US Cuts Funding to UN Agency Helping Palestinian Refugees

The Trump administration has cut funding to the U.N. agency that helps Palestinian refugees, calling the organization “irredeemably flawed.”

The U.S. State Department ended decades of support to the organization Friday, saying “the administration has carefully reviewed the issue and determined that the United States will not make additional contributions to UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency).”

Chris Gunness, a UNRWA spokesman, said his organization rejects “in the strongest possible terms the criticism that UNRWA’s schools, health centers, and emergency assistance programs are ‘irredeemably flawed.’” He said the World Bank has described UNRWA’s activities as “global public good” and “recognized us for running one of the most effective school systems in the region, in which students regularly outperform their peers in public schools.”

“We are extremely grateful for the widespread solidarity,” Gunness said, “that our unprecedented situation has generated and the generosity of many donors that has allowed us to open the school year on time for 526,000 girls and boys this very week.”

A spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the agency enjoys the “full confidence” of the Secretary-General and that Commissioner General Pierre Krahenbuhl, UNRWA’s chief, “has led a rapid, innovative and tireless effort to overcome the unexpected financial crisis UNRWA has faced this year.”

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the U.N. agency’s “endlessly and exponentially expanding community of entitled beneficiaries is simply unsustainable and has been in crisis mode for many years.”

UNRWA provides health care, education and social services to Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. The agency says it provides services to about 5 million Palestinian refugees, most of whom are descendants of Palestinians who fled or were forced from their homes during the war that led to Israel’s establishment in 1948.

The United States supplies nearly 30 percent of the total budget of UNRWA and donated $355 million to the agency in 2016. However, in January, the Trump administration withheld $65 million it had been due to provide UNRWA and released only $60 million in funds.

Last week, the Trump administration announced it would cut more than $200 million in economic aid to the Palestinians, following a review of the funding for projects in the West Bank and Gaza. A senior State Department official said the decision took into account the challenges the international community faces in providing assistance to Gaza, where “Hamas control endangers the lives of Gaza’s citizens and degrades an already dire humanitarian and economic situation.”

Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group that runs Gaza, seized the coastal territory in 2007 from the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority. That led to Israel and Egypt placing severe economic restrictions on the region.

Under the Trump administration, Washington has taken a number of actions that have angered the Palestinians, including recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December and moving the U.S. embassy there from Tel Aviv in May. The Palestinian leadership has been boycotting Washington’s peace efforts since the Jerusalem announcement.

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US Cuts Funding to UN Agency Helping Palestinian Refugees

The Trump administration has cut funding to the U.N. agency that helps Palestinian refugees, calling the organization “irredeemably flawed.”

The U.S. State Department ended decades of support to the organization Friday, saying “the administration has carefully reviewed the issue and determined that the United States will not make additional contributions to UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency).”

Chris Gunness, a UNRWA spokesman, said his organization rejects “in the strongest possible terms the criticism that UNRWA’s schools, health centers, and emergency assistance programs are ‘irredeemably flawed.’” He said the World Bank has described UNRWA’s activities as “global public good” and “recognized us for running one of the most effective school systems in the region, in which students regularly outperform their peers in public schools.”

“We are extremely grateful for the widespread solidarity,” Gunness said, “that our unprecedented situation has generated and the generosity of many donors that has allowed us to open the school year on time for 526,000 girls and boys this very week.”

A spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the agency enjoys the “full confidence” of the Secretary-General and that Commissioner General Pierre Krahenbuhl, UNRWA’s chief, “has led a rapid, innovative and tireless effort to overcome the unexpected financial crisis UNRWA has faced this year.”

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the U.N. agency’s “endlessly and exponentially expanding community of entitled beneficiaries is simply unsustainable and has been in crisis mode for many years.”

UNRWA provides health care, education and social services to Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. The agency says it provides services to about 5 million Palestinian refugees, most of whom are descendants of Palestinians who fled or were forced from their homes during the war that led to Israel’s establishment in 1948.

The United States supplies nearly 30 percent of the total budget of UNRWA and donated $355 million to the agency in 2016. However, in January, the Trump administration withheld $65 million it had been due to provide UNRWA and released only $60 million in funds.

Last week, the Trump administration announced it would cut more than $200 million in economic aid to the Palestinians, following a review of the funding for projects in the West Bank and Gaza. A senior State Department official said the decision took into account the challenges the international community faces in providing assistance to Gaza, where “Hamas control endangers the lives of Gaza’s citizens and degrades an already dire humanitarian and economic situation.”

Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group that runs Gaza, seized the coastal territory in 2007 from the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority. That led to Israel and Egypt placing severe economic restrictions on the region.

Under the Trump administration, Washington has taken a number of actions that have angered the Palestinians, including recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December and moving the U.S. embassy there from Tel Aviv in May. The Palestinian leadership has been boycotting Washington’s peace efforts since the Jerusalem announcement.

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Rights Group Criticizes Sentences Given to Iranian Journalists

A media rights group is condemning what it calls “harsh sentences” that Iranian authorities imposed on at least seven journalists.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said Friday that the reporters were jailed this summer for their coverage of protests in February by the Gonabadi Dervish religious order. 

The New-York based group said Iranian courts in July and August sentenced at least six journalists affiliated with Majzooban Noor, a news website that focuses on the Gonabadi Dervish minority, and a journalist from the state-run outlet Ensaf to prison terms of between seven and 26 years.

A Turkey-based editor of Majzooban Noor told VOA earlier in August that the six jailed contributors had received prison terms totaling 71 years.

“There is no reason for them to have been given such heavy sentences other than the fact that the Iranian government is trying to apply pressure on us to shut down Majzooban Noor, which is the central news source of the Dervishes,” said Alireza Roshan, an Iranian Dervish writer and poet.

Dervishes involved in the February protests had been demanding the release of arrested members of their community and the removal of security checkpoints around the house of their 90-year-old leader, Noor Ali Tabandeh. Members of the Sufi Muslim religious sect long have complained of harassment by Iran’s Shiite Islamist rulers, who view them as heretics.

Roshan said Majzooban Noor has brought international attention to what it sees as human rights violations by Iranian authorities against the Dervishes, including the detention of dozens of women in February’s crackdown on the Dervish protests. He said the Iranian government had not accused Majzooban Noor of any illegal activity that could warrant the apparent effort to silence the news outlet.

Iran’s courts have accused the reporters of “spreading propaganda against the regime.”

In addition to the jail time, the journalists also received sentences of public floggings, multiyear bans on leaving the country, and bans on political and media activity upon their eventual releases.

“These horrifying sentences lay bare Iranian authorities’ depraved attitude toward journalists, as well as the hollow center of President Hassan Rouhani’s promises of reform,” Sherif Mansour, CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program coordinator, said in Washington.

“Iran should end its vicious campaign against journalists and allow them to report freely,” Mansour said.

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Rights Group Criticizes Sentences Given to Iranian Journalists

A media rights group is condemning what it calls “harsh sentences” that Iranian authorities imposed on at least seven journalists.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said Friday that the reporters were jailed this summer for their coverage of protests in February by the Gonabadi Dervish religious order. 

The New-York based group said Iranian courts in July and August sentenced at least six journalists affiliated with Majzooban Noor, a news website that focuses on the Gonabadi Dervish minority, and a journalist from the state-run outlet Ensaf to prison terms of between seven and 26 years.

A Turkey-based editor of Majzooban Noor told VOA earlier in August that the six jailed contributors had received prison terms totaling 71 years.

“There is no reason for them to have been given such heavy sentences other than the fact that the Iranian government is trying to apply pressure on us to shut down Majzooban Noor, which is the central news source of the Dervishes,” said Alireza Roshan, an Iranian Dervish writer and poet.

Dervishes involved in the February protests had been demanding the release of arrested members of their community and the removal of security checkpoints around the house of their 90-year-old leader, Noor Ali Tabandeh. Members of the Sufi Muslim religious sect long have complained of harassment by Iran’s Shiite Islamist rulers, who view them as heretics.

Roshan said Majzooban Noor has brought international attention to what it sees as human rights violations by Iranian authorities against the Dervishes, including the detention of dozens of women in February’s crackdown on the Dervish protests. He said the Iranian government had not accused Majzooban Noor of any illegal activity that could warrant the apparent effort to silence the news outlet.

Iran’s courts have accused the reporters of “spreading propaganda against the regime.”

In addition to the jail time, the journalists also received sentences of public floggings, multiyear bans on leaving the country, and bans on political and media activity upon their eventual releases.

“These horrifying sentences lay bare Iranian authorities’ depraved attitude toward journalists, as well as the hollow center of President Hassan Rouhani’s promises of reform,” Sherif Mansour, CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program coordinator, said in Washington.

“Iran should end its vicious campaign against journalists and allow them to report freely,” Mansour said.

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Ugandan Activist Bobi Wine Freed from Kampala Hospital

A Ugandan legislator allegedly tortured by security officials will be allowed to travel to the United States for medical care, a Ugandan political activist has told VOA.

Kiwanuka Lawrence Nsereko, who lives in New York State, told VOA’s Africa News Tonight radio program Friday evening that Robert Kyagulanyi has been freed from the Kampala hospital where he was held, and taken to the airport.

Nsereko said he’d spoken with Kyagulanyi’s family shortly after the news came out in Kampala. His family is “trying to scramble” to find him a flight, Nsereko said. His understanding is that Kyagulanyi will come to the Washington area, but it will depend on the availability of flights.

Thursday night police detained Kyagulanyi and fellow opposition lawmaker Francis Zaake at the Kampala airport as they tried to leave the country. The police said the two opposition figures, who both face treason charges, were fleeing the country. Zaake has not yet been freed.

Both men said they were tortured after their previous arrests, and a Kampala hospital had referred them for medical care abroad. Kyagulanyi, a popular singer known as Bobi Wine, was headed for the United States while Zaake was headed for India.

Upon reaching the airport, the opposition legislators were told they did not have clearance to travel and were taken to a government hospital in police ambulances. Their arrest sparked protests around Kampala, which were at times met with police gunfire and tear gas Friday.

Their lawyer, Asumani Basalirwa, says the director of criminal investigations, Grace Akullo, told him that since the legislators said they were tortured, government doctors needed to examine them.

“After the examination, they could then decide whether to take them to court or not. So today the government doctors were here. They were able to speak to the Honorable Robert Sentamu Kyagulanyi and we don’t know what will be the result of that discussion. But they didn’t carry out any examinations. And strangely they didn’t meet Honorable Francis Zaake,” Basalirwa said.

Nsereko says the international media and social media campaign by supporters of the opposition politicians appears to have helped free Kyagulanyi. “The government is realizing they are making a mistake.” 

He says this new development, however, while a relief for many people in Uganda, has not defused tensions entirely. In addition to Zaake, other protesters and critics of the government remain in prison and have been beaten. “The world needs to understand that it is more than just one person.”

Kyagulanyi, Zaake and three other opposition lawmakers originally were among more than 30 people arrested in early August after a protest broke during campaigning for by-election. Protesters threw stones at and damaged President Yoweri Museveni’s vehicle. 

Museveni has been president since 1986. Many older Ugandans still support the 74-year-old leader. But about 75 percent of Ugandans are under the age of 35, and they are beginning to tire of his authoritarian rule.

At the same time, human rights organizations and opposition politicians say the government has grown increasingly repressive toward critics.

This article originated in VOA’s English to Africa Service, with contributions from Kim Lewis and Halima Athumani.

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Ugandan Activist Bobi Wine Freed from Kampala Hospital

A Ugandan legislator allegedly tortured by security officials will be allowed to travel to the United States for medical care, a Ugandan political activist has told VOA.

Kiwanuka Lawrence Nsereko, who lives in New York State, told VOA’s Africa News Tonight radio program Friday evening that Robert Kyagulanyi has been freed from the Kampala hospital where he was held, and taken to the airport.

Nsereko said he’d spoken with Kyagulanyi’s family shortly after the news came out in Kampala. His family is “trying to scramble” to find him a flight, Nsereko said. His understanding is that Kyagulanyi will come to the Washington area, but it will depend on the availability of flights.

Thursday night police detained Kyagulanyi and fellow opposition lawmaker Francis Zaake at the Kampala airport as they tried to leave the country. The police said the two opposition figures, who both face treason charges, were fleeing the country. Zaake has not yet been freed.

Both men said they were tortured after their previous arrests, and a Kampala hospital had referred them for medical care abroad. Kyagulanyi, a popular singer known as Bobi Wine, was headed for the United States while Zaake was headed for India.

Upon reaching the airport, the opposition legislators were told they did not have clearance to travel and were taken to a government hospital in police ambulances. Their arrest sparked protests around Kampala, which were at times met with police gunfire and tear gas Friday.

Their lawyer, Asumani Basalirwa, says the director of criminal investigations, Grace Akullo, told him that since the legislators said they were tortured, government doctors needed to examine them.

“After the examination, they could then decide whether to take them to court or not. So today the government doctors were here. They were able to speak to the Honorable Robert Sentamu Kyagulanyi and we don’t know what will be the result of that discussion. But they didn’t carry out any examinations. And strangely they didn’t meet Honorable Francis Zaake,” Basalirwa said.

Nsereko says the international media and social media campaign by supporters of the opposition politicians appears to have helped free Kyagulanyi. “The government is realizing they are making a mistake.” 

He says this new development, however, while a relief for many people in Uganda, has not defused tensions entirely. In addition to Zaake, other protesters and critics of the government remain in prison and have been beaten. “The world needs to understand that it is more than just one person.”

Kyagulanyi, Zaake and three other opposition lawmakers originally were among more than 30 people arrested in early August after a protest broke during campaigning for by-election. Protesters threw stones at and damaged President Yoweri Museveni’s vehicle. 

Museveni has been president since 1986. Many older Ugandans still support the 74-year-old leader. But about 75 percent of Ugandans are under the age of 35, and they are beginning to tire of his authoritarian rule.

At the same time, human rights organizations and opposition politicians say the government has grown increasingly repressive toward critics.

This article originated in VOA’s English to Africa Service, with contributions from Kim Lewis and Halima Athumani.

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Poland Counts WWII Damages It Wants to Seek from Germany

Poland says it lost more than 5 million citizens and over $54 billion dollars (46.6 billion euros) worth of assets under the Nazi German occupation of the country during World War II.

A parliamentary commission announced the numbers as part of the current Polish government’s declared intent to seek damages from Germany.

Poland spent decades under Soviet domination after the war and wasn’t able to seek damages independently. However, Germany is making payments to Polish survivors of Nazi atrocities.

Preliminary calculations done for the commission put the number of Polish citizens killed from 1939 to 1945 at 5.1 million, including 90 percent of Poland’s Jewish population.

Losses in cities were estimated to be worth 53 billion zlotys ($14 billion; 12 billion euros). Additional losses in agriculture and transportation infrastructure also were factored in.

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Poland Counts WWII Damages It Wants to Seek from Germany

Poland says it lost more than 5 million citizens and over $54 billion dollars (46.6 billion euros) worth of assets under the Nazi German occupation of the country during World War II.

A parliamentary commission announced the numbers as part of the current Polish government’s declared intent to seek damages from Germany.

Poland spent decades under Soviet domination after the war and wasn’t able to seek damages independently. However, Germany is making payments to Polish survivors of Nazi atrocities.

Preliminary calculations done for the commission put the number of Polish citizens killed from 1939 to 1945 at 5.1 million, including 90 percent of Poland’s Jewish population.

Losses in cities were estimated to be worth 53 billion zlotys ($14 billion; 12 billion euros). Additional losses in agriculture and transportation infrastructure also were factored in.

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