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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Women in Politics: Democrats Motivated to Run, GOP Aren’t

The president of Emily’s List rose to the podium at a recent New York fundraiser to make a proud announcement: More than 18,000 women had contacted the group since Election Day, looking to explore running for office, “an explosion,” she called it.

Of course, they’re all Democrats. On the Republican side, there’s been no such explosion. While a tide of anti-Trump activism has led thousands of Democratic women to consider runs for office, their Republican counterparts are where they were before the 2016 election, with little chance of improving their representation.

“Republican women look very much the same now as they did pre-Trump,” says Jennifer Lawless, professor at American University and co-author of a recent report that examined the persistent gender gap in political ambition, on both sides of the aisle. “They’re generally not interested in running for office, the overwhelming majority has not been recruited to run, they don’t think they’re qualified to run, and their levels of political activity and enthusiasm are the same as they have always been.”

Democrat women energized

Lawless’ report, called “The Trump Effect,” also throws some cold water on the expectation that Democrats will see a seismic shift in numbers of women running; re-energized political activism doesn’t necessarily translate into candidacies. But the new enthusiasm has been almost entirely on the left side of the spectrum, and some groups are trying to address that.

Erin Loos Cutraro, CEO of She Should Run, a nonpartisan group, says while the overall pace of adding women to elected office is too slow — women, after all, make up just less than 20 percent of Congress — it’s clearly happening faster for Democrats.

Part of the problem: uneven institutional resources and support. 

“Feeling that you’re not going at it alone makes a big difference,” Cutraro said, “and it can feel really isolating for Republican women. They don’t have the same networks, just in sheer numbers … or the same level of institutional support. If you’re a Democratic pro-choice woman, and you have Emily’s List there to support you, that can be incredibly powerful. Republican women don’t have anything that plays at the same level.”

​First steps

While a group like Emily’s List lends concrete support to get a candidate over the finish line, She Should Run serves women seeking that first step. 

“‘I don’t even know where to start’ is something we hear over and over,” Cutraro said.

Rebecca Love is one of those women. A longtime Republican, she was president of the Republican club in high school, Love, 38, woke up at home in San Diego the morning after Election Day wanting to get involved, somehow.

“I felt that my values as a Republican woman were not represented by the candidate who was elected,” said Love, who has a young daughter and works in health care consulting. “I felt Republicans were better than this. It was a wakeup call.”

So Love began Googling programs for women interested in politics. Most, she found, were for Democrats, and her experience had been that even groups calling themselves nonpartisan were populated mostly by Democrats, some not eager to engage with Republicans. Finally, Love, who identifies as abortion-rights, moderate Republican, started working with She Should Run. She’s learning the political landscape of her community, and expects to pursue a city council seat or something similar.

By now, Love says, she feels confident enough that she doesn’t need to be “asked” to run. But she meets women who do: “I say to them, ‘You should think about running,’ and they say, ‘Me?”’

​Women need to be asked to run

Virtually any advocate working to get women into politics will say the same thing: Much more than men, women of any party need to be asked to run.

Julie Conway of VIEW PAC, which works to get Republican women elected to federal office, puts it this way: “You have to tell women, ‘Hey, you’d be great,’ and not only that, but you’d be the best, and now I’m going to have 10 other people tell you you’re the best. Guys just say, ‘Hey, I could do this.”’

Adds Stephanie Schriock, president of Emily’s List: “For years we’ve sat at kitchen tables, we’ve said, ‘You can do this, you don’t need five years of training, that dude has no training!”’

For Jinyoung Englund, getting asked by a former boss was a turning point. A daughter of Korean immigrants in Washington state, Englund got the bug for public service early, working on a congressional campaign and then on Capitol Hill while she was still in her 20s.

She hadn’t planned to run herself, and her first response, she says, was that it sounded “kinda crazy. … Women, like myself, are often, ‘Hey, who am I to think I could run?”’

But she is now the Republican candidate in a much-watched special legislative election; Republican control of the state Senate hangs in the balance. At 33, she’d be the body’s youngest woman.

Not every woman, of course, needs to be asked. 

Shantel Krebs, the South Dakota secretary of state and candidate for Congress, served 10 years in the state legislature — she was 30 when first elected in 2004, and had begun her legislative career at 17 as a page. Krebs says she hasn’t encountered the obstacles some other women describe, perhaps because South Dakota has a long history of women in positions of political power. The incumbent in the seat she’s seeking, Republican Kristie Noem, is running for governor.

“I think South Dakotans expect another woman in that position,” said Krebs, 44. “They know that women compromise and they listen.”

​The Trump question

Like Republican male candidates, GOP women must consider where they stand on President Donald Trump, their party’s polarizing leader. Depending on the district, it’s not always easy.

Asked about potential concerns among women voters about Trump’s attitudes toward women, Krebs, of South Dakota, says her constituents aren’t troubled by that. 

“I haven’t heard from any of my constituents that they’re concerned. The concern here is bigger issues,” she said. “They want government to be accountable, to control spending.”

In Austin, Texas, Jenifer Sarver is preparing for the “Trump question,” even though she’s not yet running for office.

“Certainly people have told me that saying you didn’t vote for the president isn’t a good thing,” said Sarver, 41, who runs a communications consulting business and has been mentioned in the local media as a potential candidate to replace Rep. Michael McCaul _ who in turn has been mentioned as a potential Trump Cabinet member. “There are going to be people who won’t vote for me. But I believe I can attract people in the middle … those who want to see that there are people of integrity and character running, who aren’t afraid to stand up to the system.”

This election cycle, there’s an additional concern for Republican women in Congress. Several aren’t running for re-election, either because they’re running for office elsewhere, or retiring. That could bring numbers of Republican women in Congress “down to numbers like we have not seen,” Lawless said. “It’s going to be very difficult for them to even maintain the numbers that they have.”

And that means a setback for women across the board, if you care about overall female representation in Congress. Because even with all the energy on the left, Lawless says, “the Democrats will have to have a hell of a banner year in order to compensate.”

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Tillerson: US ‘Probing’ North Korea on Viability of Talks

The United States has opened a direct channel of communication with North Korea and is investigating whether the regime of Kim Jong Un is interested in pursuing talks to give up its nuclear weapons, according to U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Saturday, who is in Beijing, seeking China’s cooperation on a “maximum pressure” campaign against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

“We are probing so stay tuned,”  Tillerson told reporters after talks with Chinese officials. “We ask. We have lines of communication with Pyongyang. We’re not in a dark situation, a blackout. We have a couple, three channels open to Pyongyang.”

Amid heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula, Tillerson met with Chinese President Xi Jinping for talks on DPRK’s nuclear program, and they also were to cover trade and preparations for U.S. President Donald Trump’s first visit to China in November.  

Earlier Saturday Tillerson met with China’s top diplomat, State Councilor Yang Jiechi, and Foreign Minister Wang Yi.


The U.S. is conferring closely with Chinese officials on Beijing’s commitment to curbing imports of North Korean coal, iron, iron ore, lead and lead ore, and seafood.


If fully implemented, the ban on those items could substantially reduce North Korea’s revenues this year. North Korea had earned $1.5 billion from the export of these items to China in 2016, according to the State Department.


China is North Korea’s number one trade partner. Washington says bringing China on board is key to cutting off Pyongyang’s ability to earn hard currency.

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Asia Program director Douglas Paal said, however, China’s influence over North Korea is limited.


“The North is very reluctant to take instructions from China. It will exploit whatever it can get from China, but it doesn’t look for political guidance from China. So this is a problem we [the U.S.] and South Korea are going to have to handle directly with North Korea as we go forward,” Paal told VOA.

VOA’s Nike Ching contributed to this report.

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Proposed Drone Usage Regulations Meet Resistance in Malawi

The government of Malawi has drafted new regulations on the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, also known as drones. Authorities say the move helps protect people’s security and privacy, but some drone operators are against the proposed changes.

The regulations would require drone operators to get authorization from the Department of Civil Aviation before flying their gadgets and have an adequate insurance policy. Those flouting the regulations would pay a fine of about $1,500 or be jailed for up to six months or both.

Drone users say the proposed rules are too restrictive.

Seeking government authorization whenever one wants to fly a drone is not practical, said Ezaus Mkandawire, president of Film Makers Association of Malawi.

“For example, if there was a demonstration, I don’t think one can rush to make an application to have your drone flying. I don’t think that works,” he said. “There are certain circumstances where you need to make a recording all of a sudden.”

Freelance video journalist and drone owner Eldson Chagara opposes a rule that would ban operators from flying a drone within 30 meters of any person.

“There are times when you [want to] fly as low as you can, depending on what you want to shoot, because most drones we have in Malawi have got cameras,” he said.

Malawi has recently seen a boom in the use of civilian drones, mainly to spice up aerial photography and videography for weddings and music videos. 

Alfred Mtilatila, the director of the civil aviation department, says the regulations are aimed at bringing sanity into the airspace. 

“The reason why we want to regulate the operations of the drones is to make sure that people are flying responsibly, knowing what to do and what not to do,” he said. 

Mtilatila says some rules have been adapted from civil aviation departments around the world.

“We physically went to South Africa. They actually told us how they have done it, and also, we underwent [a] regulatory course on how they do it in America. So, we are learning from most all the globe,” he said.

Mtilatila says his department is soliciting input from the public before the regulations are submitted to the Ministry of Justice for approval.

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Humanitarian Operations for Burundian Refugees Strapped for Cash

The U.N. refugee agency warns that funds for humanitarian assistance for hundreds of thousands of Burundian refugees have dried up, leaving only enough cash for the most essential needs.

More than 420,000 Burundians, who have sought refuge in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania, are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance; but, the U.N. refugee agency says it has practically run out of cash.

Only 19 percent of the agency’s revised $429 million appeal has been received. UNHCR spokesman Andrei Mahecic tells VOA hard choices must be made. With so little money on hand, he says priorities must be rearranged to make sure life-saving needs are met.

“But, there is a cost, there is a human cost attached to it,” Mahecic said. “There simply is not enough aid to go around. The services are not kept up to the standards that they should be and, obviously, in many cases, we are now facing the situation where shelter is by now dilapidated. The tents would need replacing. Eighty-eight-thousand refugees are still living under plastic sheeting, obviously vulnerable to heavy rains and so on.” 

Mahecic says many refugees risk catching communicable diseases, such as malaria and acute watery diarrhea. He says health care services must be urgently expanded. Because the money is not available, he says only 56 percent of identified survivors of sexual and gender-based violence are receiving the physical and psychological care they need.

The World Food Program, which also is suffering from underfunding, has been forced to cut monthly food rations to 60 percent in Tanzania — home to the largest number of refugees.

The UNHCR is appealing for international support so it can maintain its critical humanitarian assistance for Burundian refugees in the countries of asylum. The Burundians fled their country after violence surged in 2015. Many of them are women and children.

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US Military Aids in Hurricane Irma Rescue and Relief Efforts

At least 16 people have died and millions are without power since Hurricane Maria walloped the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. Once again, the U.S. military is answering the call to help federal government relief efforts. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb has the latest.

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Islamic State Regrouping in Libyan Desert, Experts Warn

As the Islamic State group faces military defeats in Syria and Iraq, the group has an eye on war-torn Libya, hoping to re-emerge there and organize in the country’s desert, officials and experts warn.

Siddiq al-Soor, the head of the Public Prosecutor’s Office in Tripoli, told reporters on Thursday that IS militants in the country were mostly operating through “a desert army” unit they set up after being pushed out of their stronghold of Sirte on the Mediterranean Sea last year.

“Now they are being monitored in the territories south of Libya,” al-Soor said during a news conference.

Al-Soor said IS militants in the desert area were being led by Iraqi national Abdul Qader al-Najdi, also known as Abu Moaz Al Tikriti, with support from other IS leaders, including Mahmoud Al Bur’si and Hashim Abu Sid.

“Most of those leaders were members of al-Qaida and traveled to Syria and Iraq to join the fight before returning to Libya,” al-Soor said.

He said Libyan prosecutors obtained information about the whereabouts of the group’s desert army from an IS fighter who was wounded and captured after U.S. airstrikes in the Wadi Skir region last week.

Series of strikes

The U.S. military has conducted airstrikes against IS in Libya this week. Two airstrikes 100 miles southeast of Sirte on Tuesday left “several” IS fighters dead, the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), which oversees American military activities on the continent, said in a statement.

Six other U.S. airstrikes last Friday killed 17 IS members and destroyed three vehicles in a desert camp approximately 150 miles southeast of Sirte, according to AFRICOM.

IS considers southeast Sirte an important region for its operations because it is home to several major oil fields like al-Bayda, Mabruk, Bahi and Fida.

A country of about 6.4 million people, Libya descended into chaos in 2011 when an uprising and international intervention led to the overthrow and subsequent execution of dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

The civil war has divided the country into two governments, the U.N.-backed Government of National Accord in Tripoli and the Russian-backed Libyan National Army in Tobruk, with each laying claim to power.

Fragile peace

After continued clashes, the two sides finally agreed on a cease-fire in July. Nonetheless, peace between them remains fragile.

Both sides continue to accuse each other of allowing terrorists to operate under their watch to further their own military objectives, with IS taking advantage of the situation to regroup in the country, according to Libyan militias fighting IS in Libya. They warn that IS is reorganizing in the southern Sirte countryside and the desert valleys and inland hills extending to the south of the country.

U.S. officials have echoed those concerns, adding the terror group is trying to use the spaces to recruit and facilitate the movement of foreign fighters.

“[IS] and al-Qaida have taken advantage of ungoverned spaces in Libya to establish sanctuaries for plotting, inspiring and directing terror attacks,” AFRICOM said in a statement on Monday following its last Friday airstrikes.

AFRICOM has estimated that nearly 500 IS fighters remain active in Libya, a decrease from a peak of about 6,000 in 2016.

Anti-IS militias say the remaining IS fighters in the country have been mainly operating in smaller groups at night to avoid being detected. They say the fighters are setting up temporary checkpoints to kill and kidnap those opposed to the group.

An IS attack on a checkpoint 300 miles south of Tripoli in August left nine fighters of the Libyan National Army and two civilians dead.

Threat to Europe

Observers say Libya will continue to remain a hotbed for IS activities and other terrorist groups in years to come because of the divided government.

“They are unable to control their borders, unable to police inside the country effectively, and their large geographic area is relatively easy for not just terrorist elements but also criminal elements to operate across the borders,” David Mack, an expert at the Middle East Institute and a former U.S. diplomat to Libya, told VOA.

Mack said the U.S. and EU must not let Libya move to their blind spot, because a stronger IS in Libya would threaten Europe, which is only a few hundred miles away across the Mediterranean Sea.

Jonathan M. Winer, a former U.S special envoy for Libya, told VOA that IS has an eye on Libya for a reason.

“They have been under so much pressure that they have to demonstrate that though they are shrinking and weakening, they still have power, and they want to demonstrate they can do it again in some other locations,” Winer said.

He added the U.S. and its allies must provide the necessary help.

“The Libyans themselves did all the fighting and all the dying to get IS out of the region of Sirte, and United States and other countries owe it to the Libyan people to continue to assist them in keeping IS from controlling the Libyan territory.”

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Kosovo President: US Will Be Directly Involved in Final Kosovo-Serbia Deal

Kosovo’s president, Hashim Thaci, says U.S. Vice President Mike Pence has pledged that the United States will be directly involved in reaching a final agreement to normalize relations between Kosovo and Serbia. 

Thaci told VOA’s Albanian service after meeting with Pence on Friday at the White House that “Pence will be focused and maximally involved” in reaching a deal between the two countries. 

“I believe that this willingness of the U.S. administration and personally of Vice President Pence is a guarantee for the success of this process,” Thaci said. 

He said he is confident the process will “lead Kosovo into a final agreement of normalization and reconciliation of Kosovo-Serbia relations and would open prospects for Kosovo’s integration into the United Nations.”

A White House statement Friday said Pence “expressed appreciation for Thaci’s leadership, along with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, to advance the EU-facilitated dialog to normalize relations between Kosovo and Serbia.”

The White House said Pence and Thaci “agreed on the importance of advancing reforms to strengthen the rule of law, fight corruption and boost economic growth” and said Pence reaffirmed the “United States’ support for a sovereign, democratic and prosperous Kosovo.”

The White House also encouraged Kosovo to ratify the border demarcation agreement with neighboring Montenegro “to resolve this long-standing issue.”

Thaci told VOA that Pence called on Kosovo to solve the issues as soon as possible. He said Kosovo has “good neighborly relations with Montenegro” and stressed the importance of such ties.

“No one can support you if you build bad relationships with your neighbors. We have a lot of problems with Serbia. We cannot open other problems with our neighbors that could cost us the integration processes” with the European Union, he said.

Thaci said the issue is in the hands of Kosovo’s parliament.

The border agreement was signed in 2015 but has not had sufficient support in Kosovo’s parliament for ratification.

The European Union insists Kosovo must approve the border demarcation deal before its citizens enjoy visa-free travel within Europe.

Montenegro has recognized Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia, but Serbia vehemently opposes it.

VOA’s Albanian service contributed to this report.

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Russia Charges Opposition Leader for Unsanctioned Protests

Russian police released opposition leader and would-be presidential candidate Alexei Navalny on Friday after several hours in detention.

Police charged Navalny with repeatedly organizing unauthorized rallies, an administrative offense punishable with a fine of up to a 300,000 rubles ($5,200) and compulsory work for up to 200 hours.

“We were finally presented with a charge and released, and the trial will be on October 2 at the Simonovsky Court of Moscow at 15:00 Moscow time,” Navalny’s lawyer, Olga Mikhailova, told Interfax.

Police had stopped Navalny early Friday as he was headed to a campaign rally in the city of Nizhny Novgorod, where at least one other rally leader was also detained — Navalny’s campaign chief, Leonid Volkov. 

“I’m in a police station now and they’re going to accuse me of repeated violation of the procedure for holding a mass event,” Navalny told VOA’s Russian service reporter Danila Galperovich earlier Friday. “It means almost for sure they will arrest me after the court will hear my case. I don’t know when.”

Police in Nizhny Novgorod, about 260 miles (417 kilometers) east of Moscow, had cordoned off the campaign rally site hours before the event was to begin and removed a Navalny campaign tent.

Despite the police actions, hundreds of Navalny’s supporters rallied Friday in the provincial city in protest. Images from social media showed protesters walking on a central street while loud music from an officially sanctioned concert blared nearby. 

Call for reform

Navalny’s detention came as the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights issued a memorandum saying Russian authorities should revise the country’s freedom of assembly law, which, he says, has become more restrictive in recent years.

“As a result, the authorities have rejected a high number of requests to hold public assemblies,” said Commissioner Nils Muiznieks in the published memorandum. “Over the past year, there have been many arrests of people participating in protests, even if they did not behave unlawfully, as well as a growing intolerance toward ‘unauthorized’ events involving small numbers of participants and even of single-person demonstrations. 

“This runs counter to Russia’s obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights and it weakens the guarantees contained in its own Constitution concerning the right to freedom of assembly,” Muiznieks said.

Russia is one of 47 member countries in the Council of Europe, the continent’s leading human rights organization, but routinely dismisses its criticism.

‘Trend toward deterioration’

Navalny and his anti-corruption campaign team have been harassed and attacked numerous times by police and Kremlin supporters. In April, a man threw a chemical sanitizer in the Russian opposition leader’s face, causing a chemical burn that required eye surgery and left him partially blind.

Navalny supporter Nikolai Lyaskin was reportedly attacked in Moscow this month with an iron pipe.

In an exclusive interview with VOA reporter Galperovich on September 26, Navalny expressed dismay at the repressive trend.  

“We currently see a trend toward deterioration: At first it was fines, then administrative arrests, and now it is fabrication of criminal charges [and] house arrest,” he said.

Navalny said the trend is reminiscent of how Soviet leader Josef Stalin’s Great Purge began in 1937.

“The capabilities of propaganda are mostly exhausted: You turn on the TV, which from morning until night is talking about beautiful North Korea, awful Ukraine, ‘gay’ Europe, et cetera. It is already impossible there [on TV] to fan the flames higher. Therefore, they are using repression to take people off the streets, to intimidate them,” Navalny said.

Challenging Putin

Navalny plans to challenge Vladimir Putin in Russia’s March presidential election, though Putin has made no official announcement to run in a bid to continue his 17 years as leader.

The Russian opposition leader has been campaigning in cities across the country despite the central election commission declaring him ineligible because of a suspended prison sentence. Navalny’s supporters and numerous independent analysts back up his view that the sentence was politically motivated.

The Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers on September 21 demanded that Navalny be allowed to take part in the elections and that the fraud case against him and opposition politician Pyotr Ofitserov be re-examined.

In the interview Tuesday with Galperovich, Navalny expressed doubt that Russian authorities would act on the European ministers’ demand.

“I do not think that international structures can affect that much; at least, we have not in recent years seen international structures somehow straightforwardly affecting the internal political situation in Russia,” Navalny said.

But he said the resolution was satisfying nonetheless. “It is probably the best of all possible rulings we could hope for,” he said. “It quite clearly and distinctly shows that, first of all, the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights was not implemented and, secondly, that there is a demand there for my admission to the elections.”

The European Court of Human Rights had demanded Navalny’s 2013 fraud case be retried because it violated the defendant’s right to a fair trial. Russia’s Supreme Court ordered a retrial in July that resulted in the same verdict and a suspended sentence.

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US Osprey Crashes in Syria

U.S. officials said Friday that a military aircraft crashed in Syria, injuring two service members and damaging their Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft.

Officials said the injuries were not life-threatening after what was called a “hard landing.” The service members have reportedly been released from medical care.

A source told CNN that the crash was not due to enemy activity. Another said the aircraft was not salvageable.

The U.S. military often uses Ospreys to move troops within Syria, where U.S. military advisers are working with the Syrian Democratic Forces to train them in combat against Islamic State militants.

Hospitals at risk

Also Friday, reports from doctors and medical aid groups say Syrian troops have renewed the bombing of hospitals, an act one human rights group calls “an egregious violation of the laws of war and a callous attempt to inflict suffering on civilians.”

The statement from Physicians for Human Rights, which tracks attacks against medical facilities, said the latest set of attacks was the most intense since April and may amount to war crimes.

Brice de le Vingne of Doctors Without Borders said the attacks are taking place near Idlib. “It is demonstrably evident that hospitals are not safe from bombings in Idlib at the moment, and this is outrageous,” he said.

The United Nations has deemed attacks against hospitals a systematic attempt by the Syrian government to target health care facilities.

IS drone experts dead

On Thursday, the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria said three of the terror group’s drone experts were killed in Syria earlier this month.

U.S. Army Colonel Ryan Dillon, the spokesman for the counter-IS coalition, says Abu Muadh al-Tunisi was killed on September 12 and Sajid Farooq Babar was killed on September 13 by coalition airstrikes conducted near Mayadin, Syria, in the Middle Euphrates River Valley.

Speaking to reporters via videoconference from Baghdad, Dillon said the two Islamic State fighters “were responsible for manufacturing and modifying commercially produced drones.”

Separately, on September 14, two airstrikes in Syria targeted IS drone developer Abu Salman near Mayadin and destroyed his research lab in Ashara, Syria.

Salman and “a terrorist associate” were killed while traveling in a vehicle from Mayadin to Ashara, according to Dillon.

“The removal of these three highly skilled ISIS officials disrupts and degrades ISIS’s ability to modify and employ drone platforms as reconnaissance and direct-fire weapons on the battlefield,” Dillon said, using an acronym for the terror group.

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US Officials Doubt IS Leader’s Latest Message Will Spark New Attacks on West

U.S. intelligence officials examining the latest audio statement claiming to be from Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi say, so far, they have no reason to doubt its authenticity.

However, there are questions as to whether the message from the leader of the collapsing, self-declared caliphate will cause IS operatives to spring into action. Some analysts see Baghdadi’s continued call to arms as almost a shot in the dark, aimed at rekindling interest despite the terror group’s fading fortunes in Syria and Iraq.

The still-early U.S. intelligence assessment comes just a day after the Islamic State’s al-Furqan media wing issued the 46-minute audio recording featuring Baghdadi, in which he calls on followers to “fan the flames of war on your enemies, take it to them and besiege them in every corner.”

“Continue your jihad and your blessed operations and do not let the crusaders rest in their homes and enjoy life and stability while your brethren are being shelled and killed,” he says.

Despite such threats, U.S. officials say the release of the latest audio message is not changing Washington’s approach.

“We are aware of the tape,” a National Security Council spokesman said Friday. “But whether it’s al-Baghdadi or any member of ISIS, the Trump administration’s policy is destroying ISIS in Iraq, Syria and around the globe.” ISIS is an acronym for Islamic State.

Still, intelligence and counterterror officials, both in the United States and in Europe, warn that IS remains a potent organization, despite its continued losses on the ground.

“We do not think battlefield losses alone will be sufficient to degrade its terrorism capabilities,” the head of the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center, Nick Rasmussen, warned in written testimony to U.S. lawmakers earlier this week, calling IS’s reach on social media “unprecedented.”

And while Western counterterror officials say the expected wave of returning IS foreign fighters has yet to materialize, the experience and skill sets of the operatives who have made it back home are ample reasons to worry.

But some caution the new Baghdadi audio message may have more to do with the terror group’s long-term strategy than its desire to carry out attacks in the near term.

“The broadcast boosts morale by contextualizing the hardships facing the group as their losses accumulate by reminding IS militants and their supporters that day-to-day actions are part of a broader struggle, and metrics of progress shouldn’t be assessed in a vacuum,” according to Jade Parker, a senior research associate at the Terror Asymmetrics Project (TAPSTRI).

Parker also believes that while it is “extremely unlikely” the latest Baghdadi audio will spark or accelerate any IS plots, it might prevent fraying within the organization’s ranks.

“Baghdadi’s silence during the final days of IS’s battle for Mosul was a sore point for many IS fighters and supporters who felt confused and abandoned by their leader,” she added. “This statement was likely released in part to avoid that sentiment with respect to the fight to retain ground in Raqqa.”

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Analysts: Russia May Be Helping Catalonia Secessionists

Catalonia’s secessionists, who are trying to organize an independence vote from Spain on Sunday, may be getting aid from Russia as part of the Kremlin’s ongoing strategy to destabilize the European Union, according to European Union analysts.

Spain’s central government has deployed thousands of police to contain expected disorder. They have threatened local officials who support the referendum with stiff fines and jail. Spain’s constitutional court has declared the pending vote illegal.

Despite what some see as a heavy-handed response by Madrid, the United States and most EU governments have backed Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in his efforts to keep Spain united.

Russian state media have disseminated reports consistently favorable to Catalan independence in a move some analysts consider to be Moscow’s latest attempt to interfere in Western electoral processes.

The Kremlin has taken no public position on the referendum, calling it an “internal” matter for Spain.

Russia’s use of hacked information and dissemination of “fake news,” however, has been detected in recent Western electoral events,  including the 2016 U.S. elections, Britain’s decision to leave the EU, or Brexit, and the just-concluded German elections.

“It’s not that Russia necessarily wants the independence of Catalonia. What it’s principally seeking is to foment divisions to gradually undermine Europe’s democracy and institutions,” said Brett Schaffer, an analyst of the Alliance to Safeguard Democracy, a project supported by the German Marshall Fund, which monitors pro-Kremlin information networks.

The Russian social media outlet Voice of Europe (@V_of_Europe) has run such headlines as “The EU refuses to intervene in Catalonia even as Spain violates basic human rights,” calling Catalonia’s referendum “a time bomb that threatens to destroy the EU.”

The internationally broadcast Russian Television, or RT, alleged on September 20 that a “state of siege” has been imposed on Catalonia and dubbed cruise liners chartered to house additional police agents being deployed to the Catalonia as “Ships of Repression.”

The Russian digital newspaper Vzglyad borrowed a page from the Western media’s treatment of uprisings against Soviet domination in Eastern Europe during the Cold War, with the September 20 headline “Spain brutally suppresses the Catalan Spring.”

Some editorials and Kremlin-sponsored academics took note of how the U.S. and EU neglected to recognize a Russian-sponsored Crimean referendum approving reunification with Russia and compared that with their current indifference toward the Catalan vote.

Catalan secessionist politician Enric Folch, who is international secretary of the Catalan Solidarity Party for Independence, has said on Russian media that a Catalan state would support Moscow in world forums and recognize the independence of territories of Abkhasia and South Ossetia, which separated from Georgia with Russian support.

Folch was a star participant at a Kremlin-sponsored conference of independence movements in Moscow last year.

David Alendete, an investigative reporter with the newspaper El Pais, said the conference was organized by a Russian lawyer who is defending Russian computer hackers arrested in Spain and is wanted by the FBI in connection with the hacking of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential election campaign in the U.S.

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EU Moves Ahead on New Future Faster Than on Brexit Talks

Twenty-seven European Union nations, not including Britain, will be coming up with clear options on a more tightly knit future for themselves even before they will allow divorce negotiations with the U.K. to move toward brokering a new relationship.

EU Council President Donald Tusk said Friday he would be presenting “a political agenda in two weeks’ time,” after EU vision statements in recent weeks from French President Emmanuel Macron, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and others on how to the reform the bloc.

That will be just days before the next EU summit is expected to reject for now British demands to start negotiating on the country’s future links with the bloc alongside the current talks on how to make the cleanest Brexit possible.

Officials said Tusk will be given the job of reconciling Macron’s vision of how the EU should embrace a joint budget, a shared military and harmonized taxes to stay globally relevant with those ideas of EU nations that might not want to grow too closer too quickly.

Tusk said he would seek “real solutions to real problems” and stressed the need to make progress “step-by-step, issue-by-issue.”

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte warned EU officials not to set the bar too high, since changes in the bloc of half a billion people have always been tough to achieve.

“Under-promise and over-deliver,” Rutte said. “Don’t promise an elephant and see a mouse show up.”

The collegial atmosphere was bolstered by a non-confrontational dinner Thursday night for EU leaders, where few of the usual east-west or north- south fissures spoiled the mood, officials said.

The goodwill has not extended to the issue of Brexit over the past months.

EU leaders at their October 19-20 summit have to say whether “sufficient progress” has been achieved on divorce issues with Britain — citizens’ rights, the Irish border and a financial settlement — to grant the U.K. its wish to start talking about a new trade deal with the EU.

Juncker said it will take “a miracle” for there to be sufficient progress by then, despite a round of negotiations in Brussels this week that ended with some progress.

Other EU leaders sounded a similar tone. Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said despite “a better vibe and a better mood coming out of the negotiations” he questioned whether the time was right to move on to trade issues with Britain.

“It’s still very evident that there’s more work to be done,” he said.

For the past week, though, British Prime Minister Theresa May has sounded more conciliatory. In Estonia, she guaranteed her country’s commitment to security even though the nation is leaving the bloc.

May visited troops in Estonia close to the Russian border on Friday and said “the United Kingdom is unconditionally committed to maintaining Europe’s security.”

“We will continue to offer aid and assistance to EU member states that are the victims of armed aggression, terrorism and natural or man-made disasters,” she vowed.

She also proposed a “new security partnership” to weather the divorce when her country leaves the bloc in March 2019.

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Serbian Minister Denies Reports of Muzzling Media

A Serbian minister has denied media reports in the Balkan nation that the government is muzzling the free press through intimidation, threats and financial pressure.

Vladan Vukosavljevic, Serbia’s culture and information minister, told The Associated Press on Friday that his agency “strongly objects” to any form of pressure on journalists and believes in media freedom.


Vukosavljevic spoke a day after dozens of Serbian media outlets and other organizations darkened their web pages and published black ribbons on newspapers to warn citizens about the government pressure on media. The initiative was prompted by the recent closure of an independent newspaper in southern Serbia and public attacks on journalists by a ruling party.

Journalists in Serbia say the situation has grown worse despite the government’s proclaimed efforts toward implementing democratic reforms.

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Trump Promotes Republican Tax Cuts, Says ‘Rebirth of American Industry Has Begun’

U.S. President Donald Trump promoted his sweeping tax cut proposal before the nation’s largest manufacturing advocacy group Friday, saying lower rates will make American businesses more robust global competitors.

“Under my administration, the era of economic surrender is over and the rebirth of American industry is beginning,” Trump declared in a speech to the Washington-based National Association of Manufacturers.

Trump said the plan would cap the tax rate for most small and medium-sized businesses at 25 percent, a rate he said these types of enterprises have not seen in more than 80 years. “And it will be rocket fuel for the economy,” he said.

The current tax code, Trump said, “punishes companies” for conducting business in the United States, encouraging them to relocate overseas, where he said there is an estimated $3 trillion in U.S. corporate wealth. “That’s stopping, and it’s stopping right now. We need a tax system that encourages companies to stay in America, grow in America, and hire in America.”

$5 Trillion tax cut plan

Trump’s speech comes two days after a blueprint of a more than $5 trillion Republican tax cut plan was unveiled. It proposes tax cuts for wealthy Americans, businesses and the middle class while protecting deductions such as mortgage interest and charitable contributions.

The blueprint lacks critical details about the many tax breaks the White House and Republican congressional leaders want to eliminate to offset some of the trillions of dollars in revenue that would be lost through tax cuts. The administration contends that the overhaul would bolster the economy and create job growth in manufacturing and other sectors.

Trump touted several of the plan’s provisions, including tax relief for investment in new equipment.

“That means more production, more investment and more jobs,” he said.

The plan also calls for a corporate tax rate from 35 to 20-percent, a goal that has long had the support of House Republicans, and a one-time tax on the foreign earnings of U.S. companies.

Some outside budget experts estimate the blueprint could slash government tax revenue by more than $5 trillion over a 10-year period. To offset some of the lost revenue, Republicans must agree on cutting the federal budget.

In order to become law, Republican congressional leaders are tasked with attempting to unite their party, and the possibility of garnering some Democratic support.

Republicans control the White House and both houses of Congress, giving them a rare opportunity to revamp the tax code.

“This is our once-in-a-generation opportunity to fundamentally rethink our tax code. We can unleash the economy, promoting growth, attracting jobs, and improving American competitiveness in the global market,” Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday.

Democrats oppose changes

Many Democrats, however, have said they will oppose changes that increase debt or benefit the wealthiest citizens.

The Republican plan “would result in a massive windfall for the wealthiest Americans and provide almost no relief to the middle class taxpayers who need it most,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer told colleagues this week on the floor of the chamber.


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ICRC: Yemen in Grips of Unprecedented Cholera Outbreak

The International Committee of the Red Cross reports Yemen is in the grips of an unprecedented cholera outbreak. The Swiss humanitarian organization said the number of suspected cases in the impoverished, war-torn country could reach 900,000 by the end of the year.

This latest projection far exceeds the ICRC’s worst case scenario in July, when it forecast 600,000 suspected cases of cholera by the end of 2017. To date, the ICRC estimates around 750,000 suspected cases throughout Yemen, including more than 2,100 deaths.

ICRC Yemen delegation head Alexandre Faite said he fears more records could be broken.

“Nine-hundred-thousand — considering the figures I was given in the past, we could be to one million at the end of the year,” he said. “… I am told now that probably this is the worst health crisis of a preventable disease in modern times. So, I think, we have reached a new threshold in the Yemen conflict that really deserves to be underlined.”

Faite said Yemen’s public services are collapsing and the health sector is struggling. He said the Red Cross is providing health care workers with food because they are receiving no salary.

He told VOA there does not appear to be any quick resolution to this crisis.

“The situation from a humanitarian standpoint is a catastrophe,” he stressed. “We have something, which is close to a million cases of suspected cholera, maybe by the end of the year. And, this … is only a possible external illustration of something more serious. We could have an outbreak of something else.”

Faite said he sees no political settlement to the war, which has claimed thousands of lives and injured many more. He said he fears an extension of the conflict will lead to many more, even worse problems.

A recent U.N. report said conflict, cholera and severe food shortages have made Yemen the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.

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Spain’s Government Says No on Catalan Independence Vote

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

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 has instructed police to confiscate all referendum materials, as well as prevent the use of public buildings as polling stations.

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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