Kosovo Delays License Plate Plan After Border Tensions

The Kosovo government postponed implementation of a decision that would oblige Serbs in the north of the country to apply for car license plates issued by Pristina institutions after tensions rose between police and local communities that set roadblocks.

Late on Sunday the protesters parked trucks filled with gravel and other heavy machinery on the roads leading to the two border crossings, Jarinje and Bernjak, in a territory where Serbs form a majority. Kosovo police said they had to close the border crossings.

“The overall security situation in the Northern municipalities of Kosovo is tense,” NATO-led mission to Kosovo KFOR said in a statement.

In Moscow, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova blamed the heightened tension on what she called “groundless discriminatory rules” imposed by Kosovo authorities

Fourteen years after Kosovo declared independence from Serbia, some 50,000 Serbs living in the north use license plates and documents issued by Serbian authorities, refusing to recognize institutions under the capital, Pristina. Kosovo has been recognized as an independent state by more than 100 countries but not by Serbia or Russia.

The government of Prime Minister Albin Kurti said it would give Serbs a transitional period of 60 days to get Kosovo license plates, a year after giving up trying to impose them because of similar protests.

The government also decided that as of August 1, all citizens from Serbia visiting Kosovo would have to get an extra document at the border to grant them permission to enter.

A similar rule is applied by Belgrade authorities to Kosovars who visit Serbia.

But following tensions on Sunday evening and consultations with EU and U.S. ambassadors, the government said it would delay its plan for one month and start the implementation on September 1.

Earlier on Sunday, police said there were shots fired “in the direction of police units but fortunately no one was wounded.”

It also said angry protesters beat up several Albanians passing on the roads that had been blocked and that some cars had been attacked.

Air raid sirens were heard for more than three hours in the small town of North Mitrovica inhabited mainly by Serbs.

A year ago, after local Serbs blocked the same roads over license plates, Kosovo’s government deployed special police forces and Belgrade flew fighter jets close to the border.

Tensions between the two countries remain high, and Kosovo’s fragile peace is maintained by a NATO mission that has 3,770 troops on the ground. Italian peacekeepers were visible in and around Mitrovica on Sunday.

The two countries committed in 2013 to a dialog sponsored by the European Union to try to resolve outstanding issues but little progress has been made.

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California Sees Its Largest 2022 Fire as Flames Spread in US West

Crews battling the largest wildfire so far this year in California braced for thunderstorms and hot, windy conditions that created the potential for more fire growth Sunday as they sought to protect remote communities.

The McKinney Fire was burning out of control in Northern California’s Klamath National Forest, with expected thunderstorms a big concern Sunday just south of the Oregon state line, said U.S. Forest Service spokesperson Adrienne Freeman.

“The fuel beds are so dry, and they can just erupt from that lightning,” Freeman said. “These thunder cells come with gusty erratic winds that can blow fire in every direction.”

The blaze exploded in size to more than 207 square kilometers just two days after erupting in a largely unpopulated area of Siskiyou County, according to a Sunday incident report. The cause was under investigation.

The blaze torched trees along California Highway 96, and the scorched remains of a pickup truck sat in a lane of the highway. Thick smoke covered the area and flames burned through hillsides in sight of homes.

A second, smaller fire just to the west that was sparked by dry lightning on Saturday threatened the tiny town of Seiad, Freeman said. About 400 structures were under threat from the two California fires. Authorities have not confirmed the extent of the damage yet, saying assessments would begin when it was safe to reach the area.

A third fire, which was on the southwest end of the McKinney blaze, prompted evacuation orders for around 500 homes Sunday, said Courtney Kreider, a spokesperson with the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office. The office said crews had been on the scene of the fire since late Saturday but that the fire Sunday morning “escaped its containment line.”

Several people in the sheriff’s office have been affected by the evacuation orders “and they’re still showing up to work so, (a) very dedicated crew,” she said. A deputy lost his childhood home to fire on Friday, she said.

As the McKinney fire threatened, some residents chose to stay behind while others heeded orders to leave.

Larry Castle and his wife, Nancy, were among about 2,000 residents of the Yreka area under evacuation orders. They left Saturday with some of their prized possessions, including Larry’s motorcycle, and took their dogs to stay with their daughter near Mount Shasta.

Larry Castle said he wasn’t taking any chances after seeing the explosive growth of major fires in recent years.

“You look back at the Paradise fire and the Santa Rosa fire and you realize this stuff is very, very serious,” he told the Sacramento Bee.

Montana and Idaho

In northwest Montana, a fire sparked in grasslands near the town of Elmo had grown to about 44 square km after advancing into forest. Crews were working along the edges of the fire Sunday, and aircraft were expected to continue to make water and retardant drops to help slow the fire’s advance, said Sara Rouse, a spokesperson with the interagency team assigned to the fire. High temperatures and erratic winds were expected, she said.

A section of Highway 28 between Hot Springs and Elmo that had been closed was reopened with drivers asked to watch for fire and emergency personnel. Visibility in the area was poor, Rouse said.

In Idaho, the Moose Fire in the Salmon-Challis National Forest has burned on more than 196 square km in timber land near the town of Salmon. It was 21% contained by Sunday morning. Pila Malolo, planning operations section chief on the fire, said in a Facebook video update that hot, dry conditions were expected to persist Sunday. Officials said they expected fire to grow in the steep, rugged country on the fire’s south side.

Elsewhere in the West

Scientists say climate change has made the West warmer and drier in the past 30 years and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.

The Pacific Coast Trail Association urged hikers to get to the nearest town while the U.S. Forest Service closed a 177 km section of the trail from the Etna Summit to the Mt. Ashland Campground in southern Oregon.

In Hawaii, the Maui County Emergency Management Agency said a brush fire was 90% contained but a red flag warning was in effect for much of Sunday.

And in north Texas, firefighters continued to work to contain the 2-week-old, 27-square-kilometer Chalk Mountain Fire. The crews now report 83% containment of the fire that has destroyed 16 homes and damaged five others about 80 kilometers southwest of Fort Worth. No injuries have been reported.

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Excitement Over Investing in Cryptocurrency Tinged With Fear of Big Slide

The price of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies has fallen dramatically in recent months. Still, many investors are excited about the future of digital currencies despite the risks. VOA’s Michelle Quinn reports from San Francisco. VOA footage by Matt Dibble and Michelle Quinn.

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UN Peacekeepers Involved in Deadly Shooting at DRC Border Post

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was outraged after two people were killed and several others were injured when U.N. peacekeepers opened fire during an incident in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo on the Uganda border on Sunday.

The U.N. force, MONUSCO, admitted that some of its peacekeepers had opened fire “for unexplained reasons,” adding that arrests had been made.   

Guterres was “saddened and dismayed” to learn of the shooting, a U.N. statement said.

“The Secretary-General stresses in the strongest terms the need to establish accountability for these events,” it said.

“He welcomes the decision of his special representative in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to detain the MONUSCO personnel involved in the incident and to immediately open an investigation,” it added.

Video of the incident, shared on social media showed men, at least one in police uniform and another in army uniform, advancing toward the U.N. convoy stopped behind a closed barrier in Kasindi.  

The town is in eastern DR Congo’s Beni territory on the border with Uganda.  

After a verbal exchange, the peacekeepers appeared to open fire before opening the barrier and driving through while people scattered or hid.

“During this incident, soldiers from the intervention brigade of the MONUSCO force returning from leave opened fire at the border post for unexplained reasons and forced their way through,” the U.N. mission in Kasindi said in a statement earlier Sunday.

“This serious incident caused loss of life and serious injuries,” it said.

The Democratic Republic of Congo “strongly condemns and deplores this unfortunate incident in which two compatriots died and 15 others were injured according to a provisional roll,” government spokesman Patrick Muyaya said in a statement.

The government said it launched an investigation with MONUSCO to establish who was responsible, why the shooting took place and would ensure “severe penalties” are given.

The U.N. envoy in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Bintou Keita, said she was “deeply shocked and dismayed by this serious incident,” according to the mission’s statement.  

“In the face of this unspeakable and irresponsible behavior, the perpetrators of the shooting have been identified and arrested pending the conclusions of the investigation, which has already begun in collaboration with the Congolese authorities,” MONUSCO said.

The U.N. mission said the troops’ home countries had been contacted so legal action could begin promptly, with the involvement of witnesses and survivors, which could lead to exemplary penalties.  

Earlier Barthelemy Kambale Siva, the North Kivu governor’s representative in Kasindi, said that “eight people, including two policemen who were working at the barrier, were seriously injured” in the incident.

Kambale Siva, interviewed by AFP, did not say why the U.N. convoy had been prevented from crossing.

There are more than 120 militias operating in the DRC’s troubled east. The U.N. first deployed an observer mission to the region in 1999.  

In 2010, it became the peacekeeping mission MONUSCO — the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo — with a mandate to conduct offensive operations.

There have been 230 fatalities among the force, according to the U.N.

Last week, deadly demonstrations demanding the departure of the United Nations took place in several towns in eastern DRC.  

A total of 19 people, including three peacekeepers, were killed.

Anger has been fueled by perceptions that MONUSCO is failing to do enough to stop attacks by the armed groups.

U.N. under-secretary-general for peace operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix was in the central African country on Saturday to “talk to the Congolese authorities,” he said.

“(They would) examine ways in which we can both avoid a recurrence of these tragic incidents and, above all, work better together to achieve our objectives,” he said.

“We hope that the conditions will be met, in particular the return of state authority, so that MONUSCO can complete its mission as soon as possible. And to leave room for other forms of international support.”

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Ukraine War Hangs Over UN Meeting on Nuclear Treaty’s Legacy

There was already plenty of trouble to talk about when a major U.N. meeting on the landmark Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty was originally supposed to happen in 2020.

Now the pandemic-postponed conference finally starts Monday as Russia’s war in Ukraine has reanimated fears of nuclear confrontation and cranked up the urgency of trying to reinforce the 50-year-old treaty.

“It is a very, very difficult moment,” said Beatrice Fihn, the executive director of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.

Russia’s invasion, accompanied by ominous references to its nuclear arsenal, “is so significant for the treaty and really going to put a lot of pressure on this,” she said. “How governments react to the situation is going to shape future nuclear policy.”

The four-week meeting aims to generate a consensus on the next steps, but expectations are low for a substantial — if any — agreement.

Still, Swiss President Ignazio Cassis, prime ministers Fumio Kishida of Japan and Frank Bainimarama of Fiji, and more than a dozen nations’ foreign ministers are among attendees expected from at least 116 countries, according to a U.N. official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly before the conference.

In force since 1970, the Nonproliferation Treaty has the widest adherence of any arms control agreement. Some 191 countries have joined.

Nations without nuclear weapons promised not to acquire them, while nuclear-armed Britain, China, France, Russia (then the Soviet Union) and the United States agreed to negotiate toward eliminating their arsenals someday. All endorsed everyone’s right to develop peaceful nuclear energy.

India and Pakistan, which didn’t sign, went on to get the bomb. So did North Korea, which ratified the pact but later announced it was withdrawing. Non-signatory Israel is believed to have a nuclear arsenal but neither confirms nor denies it.

Nonetheless, the Nonproliferation Treaty has been credited with limiting the number of nuclear newcomers (U.S. President John F. Kennedy once foresaw as many as 20 nuclear-armed nations by 1975) and serving as a framework for international cooperation on disarmament.

The total number of nuclear weapons worldwide has shrunk by more than 75% from a mid-1980s peak, largely thanks to the end of the Cold War between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union. But experts estimate roughly 13,000 warheads remain worldwide, the vast majority in the U.S. and Russia.

Meetings to assess how the treaty is working are supposed to happen every five years, but the 2020 conference was repeatedly delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Challenges have only grown in the meantime.

When launching the Ukraine war in February, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that any attempt to interfere would lead to “consequences you have never seen” and emphasized that his country is “one of the most potent nuclear powers.” Days later, Putin ordered Russia’s nuclear forces to be put on higher alert, a move that U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called “bone-chilling.”

“The prospect of nuclear conflict, once unthinkable, is now back within the realm of possibility,” he said.

The events in Ukraine create a tricky choice for the upcoming conference, said Patricia Lewis, a former U.N. disarmament research official who is now at the international affairs think tank Chatham House in London.

“On the one hand, in order to support the treaty and what it stands for, governments will have to address Russia’s behavior and threats,” she said. “On the other hand, to do so risks dividing the treaty members.”

Another uncomfortable dynamic: The war has heightened some countries’ apprehensions about not having nuclear weapons, especially since Ukraine once housed but gave up a trove of Soviet nukes.

Ukraine is hardly the only hot topic.

North Korea appears to have been preparing recently for its first nuclear weapons test since 2017. And talks about reviving the deal meant to keep Iran from developing nukes are in limbo.

The U.S. and Russia have only one remaining treaty curtailing their nuclear weapons and have been developing new technologies. Britain last year raised a self-imposed cap on its stockpile. China says it’s modernizing — or, the U.S. claims, expanding — the world’s third-largest nuclear arsenal.

U.S. Ambassador Adam Scheinman, the presidential special representative for nuclear nonproliferation, said Washington hopes for a “balanced” outcome that “sets realistic goals and advances our national and international security interests.”

The Associated Press sent inquiries to Russia’s U.N. mission about Moscow’s goals for the conference. There was no immediate response.

In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said his country wants to work toward improving global nuclear governance and upholding the international order and will “firmly safeguard the legitimate security and development interests and rights of China and the developing world.”

If the world can’t speak with one voice, disarmament advocates say a strong statement from a large group of countries could send a meaningful message.

In recent years, frustration with the Nonproliferation Treaty catalyzed another pact that outright prohibits nuclear weapons. Ratified by more than 60 countries, it took effect last year, though without any nuclear-armed nations on board.

At a recent meeting in Vienna, participating countries condemned “any and all nuclear threats” and inked a lengthy plan that includes considering an international trust fund for people harmed by nuclear weapons.

Fihn, whose Geneva-based group campaigned for the nuclear ban treaty, hopes the vigor in Vienna serves as inspiration — or notice — for countries to make progress at the U.N. conference.

“If you don’t do it here,” she said, “we’re moving on without you elsewhere.”

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England Beats Germany in Extra Time to Win Women’s Euro 2022

England beat Germany 2-1 in the final of the European Championship after extra time on Sunday to win its first major women’s soccer title.

Chloe Kelly scored the winning goal on a rebound in the second half of extra time after Germany failed to clear a corner. The game had finished 1-1 after 90 minutes at Wembley Stadium with Lina Magull for Germany canceling out Ella Toone’s goal for England.

After the final whistle, the England players danced and the crowd sang their anthem “Sweet Caroline.” The good-natured atmosphere inside the stadium Sunday drew contrasts with the violent scenes when the England men’s team lost its European Championship final to Italy at the same stadium a year ago.

“I always believed I’d be here, but to be here and score the winner, wow. These girls are amazing,” said Kelly, who returned from a serious knee injury in April. “This is amazing, I just want to celebrate now.”

Kelly took her shirt off to celebrate her goal, earning a yellow card but also a shout-out from Brandi Chastain, who celebrated in similar style when her penalty kick won the World Cup for the U.S. in 1999.

“Enjoy the free rounds of pints and dinners for the rest of your life from all of England. Cheers!” Chastain wrote on Twitter.

The tournament-record crowd of more than 87,000 underlined the growth of women’s soccer in Europe since the last time England and Germany played for a continental title 13 years ago.

On that occasion, Germany surged to a 6-2 win over an England team that still relied on part-time players. Two years later, England launched its Women’s Super League, which has professionalized the game and grown into one of the main competitions worldwide.

That has meant increasing competition for Germany, which was a pioneering nation in European women’s soccer and increasingly faces well-funded rivals in England, Spain and France. England’s title comes 56 years after the nation’s only major men’s title which was also an extra-time win at Wembley over Germany at the 1966 World Cup.

Wiegman remains unbeaten in 12 games as coach at the European Championships after winning the tournament first with the Netherlands and now with England. One of her first moves after England won was to share a hug with 35-year-old midfielder Jill Scott, the only remaining player on either team from England’s 2009 loss to Germany.

The game was refereed by Ukrainian Kateryna Monzul, who fled her home country after Russia invaded. One of Europe’s leading referees, Monzul left her home in Kharkiv, a major city that has been heavily bombarded by Russian forces — and spent five days living in a basement at her parents’ house before leaving the country and eventually living and working in Italy.

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Bill Russell, NBA Great and Celtics Legend, Dies at 88

Bill Russell, the National Basketball Association (NBA) great who anchored a Boston Celtics dynasty that won 11 championships in 13 years — the last two as the first Black head coach in any major U.S. sport — and marched for civil rights with Martin Luther King Jr., died Sunday. He was 88.

His family posted the news on social media, saying Russell died with his wife, Jeannine, by his side. The statement did not give the cause of death.

A Hall of Famer, five-time Most Valuable Player and 12-time All-Star, Russell in 1980 was voted the greatest player in the NBA history by basketball writers. He remains the sport’s most prolific winner and an archetype of selflessness who won with defense and rebounding while leaving the scoring to others. Often, that meant Wilt Chamberlain, the only player of the era who was a worthy rival for Russell.

The battles on the court between the centers were fierce — signature showdowns in the NBA. Russell led the University of San Francisco to NCAA championships in 1955 and 1956 and won a gold medal at the 1956 Olympics.

In Boston, Russell left a lasting mark as a Black athlete in a city — and country — where race is often a flash point. In 2011, President Barack Obama awarded Russell the Medal of Freedom. Two years later, a statue of Russell was unveiled on Boston’s City Hall Plaza.

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Police Fire Tear Gas on Sudanese Protest

Thousands of protesters marching towards Sudan’s presidential palace were blocked by police firing tear gas, as an anti-military campaign entered its 10th month. 

Protests have continued weekly since an Oct. 25 military takeover that halted a transition to democracy and plunged the country into turmoil. 

Police on Sunday blocked protesters from reaching the kilometer-long road that leads to the presidential palace and chased them into nearby side streets, Reuters journalists said. 

Military leaders have said they are prepared to step aside if civilian groups can agree on a new government but political parties have been skeptical. 

However, former Sovereign Council member Mohamed al-Faki Suleiman said in an interview with local media outlet Sudan Tribune on Saturday that new constitutional arrangements were being discussed between the former ruling Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) coalition and other “revolutionary forces.” 

Sunday’s protests were the latest in a series of demonstrations since multi-day sit-ins in Sudan’s capital prior to the Eid holiday. Last week, a protest called for by the FFC was attacked by unidentified assailants. 

At least 116 people have been killed in the protests, and thousands injured, many by gunfire, according to medics. 

Protesters assume they will be arrested, injured, or killed, said an injured protester, who asked to be referred to by his nickname Karika. 

“We don’t think we’ll make it back home, and so we have only one message: the military should go to the barricades and the Rapid Support Forces should be dissolved,” he said, referencing the country’s powerful paramilitary group. 

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