American B-1B Bomber Flies Over Mideast Amid Iran Tensions

The U.S. Air Force said Sunday it flew a B-1B strategic bomber over key maritime chokepoints in the Mideast with allies including Israel amid ongoing tensions with Iran as its nuclear deal with world powers remains in tatters. 

The B-1B Lancer bomber flew Saturday over the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which 20% of all oil traded passes. It also flew over the Red Sea, its narrow Bab el-Mandeb Strait and Egypt’s Suez Canal. 

The Strait of Hormuz has been the scene of attacks on shipping blamed on Iran in recent years, while the Red Sea has seen similar assaults amid an ongoing shadow war between Tehran and Israel. The Islamic Republic has denied being involved in the attacks, though it has promised to take revenge on Israel for a series of attacks targeting its nuclear program. 

Fighter jets from Bahrain, Egypt, Israel and Saudi Arabia flew alongside the bomber. 

Iranian state media did not immediately acknowledge the flyover. Iran’s mission to the United Nations in New York did not immediately respond to a request for comment.  

The flyover comes after a pattern of such flights by nuclear-capable B-52 bombers since the Trump administration as a show of force to Iran. President Donald Trump in 2018 unilaterally withdrew America from Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal, which saw Tehran agree to drastically limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. 

In the time since, Iran has abandoned all the limits of the deal and drastically reduced the ability of international inspectors to keep watch over their program. While Iran insists its program is peaceful, the U.S. intelligence agencies, Western inspectors and others say Tehran had a structured military nuclear weapons program through the end of 2003.

President Joe Biden has said he’s willing to re-enter the nuclear deal, but talks in Vienna have stalled as a hard-line protégé of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei took over as president. 

Biden sending a B1-B bomber into the region allows him to send “a clear message of reassurance” to regional allies, as the U.S. Air Force’s Central Command put it on Twitter. But it doesn’t involve a nuclear-capable bomber. 

The B-1B came from the 37th Bomb Squadron based at Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota. 

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Nebraska School District Hires Students as Interpreters

 Facing staff shortages, public schools in Nebraska’s largest city have turned to bilingual high school students to interpret when families talk with teachers during report card conferences.

The Omaha school district has some full-time bilingual liaisons, but students and their families speak more than 100 different languages, and more than 18,000 students have received services for limited English speakers at some time while in the district. 

Lisa Utterback, the district’s chief student and community services officer, told the Omaha World-Herald that the district has about 20 students contracted as interpreters.

The students are paid $18 an hour to help with middle and elementary school conferences.  

Utterback said the student interpreters are going through the same application process and training as non-student interpreters.  

Three of the translators who are high school seniors have been used to translating for others.

Hser Kmwe, who speaks Karen, the language spoken widely in parts of Thailand and Myanmar, has helped translate in the grocery store after seeing someone struggle to communicate. She often translates for her parents.

Families in Pu Meh’s community often offer to pay her for her help in translating from Karen to English, but she always has refused payment.

Karen Soto translates for her Spanish-speaking family and volunteers to help other parents.

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In Somalia, a Rare Female Artist Promotes Images of Peace

Among the once-taboo professions emerging from Somalia’s decades of conflict and Islamic extremism is the world of arts, and a 21-year-old female painter has faced more opposition than most.

A rare woman artist in the highly conservative Horn of Africa nation, Sana Ashraf Sharif Muhsin lives and works amid the rubble of her uncle’s building that was partially destroyed in Mogadishu’s years of war.

Despite the challenges that include the belief by some Muslims that Islam bars all representations of people, and the search for brushes and other materials for her work, she is optimistic.

“I love my work and believe that I can contribute to the rebuilding and pacifying of my country,” she said.

Sana stands out for breaking the gender barrier to enter a male-dominated profession, according to Abdi Mohamed Shu’ayb, a professor of arts at Somali National University. She is just one of two female artists he knows of in Somalia, with the other in the breakaway region of Somaliland.

And yet Sana is unique “because her artworks capture contemporary life in a positive way and seek to build reconciliation,” he said, calling her a national hero.

Sana, a civil engineering student, began drawing at the age of 8, following in the footsteps of her maternal uncle, Abdikarim Osman Addow, a well-known artist.

“I would use charcoal on all the walls of the house, drawing my vision of the world,” Sana said, laughing. More formal instruction followed, and she eventually assembled a book from her sketches of household items like a shoe or a jug of water.

But as her work brought her more public attention over the years, some tensions followed.

“I fear for myself sometimes,” she said, and recalled a confrontation during a recent exhibition at the City University of Mogadishu. A male student began shouting “This is wrong!” and professors tried to calm him, explaining that art is an important part of the world.

Many people in Somalia don’t understand the arts, Sana said, and some even criticize them as disgusting. At exhibitions, she tries to make people understand that art is useful and “a weapon that can be used for many things.”

A teacher once challenged her skills by asking questions and requiring answers in the form of a drawing, she said.

“Everything that’s made is first drawn, and what we’re making is not the dress but something that changes your internal emotions,” Sana said. “Our paintings talk to the people.”

Her work at times explores the social issues roiling Somalia, including a painting of a soldier looking at the ruins of the country’s first parliament building. It reflects the current political clash between the federal government and opposition, she said, as national elections are delayed.

Another painting reflects abuses against vulnerable young women “which they cannot even express.” A third shows a woman in the bare-shouldered dress popular in Somalia decades ago before a stricter interpretation of Islam took hold and scholars urged women to wear the hijab.

But Sana also strives for beauty in her work, aware that “we have passed through 30 years of destruction, and the people only see bad things, having in their mind blood and destruction and explosions. … If you Google Somalia, we don’t have beautiful pictures there, but ugly ones, so I’d like to change all that using my paintings.”

Sana said she hopes to gain further confidence in her work by exhibiting it more widely, beyond events in Somalia and neighboring Kenya.

But finding role models at home for her profession doesn’t come easily.

Sana named several Somali artists whose work she admires, but she knows of no other female ones like herself.

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With No Sign of Eruption’s End, Ash Blankets La Palma Island

A volcano on the Spanish island of La Palma that has been erupting for six weeks spewed greater quantities of ash from its main mouth Sunday, a day after producing its strongest earthquake to date.

Lava flows descending toward the Atlantic Ocean from a volcanic ridge have covered 970 hectares (2,400 acres) of land since the eruption began on Sept. 19, data from the European Union’s satellite monitoring service, showed. On the way down the slope, the molten rock has destroyed more than 2,000 buildings and forced the evacuation of over 7,000 people. 

But authorities in the Canary Islands, of which La Palma is part, have reported no injuries caused by contact with lava or from inhaling the toxic gases that often accompany the volcanic activity.

Experts said that predicting when the eruption will end is difficult because lava, ash and gases emerging to the surface are a reflection of complex geological activity happening deep down the earth and far from the reach of currently available technology.

The Canary Islands, in particular, “are closely connected to thermal anomalies that go all the way to the core of the earth,” said Cornell University geochemist Esteban Gazel, who has been collecting samples from the Cumbre Vieja volcano.

“It’s like a patient. You can monitor how it evolves but saying exactly when it will die is extremely difficult,” Gazel said. “It’s a process that is connected to so many other dimensions of the inside of the planet.”

Signs monitored by scientists —soil deformation, sulfur dioxide emissions and seismic activity— remained robust in Cumbre Vieja. The Spanish Geographic Institute, or IGN, said that a magnitude 5 quake in the early hours of Saturday was not just felt on La Palma, but also in La Gomera, a neighboring island on the western end of the Canary Islands archipelago.

IGN said the ash column towering above the volcano reached an altitude of 4.5 kilometers (15,000 feet) on Sunday before heavier wind scattered it. Many nearby towns and a telescope base further north that sits on a mountain at 2,400 meters above sea level (7,800 feet) were covered in a thick layer of ash.

The eruption has also turned the island into a tourist attraction, especially as many Spaniards prepared to mark All Saints Day, a Catholic festivity that honors the dead, on Monday.

Local authorities said some 10,000 visitors were expected over the long weekend and 90% of the accommodations on La Palma were fully booked. A shuttle bus service for tourists wanting a glimpse of the volcano was established to keep private cars off the main roads so emergency services could work undisturbed.

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Thousands Protest Results of Georgia’s Local Elections

Thousands of opposition supporters filled the street outside Georgia’s national parliament building Sunday to protest municipal election results that gave the country’s ruling party a near sweep. 

Candidates of the Georgian Dream party won 19 of the 20 municipal elections in runoff votes on Saturday, including the mayoral offices in the country’s five largest cities: Tbilisi, Kutaisi, Rustavi, Batumi and Poti. 

The opposition alleges fraud.

Nika Melia, the head of the main opposition party United National Movement and a mayoral candidate in Tbilisi, claimed that “the victories gained by the opposition in many municipalities were taken away…like they never happened.”

An election observer mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said the “voting and counting were overall assessed positively despite some procedural issues, particularly during counting.”

“The persistent practice of representatives of observer organizations acting as party supporters, at times interfering with the process, and groups of individuals potentially influencing voters outside some polling stations were of concern,” the OSCE observers said in a statement.

Melia told the protest crowd, which shut down the capital’s main avenue, that opposition leaders would be sent to other cities to marshal supporters to come to Tbilisi for a massive rally on Nov. 7. 

The Saturday runoff elections were held after no candidate in the cities won an absolute majority during the first round of nationwide municipal elections on Oct. 2.

The elections were overshadowed by the arrest of former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, the founder of the United National Movement, on Oct. 1.

Saakashvili left Georgia in 2013; he was convicted in absentia of abuse of power and sentenced to six years in prison. He returned to Georgia from his home in Ukraine, hoping to boost the opposition in the first round of voting, but was arrested within a day and imprisoned. He called a hunger strike soon after his arrest.

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NBA Player Enes Kanter Leads Rally Against Uyghur Forced Labor

Surrounded by a few hundred Uyghur, Tibetan, and Hong Kong activists, NBA player Enes Kanter led a rally in front of Capitol Hill on Saturday, calling on China to stop Uyghur forced labor and urging the U.S. Congress to pass “The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act.”

The Boston Celtics center also called on U.S. officials to take “tangible” steps to end the forced labor of Uyghurs in China.

“We need action. Not just words. We have to make human rights a priority in both U.S. and foreign policies,” he said. “Only then can we help stop the Uyghur genocide.”

The U.S. Senate unanimously passed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act in July.

If passed by the U.S. House of Representatives and signed into law by President Joe Biden, it would ensure that goods made with forced labor in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region do not enter the U.S. market, and it imposes sanctions related to such forced labor.

The bill states that since April 2017, China has arbitrarily detained more than one million Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and members of other persecuted groups in a system of extrajudicial mass internment camps, and has subjected detainees to forced labor, torture, political indoctrination, and other severe human rights abuses.

Beijing denies accusations of both internment camps and forced labor of Uyghurs while saying that the complexes are “vocational education and training centers” which provide Uyghurs courses on Chinese language, legal knowledge, professional skills and deradicalization. China claims Uyghurs’ freedoms have never been restricted and they have the freedom to choose their occupation.

One of the sponsors of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, Senator Marco Rubio, applauded Kanter for his courage to stand up, in a written statement delivered by a representative at the rally.

“Courageously, my friend Enes Kanter has used his platform to shine a light on the horrors committed at the hands of the Chinese Government and Communist Party,” Rubio said in his written statement.

In the past weeks, after Kanter expressed his support for Tibetans, Uyghurs and Hong Kong, calling on Beijing to stop its “brutal” policies, Chinese media platforms in China stopped streaming Boston Celtics games.

At the rally, Kanter also accused firms such as apparel company Nike for being complicit in Uyghur forced labor in China.

“As an NBA athlete, it is saddening, disgraceful, disgusting to see them remain silent about China,” Kanter said.

Last year, the Australia Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) said in a report that 83 brands including Nike were linked to Uyghur forced labor in China.

And later that year, The New York Times reported that Nike and soft drink manufacturer Coca-Cola were among the major companies and business groups lobbying Congress to weaken the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act.

Nike said on its website that the company is committed to ethical and responsible manufacturing and that it upholds international labor standards. 

“We are concerned about reports of forced labor in, and connected to, the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR). Nike does not source products from the XUAR and we have confirmed with our contract suppliers that they are not using textiles or spun yarn from the region,” Nike said in its statement.

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UN Official Meets with Sudan’s Ousted PM, Who Remains Under House Arrest 

The United Nations discussed possible steps forward with ousted Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok Sunday, a day after hundreds of thousands of people marched in protest of last week’s military coup. 

Volker Perthes, the U.N. special representative to Sudan, said that Hamdok is doing well but remains under house arrest in his residence. 

Protesters remained in the streets Sunday, many of them manning barricades and blocking roads after large demonstrations on Saturday turned deadly. 

Three people were shot dead by security forces in Khartoum’s sister city of Omdurman Saturday, bringing the number of civilians killed since last Monday’s coup to 14. 

Despite some protests and roadblocks, Khartoum returned to relative quiet as strikes in various sectors continued in defiance of General Abdel-Fattah Burhan’s seizure of power and declaration of a state of emergency.

The October 25 move dissolved a transitional government established in August 2019, after months of deadly protests following the ouster of longtime dictator Omar al-Bashir. 

Since then, the U.N. and United States have frozen aid to Sudan – a move likely to have a devastating impact on the country which is already suffering an economic crisis.

International condemnation of the military takeover and demands to restore the transitional government echo the calls of hundreds of thousands of protesters in Sudan. 

Images and video footage from Khartoum and other cities Saturday showed crowds carrying Sudanese flags and banners denouncing the military government. Chants and songs that were sung in 2019 when protesters demanded al-Bashir’s ouster have been revived in the latest demonstrations. 

Protests took place around the world as well, with thousands of Sudanese from across the United States marching through Washington Saturday.

The military takeover occurred after weeks of escalating tensions involving military and civilian leaders over Sudan’s transition to democracy.

But even after the landmark power-sharing agreement in 2019, in which Hamdok was named the country’s leader, protests continued. Demonstrators, who often used the word “Medaniya,” or civilian, to call for a civilian government, opposed any military control in the transitional government. 

Burhan said Tuesday the army’s overthrow of the transitional government was necessary to avoid a civil war. 

Some information in this report came from AFP and Reuters. 

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G-20 Leaders Pledge to End Financing for Overseas Coal Plants 

G-20 leaders meeting in Rome have agreed to work to reach carbon neutrality “by around mid-century” and pledged to end financing for coal plants abroad by the end of this year.

The final communique was issued Sunday at the end of a two-day summit, ahead of talks at ahead of a broader U.N. climate change summit, COP26, this week in Glasgow, Scotland.

Leaders in Rome addressed efforts to reach the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, in line with a global commitment made in 2015 at the Paris Climate Accord to keep global warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and preferably to 1.5 degrees.

“We recognize that the impacts of climate change at 1.5°C are much lower than at 2°C. Keeping 1.5°C within reach will require meaningful and effective actions and commitment by all countries,” the communique said, according to Reuters.

The group of 19 countries and the European Union account for more than three-quarters of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Two dozen countries this month have joined a U.S.- and EU-led effort to slash methane emissions by 30% from 2020 levels by 2030.

Coal, though, is a bigger point of contention. G-20 members China and India have resisted attempts to produce a declaration on phasing out domestic coal consumption.

Briefing reporters ahead of the summit, a U.S. senior administration official said U.S. President Joe Biden and other leaders are hoping to get a commitment to end overseas financing of coal-fired power generation. 

Climate financing, namely pledges from wealthy nations to provide $100 billion a year in climate financing to support developing countries’ efforts to reduce emissions and mitigate the impacts of climate change, is another key concern. Indonesia, a large greenhouse gas emitter that will take over the G-20 presidency in December, is urging developed countries to fulfill their financing commitments both in Rome and in Glasgow.

Global supply chain 

Biden will hold a meeting at the summit’s sidelines to address the global supply chain crisis. The group of 20 countries in the summit account for more than 80% of world GDP and 75% of global trade. 

“The President will make announcements about what the United States itself will do, particularly in respect to stockpiles, to improving… the United States’ capacity to have modern and effective and capable and flexible stockpiles,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told VOA aboard Air Force One en route to Rome, Thursday. “We are working towards agreement with the other participants on a set of principles and parameters around how we collectively manage and create resilient supply chains going forward.”

Addressing global commerce disruptions has been a key focus for the Biden administration, which is concerned that these bottlenecks will hamper post-pandemic economic recovery. To address the nation’s own supply chain issues, earlier this month the administration announced a plan to extend operations around the clock, seven days a week, at Los Angeles and Long Beach, two ports that account for 40% of sea freight entering the country. 

“Whether it’s you’re talking about medical equipment or supplies of consumer goods or other products, it’s a challenge for the global economy,” said Matthew Goodman, senior vice president for economics at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Some of the concrete measures to alleviate global supply chain pressure points may need to be longer term, such as shortening supply chains and rethinking dependencies, said Leslie Vinjamuri, director of the U.S. and the Americas program at Chatham House.

“Those are not quick fixes,” she said. “But the G-20 is historically set up really to be dealing with short-term crises. So, I think that there will be considerable effort made to really discuss and come to terms with that.” 

While global supply chain issues are a key concern for the leaders in Rome, Goodman said he doubts the meeting will result in tangible solutions. 

“It’s a very difficult group — the G-20 to get consensus to do very specific things. And this may be one area in which it’s going to be particularly difficult,” he added. 

President Xi Jinping of China, considered to be the “world’s factory,” is not attending the summit in person. In his virtual speech to G-20 leaders, Xi proposed holding an international forum on resilient and stable industrial and supply chains, and welcomed participation of G-20 members and relevant international organizations. 

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Blinken Raises Concerns about Taiwan with China 

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi as part of the Group of 20 summit on Sunday — an outreach designed to ensure that the intensely competitive relationship between the world’s two largest economies doesn’t veer into open conflicts. 

Senior State Department officials described the conversations as candid, constructive and productive, saying that Blinken was clear about U.S. concerns during the roughly hourlong meeting. The officials insisted on anonymity to discuss the exchanges.

One of the U.S. goals is to maintain an open line of communication with China and set a virtual meeting later this year between U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping. 

Blinken said at the meeting that China has increased tensions with regard to Taiwan and that America wants to continue its “one-China policy,” which recognizes Beijing but allows informal relations and defense ties with Taipei.

During China’s National Day weekend in early October, China dispatched 149 military aircraft southwest of Taiwan in strike group formations, causing Taiwan to scramble aircraft and activate its air defense missile systems. Biden alarmed China shortly after by saying that the U.S. has a firm commitment to help Taiwan defend itself in the event of a Chinese attack. 

Asked in a CNN town hall whether the U.S. would come to Taiwan’s defense, Biden said, “Yes, we have a commitment to do that.” U.S. officials immediately moved to clarify that there had been no change to U.S. posture toward Taiwan. 

China and Taiwan separated during a civil war in 1949. The U.S. cut formal diplomatic relations with Taipei in 1979 in order to recognize Beijing. The U.S. does not openly contest China’s claim to Taiwan, but is committed by law to ensure the island can defend itself and to treat all threats toward it as matters of grave concern. 

Blinken noted that the G-20 summit is being followed by the United Nations climate summit in Scotland, saying that the U.S. expects China to curbs its greenhouse gas emissions as a responsible global power for the good of the world. 

Trade issues did not come up in any detail, as the conversation largely stayed in the political realm. Nor was China’s recent test launching of a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile discussed by the two leaders. 


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Sudanese Anti-Coup Protesters Barricade Streets

Sudanese anti-coup protesters on Sunday manned barricades in Khartoum a day after a deadly crackdown on mass rallies, as a defiant civil disobedience campaign against the military takeover entered its seventh day.

Tens of thousands turned out across the country for Saturday’s demonstrations, marching against the army’s October 25 power grab, when top General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan dissolved the government, declared a state of emergency and detained Sudan’s civilian leadership.

The move sparked a chorus of international condemnation, with world powers demanding a swift return to civilian rule and calls for the military to show “restraint” against protesters.

At least three people were shot dead and more than 100 people wounded during Saturday’s demonstrations, according to medics, who reported those killed had bullet wounds in their head, chest or stomach. It takes the death toll since protests began to at least 11.

Police forces denied the killings, or using live bullets.

“No, no, to military rule,” protesters carrying Sudanese flags chanted as they marched around the capital and other cities, as forces fired tear gas to break them up.

More than 100 people were also wounded on Saturday, some suffering breathing difficulties from tear gas, the independent Central Committee of Sudan’s Doctors said.

Sudan had been ruled since August 2019 by a joint civilian-military council, alongside Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok’s government, as part of the now derailed transition to full civilian rule.

Soldiers on the streets

Hamdok and other top leaders have been under military guard since then, either in detention or effective house arrest.

U.S. President Joe Biden has called the coup a “grave setback”, while the African Union has suspended Sudan’s membership for the “unconstitutional” takeover.

The World Bank and the United States froze aid, a move that will hit hard in a country already mired in a dire economic crisis.

But Burhan — who became de facto leader after hardline ex-president Omar al-Bashir was ousted in 2019 following huge youth-led protests — has insisted the military takeover was “not a coup.”

Instead, Burhan says he wants to “rectify the course of the Sudanese transition.”

Demonstrations on Saturday rocked many cities across Sudan, including in the eastern states of Gedaref and Kassala, as well as in North Kordofan and White Nile, witnesses and AFP correspondents said.

As night fell Saturday, many protests in Khartoum and the capital’s twin city of Omdurman thinned out. But on Sunday morning protesters were back on the streets, again using rocks and tyres to block roads.

Shops remain largely shut in Khartoum, where many government employees are refusing to work as part of a nationwide protest campaign.

Soldiers from the army and the much-feared paramilitary Rapid Support Forces were seen on many streets in Khartoum and Omdurman.

Security forces have set up random checkpoints on the streets, frisking passers-by and randomly searching cars.

Phone lines, which were largely down on Saturday, were back apart from intermittent disruptions. But internet access has remained cut off since the army’s takeover.

Sudan has enjoyed only rare democratic interludes since independence in 1956 and spent decades riven by civil war.

Burhan was a general under Bashir’s three decades of iron-fisted rule, and analysts said the coup aimed to maintain the army’s traditional control over the northeast African country.

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Biden Meets Erdogan Amid Simmering Tensions

U.S. President Joe Biden is meeting Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Rome Sunday amid simmering tensions and strategic disagreements between Washington and Ankara.

A senior Biden administration official told reporters in Rome Saturday that the leaders would discuss a range of regional issues, including Syria and Afghanistan, and defense issues including Ankara’s acquisition of the Russian S-400 missile defense system and its request to purchase U.S. F-16 fighter jets.

The official said in the Sunday meeting Biden would warn Erdogan that the two countries will need to work to avoid crises such as Ankara’s recent threat to expel the U.S. and nine other countries’ ambassadors who pushed for the release of jailed philanthropist Osman Kavala.

“Precipitous action is not going to benefit the U.S.-Turkey partnership and alliance,” a senior administration official told reporters in Rome Saturday. “I’m not actually even sure we would have had the meeting if he [Erdogan] had gone ahead and expelled.”

In 2019, during former U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration, the Pentagon kicked Turkey out of the F-35 program because of its purchase of Russian S-400 air defense systems. Now Ankara wants to buy 40 F-16 fighter jets made by U.S. company Lockheed Martin and nearly 80 modernization kits for its air force’s existing warplanes.

U.S. lawmakers have urged the Biden administration not to sell F-16s to Turkey, saying Ankara has “behaved like an adversary.”

“This meeting is important for President Biden to send some messages to Turkey about what is and is not acceptable behavior from a NATO ally,” said Rachel Ellehuus, deputy director of the Europe, Russia, and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. She said Biden will convey his expectations for Turkey as a partner in a range of issues including security challenges following U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, its role in the Black Sea region and performance in NATO.

Bilateral relations between the two NATO allies have also been strained over human rights. As president, Biden has pledged to restore human rights and democracy as pillars of U.S. foreign policy. In August of last year, before taking office, then-Democratic presidential candidate Biden advocated for a new U.S. approach to the “autocrat” Erdogan. Ankara slammed the comment as “interventionist.”

Since then, the two leaders have taken a more pragmatic approach to maintaining a relationship. Biden is keen to avoid another escalating flashpoint in the region following the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, while Erdogan is embattled politically at home.

“The Turkish economy is faltering, he [Erdogan] is actually losing in popularity,” Ellehuus said. “Whether he’ll admit it or not, I think he needs to be perceived as having at least a cooperative relationship with President Biden.”

This is the second in-person discussion between the leaders under the Biden presidency, following a June meeting in Brussels, on the sidelines of the NATO summit. 


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Jay-Z, Foo Fighters Welcomed Into Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Jay-Z added another title to a resume that includes rapper, songwriter, Grammy winner, billionaire business mogul, and global icon — Hall of Famer.

The self-proclaimed “greatest rapper alive” was inducted Saturday night as part of an eclectic 2021 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame class that included Foo Fighters, Carole King, Tina Turner, The Go-Gos and Todd Rundgren.

Once a drug dealer on the tough streets of Brooklyn, New York, Jay-Z rose through the rap world with hard, straightforward songs that often portrayed the struggles of Black people in America.

His catalogue includes songs like Hard Knock Life, 99 Problems and Empire State of Mind, as well as 14 No. 1 albums.

Following a video introduction that included President Barack Obama, LeBron James and David Letterman, Jay-Z was inducted by comedian Dave Chappelle, who praised him for being an inspiration.

“He rhymed a recipe for survival,” Chappelle said. “He embodies what the potential of our lives can be and what success can be.”

Paul McCartney welcomed Foo Fighters, who have carried the mantle as one of rock’s top arena acts. Initially, the band was little more than a side project for front man Dave Grohl, who was previously inducted as Nirvana’s drummer.

McCartney described the parallels between himself and Grohl as both were part of massively popular bands that broke up.

“Do you think this guy is stalking me?” McCartney joked.

Foo Fighters and McCartney closed the show with the Beatles’ Get Back.

Rapper LL Cool J was enshrined for musical excellence along with keyboardist Billy Preston and guitarist Randy Rhoads.


Electronic pioneers Kraftwerk, singer-poet Gil Scott-Heron and Delta blues legend Charley Patton were inducted as early influencers, and Sussex Records founder Clarence Avant received the Ahmet Ertegun Award.

Cool J recruited some of his heavyweight musical friends to usher him into rock immortality. He was joined on stage by Eminem and Jennifer Lopez for a powerful career-spanning performance.

With New York street style and swagger, Cool J remains a relevant artist more than 40 years after he first spit lyrics.

“What does LL really stand for?” asked rapper/producer Dr. Dre in his induction speech. “Ladies love? Living large? Licking lips? I’m here because I think it stands for living legend.”

Cool J then did a medley of his hits, including Rock The Bells accompanied by a bearded Eminem before he was joined by J-Lo for All I Have. Cool J wrapped up his blistering set with one of his biggest hits, Mama Said Knock You Out.

Superstar Taylor Swift opened the show with one of King’s best-known songs, Will You Love Me Tomorrow, which appeared on Tapestry her seminal 1971 album — a soundtrack for a generation.

Swift gave a heartfelt induction speech for one of her musical idols.

“I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know Carole King’s music,” Swift said, saying her parents taught her several important lessons as a child with one of the most important being “that Carole King is the greatest songwriter of all time.”

King thanked Swift “for carrying the torch forward.” She noted other female singers and songwriters have said they stand on her shoulders.

“Let it not be forgotten,” King said. “They also stand on the shoulders of the first woman inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. May she rest in power, Miss Aretha Franklin.”

King then introduced Jennifer Hudson, who performed a stunning, rafter-shaking performance of (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman before King sang You Got A Friend.

The 81-year-old Turner, who found her greatest success when she left abusive husband Ike Turner, lives in Switzerland and did not attend the ceremony.

“If they’re still giving me awards at 81,” Turner said in a video message. “I must have done something right.”

Keith Urban and H.E.R. performed It’s Only Love, a duet Turner did with Bryan Adams, before Mickey Guyton took on her most iconic song, What’s Love Got To Do With It. Then Christina Aguilera belted out River Deep, Mountain High.


Considered the greatest female group in rock history, The Go-Go’s emerged from Los Angeles’ punk scene in the 1980s. The quintet broke rules and smashed gender ceilings in a male-dominated industry with hits like We Got The Beat, My Lips Are Sealed and Head Over Heels.

“They’ve been in my personal Hall of Fame since I was 6 years old,” said actress Drew Barrymore, who mimicked the cover of the band’s debut album, Beauty and the Beat, during her induction speech by wrapping her body and hair in bath towels and applying face cream.

“Now,” she said. “My childhood fantasy is fulfilled.”

Best known for soft ballads like Hello It’s Me and Love Is The Answer, Rundgren also had a long path to induction. He’s been outspoken about the hall’s selection process and skipped the ceremony in protest.

“Ever defiant,” Patti Smith said in a video presenting Rundgren.

This year’s ceremony was held for the first time at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, the 20,000-seat home of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers and a venue familiar to Jay-Z and Foo Fighters, who have played shows in the arena before.

It was a return to normalcy for the event, which was forced to go virtual in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Artists are not eligible for induction until 25 years after release of their first recording.

There are lively debates every year over omissions, and as Public Enemy’s Chuck D noted during a plaque induction ceremony on Friday at the hall, patience is sometimes another requirement for entrance.

“It ain’t no overnight thing,” he said. “You can’t stumble into this place.”

That was certainly the case for King, who had been eligible for enshrinement as a solo artist since 1986. She went in previously as a songwriter with Gerry Goffin, her late husband, in 1990.

The ceremony will be shown on HBO on Nov. 20. 


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G-20 Leaders to Discuss Climate Change

The G-20 heads of state from the world’s major economies will discuss climate change Sunday on day two of their meeting in Rome.

Saturday, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi welcomed the heads of state, including U.S. President Joe Biden, to the Italian capital, where they discussed issues of mutual concern, including the pandemic recovery.

The G-20 leaders supported a sweeping global tax deal agreed to by 136 finance ministers earlier this month, including a minimum 15% global corporate tax rate for companies with annual revenues of more than $870 million. It still needs to be implemented within each member country’s legal framework.

On COVID-19, G-20 health and finance ministers announced the formation of a new panel to improve future pandemic preparedness, proposed by the United States and Indonesia, but did not specify funding for it.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson met on the sidelines with Biden and said they support Biden’s pledge to return the United States to full compliance with the Iran nuclear deal, so long as Tehran does the same. Talks are scheduled for November.

This year’s meeting is the the first face-to-face G-20 meeting in two years. Notably absent were Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who joined virtually, citing pandemic concerns at home.

“Despite the G-20 decisions, not all countries that need them can have access to vaccines,” Putin said. “This happens partly because of dishonest competition, protectionism and because some states, especially those of the G-20, are not ready for mutual recognition of vaccines and vaccination certificates.”

Activists marched Saturday through the streets of Rome protesting the lack of action by G-20 leaders in tackling climate change, before the leaders move on the United Nations climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland.






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‘Candyman’ Remake Explores Horrors of Chicago Racial Injustice

Candyman, the latest film by Jordan Peele and director Nia da Costa, is a remake of the 1992 original of the same title, by Bernard Rose. The reimagined Candyman addresses the racial divide, gentrification, and police brutality in Chicago. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.

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As US COVID Cases Fall, Halloween Brings More Fun and Less Fear

Witches and warlocks, ghosts and ghouls can breathe a little easier this year: Coronavirus cases in the U.S. are on the decline, and trick-or-treaters can feel safer collecting candy.

And while a new poll indicates Halloween participation is rebounding but still short of pre-pandemic levels, an industry trade group says people who are celebrating are driving record-level spooky spending this year.

Sales of candy, costumes and décor are up at least 25% over last year and are predicted to set a new high, between $10 to $11 billion, said Aneisha McMillan, spokeswoman for the trade group Halloween and Costume Association.

“People are really getting the Halloween spirit,” she said.

Though the pandemic is still a worry, outdoor activities like trick-or-treating have gotten the thumbs up from Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious diseases expert, and Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Experts advise people to keep sanitizer and masks handy and continue to steer clear of crowded, poorly ventilated spaces, however.

Angela Montierth of Sandy, Utah, said watching her 4-year-old daughter, Justina, celebrate Halloween this year has been “magical.” The family didn’t do much for the holiday in 2020 besides putting out candy for trick-or-treaters, so this fall they’ve been trying to make up for it.

“We did a pumpkin patch and we had a little Halloween get-together at our house with other little kids,” Montierth said at a trick-or-treat event at Discovery Gateway Children’s Museum in nearby Salt Lake City. “At this age they need to be playing with other kids, and they need the socialization aspect.”

A new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that 35% of Americans plan to hand out candy this Halloween, down from 42% in pre-pandemic 2019 — but still higher than the 25% mark seen in a separate NORC survey in 2020.

Meanwhile 16% said they intend to take their kids trick-or-treating, compared with 25% in 2019 and 12% last year.

Among those skipping the door-knocking again this year is Rolando Cadillo of Phoenix, whose family includes a 15-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son. Last year they opted for a pandemic-safe Halloween at home and skipped giving out candy. This year they are stocking the sweet stuff but keeping the face masks on.

Cadillo’s son will dress up as Spider-Man but won’t be trick-or-treating, and he’s on the fence about whether to let his daughter go with her friends.

“We plan to stay home, but we’re going to give candies to the kids that knock on the door,” Cadillo said as the family left a Halloween Spirit costume store. “I think it’s better than last year. More people got vaccinated.”

Nearly 191 million people in the United States are fully inoculated against COVID-19, about 58% of the population. The country is on the verge of expanding its vaccination effort to children aged 5 to 11, but that won’t come until after Halloween pending final approval from the CDC.

Last year Halloween arrived as cases rose to about 81,000 a day around the country in the start of what ended up being a deadly winter surge. Many parades, parties and haunted houses were canceled due to bans on large gatherings and concerns that celebrations would spread the coronavirus. Others went ahead but with pandemic wrinkles and, at times, a nod to the nation’s penchant for turning to fear as entertainment in times of turmoil.

Today infections are on a downward swing in the U.S., currently averaging about 73,000 new cases per day compared with 173,000 in mid-September.

Concerns still remain, especially where rural hospitals remain strained. Also in the Phoenix area, the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community has banned Halloween activities after a 140% jump in cases.

But in places where infection rates are lower, many people are ready for a Halloween that falls on a weekend, extending the festivities.

Google search trends indicate classic costumes remain hot-sellers, with witches, rabbits and dinosaurs taking the top spots. More contemporary get-ups inspired by the likes of the South Korean Netflix smash “Squid Game” and “WandaVision,” the hit Marvel series, are also popular, McMillan said. There are even a few topical offerings, like a couples costume of a vaccine and syringe, she said.

But the surge of enthusiasm means there have also been some costume shortages attributed to retailers’ uncertainty in placing orders combined with the supply-chain issues bedeviling many parts of the economy.

“A lot of people are getting really creative because they can’t find the singular costumes they wanted. They’re doing group costumes, or couples costumes, so they can kind of mix and match and pull things together,” McMillan said.

Some trends have shifted since last year, with fewer people choosing first-responder and superhero costumes and more leaning toward pop culture and nostalgia.

“This is the millennials’ absolute favorite holiday, and they are notoriously nostalgic,” McMillan said. “We’ve all been cooped up for so long. … I think it’s gonna be the biggest celebration ever.”

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Climate Change Threatens Russia’s Permafrost and Oil Economy

Parts of the planet that were once thought to be permanently frozen are starting to thaw – posing problems for countries like Russia where permafrost covers vast areas of its territory. The thaw is threatening Russia’s oil economy as Oleksandr Yanevskyy tells us in this report narrated by Amy Katz.
Camera: Oleksandr Yanevskyy

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March of Millions

Thousands of Sudanese from across the US attended a march in DC on Oct. 30, 2020, to protest a recent military coup in Sudan. VOA’s Nabeel Biajo was there.

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To Stargazers: Fireworks Show Called Northern Lights Coming

A fireworks show that has nothing to do with the Fourth of July and everything to do with the cosmos is poised to be visible across the northern United States and Europe just in time for Halloween.

On Thursday, the sun launched what is called an “X-class solar flare” that was strong enough to spark a high-frequency radio blackout across parts of South America. The energy from that flare is trailed by a cluster of solar plasma and other material called a coronal mass ejection, or CME for short. That’s heading toward Earth, prompting the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to issue a warning about a potentially strong geomagnetic storm.

It might sound like something from a science fiction movie. But really, it just means that a good chunk of the northern part of the country may get treated to a light show this weekend called the aurora borealis, or Northern Lights.

Geomagnetic storms as big as what might be coming can produce displays of the lights that can be seen at latitudes as low as Pennsylvania, Oregon and Iowa. It could also cause voltage irregularities on high-latitude power grids as the loss of radio contact on the sunlit side of the planet. 


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US, EU End Trump-Era Steel, Aluminum Tariffs

The United States and European Union have agreed to end a festering dispute over U.S. steel and aluminum tariffs imposed by former President Donald Trump in 2018, removing an irritant in transatlantic relations and averting a spike in EU retaliatory tariffs, U.S. officials said on Saturday. 

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo told reporters that the deal will maintain U.S. “Section 232” tariffs of 25% on steel and 10% aluminum, while allowing “limited volumes” of EU-produced metals into the United States duty free. 

It also ends one of the biggest areas of friction between the allies and allows them to focus on negotiating new global trade agreements to address global excess steel and aluminum capacity mainly centered in China and reduce the industries’ carbon emissions. 

U.S. officials did not specify the volume of duty-free steel to be allowed into the United States under a tariff-rate quota system agreed upon with the EU. Sources familiar with the deal, speaking on condition of anonymity, have told Reuters that annual volumes above 3.3 million tons would be subject to tariffs. 

The deal grants an additional two years of duty-free access above the quota for EU steel products that won Commerce Department exclusions in the past year, U.S. officials said. 

The deal requires EU steel and aluminum to be entirely produced in the bloc — a standard known as “melted and poured” — to qualify for duty-free status. The provision is aimed at preventing metals from China and non-EU countries from being minimally processed in Europe before export to the United States. 

“The agreement ultimately to negotiate a carbon-based arrangement on steel and aluminum trade addresses both Chinese overproduction and carbon intensity in the steel and aluminum sector,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters. “It shows that we can solve the climate crisis while at the same time better protecting our workers — that we don’t have to pick between climate or the economy.” 

President Joe Biden has sought to mend fences with European allies following Trump’s presidency to more broadly confront China’s state-driven economic practices that led to Beijing building massive excess steelmaking capacity that has flooded global markets. 

Raimondo said the deal will reduce costs for steel-consuming U.S. manufacturers. Steel prices have more than tripled in the past year to records topping $1,900 a ton as the industry has struggled to keep up with a demand surge after COVID-19 pandemic-related shutdowns, contributing to inflation. 

Europe exported around 5 million tons of steel annually to the United States before Trump’s imposition of the “Section 232” tariffs in March 2018 on national security grounds. 

The deal also eliminates Europe’s retaliatory tariffs against U.S. products including whiskey and Harley-Davidson motorcycles that were set to double on December 1, the U.S. officials said. 

The United States allows imports of steel and aluminum duty free from North American trade deal partners Mexico and Canada, with a mechanism that allows tariffs to be reimposed in the event of an unexpected surge in import volumes. 

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US, EU Agree to Resolve Trump-Era Steel, Aluminum Tariffs, Sources Say

The United States and European Union are expected this weekend to announce a deal to resolve a dispute over U.S. steel and aluminum tariffs imposed in 2018 by former President Donald Trump, easing a major transatlantic trade irritant, six people familiar with the agreement said.

Three of the sources said the agreement, details of which were still being finalized, would allow EU countries to export duty free some 3.3 million tons of steel annually to the United States under a tariff-rate quota system.

“An agreement on steel has been reached and will be announced soon,” said one source familiar with the matter, speaking on condition of anonymity.

U.S. President Joe Biden has sought to mend fences with European allies following Trump’s presidency to more broadly confront China’s state-driven economic practices that led to Beijing building massive excess steelmaking capacity that has flooded global markets.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi raised the need to resolve trade issues during a meeting Friday with Biden as a G-20 leaders summit got underway in Rome, a source familiar with the meeting said.

The deal may ease record-high U.S. steel prices that have topped $1,900 a ton as the industry has struggled to keep up with a demand surge after COVID-19 pandemic-related shutdowns. This has contributed to rising price inflation for manufactured products in the United States including cars.

Steel volumes above the 3.3-million-ton quota would be subject to tariffs, but additional duty free-status would be extended for about 1 million tons of EU steel products that had previously won Commerce Department tariff exclusions, three sources said.

The agreement leaves intact Trump’s global tariffs of 25% on steel and 10% on aluminum but on a practical basis exempts a substantial portion of Europe’s steel exports to the United States.

Europe exported about 5 million tons of steel annually to the United States prior to Trump’s imposition of the “Section 232” tariffs in March 2018 on national security grounds.

The Commerce Department, U.S. Trade Representative’s office and White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai is scheduled to address American steel industry executives Tuesday in Washington. The industry and the United Steelworkers union have been pressing Biden’s administration to maintain the steel tariffs to protect a resurgence in new investment since 2018.

Industry officials also have said they were pushing for a requirement that any EU steel imported duty free be melted and poured in the trade bloc, a provision aimed at keeping Chinese steel from being minimally processed in Europe and exported to the United States.

The metals deal would allow officials about a month to implement it before a late-November deadline for a doubling of EU retaliatory tariffs on certain U.S. products, including motorcycles and whiskey.

Details were not immediately available on terms of the aluminum portion of the deal. An industry source said a resolution is expected to be included as part of an overall metals dispute agreement.

The United States allows imports of steel duty-from North American trade deal partners Mexico and Canada, with a mechanism that allows tariffs to be reimposed in the event of an unexpected “surge” in import volumes.

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COVID Memorial Creators Reflect as World Nears 5 Million Deaths

As the world nears the milestone of 5 million COVID-19 deaths, memorials large and small, ephemeral and epic, have cropped up around the United States.

In New Jersey, one woman’s modest seaside memorial for her late brother has grown to honor thousands of lost souls. In Los Angeles, a teen’s middle school project commemorating her city’s fallen through a patchwork quilt now includes the names of hundreds more from around the world. 

Here’s a look at what inspired some U.S.-based artists to contribute to the growing collection of memorials honoring the nearly 5 million dead worldwide from COVID-19.

Washington, DC

Back in June, Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg purchased more than 630,000 small white flags in preparation for staging a massive temporary memorial on the National Mall. 

It would be more than enough, she thought, to represent all the Americans who would have succumbed to the virus as the pandemic seemed to be on the retreat. 

She was wrong. By the time “In America: Remember” opened Sept. 17, more than 670,000 Americans had died as the virus’ delta variant fueled a deadly resurgence. At the end of the exhibit’s two-week run, the number was more than 700,000. 

Firstenberg was struck by how strangers connected in their grief at the installation, which ended Oct. 3.

“I was blown away by the willingness of people to share their grief and by the willingness of others to lessen it, to honor it,” she said. “So when I looked out on those flags, I saw hope. I really believe humanity is going to win out.”

The installation was the second monumental exhibit to remember virus victims that the Maryland-based artist has staged. Firstenberg previously planted nearly 270,000 white flags outside Washington’s RFK Stadium last October to represent the national death toll at the time. 

“For the first one, my motivation was outrage that the country could let something like this happen,” she said. “This time it was really to cause a moment of pause. The deaths have been relentless. People have become fully inured to these numbers.

Wall Township, New Jersey

On Jan. 25, Rima Samman wrote her brother Rami’s name on a stone and placed it on a beach in her hometown of Belmar, New Jersey, surrounded by shells arranged in the shape of a heart. It would have been Rami’s 41st birthday, had he not died from COVID-19 the previous May.

A makeshift memorial quickly grew up after Samman, 42, invited others in an online support group to contribute markers memorializing their own loved ones. By July there were more than 3,000 stones in about a dozen hearts outlined by yellow-painted clam shells. 

Samman and other volunteers decided to preserve the memorial because it was located on a public beach and exposed to the elements. They carefully disassembled the arrangements and set them in display cases.

“I knew if we just demolished it, it would crush people,” she recalled. “For a lot of people, it’s all they have to remember their loved ones.”

The displays are now the centerpiece of the Rami’s Heart COVID-19 Memorial, which opened in September at Allaire Community Farm in nearby Wall Township. It includes a garden, walking path and sculptures, and honors more than 4,000 virus victims and growing. 

Maintaining the memorial has been both rewarding and tough, as she is still mourning the loss of her brother. 

“It’s a double-edged sword because as much as working on the memorial helps, every day you’re exposed to this grief,” Samman said. “It’s a lot of pressure. You want to make sure it’s done right. It can be draining.

Los Angeles, California

Madeleine Fugate’s memorial quilt started out in May 2020 as a seventh grade class project.

Inspired by the AIDS Memorial Quilt, which her mother worked on in the 1980s, the then-13-year-old encouraged families in her native Los Angeles to send her fabric squares representing their lost loved ones that she’d stitch together. 

The COVID Memorial Quilt has grown so big it covers nearly two dozen panels and includes some 600 memorial squares honoring individuals or groups, such as New Zealand’s more than two dozen virus victims. 

The bulk of the quilt is currently at the Armory Art Center in West Palm Beach, Florida, with a smaller portion on permanent display at the California Science Center in Los Angeles and another featured at the International Quilt Museum in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Fugate, her mother and a small, dedicated band of volunteers meet Sundays to sew and embroider panels. Fabric and other materials are donated by victims’ families.

Now a high school freshman, she plans to keep the project going indefinitely. 

“I really want to get everyone remembered so that families can heal and represent these people as real people who lived,” she said. 

Fugate would like to see a more formal national memorial for COVID-19 victims one day, and perhaps even a national day of remembrance. 

“It would be amazing to see that happen, but we’re still technically fighting the war against this virus,” she said. “We’re not there yet, so we just have to keep doing what we’re doing. We are the triage. We’re helping stop the bleeding.”

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Zimbabwe President Mnangagwa to Attend COP26 Conference

Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa says he will attend COP26, becoming the first Zimbabwe leader to visit the United Kingdom since Zimbabwe was accused of human rights abuses and election rigging. Mnangagwa also said a U.N. rapporteur had proved his government was right about the sanctions issue.

Winding up an annual conference of the ruling ZANU-PF party Saturday in Bindura, 80 kilometers north of Zimbabwe’s capital, Mnangagwa said he was looking forward to attending the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, known as COP26, in Scotland, which begins Sunday.

“I wish to inform the conference that tomorrow morning (Sunday) I travel to Glasgow, United Kingdom, after over two decades have passed without Zimbabwe leadership going to United Kingdom. I have been invited by [British Prime Minister] Boris Johnson, and [he] has indicated he might meet me; one on one, as well as other leaders like India prime minister and others, we are meeting them,” he said.

Mnangagwa also said he was happy about a report by U.N. Special Rapporteur Alena Douhan after a two-week visit to Zimbabwe. The Belarus national urged the U.S. and other Western governments to lift sanctions they imposed on Zimbabwe nearly two decades ago and for alleged election-rigging and human rights abuses.

“We as government, we as ZANU-PF, have been vindicated by the report released by the United Nations special rapporteur. We should congratulate ourselves. We have never been wrong, and we shall continue always being right. Those who have been found outside the law should reckon their position,” Mnangagwa said.  

But in an audio statement released by the U.S. Embassy in Harare, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said sanctions on Zimbabwe’s leadership were not hurting ordinary citizens.

“Our sanctions target individuals and institutions that are committing human rights violations. And we make every effort to ensure those sanctions do not impact the people. What is happening in Zimbabwe is a result of bad policies in Zimbabwe. What is happening in Zimbabwe is a consequence of their leadership. It is not a consequence of our sanctions, and we will always resist any criticism that says our sanctions are impacting people unfairly. We are criticized by the government [of Zimbabwe] for these actions because they know they are responsible for these actions. I regret that the special rapporteur decided to put this in [her] report,” Thomas-Greenfield said.

The European Union imposed travel and financial sanctions on then-Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe and his allies in 2002, in response to reports of election-rigging and human rights. The U.S. followed suit with sanctions in 2003.    

Earlier this week, in separate statements, the U.S., Britain and the European Union said Zimbabwe’s economy was suffering, not because of sanctions but because of corruption and government mismanagement of the country’s resources.

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Greece Bids Merkel Bittersweet Farewell

Angela Merkel has completed her final trip as German chancellor to Greece, a country where she was not overly welcome in the past because of the strict austerity measures she backed to keep Greece’s economy afloat.

Sticks, stones, gas bombs and heated demonstrations gripped Greece on Merkel’s first visit to Athens in 2012.

But now, a decade later, the outgoing chancellor got an almost indifferent public reception, walking freely along streets bare of any public protest or threat for the European politician many people here had dubbed an enemy.

Resentment, though, was obvious, and President Katerina Sakellaropoulou tapped into the nation’s mood, bidding Merkel farewell with criticism of the austerity policies she advocated for Greece, recalling the tough times the two countries faced during Greek financial crisis. 

There were times of difficulty and tension, she told Merkel with a stern face. Greeks had to pay a heavy price. And, Sakellaropoulou said, there were many times when Greece, as a European nation, felt alone.

The decade-long financial crisis saw a quarter of the country’s economy wiped out and 1.2 million Greeks losing their jobs. 

Many Greeks expected Merkel to return to the country with an apology for the bitter policies she supported because Germany was the single largest contributor to a bailout scheme that helped keep the Greek economy from crashing.

She instead came with a strong dose of self-criticism.

“I knew that I was asking a lot of the people in Greece, Merkel said. But she cited the role that previous leftist governments played in making the implementation of those policies more difficult, adding to social upheaval at the time,” Merkel said.

The remarks scored few points with Greeks. 

Political analyst Panayiotis Lampsias explains the nation’s reaction to Merkel.

Of course, she played a pivotal role in keeping Greece in the EU, and that should not be underestimated, he said. But this self-criticism comes too late, and now years later and on her way out, Lampsias added, Merkel has the luxury of being able to make such remarks.

In Greece’s post-crisis era, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis reassured Merkel that the country would stick to fiscal discipline but not what he called, “blind austerity.”

Greece, he said, is no longer a source of crisis but a modern European state striving for a better future within the European Union.

Merkel’s vice chancellor, finance minister and likely successor Olaf Scholz accompanied her on the visit to Athens. He refrained from making any comment or offering any thoughts on whether Germany would ease up on its fiscal requirements, a concern nagging Greeks as Merkel departs the chancellorship.

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Tigrayan Forces Say They Have Seized Strategic Town іn Ethiopia’s Amhara Region

Tigrayan forces said on Saturday they had seized the strategic town of Dessie in Ethiopia’s Amhara region where tens of thousands of ethnic Amharas have sought refuge from an escalation in fighting, but the government denied this.

The fighters pushed Ethiopian government forces from Dessie and were headed towards the town of Kombolcha, Getachew Reda, spokesperson for the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), told Reuters by satellite phone from an undisclosed location.

He said Tigrayan forces had captured numerous Ethiopian soldiers.

Legesse Tulu, the government spokesperson, told Reuters in a text message that the town was still under the control of the Ethiopian government and said claims by the Tigrayan forces were “fabricated propaganda.”

Ethiopian military spokesman Colonel Getnet Adane referred Reuters to the federal government. Legesse Tulu, the government spokesperson, Abebe Gebre Mesqel, the mayor of Dessie and a spokesperson for the town did not respond to requests for comment.

Reuters could not independently verify the TPLF’s account of developments and phone lines in Dessie appeared to be down as of Saturday afternoon.

The capture of Dessie would be a strategic gain for the Tigrayan fighters against the central government forces who are trying to dislodge them from the Amhara region.

The large town is some 385 km from the capital, Addis Ababa, and is the furthest south in Amhara that the TPLF has reached since pushing into the region in July.

War broke nearly a year ago between federal troops and the TPLF. Thousands of people have been killed and more than 2 million people have been forced to flee.

Tigrayan forces were initially beaten back, but recaptured most of the region in July and pushed into the neighboring Amhara and Afar regions.

In mid-October, the Tigrayan forces said the military had launched a ground offensive to push them out of Amhara. The military said on Thursday there was heavy fighting there, but accused the Tigrayan forces of starting it.

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