US Announces Visa Restrictions on Cuban Officials 

The U.S. State Department has announced new visa restrictions on Cuban officials linked to what Washington says is Havana’s ongoing repression of opposition voices in the small Caribbean nation.

In a statement released Tuesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said nine high-ranking officials from Cuba’s Interior Ministry and armed forces are no longer welcome in the United States after they helped target journalists and activists gathering earlier this month for pro-democracy protests. 

Plans for a “Civic March for Change” on November 15 fell through after the Cuban government arrested key dissidents and surrounded the homes of the protest’s organizers ahead of the march, calling their actions “counterrevolutionary,” Reuters reported. Cuban cities were quiet that day despite calls on social media to gather in the streets against President Miguel Díaz-Canel. Those who did turn out were shouted down by Díaz-Canel’s supporters or arrested. 

In a statement issued ahead of the protests, Blinken called for the Cuban government to listen to its people’s demands. After Cuban security forces blocked journalists, activists and organizers from showing up to the march and arrested those who did, the State Department released another statement, this time condemning the island’s “repressive regime.” 

These new visa restrictions are the strongest actions taken by the U.S. since November 15. In Tuesday’s announcement, Blinken said the nine sanctioned officials were responsible for attempting to “silence the voices of the Cuban people through repression and unjust detentions.” 

“These visa restrictions advance our goal of supporting the Cuban people and promoting accountability not only for regime leaders but also for officials who enable the regime’s assaults on democracy and human rights,” Blinken said in the statement. “The United States continues to use all our diplomatic and economic tools to push for the release of political prisoners and to support the Cuban people’s call for greater freedoms and accountability.” 

In July, Cuba saw its largest anti-government protests in decades, according to Reuters. Many people remain imprisoned after police and military forces cracked down on the peaceful protests, according to the New York Times. 

Then and now, the Cuban government blames local unrest on the United States.

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla tweeted Tuesday  that Cuba would “reject foreign interference.” 

“The US is still wrongly presuming that our government will allow it to provoke social destabilization in Cuba,” Rodriguez wrote. “The hostile measures announced today do not alter that determination.” 


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Fauci: Existing Coronavirus Vaccines Provide ‘Some’ Protection Against Omicron Variant

The top U.S. infectious disease expert said Tuesday that vaccinated Americans have “some degree of protection” against the new omicron variant of the coronavirus, but that scientists will not know for a few weeks how vaccines may need to be altered to best fight it. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s top medical adviser, said at a White House coronavirus news briefing that the omicron “mutation profile is very different from other variants” of the coronavirus. 

While he said the three existing vaccines used in the U.S. could prevent people who have been inoculated from getting seriously ill from the omicron variant, it “remains uncertain … speculative” whether they will fully work against people getting sick. 

“We believe it is too soon to tell about the severity” of the omicron variant, he said. “We should have a much better idea in the next few weeks.” 

To date, he said, 226 cases of the omicron variant have been identified in 20 countries across the globe, but none so far in the United States. Health officials, however, say they assume the variant eventually will spread to the United States. 

“We are actively looking for the omicron variant in the U.S.,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Stephane Bancel, chief executive of Moderna, which produces one of the vaccines used in the U.S., predicted in an interview with the Financial Times that existing vaccines would be much less effective in combating the omicron variant than the previous four variants of the coronavirus. 

“There is no world, I think, where (the effectiveness) is the same level … we had with delta,” Bancel said, referring to the highly contagious variant that is the predominant strain throughout the U.S. and was first detected in India in late 2020. 

His comments sent U.S. stock indexes tumbling, as investors feared the effect of the omicron variant on the world economy, in which many countries are still struggling from the coronavirus onslaught that started in early 2020. 

Bancel said it could take months for pharmaceutical companies to manufacture effective new vaccines to deal with the specific molecular makeup of the omicron variant. 

Dutch officials said Tuesday that they detected the omicron variant in tests almost two weeks ago, days earlier than when two flights from South Africa transported infected passengers to the Netherlands. 

Walensky said 45 million adults are unvaccinated in the U.S., and millions more children, ages 5 to 18, are eligible to get shots, but their parents have yet to get them inoculated. 

In addition, Jeffrey Zients, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator, said that 100 million vaccinated people in the U.S. are eligible for booster shots but have yet to get them.

He, too, said that vaccinations provide “some protection” against the omicron variant and that “boosters help that.” 

“We want to make sure Americans are doing all they can to protect themselves,” he said. 


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Belarus Sentences RFE/RL Journalist to 10 Days in Prison

The head of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has condemned the sentencing of a journalist who works for the independent network. 

The news network learned on Tuesday that Andrey Kuznechyk had been tried and convicted of petty hooliganism one day after his arrest, RFE/RL told VOA. 

Four men in plain clothing detained the journalist outside his Minsk apartment on November 25. The men, believed to be Belarusian security agents, searched the journalist’s home and took him away, along with electronic devices belonging to Kuznechyk and his wife, according to RFE/RL. 

When his wife called the local prison to see if Kuznechyk was being held there, she said officials denied the journalist was there. 

Kuznechyk, who denies wrongdoing, was sentenced to 10 days in prison.

RFE/RL President Jamie Fly said Belarus should immediately release the journalist. 

“The regime of Alexander Lukashenka continues its effort to crush all independent media in Belarus. Andrey was kidnapped by agents of the regime for nothing more than being a journalist,” Fly said in a statement. 

RFE/RL and VOA are both independent news networks under the U.S. Agency for Global Media. 

Media crackdown 

Media in Belarus have come under increasing pressure since Lukashenko claimed victory in contested elections in August 2020. 

At least 480 journalists were detained in 2020 and a further 245 violations against the media, including arrests, fines and attacks, were recorded in 2021 by the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ).

Authorities have raided newsrooms and journalists’ homes, stripped correspondents of accreditation, blocked access to news websites for local and foreign media, including RFE/RL, and Deutsche Welle (DW), and applied legal pressures to civil society, including the BAJ and PEN Belarus.


The Belarusian embassy in Washington did not respond to VOA’s request for comment. 

The country’s Information Ministry in October said it had blocked websites that were spreading extremist content. 

But DW’s director general, Peter Limbourg, said the accusations were “ridiculous.” 

“The heavy use of independent news outlets clearly shows that people in Belarus no longer trust the government-controlled media,” Limbourg said in a statement at the time. “We protest against the suspension of our offering because the people there have a right to objective information on the situation in their country.” 

Kuznechyk is not the first RFE/RL journalist to be detained in Belarus since the contested elections. 

Six of the network’s journalists were detained for 15 days while covering protests in August 2020, and a further six were briefly jailed in November 2020. In July, authorities raided the outlet’s Minsk bureau and searched the homes of some of its journalists. 

While most are detained for relatively brief periods, Ihar Losik, a blogger and consultant for the media outlet, has been in prison for more than 520 days. 

Losik is on trial with five others on accusations of using social media to “disrupt social order.” 

A verdict is expected in the closed-door trial on December 14, according to a Facebook post by one of the defendant’s relatives. 

The journalist has been allowed to see his wife only once since being detained and has been prevented from seeing his young daughter or parents, RFE/RL said. 

Separately, independent blogger Raman Pratasevich is awaiting the outcome in his case as well.

Pratasevich was arrested in May after Belarus diverted a passenger jet carrying him. 

Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders said in late November that Pratasevich is under house arrest at an undisclosed location. 

“The physical and psychological pressure to which Raman Pratasevich has been subjected for the past six months constitutes inhuman treatment and even torture,” Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk, said in a statement. 

The watchdog has referred his case to the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. 

Pratasevich is editor of the Telegram channel Nexta, which Belarus declared “extremist” in October 2020. News websites, including the popular, have similarly been labeled extremist by authorities. 

Journalists who work for such sites and their audiences risk criminal prosecution for sharing what authorities deem as extremist content, a charge which can carry a prison term of up to seven years, RSF reported.

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Ex-Trump Chief-of-Staff Meadows Cooperating with Jan. 6 Panel, for Now 

The House of Representatives committee investigating the deadly Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riot said on Tuesday that Mark Meadows, who served as former President Donald Trump’s chief-of-staff, has provided it with records and agreed to appear soon for a deposition. 

“Mr. Meadows has been engaging with the Select Committee through his attorney. He has produced records to the committee and will soon appear for an initial deposition,” Democratic Representative Bennie Thompson, chairman of the House select committee, said in a statement. 

Thompson did not rule out future action against Meadows. Noting that the panel expects all witnesses to provide all the information requested that it is lawfully entitled to receive, Thompson said: “The committee will continue to assess his degree of compliance with our subpoena after the deposition.” 

Trump has urged his associates not to cooperate with the committee, calling the Democratic-led investigation politically motivated and arguing that his communications are protected by executive privilege, although many legal experts say that legal principle does not apply to former presidents. 

On Jan. 6, Trump supporters stormed the Capitol in a bid to prevent Congress from formally certifying his 2020 presidential election loss to Democrat Joe Biden. Shortly before the riot, Trump gave a speech to his supporters repeating his false claims that the election was stolen from him through widespread voting fraud and urging them to go to the Capitol and “fight like hell” to “stop the steal.” 

‘An understanding’ 

Meadows’ lawyer George Terwilliger did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Terwilliger said in a statement to CNN that the two parties had reached an understanding on how information can be exchanged moving forward, stating that Meadows and the committee are open to engaging on a certain set of topics as they work out how to deal with information that could fall under executive privilege. 

Meadows was a Republican House member until he left in 2020 to join Trump’s administration. 

Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon already has been criminally charged with contempt of Congress, pleading not guilty, after defying a committee subpoena. The select committee is meeting  on Wednesday to consider seeking similar charges against Jeffrey Clark, who served as a senior Justice Department official under Trump. 

Meadows was called to appear before the committee this month, but did not do so. 

Agreeing to appear for a deposition does not guarantee that Meadows will provide all the information requested in the committee’s subpoena. Clark appeared, but committee members said he did not cooperate with investigators. 

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told reporters on Tuesday that he expects the Democratic-led chamber to vote on Clark’s contempt recommendation this week, if the panel approves it as expected. 


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Migrant Advocates Accuse EU of Flagrant Breaches of Geneva Convention

The migrant crisis on Poland’s border, which Western powers accuse Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko of engineering, caught international attention in November. But asylum seekers on the Poland-Belarus border aren’t alone in being shunted back and forth across Europe’s land and sea borders, say rights organizations and other monitors.

Throughout the year, irregular migration to Europe has been increasing, with more than 160,000 migrants entering the European Union this year, mostly through the Balkans and Italy. That’s a 70% jump from 2020, when pandemic travel restrictions are thought to have impacted the mobility of would-be migrants, and a 45% increase over the previous pre-pandemic year.

And with irregular migration picking up again, rights campaigners say the EU and national governments are increasingly skirting or breaking international humanitarian laws in their determination to prevent war refugees, asylum seekers and economic migrants from entering or remaining on the continent.

They say European leaders appear determined to avoid a repeat of 2015, when more than a million asylum seekers from the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa and central Asia arrived in Europe, roiling the continent’s politics and fueling the rise of anti-migrant political parties.

Reports have multiplied of refugees and migrants being forcibly pushed back over the EU’s external borders. So, too, have reports of refugees being prevented from filing asylum applications. Poland passed a law in August stipulating that migrants who cross the border are to be “taken back to the state border” and “ordered to leave the country immediately,” preventing them from making an asylum application.

Pushbacks breach both European human rights laws and the 1951 Geneva Convention, which outline the rights of refugees as well as the legal obligations of the 146 signatory states to protect them.

Signatory states aren’t allowed to impose penalties on refugees who enter their countries illegally in search of asylum, nor are they allowed to expel refugees (without due process). Under the convention, refugees should not be forcibly returned, technically known as “refoul,” to the home countries they fled. Asylum seekers are meant to be provided with free access to courts, and signatory states are required to offer refugees administrative assistance.

The EU, its border agency, Frontex, and the bloc’s national governments, say they do observe international humanitarian law, but according to several recent investigations by rights organizations, the rules are now being flouted routinely and systematically.

“EU member states have adopted increasingly restrictive and punitive asylum rules and are focusing on reducing migration flows, with devastating consequences,” Amnesty International warned recently.

“We are witnessing tremendous human suffering caused by the EU-Turkey deal and by the EU-Libya cooperation, both of which are leaving men, women and children trapped and exposed to suffering and abuse,” the rights organization says in reference to deals struck with Turkey and Libya to block migrants heading to Europe and readmit them when they are ejected from Europe.

In the case of Libya, migrants are often returned to detention camps run by militias where Amnesty International and others have documented harrowing violations, including sexual violence against men, women and children. In a report published earlier this year, Amnesty noted, “Decade-long violations against refugees and migrants continued unabated in Libyan detention centers during the first six months of 2021 despite repeated promises to address them.”

Lighthouse Reports, a Dutch nonprofit journalism consortium, has documented dozens of instances in which Frontex surveillance aircraft were in the vicinity of migrant boats later intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard. “There is a clear pattern discernible. Boats in distress are spotted, communications take place between European actors and the Libyan Coast Guard,” Lighthouse researchers said in a report this year.

Frontex has routinely denied the allegations but lawmakers in the European Parliament accused the agency, after a four-month investigation, of failing to “fulfill its human rights obligations.” In the Balkans, the Border Violence Monitoring Network and other NGOs say they have gathered testimony from hundreds of refugees who allege they have been beaten back into Bosnia-Herzegovina across the Croatian border by baton-wielding men whose uniforms bear no insignia.

Europe’s peripheral countries have also been erecting border fences and building walls with the prospects of more Afghan refugees appearing on their borders acting as a spur. Greece has completed a 40-kilometer wall along its land border with Turkey and installed an automated surveillance system to try to prevent asylum seekers from reaching Europe. Other countries are following suit and have been pushing the EU to help with funding.

Critics say the wall-building now contrasts with the criticism European leaders leveled four years ago against then-U.S. President Donald Trump over his plan to build a wall on America’s southern border with Mexico. “We have a history and a tradition that we celebrate when walls are brought down and bridges are built,” admonished Federica Mogherini, then the EU’s foreign policy chief.

While migrant advocates complain of rights violations, calls are mounting in Europe for changes to be made to both the Geneva Convention and the bloc’s humanitarian laws. Critics of the convention say it was primarily drawn up to cope with population displacement in Europe in the wake of the Second World War. They say it fails to recognize the nature and scale of the much more complex migration patterns of the 21st century, which could see numbers swell because of climate change.

Last week in Budapest, Balázs Orbán, a deputy minister in the Hungarian government, said the current EU migration laws should be replaced. The current legal system is “catalyzing the influx of illegal migrants, and not helping to stop them on the borders,” he said. “This framework was created during the time of the Geneva Convention in 1951, when refugees from the Soviet Union needed to be accommodated for. Now, times have changed,” he added. 

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German Court Convicts Ex-IS Member of Murder, Role in Yazidi Genocide

A German court Tuesday convicted a former Islamic State member of the 2015 murder of a 5-year-old Yazidi girl.

Taha al-Jumailly, an Iraqi national, was also sentenced to serve life in prison for genocide and crimes against humanity. He was ordered to pay the victim’s mother, who survived captivity, $57,000.

It is the first genocide verdict against an Islamic State member.

“This is the moment Yazidis have been waiting for,” said lawyer Amal Clooney, who acted as a counsel for the mother. “To finally hear a judge, after seven years, declare that what they suffered was genocide. To watch a man face justice for killing a Yazidi girl — because she was Yazidi.”

German prosecutors said al-Jumailly bought the mother and child as slaves in Syria in 2015. He then took them to Fallujah in Iraq where he beat them and didn’t give them enough food.  

In 2015, al-Jumailly chained the girl to window bars in a room where the temperature reached 50 degrees Celsius. The girl died.

In 2019, al-Jumailly was arrested in Greece and extradited to Germany, where authorities took the case using the principle of universal jurisdiction.

Al-Jumailly’s German wife was sentenced last month to 10 years in prison for her involvement in the case. She was a witness for the prosecution in al-Jumailly’s trial.

In 2014, IS rampaged through the Yazidi heartland in northern Iraq. In many cases, it forced young women into sex slavery. Many in the Yazidi community, which numbers more than half-a-million, were displaced.

In 2016, a U.N. commission declared the IS treatment of the Yazidis inside Syria as a genocide.

“We can only hope that [this case] will serve as a milestone for further cases to follow,” Zemfira Dlovani, a lawyer and member of Germany’s Central Council of Yazidis, told The Associated Press, noting that thousands of Yazidi women were enslaved and mistreated by the Islamic State group. “This should be the beginning, not the end.”

Some information in this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters. 

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Biden Heads to Minnesota to Promote Infrastructure Plan

U.S. President Joe Biden on Tuesday visits a Minnesota technical college to sell Americans on his recently approved $1 trillion infrastructure plan, which the administration says will train millions of Americans “for the high-growth jobs of the future” that will build the massive infrastructure Biden says the U.S. needs to compete globally.

This is Biden’s first visit to the state known as the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” since he was elected president. He plans to visit Dakota County Technical College in Rosemount, Minnesota, to speak to students about the legislation and how it affects them. 

“The majority of jobs supported by the president’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill will not need a four-year college degree,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday, ahead of the trip. “And the programs provided by community and technical colleges like Dakota County Technical College will provide the training and skill development needed to help workers access the jobs created.”

The public, two-year technical college serves nearly 13,000 students across multiple disciplines, including construction and manufacturing.

The White House estimates that under the new law, Minnesota will receive $4.5 billion for federal-aid highways; $302 million for bridges; $818 million for public transportation; $680 million to improve water infrastructure; and $100 million that aims to cover every resident with high-speed internet. 

The legislation also will provide about $68 million to expand the state’s electric vehicle charging network, and Minnesota will receive a slice of the $50 billion the law allocates to strengthening infrastructure against the impacts of climate change.

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Nigerian Authorities Search for Over 250 Inmates Freed in Prison Attack

Nigerian authorities are searching for more than 250 inmates still at large after an armed group attacked a prison in the central city of Jos. Prison authorities say nine escapees were killed in clashes with security forces.

An unspecified number of heavily armed men invaded the medium security prison yard in the city of Jos on Sunday evening, shooting sporadically.

Nigerian Prison Services officials say one soldier was killed during an exchange of gunfire with the armed men and one prison staffer was shot in the hand. 

Officials say one attacker was killed and more than 250 inmates were freed. They say six inmates were injured during the attack and are receiving treatment.  

This was the fourth major attack on prisons this year in the West African nation.

Nigeria Prisons Services public relations officer Francis Enobore described the incident as unfortunate.

“Unfortunately, we’re now faced with this new sheriff in town – armed men coming to invade the facilities with military-based weapons, including explosives and all of that, but we’re not folding our hands,” Enobore said.

Last month, a similar attack on a prison in southwestern Oyo state freed about 392 inmates. 

In April, correctional service authorities in southeastern Imo state said 1,844 inmates escaped after a prison attack that was blamed on a separatist group known as the Indigenous People of Biafra or IPOB. The group denied the accusation.

Enobore said authorities are taking steps to prevent further jailbreaks.

“We are trying to upgrade the training of our arms corps personnel. The military is assisting us in that regard, so that we’ll be able to deploy military weapons to be able to withstand those attackers. We’re also working on reclaiming our buffer zones to enable [us to] profile whoever is encroaching into your territory,” Enobore said.

Last week, Nigerian authorities designated certain armed groups in the country as terrorist organizations. 

Experts praised the move, saying that charging the groups with terror-related offenses will make it easier to crack down on their activities.

But security expert and former defense spokesperson John Agim says there’s more to be done.

“The prison officials should be able to study the pattern of the breaks and know where the problem is from. What they’re supposed to do is to look at the caliber of prisoners they have. Then they will know what level of security they’ll require to safeguard the prison,” Agim said.

There were some 1,060 inmates in the Jos prison before Sunday’s attack. Prison authorities and the police are searching for 252 escapees who have been missing since the break.

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Blinken Warns Russia Against ‘Renewed Aggression’ in Ukraine

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned Russia against taking any “escalatory actions” toward Ukraine, saying Tuesday that “any renewed aggression would trigger serious consequences.”

Speaking to reporters alongside Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics during a visit to Riga, Blinken said the United States is “very concerned” about Russian troop movements along the border with Ukraine.

Concerns about Russia’s military build-up are due to be discussed later Tuesday and Wednesday during a NATO ministerial meeting in Riga. Blinken said he would have a lot more to say on the topic after those consultations with NATO allies.

Ahead of the ministerial talks, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called on Russia to reduce tensions in the region, saying the military buildup is “unprovoked and unexplained.”

“Any future Russian aggression against Ukraine would come at a high price and have serious political and economic consequences for Russia,” Stoltenberg said Monday.

The talks in Riga also come as NATO members Latvia, Lithuania and Poland deal with a border crisis with neighboring Belarus.

The European Union accuses Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of enticing thousands of migrants, mainly from the Middle East, to travel to Belarus and try to cross into Latvia, Lithuania and Poland in order to destabilize the European Union. The EU says Lukashenko is retaliating for sanctions it imposed against his government.

Blinken said Tuesday the United States, in coordination with the EU, is preparing additional sanctions against Belarus for what he called “its ongoing attacks on democracy, on human rights, on international norms.”

“As long as the regime in Belarus refuses to respect its international commitments, undermines peace and security in Europe, continues to repress and abuse its own people who are simply seeking to live in freedom, we will continue to put pressure on the regime and we will not lessen our calls for accountability,” Blinken said.

Another main focus of work at the NATO ministerial meeting is updating what the group calls its Strategic Concept, which was last changed a decade ago.

Stoltenberg said it is important to revisit the strategic document given the changed nature of the threats NATO faces, what he called a “more dangerous world.”

“We see the behavior of Russia, we see cyber, we see terrorist threats, we see proliferation of nuclear weapons,” Stoltenberg said. “And we see the security consequences of China which is now becoming more and more a global power.”

Blinken is scheduled to travel Wednesday to Sweden to meet with fellow ministers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and to discuss bilateral ties with Swedish officials.

Some information for this report came from Reuters. 

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IOM Says Despite Risks, Number of Migrants Crossing the Mediterranean Sea Has Doubled

In search of a better life, many migrants cross from Africa to Europe through what has been dubbed the “deadliest border in the world:” The Mediterranean Sea. But despite the risks, the International Organization for Migration says the number of people crossing has doubled in the first half of this year to an estimated 77,000. For VOA, Ruud Elmendorp reports from onboard the Ocean Viking, a rescue vessel in the Mediterranean Sea.

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Zemmour, French Far-right Pundit, Launches Presidential Run

A far-right former TV pundit with multiple hate-speech convictions officially entered the race for France’s presidency on Tuesday and warned his supporters that they will likely be called racists for backing his anti-immigration and anti-Islam views that have already shaken up the election campaign.  

The launch of Eric Zemmour’s run for the presidency made official a candidacy that had been gathering steam for months before it then stumbled of late — notably after the 63-year-old raised a middle finger at a woman who did likewise to him over the weekend.  

That flash of temper — which Zemmour later acknowledged on Twitter was “very inelegant” — cast fresh doubt on the temperament and electability of the author and former journalist who has polled in low double digits since September despite having no hands-on political experience. Zemmour has drawn comparisons in France to former U.S. President Donald Trump because of his rabble-rousing populism and ambitions of making the jump from the small screen to national leadership.

Name-dropping Joan of Arc, Napoléon Bonaparte, Gen. Charles de Gaulle and others who shaped France’s history, Zemmour announced his candidacy in a pre-recorded video, reading from notes and speaking into a large microphone. The pose evoked imagery of radio addresses that De Gaulle famously delivered during World War II as he urged France to rally to his call against Nazi Germany.

But the message Zemmour delivered was far from that of the wartime leader who later served as president from 1959-1969. Along with images of people on filthy streets and in ramshackle shantytowns, he drove home his view of France as a country mortally threatened by immigration and “in the process of disappearing.”  

“You feel that you are no longer in the country that you knew,” Zemmour said. “Your feel like foreigners in your own country. You are exiles, from the inside.”

The people that Zemmour was shown meeting in the video and the campaign supporters and crowds filmed at his rallies were nearly all white. And the vast majority of people shown doing jobs in the video — a mathematics teacher, a nuclear worker, cooks, suited business leaders, a butcher, a cattle farmer and others — were nearly all white men.

People of color, in contrast, were shown lining up for food handouts, pushing into a crowded train, milling around in a litter-strewn tent city and on a street corner and, in a scene at the start, seemingly taking part in a street deal. Other images showed Paris streets filled with Muslims kneeling down in prayer. Images of women protesting, some with breasts bared, were cut with violent scenes of people attacking police.

“It is no longer time to reform France but to save it,” Zemmour said. “That is why I have decided to stand in the presidential election.”  

He warned supporters to brace for a bruising campaign.

“They will tell you that you are racist,” he said. “They will say the worst things about me.”  

Zemmour joins a crowded spectrum of candidates, from far left to far right. President Emmanuel Macron is expected to seek a second term but hasn’t yet declared his candidacy.

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Why Trump Is Suing the ‘Nation’s Filing Cabinet’

Former President Donald Trump thrust the National Archives and Records Administration into the national spotlight after suing to keep the agency from releasing Trump White House documents to the congressional committee investigating the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. 

A court is expected to hear the latest arguments in the case on November 30. 

Why are the call logs, drafts, speeches, handwritten notes and other documents from Trump’s term in office in the possession of the National Archives? 

“Presidential records are the property of the United States government and are administered by the National Archives,” says Meghan Ryan Guthorn, acting deputy chief operating officer of the agency. “So, all presidential papers, materials and records in the custody of the National Archives, whether donated, seized or governed by the Presidential Records Act, are owned by the federal government.” 

The Presidential Records Act of 1978 established that all presidential records are owned by the public and automatically transfer into the custody of the National Archives as soon as a commander-in-chief leaves office. All presidential libraries and museums are part of the National Archives. Former President Barack Obama’s presidential library will be the first to be fully digital. 

“The National Archives and Records Administration is the official record keeper for the United States government,” Ryan Guthorn says. “Only about one to 3% of the records are considered permanent records, and those are the documents that are essential to understanding the rights and entitlements of U.S. citizens, that hold our elected officials accountable for their actions, (and) document our history as a nation.” 

Presidential records weren’t always owned by the public. 

“From George Washington through Jimmy Carter, the papers of a presidential administration were considered the private property of a president to do with as they saw fit,” Ryan Guthorn says. 

Most commanders-in-chief have donated their presidential papers, a precedent started by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940. That continued until the 1970s when President Richard Nixon fought to destroy his records, including secret tape recordings, during the Watergate scandal that eventually led to his resignation from office. 

Congress suspected the tapes contained evidence that could incriminate the president. Lawmakers passed the Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act of 1974, which applied only to Nixon’s presidential materials and instructed that materials related to Watergate be retained by NARA.

During his lifetime, Nixon fought to keep his presidential records private. NARA received most of the recordings related to Watergate, but not all. After Nixon’s death, his family donated his presidential papers and other materials. 

“Julie Nixon Eisenhower calls me, said she wanted to meet with me, said the family wanted to settle,” says John Carlin, who served as archivist of the United States from 1995 until 2005. 

Nixon’s daughter reached out to Carlin during his first week on the job in June of 1995, more than 20 years after Watergate. 

‘“You have to remember that in those days, the president’s records were personal,” Carlin says. “Nixon was going to keep them, and he had the law on his side. … And so, when she called that day and said, ‘We’re ready to settle,’ that was good news. …When he (Nixon) was alive, he fought it. I mean, tooth and toenail. There wasn’t going to be any settlement.” 

Carlin says dealing with Nixon’s papers consumed most of his decade-long term at the helm of NARA. But now, with the Presidential Records Act in place, he does not expect the same complications to arise with Trump’s records. 

“I’m not a lawyer, so take that into consideration, but I don’t think he has a leg to stand on,” Carlin says. “The law is on the side of the government. The law is clear. Those are government records, presidential records that the government controls and has access to.” 

Among those who access White House records are presidential scholars like Shannon Bow O’Brien who are interested in documenting history. 

“The public can start making requests through the Freedom of Information Act five years after an administration ends, but also the president can invoke certain restrictions for public access for up to 12 years,” says Bow O’Brien, a professor in the government department at The University of Texas at Austin College of Liberal Arts.

“If we don’t have access to this material, we don’t have access to the truth. We only have access to curated truths, in many ways, which is what people want to tell us, or what people want us to see, and that’s not always the most accurate.” 

Bow O’Brien sees an upside to Trump’s fight to keep his presidential records out of Congress’ hands. 

“If nothing else, this Trump administration might be giving us additional clarity on some areas of the law that have never previously been challenged,” she says. 

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Malawi Policeman Builds Sports Complex to Reduce Crime

One could mistake Kanduwa Sande for a contractor hired to clear up the once-dilapidated public football pitch in Machinga.

But Sande is an officer at the Machinga Police Station — and has a passion for sports.

The 42-year-old sub-inspector, also an athletics coach, has volunteered to turn a once-forsaken pitch into a sports complex with facilities like a track, netball court and climbing walls for children.

He says the aim is to help develop sports and reduce crime such as rape and sexual assault now rampant in his community.

“One of our responsibilities as police officers is also to reduce crime — to prevent people from doing crime,” Sande said. “So, when one is idle, surely that person will indulge him- or herself in other bad behaviors like committing crimes.”

Sande has been doing voluntary work since 2011 using savings from his monthly salary and working during his free time.

“I don’t spend my lunch hour (break), one hour and 30 minutes, eating only,” Sande said. “No. I also work for maybe 50 minutes. Every day of my lunch hour is sacrificed for voluntary work.”

Over the years, Sande ignored insults from people who didn’t understand the motive behind his work, with some calling him crazy. He asked his wife to also ignore them.

Sande said, “Because I knew people would say so many things to my wife: ‘Are you allowing this one to do this job? Are you married to this person, this mad person?’ So, I said, ‘Don’t tell me anything you hear from other people that will derail me from doing this.’” 

In 2017, his dedication to volunteer work earned him an innovation award for sports, which involved a month-long visit to China, where he learned how best to proceed with his initiative.


Soon after, he purchased and began using machinery to fast-track his initiative.

Government sports officials and community leaders sometimes visit the facility to express appreciation for the work he is doing.

Charles Mandela is the village chief of the area Sande picked to build the sports complex. 

Mandela  said, “Ours is just an appeal to other well-wishers to help Sande in areas he can’t do on his own, like constructing a fence around the ground so that all the sporting activities should be done inside the fence.”

The Ministry of Sports and the Machinga district council will run the facility because it remains government property.

Sande said the sports complex is now nearly complete and expected to officially open to the public at the end of December.

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Blinken in Latvia for NATO Security Talks

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in Latvia Tuesday for talks with the country’s leaders and a NATO ministerial meeting as the alliance expresses concern about Russia’s military buildup along the border with Ukraine.

Blinken’s schedule in Riga includes sessions with Latvian President Egils Levits, Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins and Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics. He is also due to meet with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg ahead of the ministerial talks later in the day.

Levits told reporters after his own talks with Stoltenberg on Monday that Russia’s military presence represents direct pressure on Ukraine, and that NATO “will remain in solidarity with Ukraine.”

Stoltenberg called on Russia to reduce tensions in the region, saying the military buildup is “unprovoked and unexplained.”

“Any future Russian aggression against Ukraine would come at a high price and have serious political and economic consequences for Russia,” Stoltenberg said.

A main focus of work at the NATO ministerial meeting is updating what the group calls its Strategic Concept, which was last changed a decade ago.

Stoltenberg said it is important to revisit the strategic document given the changed nature of the threats NATO faces, what he called a “more dangerous world.”

“We see the behavior of Russia, we see cyber, we see terrorist threats, we see proliferation of nuclear weapons,” Stoltenberg said. “And we see the security consequences of China which is now becoming more and more a global power.”

The talks in Riga also come as NATO members Latvia, Lithuania and Poland deal with a border crisis with neighboring Belarus.

The European Union accuses Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of enticing thousands of migrants, mainly from the Middle East, to travel to Belarus and try to cross into Latvia, Lithuania and Poland in order to destabilize the European Union. The EU says Lukashenko is retaliating for sanctions it imposed against his government.

Blinken is scheduled to travel Wednesday to Sweden to meet with fellow ministers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and to discuss bilateral ties with Swedish officials.

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Cyber Monday Caps Holiday Shopping Weekend as Virus Lingers

Americans are spending freely and going back to store shopping, knocking out some of the momentum in online sales from last year when Americans were making many of their purchases exclusively via the internet.

Shopper traffic roared back on Black Friday, but it was still below pre-pandemic levels, in part because retailers spread out big deals starting in October. The early buying is expected to also take a bite out of online sales on Monday, coined Cyber Monday by the National Retail Federation in 2005.

In fact, Adobe Digital Economy Index said that it was the first time online sales on Thanksgiving and Black Friday hadn’t grown, and Cyber Monday could likewise see a decline compared with a year ago. Adobe, which tracks more than one trillion visits to U.S. retail sites, had previously recorded healthy online sales gains since it first began reporting on e-commerce in 2012.

Still, Cyber Monday should remain the biggest online spending day of the year. For the overall holiday season, online sales should increase 10% from a year ago, compared with a 33% increase last year, according to Adobe.

A possible game changer is the omicron variant of the coronavirus, which could put a damper on shopping behavior and stores’ businesses. The World Health Organization warned Monday that the global risk from the omicron variant is “very high” based on early evidence, saying the mutated coronavirus could lead to surges with “severe consequences.”

Jon Abt, co-president and a grandson of the founder of Abt Electronics, said that holiday shopping has been robust, and so far overall sales are up 10% compared to a year ago. But he said he thinks Cyber Monday sales will be down at the Glenview, Illinois-based consumer electronics retailer after such robust growth from a year ago. He also worries about how the rest of the season will fare given the new variant.

“There are so many variables,” Abt said. “It’s a little too murky.”

Here is how the season is shaping up:

Cyber Monday still king but cooling 

Consumers are expected to spend between $10.2 billion and $11.3 billion on Monday, making it once again the biggest online shopping day of the year, according to Adobe. Still, spending on Cyber Monday could drop from last year’s level of $10.8 billion as Americans are spreading out their purchases more in response to discounting in October by retailers, according to Adobe.

Both Black Friday and Thanksgiving Day online shopping came in below Adobe’s prediction. On Black Friday, online sales reached $8.9 billion, down from the $9 billion in 2020, the second largest day of the year. On Thanksgiving Day, online sales reached $5.1 billion, even from the year-ago period.

Harley Finkelstein, president of Canadian e-commerce platform Shopify, which has 1.7 million independent brands on its site, said that so far, Cyber Monday is off to a strong start. Sales on his platform were up 21% on Black Friday compared with 2020 and more than double compared with 2019. He said he believes that independent brands will see better percentage sales gains online than big national chains, as shoppers gravitate more toward direct-to-consumer labels and look for brands with social conscience. And he says these brands have been able to get the inventory. Among some of the hot items on Shopify are children’s couches from Nugget and luxurious linens from Brooklinen.

“I think it is a tale of two different worlds,” he added.

Black Friday back but not the same 

Overall, Black Friday store traffic was more robust than last year but was still below pre-pandemic levels as shoppers spread out their buying in response to earlier deals in October and shifted more of their spending online. Sales on Friday were either below or had modest gains compared with pre-pandemic levels of 2019, according to various spending measures.

Black Friday sales about 30%, compared with the year-ago period, according to Mastercard SpendingPulse, which tracks all types of payments, including cash and credit cards. That was above its 20% growth forecast for the day. Steve Sadove, senior adviser for Mastercard, said the numbers speak to the “strength of the consumer.” For the Friday through Sunday period, sales rose 14.1% compared with the same period in 2020 and were up 5.8% compared to 2019, Mastercard reported.

Customer counts soared 60.8% on Black Friday compared with a year ago, but were down 26.9% on the same day in 2019, according to RetailNext, which analyzes store traffic with monitors and sensors in thousands of stores. Sales rose 46.4% on Black Friday but were down 5.1% in 2019, according to RetailNext. Sensormatic, another firm that tracks customer traffic, reported a 47.5% surge in traffic on Black Friday compared with a year ago but that number fell 28.3% compared with 2019.

The changing discount landscape 

Unlike in years past, many big box stores like Walmart didn’t market their discounted goods as “doorbusters,” in their Black Friday ads, choosing instead to stretch the deals out throughout the season or even the day. And the discounts are smaller this season as well.

Shoppers were also expected to pay on average between 5% to 17% more for toys, clothing, appliances, TVs and others purchases on Black Friday this year compared with last year, according to Aurelien Duthoit, senior sector advisor at Allianz Research. That’s because whatever discounts are offered will be applied to goods that already cost more.

And for the first time, discounts on Cyber Monday compared with a year ago are expected to be weaker, according to Adobe. Still, Cyber Monday remains the best day to buy TVs with discount levels at 16%, compared with 19% discounts last year. Other categories where consumers will find deals include clothing at a 15% markdown, compared with 20% last year. Computers are being discounted at 14%, compared with 28% last year, according to Adobe.

Overall holiday sales could be record breaking. For the November and December period, the National Retail Federation predicts that sales will increase between 8.5% and 10.5%. Holiday sales increased about 8% in 2020 when shoppers, locked down during the early part of the pandemic, spent their money on pajamas and home goods.

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January 6 Panel Sets Contempt Vote for Former DOJ Official

A House committee investigating the January 6 Capitol insurrection will vote Wednesday to hold a former Justice Department official in contempt, demanding criminal charges against a defiant witness for a second time as lawmakers seek answers about the violent attack.

The committee on Monday scheduled a vote to pursue contempt charges against Jeffrey Clark, a former Justice Department lawyer who aligned with former President Donald Trump as he tried to overturn his election defeat. If approved by the panel, the recommendation of criminal contempt charges would then go to the full House for a vote and then to the Justice Department.

Clark appeared for a deposition November 5 but told lawmakers that he would not answer questions based partly on Trump’s legal efforts to block the committee’s investigation.

The vote will come as the panel is also considering contempt charges against former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, who was Trump’s top aide the day that hundreds of his supporters violently attacked the U.S. Capitol and interrupted the certification of President Joe Biden’s victory. Meadows was subpoenaed in September but has not yet sat for an interview with the committee.

Members of the panel have vowed to aggressively seek charges against any witness who doesn’t comply as they investigate the worst attack on the Capitol in two centuries, and the Justice Department has signaled it is willing to pursue those charges, indicting longtime Trump ally Steve Bannon earlier this month on two federal counts of criminal contempt. Attorney General Merrick Garland said then that Bannon’s indictment reflects the department’s “steadfast commitment” to the rule of law after Bannon outright defied the committee and refused to cooperate.

Clark’s case could be more complicated since he did appear for his deposition and, unlike Bannon, was a Trump administration official on January 6. Trump has sued to block the committee’s work and has attempted to assert executive privilege over documents and interviews, arguing that his conversations and actions at the time should be shielded from public view.

A report issued by Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee detailed how Clark championed Trump’s efforts to undo the election results and clashed as a result with Justice Department superiors who resisted the pressure, culminating in a dramatic White House meeting at which Trump ruminated about elevating Clark to attorney general. He did not do so after several aides threatened to resign.

In a somewhat similar case, the Justice Department in 2015 declined to prosecute former IRS official Lois Lerner on contempt of Congress charges after Lerner delivered an opening statement at a hearing but then repeatedly declined to answer questions from lawmakers, citing her Fifth Amendment right to not incriminate herself.

This time, though, the Justice Department is considering the charges against a former administration official, not a current official. With little precedent to go on, it’s unclear what the department would do.

Clark is one of more than 40 people the committee has subpoenaed so far. The panel’s chairman, Mississippi Representative Bennie Thompson, wrote in Clark’s subpoena that the committee’s probe “has revealed credible evidence that you attempted to involve the Department of Justice in efforts to interrupt the peaceful transfer of power” and his efforts “risked involving the Department of Justice in actions that lacked evidentiary foundation and threatened to subvert the rule of law.”

After Clark refused to answer questions, Thompson said it was “astounding that someone who so recently held a position of public trust to uphold the Constitution would now hide behind vague claims of privilege by a former president, refuse to answer questions about an attack on our democracy, and continue an assault on the rule of law.”

Lawmakers on the committee have said that they will decide as soon as this week whether to hold Meadows in contempt, as well. Thompson said earlier this month that the committee “won’t rush the effort” to make it clear it has given the former North Carolina congressman multiple opportunities to cooperate.

Meadows’ lawyer has repeatedly made clear that he won’t comply with the September subpoena, arguing that Trump has said he will assert executive privilege over the testimony. The committee has rejected those arguments, especially as the White House has said that Biden would waive any privilege over Meadows’ interview and as courts have so far shot down Trump’s efforts to stop the committee from gathering information.

Members of the House panel have argued that they have questions for Meadows and Clark, as they did with Bannon, that do not directly involve conversations with Trump and couldn’t possibly be blocked by privilege claims.

In the committee’s September subpoena, Thompson cited Meadows’ efforts to overturn Trump’s defeat in the weeks prior to the insurrection and his pressure on state officials to push the former president’s false claims of widespread voter fraud.

Despite Trump’s false claims about a stolen election — the primary motivation for the violent mob that broke into the Capitol and interrupted the certification of Biden’s victory — the results were confirmed by state officials and upheld by the courts. Trump’s own attorney general, William Barr, had said the Justice Department found no evidence of widespread fraud that could have changed the results. 


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Pentagon: Few Changes to US Overseas Military ‘Footprint’

After months of study, the Pentagon has decided no immediate major changes are needed in the global positioning of U.S. forces, although it will further analyze force needs in the Middle East and make refinements in Asia and the Pacific, officials said Monday.

The outcome of the study, which began in March at Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s direction, reflects a complex security picture facing the Biden administration, which fully withdrew from Afghanistan in August but is increasingly concerned about countering China in the Asia-Pacific region and Russia in Europe. Iran presents an additional challenge, including in Iraq and Syria, which makes it difficult to allocate more U.S. forces to other parts of the world.

With China in mind, the Pentagon plans to make infrastructure improvements in some parts of the Pacific, including in Guam and Australia. In September, the U.S. announced a new partnership with Australia and Britain to deepen security, diplomatic and defense cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region. As part of that AUKUS partnership, Australia is to acquire nuclear-powered submarines, and the U.S. is to increase rotational force deployments to Australia.

The Austin review is the first of several broad assessments by the administration of its defense priorities and policies. They include a reassessment of nuclear forces — their size and makeup, as well as the policies associated with their potential use — that is due to be finished early next year. The Pentagon also is working on a revised National Defense Strategy that would frame the full scope of defense policies, including the role of nuclear deterrence, cyberthreats, international alliances and force modernization.

The Austin study, known as the Global Posture Review, has set the stage for adjustments to U.S. force positioning in the coming two to three years, said Mara Karlin, the interim deputy undersecretary of defense for policy. She said a number of force adjustments in the Asia-Pacific and elsewhere are in the works but require further consultation with foreign governments.

Karlin said that in Australia, the plan is to make new rotational deployments of U.S. fighter and bomber aircraft, as well as U.S. ground forces training. More broadly across the Pacific, including in Guam, the U.S. intends to build new infrastructure such as fuel and munitions storage facilities and airfield upgrades.

“We’re doing a lot that will hopefully come to fruition in the coming years,” she said.

Some changes to U.S. force posture were announced earlier this year. In April, for example, Austin announced plans to expand the U.S. military presence in Germany by 500 troops and a halt to planning for large-scale troops cuts that had been ordered by the Trump administration.

At the time of Austin’s announcement, U.S. and European officials were expressing concern about a buildup of Russian forces near Ukraine’s border. That crisis abated, but in recent weeks, it has returned amid worry that Moscow might be planning a military incursion into Ukraine.

Austin earlier this year also approved the withdrawal of some air and missile defense forces from the Persian Gulf area.

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Protesters Call for Burkina Faso’s President to Resign

Security is worsening in Burkina Faso with the deadliest attacks by Islamist militants in the West African country in years on civilians and security forces. People are protesting the failure of Burkinabe and international forces to stop the violence, with some calling for change at the top. Henry Wilkins reports from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.

Camera: Henry Wilkins

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Biden Meets with CEOs on Supply Chain Issues 

U.S. President Joe Biden met at the White House Monday with chief executives of major retailers to learn about supply chain challenges during the busy holiday season. 

“The business leaders we gathered here today represent a broad swath of American shopping: brick and mortar and online stores, national and local grocery chains, our nation’s largest retailer, and makers and sellers of toys, electronics and health supplies,” the president said. 

“I want to hear from each of you about what you’re seeing this holiday season,” he told the business leaders.

The Biden administration has been struggling to fix supply chain problems, including backlogged ports and a shortage of truck drivers to haul goods across the country. The supply chain issues, fuel prices that rose markedly earlier this year and other factors have contributed to rising U.S. inflation.

Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said, “While we’re all concerned about the supply chain, we have more inventory than we did a year ago, and we have the inventory that we need to be able to support the business.”

He told the meeting virtually, “We are seeing progress. The port and transit delays are improving.” Walmart has seen a 26% increase in shipping containers getting through U.S. ports in the past month, according to McMillon. 

Food Lion President Meg Ham told the meeting the company’s supply chain “is strong and robust, and we have ample product inside of our stores for customers to choose from during this holiday.” 

The White House said other participants at Monday’s meeting, both in person and virtual, included the CEOs of Best Buy, Samsung North America, Qurate Retail Group, Todos Supermarket, Etsy, Mattel, CVS Health and Kroger. 

Some information in this report came from the Associated Press and Reuters. 


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Turkey’s Economic Turmoil Threatens to Stoke Refugee Tensions

Last week’s 10% drop in the value of the Turkish currency plunged it to historic lows, threatening an economic crisis. The Turkish lira has dropped 45 percent this year, prompting concerns that economic turmoil could further raise tensions over the presence of millions of refugees. For VOA, Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul.

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Belarus Migrant Crisis Divides Polish Society

Thousands of migrants continue to wait in Belarus to enter the European Union through Poland, a crisis in the central European country that has sharply divided its society between those who want to assist migrants and those who refuse to open their borders. Elizabeth Cherneff narrates this report from Ricardo Marquina in Warsaw.

Camera: Ricardo Marquina

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Israeli Court: 6-Year-Old Cable Car Crash Survivor to Return to Italy

Israel’s Supreme Court on Monday upheld lower court rulings in the bitter custody battle surrounding a 6-year-old boy who survived a cable car crash in Italy, saying he should be returned to his relatives there within two weeks. 

Eitan Biran has been the focus of a legal battle between his paternal relatives in Italy and his maternal family in Israel since surviving the May 23 cable car crash, which killed 14 people, including his parents and younger brother.

Eitan and his parents were living in Italy at the time of the accident. After his release from a Turin hospital following weeks of treatment, Italian juvenile court officials ruled the child would live with a paternal aunt, Aya Biran, near Pavia, in northern Italy. 

His maternal grandfather, Shmulik Peleg, then spirited him away without the knowledge of the relatives in Italy, taking him across the border into Switzerland by car and then flying him to Israel on a private jet. Peleg has said he acted in the child’s best interest. 

The Peleg family said it would continue to fight “in every legal way” to return the child to Israel. It was not immediately clear what legal options were available following the Supreme Court ruling. 

Earlier this month, an Italian judge issued an arrest warrant for Gabriel Abutbul Alon, who is accused of having driven the car on September 11 that spirited Eitan from his home near Pavia to Switzerland. Alon was arrested in Cyprus last week. 

Peleg was also named in the arrest warrant. 

The boy’s family in Italy said they were happy with the Supreme Court decision, calling it “just and awaited.”

“We can only be happy with the end of this case, which represents a victory for the law and justice,” they said in a statement. Eitan is expected to arrive December 12 in Italy, “where he is awaited with joy.” 


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Biden Urges More Vaccinations, Not New Restrictions

U.S. President Joe Biden made a new plea Monday to Americans to get vaccinated against the coronavirus¸ or get booster shots if they have already been inoculated, in the face of what his top medical adviser says is the inevitability that the new omicron variant will enter the country.

“Do not wait,” Biden told the estimated 60 million unvaccinated people in the country during a short White House address. “If you are not vaccinated, go get it now.”

But the president said he does not currently believe that additional shutdowns of businesses and schools are needed because of the new omicron threat.

Biden said he would “spare no effort” to fight the new variant but health officials expressed the hope that those already vaccinated have a measure of protection against it, even as more scientific studies are being conducted.  

Cases of the variant, first identified in South Africa, have now been found in several countries and Biden, starting Monday, has banned flights into the United States from South Africa and seven other countries in Africa.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, told ABC’s “Good Morning America” show that scientists are hoping to learn in the next week or two how well the existing COVID-19 vaccines will protect people against the omicron variant, and how dangerous it might prove to be.

“We really don’t know,” Fauci said.

COVID-19, the disease cause by the coronavirus, has killed more than 750,000 people in the U.S. during the 20-month pandemic, more than in any other country.

Biden said vaccines in the U.S. will always first be available for Americans and for free. He said, however, that the country also has a “moral obligation” to help the rest of the would get vaccinated and that widespread inoculations would help end the global pandemic.

He said 275 million vaccine doses produced in the U.S. have already been shipped to 110 other countries.

“We’re throwing everything we can at this virus,” he said.

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NYC to Remove Thomas Jefferson Statue From City Hall

The statue of President Thomas Jefferson will be removed from New York City Hall and sent on long-term loan to the New-York Historical Society after some City Council members objected to its presence. The reason: Thomas Jefferson owned hundreds of slaves. Nina Vishneva has the story, narrated by Anna Rice.

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