10 Arrested in Turkey in Deaths of 7 from Kurdish Family

Authorities said Saturday that 10 suspects had been detained in the killing of seven people from an ethnic Kurdish family in Turkey’s central Konya province.The members of the Dedeoglu family were killed in a brutal gun attack Friday. Officials said they had not yet apprehended the gunman. A statement from the Konya prosecutor’s office said initial evidence pointed to an ongoing fight between two families who lived in the same area.But the family’s lawyer and the pro-Kurdish opposition party said the killings were ethnically motivated. After an attack in May, one member of the family — who was among Friday’s victims — told reporters that they were being harassed and attacked for being Kurdish.Lawyer Abdurrahman Karabulut said family members had worried they would be attacked again.Years of frictionThe prosecutor’s office said in a statement that enmity between the two families dated to 2010. Two fights in 2021 led to investigations; two people remain in custody because of those probes, but other suspects were released. The statement rejected the claim of a racially motivated attack.There were few details given about those arrested, but media reports said the other family was not Kurdish.The co-leader of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) said the ethnic Kurdish family members were killed because of hate speech and linked it to a rise in what he called racist attacks. Mithat Sancar accused the government of targeting the HDP and Kurds in general.Media reports said the family’s house was set on fire after the attack.Turkey has been fighting a Kurdish insurgency since 1984 and the conflict has claimed tens of thousands of lives, including civilians targeted by car bombs in 2016 and 2017 that were blamed on the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The decadeslong conflict has also included discriminatory state policies and an ethnically charged atmosphere. Kurds are Turkey’s second-largest ethnic group.Interior minister Suleyman Soylu said allegations that the killings were ethnically motivated were a provocation against the country’s unity.

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Blinken, Southeast Asia Leaders to Meet Virtually Next Week 

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will meet virtually with Southeast Asian officials every day next week, a senior state department official said Saturday, as Washington seeks to show the region it’s a U.S. priority while also addressing the crisis in Myanmar.The top U.S. diplomat will attend virtual meetings for five consecutive days, including annual meetings of the 10 foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and other nations and separate meetings of the Lower Mekong subregion countries Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Thailand.”I think it’s a clear demonstration of our commitment to the region,” said the official, who briefed Reuters on condition of anonymity.In recent years top U.S. officials have not always attended ASEAN meetings and have sometimes sent more junior officials to the region’s summits.The virtual meetings come after the Biden administration in its early days was seen as paying little attention to the region of more than 600 million people, which is often overshadowed by neighboring economic giant China, seen by the administration as its major foreign policy challenge.But that has been partly addressed by recent visits to the region. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman visited Indonesia, Cambodia and Thailand in May and June, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was in Vietnam and the Philippines this week, and Vice President Kamala Harris is set to visit Singapore and Vietnam.”That steady flow of high-level engagement is going to pay dividends. It’s noticed,” the official said, adding that countries in the region “notice when we don’t show up and that’s when you start hearing some complaining maybe about not taking them seriously or taking them for granted.”‘Game-changer’The official said that donations of COVID-19 vaccines to the region had been a “game-changer in terms of how our image is perceived.”On Sunday, the United States shipped 3 million doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Vietnam, and it has sent doses to other Southeast Asian countries too, but an agreement it reached in March with Japan and Australia and India to provide a billion doses to the region stalled because of an Indian export ban.By midweek the United States will have donated 23 million doses to countries in the region, which is experiencing a surge of the coronavirus with vaccination rates well below countries in the West, the official said.But none of those doses have gone to Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, where military generals staged a coup on February 1 and detained elected leaders including Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, sparking sanctions from Washington and other Western capitals.The meetings next week will see Blinken in the same virtual meetings as representatives of Myanmar’s military government, but the official said rather than bestowing legitimacy on those officials, this was an opportunity to get messages to the military government.”We’re not prepared to walk away from ASEAN because of the bad behavior of a group of generals in Burma,” the official said, adding that U.S. officials were also engaging with the National Unity Government that opposes the military government there.

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Ship Rescues Nearly 200 Migrants Off Libya 

The Ocean Viking on Saturday rescued 196 migrants off Libya, the humanitarian ship’s operator said.It first picked up 57 people in an inflatable dinghy struggling in international waters off the North African country, SOS Mediterranee said.In the afternoon, the ship’s crew carried out two additional rescues in the same area, plucking 54 people from a dinghy and 64 others from a wooden vessel.In their latest operation, they saved 21 people from a wooden vessel.The total rescued included at least two pregnant women and 33 minors, 22 of them unaccompanied.According to the International Organization for Migration, at least 1,146 people died at sea trying to reach Europe during the first half of 2021.SOS Mediterranee says it has rescued more than 30,000 people since February 2016, first with the ship Aquarius, then with Ocean Viking.SOS Mediterranee accuses European Union governments of neglecting coordinated search-and-rescue action to discourage migrants from attempting the crossing from war-torn Libya, where they are often victims of organized crime and militia violence.Libyan authorities are also accused of forcibly returning intercepted ships to Libya, even when they are in European waters.A U.N. Human Rights Office report in late May urged Libya and the EU to overhaul their rescue operations, saying existing policies “fail to prioritize the lives, safety and human rights” of people attempting to cross from Africa.

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Turkey Evacuates Panicked Tourists by Boat From Wildfires 

Panicked tourists in Turkey hurried to the seashore to wait for rescue boats Saturday after being told to evacuate some hotels in the Aegean resort of Bodrum because of the dangers posed by nearby wildfires, Turkish media reported.Coast guard units were leading the operation and authorities asked private boats and yachts to assist in evacuation efforts from the sea as new wildfires erupted. Video showed plumes of smoke and fire enveloping a hill close to the seashore.The death toll from wildfires raging in Turkey’s Mediterranean towns rose to six Saturday after two forest workers were killed, the country’s health minister said. Fires across Turkey since Wednesday have burned down forests and some settlements, encroaching on villages and tourist destinations and forcing people to evacuate.The minister of agriculture and forestry, Bekir Pakdemirli, said Saturday that 91 of the 101 fires that broke out amid strong winds and scorching heat had been brought under control. Neighborhoods affected by fire in five provinces were declared disaster zones by Turkey’s emergency and disaster authority.Government assistancePresident Recep Tayyip Erdogan inspected some damage Saturday from a helicopter.Speaking from the town of Manavgat, Erdogan announced that the Turkish government would cover the rents for people affected by fire and rebuild their homes. He said taxes, social security and credit payments would be postponed for those affected and small businesses would be offered credit with zero interest.”We cannot do anything beyond wishing the mercy of God for the lives we have lost, but we can replace everything that was burned,” he said.A man watches wildfires in Kacarlar village near the Mediterranean coastal town of Manavgat, Antalya, Turkey, July 31, 2021.Erdogan said the number of planes fighting the fires had been increased from six to 13, including planes from Ukraine, Russia, Azerbaijan and Iran, and that thousands of Turkish personnel, as well as dozens of helicopters and drones, were assisting the firefighting efforts.At least five people have died from the fires in Manavgat and one died in Marmaris. Both towns are Mediterranean tourist destinations. Tourism is an important source of revenue for Turkey, and business owners were hoping this summer would be much better than last year, when pandemic travel restrictions caused tourism to plummet.Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said 400 people affected by the fires in Manavgat were treated at hospitals and released, while 10 others were still hospitalized for fire injuries. In Marmaris, 159 people were treated at a hospital and one person was still undergoing treatment for burns.In southern Hatay province, flames jumped into populated areas but later apparently were brought under control.Common occurrencesWildfires are common in Turkey’s Mediterranean and Aegean regions during the arid summer months. Turkey has blamed some previous forest fires on arson or outlawed Kurdish militants. Erdogan said Saturday that authorities were investigating the possibility of “sabotage” causing fires.Meanwhile, a heat wave across southern Europe, fed by hot air from Africa, has led to wildfires across the Mediterranean.Firefighters on the Italian island of Sicily battled dozens of blazes Saturday fueled by high temperatures, prompting the region’s governor to request assistance from Rome. Some 150 people trapped in two seaside areas in the city of Catania were evacuated late Friday by sea, where they were picked up by rubber dinghies and transferred to Coast Guard boats.Temperatures in Greece and nearby countries in southeast Europe are expected to climb to 42 degrees Celsius (more than 107 Fahrenheit) Monday in many cities and towns.

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Virus Pass Protesters March in France, Clash With Police in Paris 

Thousands of people protested France’s special virus pass by marching through Paris and other French cities on Saturday. Most demonstrations were peaceful but some in Paris clashed with riot police, who fired tear gas.About 3,000 security forces deployed around the French capital for a third weekend of protests against the pass that will be needed soon to enter restaurants and other places. Paris police took up posts along the Champs-Elysees to guard the famed avenue.With virus infections spiking and hospitalizations rising, French lawmakers have passed a bill requiring the pass in most places as of August 9. Polls show a majority of French support the pass, but some are adamantly opposed. The pass requires a vaccination or a quick negative test or proof of a recent recovery from COVID-19 and mandates vaccine shots for all health care workers by mid-September.For anti-pass demonstrators, liberty was the slogan of the day.Hager Ameur, a 37-year-old nurse, said she resigned from her job, accusing the government of using a form of blackmail.”I think that we mustn’t be told what to do,” she told The Associated Press, adding that French medical workers during the first wave of COVID-19 were quite mistreated. “And now, suddenly we are told that if we don’t get vaccinated it is our fault that people are contaminated. I think it is sickening.”Tensions flared in front of the famed Moulin Rouge nightclub in northern Paris during what appeared to be the largest demonstration. Lines of police faced down protesters in up-close confrontations during the march. Police used their fists on several occasions.Protesters attend a demonstration called by the “yellow vest” movement against France’s restrictions, including a compulsory health pass, to fight the COVID-19 outbreak, in Paris, July 31, 2021.Tear gas, water cannon, injuriesAs marchers headed eastward and some pelted police with objects, police fired tear gas into the crowds, and plumes of smoke filled the sky. A male protester was seen with a bleeding head and a police officer was carried away by colleagues. Three officers were injured, the French press quoted police as saying. Police, again responding to rowdy crowds, also turned a water cannon on protesters as the march ended at the Bastille.A calmer march was led by the former top lieutenant of far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who left to form his own small anti-EU party. But Florian Philippot’s new cause, against the virus pass, seems far more popular. His contingent of hundreds marched Saturday to the Health Ministry.Among those not present this week was Francois Asselineau, leader of another tiny anti-EU party, the Popular Republican Union, and an ardent campaigner against the health pass, who came down with COVID-19. In a video on his party’s website, Asselineau, who was not hospitalized, called on people to denounce the “absurd, unjust and totally liberty-killing” health pass.French authorities are implementing the health pass because the highly contagious delta variant is making strong inroads. More than 24,000 new daily cases were confirmed Friday night, compared with just a few thousand cases a day at the start of the month.The government announcement that the health pass would take effect August 9 has driven many unvaccinated French to sign up for inoculations so their social lives won’t be shut down during the summer holiday season. Vaccinations are now available at a wide variety of places, including some beaches. More than 52% of the French population has been vaccinated.About 112,000 people have died of the virus in France since the start of the pandemic.

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Switzerland’s Bencic Takes Gold in Women’s Tennis at Tokyo

Belinda Bencic of Switzerland captured the women’s tennis gold medal in the singles tournament Saturday at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Bencic defeated Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic 7-5, 2-6, 6-3 for her first major title.Poland upset the U.S. in the Olympic debut of the 4×400 mixed relay competition. The Dominican Republic won the silver medal and the Americans, who competed without Allyson Felix, took the bronze.Qatar won its first Olympic title Saturday when Fares Elbakh captured the gold medal in the men’s 96-kilogram weightlifting category. He lifted 177 kilograms in the snatch and 225 in the clean and jerk for a total of 402 kg. Keydomar Vallenilla took second for Venezuela. The Fiji’s women’s rugby team triumphed over Britain to take home the bronze medal and register a historic victory. The Fijian athletes’ 21–12 win made them the first women from their country to ever win Olympic medals.In swimming, American Caleb Dressel set a world record Saturday and won his third gold medal of the Tokyo Games in his 49.45-second triumph in the 100-meter butterfly.Katie Ledecky of the U.S. holds up her gold medal after winning the women’s 800-meter freestyle final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Tokyo Aquatics Center, Jul 31, 2021. (Grace Hollars-USA TODAY Sports.)Katie Ledecky of the U.S. became the first swimmer to win a gold medal in the 800-meter freestyle in three consecutive Olympics. The 24-year-old phenom said she was looking forward to competing in the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.   She’s leaving Tokyo with a bundle of medals — gold in the 800- and the 1,500-meter races, in addition to silver in the 400 and the 4×200 relay.Ivan Litvinovich won the gold in the men’s trampoline final. The score for the 20-year-old from Belarus was 61.715, while China’s Dong Dong won the silver with 61.235.  New Zealand’s Dylan Schmidt took home the bronze.  Simone Biles Makes Mental Health the Talk of the Tokyo GamesOlympians in many sports have spent the past two days coming forward to recount their own battles while offering support to BilesAmerican gymnast Simone Biles will not compete Sunday in the finals for the uneven bars and the vault.  USA Gymnastics did not say whether Biles will compete in next week’s floor exercise and balance beam finals.  Biles withdrew from the team and individual all-round competitions earlier this week, saying she had mental health issues and trouble maneuvering in the air.  She posted on Instagram, “Literally can not tell up from down.”  On Saturday, the Olympic Games announced 21 new COVID-19 cases among people connected with the Olympics, bringing the total number to 246, including 26 athletes. 

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Taliban Assault Major Afghan Cities as US Troops Exit

Government forces in Afghanistan battled a major assault Saturday by Taliban insurgents on Lashkar Gah, the capital of embattled southern Helmand province, and officials said clashes were ongoing inside parts of the city.Both warring sides reportedly suffered heavy casualties. The fierce fighting forced civilians to flee to safety amid allegations the Afghan air force had bombed and destroyed a city hospital.An Italian medical charity, Emergency, confirmed fighting was taking place inside the city of Lashkar Gah. “Our hospital is full. Four extra bed spaces added so far,” the organization tweeted.🔴 FILE – Afghan security forces stand near an armored vehicle during fighting between Afghan security forces and Taliban fighters in the Busharan area on the outskirts of Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province, May 5, 2021.The Taliban also have previously assaulted and tried to seize control of Lashkar Gah but they were beaten back mainly because Afghan forces at the time had the backing of U.S. military airstrikes.That cover is no longer available to Afghan forces, though U.S. officials confirmed conducting some strikes against Taliban positions in Helmand in recent days, apparently to keep them from threatening the provincial capital.The insurgents control almost all the districts around Lashkar Gah.Taliban hang twoThe Taliban hanged two men Saturday from the entrance gate of a nearby town, accusing them of kidnapping children.An insurgent statement sent to journalists said the men were found guilty of the crime by a Taliban court. The incident revived memories of the harsh Islamic rule the Taliban had imposed on most of Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001.The U.S.-led military coalition invaded Afghanistan and ousted the Taliban weeks after deadly terror strikes against America in September 2001 that Washington said were plotted by al-Qaida leaders from their sanctuaries on Afghan soil at the time.VOA’s Afghan Service contributed to this report.

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International Aid Cuts Could Affect Millions Across Africa

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to cuts in foreign aid from donor nations such as Britain, which this month slashed its aid budget by $5.5 billion. The funding loss is being felt in Burkina Faso, where it could shut down a group that helps thousands of survivors of gender-based violence and rape.Britain has cut its annual aid budget, and so have other countries, such as Australia, Japan and Saudi Arabia.        The largest international nonprofits say the shockwaves of the cuts will be felt by people across Africa in all kinds of situations and will result in deaths.  “For countries like the U.K. and others to be cutting their aid budgets in a global pandemic is extremely shortsighted, and we know it will put the fight back against poverty by many decades. So, the U.N. secretary general, for example, has called these cuts a death sentence, and it really is that stark for many people,” said Nadel.MSI Reproductive Choices, a group offering family planning to countries in crisis, such as Burkina Faso, where over 1.3 million people have been displaced by conflict, is primarily supported by British aid money.    The cuts will affect large numbers of women, says the head of MSI-Burkina Faso, Dr. Toumbi Sissoko.     Overall, MSI has been able to assist more than 500,000 beneficiaries over two years, she says. She points to Burkina Faso’s context of insecurity, which she says makes women even more vulnerable.      “Alice,” whose name has been changed to protect her identity, received help from MSI after she fled her village in northern Burkina Faso when gunmen attacked.  She trekked through the bush for three days, seeking refuge, but then was seized by a group of terrorists.  Alice says they told her to put her daughter down before one of them hit her with the butt of his gun, knocking her to the ground. Six of them raped her, then discussed whether they should kill her but, she says, they concluded it was useless to kill a woman. They got on their motorbikes and left.      When she reached the relative safety of Kaya the next day, she was directed to MSI-Burkina Faso. Alice OK? says a woman from MSI immediately gave her morning-after pills and advice. She was still traumatized and could neither eat nor breast-feed her daughter. She said that the woman at MSI encouraged her to eat and told her that her life was still worth living.   Flora Guibere works for MSI. She thinks that with the aid cuts, beneficiaries will be left on their own, and the funding to support them won’t exist, and many of her organization’s workers will be out of a job.        For women who fall victim to gang rape, like Alice,OK? it will mean they may no longer receive emergency birth control or support.

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