Iranian Women Reveal How They Entered Male-only Stadium

Female Iranian soccer fans are becoming more emboldened in their defiance of Iranian regulations that bar them from attending football matches.

In recent days, Iranian social media users have been sharing a photo of five young women who disguised themselves as men to attend last Friday’s domestic football league match at Tehran’s Azadi stadium. The five fans used makeup to give themselves beards and male haircuts as they watched their home team, Persepolis, defeat visiting rivals Sepidrood of the northern city of Rasht.

An Iranian state news site loyal to Parliament speaker Ali Larijani, Khabar Online, later published what it said was an interview with one of the five women who appeared in the photo. In the interview, the woman who gave her name as Zahra said it was the third time she had sneaked into Azadi stadium for a male-fan-only football match. She also said she had done her own makeup at home.

Another female Persepolis fan who goes by the name of Zeinab on Instagram and has 124,000 followers has been posting a series of photos and video clips in recent weeks, showing herself in similar male disguises, both inside a stadium and outside.

​Iran has been barring women from attending some men’s sporting events, especially football, since the first few years after its 1979 Islamic Revolution.

In an interview with VOA Persian on Monday, Brussels-based Iranian activist Darya Safai, founder of the social media movement “Let Iranian women enter their stadiums,” said the women who recently revealed their disguises publicly have been encouraged by seeing other women join their campaign of civil disobedience. “You feel strong, you feel that you are able to change things,” she said.

But Safai said the female football fans’ campaign also has put them at risk of government prosecution. “They are afraid. It cost them a lot of stress,” Safai said.

The head of world football governing body FIFA, Gianni Infantino, said on a visit to Iran in March that he secured a pledge from Iranian leaders that they will “soon” allow women to attend men’s football matches — something advocated by FIFA. Iran has not announced any such moves since then, while Safai said she has not seen any FIFA action to press Tehran to follow up on that commitment.

This report was produced in collaboration with VOA’s Persian Service. 

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US Annual Inflation Measures Jump; Consumer Spending Rises

U.S. consumer prices accelerated in the year to March, with a measure of underlying inflation surging to near the Federal Reserve’s 2 percent target as weak readings from last year dropped out of the calculation.

The rise in the annual inflation gauges reported by the Commerce Department on Monday was anticipated by economists and Fed officials and is not expected to alter the U.S. central bank’s gradual pace of interest rate increases.

Annual inflation readings in March of last year were held down by large declines in the price of cell phone service plans, and decelerated through much of 2017.

“The Fed has been talking about today’s inflation increase since last March,” said Chris Low, chief economist at FTN Financial in New York. “There is no reason to think the Fed will accelerate the pace of rate hikes as a result.”

Price index jumps

Consumer prices as measured by the personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index jumped 2.0 percent on a year-on-year basis last month. That was the biggest gain since February 2017 and followed a 1.7 percent rise in February. The PCE price index was unchanged on a monthly basis largely because of cheaper gasoline after advancing 0.2 percent in February. 

Excluding the volatile food and energy components, the PCE price index soared 1.9 percent in the 12 months through March, also the biggest increase since February 2017, after increasing 1.6 percent in February.

The so-called core PCE price index rose 0.2 percent on a month-on-month basis in March after a similar gain in February.

The core PCE index is the Fed’s preferred inflation measure.Last month’s increase was in line with economists’ expectations.

Minutes of the Fed’s March 20-21 policy meeting published this month showed officials expected the annual PCE price indexes to accelerate in March partly because of “the arithmetic effect of the soft readings on inflation in early 2017 dropping out of the calculation.”

Two additional rate hikes expected

The minutes also noted that the rise in inflation emanating from the so-called base effects “by itself, would not justify a change in the projected path” for the central bank’s benchmark overnight interest rate.

Fed officials are scheduled to convene on Tuesday and Wednesday for a regular policy meeting. The Fed raised rates last month and forecast at least two more rate hikes for 2018.

The dollar rose to near a three-month high against the euro on Monday on the back of weaker-than-expected German data.

Prices for longer-dated U.S. Treasuries rose marginally while U.S. stocks were mixed.

Tightening labor market

Economists expect the core PCE price index to hit 2.0 percent in May because of favorable base effects. Inflation is also rising as the labor market tightens. The government reported last Friday that wages and salaries recorded their biggest increase in 11 years in the first quarter.

In addition, regional factory surveys have shown increases in prices paid and received by manufacturers. Inflation is also likely to be fanned by an anticipated pickup in economic growth, driven by a $1.5 trillion tax cut package and increased government spending.

“We think that will convince the Fed to raise rates a total of four times this year, with the next hike coming in June,” said Michael Pearce, a senior economist at Capital Economics in New York.

Small increase for consumer spending

The Commerce Department’s report on Monday also showed consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, increased 0.4 percent in March after being unchanged in February.

The data was included in last Friday’s advance first-quarter gross domestic product report, which showed the economy growing at a 2.3 percent annualized rate during that period.

When adjusted for inflation, consumer spending increased 0.4 percent in March. The so-called real consumer spending fell 0.2 percent in February. The rebound in real consumer spending last month supports expectations that consumption was held back by temporary factors in the January-March period and will gain momentum in the second quarter.

Personal income rose 0.3 percent in March after increasing by the same margin in February. With spending outpacing income, savings fell to $460.6 billion last month from $483.1 billion in February.

Manufacturing data on Monday also offered an upbeat assessment of the economy. The MNI Chicago Business Barometer rose 0.2 points to a reading of 57.6 in April, ending three straight monthly declines.

Factory activity in Texas accelerated sharply in April, with the Dallas Fed Texas Manufacturing Outlook Survey’s production index surging 11 points to a reading of 25.3.

But the housing market continues to be hobbled by an inventory squeeze that is restraining sales growth. The National Association of Realtors said contracts to buy previously owned homes rose 0.4 percent in March, slowing from February’s 2.8 percent increase.

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US Risks Trade Fight with Europe as Sanctions Delay Expires

The Trump administration risks igniting a trade battle with Europe just as it’s preparing for tense trade talks in China this week.

Facing a self-imposed deadline, Trump is considering whether to permanently exempt the European Union and five other countries from tariffs that his administration imposed last month on imported steel and aluminum. The White House provided temporary exemptions in March and has until the end of Monday to decide whether to extend them.

If it loses its exemption, the EU has said it will retaliate with its own tariffs on U.S. goods imported to Europe.

The confrontation stems from the president’s decision in March to slap tariffs of 25 percent on imported steel and 10 percent on imported aluminum. Trump justified the action by saying it was needed to protect American metal producers from unfair competition and bolster national security. But the announcement, which followed an intense internal White House debate, triggered harsh criticism from Democrats and some Republicans and roiled financial markets.

At the time, Trump excluded several vital trading partners — the European Union, Mexico, Canada, Australia, Argentina and Brazil — from the tariffs.

Two people familiar with the process said the Trump administration has been considering whether to provide a short-term extension of the exemptions to allow for more time to review the countries’ efforts to secure permanent exemptions.

One of the officials said the U.S. trade representative has been overseeing the process for all of the countries except the European Union, whose tariffs are being evaluated by the Commerce Department.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to describe internal deliberations.

The EU and other countries have been asked to spell out what limits they could accept on the amount of steel they export to the United States, how they would address the issue of excess production of steel and aluminum and how they would support the U.S. before international bodies like the World Trade Organization. Security relationships with the U.S. have also been part of the criteria.

South Korea agreed to limit its exports to the United States as part of broader discussions involved in updating its bilateral trade agreement with the U.S. and was granted a permanent exemption.

China, Japan and Russia haven’t received exemptions from the duties. That will likely reduce steel shipments from those countries over time. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said late Friday that quotas on imports from Europe and other countries are necessary so imports from those countries don’t simply replace Chinese imports. The goal of the tariffs is to reduce total steel imports and boost U.S. production, Ross said.

“If you let everybody back out of the tariff, and you let them out of any kind of quota, how would you ever reduce the imports here?” Ross asked at a conference of business journalists. Ross is set to discuss the issue Monday with EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom.

Germany, the EU’s largest steel exporter to the U.S., accounted for about 5 percent of U.S. steel imports last year. South Korea made up the largest share, shipping about 13 percent of U.S. imports, according to an American Iron and Steel Institute analysis of government data.

The EU has compiled a list of retaliatory tariffs worth about $3.5 billion it will impose if its steel and aluminum isn’t exempted.

European leaders have resisted the idea of a quota. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a statement Sunday that she discussed the issue with French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Theresa May after returning from a White House visit Friday.

The three European leaders “agreed that the U.S. ought not to take any trade measures against the European Union,” which is “resolved to defend its interests within the multilateral trade framework,” Merkel’s statement said.

In her meeting with Trump, Merkel said, she saw little progress in obtaining permanent exemptions. “The decision lies with the president,” she said Friday.

Battle with China

In a separate trade battle with China, the United States has threatened to impose tariffs on $150 billion of Chinese goods in retaliation for what it argues are Beijing’s unfair trade practices and its requirement that U.S. companies turn over technology in exchange for access to its market. The White House also wants China to agree to reduce its $375 billion goods trade surplus with the U.S.

China has said it would subject $50 billion of U.S. goods to tariffs if the U.S. taxes its products. Trump has announced that an administration delegation led by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and trade adviser Peter Navarro will visit Beijing for negotiations on Thursday and Friday this week.

In addition to Mnuchin, Lighthizer, Ross and Navarro, the group will include economic adviser Larry Kudlow, U.S. Ambassador to China Terry Branstad and Everett Eissenstat, deputy assistant to the president for International Economic Affairs.

“We’re going to have very frank discussions,” Mnuchin in an interview broadcast Monday on Fox Business.

Most analysts, however, think it’s unlikely the talks will reach permanent agreements and will more likely mark the start of longer-term negotiations.

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Paper Plane Protesters Urge Russia to Unblock Telegram App

Thousands of people marched through Moscow, throwing paper planes and calling for authorities to unblock the popular Telegram instant messaging app on Monday.

Protesters chanted slogans against President Vladimir Putin as they launched the planes – a reference to the app’s logo.

“Putin’s regime has declared war on the internet, has declared war on free society… so we have to be here in support of Telegram,” one protester told Reuters.

Russia began blocking Telegram on April 16 after the app refused to comply with a court order to grant state security services access to its users’ encrypted messages.

Russia’s FSB Federal Security service has said it needs access to some of those messages for its work, that includes guarding against militant attacks.

In the process of blocking the app, state watchdog Roskomnadzor also cut off access to a slew of other websites.

Telegram’s founder, Russian entrepreneur Pavel Durov, called for “digital resistance” in response to the decision and promised to fund anyone developing proxies and VPNs to dodge the block.

More than 12,000 people joined the march on Monday, said White Counter, a volunteer group that counts people at protests.

“Thousands of young and progressive people are currently protesting in Moscow in defense of internet freedom,” Telegram’s Durov wrote on his social media page.

“This is unprecedented. I am proud to have been born in the same country as you. Your energy changes the world,” Durov wrote.

Telegram has more than 200 million global users and is ranked as the world’s ninth most popular mobile messaging service.

Iran’s judiciary has also banned the app to protect national security, Iranian state TV reported on Monday.

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Comoros to Hold Referendum on Presidential Term Limits in July

The Indian Ocean state of Comoros will hold a constitutional referendum in July on presidential term limits that could result in the next vote behind held two years ahead of schedule, its president has said.

The move could allow the President Azali Assoumani, who won the last election in 2016, to run the country for two fresh five year-terms instead of the one five-year term allowed in the constitution. The next vote is scheduled for 2021.

The referendum if passed would do away with a constitution meant to rotate power every five years between the archipelago’s islands.

That system was intended to promote stability and power-sharing in a coup-prone country. Comoros has had more than 20 coups or coup attempts since it declared independence from France in 1975.

“In a case where the referendum will win the support of the population, the presidential election will be held in 2019, not in 2021,” Assoumani said on Sunday during a visit to the island nation of Anjouan.

Under the constitution, the presidency of the Union of Comoros rotates between the three islands of Grande Comore, Anjouan and Moheli every five years.

Assoumani hails from Grande Comore.

Although details of the referendum are yet to be released, a recently completed national dialogue recommended that a president could be re-elected. This would open the door for a leader to run the country for two five-year terms.

Assoumani, a former military officer, first seized power in a coup in 1999 and ruled until 2006 after winning the country’s first multi-party poll in 2002. He won re-election in 2016.

The president said that, like anyone else holding public office, he would resign ahead of seeking re-election. He did not say when this would happen.

The president also said that he would bring together legal teams to tackle the scandal over the sale of Comoros citizenship, which a parliamentary investigation said had led to millions of dollars in government revenues going missing.

“The economic citizenship affair is very delicate. The credibility and pride of our country have been damaged .. It must be used as an example because those who run states must always know that they can, at any moment, be held accountable for the way they manage public office.”

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Armenian Opposition Leader Becomes Sole Candidate for Interim PM Job

Armenian opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan became the sole candidate for the post of interim prime minister on Monday after a key deadline passed without other candidates registering.

Whether or not he gets the job, left open by the resignation of long-time leader Serzh Sarksyan after two weeks of anti-government protests, depends on a parliamentary vote to be held Tuesday.

Pashinyan has received the support of all opposition parties in parliament, who hold 47 seats in the 105-seat legislature, but he will require a majority to win.

Anti-government demonstrations, driven by public anger over perceived political cronyism and corruption in the South Caucasian former Soviet republic, led to Sarksyan’s resignation a week ago.

At a meeting with the governing Republican party on Monday, as well as with the opposition bloc Way Out, Pashinyan said that a vote for him on Tuesday would be a vote for an end to the crisis.

“I think this is a unique and great opportunity to resolve the domestic political crisis and to register the victory of the people, the kind of victory in which there are no losers,” said Pashinyan, a former journalist turned lawmaker.

After a break during the day, protests restarted in Yerevan toward the evening, with a column of demonstrators marching to the capital city’s main square.

Speaking with journalists Monday, Pashinyan said his main project as interim prime minister would be to organize new free and fair parliamentary elections for the post of prime minister.

Although demonstrations have been peaceful, the upheaval has threatened to destabilize Armenia, an ally of Russia, in a volatile region riven by Armenia’s decades-long, low-level conflict with neighboring Azerbaijan.

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State TV: Iran’s Judiciary Bans Using Telegram App

Iran’s judiciary has banned the popular Telegram instant messaging app to protect national security, Iran’s state TV reported Monday.

“Considering various complaints against Telegram social networking app by Iranian citizens, and based on the demand of security organizations for confronting the illegal activities of Telegram, the judiciary has banned its usage in Iran,” TV reported.

The order was issued days after Iran banned government bodies from using Telegram, which is widely used by Iranian state media, politicians, companies and ordinary Iranians.

A widespread government internet filter prevents Iranians from accessing many sites on the official grounds that they are offensive or criminal.

But many Iranians evade the filter through use of VPN software, which provides encrypted links directly to private networks based abroad, and can allow a computer to behave as if it is based in another country.

“The blocking of Telegram app should be in a way to prevent users from accessing it with VPN or any other software,” Fars said. The app had over 40 million users in Iran.

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Syrian Government, Rebels Reach Evacuation Agreement for S. Damascus

An agreement brokered by Russia to evacuate neighborhoods in southern Damascus was reached Monday between the Syrian government and rebel groups controlling the enclave of southern Damascus.

The parties agreed to evacuate trapped civilians and fighters in southern Damascus in exchange for sending away civilians and fighters in the two towns of Fua’a and Kafriyeh, predominately-Shiite towns under the regime’s control in rebel-held Idlib province.

Local sources said the agreement excluded IS militants in Yarmouk Camp. 

Mattar Ismael, a journalist based in southern Damascus, told VOA that people started preparations to leave southern Damascus, and the first convoy of civilians is expected to be bused out Tuesday morning.

“The majority of civilians will go to Idlib and Jarablus in northern Syria, a small group chose to go to Deraa in the south, and there are a number of civilians who refused to leave,” Ismael said.

He added that thousands of civilians live in areas under the control of Free Syrian Army (FSA) in the towns of Yalda, Babila and Beit Sahm, and about 400 civilians are still in Yarmouk Camp under IS.

The FSA started handing over a number of its locations to the Russian Military Police, according to Syrian opposition news sources.

An estimated 3,500 civilians fled Yarmouk Camp in one week, many of whom are sleeping in the streets of neighboring areas.

“Those stark figures tell their own tragic story, of the destruction of a once-thriving refugee community, now reduced to abject, untold suffering,” Chris Gunness, spokesperson for United Nations Agency to help Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), told Al Jazeera.

Yarmouk Camp was established for the Palestinian refugees who fled the 1948 war with Israel. According to UNRWA, the camp was home to about 160,000 Palestinians before Syria’s conflict began in 2011.

Monday’s agreement will also evacuate 1,500 civilians and militants in the towns of Fua’a and Kafriyeh in Idlib province, and release 80 civilians kidnapped in 2015 by former the al-Qaida-affiliated group, Tahrir.

The towns of Fua’a and Kafriyeh have been under siege since 2015, when rebel groups launched the Operation to Free Idlib Province against the Syrian government.

Despite the agreement, airstrikes and clashes did not stop in southern Damascus, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

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Police Fire Teargas at Refugees in Camp in Western Rwanda

Rwandan police fired teargas on Monday at refugees and injured at least one child after senior police officers and government officials visiting their camp were pelted with stones, the refugees said.

A police spokesman did not immediately respond to Reuters’ requests for comment, while the government said it was taking measures to “normalize the situation” at the Kiziba camp in western Rwanda, home to about 17,000 Congolese refugees.

The refugees said they feared the police intended to arrest the executive committee that helps to run the camp.

In February police killed at least five refugees and injured 20 at the camp after protests over cuts in food rations turned violent.

“They are firing teargas. One child was injured in (the) head and was transferred to Kigali,” Muligande Ntabana, a refugee at the camp told Reuters by telephone.

Another refugee, Captain Ferdinand, 32, a father of three, said: “We hear they want to arrest the committee. We need to go back home. I don’t know if requesting to go back should (be replied) with bullets and tear gas.”

In a statement, Rwanda’s Ministry for Disaster Management and Refugees blamed the refugees’ executive committee for the unrest and said the protests must end immediately.

“Violent, unruly and provocative conduct in the camp is unlawful and must stop immediately to allow the restoration of peace, law and order,” it said.

In February, the refugees staged a protest walk of 15 km (10 miles) over a 25 percent cut in food rations provided by the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR due to a funding shortage.

In total, Rwanda hosts about 174,000 refugees, including 57,000 people from neighbouring Burundi who fled violence in 2015. Most of the rest fled the Democratic Republic of Congo during bouts of instability there over the past 20 years.

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Red Cross: Heavy Rains, Landslides Kill at Least 100 in Kenya

Hiribae Mame stood waist-deep in water outside her wrecked house in eastern Kenya, one of around 200,000 people forced to flee by weeks of floods, landslides and heavy rains.

Kenya’s Red Cross estimates at least 100 have also died in the downpours since early April, a humanitarian disaster that it says needs emergency funding.

“I have lost 12 chicken and four goats. We were not able to save all of them and I can’t access the house because the door can’t open,” said the mother-of-four in the town of Tana River in lower Coast region.

Her youngest daughter clung to her neck, the girl’s feet just touching the water. Mattresses and wreckage floated by as handmade boats ferried people, animals and goods to safer ground.

Floods have blocked major roads across central and northern Kenya and coastal areas – the route from the capital Nairobi to the main port Mombasa was under water last week.

Eight people were killed when mudslides destroyed their homes as they slept in the hilly central region of Murang’a on Friday night, said Kenya Red Cross Secretary General Abbas Gullet.

Gullet said the military and police had deployed helicopters for rescue missions but more efforts were needed.

Outbreaks of water-borne diseases were another concern across Kenya, he added.

“We would urge the national government to declare this a national disaster so that deliberate effort can be made and resources mobilized to help the affected people,” Gullet told reporters in the capital on Sunday.

“We need a national disaster management fund set up.”

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Burundi Jails Official for Saying President’s Foes Should Be Thrown in Lake

An official of Burundi’s ruling party was sentenced to three years in jail on Monday for urging government supporters to throw opponents into a lake ahead of a May 17 referendum on extending President Pierre Nkurunziza’s term in office.

Authorities in Burundi arrested Melchiade Nzopfabarushe after he made the comments on Sunday at a party rally in his native village.

Nzopfabarushe was summarily convicted of making a “verbal threat against the population, inciting people to revolt against the administration and the spreading of rumors” in a rare punishment for a ruling party official.

His lawyer told reporters his client would appeal against the judgment.

The incident came amid increased political jitters in Burundi, whose modern history has been marred by ethnically-charged civil war.

The Justice Ministry spokesman did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Nearly 430,000 people, including opposition politicians, have fled the East African nation of 10.5 million people since Nkurunziza won a third term in a 2015 election that led to violent clashes. His foes said he had no right to run again.

“We said that we have ordered boats. We will send them (opponents) into Lake Tanganyika,” Nzopfabarushe said in a video clip of his comments, which have been circulating online, to the party members in Kabezi, near the capital Bujumbura.

“He who has the president’s support successfully achieves his endeavours. That is the message we are giving either here or nationwide,” said Nzopfabarushe, a former senior official in the president’s office.

The ruling CNDD FDD party sought to dissociate itself from Nzopfabarushe’s comments, saying on Twitter it rejected “any subversive message which may jeopardize unity and cohesion among the Burundian people.”

The party also said it had asked the justice ministry to investigate all cases of divisive language used by politicians ahead of the May vote.

The referendum would extend the presidential term to seven years from five, allowing Nkurunziza to run again in 2020. It would limit the president to two consecutive seven-year terms, but would not take into account previous terms, potentially extending his rule to 2034.

Human rights groups say they doubt the vote will take place in a free and fair climate.

Nkurunziza came to power in 2005 after a peace deal ended a decade of civil war between the Tutsi-dominated army and Hutu rebels, in which 300,000 people were killed.

He ran for a third term in 2015, which opponents said violated the terms of the peace deal, sparking clashes that resulted in hundreds of deaths.

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Chad Parliament Approves New Constitution Expanding President’s Powers

Chad’s parliament on Monday overwhelmingly approved a new constitution that expands President Idriss Deby’s powers and could allow him to stay in

office until 2033, in a vote boycotted by most opposition lawmakers.

The new constitution reimposes a two-term limit scrapped in a 2005 referendum. But it will not be applied retroactively, meaning Deby could serve two terms after the next election in 2021.

The constitution now heads to Deby for his signature.

Deby’s opponents say that the constitution, which eliminates the post of prime minister and creates a fully presidential system, is aimed at installing a de facto monarchy in Chad, an ally of Western nations fighting jihadist groups in West Africa.

The new constitution – approved by a vote of 132 to two — introduces six-year rather than five-year presidential terms. That would mean Deby could stay in power until 2033, when he will be at least 80.

Deby first came to power in a rebellion in 1990. He has recently faced strikes and protests due to budget shortfalls caused by low prices for Chad’s chief export, oil.

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Pompeo Calls Israeli-Palestinian Peace ‘Incredible Priority’ for US

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday that providing whatever assistance is necessary to bring Israeli-Palestinian peace is an “incredible priority” for the United States, and he urged the Palestinians to “return to that political dialogue.”

“We will continue to work for peace in the great hope of offering the best outcome for both the Israeli and Palestinian people,” Pompeo said alongside Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi in Amman.

Pompeo said it is up to the two parties to ultimately decide on what the right resolution is, and that the United States is open to the “likely outcome” of a two-state solution.

Safadi called resolving the longstanding conflict key to the “lasting and comprehensive peace” for the region. He said that for Jordan a two-state solution is the only way forward.

Pompeo’s visit comes after a month of Palestinian protests in Gaza that have turned violent, with Israeli forces killing about 40 Palestinians. The Palestinians accuse Israel of using excessive force, while Israel says it is protecting its borders and only targeting instigators.

When asked about the violence, Pompeo said, “We do believe the Israelis have the right to defend themselves, and we’re fully supportive of that.”

In addition to agreeing on the need for a U.N.-led resolution to the conflict in Syria, Pompeo said he and Safadi discussed how to best counter what he called Iran’s “malign influence and activity in the region.”

Earlier in his first overseas trip as secretary of state, Pompeo said during a stop in Israel that U.S. President Donald Trump “has a comprehensive Iran strategy that is designed to counter the full array of threats emanating from Tehran.”

He also reiterated that unless the international agreement on Iran’s nuclear program is changed to meet Trump’s satisfaction, the president intends to withdraw from the deal.

“President Trump’s been pretty clear, this deal is very flawed. He’s directed the administration to try and fix it and if we can’t fix it he’s going to withdraw from the deal. It’s pretty straightforward,” Pompeo said.

Iran agreed in 2015 to limit its nuclear activity in exchange for sanctions relief, and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has rejected U.S. calls to alter the deal it reached with Britain, China, France, Russia, Germany and the United States. Trump stands alone among the six signatories to the accord in threatening to withdraw from it, and faces a May 12 deadline for deciding whether to reimpose economic sanctions against Iran.

En route from Saudi Arabia to Israel, Pompeo told reporters Sunday that he had briefed Riyadh’s leaders on U.S. talks with European officials on efforts to end Iranian missile tests and combat Tehran’s military involvement in Syria, Yemen and elsewhere in the Mideast.

Iran rejected those comments Monday. Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi called Pompeo’s statements “baseless and repetitive,” and said as long as countries want Iran’s help, it will continue to do so.

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Pompeo Confirms US to Withdraw from Iran Deal Unless It Is Fixed

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has told allies in the Middle East and Europe that the United States will withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA, unless it can be fixed. Pompeo began his first official foreign trip just hours after he was sworn in on Thursday. After attending a NATO meeting in Brussels, he headed for high-level talks in Saudi Arabia, Israel and Jordan. VOA’s Zlatica Hoke reports.

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Chinese Foreign Minister to Visit North Korea

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi will travel to neighboring North Korea this week, following a historic summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

China said Wang will visit May 2 and 3 at the invitation of his North Korea counterpart. The brief statement Monday did not include any details about the subject of their meetings.

On Sunday, South Korean officials said Kim plans to invite experts and journalists from Seoul and the United States to observe when North Korea shuts down its nuclear test site in May.

South Korean presidential press secretary Yoon Young-chan, also quoted Kim as saying, “The United States, though inherently hostile to North Korea, will get to know once our talk begins that I am not the kind of person who will use nuclear weapons against the South or the United States across the Pacific.” 

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told ABC News the best possible outcome for President Donald Trump’s planned summit with Kim in three to four weeks would be Pyongyang freeing three Americans it is detaining and agreeing to an “irreversible” and “verifiable” end to its nuclear weapons program.

“Who knows how the ultimate discussions will go? We have our eyes wide open,” said Pompeo, in the Middle East on his first overseas trip as the top U.S. diplomat. “Kim is going to have to make a decision. We use the word irreversible. We’re going to look for actions and deeds.”

Pompeo offered no promises of easing economic sanctions in advance of the talks and said that if the Trump-Kim talks fail, “We’re not going to let Kim Jong Un continue to threaten us.”

Seoul said that Kim has also promised to adjust North Korea’s time zone, bringing it up 30 minutes and synchronizing it with the South. 

Trump expressed optimism about a planned meeting with Kim, following conversations Saturday with Moon and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Trump tweeted he had a “very good talk” with Moon and updated Abe on plans for his anticipated summit with Kim.

Key U.S. leaders are expressing growing optimism that decades of hostility on the Korean Peninsula are closer than ever to coming to an end.

Trump said at a White House news conference Friday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, “I don’t think he’s playing” when asked about the historic summit between North and South Korea.

Trump said up to three possible sites are being considered for the much-anticipated summit.

Friday, Kim became the first North Korean leader to set foot in South Korea, when he crossed the border to shake the hand of South Korean President Moon Jae-in. 

The two leaders agreed to work toward removing all nuclear weapons from the Korean peninsula and vowed to pursue talks that would bring a formal end to the Korean War. 

North Korea has in the past made similar commitments about its nuclear program, but failed to follow through. Asked whether Pyongyang’s commitment is real this time, Trump said, “We’re not going to get played.”

“This isn’t like past administrations. We don’t play games,” said Trump, adding that previous administrations had been “played like a fiddle.”

“We will come up with a solution, and if we don’t we will leave the room,” he said.

VOA’s William Gallo contributed to this report.

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Syria War Monitor Says Missile Attack Killed 26

Missiles struck Syrian military bases in Hama and Aleppo late Sunday in what state-run television called a “new aggression” by its enemies.

Syrian officials gave no details on who is responsible or if there were any damage or casualties.

But the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the strikes, probably carried out by Israel, killed 26 pro-government fighters, mostly Iranians.

The Observatory said the rockets targeted a rocket warehouse at a base in Hama, as well as another base near Aleppo International Airport.

Israel is suspected of being behind an attack on a Syrian air base used by Iran earlier this month. Iran says seven Iranians were killed.

Israel has warned it would react forcefully anytime it believes an attack against its territory or aircraft is possible. It also blames Iran for arming Hezbollah militiamen.

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Florida School Shooting Survivors Take Aim at NRA

The National Rifle Association will not allow attendees to carry firearms when Vice President Mike Pence speaks Friday at its annual meeting.

The move by the most influential gun-rights lobby in the United States has sparked outrage among the survivors of the deadly shooting at a Parkland, Florida high school, who say school children should be afforded the same protection as the vice president.

“You are telling me to make the VP safe there aren’t any weapons around but when it comes to children they want guns everywhere?” tweeted Matt Deitsch, a student at the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School where 17 teens and adults were killed on February 14.

Another student, Cameron Kasky said on Twitter that the “NRA has evolved into such a hilarious parody of itself.”

Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter Jaime died in the shooting, also sounded incredulous at the ban.

“I thought giving everyone a gun was to enhance safety. Am I missing something?” he tweeted.

The NRA explained the ban as an order of the Secret Service, which is tasked with protecting Pence. The NRA website said “firearms, firearm accessories, knives or weapons of any kind will be prohibited in the forum prior and during his attendance.”  The list of prohibited items also includes, drones, ammunition, signs and glass bottles.

With the exception of the Pence event, lawfully carried firearms will be allowed at the convention center and the hotel hosting the event.

The NRA’s conference in Dallas, Texas, runs from May 3 through May 6. It is expected to attract more than 80,000 members and will include “more than 20 acres” of weapons exhibits.


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British Interior Minister Rudd Resigns After Immigration Scandal

Britain’s interior minister has resigned after Prime Minister Theresa May’s government faced criticism for its treatment of some long-term Caribbean residents who were wrongly labeled illegal immigrants, a government official said.

A spokesman for May was not immediately available for comment but a government official who spoke on condition of anonymity confirmed a BBC report that Home Secretary Amber Rudd had resigned.


For two weeks, British ministers have been struggling to explain why some descendants of the so-called “Windrush generation,” invited to Britain to plug labor shortfalls between 1948 and 1971, had been labeled as illegal immigrants.


The Windrush scandal overshadowed the Commonwealth summit in London and has raised questions about Theresa May’s six-year stint as interior minister before she became prime minister in the wake of the 2016 Brexit referendum.

Rudd had faced repeated calls from the opposition Labor Party to resign after she gave contradictory statements about meeting targets for deportations.

May apologized to the black community on Thursday in a letter to The Voice, Britain’s national Afro-Caribbean newspaper.

“We have let you down and I am deeply sorry,” she said. “But apologies alone are not good enough. We must urgently right this historic wrong.”


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Comey Dismisses Republican Report on Russia as ‘Political Document’

Fired FBI Director James Comey is dismissing a Republican-led House committee report clearing the Trump campaign of collusion with the Russians as a “political document.”

“This is not my understanding of what the facts were before I left the FBI and I think the most important piece of work is the one the special counsel’s doing now,” Comey said on NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday.

Comey called the investigation by the House Intelligence Committee “a wreck” that damaged relations with the intelligence community and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which oversees requests for surveillance warrants against foreign spies inside the United States.

While the committee report acknowledged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, it says investigators found no evidence the Trump campaign worked with the Russians.

Democrats on the committee say the Republicans on the panel did not interview enough witnesses or find enough evidence to back the report’s findings.

Ranking Democrat Adam Schiff called its conclusions “superficial.”

President Donald Trump has consistently denied his campaign colluded with the Russians. He has called himself the subject of a “witch hunt” and calls Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe a “hoax.”

Comey told Meet the Press Sunday something he wrote in his just-published best seller about his career – that he has serious doubts about Trump’s credibility, even if Mueller were to interview the president under oath.

“Sometimes people who have serious credibility problems can tell the truth when they realize that the consequences of not telling the truth in an interview or in the grand jury would be dire. But you’d have to go in with a healthy sense that he might lie to you.”

Comey said like all good prosecutors, Mueller wants to finish his probe as quickly as he can.


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Another US Diplomat Hits Motorcyclists in Pakistan

Pakistani police said a U.S. embassy vehicle driven by a diplomat Sunday night hit and injured two motorcyclists in Islamabad, the second such accident in three weeks involving an American official.

The capital city’s police identified the diplomat as second secretary Chad Rex Ausburn, saying he was instantly detained along with his vehicle and that an investigation into the incident was underway.

But police officials expected Ausburn to be released after recording his statement. He was still detained awaiting confirmation of diplomatic immunity.

When asked by VOA for information on the incident, a U.S. embassy spokesperson promised to “get back.”

The motorcyclist and another person on the bike received multiple injuries, but doctors at a city hospital said their condition was stable.

Police would not say whether Ausburn was to be blamed for the accident.

First incident

On April 7, the defense attaché at the U.S. embassy, Col. Joseph Emanuel Hall, ran a red light on a main Islamabad road, killing a motorcyclist and seriously injuring another person on the bike.

U.S. officials expressed their “deep sympathy to the family of the deceased and those injured,” and pledged to fully cooperate with local authorities in the investigation.

Hall’s name has since been placed on Pakistan’s “black list,” preventing him from leaving the country pending a court case against him.

Raja Khalid, deputy attorney general, informed the high court in Islamabad last Tuesday that the U.S. defense attaché could neither be tried nor arrested because the Vienna Convention guarantees immunity to designated diplomats from criminal jurisdiction.

Khalid emphasized the diplomat could only be tried if the U.S. waived his immunity. The court will reconvene later this week for a fresh hearing.

Diplomatic tensions

The two accidents come amid Islamabad’s increased diplomatic tensions with Washington over allegations Pakistan harbors terrorist sanctuaries.  Pakistani officials reject these allegations, saying they are baseless.

Last week, a senior Department of State official, Alice Wells, visited Islamabad and took up, among other subjects, Hall’s case in meetings with top foreign ministry officials.

During the talks, Pakistani officials demanded a waiver of diplomatic immunity so that Hall could be prosecuted. But Wells reportedly refused the demand.

The U.S. government also has recently notified Islamabad that Pakistani diplomats will be placed under new travel restrictions starting May 1, underscoring a consistent deterioration in bilateral ties.


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US to Insist on Deeds and Actions by N. Korea

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says, during an expected nuclear summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, President Donald Trump will insist on deeds and actions by Pyongyang, not words and promises. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, which is absorbing changing realities on the Korean peninsula and the possibility of even more momentous developments yet to come.

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Iraq Sentences 19 Russian Women for Joining IS

A court in Iraq has sentenced 19 Russian women to life in prison for joining the Islamic State terrorist group.

The Central Criminal Court in Baghdad, which deals with terrorism cases, also sentenced six women from Azerbaijan and four from Tajikistan to life in prison on Sunday on the same charge.

Most of the defendants told the court they had been brought to Iraq against their will from Turkey by IS fighters.

Earlier this month, the Russian Foreign Ministry said between 50 and 70 “Russian-speaking women” were being held in Iraq, along with more than 100 of their children.

IS took over nearly one third of Iraq in a blistering 2014 offensive, seizing control of the country’s second largest city, Mosul, among others.

Baghdad declared military victory over the jihadists in December, after expelling them from all urban centers.

Experts estimate that Iraq is holding 20,000 people in jail over suspected IS membership. There is no official figure.

Iraqi courts have sentenced to death a total of more than 300 people, including dozens of foreigners, for belonging to IS.


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Nigeria’s Buhari to Discuss Terrorism, Economy With Trump in Washington

Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari is slated to meet with U.S. President Donald Trump in Washington Monday.

The two leaders are expected to discuss the threat of terrorism and economic growth in Africa’s most populous country of almost 200 million people.

Nigeria has been plagued by extremist group Boko Haram, which launched an insurgency nine years ago with the aim of creating an Islamic State. Tens of thousands of people have been killed, and hundreds of school girls kidnapped, as the group gained notoriety and spread to neighboring countries, posing one of the most severe threats to West Africa’s Sahel region in recent years.

Last year, the Trump administration approved a $600 million sale of high-technology attack planes and equipment to support Nigerian military operations against Boko Haram and IS terrorists and to monitor drugs, weapons and human trafficking.

The deal was stalled under the Obama administration amid concerns of human rights violations in the West African country.

As Buhari faces re-election, he is expected to lobby the United States for further military support to fulfill his campaign promise of eradicating Boko Haram.

In addition to seeking greater security collaboration, Buhari and Trump also will “discuss ways to enhance the strategic partnership between the two countries and to advance shared priorities, such as promoting economic growth,” Nigerian presidential spokesman Femi Adesina said in a statement.

Buhari, along with South African president Jacob Zuma, was among the first African leaders that Trump spoke with on the phone upon taking office.

But relations between the two countries have faced challenges over the past year. Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was fired just hours after his visit to Nigeria on the highest-level U.S. visit to Africa since Trump took office.

In January, Nigeria joined a list of outraged African countries demanding an explanation from the U.S. ambassador from Trump’s reported vulgar comments referring to African countries.

In December, Nigeria was among a group of United Nations countries who condemned Trump’s controversial decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

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White House Mystery: Where is Macron’s Gifted Oak Tree?

A mystery is brewing at the White House about what happened to the oak tree President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron planted there last week.


The sapling was a gift from Macron on the occasion of his state visit.

News photographers snapped away Monday as Trump and Macron shoveled dirt onto the tree during a ceremonial planting on the South Lawn. By the end of the week, the tree was gone from the lawn. A pale patch of grass was left in its place.


The White House hasn’t offered an explanation.


The oak sprouted at a World War I battle site that became part of U.S. Marine Corps legend.


About 2,000 U.S. troops died in the June 1918 Battle of Belleau Wood, fighting a German offensive.



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