Rare NATO-Russia Talks Address Military Drills, 1987 Missile Treaty

NATO and Russia envoys on Wednesday discussed their respective large-scale military exercises and a Cold War-era missile treaty that Washington vows to quit over accusations of Russian non-compliance, the Western alliance said.

The talks, the first between the former Cold War foes since May, came against a backdrop of renewed tensions between the West and Russia, most notably over Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and involvement in eastern Ukraine.

A NATO statement said the sides had an “open exchange” of views on Ukraine, Russia’s Vostok military exercises and NATO’s ongoing Trident Juncture drills, as well as on Afghanistan and hybrid security threats.

NATO this month launched its largest exercises since the Cold War in Norway, whose non-NATO Nordic neighbors Sweden and Finland have drawn closer to the alliance since being spooked by Russia’s role in the turmoil in Ukraine.

NATO troops are manoeuvring close to the borders of Russia, which held its huge annual Vostok military drill in September. The two are regularly irked by each other’s exercises, where a show of force and deterrence play a major role.

The drills have steadily grown in size in recent years as an atmosphere of stand-off between Russia and the West has grown. Russia’s 2018 edition of Vostok mobilized 300,000 troops and included joint exercises with the Chinese army — the biggest such drills since the Soviet Union broke up in 1991.

NATO head Jens Stoltenberg also called on Russia to make quick changes to comply in full with the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty. Russia denies violating it.

“We all agree that the INF Treaty has been crucial to Euro-Atlantic security … Allies have repeatedly expressed serious concerns about the new Russian missile system, known as the 9M729 or SSC-8,” Stoltenberg said in the statement.

He said development of the SSC-8 land-based, intermediate-range Cruise missile posed “a serious risk to strategic stability.”

“NATO has urged Russia repeatedly to address these concerns in a substantial and transparent way, and to actively engage in a constructive dialogue with the United States … We regret that Russia has not heeded our calls,” Stoltenberg added. At the same time, NATO hopes Washington — whose other rivals China or Iran are not constrained by the treaty that rid Europe of land-based nuclear missiles — will not pull out in the end. 

European leaders worry any collapse of the INF treaty could lead to a new, destabilizing arms race.

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UN Welcomes Moves to Restart Negotiations on Western Sahara

The U.N. Security Council has approved a resolution welcoming stepped up efforts to try to restart negotiations to end the 42-year conflict over the mineral-rich Western Sahara between Morocco and the Polisario Front.

Morocco annexed Western Sahara in 1975 and fought the Polisario Front until the U.N. brokered a cease-fire in 1991. A peacekeeping mission established to monitor it was also mandated to help prepare a referendum on the territory’s future that has never taken place.

Wednesday’s vote on the U.S.-sponsored resolution extending the mission’s mandate until April 30, 2019, was 12-0 with Russia, Ethiopia and Bolivia abstaining.

Bolivia’s U.N. Ambassador Sasha Llorentty Soliz welcomed an upcoming roundtable of key parties but complained that the resolution neglected the crucial issue of self-determination of the people of Western Sahara.

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Machar Returns to Juba for Peace Celebrations

President Salva Kiir publicly apologized to South Sudanese citizens Wednesday for the devastation the past five years of conflict has caused and announced the release of rebel leader Riek Machar’s former spokesman James Gatdet, who had been sentenced to death, along with South African citizen William John Endley, Machar’s former security advisor, who was sentenced to death by hanging on spying charges.

“As your president I want to apologize on behalf of all the parties to the conflict as leadership requires acceptance of responsibility,” Kiir told a large crowd gathered at the John Garang Mausoleum for celebrations marking the signing of a revised peace deal last month.

“Those of us who considered ourselves leaders must accept the blame collectively and solemnly promise our people never to return them back to war again,” said Kiir.

The president told the thousands gathered for the party in Juba that he would release Machar’s former spokesman and Machar’s former security advisor.

“One of them is called James Gadtet. We will release him although he was condemned in court,” said Kiir of his former deputy’s spokesman.

Kiir also promised to free South African citizen William John Endley, who was charged with spying, illegal entry into South Sudan, and conspiracy to overthrow Kiir’s government. Kiir said Endley would be released shortly and deported to South Africa.

Regional leaders including Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, Uganda President Yoweri Museveni and newly elected Ethiopian President Sahle Work Zewd attended the celebrations.

Kiir called on citizens and all security agencies to welcome Machar and all other opposition leaders back to the country.

“In the spirit of promoting peace and stability in our beloved nation I ask you all in welcoming and congratulating Dr. Riek Machar and all the opposition leaders who have shown their commitment to the peace agreement by coming to celebrate with us here today in Juba.”

Kiir said their presence “is very strong testimony and proof to all that war is ending and a new era for peace and prosperity is breaking.”

Machar told the jubilant crowd that the SPLM-IO (Sudan People’s Liberation Movement In Opposition) is serious about the Sept. 12 peace deal signed in Khartoum last month and his presence in Juba is a sign that he wants true peace.

“Why are we here today? If we come after eight months, some of you will say we don’t want peace. We want peace. Our heart is on peace like you,” said Machar.

Wednesday marked the first time Machar has returned to Juba since he fled the country in July 2016 after fighting broke out between his body guards and government soldiers in the capital. Machar is to be reinstated as first vice president in South Sudan’s next government.

Reverend Abraham Nyari of the Pentecostal church of Juba said the faithful are praying for peace.

“We as the church people are praying for peace and we are praying for our leaders, especially the president, to bring peace to South Sudan,” Nyari told South Sudan in Focus.

Beatrice Abe, a member of parliament, said both Kiir and Machar must keep their promises to end the war.

“Let them not break what they put together. Remember, they fought together in the bush and brought this nation [together] and it should not be them to break it apart,” Abe told South Sudan in Focus.

But Abe remains skeptical about the amount of progress being made in forming the transitional government.

“The country is already economically unstable and people go for months without salary and it will take a while for this country to establish. We now have a small government but later we are going to have a bigger government and the resources will all go to maintain the bigger government with little to go for the citizens,” Abe told VOA.

Dusman Joyce, chairwoman of the Women’s Caucus in the National Parliament, said the leaders must show a real commitment to ending the war.

“After this celebration, in a few months we need to see that there is free movement of people and humanitarian aid, we need to see the return of the refugees and people are given freedom of speech so that people see that this peace is signed in spirit and letter,” Joyce told South Sudan in Focus.


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Why Is It So Hard to Text 911?

People can livestream their every move on Facebook and chatter endlessly in group chats. But in most parts of the U.S., they still can’t reach 911 by texting — an especially important service during mass shootings and other catastrophes when a phone call could place someone in danger.

Although text-to-911 service is slowly expanding, the emphasis there is on “slow.” Limited funds, piecemeal adoption and outdated call-center technology have all helped stymie growth.

Emergency 911 centers stress that a phone call is still the best way to reach them, since calls provide them with location data and other needed details. But in some cases — for instance, if a person has a hearing disability, or when a call might attract the attention of assailants — texting is a far better way to call for help.

The 911 emergency system was developed for landlines. But now about 80 percent of U.S. 911 calls come from cellphones, according to the federal government’s National 911 Program. There is no legal requirement for call centers to offer text-to-911 services.

If a center requests the service from mobile companies like Verizon or Sprint, however, the companies are required to provide it within six months.

More money would speed implementation. “We need a significant federal grant program to modernize 911 systems across the country,” said Jeff Cohen, chief counsel at advocacy group the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials.

Congressional legislation could speed adoption of text-to-911, and while there are two bills currently making their way through Congress related to the issue, they need more bipartisan support, Cohen said. Traditionally 911 call centers have been funded by a combination of state and local funding, rather than relying on federal grants. For that reason, technology and adoption varies widely between states, cities and counties.

While some areas may have plenty of money to implement text-to-911 service, “others are cash-strapped cities or communities that would rather spend money on a police car rather than text-to-911,” said Brian Fontes, chief executive officer of the National Emergency Number Association. “When you don’t have the money, you have to prioritize what you do with the money you have.”

The first text-to-911 was sent in 2009 in Iowa. Now, according to data collected by the Federal Communications Commission, more than 1,600 emergency call centers across the nation have configured systems to receive text message requests for 911 services, up from about 650 two years ago. But that’s barely a quarter of the roughly 6,000 overall in the country. Figures are a bit murky since they are self-reported to the FCC.

Implementing text-to-911 service usually starts with a state law requiring emergency centers to support it.

State requirements

Indiana, for example, has state 911 requirements set by the Indiana General Assembly and a state 911 board that oversees the operation of the statewide 911 network, which routes and delivers 911 voice and text messages from people to their local 911 authority. It pays for 911 from monthly end user surcharges, $1 for landline, wireless and other types of phones, which are collected by phone service providers.

Four years after Indiana dispatch centers began adopting text-to-911 technology, residents in all 92 of the state’s counties can send texts during emergencies if they’re unable to speak to dispatchers, the state said in June. Minnesota, Connecticut, Maine and Vermont also offer statewide coverage.

Without state legislation, adopting text-to-911 can be more piecemeal. In California, a plan to raise taxes to pay for modernizing the 911 emergency dispatch system statewide fell one vote short in September in the Senate when Republicans refused to sign onto a tax increase.

But cities and municipalities can decide to support text-to-911 on their own. Los Angeles County, which includes cities such as Los Angeles, Burbank and Glendale, has supported text-to-911 since late last year, for example.

Allegheny County in Pennsylvania, where the synagogue shooting took place, does offer text-to-911 service. But high school students hiding from a gunman in Parkland, Florida, last February, had to make whispered 911 calls to authorities. Broward County, which includes Parkland, plans to have text-to-911 in place by the end of this year.

“We will never know where the next active shooter is going to be, whether it’s a rural school, synagogue, church or any public place,” said Fontes. “Certainly we want people to be able to text 911 for safety purposes.”

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Straight Talk Africa

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FIFA Asks Qatar Emir About Sharing World Cup With Bitter Foes

Adding 16 teams to the 2022 World Cup is about far more than sports. The head of world soccer thinks the proposal can help solve the bitter diplomatic fight between host Qatar and a Saudi Arabian-led coalition trying to isolate the tiny nation.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino has visions of the World Cup uniting the region. He says the World Cup should expand from 32 to 48 teams by playing some of the matches in stadiums in the very nations who have cut ties with Qatar and closed land, air and sea passage to and from the oil-rich nation of 2.6 million people, all but about 300,000 of them foreign workers.

Qatar will have eight stadiums to host 64 games in an already-congested 28-day window. The World Cup was moved from June-July to November-December because of the extreme heat in the Persian Gulf, and the tournament schedule was condensed to minimize the disruption to the top leagues around the world.

Adding 16 more nations would mean 80 games, and that would require more stadiums. Infantino asked the emir of Qatar if he would consider allowing matches to be held in other nations, including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, all are part of an economic and travel boycott against his country.

“This is something that would probably be a nice message,” Infantino said.

When the joint bid from the United States, Canada and Mexico won the right to host the 2026 World Cup in June, a trade fight was rumbling between the North American nations. Eventually, a new trade pact was negotiated.

At the time of the 2026 vote, “the relations were a little bit tense right between these countries,” Infantino said. “It’s something that’s comparable with the Gulf region. But for me, you know if there is a possibility [of sharing games], if there is a chance at least to even discuss, we should try.”

With travel to Qatar currently blocked by its neighbors, Infantino cautions that “maybe it will never happen.” He says he brought it up with Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani of Qatar, and the emir was open to the idea.

“When we speak it remains between us of course,” Infantino said. “What is, I think, important is that he told us, `Let’s continue the discussions together and see if this can (work).”‘

Qatar’s World Cup organizing committee is wary about changing plans almost a decade in the making, and having already irritated European soccer leagues with the FIFA-imposed switch to start in November.

“We need to know pretty soon,” said Nasser Al Khater, deputy secretary general of the organizing committee. “So we need to understand basically we’re looking to change the format, increase the number of days. Can we do it with eight [stadiums] and increasing the number of days?”

The FIFA membership has already voted on expanding its showpiece even to 48 teams in 2026. Infantino has been saying since March he is considering fast-tracking those plans by four years and acknowledged there has been little progress since then.

“Obviously we cannot even start discussing anything like that in a serious way without Qatar,” Infantino said. “I was discussing with [Qatar] federation officials and also with the Emir of Qatar and they want to look at it together with us and what kind of options … sharing some matches with some other countries or not … and these kind of things. These are topics that first, of course, the Qataris, of course, have to be comfortable with. Could they do it on their own? No.”

Infantino hopes to have resolved the number of finalists by March, with the qualifying draw scheduled for next year. If new conditions are added to the 2022 schedule, a bidding process for the extra games might be necessary.

“This is all will all be part of their studies and the discussions,” Infantino said. “We’ll study it we have to make sure that we have a proper process in place.”

The decision to award the tournament to Qatar in a 2010 vote forced FIFA to deal with concerns about labor conditions for migrant workers, many building the stadiums. The bidding process for the 2026 World Cup was the first where FIFA assessed the human rights records of countries.

If Qatar’s neighbors joined in hosting games in 2022, human rights conditions would come into focus again.

“This will obviously be part of discussions,” Infantino said. “Without the decision to go to Qatar would anything have changed? Who knows?But certainly, the fact that there was a World Cup in the spotlight for everyone has contributed to the fact that we are going, we’re speaking to them and we’re trying to tell them, `Guys try at least to change and so on.”‘

The United Arab Emirates already has close ties to FIFA, hosting the Club World Cup again in Abu Dhabi in December.

Saudi Arabia would be keen on joining the 2022 World Cup but it has angered soccer federations by hosting a television network that has allegedly been pirating Qatar’s beIN Sports since the boycott of Doha began in 2017.

A partnership with the Saudis could also be problematic in the fallout from the killing of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi after he entered the country’s consulate in Istanbul on October 2.

“There are other countries in the region as well,” Infantino said, when asked about Saudi Arabia.

Qatar is still waiting for a proper consultation process to begin.

“Right now, as of today, we’re hosting a 32 team World Cup,” Al Khater said. “Our infrastructure, our stadiums are all based on the 32-team World Cup. That’s as much as we know and that’s as much as it’s confirmed by now.”

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Trump: Caravans with ‘Thugs and Gang Members’ Using Violence on Trek to US

President Donald Trump claimed Central American migrant caravans slowly moving toward the U.S. include “very tough fighters” who “fought back hard and viciously” against Mexican soldiers at the border, in his latest warning about the migrants in the lead up to next week’s midterm election.

Trump said some of the soldiers were injured and overwhelmed by members of the caravans, the first of which is comprised mostly of women and children and the other made up of primarily young people.  Trump’s tweet was referring to reports Sunday that a group of migrants broke through a gate at Guatemala’s border, clashing with local police.

The president was also critical of Mexico, declaring that Mexican soldiers “were unable, or unwilling to stop” the migrants. His Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, however, told Fox News that Mexico has “stepped up in an unprecedented way.”

Earlier this week, Trump ordered the deployment of 5,200 troops to the southwest border. Trump said Wednesday, “Many more troops are coming” and vowed not to allow the caravans, which he claimed include “some very bad thugs and gang members” to cross our “sacred” border.

The first caravan, whose numbers have dwindled to less than 4,000, was in the southern city of Juchitan on Wednesday, about 1,400 kilometers (870 miles) from McAllen, Texas.

The second, smaller U.S.-bound caravan of about 2,000 people forced its way into Mexico on Monday from the Guatemalan border. It settled down Tuesday in the Mexican town of Tapachula, an AFP reporter said. Tapachula is about 1,850 kilometers (1,150 miles) from McAllen.

Trump has used the caravans to rally his Republican base before the Nov. 6 midterm elections, declaring on several occasions their approach toward the United States constitutes a “national emergency.” 

In addition to deploying more troops to the border, Trump has escalated his criticism of the migrants recently. He said on Monday he wants to construct tent cities to house asylum-seekers indefinitely, an apparent disregard of court orders that forbid long-term detention of families or children.

On Tuesday, he announced plans to end by executive order the right to U.S. citizenship for babies born in the United States to noncitizens.

Trump said on Oct. 23 he had no evidence people of Middle Eastern descent joined the large caravan, toning down an allegation he had recently made.

“There’s no proof of anything. But there could very well be,” Trump said in remarks at the White House.

The migrants from Honduras say they are seeking to escape deteriorating crime-related, political and economic conditions. President Juan Orlando Hernandez was re-elected last November in an election many Hondurans suspected was fraudulent, but was recognized by the United States.

Migrants from El Salvador and Guatemala have also joined the caravans.

The U.N. Refugee Agency has urged the Trump administration to allow people fleeing persecution and violence to request asylum on U.S. territory. The United Nations says about 1,500 people from the caravans have asked for asylum in Mexico.

If the caravans follow the same approach of previous migrant groups, they are likely to continue to lose members in the coming weeks.

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Rafael Nadal Pulls Out of Paris Masters with Abdominal Pain

Rafael Nadal pulled out of his second-round match at the Paris Masters on Wednesday because of an abdominal problem, meaning Novak Djokovic will reclaim the No. 1 ranking next week.

Nadal was returning from a right knee injury which forced him to retire from the U.S. Open semifinals, but took medical advice not to play against Fernando Verdasco.


“The last few days I start to feel a little bit the abdominal, especially when I was serving,” Nadal said. “I was checking with the doctor and the doctor says that is recommended to not play, because if I continue the abdominal maybe can break and can be a major thing, and I really don’t want that.”


At last year’s tournament, Nadal reached the quarterfinals but then pulled out against Serbian qualifier Filip Krajinovic. Nadal has dealt with off-and-on knee problems for years and, given his injury record, the 32-year-old Spaniard prefers to be cautious.


At the U.S. Open in early September, he dropped the opening two sets against Juan Martin del Potro before retiring. He then skipped the Asia swing to recover, missing tournaments in Beijing and Shanghai.


“It has been a tough year for me in terms of injuries so I want to avoid drastic things,” Nadal said. “Maybe I can play today, but the doctor says if I want to play the tournament, I want to try to win the tournament, the abdominal with break for sure.”


Nadal did not say whether he will play at the season-ending ATP Finals in London, beginning Nov. 11.


“I cannot answer. I just go day by day, as I did all my tennis career,” the 17-time Grand Slam champion said. “I would love to be in London of course. But the most important thing for me is to be healthy, be healthy and have the chance to compete weeks in a row. Something that I was not able to do this year, playing only nine events and retiring in two.”


Nadal is optimistic his latest injury will pass, providing he does not rush back.


“It would not be fair to say it’s a real injury today but what is sure, if I continue it will be a real injury,” he said. “When you come back after injuries, and you push a little bit, the body at the beginning some issues can happen.”


Djokovic, who faces Damir Dzumhur in the third round, will reclaim the top ranking for the first time in two years on Monday.


Also, Roger Federer advanced to the third round after big-serving Milos Raonic retired with a right elbow injury.


Raonic injured himself during a three-set win against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga on Tuesday.


“In the middle of second set, I overextended my elbow and it did some kind of pain,” he said. “I went and I did an ultrasound and MRI, and they found some kind of a lesion in the tricep.”


Federer, who won his 99th career title at the Swiss Indoors last Sunday, will face 13th-seeded Fabio Fognini.


Defending champion Jack Sock of the United States and fourth-seeded Alexander Zverev reached the third round in straight sets.


The 16th-seeded Sock saved all four break points he faced in a 6-3, 6-3 win against Frenchman Richard Gasquet, while Zverev advanced 6-4, 6-4 over American Francis Tiafoe.


Seventh-seeded Kevin Anderson, the Wimbledon runner-up, got past Nikoloz Basilashvili 6-3, 6-7 (3), 7-6 (3).


No. 8 John Isner, No. 9 Grigor Dimitrov and No. 10 Kei Nishikori also won.


Dimitrov had 13 aces in a 7-6 (10), 6-4 win against Roberto Bautista Agut and Nishikori beat Adrian Mannarino of France 7-5, 6-4. Isner had 33 aces in a 6-3, 6-7(2), 7-6 (1) against Mikhail Kukushkin, with the big-serving American saving a break point in the 11th game of the third set.


Isner and Nishikori are competing with No. 5 Marin Cilic and No. 6 Dominic Thiem for the last two spots for the ATP finals. Thiem was facing Frenchman Gilles Simon later Wednesday, while No. 11 Borna Coric was playing Daniil Medvedev.





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UN Chief Names Veteran Norwegian Diplomat as His New Syria Envoy

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres announced Wednesday that Norwegian veteran diplomat Geir Pedersen will be his new special envoy for Syria.

Pedersen was widely rumored to be the top choice for the post. He succeeds Italian-Swedish envoy Staffan de Mistura who held the challenging job for more than four years.

Guterres wrote to the Security Council on Tuesday to inform them of his choice and thanked de Mistura for his work and “contributions to the search for peace in Syria.”

Pedersen, 63, is no stranger to either the United Nations or the region. He was Norway’s U.N. ambassador from 2012-2017. Since last year, he has been Oslo’s envoy in Beijing.

In the Middle East, he was the U.N.’s representative in Lebanon from April 2007 to February 2008 and Norway’s representative to the Palestinian Authority from 1998 to 2003. In 1993, he was a member of the Norwegian team to the secret Oslo negotiations that led to the signing of the Declaration of Principles and the mutual recognition between the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Israel.

Pedersen is set to be the fourth U.N. envoy to try to bring a close to the Syrian conflict that began in 2011. In addition to de Mistura, the late Kofi Annan and Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi have both held the post.

De Mistura, 71, recently remarried and said he is leaving the post for personal reasons.

During his tenure, de Mistura worked to make the peace process more inclusive and had a role in facilitating some short-term cease-fires. He has been working intensively during his final weeks in office to solidify the creation of a constitutional committee, which is seen as a crucial step toward a credible and inclusive political process for ending the civil war.

“There is, in my opinion, still a clear window of opportunity that needs to be urgently seized,” de Mistura told members of the U.N. Security Council last Friday during his most recent briefing.

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Trump Stages 11 Rallies Heading Into Midterms

U.S. President Donald Trump is embarking on an eight-state campaign swing over the next six days, staging 11 political rallies in a last-minute effort to boost Republican chances in next Tuesday’s national congressional elections.

The first stop for Trump is a rally in Estero, Florida, supporting the candidacies of Florida Governor Rick Scott in his Senate race against incumbent Democratic Senator Bill Nelson, and Congressman Ron DeSantis in his contest against Democrat Andrew Gillum, now the Tallahassee mayor, to succeed Scott as governor of the country’s third biggest state.

Independent political analysts are describing both contests as toss-ups, although the most recent statewide pre-election surveys show both Democrats with narrow edges. With the rally Wednesday and another one Saturday in Florida, the president is hoping to swing both elections in the state where he maintains his palatial Mar-a-Lago estate along the Atlantic Ocean, often his weekend retreat in winter months.

As in Florida, several of Trump’s campaign stops in the coming days are aimed at ousting incumbent Democratic senators, in an effort to increase the Republicans’ narrow 51-49 majority in the Senate.

Trump is not on any ballots in Tuesday’s elections, but he told a rally earlier in October, “I’m not on the ticket, but I am on the ticket because this is also a referendum about me. I want you to vote. Pretend I’m on the ballot.”

As he heads to Election Day, Trump has ramped up his anti-immigration rhetoric in an effort to rally his most fervent supporters, the Republican base of voters. It was a winning issue for him in the 2016 presidential election, although he has failed to win congressional funding for the wall he wants to build along the U.S.-Mexican border to thwart further illegal immigration.

But Trump is dispatching more than 5,000 U.S. troops to the border to block what he says is a dangerous caravan of several thousand Central American migrants heading north through Mexico toward the U.S. border. At the moment, the advance group of migrants is still 1,400 kilometers (870 miles) from a U.S. entry point in McAllen, Texas, but Trump assailed Mexico on Wednesday for not blocking their march northward.

In addition, Trump said he would soon sign an executive order in an attempt to overturn a constitutional mandate that babies born in the United States, including to those of undocumented immigrants, are automatically U.S. citizens, a controversial move sure to draw a legal challenge.

Independent political analysts in the United States are predicting Republicans will retain their Senate majority, perhaps increasing it by a seat or two, while Democrats will pick up at least the 23 seats they need to take control of the House of Representatives.

A Democratic takeover of the House would end Republican control of the White House and both branches of Congress. It also would complicate Trump’s next two years in the lead-up to his 2020 re-election campaign, with Democratic lawmakers already vowing to launch numerous investigations of Trump and his administration and possibly start impeachment hearings against him.

Other Trump rallies

Trump is headed back to the western state of Montana for a weekend rally for Republican challenger Matt Rosendale, who is trying to oust two-term Democratic Senator Jon Tester, who drew Trump’s ire for helping to derail his one-time choice as chief of the Veterans Affairs agency, White House doctor Ronny Jackson.

In addition to two stops in Florida, Trump is also headed twice before the election to the Midwestern state of Indiana to campaign for Republican businessman Mike Braun in his close contest against the first-term incumbent senator, Democrat Joe Donnelly.

The U.S. leader is also making a pair of campaign stops in the Midwestern state of Missouri, where polls show the Republican challenger, Josh Hawley, the state’s attorney general, with a narrow edge over incumbent Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill.

In addition, Trump is visiting West Virginia, where polls show incumbent Democratic Senator Joe Manchin with a substantial lead over Republican Patrick Morrisey, the state attorney general.

Trump is also holding rallies in Ohio, Tennessee and Georgia, all three with competitive contests for governor or the Senate. All of Trump’s last-week visits before the election are in states he carried in the 2016 presidential election and would be crucial to his re-election chances in 2020.

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African Investigative Journalists Say Threats Mounting — from Near and Far

Anonymous threats. Police harassment. Hostile officials. The constant, hovering cloud of self-censorship, social exclusion and forced exile. And to top it all off: low pay. 

Welcome to the life of a typical African investigative journalist.

In recent years, intrepid African reporters have played a key role in uncovering corruption, human rights abuses, gang violence, drug and wildlife crimes, and other unsavory dealings; but, says South African journalism professor Anton Harber, that’s come at a cost.

“There’s a tale of repression, assassination, harassment, jailing,” he told VOA. “It’s pretty rough out there.”

Each year since 2004, the professor has hosted a conference that brings hundreds of African investigative journalists to Johannesburg to talk about the business and make connections. Even among the hardcore crowd, Muno Gedi stands out.

She’s an investigative journalist in what is possibly the world’s toughest dateline: Mogadishu, Somalia’s unstable capital. Gedi writes about topics like the traditional practice of female genital mutilation, the sale of international food aid in refugee camps, and the ongoing, relentless conflict between Somali clans and militant groups.

Gedi says she often receives threats, many of them anonymous.

“I think the investigative journalism in the world is always risky, especially Somalia; it is a risky area,” she said. “So when you work for the investigative journalism in Somalia, it’s not easy.”

Reporters without Borders says Somalia is the deadliest country for reporters in sub-Saharan Africa, with two journalists killed this year in connection with their work.

In Tanzania, the Committee to Protect Journalists says the government has in the last three years implemented harsh legislation and harassed journalists and bloggers.

Newspaper journalist Kelvin Matandiko says he feels that every day.

“It’s a shock to different journalists who were experienced in working in free areas like Tanzania,” he told VOA. “But the current political regime has come with new changes and I don’t know what is the reason behind this, but we believe that this is to kill our media industry.”

It all comes down to integrity, says Premium Times publisher Dapo Olorunyomi. And in his notoriously corrupt country of Nigeria, Olorunyomi says that sometimes means shining a light on the threats that come from within journalism itself. He pointed to the recent terminations or proposed dismissals of 15 VOA Hausa service employees after an investigation found they had accepted improper payments from a top Nigerian official.

He says that’s what makes investigative journalism so hard: The truth trumps all, even when the truth hurts.

“Nigerians are really very upset about that, I must let you know,” he told VOA. “Especially for those who are doing their jobs daily, trying to hold public officials accountable in Nigeria. That’s a difficult job in itself, not to add this kind of embarrassing situation to it. So we are generally upset about it, but I think VOA management has also done what it must do. It was the right thing to do.”

Journalism professor Harber said one of the most worrying threats to journalism lies far beyond Africa’s borders. Just this week, U.S. President Donald Trump described what he called the “fake news media” as the “true enemy of the people.” American and international media houses have widely refuted and condemned these statements.

Harber says these words resonate globally. “There’s no question that dictators or potential dictators here cite things being said in places like Washington to support the view that things need to be done about the media and the way they behave.”

Gedi, Matandiko and Olorunyomi laughed when VOA asked why they like such difficult, thankless work. But then they all paused, and gave some version of the same answer: Because, they said, people deserve the truth.

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Police Search for Clues in Slayings of 2 Aspiring Rappers

Investigators in Florida are trying to determine who killed two aspiring rappers whose bodies were riddled with gunshot wounds when a friend drove them to a hospital’s emergency room.

Miramar police spokeswoman Tania Rues said in a news release 21-year-old Anthony Williams and 19-year-old Christopher Thomas were last seen alive at 3:20 a.m. on October 26 in Fort Lauderdale. Hospital staff pronounced them dead at Memorial Miramar Hospital, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) from Fort Lauderdale.

Police aren’t releasing the name of the driver as they investigate.

TCPalm newspaper reports Thomas went by the stage name YNW Juvy while Williams was known as YNW Sakchaser. Both were connected to Florida rapper Jamell Demons, known as YNW Melly.

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Turkey: Khashoggi Was Strangled Immediately After Entering Saudi Consulate

A Turkish prosecutor says Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi was killed by strangulation immediately after entering Riyadh’s consulate in Istanbul, before his body was “cut into pieces.”

The statement by chief Istanbul prosecutor Ifran Fidan comes as Turkey pressures Saudi Arabia to extradite the 18 people it detained in connection with Khashoggi’s killing.

Fidan also said that talks with Saudi chief prosecutor Saud al-Mojeb produced “no concrete result” despite sincere efforts to disclose the truth.

Fidan’s statement was the first public confirmation by a Turkish official the journalist was mutilated after entering the consulate, the result of a premeditated plan.

“In accordance with plans made in advance, the victim … was strangled to death immediately after entering the Consulate General of Saudi Arabia,” the statement said.  “The victim’s body was dismembered and destroyed following his death by suffocation – again, in line with advance plans.”

A spokesman for Turkey’s ruling AK party said Wednesday Khashoggi’s murder could not have happened without orders from at least one “high-level” Saudi authority.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has requested Saudi officials identify an alleged local collaborator suspected of disposing of Khashoggi’s body.

Erdogan and other Turkish officials have repeatedly complained that Saudi Arabia has obstructed the investigation by refusing to reveal key pieces of evidence like the location of Khashoggi’s body.

His October 2 disappearance at the consulate has created an international firestorm that threatens the already complicated relations between Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States.

Turkey has steadily ramped up pressure on Saudi Arabia to provide answers amid its shifting official explanations on Khashoggi’s fate.  Weeks after the fact, Riyadh admitted the writer had been killed in the consulate by a team of 15 Saudi agents.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, often criticized by Khashoggi in his Washington Post columns, had hailed the “unique” cooperation between the two countries only days before.

U.S. President Donald Trump has called Khashoggi’s disappearance and death “one of the worst cover-ups in the history of cover-ups,” but has also said the U.S. should not be too critical of the regime because of a pending multi-billion dollar arms deal with Riyadh.  U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has revoked the visas of Saudi officials believed to have taken part in the killing.

Khashoggi had gone into the Saudi consulate in the Turkish capital on October 2 to obtain paperwork he needed for his planned marriage to Turkish national Hatice Cengiz, who waited for him outside the consulate.  He was never seen again.


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China Manufacturing Weakens to Two-Year Low

An official measure of China’s manufacturing activity fell to a two-year low in October, adding to pressure on Beijing to shore up economic growth amid a tariff war with Washington.

The monthly purchasing managers’ index issued Tuesday by the National Bureau of Statistics and an industry group, the China of Logistics and Purchasing, fell to 50.2 from September’s 50.8 on a 100-point scale.

Export orders weakened but the biggest impact was from cooling domestic demand after Beijing tightened lending controls to rein in a debt boom.

Forecasters said the slowdown suggests Beijing will need to ease lending controls further and take other steps to shore up economic growth.

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Heir to Spanish Throne, 13, Speaks Publicly for 1st Time

The heir to the Spanish throne, 13-year-old Princess Leonor, has made her first public address at an official event marking the 40th anniversary of Spain’s Constitution.

Leonor de Borbon, the elder of two daughters of King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia, read out the first of 169 articles of Spain’s Carta Magna, which was approved by the Spanish Parliament on Oct. 31, 1978.

King Felipe read the law’s preamble and was then joined on stage by his daughter at the Cervantes Institute in Madrid.

With a firm voice, Leonor read the article, which states that Spain follows the political system of a parliamentary monarchy.

Felipe was also 13 when he read his first speech publicly in 1981.

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US Calls for Yemen Cease-fire

The United States is calling for a cease-fire in Yemen in order to support United Nations efforts to find a lasting, peaceful solution to more than three years of fighting.

“(W)e want to see everybody around a peace table, based on a cease-fire, based on a pullback from the border, and then based on a ceasing of dropping of bombs that will permit the special envoy…to get them together in Sweden and end this war,” U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said. “We need to be doing this in the next 30 days. We have mired in this problem long enough.”

Mattis spoke at an event Tuesday night in Washington, saying a cease-fire would allow the parties involved to step back from war and meet with U.N. special envoy Martin Griffiths.

“That is the only way we’re going to really solve this,” Mattis said.

A short time later, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo followed with a statement expressing support for Griffiths and a cease-fire leading to peace talks. 

“Substantive consultations under the U.N. special envoy must commence this November in a third country to implement confidence-building measures to address the underlying issues of the conflict, the demilitarization of borders, and the concentration of all large weapons under international observation.”

The conflict is a mix of regional and international influences that began with Iran-backed Houthi rebels seizing control of parts of Yemen, including the country’s capital, from the internationally recognized government.

In March 2015, a coalition led by Saudi Arabia began airstrikes against the Houthis in support of Yemeni President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi, and has followed with other military support including deploying thousands of troops The United States has provided refueling and targeting support to the coalition.

Rights groups have criticized the air campaign for what they say is indiscriminate bombing that has killed and injured many civilians. Houthi rebels have also been blamed for rights abuses and sending missile and drone attacks against Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Pompeo called for both those Houthi attacks and coalition airstrikes on populated areas to stop.

“It is time to end this conflict, replace conflict with compromise, and allow the Yemeni people to heal through peace and reconstruction,” Pompeo said.

Griffiths last tried to get the two sides together for peace talks in September in Geneva, but the Houthi delegation did not make the trip, with officials expressing concerns about safety guarantees not being met.

The U.N. envoy said in early October that such safety guarantees are important for getting the two sides to talk, and that while anyone would want a cease-fire for any conflict, he does not believe that should be a precondition for peace talks.

An estimated 10,000 people have been killed since the conflict in Yemen began. The country was already the poorest in the region, and the fighting has pushed it to the brink of famine with the United Nations saying 22 million people are in need of aid.

The International Rescue Committee welcomed the U.S. call for a cease-fire, calling it the “most significant breakthrough” in the war.

“It is a very welcome recognition that current policy is failing and needs urgently to be changed to focus on a diplomatic solution,” IRC President and CEO David Miliband said in a statement.

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With Green Mosques and Schools, Amman Pushes for Zero Emissions

Poking above the bright pink bougainvillea that spills into the street, the lone minaret of the Ta’la Al-Ali mosque towers over the Khalda neighborhood of Amman.

Aside from its colorful stain-glassed windows and ornate calligraphy, this mosque stands out for another reason: its roof is covered with shining solar panels that make the building’s carbon emissions close to zero.

The structure is part of a wider effort by mosques – and many other buildings in the city – to capitalize on Jordan’s plentiful sunshine and shift towards renewable energy, in a bid to achieve Amman’s goal of becoming a carbon neutral city by 2050.

“Almost all the mosques here in Jordan now cover 100 percent of their energy needs” with renewable power, said Yazan Ismail, an energy auditor at ETA-max Energy and Environmental Solutions, a green consultancy in Jordan.

Amman is one of more than 70 cities worldwide that are aiming to become “carbon neutral” by 2050, meaning they will produce no more climate-changing emissions than they can offset, such as by planting carbon-absorbing trees.

Each is going about achieving the goal in its own way. But because cities account for about three-quarters of carbon dioxide emissions, according to the United Nations, and consume more than two-thirds of the world’s energy, whether they succeed or fail will have a huge impact on if the world’s climate goals are met.

Feeding the Grid

In Amman, the push to make mosques greener – which began in 2014, with backing from the Ministry of Religious Affairs – has been so successful that many are now selling excess energy back to the national grid, Ismail said.

For the Ta’la Al-Ali mosque’s imam, who speaks to the faithful in his Friday sermons about protecting the climate, the decision to adopt clean energy coincides with wider religious values.

“The main reason for the use of solar energy is religious duty,” said Ahmad Al Rawashdeh. Islam urges conservation of nature’s resources, he said, and “warns against extravagance.”

But the use of solar energy, and power-saving LED lightbulbs, also is helping the mosque financially, he admitted.

Amman, where temperatures already soar above 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) in the summer, has clear incentives to try to hold the line on global warming.

But renewables are far from the norm in most of the country.

Jordan still imports close to 96 percent of its energy, most of it polluting fossil fuels, from its Middle Eastern neighbors, according to the World Bank.

Government officials say they are going to change that.

“We are committed to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2030,” Minister of Environment Nayef Hmeidi Al-Fayez told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The country aims to generate 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2022, Al-Fayez said. It’s a target he thinks will be met early, in part as solar panels go up on the city’s homes, businesses and government buildings.

Earlier this year the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company (Masdar) put in place $188 million in financing to develop Jordan’s largest solar power plant for the state National Electric Power Company.

The project is scheduled to go online in the first half of 2020, and will supply power to about 110,000 homes while displacing 360,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide annually, a statement from Masdar said.

Green Schools

On the other side of the city, the Al-Hoffaz international academy – one of the first schools to go solar in Amman, in 2013 – now gets almost 95 percent of its energy from renewable sources, said Khaled Al Salaymah, assistant general manager of the school.

At Al Hoffaz, children in orange and black uniforms chant their times-tables as they file down the stairs of the academy, one of about 100 schools in Amman seeking to lower carbon emissions.

“Based on our community and public responsibilities we want to reduce our emissions and carbon contribution urgently,” said Al Salaymah. “Also, there’s an economic dimension: we’ve reduced our energy consumption costs too,” he said.

Along with glimmering solar electrical panels covering the basketball court, the teachers’ car park and much of the roof, the school uses solar water heaters and recycles its waste while also prioritizing environmental education, he said.

“We hold awareness sessions for students, parents and teachers here to ensure they know the benefits of going green and using renewable energy,” Al Salaymah told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “It’s not just installing solar panels. We want to be green in every way.”

He said he had noticed a rise in social awareness of the risks of climate change, particularly among young Jordanians.

“The mentality has changed,” he said.

Jordan is also trying to cut emissions from tourism. The country hopes to market itself as a haven for ecotourists keen to stay in zero-carbon resorts along the salty Dead Sea or near the UNESCO World Heritage site of Petra.

The Feynan Ecolodge sits on the edge of the Dana Biosphere Reserve, on the road to the ancient crimson carved city of Petra.

With solar appliances serving its 26 rooms and candle-lit corridors, the lodge is entirely off grid, and offers visitors the chance to feast on vegetarian food, stargaze or learn to bake bread beneath the hot sand.

Manager Nabil Tarazi said the lodge’s daily energy consumption was less than that of a two-bedroom apartment in Amman.

The lodge is part of a string of buildings backed by Jordan’s Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN), including a similar resort north of Amman in the protected forest reserve of Ajloun.

Nestled among evergreen oaks, that lodge harvests rainwater and uses geothermal heating and cooling to keep its emissions at net zero.

Future Pressures

Despite Jordan’s efforts to cut carbon emissions, Amman faces big challenges, including a booming population, swollen by the arrival of more than half a million refugees fleeing conflict in neighboring Syria.

Arid Amman is also among the most water-stressed cities in the world – enough that Jordan is now looking into desalination plants to keep the taps running.

But the push for solar power may also help.

A May report by the World Resources Institute found that thirsty Middle Eastern and North African countries, including Jordan, could cut water demand by switching to solar power, which uses less water to produce than fossil fuel electricity generation.

Jordan’s Environment Minister Al-Fayez said he has confidence Amman – and the country – will continue pushing to meet their ambitious carbon-cutting goals.

“We’re always optimistic in Jordan. That’s the way that we survive,” he said.

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UN Says Planned Elections in E. Ukraine Could Contradict International Agreements

The U.N.’s political chief cautioned Tuesday that planned local elections in two separatist areas of eastern Ukraine next month could contradict international agreements. 

“The U.N. urges all parties to avoid any unilateral steps that could deepen the divide or depart from the spirit and letter of the Minsk agreements,” Rosemary DiCarlo told a Security Council meeting on the issue. 

In 2015, France, Germany, Russia, Ukraine and pro-Russia separatists signed the Minsk agreement in the Belarus capital. It seeks to halt the fighting through a cease-fire and the withdrawal of foreign troops and heavy weapons, and open the way to a permanent, legal and political solution to the conflict in Ukraine, which began in 2014. 

De facto authorities in the separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk have announced that they plan to hold elections on Nov. 11. 

“As we understand, two separate ballots in both Donetsk and Luhansk are reportedly being planned: one for the “head of Republic” and one for the “People’s Councils,” DiCarlo said. She said the posts will reportedly be for five-year terms. 

She noted that election-related matters are covered in the Minsk agreements. 

“I therefore caution that any such measures taken outside Ukraine’s constitutional and legal framework would be incompatible with the Minsk agreements,” she said. 

Western council members echoed her concerns and condemned the planned ballot.

“These sham elections staged by Russia run directly counter to efforts to implement the Minsk peace agreements,” said U.S. deputy U.N. Ambassador Jonathan Cohen. “The elections also obstruct and undermine efforts to end the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine.”

“We do see these so-called elections as illegitimate,” said British Ambassador Karen Pierce. “They are the latest example in the Russian campaign to destabilize Ukraine. They are a clear breach of the Minsk agreements, and they are illegal under Ukrainian law.”

Even China, a close ally of Moscow, expressed concerns. 

“China respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states, including Ukraine, and opposes the interference in Ukraine’s internal affairs by any external forces,” Beijing’s deputy envoy told the council. 

Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia dismissed the criticism. 

“Today, we are witnesses of the latest round of hypocrisy — the total and inexcusable sabotage by Kyiv of the Minsk agreements, over the long term, factually from Day One, has been completely ignored,” Nebenzia said. “Instead of recognizing this fact, in the discussion in the Security Council we are discussing the forthcoming elections in November, which are a necessary measure in conditions of sabotage by Kyiv of its political commitments.”

He said European and American sanctions imposed on Moscow because of the Ukrainian situation is an invitation to Kyiv to continue undermining its Minsk obligations because Russia will be the one to pay for it. 

Ukraine’s ambassador, Volodymyr Yelchenko, said holding these “so-called early elections’ would amount to putting armed gangs’ leaders in seats in illegitimate representative bodies.” He said the move is a “provocation” and a “further escalation” of the situation by Russia. 

While he acknowledged to reporters later that there is little Kyiv authorities can do to stop the voting from going forward, he said the results would be null and void and not be recognized by Ukraine or the international community. 

After a brief calm over the summer months, the U.N. said during the past six weeks, cease-fire violations have spiked, and casualty levels have risen. It also reports increased tensions in the Sea of Azov, warning there is a “need to avoid any risk of escalation, provocation or miscalculation.” 

The Kyiv government has been clashing with Russian-backed separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine since 2014. The United Nations says more than 3,000 civilians have been killed, and up to 9,000 injured since the start of the conflict.

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Online Harassment All Too Common for Jewish Journalists

For many Jewish journalists in the U.S., persistent online anti-Semitic harassment has become part of the job.

The phenomenon became pervasive during the 2016 presidential campaign, and there’s been a resurgence in recent months ahead of next week’s midterm elections, according to the Anti-Defamation League. 

Targeted journalists have found different ways of responding. CNN commentator Sally Kohn reaches out kindly to some of her online harassers. Michael Duke, an editor at the Houston-based Jewish Herald-Voice, has reduced his use of social media. Yair Rosenberg, a writer with Tablet Magazine, developed a method of tracking down and disrupting anti-Semitic accounts on Twitter. 

Rosenberg has written in detail about the vitriol directed at him, including a doctored photo showing him a gas chamber. When the ADL reported that he received the second-largest amount of abuse among all Jewish journalists on Twitter during the 2016 campaign, Rosenberg wrote, “My parents didn’t raise me to be No. 2; fortunately, there’s always 2020.” 

Twitter, over the past two years, has become more effective at removing certain types of virulent anti-Semitism from its feeds, according to Rosenberg. But he said the company is less effective at blocking the spread of anti-Jewish conspiracy theories in tweets that avoid certain phrases and hashtags that would catch the eye of Twitter monitors. 

Rosenberg said he has grown hardened to the constant flow of anti-Semitic material. 


“I don’t feel like a victim,” he said by telephone from Pittsburgh, where and he and his Tablet colleagues are covering the aftermath of the synagogue shooting Saturday that killed 11 Jews. 

“What some people deal with in real life is worse than what I deal with online,” he said. “There’s life-and-death stuff, and there’s me getting mean tweets.” 

A few spots below Rosenberg on the ADL’s 2016 “Top 10” list was Kohn, a liberal political commentator who appears regularly on CNN. 

For a book she published earlier this year, The Opposite of Hate, she reached out to several of her own Twitter trolls, conversing with them about the reasons for their vitriol and in some cases receiving apologies. 

In an interview Tuesday, Kohn said she is now less tempted to engage with her harassers. 

“It’s all just so negative,” she said. “I’ve stopped paying as much attention to my trolls.” 

Also on the 2016 Top 10 list was Jonah Goldberg, a senior editor of the conservative National Review. He began receiving a torrent of online anti-Semitic invective in the second half of 2015, after Donald Trump declared his presidential candidacy and Goldberg was among the conservative commentators who expressed misgivings. 

“You had endless photoshopped images — Trump in an SS outfit putting me in a gas chamber,” he said. “You don’t see that stuff very much anymore.” 

However, he said there was a new surge of anti-Semitic material — much of it generated by bots — after the Pittsburgh massacre. 

“They flood the zone in the wake of these kinds of controversies … sowing discord and distrust,” he said. 

Like Rosenberg and Kohn, Goldberg tries to take the harassment in stride, though he took notice when photos of his dog became vehicles for further anti-Semitic abuse. 

‘Sheer inhumanity’

One specific episode still stands out: Goldberg said that at one point he made public reference to the death of his brother and was “pelted with jokes asking if he’d been turned into soap or a lampshade.” 

“I have a pretty thick skin,” he said. “The sheer inhumanity of it — that’s stuck with me.” 

At The Forward, a New York-based Jewish magazine, editor-in-chief Jane Eisner said anti-Semitic harassment directed at her staff surged in 2016, prompting new procedures for reporting particularly menacing threats to the police. 

“There’s no doubt we’ve gotten used to this, which in some ways is a tragedy, but we have to do our job,” Eisner said. “Just because you accept it and move on doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect you.” 

At the ADL, one of the experts tracking anti-Semitic harassment is Daniel Kelley, associate director of the ADL’s Center for Technology and Society. Even if some prominent Jewish journalists are able persevere in the face of such harassment, he worries that some Jews might be deterred from pursing a journalism career for fear of becoming a target. 

In Houston, Duke, a Jewish Herald-Voice associate editor, was targeted with anti-Semitic abuse after the paper reported on a 2016 visit by white nationalist leader Richard Spencer to Texas A&M University. Duke was called a “Zionist Nazi” and was emailed a photo of Auschwitz with the tag, “We’re on the march.” 

But there’s been an upside to Duke’s subsequent decision to reduce his engagement on social media. 

“It’s made me a little better as a journalist,” he said. “With social media, you can be a little lazy. This puts me back in touch with people we write about.” 

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American Missionary Killed in Cameroon Amid Armed Conflict

An American missionary died Tuesday after being shot in the head amid fighting between armed separatists and soldiers in northwestern Cameroon, the director of the regional hospital said.


Charles Trumann Wesco, a missionary from the U.S. state of Indiana who had been in the region for two weeks, was rushed to the hospital in Bamenda after he was gravely wounded while in his car, hospital director Kingue Thomson Njie said.


“He died in our hospital after all attempts to save his life,” Njie told The Associated Press.


Wesco’s wife, Stephanie, and eight children were still in Bamenda, he said.


Dave Halyman, assistant pastor at Believers Baptist Church in Warsaw, Indiana, where Stephanie Wesco’s father, Don Williams, is the senior pastor, said that he had spoken to her after the shooting.


He said the shooting happened as Charles and Stephanie Wesco were in a car being driven by another missionary to the town of Bamnui from the Bamenda suburb of Bambili, where the family has been living. He said Charles Wesco was in the front seat, and two shots hit the windshield and struck him in the head. No one else was hurt, Halyman said.


The family had been in Cameroon for just 12 days before the shooting, Halyman said. He said they had raised financial support for two years and had been to Cameroon two years ago on a survey trip.


“We’re shocked and grieving at what’s occurred. We’re trying to get over the shock of losing someone as wonderful as Charles was,” Halyman said. “While we don’t like this, we understand that God has a great purpose.”


The missionary’s brother is Indiana state Rep. Tim Wesco, who confirmed that his older brother had been killed. “He loved the Lord. He loved people. The Lord giveth. The Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord,” he said.


Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb issued a statement saying that he and his wife, Janet, “are thinking of Rep. Tim Wesco and his family as they grieve the death of his brother Charles. We ask that all Hoosiers join us in offering prayers and condolences to the Wesco family.”


Bamenda is in Cameroon’s Northwest Region, the restive English-speaking area where armed separatists have been fighting with the military while attempting to create an independent state.


Regional Gov. Deben Tchoffo said armed groups staged attacks to stop the reopening of the University of Bamenda, and the military fought back Tuesday. He said Wesco might have been caught in crossfire.


A military spokesman, Col. Didier Badjeck, told AP that the military killed at least four suspects in Wesco’s death and arrested many others. He did not specify if the people detained were military personnel or separatists.


Cameroon’s military said last week after launching attacks on suspected separatist training grounds that “many have been killed.” The attacks happened the day after President Paul Biya was declared the winner of a seventh term.


The increased violence began after the government clamped down on demonstrations by English-speaking teachers and lawyers protesting what they called their marginalization by Cameroon’s French-speaking majority. Armed factions emerged after the government crackdown and have been using violence to push for an independent state they call “Ambazonia.”


Protests against the 85-year-old Biya’s Oct. 7 re-election have been ongoing.

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US Presence at Cuba Trade Fair Dwindles Given Trump Hostility

A yellow excavator, forklift and other heavy equipment made by U.S. firm Caterpillar gleam outside Cuba’s annual trade fair, reflecting once-bright hopes for increased U.S.-Cuban commerce fanned by the 2014 detente between the old Cold War foes.

But inside the pavilion where U.S. firms present their wares, only eight have stands this year, according to a Reuters count. That is down from 13 last year and several dozen in 2015-16, underscoring the decline in U.S. business interest since Donald Trump became president.

Last year, the Trump administration tightened the decades-old trade embargo on the Communist-run island once more and sharply reduced staffing at the U.S. embassy in Havana due to a series of health incidents among U.S. diplomats.

“Trump has scared everyone off,” said Eduardo Aparicio, general manager of U.S. logistics company Apacargoexpress, operating under an exemption to the embargo allowing U.S. companies to sell food and medical supplies here.

Aparicio says he is struggling to find U.S. firms keen on doing business with Cuba given fears of reprisals from the Trump administration.

“Not that many things have changed with the Trump administration, but the outlook has. It no longer feels like we are advancing,” said Jay Brickman, vice president of Florida-based shipping company Crowley Maritime Corporation, which has been shipping to Cuba for 17 years.

“If you are a corporate executive who feels like nothing is happening, then eventually you look elsewhere.”

Brickman, Aparicio and others at Cuba’s premier business event said the country’s dire financial situation was another factor in declining U.S. business interest. Cuba is battling a cash crunch amid lower aid from ally Venezuela and weaker exports.

Brickman said Cuban orders via his firm were down 10 percent this year.

U.S. companies had embraced Cuba in the wake of the detente reached by former U.S. and Cuban Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro, jostling for a foothold in an opening market of 11 million consumers.

Lawyers working with U.S. firms interested in doing business with Cuba say the larger ones are taking a long-term view and remain keen.

Heavy equipment maker Caterpillar, for example, had lobbied to sell in Cuba for years before one of its dealers, privately held Puerto Rican company Rimco, said last year it was opening a distribution center here.

“This is the beginning of a lot of things to come,” Rimco Vice President Caroline McConnie said of the machinery displayed outside the pavilion.

McConnie said Rimco would look to rent as well as sell machines in Cuba given its cash crunch, and expected to announce its first two deals soon: one to rent equipment for quarries and another to sell marine motors for tugboats.

“We will benefit from the first movers’ advantage,” she said.

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Artists Emerge From Ruins of Mosul to Reclaim Iraqi City’s Cultural Life

The first thing musician Fadhel al-Badri did when Mosul was liberated from Islamic State last year was breathe a sigh of relief.

The militants who seized the city in 2014 had targeted artists like himself so when neighbours said they were hunting for him, he left home, called his wife to say he was likely to die and took to sleeping in a different place each night.

The next thing he did was recover his beloved violin and his oud, similar to a lute, from where he had hidden them in the frame of his bed.

He said he hugged and kissed them “like they were my own children,” and played amid the ruins “a song … for Mosul.”

On Saturday, Badri and other musicians and activists attended the first orchestral concert in the northern Iraqi city since the militants were defeated more than a year ago by Iraqi and Kurdish forces and a coalition led by the United States.

Thousands died in that battle or fled the city, large parts of which was reduced to rubble.

The musicians played in a park where the militants once trained child soldiers and the music, a mixture of Western and Iraqi classical, wafted along the banks of the Tigris River.

“Music is my life. It’s amazing to hear it in Mosul again,” he said. The concert was conceived by Karim Wasfi, former director of the Baghdad Orchestra, whose visiting Peace Through Arts Farabi Orchestra played alongside local musicians.

Mosul was long celebrated as a center of Iraqi culture but that life was suppressed even before Islamic State declared its caliphate in 2014. Al Qaeda targeted musicians in the wake of a U.S.-led invasion in 2003 and no one could remember when they last heard live music in Mosul.

Islamic State continued that crackdown, blowing up statues and monuments, said Ali al-Baroodi, a Mosul University professor and photographer.

“We continued to consume culture in secret: we would listen to music, trade books, films, music. That never stopped even though it was dangerous,” he said. 

Baroodi and Badri belong to a community of artists and activists who have defied fears of fresh attacks to hold weekly book markets and photography exhibitions. In a bold move, that community has also painted murals around the city in a bid to reclaim public spaces.

Rich history 

Last year, he helped launch an international book drive to replenish the million books that Islamic State torched at the university library, one of the most important in the region.

“Mosul lost its identity, lost its features, lost thousands of its people with many more still under the rubble,” he said. “These efforts aren’t going to fix everything overnight but it gives us hope.”

One new cultural centre is the vibrant Qantara cultural cafe. It opened in east Mosul in March, welcomes men and women, boasts a well-stocked bookshop and hosts readings and workshops.

In addition, musicians including Badri have performed there.

Its walls show paintings and photographs of Mosul’s rich history and its recent devastation. One wall depicts the crimes of IS, displaying a yellow jumpsuit worn by detainees as well as handcuffs.

Not every cultural institution in Mosul is seeing rebirth.

The central public library, a research centre that housed rare manuscripts including government records dating back to the Ottoman era, was the only one to survive Islamic State intact, even though it was used as a base.

Librarians hid the most precious texts but 20,000 books were dumped in the basement. After East Mosul was liberated, librarians salvaged what they could and stacked books on makeshift shelves.

But with no windows and holes in its ceiling, the library remains closed. Its halls, once filled with student researchers, are now caked in dust.

Library head Jamal Ahmed said funds had been set aside to repair the library, but government repair efforts had stalled.

“This library is an important cultural home,” said a library employee. “We can’t just rebuild bridges and roads, we have to rebuild minds.”


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2018 US Midterm Elections Could Bring Gridlock

President Donald Trump has warned that if Democrats regain political power in the midterm elections, the U.S. economy would essentially implode. 

Democrats, he insists, would push tax hikes and environmental restrictions that stifle growth. Undocumented immigrants would steal jobs and unleash a crime wave that would halt commerce. Health insurance would devolve into a socialist program offering shoddy care at unsustainable cost. 

“At stake in this election,” Trump declared at a rally in Houston, “is whether we continue the extraordinary prosperity that we’ve all achieved or whether we let the radical Democrat mob take a giant wrecking ball and destroy our country and our economy.” 

Almost no private economist agrees with Trump’s portrait of a financial apocalypse. 

If Democrats win control of the House in next week’s congressional elections, their legislative priorities wouldn’t likely much alter a $20 trillion economy. For one thing, Trump would remain able to block Democratic initiatives — just as they could stop his plans for more tax cuts and a 5 percent cut to Cabinet department budgets. 

What instead would likely result is continued gridlock — perhaps even more entrenched than what exists now in Washington. Arrayed against a stout Republican majority in the Senate, a Democratic House majority couldn’t do much to reorder the economy, which typically hinges more on the willingness of consumers and businesses to spend and on the state of the global economy than on government policy priorities. 

“It’s probably not that much of a change,” Beth Ann Bovino, chief U.S. economist at S&P Global, said of the likely outcome. “While you might see further gridlock if the Democrats take the House, that doesn’t mean it would tip the boat and slow growth.” 

Many polls and analyses suggest — though hardly assure — that the Democrats could regain a majority in the House if their voters turn out in sufficient numbers in key races. If so, Trump would have to contend with a divided government instead of one with Republicans in complete control. Yet depending on voter turnout, it’s also possible that the Republicans could maintain their hold on both the House and the Senate. 

Analysts at Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley foresee a divided government as most probable. So do their peers at Oxford Economics and Keefe Bruyette & Woods. 

“The most likely political consequences would be an increase in investigations and uncertainty surrounding fiscal deadlines,” Goldman Sachs concluded in a client note. 

Oxford Economics’ senior economist, Nancy Vanden Houten, has suggested that the Republicans’ legislative agenda would stall if they lost the House. 

“A Democrat-controlled House would, in our view, be a line of defense against further tax cuts, reduced entitlement spending and efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act,” she said. 

The economy has enjoyed an acceleration in growth this year — to a gain estimated to be 3 percent after deficit-funded tax cuts. Unemployment is at a 49-year low of 3.7 percent, and employers continue to post a record number of job openings. The economic expansion is already the second longest on record. 

But annual growth is widely expected to dip back to its long-term average of near 2 percent by 2020. It’s even possible that the economy could slip into a recession within a few years as growth inevitably stalls — for reasons unrelated to who controls the White House or Congress. A global slowdown could, for example, spill over into the United States. Or higher interest rates, spurred by the Federal Reserve, might depress economic activity. 

Trump would still have plenty of discretion on some key economic issues. His trade war with China and his drive to reduce regulations are two of them. The president has managed to pursue those priorities without Congress’ involvement, though his updated trade agreement with Canada and Mexico would need congressional approval. 

“Trade stuff is being done administratively; regulatory stuff is being done administratively,” said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, president of the right-of-center American Action Forum. “There’s just not that much on the table legislatively.” 

In an appearance this month at Harvard University, the House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi, outlined her agenda should her party regain the chamber’s majority and she the speakership. 

Within the first 100 days, Pelosi said, she would seek to reduce the influence of large campaign donors and groups that aren’t legally required to disclose their funding sources. She would also push for infrastructure funding — to rebuild roadways, rail stations or airports, for example — and seek protections for undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children, among other priorities. 

Any such initiatives, though, could be blocked by a Republican Senate, or by Trump. 

Budget and deficit issues will also surface after the election. Congress will most likely need to raise the government’s debt limit and approve spending packages before October 2019. And mandatory government spending caps are set to kick in for the 2020 fiscal year after having been suspended for two years. Those spending limits could dampen economic growth. 

Lewis Alexander, chief U.S. economist at Nomura, said Republicans might renew their focus on reducing the national debt, after having approved tax cuts last year that swelled annual budget deficits by $1.5 trillion over the next decade. 

Alexander noted that shrinking the deficit has historically become a higher priority when competing parties have controlled the White House and Congress. If the government seeks to pare the deficit, it could possibly slow the economy, which in the past year has been fueled in part by government spending. 

It’s likely Trump would blame Democrats if growth falters, just as he might absorb criticism for his economic stewardship as Democratic presidential campaigns accelerate into a higher gear. 

The hostile rhetoric makes it unlikely that Democrats and Republicans would join to pass any meaningful legislation for the economy, such as for infrastructure rebuilding.  

“The way parties are talking about it right now, I don’t think anybody is dying to cooperate,” said Michael Madowitz, chief economist at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank. 

Still, if Democrats regain the House, the president might feel pressure to produce some tangible legislative results ahead of his own quest for re-election in 2020. 

“Trump is the wild card here,” said Jason Rosenstock, a financial industry lobbyist with Thorn Run Partners. “He may want to be seen as a deal-cutter going into the 2020 election.” 

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