Iran Designates All US Troops in Middle East as Terrorists

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani signed a bill into law on Tuesday declaring all U.S. forces in the Middle East terrorists and calling the U.S. government a sponsor of terrorism.

The bill was passed by parliament last week in retaliation for President Donald Trump’s decision this month to designate Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards a foreign terrorist organization.

It was not clear what the impact of the new Iranian law might have on U.S. forces or their Middle East operations.

Rouhani instructed the ministry of intelligence, ministry of foreign affairs, the armed forces, and Iran’s supreme national security council to implement the law, state media reported.

The law specifically labels as a terrorist organization the United States Central Command (CENTCOM), which is responsible for U.S. military operations in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

“These two forces (Guards and CENTCOM) that are designated as terrorist groups reciprocally might confront (each other) in the Persian Gulf or any other region. The United States will surely be responsible for such a situation,” Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi was quoted as saying by state news agency IRNA on Tuesday.

The United States has already blacklisted dozens of entities and people for affiliations with the Guards, but until Trump’s decision not the organization as a whole.

Comprising an estimated 125,000-strong military with army, navy and air units, the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) also command the Basij, a religious volunteer paramilitary force, and control Iran’s ballistic missile programs. The Guards’ overseas Quds forces have fought Iran’s proxy wars in the region.

Long-tense relations between Tehran and Washington took a turn for the worse in May 2018 when Trump pulled out of a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers, reached before he took office, and reimposed sanctions.

Revolutionary Guards commanders have repeatedly said that U.S. bases in the Middle East and U.S. aircraft carriers in the Gulf are within range of Iranian missiles.

Rouhani said on Tuesday the Islamic Republic will continue to export oil despite U.S. sanctions aimed at reducing the country’s crude shipments to zero.

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Governments Prepare for May Day Protests Worldwide

Major cities around the world have ramped up security, increasing police presence and even using drones to monitor crowds expected at May Day rallies.

International Workers’ Day, which is commonly known as May Day, celebrates the international labor movement on the first day of May every year. It’s a national holiday in more than 80 countries around the world.

France, which has been recently rankled by violent anti-government yellow vest protests, plans to deploy more than 7,400 police and dozens of drones in Paris. 

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said there was a risk that “radical activists” could join anti-government yellow vest protesters and union workers Wednesday in the streets of Paris and across the country. He said the goal was to protect demonstrators with “legitimate aspirations” and defend Paris from calls on social media to make it “the capital of rioting.”

He said other cities around France were also on alert.

In Germany, more than 5,500 officers will be deployed in Berlin where protesters, led by the “1 May Revolutionaries,” have been for weeks calling on people to demonstrate. As many as 20,000 activists are expected to protest against gentrification in the eastern district of Friedrichshain.

Across the world in Jakarta, police spokesman Commander Argo Yuwono said there will be 1,500 personnel deployed for a protest in the Istora Senayan area and 25,000 for a protest near the State Palace. He said more than 40,000 protesters are expected to take to the streets of Indonesia’s capital.

Turkish police have barricaded Istanbul’s Taksim Square, where May Day demonstrations have been held for years. The square was blocked off even though city authorities denied permits for rallies there this year. Taksim Square gained notoriety on May Day in 1977, when 34 demonstrators were killed when shots were fired from a nearby building. Hundreds of others were injured, but no one has been brought to justice for the shooting. 

In Iran, 12 members of the Free Workers Trade Union of Iran have been arrested as they met to plan International Workers’ Day celebrations, local media reported. Iran does not recognize labor unions independent of government-sanctioned groups. 

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Democrats Vow to Enforce Subpoenas as Trump Resistance Grows

Democrats are steeling for a no-holds-barred fight with President Donald Trump as the White House ignores subpoenas, denies access to witnesses and otherwise stonewalls congressional oversight in the aftermath of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

In the latest case, Trump, his family and the Trump Organization have filed a lawsuit against Deutsche Bank and Capital One attempting to thwart congressional subpoenas into his financial and business dealings, asserting the requests are out of bounds.

That comes as Trump’s Treasury Secretary is declining to produce the president’s tax returns, Attorney General William Barr is threatening to back out of his agreement to appear this week before the Judiciary Committee and former White House Counsel Don McGahn and other officials are being told not to testify before Congress.

The standoff pits the legislative and executive branches in a constitutional showdown not seen since the Watergate era. Neither side is expected to back down. Trump says since Mueller finished his report of Russian interference into the election, there’s no further need to investigate. And while Democrats say it’s their duty to conduct oversight and are adamant that they will win in the end, they are also confronting the limits of their own enforcement powers.

“He’s prepared to fight us tooth and nail. And we’re prepared to fight him back,” said Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Ca., the chairwoman of the Financial Services Committee. “He obviously has something to hide.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is urging the committee chairmen to push forward with their oversight agendas, shelving for now calls from the left flank to launch impeachment hearings against Trump.

Congress has a range of tools available to try to force compliance from the White House, either through civil lawsuits compelling administration officials to testify or produce documents, or by holding others in contempt of Congress with fines or even, in rare cases, jail time.

On Tuesday, the chairman of the House intelligence committee, Adam Schiff, made a criminal referral to the Justice Department about Erik Prince, the founder of the security firm Blackwater, alleging he lied to the committee in 2017.

Schiff said Tuesday there is strong evidence that Prince, a prominent supporter of Trump, “willingly misled” the intelligence committee as it probed connections between Trump’s campaign and Russia.

“The evidence is so weighty that the Justice Department needs to consider this,” Schiff said.

Congress is buckling in for several actions in the aftermath of Mueller’s report, which did not find that Trump or his campaign knowingly conspired with Russia in the 2016 election. But the report pointedly did not clear the president of obstruction of justice and, in fact, recounted 10 instances where Trump tried to interfere with the investigation.

For lawmakers, their ability to conduct oversight of the White House is a core responsibility that extends beyond investigating the president into agency actions that can touch the lives of Americans.

“If the executive branch can deny the legislative branch the ability to bring witnesses to testify under oath and for the production of documents, the executive branch will have essentially eliminated the oversight function of Congress,” said Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., a member of the Judiciary Committee.

Yet while Democrats have vowed to go to court, those proceedings could last years, possibly past Trump’s tenure. And if they chose to hold officials in criminal contempt, which would take a vote of the full House, it would be referred to Department of Justice officials unlikely to side with the Democrats.


Some Democrats have thrown out other options: daily fines for not showing up, for example, or cutting appropriations for an official’s agency. But those ideas might not be politically popular.

There’s also an option that would be even more contentious and hasn’t been used in decades — trial and even imprisonment by Congress. Called “inherent contempt,” this process was often used in the country’s early years but hasn’t been employed in almost a century. While Democrats have vowed to use all of the available legal tools, they have shown no interest in going that far.

Despite drawbacks, Democrats say they will have to fight on multiple fronts to get the witnesses and documents they need.

“If you let them get away with this, then what do you have?” said House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings on Monday. “If the president can get away with blocking any information and anybody from testifying before the Congress, what road are we going down?”

Schiff and Waters, whose committees subpoenaed Deutsche Bank and others in April over the president’s finances, said in a joint statement that Trump’s “unprecedented stonewalling will not work.”

Schiff said he wants to know whether Russians used laundered money for transactions with the Trump Organization. Trump’s businesses have benefited from Russian investment over the years.

Eric Trump, executive vice president of The Trump Organization, called Democrats “deranged” and the subpoenas a form of “presidential harassment.”

In the other incident stemming from Schiff’s committee, Prince testified to the panel that a meeting in the Seychelles islands with a Russian with ties to President Vladimir Putin was a chance encounter.

Mueller’s report said investigators couldn’t iron out the “conflicting accounts” about the meeting. Prince told Mueller’s investigators that he had briefed Bannon about it, but Bannon told them they never discussed it. Part of the problem is that text messages between them were missing.

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France Ramps up Security Measures for May Day Protests

French authorities announced tight security measures for May Day demonstrations, with the interior minister saying there was a risk that “radical activists” could join anti-government yellow vest protesters and union workers Wednesday in the streets of Paris and across the country.

More than 7,400 police will be deployed, aided by drones to give them an overview of the protests and a quicker way to head off potential violence.

“Tomorrow, there is a risk,” said Interior Minister Christophe Castaner, adding that the goal is to protect demonstrators with “legitimate aspirations” and defend Paris from calls on social media to make it “the capital of rioting.”

Authorities fear that 1,000 to 2,000 “radical activists” could descend on the May Day marches, bolstered by people from outside France, he told a news conference. He said other cities around France were also on alert.

French police have banned demonstrations on the Champs-Elysees Avenue, around the presidential palace in Paris and near Notre Dame Cathedral, which was gutted by devastating fire on April 15.

Among a raft of other security measures, French police ordered over 580 shops, restaurants and cafes on the Paris protest route to close and plan to search demonstrators’ bags and carry out identity checks at departure points into Paris, including train and bus stations.

The main union protest on Wednesday runs from Montparnasse train station in Paris to the Place d’Italie station in southern Paris.

Castaner also told reporters that he had banned the arrival of several “foreigners identified as susceptible of coming to destroy.”

Paris has been scarred by looting, arson and violence during the past few months of yellow vest protests over economic grievances, and French authorities are haunted by the serious violence that has broken out at May Day demonstrations in the past two years.

Authorities are particularly wary of the black-clad, masked and hooded extremists who have joined recent protests with the express goal of attacking police and damaging property. They often target symbols of capitalism or globalization, and turned out in the hundreds at last year’s May Day protest.

French President Emmanuel Macron last week tried to address the complaints of the yellow vest movement by announcing tax cuts for middle-class workers and an increase in pensions.

But many yellow vests consider the government’s plans insufficient, and want to keep alive the movement that started in November to oppose a fuel tax and quickly expanded into broad public rejections of Macron’s economic policies.

The movement was named after the fluorescent jackets that French motorists are required to keep in their cars.

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Enigmatic Beluga Whale Off Norway Lets People Pet It

A beluga whale found in Arctic Norway wearing a harness that suggests links to a military facility in Russia is so tame that residents can pet the mammal on its nose.

The white whale found frolicking in the frigid harbor of Tufjord, a hamlet near Norway’s northernmost point, has become “a huge attraction” for locals, one resident said Tuesday. The whale is so comfortable with people that it swims to the dock and retrieves plastic rings thrown into the sea.

“The whale is so tame that when you call it, it comes to you,” said Linn Saether, adding the whale also reacts to yells and when humans splash their hands in the water.

She said when she throws out a plastic ring, the beluga whale brings it back to her as she sits on the dock.

“It is a fantastic experience, but we also see it as a tragedy. We can see that it has been trained to bring back stuff that is thrown at sea,” Saether, 37, told The Associated Press. 


The whale was found with a tight harness reading “Equipment St. Petersburg” in English. The hamlet has a dozen permanent residents and less than 100 people in the warmer season.

“The talk in this hamlet is that it could have escaped from a Russian military facility or even have swam from St. Petersburg, Florida, because of the English-language text,” Saether said.

It was not immediately known whether any of the dolphin and whale facilities in St. Petersburg, Florida, were missing a beluga whale. 


On Friday, a fisherman jumped into the frigid Arctic water to remove the harness, which has a mount for a camera, from the whale. It wasn’t clear why the strap was attached to the mammal.

Russian navy

Audun Rikardsen, a professor at the Department of Arctic and Marine Biology at the Arctic University of Norway in Tromsoe, northern Norway, said he believes “it is most likely that Russian Navy in Murmansk” was involved.

Murmansk is the headquarters for Russia’s Northern Fleet, the single most powerful fleet in the Russian navy. The city is located on the Kola Peninsula, in far northwestern Russia close to the Norwegian border.

Russian authorities did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the whale.

But Mikhail Barabanov, a Russian naval analyst at the Moscow-based Center for the Analysis of Strategies and Technologies think tank, downplayed any links to the Russian military.

“Even if there are military programs for using marine animals for navy purposes, they are unlikely to belugas, and such animals are unlikely to be released into the open ocean,” he told AP in an email. 


“I think that these Norwegian idiots simply robbed certain Petersburg zoologists” who were trying to track whales, Barabanov said. 

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Police: Kidnapped Nigerian Government Official and Daughter Freed

A Nigerian government official and his daughter kidnapped by gunmen on the main highway from the capital Abuja were freed a day later, police said Tuesday.

Mohammed Mahmoud Abubakar, chairman of Nigeria’s Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) which works to improve the quality of school teaching, was seized Monday afternoon along with his daughter.

Gunmen ambushed their car and killed their driver. Two other people in a different car were injured in the attack.

“Mohammed Mahmoud Abubakar, the Chairman of UBEC and his daughter, Yesmin Mohammed, who were kidnapped yesterday along Abuja-Kaduna expressway, have been released,” police said in a statement.

A man was arrested and an AK-47 automatic rifle seized, but no further details of the release were given.

There have been several recent attacks on the busy 189-kilometer (117-mile) highway between Abuja and Kaduna.

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White House, Democrats Agree on Price Tag for Infrastructure

There has been a rare instance of agreement between opposition Democrat leaders in Congress and the administration of President Donald Trump. The two sides are pledging to work together on creating a huge infrastructure package.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, standing alongside Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer outside the White House, told reporters they and the president on Tuesday agreed on a number — two trillion dollars in funding for infrastructure projects that will include fixing roads, bridges and waterways, as well as improving the power grid and broadband access.

“Building infrastructure of America has never been a bipartisan issue,” said Pelosi. “And we hope to go forward in a very non-partisan way for the future.”

The Democrats say they will meet again with the president in about three weeks to discuss how the infrastructure projects will be funded.

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Terror Attacks on the Rise in Burkina Faso

Violence fueled by extremists is on the rise in the West African nation of Burkina Faso and appears to be getting worse.

In April more than 65 people died in ethnic clashes inflamed by Islamist extremists seeking to gain a stronghold in the Sahel. On Sunday, four worshippers and a pastor were killed when gunmen targeted a church in the small northern town of Silgadji, local security sources said.

“What we fight against, what we see every day is like a toxin,” Lt. Col. Kanou Coulibaly of the Burkina Faso Armed Forces told VOA.

Use the arrows below to navigate to Carla Babb’s video reports from Burkina Faso.

Burkina Faso has seen more than 230 attacks in just over three years, and the United States is hoping local forces can increase pressure on the militants, even as the U.S. military decreases its force numbers in the region.

The attacks began shortly after the country elected its first new leader in decades, Roch Marc Christian Kabore, in 2015. 

U.S. Ambassador to Burkina Faso Andrew Young tells VOA that the violence has quickly spread across a nation virtually untouched by terrorism just a few years ago. 

“They’re trying to target the resilience of this community, which has lived in harmony for thousands of years. There are Muslims and Christians who are in the same family, and those terrorist groups (are trying) to break down a stable society and attack a fragile democracy,” Young said. 

Now, just as instability provided terrorists an opening to infiltrate in Iraq and Syria, Islamist groups are planting their flags in West African nations like Burkina Faso.

“We know that al-Qaida considers the Sahel right here to be a very important area for them to deliberately and quietly build infrastructure. They’ve been doing this for a number of years, and they’ve been fairly successful,” Air Force Maj. Gen. Marcus Hicks, the commander of U.S. Special Operations Command Africa, tells VOA.

Speaking on the sidelines of Flintlock, a major U.S.-led military exercise held in Burkina Faso involving more than 30 African and Western countries that ended in March, Hicks says, “At this time, we are not winning” the counterterrorism war in West Africa. 

Officials worry that if the terrorists win in Burkina Faso, the country could become a launchpad for terrorists to expand their influence to West Africa’s coast and beyond.

US, international training 

That’s why training exercises with Sahel nation forces are critical, Hicks says. African militaries learn skills ranging from how to plan operations to how to treat and evacuate the wounded.

Burkinabe Gendarmes First Lt. Robert Compaore says the newly honed skills make a big difference on the battlefield. 

In response to the uptick in violence, the U.S. embassy has tripled its funding to Burkina Faso for security assistance.

But instead of bringing in more troops, the U.S. is actually decreasing its numbers in West Africa. About 1,000 American troops will remain in the region, and Hicks says that’s still enough forces to help build local security partners. 

However, he does not recommend further cuts and has warned the terrorism threat will be “a long-term problem.”

The military is not the only security prong to receive U.S. and international training in Burkina Faso. The United States also funded training for law enforcement units who would likely serve as first responders to attacks in the capital, Ouagadougou.

“So we move from battlefield to custody, chain of custody, judicial process to accountability through the rule of law system. That’s the key to success in the long term,” Ambassador Young says.

But the U.S. Embassy’s Regional Security Officer Rosendo “Rosie” Cedeno says there is a major hitch in that system — terrorism cases are not going to trial. 

“So here in Burkina Faso, there are a lot of terrorism cases. And one of the challenges is that they haven’t been able to prosecute a case just yet,” Cedeno said.

Sources familiar with Burkinabe terrorism cases tell VOA there are about 400 cases involving nearly 200 terror suspects imprisoned in Burkina Faso with no trial date. 

The government of Burkina Faso has not replied to VOA requests for comment.

In response to the backlog, the U.S. embassy has sent a U.S. prosecutor from the Department of Justice to help build and try these cases. 

Education targeted in attacks 

The United Nations reports more than 100,000 people have been displaced this year in the Burkina Faso because of violence. The threat from jihadist violence is now so severe in Burkina Faso that is preventing about 5,000 teachers and 150,000 children from going to school.

“Any Burkinabe must be concerned because to destroy a country, you just need to destroy education,” education advocate Hawa Bissiri, of Burkina Faso’s IQRA Association, told VOA.

For displaced teacher Sia Michael, “It’s a matter of life and death.”

As he spoke to VOA at a local elementary school playground in the capital, he remembered the joy of his students before Islamic militants burned down his school and forced him to flee. 

“What are you going to do? You have to leave. Once they burn down the school, then your life is next,” he said.

The school closings have spread across the country’s east and north, where jihadists from neighboring Mali and Niger have spilled over the borders.

Opposed to Western education, the militants destroy some schools like Michael’s. Others are closed by teachers worried they’ll be targeted next.

Badina Joseph told VOA that Salafists showed up in December at his village near the country’s northern border with Mali and “warned teachers that if we did not move or start teaching in Arabic the following day, we better leave the village.”

He said the requirement was impossible since they didn’t speak the language, so teachers closed the schools and left before the holidays.

Officials are working to reopen some schools, but many fear children won’t attend as long as violence remains on the rise.

Mamadou Diop and Issa Napon contributed to this report.

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25 People Killed in Boko Haram Attack on Nigerian Village

Victims’ relatives say suspected Boko Haram extremists attacked a village in northeastern Nigeria, killing at least 25 people who had just returned home from a wedding.

Rebecca Malgwi says two of her brothers-in-law were killed in the attack on Kuda-Kaya village in Adamawa state on Monday night.

She says the attackers went from house to house. She says many people could not escape because the shooting came from all directions.

Former local government official Yahaya Muhammed confirms that 25 people were killed.

While there is no immediate claim of responsibility, Boko Haram is known for attacking villages in the area. The insurgent group is also active in neighboring Niger, Chad and Cameroon.

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Boeing Says Optional 737 MAX Alert Was ‘Not Activated as Intended’

Boeing Co said an alert for angle-of-attack (AOA) sensors on its 737 MAX jets was “not activated as intended” for some customers, responding to reports it failed to tell Southwest Airlines Co and the U.S regulator that the optional feature was deactivated before a crash in Indonesia in October.

Erroneous AOA sensor readings that led to aggressive nose-down inputs by a computer have been linked to deadly 737 MAX crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia, according to preliminary reports from investigators.

Boeing offered customers two optional paid features relating to AOA. The first was an AOA DISAGREE alert when the two sensors disagreed and the second was an indicator giving pilots a gauge of the actual angle.

Southwest, the largest 737 MAX customer, in November told Reuters the alert was installed and it planned to add the indicator as well following the Lion Air crash in Indonesia.

The Wall Street Journal on Sunday reported that unbeknown to Southwest and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the alerts were not activated on the carrier’s 737 MAX jets.

“After the Lion Air event, Southwest was notified by Boeing that the AOA disagree lights were inoperable without the optional AOA indicators on the MAX aircraft,” a Southwest spokesman said on Tuesday.

Boeing said on Monday that the disagree alert had been intended to be a standalone feature on the 737 MAX, but it was “not operable on all airplanes because the feature was not activated as intended.”

“The disagree alert was tied or linked into the angle-of-attack indicator, which is an optional feature on the MAX,” the manufacturer said in a statement. “Unless an airline opted for the angle-of-attack indicator, the disagree alert was not operable…Boeing did not intentionally or otherwise deactivate the disagree alert on its MAX airplanes.”

When Reuters contacted several 737 MAX operators about the optional features in November, only American Airlines and Singapore Airlines Ltd offshoot SilkAir confirmed they had installed both the alert and the indicator.

Canada’s WestJet Airlines Ltd and Dubai’s flydubai said they had installed the alert and Air Canada said it planned to install the indicator.

Boeing said the disagree alert was not considered a safety feature and was not necessary for the safe operation of the plane.

However, the company said following software modifications all new 737 MAX aircraft would have an activated and operable disagree alert and an optional angle-of-attack indicator, while current 737 MAX planes would have the ability to activate the disagree alert.

Boeing CEO and Chairman Dennis Muilenburg promised on Monday to win back the public’s trust after facing tough questions following the two crashes.

A FAA spokeswoman declined to comment.

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Survey: French Want Notre-Dame Rebuilt as it Was

A narrow majority of French people want the fire-ravaged Notre-Dame cathedral to be rebuilt exactly as it was, a survey said Tuesday.

As the French government prepares to push through legislation that aims to reconstruct the famous Paris landmark within five years, the poll showed that 54 percent of French people want it restored to just as it was before the devastating fire on April 15.

Only a quarter support the idea that the rebuilding should include a modern “architectural gesture” championed by French President Emmanuel Macron, while a further 21 percent of those surveyed by YouGov for two French media outlets had no opinion.

France has launched an international architectural competition for the reconstruction of the cathedral’s 19th-century spire, which collapsed into the nave during the inferno.

But Macron’s insistence on a speedy restoration of the Gothic masterpiece has raised the hackles of conservationists.

More than 1,100 French architects and heritage experts signed a open letter earlier this week warning the president of the dangers of taking hasty and “precipitous” decisions.

“Let’s take our time to find the right path and then set an ambitious deadline for an exemplary restoration,” they urged.

Donations to help rebuild the cathedral have poured in from around the globe, with the total now topping 850 million euros ($954,000).

The debate has now shifted as to how the Gothic cathedral should rise from the ashes.

Some argue for an exact historical restoration while others claim modern methods and techniques should be used on a building which has evolved over the centuries. Construction of the Paris landmark began in the mid-12th century

French MPs are poring over the new law which would relax tender and some heritage rules to help speed the restoration, and are likely to start debating it on May 10, a source told AFP.

The law would also give tax advantages to donors and set up a public body to oversee and carry out the work.

The YouGov online poll was done between April 26 and 29 on a sample of 1,010 French adults.

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New York Officials Hit Back at Trump Over NRA Gun-Rights Group

New York’s governor assailed President Donald Trump on Monday for backing the National Rifle Association in its dispute with the state, accusing the U.S. leader of being afraid of the powerful gun lobby.

Two days after a gunman sprayed a California synagogue with bullets, killing a worshipper, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo urged Trump to do more to stop gun deaths.

In a statement directed at the president, Cuomo said 74,600 Americans had died from gun violence since Trump was elected in November 2016.

“You have done nothing but tweet about it,” Cuomo said. “Unlike you, President Trump, New York is not afraid to stand up to the NRA.”

State Attorney General Letitia James on Saturday confirmed her office had issued subpoenas as part of an investigation related to the NRA. The New York Times reported the probe involved the group’s tax-exempt status.

“In any case we pursue, we will follow the facts wherever they may lead. We wish the President would share our respect for the law,” James said Monday.

The NRA annual meeting was roiled over the weekend after internal disputes spilled into the open with retired U.S. Marine Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North saying he would step down as NRA president. North said he was being forced out because of his allegations that NRA leaders engaged in financial improprieties.

New York efforts

The Republican Trump shifted the spotlight on Monday to Cuomo and James, Democratic officials in his home state, after divisions within NRA leadership surfaced, as evidenced by North’s ouster.

“The NRA is under siege by Cuomo and the New York State A.G., who are illegally using the State’s legal apparatus to take down and destroy this very important organization, & others,” Trump wrote on Twitter without providing evidence.

“It must get its act together quickly, stop the internal fighting,” Trump said of the NRA.

New York officials have run up against the gun advocacy organization as the state aims to tighten gun restrictions. The NRA last year sued Cuomo and the state’s financial regulator for engaging in what it said was a “blacklisting campaign” aimed at swaying banks and insurers to stop doing business with it.

The state legislature passed gun restrictions this year including prohibiting armed teachers in schools and extending waiting periods to buy guns.

NRA divisions

NRA Chief Executive Wayne LaPierre had accused North of trying to oust him by threatening to release “damaging” information about him, according to a letter from LaPierre to NRA board members that was published Friday by the Wall Street Journal.

North’s allegations included that LaPierre had received about $275,000 in wardrobe items paid for by an NRA vendor, the newspaper reported.

LaPierre emerged victorious, winning re-election from the NRA board on Monday as the group’s CEO and executive vice president.

The NRA, with more than 5 million members, is the most powerful and well-connected gun lobby in the United States.

NRA officials did not respond to a request for comment.

Trump has embraced the gun lobby, vowing not to tighten U.S. firearms laws and advocating proposals such as arming teachers as a way of preventing school shootings.

The NRA spent $30.3 million to support Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a group that tracks campaign spending.

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Pentagon Sending 300 More Troops to Southern Border

The Pentagon will send some 300 troops to the U.S.-Mexico border to help in tasks that will put them in contact with migrants, marking a break in current practice. 

A statement released Monday by the Department of Defense said the troops will provide administrative support, helping transport migrants, distributing meals and “monitoring” their welfare.  

The Pentagon said the deployment, which was requested by the Department of Homeland Security, will last until the end of September and cost about $7.4 million.

There are already about 2,900 active-duty troops and about 2,000 National Guard troops helping the DHS at the border. Until now, the troops have been forbidden to have direct contact with migrants as a way to emphasize that the military is not in a law enforcement role.

“DoD personnel will not perform any law enforcement functions,” Lt. Col. Jamie Davis said in a statement. “In any situation that requires DoD personnel to be in proximity to migrants, DHS law enforcement personnel will be present to conduct all custodial and law enforcement functions, and provide force protection of military personnel.”

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Minnesota Jury Deliberates Police Shooting Case

The fate of a Minneapolis police officer, who is charged with shooting and killing an unarmed woman, is now in the hands of a Minnesota jury after lawyers gave closing arguments at his trial. 


Mohamed Noor, a Somali American, is charged with killing Justine Ruszczyk Damond, a dual U.S.-Australian citizen, who had called police in 2017 when she heard a possible rape in the alley behind her home and minutes later approached Noor’s police car. 

Lawyers for Noor argued Monday that the officer was caught up in a “perfect storm” of events, including hearing a loud bang right before Damond appeared at his partner’s car window, followed by the partner struggling to pull out his gun in response to the noise. They said Noor “acted as he was trained. He acted as a reasonable police officer.”

Prosecutors said, however, that Noor acted unreasonably and should be held responsible for the death. They questioned the claim that he heard a loud noise before Damond approached the squad car, noting that neither Noor or his partner, Matthew Harrity, reported it until days after the shooting.

The shooting sparked outrage in both the United States and Australia and led to Minneapolis’ police chief losing her job.

Noor, 33, became a police officer in 2015, two years before the shooting. His hiring was hailed by Minneapolis leaders who wanted to diversify the police force in a city with a large population of Somali immigrants.

Following the shooting, Noor was fired from his job and charged with two counts of murder and one of count of manslaughter.

The judge told the jury Monday that they need to decide if Noor was justified in using deadly force based only on what he knew when he fired his gun.

The jury is made up of 10 men and two women, with half of the jurors being people of color. Jury members will be sequestered until they reach a verdict.

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South Sudan Mourns Veteran Journalist

South Sudanese are paying tribute to veteran journalist and politician Alfred Taban, who passed away over the weekend in Kampala, Uganda. 

Journalists who worked with him described Taban, 62, as a tireless advocate for freedom of expression in Sudan and South Sudan.

In 2000, Taban launched Sudan’s first independent newspaper, the Khartoum Monitor, and later renamed it the Juba Monitor after South Sudan seceded from Sudan in 2011.

He was appointed a member of parliament for Kajokeji in the National Assembly in 2017, and unsuccessfully contested the governor’s seat of the former Central Equatoria in 2010. 

South Sudanese commentators on social media remembered Taban as a freedom fighter, statesman, liberator and hero.

Called freedom fighter

His uncle, Professor Taban Lo Liyong, one of Africa’s most respected writers and poets, called his nephew a freedom fighter who criticized the government in Khartoum during the war, which led to South Sudan’s independence.

“He did help in the war, and he did fight the war in Khartoum. He even saved some journalists and other people who were caught by the system for having pointed out where the wrong things are done,” Lo Liyong said. “So, I am glad that Logune (Taban) had done his share of nation-building.” 

Chaplain Kara Yokoju, head of development communications at the University of Juba, described Taban as a man who spoke for the voiceless. 

“I remember him as being a fearless journalist who will tell the truth as it is, regardless of what the consequences (are). So, ever since he has been in Khartoum or even here (Juba), I used to come here and take pictures. Even when he was released from prison, I came here sometimes and had a chat with him. So, that is the memory that I will live with until the end.”

Taban was repeatedly detained by authorities in Khartoum for criticizing former President Omar al-Bashir. He was arrested in Juba in July 2016 for demanding President Salva Kiir and First Vice President Riek Machar step down because, according to him, both leaders failed to implement the August 2015 peace agreement. 

Anna Nimrano, editor-in-chief of the Juba Monitor, worked closely with Taban since the newspaper’s launch. She said his impact on the media in Sudan and South Sudan looms large.

“When he left (the) media, I really noticed that it is difficult to get somebody like him, because if there are other things going wrong in the country, there is nobody who stands strong like Alfred. Even the time when he was the chairperson of AMDISS (Association for Media Development in South Sudan), when anything happened to the media houses or journalists, you would see Alfred come immediately and put it in (the) media. But when we compare with the times now, many things happen to journalists.There is nobody coming forward like Alfred.”

Challenged other journalists

Irene Ayaa, an AMDISS official, fondly remembered the award-winning journalist.

“My favorite memory was when Alfred was having a meeting with AMDISS, and then he challenged us that we are cowards. He said for him, a journalist cannot be arrested and taken to jail and he is just enjoying his time at his home. He rather preferred him (Taban) to be arrested instead of a journalist.”

In 2006, Taban won theNational Endowment for Democracy Award, cited as “one of the leading nonviolent voices of Sudan’s dispossessed and marginalized communities, as well as an advocate for national reconciliation, human rights and democracy.”

He also won Britain’s House of Commons Press Gallery Speaker Abbot Award for “bravery in the face of personal risk, including torture, and for his commitment to bring to the wider world the horrors of Darfur.”

A social media campaign has been launched to raise money to pay Taban’s outstanding medical bills at the hospital in Kampala where he died, and to transport his body back to South Sudan for burial.

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Libya in Turmoil: A Journey Through Tripoli’s Tangled War

In a suburb of Tripoli on Monday, two gunshots ring out kilometers from where the fighting was the day before.

“Sounds close,” my colleague says, as a young man walking through a sandy lot ducks and runs. Around the corner, another man continues his stride as if nothing happened.

A police car pulls into the street, and officers who appear to be in their early 20s jump out, telling civilian cars to turn around. The road is now closed, they say, as military trucks fly by.

More police arrive quickly, telling us the battle is hot and we cannot go any closer. 

About three weeks ago, Khalifa Haftar, who leads Eastern forces known as the Libyan National Army, announced he would take the capital, Tripoli, by force. Since then, the U.N.-recognized government in the West, known as the Government of National Accord, has mostly held them at bay. 


But over the weekend, airstrikes hit Tripoli city and clashes intensified in the suburbs. By early afternoon Monday, the LNA overran a military camp, Yarmouk, just south of the city. By late afternoon, soldiers from the GNA said they had taken the area back.

Later in the day, airstrikes hit a restaurant near a prison, and fighting in another suburb began anew.

“They brought tanks, machine guns and anti-aircraft missiles,” says Mohammad Turkey, a GNA special forces soldier guarding a checkpoint in an abandoned neighborhood that was packed with residents only a month ago. Armored trucks, a few Humvees and pickup trucks carrying soldiers whip past the recently made berms as Turkey and his men keep civilians out of the battle zone.

A woman pulls up in a small white sedan and tells him that she wants to see if her nearby house is still standing, and unscathed.

“No one can go in,” says Turkey. 



Several kilometers inside the city, among breezy tree-lined streets, many of the people displaced by the conflict bunk at schools fashioned by local aid workers into displacement camps.

Men stay on the ground floor and women reside upstairs with the children, waiting for the battle to end. The U.N. says 42,000 civilians have been displaced, and at least 22 have been killed since the fighting began.

Twelve-year-old Takwa wears a white baseball cap over her long, curly ponytail. She can list the major players in this and three other complex Libyan wars she has lived through since 2011, when she was 4 years old.

This battle, she says, seems particularly brutal. Before she fled her home with her mother and siblings less than two weeks ago, three or four bullet holes pierced her bedroom wall.

“My 6-year-old brother pretends to shoot weapons,” she says. “We have no childhood.”

A few rooms over, Nadia Mohammad, 31, sits on a mattress on the ground in a pink T-shirt and soft pants. Her five children roam in and out of the room but don’t leave the floor. Nadia also remembers the details of every war, and every time they feared for their lives or for their livelihoods. 


Before 2011, when 40-year leader and strongman Col. Moammar Gadhafi was overthrown in a widespread uprising, life in Mohammad’s quiet suburb was stable and secure. She doesn’t name Haftar as her choice for successor, but she has doubts about Libya’s long-beleaguered peace process. 


Her country is now divided in two, with two separate governments leading armies that are coalitions of armed forces that not too long ago fought among themselves. Families like hers are often caught in the crossfire.

“In my opinion, we should have one leader, one boss and one everything,” Mohammad says. “The situation in these past years is not what we want.”

WATCH: Libya Battle Intensifies After Tripoli Airstrikes

​Decentralized government

Many of Tripoli’s local leaders and activists, however, have an opposite vision for the future. The goal, they say, is to unite the country and create a decentralized, democratic government, leaving behind Libya’s history of one-man-rule.

Peace talks that were scheduled in April may have moved the country closer to a unity agreement. But when Tripoli was attacked, negotiations stalled and the peace talks were canceled.

So far, the war has not turned out as Haftar planned. The swift takeover has turned into a drawn-out, violent stalemate. 

But efforts to build a functioning democratic system continue, says Nabil Mohammed el-Khamri, a civil society activist in Tripoli. Officials continue to hold municipal elections across the country, hoping to establish local governments in nearly every Libyan district. 


This, he says, will create a structure from which a national parliament and a head of state can be elected.

“The steps of creating a democratic system have been ongoing since 2011,” el-Khamri explains. “The problem is the decentralized government in the West and the centralized government in the East are crashing together.”

Asked if he hopes a government emerges that resembles established democratic systems like The Netherlands, England or France, el-Khamri says: “Libya will set a new way. Why should we not do it the way we see is right?”

Foreign meddling

Outside the Tripoli Ministry of Foreign Affairs the next morning, there is a sign that this idea could be popular. Protesters gather, demanding an end to foreign meddling in Libya — which is seen as hypocritical at best, and at worst, a direct assault on the nation.

“We have paid a lot of blood for our dreams,” says protester Jamal Harizi. “But the international community is not committed to our needs.”

The international community is divided, with some countries supporting Haftar, even though the U.N. supports the Tripoli government. The U.S. opposed the attack on Tripoli, but that position has been muddied by U.S. President Donald Trump’s well-publicized phone call with Haftar last week. 


At the berm on the outskirts of the battle, Turkey, the special forces soldier, says he has little interest in the tangled politics of his country. His duty, he tells us, is only to serve and to provide for his family.

“If I’m still alive after this, I will go back to my children,” he says. “If I die, they can be proud I died defending their homeland.” 

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Yazidis Divided Over Children Born of IS Rape

Days after declaring it would accept “all survivors,” the Supreme Yazidi Spiritual Council in Iraq said this weekend it will not take in the children of women raped by Islamic State (IS) militants. 

The recent decision has caused controversy and confusion in the Yazidi community, with some siding with the Yazidi Spiritual Council’s reversal, while others blame the clerical leadership for not being flexible in addressing the issue. 

Yazidis, a Kurdish-speaking religious minority, are viewed as heretics by the IS terror group. At its peak in 2014, IS fighters seized the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar, where tens of thousands of Yazidis lived. 

IS fighters killed scores of Yazidi men and enslaved several thousand women and girls in atrocities that amounted to genocide, according to the U.N. 

Yazidi women were taken as slaves, many of whom now have children by the IS men who raped them. 

‘Media distortion’

The Spiritual Council, which is the highest religious authority among Yazidis, said it encourages Yazidi women survivors to return with their children, but added, “We don’t mean those born of rape.”

“What was published by media outlets is a distortion, misrepresentation of facts, and is totally against the principles and tenets of the Yazidi religion and social norms,” said a statement signed by Hazim Tahseen Said, head of the Supreme Yazidi Spiritual Council.

The Yazidi faith does not recognize marriage between Yazidis and non-Yazidis. It does not allow conversion either.

The weekend clarification came after an initial statement issued last week by the Supreme Yazidi Council itself, which was widely interpreted as an official acceptance of children born to IS fathers. 

Mothers’ decisions 

Nobel laureate and former IS captive Nadia Murad has weighed in on the debate by proposing a more moderate solution.

“I know that this is a difficult decision. This is something new and hard for our people,” Murad said Sunday in a video posted on Facebook.

“I was in contact with many women. They told me they have been rescued, but are living in camps, mountains and other countries. They are afraid to return as they have been told that their children will not be accepted,” the Yazidi activist said. 

Murad added, “I believe this should be determined by the mothers of the children and their families, rather than the fact that some of us say [these women] should not bring their kids, while others say they should.”

Some activists say it’s unjustified to attack the Yazidi religious authorities for reversing their decision about the children.

“The Yazidi Spiritual Council reversed its decision because it came without a study and after knowing the consequences that might occur if it was implemented,” said Dawood Saleh, a Yazidi survivor who wrote a book on his experience during the IS onslaught on Yazidis in Sinjar.

Iraqi law

Experts said in addition to religious and social restrictions, another reason behind the official Yazidi refusal to take in these children is a national law in Iraq that requires children born to at least one Muslim parent to be identified as Muslims. 

According to Article (26) of the Iraqi national identity card law, which was adopted in 2015, a child born to one Muslim parent must be registered as a Muslim.

The article, however, does not mention rape as an exemption, and so far Iraqi authorities have made no exemption or amendment to the law.

Western pressure 

Some experts believe world powers could use their leverage over the Iraqi government to make amendments to this law. 

“Only U.S. and Western pressure on the Iraqi authorities might produce results,” said Jonathan Spyer, executive director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis. 

But “there seems little interest from the Western media in this” issue, he told VOA. 

Activist Saleh told VOA that it is necessary for the Yazidi community “to find a solution for those children who have become victims of the ISIS crimes.” ISIS is an acronym for the terror group. 

Last month, U.S.-backed Kurdish forces declared victory over IS after defeating the group in its last stronghold in eastern Syria. But there are nearly 3,100 Yazidi women and children still missing, according to rights groups.

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Six Killed in Church Attack in Northern Burkina Faso

Unidentified gunmen killed a pastor and five congregants at a Protestant church in northern Burkina Faso on Sunday, authorities said, the first attack on a church in a country that has seen an upsurge of Islamist violence this year.

Burkina Faso, which boasts of a history of religious tolerance, has been beset by a rise in attacks as groups based in neighboring Mali seek to extend their influence over the Sahel, the arid scrubland south of the Sahara.

The government declared a state of emergency in several northern provinces bordering Mali in December because of deadly Islamist attacks, including in Soum, the region where Sunday’s attack took place.

Spokesman Remy Fulgance Dandjinou said on Monday that the latest attack was the first to target a church in the majority Muslim country where religious groups have historically lived together peacefully and frequently intermarried.

“Armed groups…have every interest in troubling or going against the good understanding between religions. We have observed this strategy in other countries in the region and in the world,” said Rinaldo Depagne, West Africa Project Director at International Crisis Group.

Government spokesman Dandjinou told Reuters the attack took place in the commune of Silgadji. He said he was unable to provide more detail on the attack or the perpetrators.

Around 55 to 60 percent of Burkina Faso’s population is Muslim, roughly 20-25 percent are Christian and the rest follow indigenous regions, according to the U.S. State Department.

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Rains Pound Mozambique After Cyclone, Hampering Aid Deliveries

Kate Pound Dawson contributed to this report.

Rains continued to pound northern Mozambique Monday, hampering aid deliveries in the aftermath of Cyclone Kenneth, as the death toll from the storm rose to 38.

Rescuers said they used a brief break in the rain Monday to send one aid helicopter to the island of Ibo, where hundreds of homes were destroyed by the cyclone. They say conditions were too dangerous to allow a second flight to take off. 

Cyclone Kenneth hit Mozambique late Thursday with wind gusts up to 220 kilometers per hour (137 mph), the second deadly cyclone to strike the country in six weeks. 

Mozambique’s disaster management institute said Monday the death toll, previously at five, had risen as the country braced for more rain.

Claudio Juliaya, an emergency specialist for UNICEF, who is in the northern city of Pemba, told VOA “We have some areas that there is no access by road, it’s much too deep. We cannot reach by road, you can only reach either by plane or by boat.”

A spokeswoman for the U.N. World Food Program, Deborah Nguyen, said “It’s been raining hard since Sunday morning.” She added, “We are very worried because, according to the forecasts, heavy rain is expected for the next four days.” 

Mozambique’s national weather service said Monday afternoon that rain would continue in the area for at least the next 24 hours.

The rain is causing floods and landslides, and more rain will add more misery, cutting off roads that aid groups are using to transport urgently needed supplies, including food and medicine. 

Mozambique’s National Institute of Disaster Management said Sunday more than 23,000 people have no shelter and nearly 35,000 homes have been damaged or destroyed. 

Before reaching Mozambique, Kenneth swept over the island nation of Comoros, killing three people.

On Sunday, the U.N. released $13 million to “provide lifesaving food, shelter, health, water and sanitation assistance to people affected by Tropical Cyclone Kenneth.”   

Cyclone Idai smashed into southern Africa in mid-March and killed more than 1,000 people across Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Madagascar.

Juliaya said the new storm is making it harder for aid workers to carry out the recovery efforts from Cyclone Idai. 

“It is because most of the supplies that we’re bringing to respond to Kenneth are being moved from Beira, which were already pre-positioned to respond to the Idai situation,” said Juliaya.

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Analysts: Ouster of Sudanese Leader Hurts Ankara’s Regional Goals

The recent ouster of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir after decades in power is threatening a key Turkish strategic project on the Red Sea.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s close ties to Bashir lay at the heart of Ankara’s goals of expanding its influence and challenging Saudi Arabia in the region, and all could be in jeopardy, analysts warn.

Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy hastily issued a denial that its redevelopment of Sudan’s Suakin Island had been canceled by a transitional military council currently running the country. 

Suakin, located in the Red Sea close to Saudi Arabia, was once a key naval base of Turkey’s former Ottoman empire.

In 2017, Bashir and Erdogan agreed Turkey would redevelop the island, including a port and dock for civilian and military use.

Last week, Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, head of Sudan’s ruling military council, reaffirmed control of Suakin, describing it as an “inseparable part of Sudan.” Burhan appeared to rule out any Turkish military use of the island.

“Its value cannot be measured with a material price. Its history cannot be sold,” he said. “We emphasize that we care about the sovereignty of our territories. We will not accept the presence of a foreign military existence in Sudan.” 

Military base

While Turkey has never formally announced plans to build a naval base, pro-government media frequently report Suakin is a key part of Ankara’s policy of expanding military influence across the region and serving its expanding navy. 

Turkey already has established bases in nearby Qatar and Somalia.

“This [Suakin] is concerning Turkey’s wider strategic and security interests,” said international relations professor Huseyin Bagci of Ankara’s Middle East Technical University. “They just want a military base there [in the region], and Sudan was providing that opportunity. 

“But now, the cards are mixed up [with Bashir’s removal], and it will be difficult [to build a base on Suakin],” he said. “It [Suakin base] was definitely for Turkey and a big step forward to get a stronger position in Africa. But now, it will probably not be so. There is a big disappointment on the Turkish side, and the [Turkish] president’s statements prove that.”

Erdogan criticized the overthrow of what he described as the “democratically elected” Bashir; however, Bashir said Bashir’s removal “was aimed at Turkey.”

Pro-Turkish government media weighed in, with the Islamist Yeni Akit running the headline “Zionist Coup,” while Yeni Safak pointed at Riyadh, claiming Sudan’s new ruling military council was backed by Saudi Arabia.

Turkish, Saudi tensions

Bilateral tensions between Ankara and Riyadh are on the rise, exacerbated by a rivalry between Erdogan and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, analysts say.

Relations hit rock bottom following last year’s murder of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Saudi Arabia’s Istanbul consulate. Khashoggi was reportedly close to Erdogan.

Ankara’s development of Suakin should be viewed through a prism of escalating Saudi-Turkish regional rivalry, said Emre Caliskan of Oxford University’s international relations department.

“Turkey thinks that it’s positive for Turkish influence to have this island,” Caliskan said. “The Turkish opening in Sudan may secure political goals, political gains for Turkey.”

Caliskan argues that it’s not clear whether Ankara would follow through and build a major naval base on Suakin, but says the threat of a Turkish base near Saudi shores may be enough diplomatic leverage to unnerve Riyadh.

“Turkey wants to control the area [Red Sea]. This is a kind of reaction to Saudi Arabia,” he said. “Turkey sees the growing influence of Saudi Arabia or groups supported by the Saudis in Turkey’s back yard. So, Turkey is giving a reaction in the Red Sea area — ‘I am going to be an influence in your back yard, as long as you are going to be an influence in my back yard.'”

Ankara accuses Riyadh of supporting rival groups in Syria’s civil war, including Kurdish forces that Ankara says have links to an insurgency inside Turkey.

‘Bloc against Turkey’

Bagci warns that Erdogan’s loss of his close ally, Bashir, is a major blow to Turkish foreign policy.

“We have now Saudi Arabia, Gulf countries, Israel and Egypt as a bloc against Turkey,” Bagci said. “Only Qatar is on Turkey’s side and is not enough to play a much bigger role in the Middle East.

“Turkey loses, at the moment, influence in political, economic and security terms. This is not good for Turkish foreign policy as the rivalry is increasing with Saudi Arabia.”

In an apparent effort toward damage control, Ankara appears to be seeking to reach out to Khartoum.

“The demands of the Sudanese people are our demands,” said Omer Celik, head of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). “Sudan is a friendly and brotherly country. Our hope is that the Sudanese people will achieve their democratic aspirations and that Sudan will never experience an internal conflict.”

Some analysts warn, however, that given Ankara’s past support of Bashir, any Turkish diplomatic efforts to curry favor with Khartoum will be a struggle, especially given Riyadh’s likely opposition.

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Kosovo President Sees Washington As Key to Solve Conflict with Serbia

The United States is key to settling the ongoing conflict between Kosovo and Serbia, Kosovo President Hashim Thaci said on Monday, pointing to the inability of major European countries to reach a unified position on the issue.

The former Serb and predominantly ethnic Albanian republic of Kosovo declared its independence in 2008, almost a decade after a bloody war there.

It won recognition from the United States and most EU countries, but not from Serbia or its big power patron Russia, and relations between Belgrade and Kosovo remain tense.

“Without the U.S. we can never have any dialogue, negotiations or any agreement,” Thaci told Reuters TV in Berlin, adding: “The EU is not united in this process.”

Thaci was in Berlin to join a summit later on Monday on the Western Balkans, called by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron.

Thaci played down the expectations for the Berlin meeting saying: “I will not expect any miracle.”

It is crucial for Serbia to recognize Kosovo as an independent state, Thaci said.

“We will ask today Chancellor Merkel and President Macron to convince (Serb) President (Aleksandar) Vucic to recognize Kosovo”, Thaci said, adding that if that does not happen, “I think the meeting in Berlin will not be useful.”

Thaci stressed that Serbia tended to orient itself towards Russia but Kosovo wanted to be part of NATO and the European Union as soon as possible.

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Czechs Protest Justice Appointee, Fear Meddling in PM’s Case

Thousands protested around the Czech Republic on Monday against a justice minister nominee they fear might meddle with a criminal case involving the prime minister.

President Milos Zeman will appoint Marie Benesova on Tuesday after the resignation of her predecessor, bringing opposition accusations of pressure on courts as Andrej Babis faces a potential fraud trial over European Union subsidies more than a decade ago.

Babis, a billionaire media and chemicals businessman before entering politics, has repeatedly denied wrongdoing and has called the investigation a plot to force him out of politics.

Czech police said on April 17 that Babis and others should stand trial for the alleged fraud involving the handling of a 2 million euro EU subsidy — charges that could see the prime minister jailed for up to 10 years.

Justice Minister Jan Knezinek resigned the day after the police wrapped up their investigation. Babis said Knezinek’s position had only been intended to be temporary. His departure came amid a wider cabinet shuffle.

On Monday, protesters marched from the Prague Castle, the seat of the Czech president, through the capital’s medieval centre to the Old Town Square. Marchers chanted “We have had enough” and organizers carried banners saying “Justice.” The website of daily Mlada Fronta Dnes reported 10,000 demonstrated in the capital.

In the country’s second largest city, Brno, around 3,000 marched, according to estimates of news website Czech Television reported protesters turned out in 105 spots in the country of 10.6 million.

Benesova had previously served in a caretaker cabinet in 2013, appointed by President Zeman – who has backed Babis. She was the top state attorney, appointed by a Zeman-led government in 1999.

She supported Babis in 2017 when she abstained in a lower house vote on lifting his parliamentary immunity.

Despite the investigation, Babis’s ANO party maintains a firm poll lead after sweeping to power in a 2017 election when it won three times the votes of its nearest competitor with pledges to end politics as usual and bring a businessman’s touch to governance.

Babis, the country’s second richest person, has long fought accusations of conflicts of interest because of his vast business interests. He put his Agrofert business empire into trusts in 2017 to meet new Czech legislation.

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Spain’s Fractures Laid Bare as Socialists Win, Far Right Gain First Seats

Spain’s ruling Socialist party has won Sunday’s general election with around 29% of the vote – and Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez is set to begin coalition talks to try to form a government. Meanwhile, for the first time since the regime of fascist dictator Francisco Franco ended in the mid-1970s, a far-right party will hold seats in the Spanish parliament. Henry Ridgwell reports.

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US Service Member Dies in Non-Combat Incident in Syria

The U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group says a U.S. service member has died in a non-combat incident in northern Syria.

The coalition’s statement gave no other details pending notification of next of kin but said the death occurred on Monday. It said further information will be released as appropriate.


The U.S. military currently has around 2,000 troops stationed in northern Syria, where they have been for several years, assisting and advising its local partners in the fight against IS.


President Donald Trump said in December he intended to withdraw all American forces from Syria, although the White House said later the U.S. will keep 200 troops in the country for now.


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