US Capitol Riot Panel Hints at Criminal Referrals for Witness Tampering 

Lawmakers investigating the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol last year are signaling they could send referrals to the Justice Department for prosecution of illegal tampering with witnesses who have testified to the panel.

Representative Liz Cheney, vice chairperson of the House of Representatives investigative panel, displayed Tuesday two messages from notes sent to hearing witnesses saying that former President Donald Trump was keeping a close eye on the hearings and was counting on continued loyalty. The senders of the notes weren’t identified.

The panel is probing how the insurrection unfolded and Trump’s role in trying to upend his 2020 reelection defeat.

Cheney’s disclosure of the notes came after two hours of explosive testimony from Cassidy Hutchinson, the former top assistant to Mark Meadows, who was Trump’s last White House chief of staff.

Hutchinson described in detail how Trump became angry and volatile in the last weeks of his presidency as the reality of his loss to Democrat Joe Biden sank in and his own associates dismissed his repeated claims that he had been cheated out of reelection.

CNN quoted unidentified sources Thursday saying Hutchinson was one of the witnesses who had been contacted by someone attempting to influence her testimony.

In an interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America” show Thursday, Cheney said the attempted influencing of witnesses is “very serious. It really goes to the heart of our legal system. And it’s something the committee will certainly be reviewing.”

She added, “It gives us a real insight into how people around the former president are operating, into the extent to which they believe that they can affect the testimony of witnesses before the committee. And it’s something we take very seriously, and it’s something that people should be aware of. It’s a very serious issue, and I would imagine the Department of Justice would be very interested in, and would take that very seriously, as well.”

At Tuesday’s hearing, Cheney did not say which of the committee’s witnesses had been contacted but displayed two text messages on a large television screen.

One said, “What they said to me is as long as I continue to be a team player, they know I’m on the team, I’m doing the right thing, I’m protecting who I need to protect, you know, I’ll continue to stay in good graces in Trump World.”

“And they have reminded me a couple of times that Trump does read transcripts and just to keep that in mind as I proceed through my depositions and interviews with the committee,” that witness continued.

In another example, a second witness said, “[A person] let me know you have your deposition tomorrow. He wants me to let you know that he’s thinking about you. He knows you’re loyal, and you’re going to do the right thing when you go in for your deposition.”

Representative Zoe Lofgren, another member of the investigative panel, told CNN, “It’s a concern, and anyone who is trying to dissuade or tamper with witnesses should be on notice that that’s a crime, and we are perfectly prepared to provide any evidence we have to the proper authorities.”

A third committee member, Representative Jamie Raskin, said after the hearing, “It’s a crime to tamper with witnesses. It’s a form of obstructing justice. The committee won’t tolerate it. And we haven’t had a chance to fully investigate or fully discuss it, but it’s something we want to look into.”

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Six Killed in Sudan as Protesters Rally on Uprising Anniversary

Seven protesters were shot to death in Sudan on Thursday, medics said, as large crowds took to the streets despite heavy security and a communications blackout to rally against the military leadership that seized power eight months ago.   

In central Khartoum, security forces fired tear gas and water cannons in the afternoon as they tried to prevent swelling numbers of protesters from marching toward the presidential palace, witnesses said.  

They estimated the crowds in Khartoum and its twin cities of Omdurman and Bahri to be at least in the tens of thousands, the largest for months. In Omdurman, witnesses reported tear gas and gunfire as security forces prevented protesters from crossing into Khartoum, though some later made it across.  

The protests in the capital and other cities marked the third anniversary of huge demonstrations during the uprising that overthrew long-time autocratic ruler Omar al-Bashir and led to a power-sharing arrangement between civilian groups and the military.   

Last October, the military led by General Abdel-Fattah Burhan toppled the transitional government, triggering rallies demanding the army quit politics. 

Some of Thursday’s protesters carried banners calling for justice for those killed in previous demonstrations. Others chanted, “Burhan, Burhan, back to the barracks and hand over your companies,” a reference to the military’s economic holdings. 

In the evening, protesters in Bahri and Khartoum said they were starting sit-ins against Thursday’s deaths, one of the highest single-day tolls to date.   

June 30 also marks the day Bashir took power in a coup in 1989.   

“Either we get to the presidential palace and remove Burhan or we won’t return home,” said a 21-year-old female student protesting in Bahri.   

It was the first time in months of protests that internet and phone services had been cut. After the military takeover, extended internet blackouts were imposed in an apparent effort to weaken the protest movement.   

Staff at Sudan’s two private sector telecoms companies, speaking on condition of anonymity, said authorities had ordered them to shut down the internet once again on Thursday.   

Phone calls within Sudan were also cut, and security forces closed bridges over the Nile linking Khartoum, Omdurman and Bahri, another step typically taken on big protest days to limit the movement of marchers.   

On Wednesday, medics aligned with the protest movement said security forces shot to death a child in Bahri during neighborhood protests that have been taking place daily.  

Thursday’s seven deaths, five in Omdurman, one in Khartoum and another child in Bahri brought the number of protesters killed since the coup to 110. There were many injuries and attempts by security forces to storm hospitals in Khartoum where the injured were being treated, the Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors said. 

There was no immediate comment from Sudanese authorities. 

The United Nations envoy in Sudan, Volker Perthes, called this week on authorities to abide by a pledge to protect the right of peaceful assembly. 

“Violence against protesters will not be tolerated,” he said.   

Military leaders said they dissolved the government in October because of political paralysis, though they are yet to appoint a prime minister. International financial support agreed with the transitional government was frozen after the coup and an economic crisis has deepened. 

Burhan said on Wednesday the armed forces were looking forward to the day when an elected government could take over, but this could only be done through consensus or elections, not protests.   

Mediation efforts led by the United Nations and the African Union have so far yielded little progress. 

 

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Landmines Add to Drought Woes of Ethiopian Herders

The battles between Ethiopian government-aligned troops and Tigrayan forces may have stopped, but herders in western Afar region are left fighting for survival.

The record drought in the Horn of Africa that has killed millions of livestock has been made worse by landmines left by combatants.

Herder Hassen Arebti Hassen’s 4-year-old daughter was injured by a landmine, and the weapons are also killing his animals.

He said landmines are everywhere, and many animals have stepped on them and died.

Landmines and other explosives are so common in the area that some locals use the wood from their crates as building materials.

Nine-year-old Ali Omer said his 10-year-old friend was killed by a landmine while they were herding goats together.

“We were just there to take care of the goats, but my friend died,” he said.

Omer said his friend was playing, throwing stones at the landmine, but then he picked it up and threw it to the ground.

Omer was also injured.

His father, Oumer Hadeto, said landmines make them all afraid to collect water, despite the drought.

Hadeto said the community doesn’t know what to do, and he has to spend a lot of money to buy food for his family and animals. The landmines need to be removed, he added.

After speaking with locals, VOA was unable to establish which side in the conflict was responsible for laying the mines.

Bekele Gonfa, executive director of a nonprofit in Addis Ababa that supports landmine victims, said people in mined areas of Ethiopia, like Chifra, need help.

“Number one is the medical treatment. And then, they’re provided with psychosocial support, which includes counseling. Particularly, that’s what the organization is basically engaged in. The public and the community [have] to be given risk education in order to really keep themselves away from the mines,” Gonfa said.

But with the ongoing drought, people in Chifra have little choice but to risk landmines if they want to find food for their animals and collect water for their survival.

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NATO Ends Summit with Strengthened Posture Against Russia, China

NATO leaders concluded their three-day meeting in Madrid Thursday with the Western security alliance strengthening its defense against Russian aggression, warning of global challenges posed by China and inviting neutral countries Finland and Sweden into the group.

U.S. President Joe Biden described the summit as “historic.”

“The last time NATO drafted a new mission statement was 12 years ago,” Biden said, referring to a document also known as the alliance’s Strategic Concept.

“At that time, it characterized Russia as a partner, and it didn’t mention China. The world has changed, changed a great deal since then, and NATO is changing as well. At this summit, we rallied our alliances to meet both the direct threats that Russia poses to Europe and the systemic challenges that China poses to a rules-based world order. And we’ve invited two new members to join NATO,” Biden said.

Biden reiterated that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine has only strengthened NATO.

“He tried to weaken us, expected our resolve to fracture but he’s getting exactly what he did not want,” Biden said. “He wanted the ‘Finland-ization’ of NATO. He got the ‘NATO-ization’ of Finland.”

On Wednesday Putin dismissed the imminent expansion of the Western alliance.

“With Sweden and Finland, we don’t have the problems that we have with Ukraine. They want to join NATO, go ahead,” Putin told Russian state television.

“But they must understand there was no threat before, while now, if military contingents and infrastructure are deployed there, we will have to respond in kind and create the same threats for the territories from which threats towards us are created,” he warned.

As it sets to expand, NATO leaders agreed on a massive increase in troop deployments across Europe. A total of 300,000 soldiers will be placed at high readiness across the continent starting next year to defend against potential military attacks by Moscow on any member of the alliance – what Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg characterized as “the most serious security crisis” since the Second World War.      

To bolster NATO’s defense, the United States is also set to establish a permanent headquarters for the U.S. 5th Army Corps in Poland, add a rotational brigade of 3,000 troops and 2,000 other personnel to be headquartered in Romania, and send two additional squadrons of F-35 fighter jets to Britain.   

Reaffirming commitments made by other Western leaders, Biden said the U.S. will stand firm against Russia’s aggression. He offered little indication the conflict would conclude anytime soon, suggesting that Americans would have to bear high gas prices longer.

“As long as it takes, so Russia cannot in fact defeat Ukraine and move beyond Ukraine,” he said.

China challenge

Biden said the summit has brought together “democratic allies and partners from the Atlantic and the Pacific” to defend the rules-based global order against challenges from China, including its “abusive and coercive trade practices.” 

NATO leaders have also called out the “deepening strategic partnership” between Beijing and Moscow as one of the alliance’s concerns.

Beijing is not providing military support for Russia’s war on Ukraine, but Chinese leader Xi Jinping has stated support for Moscow over “sovereignty and security” issues. The country continues to purchase massive amounts of Russian oil, gas and coal. 

Biden noted that for the first time in the transatlantic alliance’s history, Asia Pacific leaders from Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea participated at the summit.

With the reemergence of great power conflict, a strategic competitor sitting in each region, and an evolving Russia-China relationship, there are many common challenges that European and Asia-Pacific partners must discuss together, said Mirna Galic, senior policy analyst on China and East Asia at the United States Institute of Peace.

Galic told VOA these include issues already being worked on, such as cyber defense, maritime security and space, as well as those that will require some new thinking, such as intermediate-range nuclear forces, missile defense, inter-theater deterrence and defense, and how to push back on great power use of force in contravention of international norms.

“The last is certainly relevant to the Russian invasion of Ukraine but also has parallels with China and Taiwan, which is why Ukraine is seen as more than a European security issue,” Galic said.

In his remarks at the end of the NATO summit, Biden also touted the West’s latest counter to China’s multi-trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

“We also launched what started off to be the Build Back Better notion, but it’s morphed into a Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment,” he said referring to the “Build Back Better World” initiative announced at the 2021 meeting of the Group of Seven leaders in Cornwall, UK and relaunched earlier this week as the PGII at the G-7 summit of leading industrialized nations in Krün, Germany.

Officials say PGII will offer developing nations $600 billion in infrastructure funding by 2027 and be a better alternative to China’s BRI that critics have characterized as “debt trap diplomacy.”

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US Supreme Court Gets First Black Female Justice

Ketanji Brown Jackson was sworn in Thursday as the newest U.S. Supreme Court justice — becoming the first Black woman ever to serve on the high court.

The 51-year-old Jackson took the constitutional oath from U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts and the judicial oath from retiring 83-year-old Justice Stephen Breyer, whom she replaces. Jackson served as a clerk for Breyer early in her legal career.

Jackson’s husband, Dr. Patrick Jackson, held two bibles as the oaths were administered.

After she completed her oaths, Roberts told Jackson, “On behalf of all of the members of the court, I am pleased to welcome Justice Jackson to the court and to our common calling.” The ceremony was streamed live on the court’s website.

Breyer informed President Joe Biden on Wednesday that his retirement would take effect Thursday after the court issued its last two opinions before taking a summer recess. The court’s next term begins Oct. 3.

Jackson is the 116th justice, sixth woman and third Black person to serve on the Supreme Court since its 1789 founding.

Biden appointed Jackson last year to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit after she spent eight years as a federal district judge. Following a series of committee hearings, the U.S. Senate confirmed Jackson’s nomination in April, by a 53-47 mostly party-line vote that included support from three Republicans.

Jackson’s addition to the bench will not change the ideological alignment of the court, which remains 6-3 in favor of conservatives appointed by Republican presidents.

She becomes a justice as public opinion polls indicate a record low in public confidence in the Supreme Court after a number of unpopular decisions, including last week’s reversal of the landmark 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision, which had made abortion legal across the United States.

Some information for this report was provided by the Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.

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International Commission Calls on Ethiopia to End Violations on Its Territory

A U.N. investigative panel is calling on the government of Ethiopia to end conflict-related rights violations on its territory and bring the perpetrators of crimes to justice. The commission has submitted its first report to the U.N. Human Rights Council.

The three-member International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia reports that violations of international human rights, humanitarian and refugee law continue and appear to be committed with impunity.

Commission chair Kaari Betty Murungi said the panel is alarmed by ongoing atrocities against civilians, including events reported in the Oromia region. This is a reference to the recent killings of an estimated 250 people, mostly from the Amhara ethnic group, allegedly by the rebel Oromo Liberation Army.

“Any spread of violence against civilians, fueled either by hate speech or incitement to ethnic-based or gender-based violence, are early warning indicators and a precursor for further atrocity crimes,” Murungi said. “These and the protracted humanitarian crisis including blockades to food and medical aid, supplies and services pose grave risk to the Ethiopian civilian population and to people in the region.”

The commission was established last December at a special session on the human rights situation in Ethiopia since Nov. 3, 2020. That was when the government’s military offensive in Tigray began in response to attacks by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

Ethiopia has rejected as unwarranted the adoption of the resolution that established the commission.

Ethiopia’s ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, Zenebe Kebede Korcho, however, has told the council his government will cooperate with the commission despite ongoing reservations. He said discussions have begun.

“The country is now turning a page,” Korcho said. “The government of Ethiopia has decided to seek peaceful end to the conflict. An inclusive national dialogue is launched to address political problems across the country. The government has taken numerous confidence-building measures.”

The ambassador said his government has declared an indefinite humanitarian truce in northern Ethiopia. As a result, he noted humanitarian assistance is reaching all those in need.

The commission said it has begun its work and welcomes the cooperation of the Ethiopian government. The commission adds it believes it can contribute to furthering accountability for the many violations that have occurred since the start of the conflict in Tigray and that are still ongoing.

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Report: Only 15% of World Enjoys Free Expression of Information

A Britain-based group says its latest study of worldwide free expression rights shows only 15% of the global population lives where people can receive or share information freely.

In its 2022 Global Expression Report, Article19, an international human rights organization, said that in authoritarian nations such as China, Myanmar and Russia, and in democracies such as Brazil and India, 80% of the global population live with less freedom of expression than a decade ago.

The report said authoritarian regimes and rulers continue to tighten control over what their populations see, hear and say.

While mentioning Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the report singles out China’s government for “exerting ultimate authority over the identities, information and opinions” of hundreds of millions of people.  

The annual report examines freedom of expression across 161 countries using 25 indicators to measure how free each person is to express, communicate and participate in society, without fear of harassment, legal repercussions or violence. It creates a score from zero to 100 for each country.

This year, the report ranks Denmark and Switzerland tops in the world, each with scores of 96. Norway and Sweden each have scores of 94, and Estonia and Finland both scored 93. The study said the top 10 most open nations are European.

Article 19 ranks North Korea as the most oppressive nation in the world with a score of zero. Eritrea, Syria and Turkmenistan had scores of one, and Belarus, China and Cuba had scores of two.   

The United States ranked 30th on the scale. In 2011, it was 9th in the world. The U.S. has seen a nine-point drop in its score, putting the country on the lower end of the open expression category. It was globally ranked in the lowest quartile in 2021 in its scores for equality in civil liberties for social groups, political polarization and social polarization, and political violence.

The report said that over the past two decades, there have been more dramatic downward shifts in freedom of expression around the world than at any time. Many of these occur as the result of power grabs or coups, but many more nations have seen an erosion of rights, often under democratically elected populist leaders.

Article 19 takes its name from the article under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

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US Supreme Court Limits EPA in Curbing Power Plant Emissions

In a blow to the fight against climate change, the Supreme Court on Thursday limited how the nation’s main anti-air pollution law can be used to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.

By a 6-3 vote, with conservatives in the majority, the court said that the Clean Air Act does not give the Environmental Protection Agency broad authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants that contribute to global warming.

The court’s ruling could complicate the administration’s plans to combat climate change. Its proposal to regulate power plant emissions is expected by the end of the year.

President Joe Biden aims to cut the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions in half by the end of the decade and to have an emissions-free power sector by 2035. Power plants account for roughly 30% of carbon dioxide output.

The justices heard arguments in the case on the same day that a United Nations panel’s report warned that the effects of climate change are about to get much worse, likely making the world sicker, hungrier, poorer and more dangerous in the coming years.

The power plant case has a long and complicated history that begins with the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan. That plan would have required states to reduce emissions from the generation of electricity, mainly by shifting away from coal-fired plants.

But that plan never took effect. Acting in a lawsuit filed by West Virginia and others, the Supreme Court blocked it in 2016 by a 5-4 vote, with conservatives in the majority.

With the plan on hold, the legal fight over it continued. But after President Donald Trump took office, the EPA repealed the Obama-era plan. The agency argued that its authority to reduce carbon emissions was limited and it devised a new plan that sharply reduced the federal government’s role in the issue.

New York, 21 other mainly Democratic states, the District of Columbia and some of the nation’s largest cities sued over the Trump plan. The federal appeals court in Washington ruled against both the repeal and the new plan, and its decision left nothing in effect while the new administration drafted a new policy.

Adding to the unusual nature of the high court’s involvement, the reductions sought in the Obama plan by 2030 already have been achieved through the market-driven closure of hundreds of coal plants.

Power plant operators serving 40 million people called on the court to preserve the companies’ flexibility to reduce emissions while maintaining reliable service. Prominent businesses that include Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Tesla also backed the administration.

Nineteen mostly Republican-led states and coal companies led the fight at the Supreme Court against broad EPA authority to regulate carbon output.

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