Islamic State Claims Responsibility for Killing 15 in East Congo Village 

Islamic State on Tuesday claimed responsibility for an attack that killed at least 15 civilians in a village in northeast Democratic Republic of Congo on Sunday, the militant group said on an affiliated Telegram channel.   

A rights group and a local official said on Monday that fighters believed to be members of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) stormed the village of Bulongo in North Kivu province after dark on Sunday, pillaging homes, murdering inhabitants that crossed their path and setting fire to six vehicles. Read full story.

The ADF is a Ugandan militia that has been active in east Congo since the 1990s and killed scores of civilians, many in middle-of-the-night attacks carried out with machetes and hatchets. It pledged alliance to Islamic State in 2019.   

Islamic State claimed its members killed nearly 20 Christians and set fire to six trucks in the attack using machine guns, and returned to their bases unhurt. 

your ad here

US Supreme Court Blocks Texas Law Restraining Social Media Companies 

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday blocked a Texas law that bars large social media companies from banning or censoring users based on “viewpoint,” siding with two technology industry groups that have argued that the Republican-backed measure would turn platforms into “havens of the vilest expression imaginable.”   

The justices, in a 5-4 decision, granted a request by NetChoice and the Computer & Communications Industry Association, which count Facebook, Twitter and YouTube as members, to block the law while litigation continues after a lower court on May 11 let it go into effect.   

The industry groups sued to try to block the law, challenging it as a violation of the free speech rights of companies, including to editorial discretion on their platforms, under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment. 

Conservative Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch issued a written dissent, saying that it is “not at all obvious how our existing precedents, which predate the age of the internet, should apply to large social media companies.” Liberal Justice Elena Kagan separately dissented but did not offer any reasons. 

The Texas law was passed by the state’s Republican-led legislature and signed by its Republican governor. Its passage comes as U.S. conservatives and right-wing commentators complain that “Big Tech” is suppressing their views. These people cite as a prominent example Twitter’s permanent suspension of former President Donald Trump, a Republican, from the platform shortly after the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by a mob of his supporters, with the company citing “the risk of further incitement of violence.”   

The law, formally known as HB20, forbids social media companies with at least 50 million monthly active users from acting to “censor” users based on “viewpoint,” and allows either users or the Texas attorney general to sue to enforce it. 

In signing the bill last September, Texas Governor Greg Abbott said, “There is a dangerous movement by some social media companies to silence conservative ideas and values. This is wrong and we will not allow it in Texas.” 

The industry groups said the state’s law would unconstitutionally allow for government control of private speech. Restricting the platforms’ editorial control, the groups said, “would compel platforms to disseminate all sorts of objectionable viewpoints — such as Russia’s propaganda claiming that its invasion of Ukraine is justified.”  

“Instead of platforms engaging in editorial discretion, platforms will become havens of the vilest expression imaginable: pro-Nazi speech, hostile foreign government propaganda, pro-terrorist-organization speech, and countless more examples,” they added.   

The groups also denounced what they called “viewpoint discrimination against ‘Big Tech,'” in the Texas law through its exclusion of smaller social media platforms popular among conservatives such as Parler, Gab, Gettr and Trump’s own Truth Social.  

U.S. Judge Robert Pitman in the state capital Austin blocked the law last December. Pitman ruled that the constraints on how the platforms disseminate content violate the First Amendment.   

The New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals subsequently put Pitman’s decision on hold two days after hearing oral arguments in the case. The 5th Circuit has yet to issue a ruling on the merits of the case. 

your ad here

Biden, Powell Meet to Discuss Taming Inflation

With inflation in the United States at levels not seen in decades, President Joe Biden on Tuesday met with Jerome Powell, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, to discuss the ongoing effort to tame rising prices.

Over the 12 months ending in April, the Consumer Price Index, which tracks what average Americans pay for a broad array of goods and services, increased by 8.3%, down slightly from the month before, but still at a level not seen in 40 years.

The issue is a vital one for Biden, whose party is facing serious challenges in the run-up to November’s midterm elections. Public opinion polling indicates that rising prices are among voters’ biggest concerns at the moment, and high inflation appears to be driving down the president’s approval rating.

Political concerns

Despite political pressures, Biden approached his conversation with Powell cautiously, reluctant to appear to be meddling in the affairs of the central bank, which is meant to operate independently.

In advance of the meeting with Powell, Biden used an op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal to signal that he does not want to be seen as pressuring the Fed, contrasting himself with former President Trump, who frequently made public statements critical of Powell and the central bank.

“First, the Federal Reserve has a primary responsibility to control inflation,” Biden wrote. “My predecessor demeaned the Fed, and past presidents have sought to influence its decisions inappropriately during periods of elevated inflation. I won’t do this. I have appointed highly qualified people from both parties to lead that institution. I agree with their assessment that fighting inflation is our top economic challenge right now.”

Responding to inflation

As the central bank of the United States, the Federal Reserve is currently engaged in a very delicate process, attempting to slow price increases without tipping the United States economy into a damaging recession.

The Fed’s main tool in the effort is the ability of the Federal Open Market Committee, a body within the broader central bank, to set benchmark interest rates that affect borrowing costs across the economy.

As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. economy was plunged into a recession in 2020, and the Fed lowered interest rates to just above zero in order to provide economic stimulus. A recession is typically defined as two or more consecutive quarters in which a nation’s gross domestic product shrinks. However, the National Bureau of Economic Research ruled that a two-month economic downturn at the beginning of the pandemic counted as a recession, making it the shortest on record.

However, low interest rates combined with other government stimulus programs and supply shortages related to the pandemic as well as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine snowballed to bring higher prices that have strained many Americans’ budgets.

In March of this year, the Fed began raising rates, and it continued with another rate increase in early May. With the “target” interest rate currently between 0.75% and 1%, the Fed has signaled that it will raise rates several more times before the end of the year, probably in increments of one half of a percentage point.

How it works

“Raising interest rates works by restraining demand in the economy and restraining spending,” Kenneth N. Kuttner, a professor of economics at Williams College and a former assistant vice president of research at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, told VOA. “It’s only through restraining spending that inflationary pressures can be brought down.

“In order to get inflation down, the Fed would have to slow the economy until the level of desired spending can be accommodated by the supply side of the economy, or maybe a little bit lower,” Kuttner said. “The problem is, if it restrains spending too much, then the economy is going to go into a … recession.”

The trouble is that there is a significant lag between the Fed’s decision to raise interest rates and the effect that the increase has on economic activity, Greg McBride, senior vice president and chief financial analyst for, told VOA.

“By the time today’s actions take effect, the economy may look a lot different than it did,” McBride said. “That’s what makes this complicated and what brings about the risk of the Fed tipping the economy into a recession. They may be raising interest rates at a point where the economy is already slowing, and those rate hikes only serve to slow the economy further.”

McBride said he does not see a recession as likely in the immediate term. “The U.S. economy is growing this year, and the labor market is very strong,” he said. “Yes, growth will certainly slow through the balance of the year, but in terms of outright contraction, I see that more as a 2023 likelihood than 2022.”

Fed’s abilities limited

On Tuesday afternoon, in remarks at the start of his meeting with Powell, Biden reiterated his promise not to pressure the central bank over inflation.

“I’m not going to interfere with their critically important work,” the president said. “They have a laser focus on addressing inflation, just like I am.”

But while Biden may be counting on the Fed to bring down consumer prices, experts warn that many of the factors contributing to higher prices are well beyond the central bank’s control.

“The Fed has a very difficult task at hand,” said McBride. “A lot of that is tied to issues on the supply side, not just the demand side. The Fed cannot fix the supply chain. They can’t open ports in China that are closed. They can’t broker peace in Eastern Europe.”

He added, “What they can do is address the demand side in the U.S. … But without substantive healing of the supply chain, raising interest rates is not likely to be the panacea that it has been in the past, in terms of putting inflation to bed.”

your ad here

First Funerals Held for Victims of Texas School Mass Shooting

The grieving town of Uvalde, Texas, began to hold funerals Tuesday for the first of the 19 children and two teachers who were shot to death May 24 by a teenage gunman who barged into their elementary school armed with an assault rifle.

The first funerals were set for two 10-year-old girls. One of them, Amerie Jo Garza, was described in her obituary as sweet, sassy and funny, a girl who loved swimming and drawing. The other victim, Maite Yuleana Rodriguez, was, according to her obituary, an honor student who loved learning about whales and dolphins and dreamed of becoming a marine biologist.

More funerals for the remaining victims are set in coming days, through mid-June.

In Washington, a handful of U.S. senators — Democrats Chris Murphy and Kyrsten Sinema, and Republicans John Cornyn and Thom Tillis — began virtual talks to determine whether agreement is possible on measures to curb a level of gun violence and mass killings that are unlike those anywhere else in the world.

President Joe Biden, a gun control proponent whose efforts to enact new controls on gun sales has been stymied by opposition Republicans, told reporters at the White House: “I will meet with the Congress on guns, I promise you.”

Biden, who spent seven hours Sunday in Uvalde visiting with the relatives of the victims and survivors of the attack, said, “I’ve gotten to more mass shooting aftermaths than I think any president in American history, unfortunately.”

“And it’s just, so much of it is — much of it is preventable,” he said. “And the devastation is amazing.”

Going into a meeting with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Biden said he would ask her about her country’s response after a gunman killed 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch in 2019, streaming the carnage on Facebook as it happened.

Within weeks, Ardern led a dramatic push to restrict firearms in New Zealand, including a permanent ban on military-style semiautomatic weapons and assault rifles and a program to buy back and destroy such guns already in circulation.

Such a plan would meet with widespread opposition in the U.S., where many people see the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of gun ownership rights as sacrosanct.

While lawmakers debate new controls on gun sales, the Justice Department has opened a review of the police response to the attack on Robb Elementary School, “to identify lessons learned and best practices to help first responders prepare for and respond to active shooter events.”

In the Texas shooting, law enforcement officials are being sharply criticized for taking more than an hour to directly confront the gunman, Salvador Ramos, a high school dropout.

In the past few days, Texas law enforcement authorities have changed their accounts of exactly how the Robb Elementary massacre unfolded and their response to it.

Even as children trapped in the classroom with the shooter made urgent emergency calls, pleading with police to rescue them, the incident commander on the scene, the police chief for Uvalde schools, assessed — wrongly — that it was no longer an active shooter incident but rather that the assailant had barricaded himself in a classroom.

As a result, the incident commander, Pete Arredondo, did not immediately order police officers into the classroom to end the mayhem before more were killed.

Eventually, U.S. Border Patrol agents arrived at the school, burst into the classroom and killed Ramos.

The head of the Texas Department of Public Safety, Steven McCraw, said last week that with the benefit of hindsight, “it was the wrong decision” to wait to confront the shooter.

Some information from Reuters was used in this report.

your ad here

Kenyan Fugitive Wanted for Wildlife, Drug Trafficking Arrested

One of two Kenyans wanted for alleged involvement in wildlife and drug trafficking has been arrested in a joint U.S.-Kenyan operation. The U.S. government had announced a reward for information leading to the arrest of Badru Abdul Aziz Saleh.

U.S. officials said Kenya’s security agencies received a tip from the public that led to the arrest of Saleh Monday in Liboi, Garissa county. An embassy statement said U.S. and Kenyan law enforcement officials cooperated to apprehend Saleh.  

Another suspect, Abdi Hussein Ahmed, remains at large.

On Thursday, the United States announced rewards of up to $1 million each for information leading to the arrest, prosecution and conviction of the two Kenyans.

Eric W. Kneedler, chargé d’affaires at the U.S. embassy in Nairobi, said Monday’s arrest of Saleh “would not have been possible without the public’s support. He appealed for information leading to Ahmed’s arrest.

Saleh remains in police custody in Nairobi and is expected to be extradited to the U.S.

Saleh was arrested back in 2019 for drug trafficking but released on bail, according to the U.S. State Department. A statement said he was a fugitive with an outstanding warrant for his arrest. A federal grand jury in New York indicted him in 2021.

Saleh and Ahmed were accused in the transportation, distribution and smuggling of 190 kilograms of rhinoceros horns and 10 tons of elephant ivory from different African countries.

They were also alleged to have been involved in transporting and distributing 10 kilograms of heroin from Kenya to the United States.

If convicted, both could face up to 10 years in prison in the U.S.  

In March, Kenya launched a financial toolkit to help fight illegal wildlife trade. 

your ad here

Turkish Greek Tensions Rise as Arms Race Looms

Tensions are rising between Turkey and Greece, with the Turkish foreign minister on Tuesday warning that Ankara could challenge the sovereignty of Greek islands. The threat comes as both sides increase their military presence in contested waters of the Aegean Sea. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul.

your ad here

Soccer Body Investigating Pre-Game Chaos at Paris Champions League Final

International soccer officials are investigating the chaos outside Paris’s Stade de France stadium for last Saturday’s Champions League final between Liverpool and Real Madrid.

The highly anticipated game was uncharacteristically delayed for 37 minutes because many fans, mostly Liverpool fans, were unable to get in. Some fans reportedly were mugged.

Tear gas also reportedly was used.

The French government is blaming Liverpool fans, while Liverpool says that is an “irresponsible, unprofessional” rush to judgment and cites heavy-handed policing.

Some potential causes of the problems include only having three months to prepare for the event because the game was originally going to be hosted in Russia.

Some are pointing to a lack of signage to guide fans to the game in an orderly way.

Some also are wondering why Liverpool fans were made to walk through a narrow path from the subway to the stadium.

Another factor may be there reportedly were many fake tickets in circulation, leading to more delays.

“It was a pretty big mess,” said Madrid defender Dani Carvajal, whose family encountered safety issues. “They have to learn and fix the mistakes for the next events that may happen at this stadium, and hopefully everything will be better. But yes, in the end there were people who suffered a lot.”

Real Madrid won the game by a lone goal.

Some information in this report came from The Associated Press.

your ad here

Clinton Campaign Lawyer Acquitted of Lying to the FBI

A lawyer for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign was acquitted Tuesday of lying to the FBI when he pushed information meant to cast suspicions on Donald Trump and Russia in the run-up to the 2016 election.

The jury in the case of Michael Sussmann deliberated on Friday afternoon and Tuesday morning before reaching its verdict.

The case was the first courtroom test of special counsel John Durham since his appointment three years ago to search for government misconduct during the investigation into potential ties between Russia and Trump’s 2016 campaign. The verdict represents a setback for Durham’s work, especially since Trump supporters had looked to the probe to expose what they contend was sweeping wrongdoing by the FBI.

The trial focused on whether Sussmann, a cybersecurity attorney and former federal prosecutor, concealed from the FBI that he was representing Clinton’s campaign when he presented computer data that he said showed a possible secret backchannel between Russia-based Alfa Bank and Trump’s business company, the Trump Organization. The FBI investigated but quickly determined that there was no suspicious contact.

The bureau’s then-general counsel and the government’s star witness, James Baker, testified that he was “100% confident” that Sussmann had told him that he was not representing any client during the meeting. Prosecutors say he was actually acting on behalf of the Clinton campaign and another client, and that he hid that information so as to make it seem more credible and to boost the chances of getting the FBI to investigate.

Lawyers for Sussmann deny that he lied, saying that it was impossible to know with certainty what he told Baker since they were the only participants in the meeting and neither of them took notes.

They argued that if Sussmann said he wasn’t acting on the Clinton campaign’s behalf that that was technically accurate since he didn’t ask the FBI to take any particular action. And they said that even if he did make a false statement, it was ultimately irrelevant since the FBI was already investigating Russia and the Trump campaign and would have looked into the Alfa Bank data no matter the source.

During the two-week trial, jurors heard from current and former FBI officials who described efforts to assess the data’s legitimacy as well as former Clinton campaign aides.

The original Trump-Russia investigation, overseen for two years by former special counsel Robert Mueller, found multiple efforts by Russia to interfere on the Trump campaign’s behalf but did not establish that the two sides had worked together to sway the election.

After Mueller’s work was done, then-Attorney General William Barr named a new Justice Department prosecutor, then-Connecticut U.S. Attorney Durham, to examine whether anyone from the FBI or other agencies violated the law as the government opened its investigation into Russian election interference and the Trump campaign.

Durham has remained at work into the Biden administration. He has brought three cases so far, though the one against Sussmann is the only to have reached trial. A former FBI lawyer, Kevin Clinesmith, was given probation after pleading guilty in 2020 to altering an email related to the surveillance of an ex-Trump campaign aide, and a Russian analyst who contributed to a dossier of Democratic-funded research into ties between Russia and Trump awaits trial on charges of lying to the FBI about his sources of information.

your ad here

Cameroon NGO Creates App to Track Endangered Marine Species

In Cameroon nearly 150 manatees, an endangered aquatic species also known as sea cow, are killed each year by poachers or fisherman, often unintended by the latter. An aid group has created a mobile app to collect data to help reduce manatee deaths. Anne Nzouankeu reports from lake Ossa, Cameroon.

your ad here

Rwanda, DRC Leaders to Discuss M23 Rebel Group

The head of the African Union is calling on Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo to lower tensions. The DRC accuses Rwanda of supporting the rebel group M23, which continues to battle the Congolese army in eastern Congo. But analysts are doubtful the tensions or the situation in eastern Congo as a whole will soon improve.

Calm has returned in some parts of the eastern DRC, which saw heavy fighting last week between the Congolese army and the rebel group M23.

Jean-Mobert Senga, Amnesty International’s DRC researcher, told VOA there is a lull in the fighting.

“When it comes to M23, there has been some calm in the last few days,” he said. “There have been no clashes reported and in some parts, civilians have started to return but that doesn’t mean that the conflict is over in North Kivu and Ituri. Civilians are still being killed by other armed groups, so it’s not only M23 which is the problem. There are also other groups who have been killing people and are continuing to kill civilians with impunity.”

Reports say the Congolese army, with the help of the U.N. peacekeeping force MONUSCO, recently repelled a rebel advance on the city of Goma. The reports say M23 fighters have now returned to their hideouts near the border with Uganda.

But residents of North Kivu and Ituri remain fearful of M23 and other armed groups in the region, which have competed for years for control of the area’s rich mines. Some of the groups have ties to Rwanda, Uganda or Burundi.

The DRC government accuses Rwanda of supporting M23 in an effort to destabilize the country.

In a statement Monday, Rwandan Foreign Minister Vicent Biruta encouraged its neighbor to de-escalate its rhetoric. He said collaboration could restore security and bring lasting stability to the region.

The minister also said the rebel group M23 was Congo’s internal problem and should be resolved among Congolese themselves.

On his Twitter account, African Union chairperson Senegalese President Macky Sall said he is concerned about the tensions between the DRC and Rwanda.  Sall said he spoke to DRC President Felix Tshisekedi and Rwandan President Paul Kagame in a quest to find a peaceful resolution to the crisis. 

Researcher and political analyst Ntanyoma Rukumbuzi said the tension between the countries and the unrest in the DRC are likely to continue. 

“I don’t see any future escalation between the two countries, Rwanda and the DRC,” he said. “I think both countries have an interest in dialogue and settling many of these issues in a pacific way through dialogue but would this be enough if Rwanda and DRC agree to solve the tension in a pacific way? Will this lead to the stability of the DRC? I am not sure.”

M23 insists it is fighting ethnic Hutu groups to protect the minority Tutsi living along the border between Congo and Rwanda.

But, Human Rights Watch DRC senior researcher Thomas Fessy notes M23 was expelled from peace talks between Congo and various armed groups that took place in Kenya at the end of April.

“All of this has created a context of tension which is sparking fears of new military confrontation on Congolese territory and civilians are always the ones always to pay the biggest price,” he said. “In a few days of heavy fighting near Goma, over 70,000 people were displaced. According to the humanitarian organizations, many of them will now need assistance.”

Congo is home to some 5.6 million internally displaced people, more than any other country in Africa.

your ad here

Ukraine Court Sentences 2 Russian Soldiers for Shelling Civilians

A Ukrainian court sentenced two Russian soldiers to 11½-year prison terms on Tuesday after they had pleaded guilty last week to indiscriminately shelling civilian targets in the Kharkiv region, from across the border in Russia. 

Alexander Bobikin and Alexander Ivanov heard the verdict as they stood in a reinforced glass box at the Kotelva district court in northeastern Ukraine.

“The guilt of Bobikin and Ivanov has been proven in full,” Judge Evhen Bolybok said, standing in front of a Ukrainian flag.

Prosecutors had asked for 12-year terms for the Russian soldiers in the second war crimes case Ukrainian officials have brought. Defense lawyers said the sentences should be eight years because the pair had pleaded guilty, expressed remorse and contended that they were following orders when they fired Grad missiles at targets from Russia’s Belgorod area. 

After they were sentenced, the two were asked whether they felt their sentences were fair and both said yes. Guards armed with Kalashnikov rifles then handcuffed the two and led them out of the courtroom. 

After the initial shelling from inside Russia, Bobikin and Ivanov, described as an artillery driver and a gunner, were captured after crossing the border and continuing the shelling.  

Last week, a Russian soldier was handed a life sentence for killing an unarmed civilian. 

Ukraine has accused Russia of committing thousands of war crimes during the war over the past three months, although Moscow denies it is targeting civilians.  


Some material in this report came from Reuters and Agence France-Presse.

your ad here

In Commonwealth, Queen’s Jubilee Draws Protests, Apathy

After seven decades on the throne, Queen Elizabeth II is widely viewed in the U.K. as a rock in turbulent times. But in Britain’s former colonies, many see her as an anchor to an imperial past whose damage still lingers.

So while the U.K. is celebrating the queen’s Platinum Jubilee — 70 years on the throne — with pageantry and parties, some in the Commonwealth are using the occasion to push for a formal break with the monarchy and the colonial history it represents.

“When I think about the queen, I think about a sweet old lady,” said Jamaican academic Rosalea Hamilton, who campaigns for her country to become a republic. “It’s not about her. It’s about her family’s wealth, built on the backs of our ancestors. We’re grappling with the legacies of a past that has been very painful.”

The empire that Elizabeth was born into is long gone, but she still reigns far beyond Britain’s shores. She is head of state in 14 other nations, including Canada, Australia, Papua New Guinea and the Bahamas. Until recently it was 15 — Barbados cut ties with the monarchy in November, and several other Caribbean countries, including Jamaica, say they plan to follow suit.

Britain’s jubilee celebrations, which climax over a four-day holiday weekend starting Thursday, aim to recognize the diversity of the U.K. and the Commonwealth. A huge jubilee pageant through central London on Sunday will feature Caribbean Carnival performers and Bollywood dancers.

But Britain’s image of itself as a welcoming and diverse society has been battered by the revelation that hundreds, and maybe thousands, of people from the Caribbean who had lived legally in the U.K. for decades were denied housing, jobs or medical treatment — and in some cases deported — because they didn’t have the paperwork to prove their status.

The British government has apologized and agreed to pay compensation, but the Windrush scandal has caused deep anger, both in the U.K. and in the Caribbean.

A jubilee-year trip to Belize, Jamaica and the Bahamas in March by the queen’s grandson Prince William and his wife Kate, which was intended to strengthen ties, appears to have had the opposite effect. Images of the couple shaking hands with children through a chain-link fence and riding in an open-topped Land Rover in a military parade stirred echoes of colonialism for many.

Cynthia Barrow-Giles, professor of political science at the University of the West Indies, said the British “seem to be very blind to the visceral sort of reactions” that royal visits elicit in the Caribbean.

Protesters in Jamaica demanded Britain pay reparations for slavery, and Prime Minister Andrew Holness politely told William that the country was “moving on,” a signal that it planned to become a republic. The next month, Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne told the queen’s son Prince Edward that his country, too, would one day remove the queen as head of state.

William acknowledged the strength of feeling and said the future “is for the people to decide upon.”

“We support with pride and respect your decisions about your future,” he said in the Bahamas. “Relationships evolve. Friendship endures.”

When then Princess Elizabeth became queen on the death of her father King George VI 1952, she was in Kenya. The East African country became independent in 1963 after years of violent struggle between a liberation movement and colonial troops. In 2013, the British government apologized for the torture of thousands of Kenyans during the 1950s “Mau Mau” uprising and paid millions in an out-of-court settlement.

Memories of the empire are still raw for many Kenyans.

“From the start, her reign would be indelibly stained by the brutality of the empire she presided over and that accompanied its demise,” said Patrick Gathara, a Kenyan cartoonist, writer and commentator.

“To this day, she has never publicly admitted, let alone apologized, for the oppression, torture, dehumanization and dispossession visited upon people in the colony of Kenya before and after she acceded to the throne.”

U.K. officials hope countries that become republics will remain in the Commonwealth, the 54-nation organization made up largely of former British colonies, which has the queen as its ceremonial head.

The queen’s strong personal commitment to the Commonwealth has played a big role in uniting a diverse group whose members range from vast India to tiny Tuvalu. But the organization, which aims to champion democracy, good governance and human rights, faces an uncertain future.

As Commonwealth heads of government prepare to meet in Kigali, Rwanda, this month for a summit delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, some question whether the organization can continue once the queen’s eldest son, Prince Charles, succeeds her.

“Many of the more uncomfortable histories of the British Empire and the British Commonwealth are sort of waiting in the wings for as soon as Elizabeth II is gone,” royal historian Ed Owens said. “So it’s a difficult legacy that she is handing over to the next generation.”

The crisis in the Commonwealth reflects Britain’s declining global clout.

Zimbabwe was suspended from the Commonwealth under its authoritarian late President Robert Mugabe, and is currently seeking readmission. But many in its capital of Harare have expressed indifference to the queen’s jubilee, as Britain’s once-strong influence wanes and countries such as China and Russia enjoy closer relations with the former British colony.

“She is becoming irrelevant here,” social activist Peter Nyapedwa said. “We know about [Chinese President] Xi [Jinping] or [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, not the queen.”

Sue Onslow, director of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies at the University of London, said the queen has been the “invisible glue” holding the Commonwealth together.

But she says the organization has proven remarkably resilient and and shouldn’t be written off. The Commonwealth played a major role in galvanizing opposition to apartheid in the 1980s, and could do the same over climate change, which poses an existential threat to its low-lying island members.

“The Commonwealth has shown a remarkable ability to reinvent itself and contrive solutions at times of crisis, almost as if it’s jumping into a telephone box and coming out under different guise,” she said. “Whether it will do it now is an open question.”

your ad here

Cameroon’s Military Frees Senator, Other Separatist Hostages  

Cameroon’s military says it has freed a senator who was held captive by separatists for a month along with other hostages.

Cameroon’s military on Tuesday said it managed to rescue Senator Regina Mundi, after what a spokesman called two days of heavy battles with rebels who had taken her hostage.

Military spokesman Serge Cyrille Atongfack said in a press release that the clashes took place in Batibo district in Cameroon’s Northwest region.

Atongfack said separatists tried to escape advancing government troops on Sunday with six hostages, including Senator Mundi.

But he said the troops stopped the rebels, killing ten of them and capturing three, without any harm to the captives.

The military did not identify the other hostages but said they were receiving medical treatment after the ordeal.

Rights groups in Cameroon welcomed Senator Mundi’s release after a month in captivity.

Mumah Bih Yvonne of the Women’s Peace Movement led church prayers for Mundi’s release after her April abduction.

“I hope she is sound health wise. For those who took Mundi and kept her for this long, I pray you have a change of mindset. You are perpetuating pain and suffering on people. I congratulate those who succeeded in getting her out,” she said.

A separatist spokesman confirmed that government troops freed Mundi and other hostages but denied the military’s claim that fighters were killed and captured.

Capo Daniel is deputy defense chief of the Ambazonia Defense Forces, one of Cameroon’s rebel groups. The separatists have been fighting since 2017 to break away from Cameroon and its French-speaking majority to create an English-speaking state called Ambazonia.

Daniel says the military abused civilians during the weekend raids to free Senator Mundi.

“Hundreds of Cameroon military brutalized our civilian population, rounded them up, tied their hands behind their backs, women were tortured, houses were searched, occupants were tied up and forced to sit in city squares where they were not allowed to have access to communication. None of our soldiers were killed or captured, We have regrouped and we will make sure that those areas remain under strong Ambazonia control,” he said.

None of Daniel’s claims could be immediately or independently confirmed.

One local, who did not want to be identified for fear of retaliation, told VOA both sides committed abuses and detained civilians during the clashes.

Cameroon’s military denies any abuses.

Armed separatists abducted Senator Mundi with her driver in Bamenda, capital of the English-speaking North West region, on April 30.

The rebels accused Mundi of collaborating with Cameroon’s central government and demanded 47 of their arrested leaders be freed in return for her release. The government refused.

Esther Njomo Omam is executive director of Reach Out Cameroon, a group calling for a cease-fire to end the separatist conflict.

“Parties to the conflict, this is the time to talk more among ourselves and resolve our differences in a peaceful way,” she said.

Unrest in Cameroon’s English-speaking western regions broke out in 2016 after teachers and lawyers protested the dominance of French in the officially bilingual country.

The military’s harsh response led separatists to take up arms, saying they had to defend the minority English speakers.

The U.N. says clashes between the two sides have since left at least 3,300 people dead and more than 750,000 internally displaced.

your ad here

US Senator Visits Taiwan as China Ups Military Threat

On a visit to Taiwan, U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth reiterated support for the island amid rising Chinese threats.

Duckworth met with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen on Tuesday and emphasized the close economic, political and security relations between Taipei and Washington.

China claims Taiwan as its own territory to be annexed by force, and sent 30 military aircraft into airspace close to the island Monday. Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said it responded by scrambling jets, putting air defense missile systems on alert and issuing radio warnings.

In her remarks to Tsai, Duckworth said she wanted to “emphasize our support for Taiwan security.”

“I do want to say that it is more than just about military. It’s also about the economy,” Duckworth, a former Army helicopter pilot and lieutenant colonel in the National Guard, told Tsai.

Duckworth also cited strong bipartisan backing for a bill she has put forward promoting cooperation between Taiwan’s armed forces and the National Guard.

Tsai thanked the U.S. government and Congress “for the importance they place on peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” as well as Duckworth herself for “keeping a close watch on Taiwan related security issues.”

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has put China’s threats against Taiwan under new focus, prompting increased backing for arms sales and political support from Democrats and Republicans.

China upped the ante further in May, reaching out to the Solomon Islands and nine other island nations with a sweeping security proposal that, even if only partially realized, could give it a presence in the Pacific much nearer Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand and on the doorstep of the strategic American territory of Guam.

That is seen as a potential route to blocking access to Taiwan by the U.S. and its allies in the event China makes good on its threat to invade the island.

In a speech Thursday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said President Joe Biden’s administration aims to lead the international bloc opposed to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine into a broader coalition to counter what it sees as a more serious, long-term threat to global order from China.

While relations with Taiwan are informal in deference to Beijing, the U.S. remains its main supplier of defensive arms and source of political support in international organizations where China blocks Taiwan’s participation. 

your ad here

Drought Affects Almost Half of Somalia as Famine Looms  

At a news conference in Mogadishu, Somalia’s special envoy for humanitarian issues on Monday said more than six million Somalis were affected by the record drought.

Abdurahman Abdishakur Warsameh said the number of people suffering was quickly approaching half of Somalia’s population.

Warsameh said the drought has hit 72 of Somalia’s 84 districts and that six of them were already facing famine-like conditions with extreme food insecurity.

He says our people are starting to die now. Deaths have begun, famine is looming in some areas, and drought is turning into famine. Warsameh says the Somali people at home and abroad should help us in taking on some of the responsibility.

The special envoy did not give any figures on how many Somalis have died from hunger but appealed for aid to reach those in need.

Warsameh said the current drought, the worst in forty years, had displaced nearly 700,000 Somalis from the countryside and forced them to seek help in nearby cities.

He said the U.N. and aid agencies requested $1.4 billion for drought relief but so far received only $58 million.

Warsameh said international aid was more focused on the COVID pandemic, Russia’s war on Ukraine, and crises in Afghanistan, Syria, and Yemen.

The humanitarian envoy also said not much attention is given to humanitarian needs because of Somalia’s focus on politics last year and a half of delayed elections.

International aid agencies warned Monday that the threat of starvation was worsening in Somalia and neighboring countries across Ethiopia and Kenya.

The Horn of Africa region is facing a record fifth rainy season without adequate rain, according to meteorological experts and humanitarian groups, which include U.N. agencies.

your ad here

Russia Sanctions Seen Loosening Moscow’s Grip on Central Asia

Russia’s influence in the former Soviet republics of Central Asia is expected to decline as its overstretched military struggles in Ukraine and its economy suffers shocks from the sanctions imposed by the United States and its allies, according to experts.

Russia has long enjoyed leverage over the region’s five countries – Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan – because of their reliance on remittances from migrant laborers employed in Russia, says Jennifer Brick Murtazashvili, head of the Center for Governance and Markets at the University of Pittsburgh.

World Bank data published in March laid out the importance of the remittances, which it said in some cases “were comparable to or even larger than the countries’ exports of goods and services.”

“In the past, Central Asian states were wary of Russia because they understood that (their economic relationship) changes if they offended Moscow,” Murtazashvili told VOA. But, she said, the balance has shifted because of the war in Ukraine and the five countries “now understand that Russia needs labor from Central Asia very badly.”

“These countries now understand that they have agency and leverage and are beginning to understand how they can use it,” she said. “Right now, we are seeing a stronger Central Asia that will have more freedom to pick and choose among great powers.”

Russia’s weakness opens the door for China to play a larger role in the region, but it also increases opportunities for other countries that wish to do business there, according to Murtazshvili.

On Tuesday, exactly three months after Russia launched its invasion, China pledged $37.5 million of “free financial assistance” to Uzbekistan “for the implementation of joint socially significant projects,” according to the Uzbek government.

The agreement was signed by Uzbekistan’s deputy minister of investment and foreign trade, Aziz Voitov, and the Chinese ambassador in Tashkent, Jiang Yan, according to a statement on the website of Uzbekistan’s Ministry of Investment and Foreign Trade.

One day earlier, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Donald Lu led a U.S. delegation to the region on a five-day trip to the Kyrgyz Republic, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kazakhstan.

According to the State Department, the purpose of the trip is “to strengthen U.S. relations with the region and advance collaborative efforts to create a more connected, prosperous, and secure Central Asia.”

Last week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken met in Washington with Mukhtar Tileuberdi, the foreign minister of Kazakhstan.

In the meeting, according to the State Department, Blinken confirmed the U.S. “commitment to minimizing the impact on allies and partners, including Kazakhstan, from the sanctions imposed on Russia.”

Raffaello Pantucci, a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore and author of “Sinostan: China’s Inadvertent Empire,” said that while Russia’s influence is expected to decline it will remain an important player in the region.

Leaders of the Central Asian nations “have always had some concern and skepticism towards Russia and now it will be worse,” he told VOA. “The natural connections and public opinion mean it will be hard to entirely sever, but it is clear that the regional governments are not ecstatic about President [Vladimir] Putin’s actions” in Ukraine.

Early in the war, Putin called the heads of the Central Asian states to seek support for his planned occupation of Ukraine. But the five leaders responded cautiously, neither endorsing nor condemning the invasion.

China, meanwhile, has been expanding its footprint in the region for a while, Pantucci said. “But increasingly the region will find itself frustrated as — unlike Russia — China is not very interested in stepping in to try to fix things, but is single-mindedly focused on its own interests.”

Temur Umarov, a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, also predicted Russia will remain influential in the region despite the problems created by the war.

“Russia understands what is going on here in Central Asia and it does it better than any other foreign actor in the region,” Umarov told VOA from Bishkek, capital of Kyrgyzstan, “So this is something that is really difficult to change.”

According to Umarov, the five Central Asian states have been seeking to diversify their ties with the rest of the world since they gained their independence from Moscow in the early 1990s.

“Russia’s actions toward Ukraine will add speed to the process of replacing Russia in those countries,” Umarov said. “Of course, China is the number one country that has the capacity to do that in many spheres, especially in terms of logistics because of geographic location and its economy, because of China’s economic muscle which other countries do not possess.”

But, according to Murtazashvili, China is not very popular in Central Asia. “People understand what has happened with the Uyghurs and are wary of getting too close to China,” she said.

Three of the five Central Asian countries border China’s western Xinjiang region, where Beijing is accused by the U.S. and other countries of a genocidal crackdown on its Uyghur minority. Beijing rejects the accusation as lies and says that China is fighting against the “forces of three evil,” namely separatism, extremism and terrorism in the region.

The majority-Turkic countries of Central Asia are culturally, religiously and ethnically close to the Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

your ad here

Estimates Show Most of the US’s 10 Biggest Cities Lost Residents During Pandemic

Ko Im always thought she would live in New York forever. She knew every corner of Manhattan and had worked hard to build a community of friends. Living in a small apartment, she found her attitude shifting early in the pandemic. After her brother accepted a job in Seattle in the summer of 2020, she decided to move there too.

“It was fine until it wasn’t,” said Im, 36. “The pandemic really changed my mindset about how I wanted to live or how I needed to live.”

Eight of the 10 largest cities in the U.S. lost population during the first year of the pandemic, with New York, Los Angeles and Chicago leading the way. Between July 2020 and July 2021, New York lost more than 305,000 people, while Chicago and Los Angeles contracted by 45,000 and 40,000, respectively.

Although San Francisco’s not among the 10 largest cities, almost 55,000 residents left that city, or 6.3% of its 2020 population, the highest percentage of any U.S. city.

Among the 10 largest U.S. cities, only San Antonio and Phoenix gained new residents, but they added only about 13,000 people each, or less than 1% of their populations, according to 2021 vintage population estimates.

Justin Jordan’s move to Phoenix a year ago was motivated by a job offer paying him more money than the one in Moundsville, West Virginia, where he had been living. He has had to adjust to 110 degree Fahrenheit (43.3 degree Celsius) temperatures and  traffic.

“I love the weather, the atmosphere, and all the stuff to do,” said Jordan, 33, a senior operations manager for a business services firm.

Jacksonville, Florida; Charlotte, North Carolina; Columbus, Ohio; and Austin and Fort Worth in Texas also registered modest population gains.

In March, the U.S. Census Bureau released estimates for metro areas and counties showing changes from mid-2020 to mid-2021. The estimates released Thursday offer a more granular perspective. For instance, the March data showed metro Dallas had the largest population gain of any metro area in the U.S., adding more than 97,000 residents, but Thursday’s estimates show the city of Dallas lost almost 15,000 residents. The growth occurred in Dallas suburbs like Frisco, McKinney and Plano.

Reasons for population changes vary from city to city, driven by housing costs, jobs, births and deaths. The pandemic and the lockdown that followed in spring 2020 made living in a crowded city less appealing for a time, and those who could leave — workers who could do their jobs remotely, for example — sometimes did.

Brookings Institution demographer William Frey said he believes the population declines in most of the largest U.S. cities from 2020 to 2021 are “short-lived and pandemic-related.”

When it came to growth rates, as opposed to raw numbers, the fastest-growing cities with populations of at least 50,000 residents were in the suburbs of booming Sunbelt metro areas. They included Georgetown and Leander outside Austin; the town of Queen Creek and the cities of Buckeye, Casa Grande and Maricopa outside Phoenix; the city of New Braunfels outside San Antonio; and Fort Myers, Florida. They had growth rates of between 6.1% and 10.5%.

As metro Austin has grown by leaps and bounds, so has Georgetown, located more than 25 miles (40 kilometers) north of the Texas capital, said Keith Hutchinson, the city’s communications manager. The city grew by 10.5%, the most in the nation last year, and now has 75,000 residents.

“It’s not really a surprise,” Hutchinson said. “People are moving here for jobs.”

The estimates also showed population declines of 3% to 3.5% in New Jersey cities outside New York, such as Union City, Hoboken and Bayonne. Similar declines occurred outside San Francisco in Daly City, Redwood City and San Mateo, as well as Cupertino in Silicon Valley.

Lake Charles, Louisiana, which was devastated by Hurricane Laura in 2020, lost almost 5% of its residents, the second-highest rate in the U.S. behind San Francisco.

Though the Category 4 storm was the driver there, elsewhere, the pandemic created opportunities to move. Andrew Mazur, 31, had been wanting for some time to leave Philadelphia for South Florida where he grew up, and the chance to work remotely in his job at a large professional services firm arrived in November 2020. He joined almost 25,000 residents who left Philadelphia between 2020 and 2021.

Although he now needs a car to get around, Mazur loves golfing every weekend and going to the beach. He recently moved out of his parents’ home, getting his own apartment in Fort Lauderdale. He made the move official three weeks ago by obtaining a Florida driver’s license.

“I’m not going back. It has been great,” Mazur said. “Philly, New York, Chicago — tons of people from there are moving down here.”

your ad here

Latest Developments in Ukraine: May 31

For full coverage of the crisis in Ukraine, visit Flashpoint Ukraine.

The latest developments in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. All times EDT.

1:00 a.m.: Japanese industry minister said on Tuesday that his country will not leave the Sakhalin 2 liquefied natural gas (LNG) project even if asked to leave, Reuters reported.  

The land for the project is Russia’s but the plant is owned by the Japanese government and companies, Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Koichi Hagiuda told a parliamentary committee. 

12:30 a.m.: Moscow backed separatist leader said Tuesday that Russian forces had not advanced as rapidly as they had hoped in the battle for Sievierodonetsk, the easternmost city still in Ukraine’s hands, Reuters reported citing state-run TASS news agency. 

As the Russian offensive continued across Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, the European Union agreed to ban most imports of Russian oil, a move intended to blow a hole in the Kremlin’s war finances. 

12:15 a.m.: Russian troops continue to battle Ukrainian forces in the eastern part of the country, according to The Associated Press. 

12:01 a.m.: European Union leaders agreed late Monday to ban two-thirds of Russian oil imports as part of a compromise deal to increase pressure on Russia while accounting for the economic effects on some EU nations that are more reliant on Russian oil supplies. The embargo cuts off Russian oil delivered by sea, while exempting oil imported through pipelines. 

Landlocked Hungary had threatened to oppose restrictions on oil imports, a move that would have scuttled the effort that requires consensus of all EU members. European Council President Charles Michel said he expects EU ambassadors to formally endorse the embargo, which is part of a larger sanctions package, on Wednesday. 

Combined with pledges from countries such as Germany to phase out their Russian oil imports, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the agreement will “effectively cut around 90% of oil imports from Russia to the EU by the end of the year.” 


Other parts of the sanction package include assets freezes and travel bans on individuals, and excluding Russia’s biggest banks, Sberbank, from the SWIFT global financial transfer system. The EU is also barring three Russian state-owned broadcasters from distributing content in EU countries. EU leaders also agreed to provide Ukraine with $9.7 billion in assistance for the country’s economy and reconstruction efforts. 

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

your ad here

EU Agrees to Ban Majority of Russian Oil

European Union leaders agreed late Monday to ban two-thirds of Russian oil imports as part of a compromise deal to increase pressure on Russia while accounting for the economic effects on some EU nations that are more reliant on Russian oil supplies.

The embargo cuts off Russian oil delivered by sea, while exempting oil imported through pipelines.

Landlocked Hungary had threatened to oppose restrictions on oil imports, a move that would have scuttled the effort that requires consensus of all EU members. European Council President Charles Michel said he expects EU ambassadors to formally endorse the embargo, which is part of a larger sanctions package, on Wednesday.

Ukrainian leaders have long called for banning Russian oil imports in order to deny Russia income it can use to fuel its war effort. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy reiterated his appeal as he spoke to the EU Monday.

Combined with pledges from countries such as Germany to phase out their Russian oil imports, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the agreement will “effectively cut around 90% of oil imports from Russia to the EU by the end of the year.”

Other parts of the sanction package include assets freezes and travel bans on individuals, and excluding Russia’s biggest banks, Sberbank, from the SWIFT global financial transfer system. The EU is also barring three Russian state-owned broadcasters from distributing content in EU countries.

EU leaders also agreed to provide Ukraine with $9.7 billion in assistance for the country’s economy and reconstruction efforts.

Luhansk fighting

Fierce fighting has erupted on the streets of the eastern Ukraine city of Sievierodonetsk, with Kyiv’s forces trying desperately to fight off the Russian onslaught.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy characterized the situation as “indescribably difficult.” In a televised speech, he described capturing Sievierodonetsk as “a fundamental task for the occupiers” and said Ukraine was doing all it could to protect the city from a Russian takeover.

Russian troops have entered the city, power and communications have been knocked out, and “the city has been completely ruined,” Sievierodonetsk Mayor Oleksandr Striuk told The Associated Press in a phone interview.

“The number of victims is rising every hour, but we are unable to count the dead and the wounded amid the street fighting,” the mayor said. Striuk said 12,000 to 13,000 civilians remain in the city that once had 100,000 residents. They are sheltering in basements and bunkers to escape the Russian assault.

Striuk estimated 1,500 civilians in the city have died since the war began, from Russian attacks as well as from a lack of medicine or treatment.

Sievierodonetsk, the last major Ukrainian-held population center in the eastern Luhansk province, has become the focus of Russian attacks as Moscow attempts to control the Donbas region after failing to topple Zelenskyy or capture the capital, Kyiv, during more than three months of fighting. Sievierodonetsk is about 140 kilometers from the Russian border.

Luhansk Governor Serhiy Gaidai said Russian troops “use the same tactics over and over again. They shell for several hours — for three, four, five hours in a row — and then attack. Those who attack die. Then shelling and attack follow again and so on until they break through somewhere.”

In Washington, U.S. President Joe Biden said he would not send rocket systems to Ukraine that could reach Russia. Ukraine has received extensive U.S. military aid but has requested more powerful rocket systems.

Toll on journalists

Zelenskyy said in his nightly address Monday that 32 media workers had been killed in Ukraine since the beginning of the Russian invasion.

That includes French journalist Frédéric Leclerc-Imhoff, who died Monday near Sievierodonetsk.

French broadcaster BFM TV said the 32-year-old journalist was hit by shrapnel while reporting on Ukrainian evacuations from the area.

French President Emmanuel Macron sent his condolences to the family and colleagues of Leclerc-Imhoff, writing in a tweet that the journalist died showing “the reality of the war.”

French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna, who was in Ukraine on Monday, called for an investigation into the journalist’s death, saying in a statement that “France demands that a probe be carried out as soon as possible.”

Some information in this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.

your ad here

Lincoln Memorial Turns 100

Dedicated on May 30, 1922, the stately Lincoln Memorial in Washington is a beloved symbol of the United States. It honors America’s 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, who led the country from 1861 to 1865 and is often considered its greatest president.

Lincoln, who fought to end slavery while preserving the nation, led the country during the tumultuous Civil War between the United States and 11 Southern states that had seceded from the union.

The memorial was also built to heal the painful divisions, more than 50 years later, caused by the war. Those divisions, including racism, remain today.

“White Southerners saw him as a despot,” said Kate Masur, a historian at Northwestern University.

“Over time, particularly in the late 1880s and later, Lincoln’s reputation among white Southerners began to improve. So the opening of the Lincoln Memorial stands for reconciliation between white Northerners and white Southerners but excluded African Americans,” she told VOA.

Each year, the Lincoln Memorial draws in millions of visitors who marvel at its grandeur.

The outside resembles the Parthenon, the famous ancient Greek temple. Inside sits an 6-meter-high marble statue of Lincoln.

“The memorial is so beautiful,” said Hannah Wagner, a college student from Pennsylvania. “Abraham Lincoln was an amazing president, and I respect all that he did to help the country.”

“There are words engraved on the walls from his iconic speeches, including the Gettysburg Address, which he delivered at the site of the biggest battle of the Civil War,” explained renowned Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer, director of the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College.

“There are also words from his second inaugural address in which he describes the national guilt over slavery as the reason for the war” and tells people not to act with malice but with charity toward one another, Holzer told VOA.

Because Lincoln had very little formal education, “his literary ability came as a huge surprise, and he delivered the most beautiful speeches,” said Ted Widmer, a professor at Macaulay Honors College at the City University of New York.

“Lincoln had a great ability to connect to the American people,” Widmer told VOA.

“There is a hushed tone, a reverence, inside the memorial, as people gaze on the statue or read the speeches,” said Mike Litterst, spokesman for National Mall and Memorial Parks in Washington. “I think it speaks to the power and importance that Lincoln still has all these years later.”

Visitor Adjo Kotey from Ghana was awestruck.

“To me, President Lincoln was a hero because he helped free so many Black people,” he said.

“Although Lincoln opened the door to the eventual elimination of slavery in this country, African Americans were very much involved in their own liberation as well,” historian Edna Greene Medford, author of the book “Lincoln and Emancipation,” said during an interview with VOA.

Ironically, even though Lincoln was known as the “Great Emancipator,” the memorial’s dedication ceremony in 1922 was segregated.

“The Black attendees were removed from the front row and taken to a segregated section in the back,” Holzer said, adding that the only Black speaker that day, Tuskegee Institute President Robert Russa Moton, had his remarks censored.

From that day forward, the Lincoln Memorial has served as a backdrop for civil rights and other protests.

In 1939, famed singer Marian Anderson was granted permission to perform there after being denied the right at a nearby venue because she was Black. Her concert drew 75,000 people.

Then, during the August 1963 March on Washington, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial. Just over 100 years earlier, on January 1, 1863, Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared “all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.”

Today, other protests have included Vietnam War veterans, Americans with disabilities, and people who identify as LBGTQ.

James Haggerty and Conrad Mitchell got married at the Lincoln Memorial after same-sex marriage had been legalized in Washington in 2009.

“After waiting years before we could get married, we thought this would be the perfect place to show how important this was to us,” Haggerty said. “It was a really special day,” Michell added.

your ad here

Erdogan Discusses Turkey’s Syria Incursion Plans With Putin

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has discussed Ankara’s planned military operation in northern Syria and the war in Ukraine with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Erdogan’s office said Monday.

In recent days Erdogan has said Turkey will launch a cross-border incursion against Kurdish militants in Syria to create a 30-kilometer-deep buffer zone. He told Putin in a phone call that the frontier zone was agreed to in 2019 but had not been implemented, the Turkish presidency said.

Ankara carried out an operation against the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, in October 2019. Russia, the Syrian regime and the United States also have troops in the border region.

Turkey considers the YPG to be a terrorist group linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, that has waged an insurgency against Turkey since 1984, leading to the deaths of tens of thousands of people.

However, the YPG forms the backbone of U.S.-led forces in the fight against the Islamic State group in Syria. The U.S. has not been happy with Turkey’s previous incursions into Syria.

Erdogan also told Putin that Turkey was ready to resume a role in ending the war in Ukraine, including taking part in a possible “observation mechanism” between Ukraine, Russia and the United Nations, the statement said.

Negotiations in Istanbul held in March failed to make any headway, but Turkey, which has close ties to both Kyiv and Moscow, has repeatedly put itself forward as a possible mediator.

The Turkish president also called for peace in Ukraine as soon as possible and for confidence-building steps to be taken.

In Washington, the National Security Council said national security adviser Jake Sullivan had called Ibrahim Kalin, chief adviser to Erdogan, to discuss the two nations’ support for Ukraine, but also to voice caution about actions in Syria.

Sullivan “reiterated the importance of refraining from escalation in Syria to preserve existing cease-fire lines and avoid any further destabilization,” said Adrienne Watson, spokesperson for the National Security Council.

your ad here

Uvalde: Visitations, Funerals and Burials, One After Another 

It should have been the first day of a joyous week for Robb Elementary School students — the start of summer break. Instead on Monday, the first two of 19 children slain inside a classroom were being remembered at funeral visitations.

The gathering for 10-year-old Amerie Jo Garza was at Hillcrest Memorial Funeral Home in Uvalde, Texas, directly across from the grade school where the children, along with two teachers, were shot to death on Tuesday before the gunman himself was killed. Visitation for another 10-year-old, Maite Rodriguez, was at the town’s other funeral home.

Over the next 2 1/2 traumatic weeks, people in the southwestern Texas town will say goodbye to the children and their teachers, one heart-wrenching visitation, funeral and burial after another. As family and friends unleash their grief, investigators will push for answers about how police responded to the shooting, and lawmakers have said they’ll consider what can be done to stem the gun violence permeating the nation.

This week alone, funerals are planned for 11 children and teacher Irma Garcia.

On Monday, some mourners at Amerie’s visitation wore lilac or lavender shades of purple — Amerie’s favorites — at the request of her father, Angel Garza. Many carried in flowers, including purple ones.

The little girl who loved to draw had just received a cellphone for her 10th birthday. One of her friends told Angel Garza that Amerie tried to use the phone to call police during the assault on her fourth-grade classroom.

Among the mourners at Amerie’s visitation were some of Maite’s relatives. Like many people, they were attending both.

Maite’s family wore green tie-dye shirts with an illustration showing Maite with angel wings. Before going into the funeral home, they stopped at the ditch to see the metal gate gunman Salvador Ramos crashed a pickup truck into before crossing a field and entering the school.

“How did he walk for so long?” asked Juana Magaña, Maite’s aunt.

Hillcrest Memorial itself and the shooting will be forever linked. After Ramos wrecked the truck, two men at the funeral home heard the crash and ran toward the accident scene. Ramos shot at them. He missed and both men made it to safety.

Eliahna “Ellie” Garcia’s funeral will be June 6 — the day after she was supposed to turn 10. Her family had been preparing a big birthday bash at her grandmother’s house this coming weekend. She had been hoping to receive gifts related to the Disney movie “Encanto.”

“She loved that movie and talked a lot about it,” said her aunt, Siria Arizmendi.

Ellie was quiet even around family but loved doing videos and had been already practicing with her older sister a choreography for her quinceañera party — the celebration of a girl’s 15th birthday — even though it was still five years away, Arizmendi said.

Ellie’s older sister is doing OK, Arizmendi said, understanding their family and others face a long road to recovery.

“It is just sad for all the children,” she said.

Funeral directors, embalmers and others from across Texas arrived to help. Jimmy Lucas, president of the Texas Funeral Directors Association, brought a hearse and volunteered to work as a driver, pitch in for services, or do whatever he could, he told NBC News. Other arriving morticians were there to help with facial reconstruction services given the damage caused by the shooter’s military-style rifle.

Governor Greg Abbott, speaking at a Memorial Day event in Longview, urged Texans to keep Uvalde in their prayers.

“What happened in Uvalde was a horrific act of evil,” Abbott said. “And as Texans, we must come together and lift up Uvalde and support them in every way that we possibly can. It is going to take time to heal the devastation that the families there have gone through and are going through,” but be assured, “we will not relent until Uvalde recovers.”

The U.S. Department of Justice announced Sunday a review of the law enforcement response. Police have come under heavy criticism for taking well over an hour to kill Ramos inside the adjoining classrooms where he unleashed carnage.

Officials revealed Friday that students and teachers repeatedly begged 911 operators for help as a police commander told more than a dozen officers to wait in a hallway. Officials said the commander believed the suspect was barricaded inside an adjoining classroom and that there was no longer an active attack.

The revelation raised new questions about whether lives were lost because officers did not act faster to stop the gunman, who was ultimately killed by Border Patrol tactical officers.

Authorities have said Ramos legally purchased two guns not long before the school attack: an AR-style rifle on May 17 and a second rifle on May 20. He had just turned 18, permitting him to buy the weapons under federal law.

A day after visiting Uvalde and pledging, “We will,” in response to people chanting, “Do something,” President Joe Biden on Monday expressed some optimism that there may be some bipartisan support to tighten restrictions on the kind of high-powered weapons used by the gunman.

“I think things have gotten so bad that everybody’s getting more rational, at least that’s my hope,” Biden told reporters before honoring the nation’s fallen in Memorial Day remarks at Arlington National Cemetery.

“The Second Amendment was never absolute,” Biden said. “You couldn’t buy a cannon when the Second Amendment was passed. You couldn’t go out and buy a lot of weapons.”

A bipartisan group of senators talked over the weekend to see if they could reach even a modest compromise on gun safety legislation. Encouraging state “red flag” laws to keep guns away from those with mental health issues, and addressing school security and mental health resources were on the table, said Senator Chris Murphy, who is leading the effort.

The group will meet again this week under a 10-day deadline to strike a deal.

your ad here

Biden: With Mass Killings, Even Gun Control Opponents Want New Curbs

U.S. President Joe Biden said Monday that mass shootings in the United States “have gotten so bad” that even those opposed to restrictions on gun sales have become more “rational” in trying to curb the mayhem.

A day after his emotional visit to the Texas elementary school where a gunman last week killed 19 children and two teachers, Biden renewed his push to get Congress to enact new gun control legislation, possibly expanding background checks on more gun buyers— before sales are completed — and other measures.

Key Democratic senators, who have long pushed for tighter gun controls, say Republican lawmakers, who almost uniformly have opposed more restrictions as an infringement on personal freedom, are engaged in serious discussions about what new measures could win congressional approval, however modest the changes might be.

In the past, no matter how horrific the mass killing, members of Congress have lamented the carnage, and then done nothing to try to avert the next attack.

Now, Biden said, “Things have gotten so bad that everybody is getting more rational about it.”

Congress is unlikely to ban the sale of assault weapons, even though police say the gunman in Uvalde, Texas, carried out last week’s attack with such a weapon, an AR-15 he bought days after his 18th birthday earlier in May.

The U.S. banned the sale of such weapons from 1994 to 2004, but Congress then blocked the law’s renewal, although Biden would like to impose the ban again.

“The idea of these high-caliber weapons — there is simply no rational basis for it in terms of self-protection, hunting,” Biden told reporters at the White House.

As Biden was getting in his limousine Sunday in Uvalde, he heard one of the nearby bystanders shout, “Do something!”

Biden paused, stood on the door frame of the vehicle, and vowed, “We will. We will.”

Biden’s seven-hour visit to the Texas city was his second this month to the scene of a mass shooting. He earlier gave condolences to the grieving relatives of 10 Black people who were killed by an allegedly racist teenage gunman at a Buffalo, New York, grocery store.

In Texas, Biden, accompanied by first lady Jill Biden, walked past the floral tributes to the victims outside Robb Elementary School, often pausing to touch the cardboard cutout pictures of each of the 21 victims and read their names.

While the Bidens paid their tributes, the U.S. Justice Department announced that at the request of Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin, it would conduct a review of the police response to last Tuesday’s attack on the school, “to identify lessons learned and best practices to help first responders prepare for and respond to active shooter events.”

In the Texas shooting, law enforcement officials are being sharply criticized for taking more than an hour to directly confront the gunman, Salvador Ramos, a high school dropout.

In the past few days, Texas law enforcement authorities have changed their accounts of exactly how the Robb Elementary massacre unfolded and their response to it.

Even as children trapped in the classroom with the shooter made urgent emergency calls, pleading with police to rescue them, the incident commander on the scene, the police chief for Uvalde schools, assessed — wrongly — that it was no longer an active shooter incident but rather that the assailant had barricaded himself in a classroom.

As a result, the incident commander, Pete Arredondo, did not immediately order police officers into the classroom to end the mayhem before more were killed.

Eventually, U.S. Border Patrol agents arrived at the school, burst into the classroom and killed Ramos.

The head of the Texas Department of Public Safety, Steven McCraw, said Friday that with the benefit of hindsight, “it was the wrong decision” to wait to confront the shooter.

your ad here

Housekeepers Struggle as US Hotels Ditch Daily Room Cleaning

After guests checked out of a corner room at the Hilton Hawaiian Village resort on Waikiki beach, housekeeper Luz Espejo collected enough trash, some strewn under beds, to stuff seven large garbage bags.

She stripped the linens from the beds, wiped built-up dust off furniture and scrubbed away layers of grime on the toilet and bathtub. She even got on her hands and knees to pick confetti from the carpet that a heavy-duty vacuum failed to swallow up.

Like many other hotels across the United States, the Hilton Hawaiian Village has done away with daily housekeeping service, making what was already one of the toughest jobs in the hospitality industry even more grueling.

Industry insiders say the move away from daily cleaning, which gained traction during the pandemic, is driven by customer preferences. But others say it has more to do with profit and has allowed hotels to cut the number of housekeepers at a time when many of the mostly immigrant women who take those jobs are still reeling from lost work during coronavirus shutdowns.

Many housekeepers still employed say their hours have been cut and they are being asked to do far more work in that time.

“It’s a big change for us,” said Espejo, a 60-year-old originally from the Philippines who has cleaned rooms at the world’s largest Hilton for 18 years, minus about a year she was laid off during the pandemic. “We are so busy at work now. We cannot finish cleaning our rooms.”

Before the pandemic there were 670 housekeepers working at Espejo’s resort. More than two years later, 150 of them haven’t been hired back or are on-call status, spending each day from 5:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. waiting for a phone call saying there’s work for them. The number not hired back or on call stood at 300 just a few weeks ago.

“This is all about more money in the owners’ pocket by putting a greater workload on the frontline workers and eliminating jobs,” said D. Taylor, president of UNITE HERE, a union representing hotel workers.

While some hotels started experimenting with less frequent cleaning in the name of sustainability, it became far more widespread early in the pandemic, when to promote social distancing and other safety protocols, many hotels switched to offering room cleaning only if a guest requested, and sometimes only after staying a certain number of days. Guests were instructed to leave trash outside their door and call the front desk for clean towels.

But even as safety restrictions fade and demand picks up as the country enters peak travel season, many hotels are keeping their new cleaning policies in place.

A spokesperson for the Hilton Hawaiian Village said no Hilton representative was available for an interview about such policies at any Hilton property. Representatives for several major hotel chains, including Marriott and Caesars Entertainment, either declined to be interviewed or didn’t respond to Associated Press requests for comment.

Chip Rogers, president and CEO of the American Hotel & Lodging Association, a trade group whose members include hotel brands, owners and management companies, said it was the demands of guests — not hotel profits — that guided decisions about pandemic housekeeper services.

“A lot of guests, to this day, don’t want people coming into their room during their stay,” he said. “To force something onto a guest that they don’t want is the antithesis of what it means to work in the hospitality industry.”

The pandemic changed the standard of most hotel guests wanting daily cleaning, he said, adding it’s not yet clear if that will result in a permanent shift.

Housekeeping policies vary based on the type of hotel, Rogers said, with luxury hotels tending to provide daily housekeeping unless guests opt out.

Ben McLeod, of Bend, Oregon, and his family didn’t request housekeeping during a four-night stay at the Westin Hapuna Beach Resort on Hawaii’s Big Island in March.

“My wife and I just have never really understood why there would be daily housekeeping … when that’s not the case at home and it’s wasteful,” he said.

He said he expects his kids to tidy up after themselves.

“I’m a Type-A, so I get out of bed and I make my bed, so I don’t need someone else to make my bed,” he said.

Unionized hotel workers are trying get the message out that turning down daily room cleaning is hurting housekeepers and threatening jobs.

Martha Bonilla, who has spent 10 years working at the Caesars Atlantic City Hotel & Casino in New Jersey, said she wants guests to ask for daily cleaning, noting it makes her job less difficult. Even though hotels in New Jersey are required by law to offer daily cleaning, some guests still turn it down.

“When I come home from work now, the only thing I want to do is go to bed,” said Bonilla, originally from the Dominican Republic and a single mother of a 6-year-old daughter. “I am physically exhausted.”

It’s not just partying guests like the ones who threw confetti around in Hawaii that leave behind filthy rooms, housekeepers say. Even with typical use, rooms left uncleaned for days become much harder to restore to the gleaming, pristine rooms guests expect when they check in.

Elvia Angulo, a housekeeper at the Oakland Marriott City Center for 17 years, is the main breadwinner in her family.

For the first year of the pandemic, she worked a day or two a month. She has regained her 40 hours a week, but with rooms no longer cleaned daily the number of people working each shift has been cut in half, from 25 to 12.

“Thank God I have seniority here so I now have my five days again, and my salary is the same,” said Angulo, 54, who is from Mexico. “But the work really is now harder. If you don’t clean a room for five days you have five days of scum in the bathrooms. It’s scum over scum.”

Many housekeepers still aren’t getting enough hours to qualify for benefits.

Sonia Guevara, who has worked at a Seattle Hilton for seven years, used to really enjoy the benefits at her job. But since returning to work after being laid off for 18 months, she hasn’t qualified for health insurance.

“At first I was thinking to get a new job, but I feel like I want to wait,” she said. “I want to see if my hours change at the hotel.”

She said there are few other job options with hours conducive for having two children in school.

Now politicians are picking up on the issue, including Hawaii state Rep. Sonny Ganaden, who represents Kalihi, a Honolulu neighborhood where many hotel workers live.

“Almost every time I talk to people at their doors, I meet someone who works in a hotel and then we talk about how they are overworked and what is happening and working conditions,” he said. “You’ve got a lot of first- and second-generation immigrant folks that are kind of left high and dry by these non-daily room cleaning requirements.”

Ganaden is among the lawmakers who introduced a resolution requesting Hawaii hotels “immediately rehire or recall employees who were laid off or placed on leave” because of the pandemic.

If that’s not enough, Ganaden said he would be open to more forceful measures like some other places have taken.

Washington, D.C.’s city council in April passed emergency legislation requiring hotels in the district to service rooms daily unless guests opt-out.

Amal Hligue, an immigrant from Morocco, hopes the rules mean more hours at the Washington Hilton where she has worked for 22 years. She needs them so her husband can get health insurance.

“I hope he has this month because I worked last month,” she said.

At 57 years old, she doesn’t want to find a new job. “I’m not young, you know,” she said. “I have to stay.”

your ad here