US Draws Eritrea Closer With Removal From Terror List

The United States has removed Eritrea from a list of countries uncooperative in the fight against terrorism, the latest in a series of diplomatic victories for the East African nation.

The U.S. State Department first placed Eritrea on a list of countries not cooperating fully with its anti-terrorism efforts in 2008. A year later, the country also faced U.N. sanctions for allegations that it supported al-Shabab, a terror group based in Somalia. 

Until Wednesday, Eritrea was the only African country on the list, and it found itself alongside such pariah nations as Syria, North Korea and Iran. But government officials have long denied supporting terror groups, and a U.N. monitoring group was, for many years, unable to find evidence that Eritrea was backing al-Shabab.

Eritrean Minister of Information Yemane Gebremeskel took to Twitter to praise the change:

Herman Cohen, a former U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs, hopes the U.S. will take this opportunity to forge closer ties with Eritrea. “We should see Eritrea as a friendly, crucial strategic country, and we should take advantage of it and give them assistance in the economic area because they are looking to modernize their economy,” he told VOA. 

Cohen also said the country’s location on the Red Sea, near Yemen and Gulf states, makes it an important military partner. “It’s very important to have military people there who can observe what is going on in that very volatile, crucial area,” Cohen said. “We used to have a military station in Asmara, the capital of Eritrea. I think it would be wonderful now if we could restore that.”

The move is the latest thawing of hostilities between Eritrea and the rest of the world. Last year, Eritrea and Ethiopia announced an end to a 20-year dispute over their border, and the U.N. Security Council lifted sanctions on the country. And in March, a U.S. congressional delegation made the first such diplomatic visit to the country in 14 years. 

Awet Weldemichael, an associate professor of history and global development studies at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, said Eritrea’s removal from the list is a symbolic gesture, but U.N. sanctions, which lasted nearly a decade, had a more tangible impact on the country.

“[The sanctions were] consequential for Eritrea because [of] the restrictions on the use of the U.S. dollar and close scrutiny of its foreign transactions (that had previously been carried out in U.S. dollars) severely hampered the country’s foreign transactions, even for legitimate and peaceful purposes,” Weldemichael said in an email. 

Since 2015, Weldemichael said, Eritrea has allowed Saudi and United Arab Emirates forces to use an Eritrea naval and air base to launch strikes against rebel forces in Yemen. This too may have raised the country’s status as a valuable military partner in the eyes of the U.S., he added. 

“There is already serious and consequential cooperation going on by proxy,” he said of the U.S.-Eritrea partnership.

Eritrea remains a tightly controlled nation, without a democratically elected government and with severe restrictions on freedom of speech and religion. Thousands of young people have fled the country to avoid mandatory, indefinite military service.

But Cohen believes the country’s economy is improving, pointing to increased activity at the ports of Massawa and Assab, the potential for cross-border trade with Ethiopia, and the nation’s rich mineral wealth.

“Generally speaking, there is an upsurge of economic activity that’s going on now. More mining companies are coming into Eritrea,” Cohen said. “They have a very, very big mining potential. So now that the tensions have diminished and the hostility is diminished, I think things should really expand nicely.”

your ad here

South Sudan Reacts Angrily to Renewed UNSC Sanctions

South Sudan’s government is reacting angrily to the United Nations Security Council’s move to renew sanctions on that country for another year, including an arms embargo. A South Sudan official warned continuing sanctions would weaken the government and embolden holdout groups that refused to sign the revitalized peace deal.

After repeated failed attempts, the Security Council imposed sanctions on South Sudan last year following five years of fighting that caused hundreds of thousands of deaths and massive displacement of civilians.

The council said the decision will pressure the government to implement the accord. 

South Sudan Information Minister Michael Makuei said Friday that the 10 Council members who voted in favor of the sanctions oppose peace in the country.

“These are people who do not want peace for South Sudan. The rebels are there, we have agreed but still there are rebels who are fighting the government and if you apply the arms embargo on the government of South Sudan, it means that you are actually paving the way for the rebels who have not signed the agreement,” Makuei told VOA’s South Sudan in Focus.

“It is being used as a weapon against the government of South Sudan so that it is weakened. Then definitely that is not acceptable because after all, not all the opposition groups have signed the agreement. Any arms embargo at this time is an anti-peace movement so that people go back into crisis again,” Makuei also said.

Makuei said the government of President Salva Kiir is implementing the agreement and has rights as a sovereign country to acquire its own arms.

“When you talk of arms embargo, you don’t just apply the arms embargo because you are fighting someone whether outside or inside but for your own protection and self-defense, you have the right to acquire arms as the government,” said Makuei.

Juba resident Bidal Peter said continuing the sanctions will save innocent lives.

“South Sudanese are killing themselves with the guns that are bought, especially the finances [funding given to South Sudan] which are supposed to help the people of South Sudan are going for weapons and people are dying,” Peter told South Sudan in Focus.

Five countries abstained from the vote, including three from Africa.

Aly Verjee, a researcher at the Washington-based U.S. Institute of Peace, said there clearly is a signal coming from the region. 

“No IGAD [Intergovernmental Authority on Development] country is publicly in favor of the arms embargo and the African members of the Security Council tend to follow the regional organization’s lead. They all cite the ongoing progress in the peace process but I think they ignored the symbolic value and the practical value of the sanctions regime,” Verjee told South Sudan in Focus.

your ad here

UN Habitat Assembly Calls for Innovations

Africa’s population is expected to more than double by 2050, meaning there will be an increasing need for housing on the continent. The United Nations is asking urban planners to come up with innovative solutions to the problem. At the U.N. Habitat Assembly, which ended Friday, VOA met two innovators who think they may have solutions to some of the urban challenges.

your ad here

Saudi King Salman Urges International Effort to Thwart Iran

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman opened an emergency summit of Gulf Arab leaders in the holy city of Mecca on Thursday with a call for the international community to use all means to confront Iran, but he also said the kingdom extends its hand for peace.

King Salman was speaking at the first of three high-level summits in Mecca that were hastily convened after a spike in tensions between Saudi Arabia and its rival Iran. That King Salman could bring regional leaders and heads of state to Mecca so rapidly reflects the kingdom’s weight in the region and its desire to project a unified Muslim and Arab position on Iran.

Tensions have also spiked between Tehran and Washington in recent weeks, with the U.S. sending an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers to the Persian Gulf. The crisis is rooted in last year’s decision by the Trump administration to withdraw from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers.

Speaking at a gathering of the Gulf Cooperation Council, King Salman said the alleged sabotage of four oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates and a drone attack on a key Saudi oil pipeline earlier this month requires “serious efforts to protect the security and the gains” of the six energy-rich Arab nations.

Iran denies being involved in the attacks.

The king called on the international community to thwart Iran’s behaviors “and using all means to stop the Iranian regime from interfering in the internal affairs of other countries, harboring global and regional terrorist entities and threatening international waterways.”

He added that Saudi Arabia remains committed to extending its hand for peace and prosperity of the region.

Attending Thursday night’s GCC summit were the leaders of Kuwait and Bahrain, as well as senior officials from the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Qatar.

That meeting will be immediately followed with an emergency summit of the 22-nation Arab League, minus Syria whose membership remains suspended.

Putting forth a unified position on Iran, however, faces many obstacles. Within the once clubby GCC, there are major differences between countries regarding Iran. Oman, for example, has relations with both Saudi Arabia and Iran and acts as a facilitator of talks.

Qatar, meanwhile, is facing a blockade by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt over its foreign policies. The diplomatic standoff has pushed Qatar closer to Iran.

Qatar’s Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser Al Thani’s attended the Mecca summits on Thursday, marking the highest-level visit to Saudi Arabia by a Qatari official since the 2017 rift erupted.

As the Gulf leaders gathered to begin their meeting, Al Thani shook hands with his host, King Salman, but was not seen making any eye contact with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed or Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman very quickly shook the Qatari royal’s hand, but they did not appear to exchange words.

Washington has tried unsuccessfully to mediate an end to the diplomatic standoff between its Gulf Arab allies. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said Thursday the U.S. welcomes Saudi efforts to discuss Iranian threats in the region.

“Gulf unity is essential in confronting Iran, to confronting their influence, to countering terrorism writ large, and, of course, to ensuring a prosperous future for the Gulf,” she said.

Another summit is expected on Friday, focusing largely on Palestinian statehood and independence. It will bring together leaders from the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation, which is headquartered in Saudi Arabia.

Upon their arrival at the airport in Saudi Arabia, leaders were shown Yemeni rebel military items, such as a destroyed drone, missiles and mortar shells used in the conflict with the Saudis. They were given a brief explanation of the weapons on display by Col. Turki al-Maliki, spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition at war in Yemen.

Saudi Arabia accuses Tehran of helping arm the rebel Houthis and being behind the Houthi drone attack on a key Saudi oil pipeline earlier this month.

Earlier on Thursday, Saudi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Assaf urged Muslim nations to confront with “all means of force and firmness” the recent attacks.

An Iranian official was at the preparatory OIC meeting where al-Assaf spoke Thursday, but Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif did not attend.

The summits coincide with the final days of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, a time of intense worship when Muslims believe the Quran was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad some 1,400 years ago.

Saudi Arabia will seek to use to the optics of the Mecca gatherings to send a clear and powerful message to Iran, which itself is also a member of the OIC.

Among the heads of state gathered in Mecca are Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah Al Sabah, and Abdel-Fattah Burhan, the head of Sudan’s ruling military council.

It marks the first international conference for Burhan since the ouster of longtime leader Omar al-Bashir from power in April.

Also participating is Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, whose country has uneasy ties with Saudi Arabia, particularly after the killing of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul last year.

Al-Assaf’s comments on Iran appeared to mirror remarks made by President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, who warned Iran on Wednesday that any attacks in the Persian Gulf will draw a “very strong response” from the U.S.

Meanwhile, Trump said this week the U.S. wasn’t “looking to hurt Iran at all.” During a visit to Tokyo this week, Trump appeared to welcome negotiations with Iran.

“We’re not looking for regime change — I just want to make that clear,” Trump said. “We’re looking for no nuclear weapons.”

Also on Wednesday, acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said some 900 troops would be deployed to Qatar and Saudi Arabia to reinforce the tens of thousands already in the Middle East. Another 600 have had their deployment in the region extended.

It’s unclear how many of those troops would be sent to Saudi Arabia. Sending a large number of troops to Saudi Arabia could potentially spark a backlash from Muslims around the world because the country is also home to Islam’s two holiest sites in Mecca and Medina.

Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida launched the Sept. 11 attacks, in part over America’s military presence in the kingdom.

The late King Abdullah refused to allow U.S. bases in Saudi Arabia for the Iraq invasion in 2003, though he permitted them during the first Gulf War in 1991.

your ad here

Protesters in Iran, Iraq Burn Israel, US Flags on ‘Quds Day’

Iranians in the capital Tehran set fire to effigies of U.S. President Donald Trump, while in the Iraqi capital, Iran-backed militiamen marched over a large Israeli flag as part of rallies Friday marking Quds, or Jerusalem Day. The annual protests come as the Trump administration tries to market its long-awaited Israeli-Palestinian peace plan.

Held each year on the last Friday of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan, Iran has marked Quds Day since the start of its 1979 Islamic Revolution by the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Al-Quds is the Arabic name for Jerusalem, and Iran says the day is an occasion to express support for the Palestinians.

Israel views Iran as its archenemy in the Mideast. Iran does not recognize Israel and supports the militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah.

This year’s protests took place as the White House is promoting the June 25-26 meeting in the Gulf state of Bahrain as the first phase of its Mideast peace plan. That plan, whose specifics have yet to be released, supposedly includes large-scale investment and infrastructure work in the Palestinian territories, much of it funded by wealthy Arab countries.

The plan’s political vision has not been outlined, but glimpses of the plan suggest it sidelines or ignores the longstanding goal of independence and has already been rejected by Palestinian leaders and much of the Arab world.

Palestinian leaders say they won’t attend the summit in Bahrain. American officials say the Bahrain conference will not include the core political issues of the conflict: borders of a Palestinian state, the status of Jerusalem, the fate of Palestinian refugees or Israeli security demands.

As rallies began across the Iranian capital, demonstrators set fire to American and Israeli flags, as well as effigies of President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The rallies all headed to Tehran University, where the ceremony ended at Friday’s noon prayers. Similar rallies took place in 950 cities and towns across the country.

Many high-ranking Iranian officials attending the rally in Tehran, including President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. Both men derided the Trump administration’s so-called “Deal of the Century” peace plan, saying it would end in failure.

During the rally in Tehran, Zarif said: “It is unfortunate that some Arab leaders have this illusion that if they stand beside Netanyahu, they can reach their goals.” The remarks were carried by a Telegram channel affiliated with Iran’s state TV.

Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency said police in the western province of Kordestan had blocked a terrorist operation ahead of the Quds Day rally in Sanandaj city. Three alleged militants were arrested, though the report did not specify where they were captured or their affiliation.

In Iraq, hundreds of Shiite militiamen held a military parade on Palestine Street in central Baghdad, some of them setting fire to Israeli and U.S. flags.

“The people in our region and the world are harassed by Trump’s and the United States’ polices, which are trying to dominate the will of the people. Today, there is a broad rejection of Trump’s decision to annex Jerusalem and consider it the capital of Israel,” said Moin al-Kazemi, leader of the Iranian-backed Badr movement.

The rally was organized by Iranian-backed militias collectively known as the Popular Mobilization Forces. Militiamen in uniform marched with yellow flags, escorted by Iraqi federal police cars. “We will pray in Quds,” read some of the banners.

In the Syrian capital Damascus, a few hundred Syrians and Palestinians marked Quds Day by marching from the Hamidiyeh bazar in the old city to the landmark Umayyad Mosque, some of them shouting anti-Israel slogans and waving Syrian and Palestinian flags.

“No to the deal of the century,” a banner read. “Our Palestinian people and the freemen of the Arab nation will thwart the deal of the century.”

your ad here

More Somali Refugees Return Home as Conditions in Yemen Worsen

A boat with 125 Somali refugees fleeing insecurity in Yemen arrived in the Somali port of Berbera Thursday. The voyage was organized by the U.N. refugee agency and partners in cooperation with authorities in Yemen and Somalia.

This is the 33rd departure of Somali refugees from Yemen since the U.N. refugee agency and humanitarian partners began the so-called Assisted Spontaneous Return program in 2017. To date, nearly 4,300 Somali refugees have returned home.

Yemen is still hosting a quarter-million Somali refugees, who fled there to escape conflict and drought in their country. The security they once found in Yemen has vanished. Four years of civil war in Yemen has turned that country into what the United Nations calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Refugees are feeling increasingly insecure and fearful for their lives as conditions in Yemen deteriorate.

U.N. refugee spokesman Babar Baloch says many refugees face hardship and lack access to basic services. He tells VOA they feel insecure and want to leave.

“With the conflict going on in Yemen … refugees have been targeted,” he said. “We just recently last week announced civilian casualties, including refugees. Life is becoming tough and as the situation inside Yemen is worsening, many of these refugees are coming forward to be helped to return home.”

Inside Yemen, Baloch says the UNHCR and partners help Somali refugees gather the documents they need, and provide transportation and financial support to facilitate their journey home.

When they arrive in Somalia, he says the returnees receive assistance to re-integrate into their communities and to help them get started in their new lives.

Baloch says it is up to the returnees where they want to go. Some go to home villages. Others find it is too unsafe and go to Mogadishu to see if they can start a new life.

He acknowledges that Somalia still has its own problems with conflict, instability and drought — the factors that drove many Somalis to Yemen in the first place.

your ad here

Al-Jazeera Says Sudan Shut Down Bureau Amid Sit-In Threat

The satellite news channel Al-Jazeera said Friday that Sudan shut down its bureau, just as the country’s military government warned that the Khartoum sit-in that helped bring about former ruler Omar al-Bashir’s ouster had “become a threat to the revolution.”

The threat against the sit-in comes as civilian forces and the military remain divided on how much power soldiers should have in a transitional government. The protesters demand “limited military representation” on the council but the ruling generals refuse to relinquish power.


It remains unclear whether the military will use recent clashes at the sit-in as an excuse to clear the demonstrations. However, protesters have threatened to launch a civil disobedience campaign over the ongoing deadlock.


In a statement, Al-Jazeera said authorities shut down its Khartoum bureau and banned its journalists from reporting.


“The network sees this as an attack on media freedom, professional journalism, and the basic tenets of the right for people to know and understand the reality of what is happening in Sudan,” Al-Jazeera said in a statement early Friday.


There was no official acknowledgement of the closure from Sudan’s government.


The Qatar-funded satellite network has long drawn the ire of Egypt, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the four nations now locked in a nearly two-year boycott of Doha over a political dispute. They accuse its Arabic-language services of stirring dissent and backing Islamists, whom the nations largely see as a threat to their own governments.


Al-Jazeera long has maintained its network abides by “established global standards of professionalism.” Its English-language service rivals the BBC for its scope.


“Al Jazeera is committed to the truth and providing a venue for the multiple sides of any issue, story, or event and will not be intimidated by the Sudanese authorities,” the network said.


Islamists backed al-Bashir in the 1989 coup that brought him to power. The military announced in April the end of al-Bashir’s 30-year rule in Sudan after weeks of sit-ins and protests ground the country to a halt.


Many of the Gulf nations that long aided al-Bashir offered only tepid support before his ouster. That’s even as a Saudi-led coalition fighting Yemen’s Houthi rebels relies on Sudanese ground forces.


The UAE and Saudi Arabia have since provided $3 billion in aid to shore up the military council. The UAE also has hosted Sudanese opposition and rebel groups for talks with the military on joining a transitional government.


Meanwhile, the large sit-in continues in Khartoum. The Sudanese Doctors’ Committee said Thursday that security forces killed a 20-year-old man near the sit-in. A day earlier, a gunfight between security forces also erupted near the sit-in, killing a female street vendor by mistake. The military said a drunken soldier had opened fire Wednesday, killing the woman and wounding two others, including a solider.


Speaking late Thursday night, Maj. Gen. Othman Hamed of Sudan’s paramilitary Rapid Support Forces accused the sit-in of attracting prostitutes and hashish sellers. He also said demonstrators had thrown stones at soldiers.


The sit-in has become a hub for all kind of criminal acts, and has become unsafe place and has become a threat to the revolution and the revolutionaries, and is threat to the national security of the state,'' Hamed said.Therefore, we at the Rapid Support Forces in coordination with other security forces who are responsible to restore the safety of the citizens to carry out legal procedures to stop these violations and this behavior.”


He did not elaborate on what that would mean for peaceful demonstrators.


The Sudanese foreign ministry issued an alert to all foreign embassies as well as international organizations operating in Sudan asking their staff to avoid the sit-in premises in Khartoum and all protest sites across the country “for the sake of their own safety and security.”


The Rapid Support Forces has its roots in Sudan’s Janjaweed militias, which have been accused of genocide in the Darfur region. In 2003 and 2004, those militias torched villages, killing and raping civilians. Their rampaged killed some 300,000 people and saw 2.7 million forcibly displaced.


However, both the Sudanese army and the Rapid Support Forces both refused earlier orders from al-Bashir to clear out the sit-in.


At the end of the Arab Spring uprisings in 2011, governments like Bahrain and Egypt used force to clear similar sit-ins.

your ad here

US Secretary of State Discusses Iran with German Officials

In his first visit to Germany as the U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo is meeting Friday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin.

Earlier, speaking to reporters at a joint press conference with his German counterpart Heiko Maas after their meeting, Pompeo said that Washington would not stand in the way of INSTEX, a system Europeans are developing to protect companies from American sanctions if they deal with Iran.

The system is intended to process payment regarding legal businesses, from medicines to aid services and other goods, which are permitted under sanctions regimen.

INSTEX is not yet up and running, but Europeans hope to have it functioning by this summer.

Maas said that even though the U.S. had withdrawn from the Iran agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), its goal remained the same.

Pompeo’s stop in Berlin makes up for a visit that he abruptly called off in early May to fly to Iraq. It is the first of his four-nation European trip, during which he also will visit Switzerland and the Netherlands before joining President Donald Trump on his state visit to Britain.

your ad here

US Farmers Caught in ‘Perfect Storm’ of Trade, Weather

The constant beat of rain upon the metal roof of Megan Dwyer’s barn on her rural Illinois farm is an all-too-familiar and unwelcome sound at this time of year.

“We picked up another 8/10ths (2 cm) last night,” she told VOA, competing to be heard over the noise created by the constant downpour on the barn. “We’ve probably picked up another 3 or 4 this morning.”

It has been one of the wettest planting seasons 30-year-old Dwyer has ever experienced.

“Ideally we’d like to be done planted with corn and have a good chunk of our beans in, and we’re maybe 5% planted in total right now,” she said.

And there’s no relief in sight.

​One of the wettest 12 months

Continued rainfall across the Midwest extended a trend resulting in one of the wettest 12-month cycles on record in the United States. Prime farmland across the country continues to struggle with flooding and poor conditions for planting, among other issues.

At the end of May, Illinois farmers had about 35% of their crops planted, a dramatic contrast to an average of 95% in past years at the same time.

Dwyer is among many nationwide who have to make a decision soon — plant very late and hope it grows in time. Or, says Dwyer, “You’ve got the prevented plant option, which is where you don’t put a crop in at all.”

The “prevented plant option” is a crop insurance claim payout meant to help farmers deal with the loss of income because of poor planting weather, an option that is rarely used.

​Stressful year gets more stressful

“People are trying to figure out how they’re going to make some money, how they’re going to pay the bills,” said Illinois Farm Bureau National Legislative Director Adam Nielsen. He added that the continued rainfall is creating a perfect economic storm for those already dealing with five consecutive years of negative farm income.

“It would be normally a very stressful year to begin with. But when you add the fact that we’re now entering year 2 of a trade war, and a lot of our markets are closed off to us, that adds a higher level anxiety right now. And that’s what our members are feeling,” he said.

The recent breakdown in trade negotiations between the United States and China has only added to Dwyer’s problems.

“Sixty percent of our soybeans get exported. For us, two-thirds of our soybeans, so more than that. And our end user is China, so there is a lot of uncertainty around where this product is going to go,” said Dwyer, who has been tending to the cattle on her farm in the time she has free because of the deluge that has left her farm soggy, muddy and bare.

“The rain on top of that, and the flooding, and not being able to get barges and river traffic through — nobody can even move the product, even if there was a buyer,” she said. “It’s pretty scary and uncertain times.”

​Trump offer a dilemma

President Donald Trump’s promise to compensate farmers through another proposed U.S. Department of Agriculture aid package estimated at $16 billion this year may provide some relief for farmers.

“For me, I don’t want it,” Dwyer explained. “I’d rather have markets and access to a real place for my product to go.”

But Dwyer, like most farmers, is realistically left with little choice but to accept the aid to help make ends meet to help the farm survive to plant another day. But with the aid, comes stigma, Dwyer said.

“I’ve seen several comments, ‘Farmers are just looking for welfare.’ We’re looking for a handout. We’re waiting for the government to pay for us to do this. And that’s not at all what happens. We’re doing it so we can put food on our table, and have a crop and product to share with the rest of the country and the world,” she said.

But before there can be a product to share, there needs to be clear skies and warmth to dry out Dwyer’s fields so she can plant.

At least in the short term, the weather forecast isn’t providing much hope.

your ad here

Hungarian Rescue Crews to Raise Tourist Boat from River

Rescue crews in Budapest Friday are working to raise a sightseeing boat from the bottom of the Danube River, while searching for 21 people still missing after a cruise ship collided with the smaller tour boat late Wednesday.

Seven people are confirmed dead and seven have been rescued All but two people on the boat were South Korean tourists.

Hungary’s state TV reported that all rescued people have been released from the hospital except one who is being treated for broken ribs.

Hungarian police arrested the Ukrainian captain of the Viking cruise ship, identifying him as Yuriy C.

Police say he is suspected of “endangering waterborne traffic resulting in multiple deaths.”

Investigators say the Viking ship and the tour boat, Mermaid, were sailing side-by-side on the Danube in central Budapest when both vessels arrived at pillars under the Margit Bridge.

The Mermaid turned in front of the Viking ship which struck the boat and capsized it. Police say the Mermaid sank in just seven seconds, giving passengers and two Hungarian crew members almost no time to get to safety.

Hungarian rescuers say heavy rain and the Danube’s strong currents are hampering their efforts. They have extended their search downriver into Serbia.

Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban said the boat accident was “shocking,” and asked authorities to conduct a thorough investigation into the accident.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in has sent a delegation of Korean officials and experts to Budapest to help.

your ad here

Farmers Stuck Between ‘Perfect Storm’ of Trade, Weather Issues

Continued rainfall across the Midwest this spring extended a trend resulting in the wettest year on record in the United States. Prime farmland across the country continues to struggle with flooding and poor conditions for planting, among other issues. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, farmers are running out of time, and options.

your ad here

Another North Korea Purge? Experts Are Divided

One of South Korea’s most influential newspapers reported Friday that North Korea executed its top envoy to the United States following February’s failed summit between Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump.

The reaction from some Korea watchers: a collective shrug.

It’s not that analysts doubt North Korea would carry out such a leadership purge; Pyongyang has in the past executed those it views as a threat to the ruling Kim family.

But South Korean newspapers have an inconsistent record of reporting such incidents. In some cases, North Korean figures reported to have been killed appeared in public weeks or months later.

The latest report came from the Chosun Ilbo, South Korea’s biggest newspaper.

Lead North Korea negotiator

The conservative paper reported Kim Hyok Chol, who led negotiations with the United States ahead of the February Trump-Kim summit in Hanoi, was executed in March along with four other senior officials “on charges of spying for America.”

Kim Yong Chol, Kim Jong Un’s “right-hand man,” was sent to a labor and re-education camp, the paper reported. Kim Song Hye, one of North Korea’s only senior female diplomats, was sent to a political prison camp, while Kim Jong Un’s translator at the Hanoi summit was likely sent to a prison camp for an “interpreting error,” it said.

The Chosun Ilbo did not say how it got the information, citing only “a source.”

North Korea has not responded to the report, but on Thursday ran a state media editorial warning of punishment against “anti-revolutionary” acts.

Asked about the report, a spokesperson at South Korea’s presidential office cautioned against “hasty conclusions.” Seoul’s Unification Ministry also declined to comment. Officials at the White House and State Department have not responded to VOA requests for reaction.

North Korean purges

It is notoriously difficult to get reliable information from North Korea, a totalitarian country that restricts all civil and political liberties of its citizens. That’s especially true of actions surrounding the country’s secretive leadership.

Kim Jong Un is believed to have carried out several purges of both senior and lower-level officials since taking power in 2011 following the death of his father, Kim Jong Il.

Perhaps most notoriously, Kim ordered the execution of his uncle and mentor, Jang Song Thaek, in 2013.

But South Korean papers fairly frequently misreport those purges.

For instance, the Choson Ilbo reported in 2013 that Kim’s former girlfriend, the singer Hyon Song Wol, was publicly executed for violating North Korea’s pornography laws. She appeared in a public television performance a short time later.

“According to Chosun Ilbo, Hyon Song Wol has been dead since 2013. Even though she appeared at the Hanoi summit this year,” tweeted Chad O’Carroll, CEO of Korea Risk Group, which produces the influential NK News website.

O’Carroll, who is based in Seoul but travels to North Korea, also says he was told by a source that Kim Hyok Chol, the North Korean envoy, “had been seen at the foreign ministry recently in Pyongyang.”

​Kim vulnerable?

But the latest execution story is plausible to some analysts, especially since the Hanoi summit failure left Kim in a tricky position.

The summit ended abruptly at the end of February after Trump walked out and declared Kim was not ready to make a serious nuclear deal.

Kim wanted Trump to remove nearly all sanctions against North Korea, in exchange for partial dismantlement of his nuclear program. Trump insisted he would not remove any sanctions until Kim agreed to give up all his nuclear weapons.

Like his father and grandfather, Kim is treated in North Korean state propaganda as a flawless near-deity, not exactly the kind of person who comes back from a summit empty-handed.

“In North Korea when something like that happens it’s a different order of problem because the leader is infallible and nothing can ever go wrong,” says Aidan Foster-Carter, a veteran, British-based Korea watcher.

How to react

There are signs North Korean state organs didn’t know how to react to Kim’s failed summit.

Immediately after Kim returned from Hanoi, North Korean state media reported the meeting was a success. Only days later did they acknowledge the summit was fruitless, blaming the United States for making unreasonable demands.

In the weeks that followed, at least one report suggested North Korea executed some members of the Hanoi negotiating team, though those reports were vague and never corroborated.

“These rumors have been floating around for a while,” said Jeffrey Lewis, a North Korea watcher at the Middlebury Institute, on Twitter. “I am still not sure I believe them, but they are getting awfully specific.”

Foster-Carter, the British academic, agrees that the Choson Ilbo report is more detailed than other similar reports.

“I will stick my neck out and say I think it has the ring of truth,” he says. “It has quite a lot of incidental detail … in other words, it sounds like an informed source.”

“Of course, you know this game. We have to be cautious. Commentators have gotten egg on their faces before by saying this Kim or that Kim had been executed and then back they come from the dead.”

If true, the executions would help explain why U.S. negotiators haven’t been able to meet with their North Korean counterparts in recent weeks.

It could also mean that Kim is feeling increasing domestic pressure, says Kim Seok-hyang, who focuses on North Korean Studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.

“His own people are his biggest threat,” Kim says.

While North Korean elites largely express public support for Kim now, that could change if they see him failing on an international stage, she says.

Another hint: on Thursday, the Rodong Sinmun, the official paper of North Korea’s ruling party, carried an opinion piece railing against “anti-party, anti-revolutionary acts” against the country’s supreme leader.

“These are traitors and turncoats who only memorize words of loyalty toward the leader and even change according to the trend of time,” the paper said.

“Such people,” the paper said, “will not avoid the stern judgment of the revolution.”

your ad here

Pomp and Protests: Trump’s State Visit to Britain

U.S. President Donald Trump will be in Britain June 3 on a state visit by invitation of Queen Elizabeth II and participate in events commemorating the 75th anniversary of D-Day.

This will be the second time Trump has gone to Britain since taking office, after a working visit in July of last year.

A state visit involves more pomp and pageantry, and the host country pays the costs. An invitation was extended after Trump took office but was delayed for a number of reasons, including security.

“There is an enormous controversy surrounding a state visit for Donald Trump,” said Charles Kupchan, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. The biggest news of the visit is that it’s happening, he said. “It was on again off again, on again off again.”

Trump will take part in the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, in which 150,000 Allied troops pushed German forces from France. He will attend events in Portsmouth, and in Normandy, France, alongside French President Emanuel Macron.

The president will attend a state banquet at Buckingham Palace and cultural engagements with members of the Royal Family.

​May resigns after Trump leaves

Trump is scheduled to hold a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Theresa May, who is resigning June 7, two days after Trump departs, over failure to reach a deal on Britain’s exit from the European Union.

Trump, a Brexit supporter, has in the past criticized May’s handling of the issue. He has in some ways reached out to the Brexiteers, Kupchan said, and told May at one point that “she’s not firm enough, she’s not getting out quickly enough, and completely enough.”

Still with May having recently announced her resignation, the expectation is that Trump would speak highly of her in his public appearances with her and wish her all the best, said Jacob Parakilas, an analyst at the Chatham House in London. But he added that there’s not much depth to the relationship. 

“I don’t think the two of them see eye-to-eye or have pretty strong personal bond,” he said.

​Meeting with Johnson or Farage?

On Thursday, days before his departure, Trump said he may meet with Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage, pro-Brexit politicians seeking to replace May.

“It’s not my business to support people. But I have a lot of respect for both of those men,” Trump said.

On a briefing call to reporters, a White House senior official would not confirm whether such a meeting would take place.


WATCH: Pomp and Protests in Store for Trump on State Visit to Britain

​Trade, Brexit, Iran and China

Trump and May could still discuss major issues related to the current U.S.-U.K. relationship, including negotiations on a trade agreement.

The U.K. is keen to begin bilateral trade conversations with the U.S., said Kupchan, as it anticipates no longer being part of the EU.

Kupchan said the president will want an update on where things stand with Brexit. Although that may not be a very long conversation because “the balls are still up in the air,” he said.

Officials are also expected to discuss how to deal with Chinese investments and Huawei in particular, said Parakilas. He said the U.S. has taken a much more hard-line approach than the U.K. on this issue as well as on confronting Iran, which the U.S. under the Trump administration has much more appetite for, than either the U.K. or France.

​‘Trump Baby’ to appear again

Last year more than a 100,000 people protested in London and elsewhere in Britain. This year organizers say they expect similar numbers, protesting against Trump’s policies including immigration and climate change.

“Trump Baby,” the giant balloon depicting the president as an angry infant, is expected to make another appearance. Matt Bonner, the artist behind the giant inflatable said he would let it fly again if a crowdfunding campaign can raise $38,000 (30,000 pounds) for groups backing causes from climate action to women’s rights.

Last year London Mayor Sadiq Khan gave permission for the 6-meter tall balloon to fly above Parliament Square in London during Trump’s visit, provoking the president’s anger, who said it was an insult to the leader of Britain’s closest ally.

The senior administration official said that the White House is not concerned about the planned protests. 

“We haven’t talked about this at all,” she said.

your ad here

Longtime Kenya Coffee Farmers Eye New Path Forward

Kenya is the fifth largest coffee producing country in Africa, but this may change. Coffee farmers in the East African nation are turning to other crops as coffee production is affected by drought and low prices in the international market. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf reports from Kiambu, Kenya.

your ad here

Ethiopian PM: ‘All of My Intention and Action Is Aimed at Elevating Ethiopia’

Editor’s note: Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed gave his first interview in Amharic to a Western news organization when he spoke to the Voice of America’s Horn of Africa service reporter Eskinder Firew, in Addis Ababa. These highlights from their conversation have been edited for brevity and clarity.

For the past year, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has led Ethiopia through dramatic changes. Entrenched ethnic tensions and complex regional conflicts have posed ongoing challenges to the young leader’s reform agenda, but he remains resolute in his desire to make the most of his time in office. Abiy spoke to VOA’s Eskinder Firew about Ethiopia’s relationship with neighbor Eritrea, judicial reforms and the imprint he hopes to leave.

Eskinder Firew: On the occasion of your first anniversary as prime minister, you said, “I am only planning to elevate Ethiopia to high standards, awaken the public and lift up a country that is hanging its head. I don’t have any other ill intentions other than that.” What did you mean by that?

Abiy Ahmed: I don’t believe that it’s proper to stay in power for long periods of time. And as long as I have power, I believe that I should use that to change people’s lives. But within my efforts working to bring change, there may be errors — but all of my intention and action is aimed at elevating Ethiopia.

My agenda is not to use certain groups. To attack certain groups. Or to push specific groups or oppress people. What I am working on is work that elevates Ethiopians. That’s what I want, and that is what I do.

I can confidently say that I will not be involved in killing people or benefiting by illegal means by taking away from other people’s pockets as long as I am in a position of leadership.

Firew: In your message to the government and people of Eritrea on the occasion of Eritrea’s Independence Day, you expressed Ethiopia’s readiness to remain committed to jointly addressing all outstanding issues the countries face. What are these “outstanding issues”?

Abiy: If we take the problem between Somalia and Kenya, we want Eritrea and South Sudan, along with Ethiopia, to help one another and provide support to solve these issues. We know that any problem between Somalia and Kenya can spill over toward us. Because of this, we would like to work together to solve it. 

There is a wide-ranging issue as it relates to South Sudan. We don’t think that Ethiopia alone can solve the problem, and the same when it comes to the problem between us and Eritrea.

And there are also problems between Eritrea and other countries, too. So this is a region that has a lot of problems. But additionally, this is also a region that wants to move in the direction of integration.

Firew: The border closing between the two countries (Eritrea and Ethiopia) has continued until today, after it was initially reopened. What is the situation currently?

Abiy: ​When the peace process started between the two sides, we saw the borders were widely opened on both sides. We can say that people were moving to and from — not like foreign countries, but movement similar to what happens within a country. There weren’t strict controls. And many people came from there to here, and from here to there. But that was not the only thing. Ethiopian opposition members who were based in Eritrea returned to Ethiopia, and Eritrean opposition members based in Ethiopia returned to Eritrea.

There needs to be a system where there is control and a custom-check system. And we need that capacity so that it would be possible to know what people are bringing in and out. There is a concern that if we leave the borders opened uncontrolled, that it would be difficult to prevent problems. We want to ensure that, if people are going from Ethiopia to Eritrea or from Eritrea to Ethiopia, it has to be for peace, development and tourism.

Firew: Regarding change in Ethiopia and legal reforms, some people say that, if the measures taken are enough, we would see the results. But because the measures taken aren’t enough, we see continuation of some things. What’s your response?

Abiy: ​Everyone should get equal treatment in the face of the law. It should never be used as a tool for revenge. When we respect the rule of law, it should be in accordance to that. So, when a government takes action, there are some who say that this decision was made by someone from my ethnic group or my community. But unless this thinking is gone or is depleted, it threatens the possibility of protecting the rule of law.

Within just this past year, there are so many people that could be jailed or face detention. Thousands are in prison charged with national security, corruption and displacement, etc. There is no need to put so many people in such a situation, because we want to reduce crime and not add prisoners. But we still have people undergoing these legal processes through the federal and regional levels. But this is not because we are not taking action, it is because we are in the process of focusing on clamping down on crimes that are serious. On the other hand, if we don’t think that the law doesn’t apply to all equally, we can’t have a sustainable future.

your ad here