spain and Catalonia, calling it a matter of Spanish law.

“[It is] a Spanish problem in which we can do little. It’s a problem of respecting Spanish laws that Spaniards have to resolve,” said European Parliament President Antonio Tajani.

European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans called on Europeans to respect the constitution and rule of law in their countries. He said people in the EU need to organize themselves “in accordance with the constitution of that member state.”

“That is the rule of law – you abide by the law and the constitution even if you don’t like it,” he said.

Catalan authorities previously had appealed to the EU for help, saying the Spanish government undermined their democratic values.

 

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Plague Spreading Rapidly in Madagascar

The World Health Organization warns a highly infectious, deadly form of pneumonic plague is spreading rapidly in Madagascar and quick action is needed to stop it. 

Pneumonic plague, which is transmitted from person to person, has been detected in several cities in Madagascar.  This worries the World Health Organization as the disease is highly contagious and quickly causes death without treatment.

Plague is endemic to Madagascar resulting in around 400 cases annually.  Most are cases of bubonic plague, which is spread by the fleas of rats and other small rodents.  The disease is usually confined to rural areas, but this year it has spread to large urban areas and port cities.

WHO spokesman, Tarik Jasarevic, says cases of bubonic, as well as the human transmissible pneumonic plague have been found in the capital Antananarivo and the port cities of Majunga and Toamasina.

“So far, 104 cases of plague were reported since the first case has been identified that was dating from the 23rd of August,” said Jasarevic. “So, from the 23rd of August to 28th September, 104 cases that have been reported, including 20 deaths.”

Jasarevic notes the fatality rate is more than 19 percent.  He tells VOA this outbreak is very dangerous and must be brought under control quickly.

“The plague epidemic season usually runs from September to April, so we really are at the beginning of the epidemic season of plague,” said Jasarevic. “And, we have already from the 23rd of August until yesterday—so that is like five-weeks-time—we had 104 cases and again half of those cases were pneumonic plague.”

WHO says urgent public health response in terms of surveillance and treatment is required.  The health agency has released $250,000 from its emergency fund to get immediate action underway.  It plans to appeal for $1.5 million to fully respond to the needs.

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Russian Soldier who Killed 3 Comrades Shot Dead

Officials in far east Russia say a soldier who opened fire at other servicemen during drills has been tracked down and killed.

The military says the soldier, who killed three and wounded two other soldiers, offered resistance to arrest and was shot dead early Saturday following a massive manhunt.

During Friday’s incident, the soldier fired his Kalashnikov rifle at his comrades waiting to have target practice at a base outside the town of Belogorsk near the border with China and then fled.

The city administration in Belogorsk says the soldier came from the province of Dagestan in Russia’s North Caucasus.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has sent a commission to investigate the shooting.

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Study: Trump Immigration Policies to Cost Michigan

At the turn of the century, Bangladeshi immigrant Shaker Sadeak packed his bags in New York City and headed to Michigan — a state that he says afforded him the opportunity to make a living and go to school at the same time.

Seven years later, he took another step, opening his own wholesale and retail fabric shop, India Fashion, in Hamtramck, Michigan’s Banglatown. Surrounded by Bengali restaurants, spice shops and groceries, his business, like the street upon which it lives, has flourished over time.

When VOA visited this summer, new and established businesses were steadily replacing abandoned lots along Conant Street, Banglatown’s commercial main street.

“Back in 2000, you used to see one car in two minutes. Now we have thousands of cars driving on the streets,” Sadeak said. “All the immigrants came into this town and rebuilt the whole thing.”

‘Bread and butter’ issue

In Rust Belt communities, immigration is a “bread and butter economic issue,” said Steve Tobocman, executive director of Global Detroit, a nonprofit corporation that pursues strategies to attract international investment and business in southeast Michigan.

The state government under a Republican governor has concluded the same, issuing a report last year that said that the more than 640,000 foreign-born individuals in Michigan are “critical contributors to Michigan’s economic success.”

But the Trump administration argues that low-skilled or illegal immigrants are hurting American workers.

President Donald Trump’s senior adviser for policy, Stephen Miller, told reporters last month that the president’s immigration policies will prevent an influx of such workers into the country.

“In an environment in which you have this huge pool of unemployed labor in the United States, and you’re spending massive amounts of money putting our own workers on welfare?” Miller asked. “We are constantly told that unskilled immigration boosts the economy but again, if you look at the last 17 years, we just know from reality that is not true.”

However, the Michigan state government’s economic report suggested that the estimated 126,000 undocumented immigrants in the state generally fill jobs different from native-born workers, “playing a small but critical role in the workforce.”

The report concluded that the group has played a positive role in Michigan’s economy, paying much more in taxes than the cost of the services such as education and law enforcement that they receive. The report suggested that giving legal status to these workers, and perhaps requiring them to pay back taxes, would be a net benefit for the state and its citizens.

Eight months into Donald Trump’s presidency, Global Detroit’s Tobocman says the administration’s immigration policies and rhetoric have come with a hefty price tag: more than $1 billion in lost annual economic activity in Michigan.

“We have done some damage to America’s brand as the world’s most welcoming economy, most innovative economy, and a place where anybody can come and contribute to our growth and prosperity and live the American Dream,” Tobocman said.

Policies and rhetoric, quantified

In collaboration with nine other Rust Belt states that make up the Welcoming Economies Global Network, Global Detroit calculated the combined projected economic loss in Michigan resulting from decreases in international tourism and international student applications, repercussions from the repeal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), and losses in agricultural production.

Of a combined projected $1.157 billion annual loss in statewide economic activity, $418.63 million comes at the hands of Trump’s announced termination of DACA.

WATCH: A Look at Hamtramck

An additional $241 million was attributed to an assumed 16 percent decline in international tourism. The now-extended travel ban, Tobocman argues, is a primary source of a downturn in tourism among both Muslim tourists and others who are sympathetic, “who would like to see a more welcoming culture.”

But even where hard numbers are more difficult to quantify, including losses in agricultural production and new refugee arrivals, Tobocman says the repercussions from Trump’s policies and rhetoric are becoming clear.

“It’s really enhanced enforcement … the deportation numbers are not significantly higher, but the kinds of raids that we have seen, and the kinds of treatment policies,” he continued, “that sends a signal: that your labor is not really welcome here.”

Weighing costs and benefits

In regions that have seen population decline, such as the Midwest, immigrants are “part of what’s keeping those communities vibrant or growing at all,” said Kim Rueben, senior fellow at the Urban Institute.

Rueben, a member of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) panel that produced a comprehensive 2016 report on the long-term impacts of immigration on native-born workers and overall wages, noted that over a period of 10 years or more, the impact of immigration on the wages of native-born workers is very small and there’s little evidence it affects the overall employment levels of U.S.-born workers.

Any decision to cut immigration numbers, Rueben told VOA, is both economically and fiscally costly.

She said eliminating DACA is particularly costly because DACA recipients tend to be well-educated and skilled workers.

“[DACA recipients] are contributing more to society because they are able to do those jobs that are in keeping with their education and the investments they have,” Rueben said.

Rueben added that the children of lower-wage first-generation immigrants, such as farm workers, have shown a tendency to exceed education-level expectations.

Nationwide, according to a late-September poll released by Quinnipiac, 38 percent of voting Americans approve of the way Trump is handling immigration issues, compared to 59 percent who disapprove. The numbers reflect a five-point drop in approval since mid-August.

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Trump Blasts Mayor of Hurricane-Devastated San Juan, Puerto Rico

U.S. President Donald Trump took the Mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico to task in a series of Saturday morning tweets in apparent response to her criticism of the administration’s effort to help the U.S. territory recover from the devastation inflicted by Hurricane Maria.

Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz accused the Trump administration of “killing us with the inefficiency” and begged Trump to “make sure somebody is in charge that is up to the task of saving lives.”

The Republican president initiated his tweets, which were apparently deleted minutes later, by suggesting Cruz’s criticism was instigated by Democrats.

“The Mayor of San Juan, who was very complimentary only a few days ago, has now been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump.”

“…Such poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help. They ….,” Trump added.

“…want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort. 10,000 Federal workers not on Island doing a fantastic job.”

Trump then denounced two news organizations for what he apparently believed has been biased coverage of the recovery efforts with the ultimate aim of disparaging him.

“Fake News CNN and NBC are going out of their way to disparage our great First Responders as a way to “get Trump.” Not fair to FR or effort!”

He then reiterated he will soon get a first-hand view of the devastation on Puerto Rico and possibly in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

“I will be going to Puerto Rico on Tuesday with Melania. Will hopefully be able to stop at the U.S. Virgin Islands (people working hard).

Trump then broadened his attack on the news media, accusing the networks of hindering recovery efforts.

“The Fake News Networks are working overtime in Puerto Rico doing their best to take the spirit away from our soldiers and R’s. Shame!”

Acting Homeland Security Administration Secretary Elaine Duke flew over hurricane devastated Puerto Rico Friday and reassured residents the federal government understands the severity of the ongoing human catastrophe facing the U.S. territory.

“I know the people of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are suffering,” Duke told a news conference in the capital, San Juan. “We are here and we have been here to help them. We are continuing to bring additional supplies and personnel to further assist distribution efforts on the ground.”

Duke’s unannounced trip to the island came hours after the mayor of Puerto Rico’s capital, San Juan, ridiculed comments the Homeland Security chief made at a White House briefing Thursday, where she described the life-saving efforts of relief workers as “a good news story.”

In a widely publicized CNN interview, Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz replied angrily, saying, “This is not a good news story. This is a ‘people are dying’ story. This is a life or death story.”

Clearly stung by Yulin Cruz’s barb, Duke made clear that she did not consider the current conditions in Puerto Rico satisfactory.

WATCH: US Military Aids in Hurricane Irma Rescue and Relief Efforts

“Yesterday I was asked if I was happy and satisfied with the recovery,” she said. “I am proud of the work that’s being done. I’m proud of Americans helping Americans, friends and strangers alike. I am proud of the work DOD, (Department of Defense, FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and the territory, along with first responders are doing.

“The president and I will not be satisfied, however, until every Puerto Rican is back home, the power is back on, clean water is freely available, schools and hospitals are fully open, and the Puerto Rican economy is working,” the secretary said.

EPA assessing Superfund sites

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said in a statement that it has deployed assessment teams to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

“We have begun re-assessing Superfund sites, oil sites, and chemical facilities in Puerto Rico and the USVI as part of EPA’s response to Hurricane Maria,” the agency said. 

It said that its initial assessments found the Superfund sites to have no significant damage. The agency is also working to assess the conditions of water and sewage treatment plants in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

In the face of widespread criticism of Washington’s slow response to the Puerto Rico hurricane, the White House is in damage-control mode.

​‘You don’t just go back and fix it’

As he left the White House Friday for a weekend at his golf club in New Jersey, Trump told reporters the scope of destruction in Puerto Rico dwarfed the damage from hurricanes earlier this month in Texas and Florida. 

“It was flattened. You don’t just go back and fix it,” he said.

“It’s a very tough situation and a big question is what happens. We have to rebuild. The electric(ity) is gone, the roads are gone, telecommunications (are) gone. It’s all gone, and the real question is what’s going to happen later,” the president said.

Earlier in the day, at a speech to a group of manufacturing industry leaders, he pledged to provide all possible assistance from Washington.

“We’ve never seen anything like this,” he said, noting that Washington is sending 10,000 federal personnel, including 5,000 National Guard members.

“We’ve closely coordinated with territorial and local governments which unfortunately aren’t able to handle this catastrophe on their own,” the president said.

Trump and other top administration officials are scheduled to visit the hurricane-ravaged region, including Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, next Tuesday.

​Critics say ‘too, little, too late’

A three-star general was named Thursday to head the relief effort, and a 1,000 bed hospital ship, the Comfort, departed Friday from its home port in the U.S. state of Virginia to assist in the recovery. Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert said 44 of Puerto Rico’s 69 hospitals have been restored to operation.

But critics say the response may prove to be a case of too little, too late.

Russel Honore, highly lauded for commanding the military response after another big storm, Hurricane Katrina in 2005, said the military deployments to Puerto Rico should have been started at least four days earlier.

Honore told National Public Radio that because of its distance from the mainland and the loss of its power grid, Puerto Rico “is a bigger and tougher mission than Katrina.”

The head of the U.S. relief effort, Lieutenant General Jeffrey Buchanan, said Thursday it would be a long-term project. 

“We’re bringing in more,” Buchanan told CNN. “This is a very, very long duration.”

Amid the tragedy, Trump said the one bright spot so far has been the ability of relief and rescue crews to keep hurricane-related death toll to a minimum. 

“The loss of life is always tragic, but it’s been incredible the results we’ve had with respect to loss of life,” the president told reporters Friday. “People can’t believe how successful that has been, relatively speaking.”

Health officials, however, say worse days and weeks may still be ahead as authorities battle the massive task of restoring clean water and sanitation, not to mention providing food and shelter for Puerto Rico’s 3.4 million people.

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