Judge: Dominion Defamation Case Against Fox Will Go to Trial

A voting machine company’s defamation case against Fox News over its airing of false allegations about the 2020 presidential election will go to trial after a Delaware judge on Friday ruled that a jury must decide whether the network aired the claims with actual malice, the standard for proving libel against public figures.

Superior Court Judge Eric Davis ruled that neither Fox nor Dominion Voting Systems had presented a convincing argument to prevail on whether Fox acted with malice without the case going to trial.

But he also ruled that the statements Dominion had challenged constitute defamation “per se” under New York law. That means Dominion did not have to prove damages to establish liability by Fox.

“The evidence developed in this civil proceeding demonstrates that [it] is CRYSTAL clear that none of the statements relating to Dominion about the 2020 election are true,” Davis wrote in his summary judgment ruling.

The decision paves the way for a trial start in mid-April.

Dominion is suing the network for $1.6 billion, claiming Fox defamed it by repeatedly airing false allegations by then-President Donald Trump and his allies in the weeks after the 2020 election claiming the company’s machines and its accompanying software had switched votes to Democrat Joe Biden.

The network aired the claims even though internal communications show that many of its executives and hosts didn’t believe them.

The company sued Fox News and its parent, Fox Corp. Fox said it was simply covering newsworthy allegations made by a sitting president claiming his reelection had been stolen from him. In his ruling, Davis said Fox could not escape potential liability by claiming privileges for neutral reporting or opinion.

“FNN’s failure to reveal extensive contradicting evidence from the public sphere and Dominion itself indicates that its reporting was not disinterested,” the judge wrote.

In a statement issued after the ruling, Dominion said it was gratified that the court had rejected Fox’s arguments and found “as a matter of law that their statements about Dominion are false. We look forward to going to trial.”

Fox emphasized that the case is about the media’s First Amendment protections in covering the news.

“Fox will continue to fiercely advocate for the rights of free speech and a free press as we move into the next phase of these proceedings,” the network said in a statement.

The coverage fed an ecosystem of misinformation surrounding Trump’s loss in 2020 that has persisted ever since.

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Blinken Heads to NATO Meeting as Finland Moves Closer to Joining

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is heading to Brussels on Monday for a meeting of NATO foreign ministers expected to focus on sustaining support for Ukraine. VOA’s Senior Diplomatic Correspondent Cindy Saine reports.

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Pope Francis Visits Children in Hospital, Will Be Discharged Saturday

Pope Francis baptized a baby and greeted children in Rome’s Gemelli hospital on Friday as he appeared to make a rapid recovery from a bout of bronchitis that caused him to be hospitalized earlier this week. 

Francis will return home on Saturday, the Vatican said, and is scheduled to take part in a Palm Sunday service the following day to mark the start of Easter Week celebrations. 

“After evaluating the results of the examinations carried out today and the favorable clinical progress, (the medical team) has confirmed the Holy Father’s discharge from the Gemelli Hospital tomorrow,” a Vatican statement said. 

The pope, 86, was taken to hospital two days ago after complaining of breathing difficulties. He was diagnosed with bronchitis and has responded well to an infusion of antibiotics, his medical team has said. 

Highlighting the pope’s improved health, the Vatican released a video showing him standing up and baptizing a baby who was in a hospital cot. In a separate photograph, Francis was shown handing an Easter egg to a young child.  

The Vatican said he stayed about 30 minutes in the children’s cancer and neurosurgery wards before returning to his own room. 

The dean of the college of cardinals, Giovanni Battista Re, has said cardinals will help the pope during Easter celebrations this coming week and take care of altar duties.  

Holy Week, as it is known, includes a busy schedule of rituals and ceremonies that can be physically exhausting, including a Good Friday nighttime procession by Rome’s Colosseum. 

The pope was also forced to follow some of last Easter’s events seated, due to persistent knee pain, with cardinals celebrating some of the Masses in his place. 

Francis, who marked the 10th anniversary of his pontificate earlier this month, has suffered a number of ailments in recent years. He was last hospitalized in July 2021 when he had part of his colon removed in an operation aimed at addressing a painful bowel condition called diverticulitis. 

“When experienced with faith, the trials and difficulties of life serve to purify our hearts, making them humbler and thus more and more open to God,” the pope tweeted on Friday.  

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Indonesia, Russia Sign Extradition Agreement 

Indonesia and Russia signed an extradition agreement Friday to strengthen cooperation against transnational crimes. It is the first extradition agreement Indonesia has reached with a European country.

Indonesian Minister of Law and Human Rights Yasonna Laoly said, “This agreement is a very important step because it will help Indonesia to take legal actions in combating transnational crimes, ranging from cybercrime, money laundering, narcotics, corruption and others.”

He did not elaborate on the details of the agreement or any specific figure that was targeted by Indonesia or Russia. But he added, “Although the mechanism for repatriating the perpetrators of criminal acts can also be carried out through deportation and immigration cooperation, this extradition cooperation will remain the main option because it’s formal and binding [to] us.”

The extradition agreement is a continuation of the mutual legal assistance agreement (MLA) in criminal matters that was signed in Moscow on December 13, 2019.

“After having [the] MLA, and now followed by [the] extradition agreement, it will further strengthen our cooperation,” said Yasonna.

Indonesia has had diplomatic ties with Russia since 1950 and its relations have remained good despite the war in Ukraine.

In a press statement sent by the Russian Embassy in Jakarta to VOA, Russian Justice Minister Konstantin Chuychenko said having the extradition treaty with Indonesia “was an important step for us in fighting transnational crime, protecting crime victims, and restoring justice and security.”

He said the agreement would address “a number of issues in interstate legal cooperation and prospects for cooperation in the legal assistance in civil and commercial matters, the transfers of prisoners and improvement of regulation in nonprofit sectors.”

In his speech, Yasonna referred to Russia’s strategic position as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, the Group of 20 large economies and the Eurasian Economic Union that he hopes “can also help Indonesia in building its reputation and credibility in terms of security and law enforcement, as well as open a wider network of cooperation with countries that have already had cooperation with Russia.”

The signing of this extradition agreement was in line with President Joko Widodo’s directive to make Indonesia a member of the Financial Action Task Force “to assist and maintain the stability and integrity of the financial system and law enforcement, which focuses on eradicating money laundering” as well as the financing of terrorist activity.

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Biden Heads to Mississippi Town Ravaged by Deadly Tornado

President Joe Biden on Friday will visit a Mississippi town ravaged by a deadly tornado even as a new series of severe storms threatens to rip across the Midwest and the South.

Last week’s twister destroyed roughly 300 homes and businesses in Rolling Fork and the nearby town of Silver City, leaving mounds of wreckage full of lumber, bricks and twisted metal. Hundreds of additional structures were badly damaged. The death toll in Mississippi stood at 21, based on deaths confirmed by coroners. One person died in Alabama, as well.

Biden is expected to announce that the federal government will cover the total cost of the state’s emergency measures for the next 30 days, including overtime for first responders and debris cleanup. The president and first lady Jill Biden will survey the damage, meet with homeowners impacted by the storms and first responders and get an operational briefing from federal and state officials. They’re expected to be joined by Gov. Tate Reeves, Mississippi Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith and Rep. Bennie Thompson.

In a statement after the tornado, Biden pledged that the federal government would “do everything we can to help.”

“We will be there as long as it takes,” he said. “We will work together to deliver the support you need to recover.”

Presidents regularly visit parts of the U.S. that have been ravaged by natural disasters or suffered major loss of life from shootings or another disaster. Republicans have criticized Biden for not yet making a trip to the site of a toxic chemical spill in a small Ohio town. He also has to decide whether to visit Nashville after three children and three adults were shot and killed at Covenant School.

Last week’s severe weather makes life even more difficult in an area already struggling economically. Mississippi is one of the poorest states, and the majority-Black Delta has long been one of the poorest parts of the state — a place where many people live paycheck to paycheck, often in jobs connected to agriculture.

Two of the counties walloped by the tornado, Sharkey and Humphreys, are among the most sparsely populated in the state, with only a few thousand residents in communities scattered across wide expanses of cotton, corn and soybean fields. Sharkey’s poverty rate is 35%, and Humphreys’ is 33%, compared with about 19% for Mississippi overall and less than 12% for the entire United States.

Biden approved a disaster declaration for the state, which frees up federal funds for temporary housing, home repairs and loans to cover uninsured property losses. But there’s concern that inflation and economic troubles may blunt the impact of federal assistance.

Biden has spoken in separate phone calls with Reeves, Sen. Roger Wicker, Hyde-Smith and Thompson.

An unusual weather pattern has set in, and meteorologists fear that Friday will be one of the worst days, with much more to come. The National Weather Service said 16.8 million people live in the highest-risk zone, and more than 66 million people overall should be on alert Friday.

According to a new study, the U.S. will see more of these massive storms as the world warms. The storms are likely to strike more frequently in more populous Southern states including Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee.

The study in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society predicts a nationwide 6.6% increase in tornado- and hail-spawning supercell storms and a 25.8% jump in the area and time the strongest storms will strike, under a scenario of moderate levels of future warming by the end of the century.

But in certain areas in the South the increase is much higher. That includes Rolling Fork, where study authors project an increase of one supercell a year by 2100.

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Malawi Sets Final Deadline for Refugee Return to Lone Authorized Camp 

Malawi’s government has told refugees and asylum-seekers to relocate to the country’s lone refugee camp by April 15 or face forced eviction from their homes.

The Ministry of Homeland Security said in a statement Thursday that the new deadline followed the expiration of the February 1 deadline the government set last year for about 8,000 refugees who had settled outside the Dzaleka refugee camp.

Ken Zikhale Ngoma, Malawi’s minister of homeland security, said the latest move was in line with Malawi’s encampment policy, which prohibits refugees from staying outside a refugee camp.

Ngoma said the Dzaleka camp in central Malawi has facilities that meet international standards for all refugees and asylum-seekers, including primary and secondary schools, a health center and a public market.

Raphael Ndabagha, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, disputes that.

Ndabagha lived outside the Dzaleka camp before returning ahead of the February 1 deadline. “The advantage of living in the city, you have many more opportunities than the camp,” he said. “In the city, if you are a businessperson, you can open a shop and you are able to make a living, because you can make income, you can prosper.”

Ndabagha said that in the city, his three children were able to go to better schools than those in and around the refugee camp.

Kenyi Emanuel Lukajo, associate external relations and reporting officer for the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR in Malawi, told VOA on Friday that the agency would comment officially on the new deadline later.

However, the UNHCR had previously expressed concerns when the Malawi government issued the first relocation order in August 2022.

The refugee agency said in a statement that the relocation would result in extreme pressure on the camp’s already inadequate health services, water, shelter and sanitation.

But the Malawi government said in its new order that refugees were already given ample time to make necessary arrangements for the relocation.

It warned that those resisting the new deadline would be forcefully evicted from their homes.

Business operators in Malawi have long threatened to forcefully evict refugees from market areas, saying they are bringing unnecessary competition in terms of prices of goods.

Teneson Mulimbula, general secretary for an association of small-business operators in Malawi, said, “If you go to their shops you will find that there is stock, farm produce items like beans, rice, peas, which they receive at Dzaleka refugee camp. And just because they receive them freely, they start selling them at a lower price.”

But some refugee traders, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals, denied that they were selling items from the refugee camp.

The government said state agencies such as the Malawi Police Service and the Department of Immigration and Citizenship Services would be involved in the relocation.

It added that any person or group found to be harassing refugees or asylum-seekers would be arrested.

Dzaleka is home to refugees and asylum-seekers from Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Somalia.

The camp was meant to accommodate about 10,000 refugees but now is home to more than 50,000.

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How Chinese Private Security Companies in Africa Differ From Russia’s 

The killing of nine Chinese gold mine workers in conflict-ridden Central African Republic this month highlighted the risks some Belt and Road development projects face in volatile areas.

To protect Chinese investments and citizens, Beijing deploys its own private security contractors, but analysts say these companies operate very differently on the continent than Russia’s notorious Wagner Group.

President Xi Jinping called for those responsible for the March 19 attack by gunmen on a Chinese-run gold mine outside Bambari to be “severely punished,” while the Chinese Foreign Ministry issued a security alert for its citizens.

“The foreign ministry will continue to work closely with other government agencies concerned and subnational governments to do everything possible to protect the safety and security of Chinese nationals and companies in Africa,” ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters after the incident.

With thousands of Chinese working in Africa since Xi’s infrastructure-building push began in 2013, their security and the protection of assets like mines and natural gas projects — as well as railways and shipping routes — have become a key concern for Beijing, said Jasmine Opperman, an independent security consultant based in South Africa.

Chinese workers in Africa also are increasingly targeted by criminal gangs for kidnapping.

All these threats have led to a rise in the number of private military companies (PMCs) or private security companies (PSCs) operating on the continent.

“On China PMCs we have to go back to the Belt and Road Initiative,” Opperman told VOA. “We have seen a massive deployment of workers, Chinese workers, more specifically infrastructure. Now these investments, like in Sudan, South Sudan, are really in volatile areas, so we have seen a proliferation of Chinese PMCs on the African continent, with a task to protect employees and the infrastructure projects.”

Incidents like the one in CAR could now result in more Chinese security companies deployed.

“It’s about the protection and expansion of Chinese influence, and because of the volatile security situations, we are seeing these PMCs now growing in numbers,” said Opperman.

Different than Wagner?

But analysts stress there is a huge difference between Chinese security firms and companies like Wagner Group — which the U.S. Treasury this year designated a “transnational criminal organization” — or even disgraced and disbanded U.S. company Blackwater, which committed abuses during the Iraq war.

Wagner Group, which has close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin, has been in the news recently because of the group’s deployment of tens of thousands of mercenaries to fight in the war in Ukraine. But it’s long been operating in destabilized countries in Africa, including CAR and Mali.

Paul Nantulya, a China expert at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies in Washington, told VOA that Chinese private security companies are not really private at all.

“Ninety-nine percent of security contractors in China are ex-People’s Liberation Army and also ex-special forces and ex-paramilitary police. There’s a level of control, the laws in China are very clear, that the state must have a holding interest in all security firms,” he said.

Nantulya’s previous research on the topic found that of the 5,000 security firms registered in China, 20 were licensed to operate overseas and reported that they employed 3,200 individual contractors. However, he said he thought the true number was much higher.

Among the companies working on the continent are Beijing DeWe Security Service, Huaxin Zhong An Security Group and China Security Technology Group. In Kenya, DeWe employs around 2,000 security contractors just to protect the $3.6 billion China-built Standard Gauge Railway, according to his study.

However, Nantulya told VOA that Chinese companies “work very, very differently from Russian ones like Wagner. Wagner is engaged in combat operations. It’s engaged in wars; it supplies a national security adviser in, for instance, the Central African Republic. They become part of the governing architecture. They fight wars on behalf of governments.”


The U.S. government said Wagner has “meddled and destabilized countries in Africa, committing widespread human rights abuses and extorting natural resources from their people. … Wagner personnel have engaged in an ongoing pattern of serious criminal activity, including mass executions, rape, child abductions and physical abuse in the Central African Republic and Mali.”

Asked by VOA whether the U.S. has any concerns about Chinese security contractors operating in Africa, a State Department spokesperson replied: “We respect the ability of countries to decide for themselves whether to partner with the PRC. However, we echo the long-standing calls from African capitals that the PRC must respect host country laws and international obligations.”

Nantulya noted that most Chinese security contractors – except for those involved in maritime escort missions intended to protect against pirates – are strictly controlled and aren’t even allowed to be armed.

“The Chinese, it’s a small footprint. According to Chinese law, Chinese contractors are not allowed to go into operations with weapons, so they have to work very closely with host nation security forces. They do a lot of training, they do a lot of capacity building, they supply equipment, they supply intelligence, they supply surveillance and so on,” he said.

Opperman said the Chinese security contractors could still have a destabilizing effect.

“Though PMCs from China are not allowed to carry weapons, what they are doing is collaborating through private or local security companies or even local militia groups in terms of providing security … by means of collaborating with local militias, you’re basically taking sides.”

In 2016, more than 300 Chinese oil workers were stranded amid heavy militia fighting in Juba, South Sudan. DeWe’s unarmed personnel helped to evacuate the Chinese nationals by enlisting armed South Sudanese by enlisting armed South Sudanese as backup. Some of the South Sudanese government-backed militias used by Chinese companies have been accused of committing atrocities.

And there have been incidences of violence, despite the arms ban. In Zimbabwe, two Chinese security contractors were jailed in 2017 for shooting and wounding a politician’s son, while in Zambia in 2018, two suspected Chinese security contractors were arrested for providing illegal training and military equipment to a local security firm.

The Chinese Mission to the African Union did not reply to a request for comment.

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USAID, Ugandan Activists Striving to Support HIV Patients Amid Anti-Gay Bill

Uganda’s former prime minister, Ruhakana Rugunda, has applauded the U.S. Agency for International Development for its support in fighting AIDS, saying the country cannot afford to treat patients on its own.

An estimated 1.2 million Ugandans aged 15 to 64 are living with HIV/AIDS and surviving on anti-retroviral drugs. Almost all HIV/AIDS patients receive the drugs through financial support from the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID.  

Rugunda, speaking as chief guest at celebrations to mark the 60th anniversary of the USAID partnership with Uganda, painted a picture of what HIV/AIDS was before U.S. support.  

Rugunda recalled that as the AIDS pandemic ravaged the country in the 1990s and early 2000s, the government had no means to afford treatment for patients.  

“We knew that AIDS drugs had been developed and they could control AIDS in many ways. The problem we had in Uganda was the drug is there, the people are here needing the drugs, but there’s a gap,” Rugunda said. “How does Uganda fill the gap? The taxpayer in Uganda, even if he or she was squeezed so hard, could not fill the gap.”

In more recent years, Uganda has registered significant success in the fight against HIV, as seen in reduced HIV prevalence and a decline in new infections.  

USAID Uganda Mission Director Richard Nelson said his agency and its partners have prioritized HIV/AIDS for the last 20 years and are getting close to control of the epidemic, but obstacles remain.   

Uganda’s parliament this month passed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill that criminalizes identifying as LGBT, mandates life in prison for gay sex, and imposes a possible death sentence for certain homosexual acts.  THe bill is awaiting President Yoweri Museveni’s veto or signature.


Nelson said the bill’s progress is being watched carefully because it could scare people away from seeking treatment for HIV or AIDS.   

“The last remaining work that needs to be done to reach epidemic control involves some of these key populations,” he said. “And so, if those key populations are unable to access services, if it’s difficult for us to provide those services, it will really jeopardize our ability to reach our goals of eliminating HIV/AIDS by 2030.”  

Even before the bill was passed by parliament, organizations providing HIV/AIDS care services were seeing people shy away from getting anti-retroviral drugs.

Henry Mukiibi, founder of one such group, Children of the Sun, spoke with VOA: “I’ve seen the number of people who are HIV positive, the number of people who are suppressing now is going down. Because people are in fear of getting health services in public facilities.”

According to the Uganda AIDS Commission, stigma, denial, discrimination, inaction and violations of human rights continue to be major barriers to effective national responses to HIV.

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Journalists Attacked as Anti-Government Protests Continue in Kenya

More than 20 journalists have been attacked during two weeks of anti-government protests in Kenya. According to the Kenya Media Council, the attacks have increased since the protest began last week, and camerapersons and photographers have become targets of both the state and protesters. The council is demanding that authorities investigate the abuses.

Journalists covering Kenya’s anti-government protests have encountered hostility from both police and protesters as they clashed in Nairobi and other parts of the country.

Njeri Gathumbi, a cameraperson for Kenya’s Nation Television, said covering this’s week’s protest this week was more difficult than covering last week’s protest.

“If you go on the side of the police, you are in danger of the stones and when you go on the public side, the public will beat you up and you also get teargas from the police,” she said. “Sometimes getting those pictures was a bit difficult, so you had to hide yourself somewhere so that you would get the side of the public and the police, especially when they were exchanging teargas and stones.”

The journalists were not specifically targeted until police boss Japhet Koome said photos taken during the demonstration would be used to prosecute the protesters.

The opposition group Azimio la Umoja Coalition, led by Raila Odinga, called for the demonstrations to protest the high cost of living and alleged electoral irregularities.

The government declared the protest illegal and threatened to take action against the organizers and protesters.

Attacks on journalists on Monday and Thursday have been condemned by media organizations, human rights groups and advocates for media freedom and rights.

Victor Bwire, head of media programs at the Media Council of Kenya, said this month’s attacks on journalists have been the worst in recent memory.

“We have recorded over 25 journalists in this month alone who have been harassed, brutally physically attacked, arrested, slept in cells, equipment destroyed or stolen, attacks by mobs who steal their equipment, being profiled in public and TV by politicians,” Bwire said, “and, by extension, being brutally beaten up including with teargas by the police officers who are supposed to secure the right to life of Kenyans.”

The Kenya Union of Journalists Secretary General Eric Oduor said journalists covering protests have been targeted for their work.

“If you look at how the attacks were done yesterday, these were the people who were in their car and this officer went straight where the car was,” Oduor said. “They started vandalizing the car so that they could get access to where journalists were, so that they could lob teargas inside the car. You can see it was something targeted, not by accident.”

The police have yet to comment on the alleged conduct of some of their officers.

Bwire said media coverage of the weekly protest is helping the public to make an informed decision about their safety.

“Kenyans are entitled to access to information,” Bwire said. “Freedom of expression is enshrined in our constitution and, people who are coming, remember: [In] Nairobi, the central town, [there are] a lot of activities. Once Nairobi is affected … we can get hurt. So, information journalists are giving out there has helped other people to avoid coming to town or knowing what is happening and make an individual decision.”

The media council has urged authorities to investigate and prosecute those responsible for journalist attacks.

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Funerals Set for 6 Victims of Nashville School Shootings

Funeral arrangements were disclosed Thursday for the six people killed in this week’s school shooting in Nashville, as the grieving city mourns the victims of the horrific attack that transformed what should have been a normal day of school on a bright, sunny morning into wrenching tragedy.

Heartbreaking new details continued to emerge about the lives of the three adults and three 9-year-old students who police say were killed during the shooting Monday at The Covenant School. The children have been identified as Evelyn Dieckhaus, Hallie Scruggs and William Kinney. Also killed were Katherine Koonce, 60, the head of the school; Mike Hill, 61, a custodian; and Cynthia Peak, 61, a substitute teacher.

A funeral service for Evelyn was scheduled for Friday at Woodmont Christian Church in Nashville, with a private reception to follow, according to an obituary provided to The Associated Press by a family friend. Funeral guests are invited to wear pink or other joyful colors “in tribute to Evelyn’s light and love of color,” according to the obituary. She will be laid to rest on Saturday at a private family burial.

Hallie’s family planned a private funeral for her Saturday at Covenant Presbyterian Church, where her father is the lead pastor. On Thursday, members of Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church, including the girl’s grandparents, were planning to pray the rosary for Hallie and for all those affected by the shooting, according to a Facebook post from the church.

The funeral for Hill has been set for Tuesday morning at 11 a.m. at Stephens Valley Church in Nashville, with visitation beginning at 10 a.m., pastor Jim Bachmann said.

A visitation for Koonce was scheduled for Tuesday from 5-8 p.m. at Christ Presbyterian Church, with a service the following day at 1 p.m.

The service for Kinney was set for 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Christ Presbyterian.

Peak’s visitation was scheduled for Saturday at 10:30 a.m., also at Christ Presbyterian, with a service at noon.

The funeral plans were announced as new information about Evelyn and some of the others was released.

In the obituary given to the AP by a family friend, Evelyn was described as “a constant beacon of joy” who loved art, music, animals and snuggling with her older sister on the couch.

“With an unwavering faith in the goodness of others, Evelyn made people feel known, seen, but never judged,” the obituary said. “Her adoring family members agree that ‘she was everyone’s safe space.'”

In preschool, Evelyn “would often position herself between two younger babies, intuitively offering comfort by patting their backs.” She would greet people with open arms and an infectious laugh, the obituary said.

Evelyn enjoyed crafting and drawing, and her teachers “would observe Evelyn studying the world around her with curiosity, eagerness, and clarity,” according to the obituary.

She also liked to sing along to tunes by Taylor Swift and from the Broadway show “Hamilton.” She also loved her dogs, Mable and Birdie, and wanted a rat for her 10th birthday present.

“Strong but never pushy, she had self-composure and poise beyond her years,” the obituary said. “This girl ‘could read a room.'”

As Evelyn’s loved ones prepared for her funeral, William Kinney’s youth baseball league was taking steps to remember a teammate and friend.

The night after the shooting, a coach at the Crieve Hall Baseball Park led a prayer and a moment of silence for the boy. The tribute was posted on the park’s Facebook page.

William had played baseball at the park in the past and his team this season was the Reds, said Steve Cherrico, director of Crieve Hall youth athletics. Players and their families have been encouraged to wear red in the field and in the stands, and red ribbons have been placed at the field where William played.

“We’ve covered everything in red,” Cherrico said. “We have put plenty of memory pieces on the ballpark itself.”

Cherrico said league members were heartbroken at the loss of William and the others who were killed. Cherrico said it was not the first time that Crieve Hall has lost a player.

“The league has always stepped up and come together as a family,” he said.

In response to the park’s tribute, Major League Baseball’s Cincinnati Reds posted the following on Instagram: “Sending all of our love from Cincinnati,” with a heart emoji at the end.

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Russia Sends Bombs as Ukraine Marks Grim Bucha Anniversary

Russia used its long-range arsenal to bombard anew several areas of Ukraine on Friday, killing at least two civilians and damaging homes as Ukrainians commemorated the anniversary of the liberation of Bucha from a brutal occupation by the Kremlin’s forces.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that Bucha, a town near Kyiv, stands as a symbol of the atrocities the Russian military has committed since its full-scale invasion of Ukraine began in February 2022.

“We will not let it be forgotten,” Zelenskyy said at a formal ceremony in Bucha, vowing to punish those who committed outrages in the town. “Human dignity will not let it be forgotten. On the streets of Bucha, the world has seen Russian evil. Evil unmasked.”

At the same time as the Bucha commemorations, the Kremlin-allied president of Belarus raised the stakes in the 13-month war when he said that Russian strategic nuclear weapons might be deployed in his country, along with part of Moscow’s tactical nuclear arsenal.

Moscow said earlier this week it planned to place in neighboring Belarus tactical nuclear weapons that are comparatively short-range and low-yield. Strategic nuclear weapons such as missile-borne warheads would bring a greater threat.

Zelenskyy dedicated his attention to an official ceremony in Bucha, where he was joined by the president of the Republic of Moldova and the prime ministers of Croatia, Slovakia and Slovenia.

The Kremlin’s forces occupied Bucha weeks after they invaded Ukraine and stayed for about a month. When Ukrainian troops retook the town, they encountered horrific scenes: bodies of women, young and old men, in civilian clothing, lying in the street where they had fallen or in yards and homes.

Other bodies were found in a mass grave. Over weeks and months, hundreds of bodies were uncovered, including some of children.

Russian soldiers on intercepted phone conversations called it “zachistka” — cleansing, according to an investigation by The Associated Press and the PBS series “Frontline.”

Such organized cruelty — used by Russian troops in past conflicts as well, notably in Chechnya — was later repeated in Russia-occupied territories across Ukraine.

Zelenskyy handed out medals to soldiers, police, doctors, teachers and emergency services in Bucha, as well as to families of two soldiers killed during the defense of the Kyiv region.

“Ukrainian people, you have stopped the biggest anti-human force of our times,” he said. “You have stopped the force which has no respect and wants to destroy everything that gives meaning to human life.”

More than 1,400 civilian deaths, including 37 children, were documented by Ukrainian authorities, Zelenskyy said.

More than 175 people were found in mass graves and alleged torture chambers, according to Zelenskyy. Ukraine and other countries, including the U.S., have demanded that Russia answer for war crimes.

Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin alleged Friday that many of the dead civilians were tortured. Almost 100 Russian soldiers are suspected of war crimes, he said on his Telegram channel, and indictments have been issued for 35 of them.

Two Russian servicemen have already been sentenced by a Ukrainian court to 12 years in prison for illegal deprivation of liberty of civilians and looting.

“I am convinced that all these crimes are not a coincidence. This is part of Russia’s planned strategy aimed at destroying Ukraine as a state and Ukrainians as a nation,” Kostin said.

In Geneva, the U.N. human rights chief said his office has so far verified the deaths of more than 8,400 civilians in Ukraine since Russia’s invasion — a count believed to be far short of the true toll.

Volker Türk told the U.N. Human Rights Council that “severe violations of human rights and international humanitarian law have become shockingly routine” amid Russia’s invasion.

As well as making an announcement about possibly having Russian strategic nuclear weapons on his country’s soil, the Belarusian president also unexpectedly called for a cease-fire in Ukraine without making any reference about how the two developments might be connected.

A truce, Lukashenko said in his state-of-the-nation address in Minsk on Friday, must be announced without any preconditions and all movement of troops and weapons must be halted.

“It’s necessary to stop now until an escalation begins,” Lukashenko said, adding that an anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive using Western-supplied weapons would bring “an irreversible escalation of the conflict.”

But Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov responded that Russia has to keep fighting, claiming Ukraine has rejected any talks under pressure from its Western allies.

Peskov also dismissed Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s remarks about the European Union mulling the deployment of sending peacekeeping troops to Ukraine as “extremely dangerous.”

Russia has maintained its bombardment of Ukraine with the war already into its second year.

As well as killing at least two civilians in Ukraine, 14 other civilians were wounded early Friday as Russia launched missiles, shells, exploding drones and gliding bombs, the Ukraine presidential office said.

Two Russian missiles hit the city of Kramatorsk in the eastern Donetsk region, damaging eight residential buildings. Throughout the Donetsk region, one civilian was killed and five others wounded by the strikes, the office said.

Nine Russian missiles struck Kharkiv, damaging residential buildings, roads, gas stations and a prison. The Russians also used exploding drones to attack the Kharkiv region.

Russian forces also shelled the southern city of Kherson, killing one resident and wounding two others. The village of Lviv in the Kherson region was struck by gliding bombs that damaged about 10 houses.

The barrage also hit the city of Zaporizhzhia, and its outskirts, causing major fires.

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Drawing Moisture From Air Can Bring Water to Dry Communities

As access to clean drinking water becomes increasingly difficult in many parts of the world, one company is using an innovative technology to help address this problem for underserved communities in the United States. VOA’s Julie Taboh has more. Video: Adam Greenbaum

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French Wire Walker Philippe Petit Shows Off Skills at Washington Museum

French daredevil Philippe Petit showed off his gravity-defying skills at the National Building Museum in Washington. At 73, Petit still walks the wire without a safety net or harness. Maxim Moskalkov talked with the famous wire walker. Video: Artyom Kokhan, Aleksadr Bergan

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Finland’s NATO Membership: What’s Next?

Finland received the green light to join NATO when Turkey ratified the Nordic country’s membership late Thursday, becoming the last country in the 30-member Western military alliance to sign off.

All NATO members must vote unanimously to admit a new country. into the alliance. The decision by the Turkish parliament followed Hungary’s ratification of Finland’s bid earlier in the week.

The addition of Finland, which shares a 1,340-kilometer border with Russia, will more than double the size of NATO’s border with Russia.

However, a few more steps and procedures are required before the northern European nation becomes the 31st full NATO member:

Acceptance letters

Turkey and Hungary dispatch acceptance letters to the United States which is the depositary, or safekeeper, of NATO under the alliance’s 1949 founding treaty. The letters will be filed in the archives of the U.S. State Department, which will notify NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg that the conditions for inviting Finland to become a member were met.


NATO sends a letter signed by Stoltenberg inviting Finland to join the military alliance.


Finland sends its own acceptance document, signed by Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto, to the U.S. State Department. Finnish President Sauli Väinämö Niinistö authorized Haavisto to sign the document. Either the Finnish Embassy in Washington or a Finnish government official will deliver the document.

Full membership

Once Finland’s membership acceptance document reaches the State Department in Washington, the country officially becomes a NATO member.


Finland and neighboring Sweden jointly applied for NATO membership in May 2022. The countries, which have close cultural, economic and political ties, planned to enter the alliance simultaneously.

Sweden’s bid, however, has stalled due to opposition from Turkey, whose president has said his country wouldn’t ratify membership before disputes between Ankara and Stockholm were resolved. The Turkish government has accused Sweden of being too soft on groups that it deems to be terror organizations.

Hungary’s parliament also has yet to ratify Sweden’s accession to NATO, and it remains unclear when it will do so.

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Britain Claims Post-Brexit Win by Sealing Trans-Pacific Trade Pact Membership

Britain will join 11 other countries in a major Asia-Pacific trade partnership, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced Friday, in the country’s biggest post-Brexit trade deal following nearly two years of talks.

Britain will be the first new member since the creation of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) in 2018, and the first European country in the bloc.

The trade grouping will include more than 500 million people and account for 15% of global GDP once Britain becomes its 12th member, according to Sunak’s office.

It said Britain’s admission — after 21 months of “intense negotiations” — puts the country “at the heart of a dynamic group of economies” and was evidence of “seizing the opportunities of our new post-Brexit trade freedoms.”

The development fulfils a key pledge of Brexit supporters that, outside the European Union, Britain could capitalize on joining other trade blocs with faster-growing economies than those closer to home.

Critics have argued that such ventures will struggle to compensate for the economic damage sustained by leaving the European Union, the world’s largest trading bloc and collective economy.

“We are at our heart an open and free-trading nation, and this deal demonstrates the real economic benefits of our post-Brexit freedoms,” Sunak said in a statement announcing the deal.

“As part of CPTPP, the UK is now in a prime position in the global economy to seize opportunities for new jobs, growth and innovation.”

The CPTPP is the successor to a previous trans-Pacific trade pact that the United States withdrew from under former President Donald Trump in 2017.

Its members include fellow G7 members Canada and Japan, and historic British allies Australia and New Zealand.

The remaining members are Mexico, Chile and Peru, along with Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam and Brunei.

In Tokyo, Japanese government spokesperson Hirokazu Matsuno welcomed the announcement.

“The UK is a global strategic partner and also an important trading and investment partner,” he told reporters.

Its accession “will have great meaning for forming a free and fair economic order,” he added.


Despite rising geopolitical tensions, in particular with Canberra, China formally applied to join the bloc in 2021.

All existing members must reach a consensus for a new country to enter the CPTPP.

Matsuno said Japan would need to examine whether China and other nations hoping to join can meet the required conditions, and would also consider the “strategic viewpoint” and Japanese public opinion.

Since Britain quit the EU’s single market in 2021, it has been trying to strike bilateral deals to boost its international trade — and flagging economy.

London has so far inked agreements with far-flung allies including Australia, New Zealand and Singapore, and is in talks with India and Canada.

However, a prized pact with the United States remains stalled.

Britain applied to join the CPTPP in February 2021, kicking off talks later that year in June.

London and the other existing members are poised to take the “final legal and administrative steps required” before Britain will formally sign later this year, Sunak’s Downing Street office said.

It will boost the British economy by $2.2 billion over the long term, it added, citing estimates.

More than 99% of British goods exported to member countries will now be eligible for zero tariffs, including key British exports such as cars, chocolate, machinery and whisky, it added.

British exports to them were already worth $75 billion in the year to the end of September 2022, and are expected to grow once inside the CPTPP, according to Downing Street.

Britain’s dominant services industry will also benefit from “reduced red tape and greater access to growing Pacific markets with an appetite for high-quality UK products and services,” it said.

Matthew Fell, interim head of Britain’s CBI business lobby, called the deal “a real milestone for the UK and for British industry”

“Membership reinforces the UK’s commitment to building partnerships in an increasingly fragmented world,” he said.

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Is Banning TikTok Constitutional?

U.S. lawmakers and officials are ratcheting up threats to ban TikTok, saying the Chinese-owned video-sharing app used by millions of Americans poses a threat to privacy and U.S. national security.

But free speech advocates and legal experts say an outright ban would likely face a constitutional hurdle: the First Amendment right to free speech.

“If passed by Congress and enacted into law, a nationwide ban on TikTok would have serious ramifications for free expression in the digital sphere, infringing on Americans’ First Amendment rights and setting a potent and worrying precedent in a time of increased censorship of internet users around the world,” a coalition of free speech advocacy organizations wrote in a letter to Congress last week, urging a solution short of an outright ban.

The plea came as U.S. lawmakers grilled TikTok CEO Shou Chew over concerns the Chinese government could exploit the platform’s user data for espionage and influence operations in the United States.

TikTok, which bills itself as a “platform for free expression” and a “modern-day version of the town square,” says it has more than 150 million users in the United States.

But the platform is owned by ByteDance, a Beijing-based company, and U.S. officials have raised concerns that the Chinese government could utilize the app’s user data to influence and spy on Americans.

Aaron Terr, director of public advocacy at the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, said while there are legitimate privacy and national security concerns about TikTok, the First Amendment implications of a ban so far have received little public attention.

“If nothing else, it’s important for that to be a significant part of the conversation,” Terr said in an interview. “It’s important for people to consider alongside national security concerns.”

To be sure, the First Amendment is not absolute. There are types of speech that are not protected by the amendment. Among them: obscenity, defamation and incitement.

But the Supreme Court has also made it clear there are limits on how far the government can go to regulate speech, even when it involves a foreign adversary or when the government argues that national security is at stake.

In a landmark 1965 case, the Supreme Court invalidated a law that prevented Americans from receiving foreign mail that the government deemed was “communist political propaganda.”

In another consequential case involving a defamation lawsuit brought against The New York Times, the court ruled that even an “erroneous statement” enjoyed some constitutional protection.

“And that’s relevant because here, one of the reasons that Congress is concerned about TikTok is the potential that the Chinese government could use it to spread disinformation,” said Caitlin Vogus, deputy director of the Free Expression Project at the Center for Democracy and Technology, one of the signatories of the letter to Congress.

Proponents of a ban deny a prohibition would run afoul of the First Amendment.

“This is not a First Amendment issue, because we’re not trying to ban booty videos,” Republican Senator Marco Rubio, a longtime critic of TikTok, said on the Senate floor on Monday.

ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, is beholden to the Chinese Communist Party, Rubio said.

“So, if the Communist Party goes to ByteDance and says, ‘We want you to use that algorithm to push these videos on Americans to convince them of whatever,’ they have to do it. They don’t have an option,” Rubio said.

The Biden administration has reportedly demanded that ByteDance divest itself from TikTok or face a possible ban.

TikTok denies the allegations and says it has taken measures to protect the privacy and security of its U.S. user data.

Rubio is sponsoring one of several competing bills that envision different pathways to a TikTok ban.

A House bill called the Deterring America’s Technological Adversaries Act would empower the president to shut down TikTok.

A Senate bill called the RESTRICT Act would authorize the Commerce Department to investigate information and communications technologies to determine whether they pose national security risks.

This would not be the first time the U.S. government has attempted to ban TikTok.

In 2020, then-President Donald Trump issued an executive order declaring a national emergency that would have effectively shut down the app.

In response, TikTok sued the Trump administration, arguing that the executive order violated its due process and First Amendment rights.

While courts did not weigh in on the question of free speech, they blocked the ban on the grounds that Trump’s order exceeded statutory authority by targeting “informational materials” and “personal communication.”

Allowing the ban would “have the effect of shutting down, within the United States, a platform for expressive activity used by about 700 million individuals globally,” including more than 100 million Americans, federal judge Wendy Beetlestone wrote in response to a lawsuit brought by a group of TikTok users.

A fresh attempt to ban TikTok, whether through legislation or executive action, would likely trigger a First Amendment challenge from the platform, as well as its content creators and users, according to free speech advocates. And the case could end up before the Supreme Court.

In determining the constitutionality of a ban, courts would likely apply a judicial review test known as an “intermediate scrutiny standard,” Vogus said.

“It would still mean that any ban would have to be justified by an important governmental interest and that a ban would have to be narrowly tailored to address that interest,” Vogus said. “And I think that those are two significant barriers to a TikTok ban.”

But others say a “content-neutral” ban would pass Supreme Court muster.

“To pass content-neutral laws, the government would need to show that the restraint on speech, if any, is narrowly tailored to serve a ‘significant government interest’ and leaves open reasonable alternative avenues for expression,” Joel Thayer, president of the Digital Progress Institute, wrote in a recent column in The Hill online newspaper.

In Congress, even as the push to ban TikTok gathers steam, there are lone voices of dissent.

One is progressive Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Another is Democratic Representative Jamal Bowman, himself a prolific TikTok user.

Opposition to TikTok, Bowman said, stems from “hysteria” whipped up by a “Red scare around China.”

“Our First Amendment gives us the right to speak freely and to communicate freely, and TikTok as a platform has created a community and a space for free speech for 150 million Americans and counting,” Bowman, who has more than 180,000 TikTok followers, said recently at a rally held by TikTok content creators.

Instead of singling out TikTok, Bowman said, Congress should enact new legislation to ensure social media users are safe and their data secure.

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Trump Faces Criminal Indictment

A grand jury in New York has voted to indict former US President Donald Trump on criminal charges related to a payoff to a former adult film star. Mike O’Sullivan reports on reaction to the unprecedented move against a former president.

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‘Woman of Iron’ Honored for Protecting CAR’s Constitution

In March 2022, Daniele Darlan, then-president of the Central African Republic’s Constitutional Court, faced intense pressure to modify her country’s constitution to allow the president to run for a third term in office.

The pressure came from local politicians and Russian diplomats, but she was unwavering in her belief that the constitution could not be undermined.

“The constitution is the fundamental law. It’s the text on which all other laws and regulations are based,” she told VOA, speaking in French. “If you don’t respect the constitution, if you violate it, it sets off a chain reaction of violations. It means that you don’t have to respect any law or any rule.”

In October 2022 she was removed from her position, clearing the way for President Faustin-Archange Touadéra to remain in power.

International reaction was immediate.

U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said, “judicial independence is a central tenet of democracy,” at the time of her removal. “We call on the Central African authorities to ensure the safety and independence of the Constitutional Court.”

The court “must be free from interference and political influence from inside and outside,” said Yao Agbetse, a U.N. independent expert on the human rights situation in the country.

Darlan said she does not regret her stand even though it cost her dearly.

“As a constitutional judge and president of the Constitutional Court I am a guardian of the constitution,” she told VOA in a one-on-one interview at the State Department. “At that moment, I had to make sure that the constitution would be respected. In this sense I only did my job.”

Nicknamed the “Woman of Iron,” she was one of the recipients of the 2023 International Women of Courage Award presented by the State Department this month.

The Central African Republic has joined a controversial security agreement with the Wagner Group, a Kremlin-controlled paramilitary mercenary company that provides security to the country’s president and has become deeply enmeshed in the nation’s economy.

Darlan said while people initially had high hopes for the Russian fighters, those hopes have since been dashed.

“The impact, unfortunately, has not been positive,” she said. “If at first the population was happy because Wagner was combatting certain armed groups, afterward that was no longer the case.”

Human rights advocates accuse Wagner of human rights violations in the country.

“Wagner has committed many abuses against the population and against the armed forces of the Central African Republic. So, little by little, there has been a rejection. At the beginning they were seen as saviors, but now the population has begun to realize they were not what they expected and are demanding they leave,” Darlan said.

And it’s not just the Central African Republic that is facing threats to the rule of law. Across Africa there have been instances of presidents amending the constitutions to stay in power and soldiers grabbing power at the point of a gun.

As someone who has dedicated her life to the rule of law, Darlan said she is troubled by this trend. She says presidents who cling to power do so out of fear.

“Once you run a country poorly. Once you mismanage the public funds, when you favor your friends and family, you are fearful of leaving power because you are fearful that you won’t be protected,” she said.

She said she hopes more African leaders will follow the examples of presidents who willing give up power and enjoy a quiet retirement.

“I think the heads of state who lead with good governance do not want to stay in power because they know when they leave, they’ll be safe,” she said. “There won’t be a judicial pursuit, they don’t have illicit funds. They are at ease. And they are loved by their population.”

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Taiwan’s President Emphasizes Regional Stability in New York Visit

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen is on a sensitive trip to the United States, where she wrapped up a second day of events closed to the media in New York City on Thursday. In a speech Wednesday, she vowed to protect regional stability in exchange for continued support from the United States. Yao Yu has the story.

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Republicans Assail Trump Indictment; Democrats Say He Will Get His Day in Court

Reaction to the indictment of Donald Trump, the first of a former U.S. president, was predictable in the hothouse of divisive American politics. His fellow Republicans assailed the prosecutor for what they claimed was a purely partisan attack, while Democrats contended that no one should be allowed to stand above the law.

Even Republicans eyeing a 2024 run against Trump for the party’s presidential nomination came to his defense after a New York grand jury indicted Trump on charges linked to his $130,000 hush money payment in 2016 to an adult film actress to silence her about an alleged affair she claimed to have had with Trump a decade earlier. Trump has long denied the claim by the porn star, Stormy Daniels.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who has not announced a 2024 presidential bid but nationally polls second behind Trump for the nomination, on Twitter accused New York prosecutor Alvin Bragg, a Democrat, of deploying the legal system “to advance a political agenda” that he said “turns the rule of law on its head.”

DeSantis said he would not work with New York officials to extradite Trump from Florida to face the charges, although it may not be an issue in any event. Trump’s lawyer has said the former president would fly to New York to turn himself in.

Nikki Haley, Trump’s former ambassador to the United Nations who has announced her 2024 run for the presidency, said of the indictment, “This is more about revenge than it is justice.”

Mike Pompeo, a secretary of state during Trump’s administration and another possible presidential contender, accused the prosecutor of “playing politics.”

South Carolina Republican Senator Tim Scott, yet another possible candidate, said in a statement, “This pro-criminal New York DA has failed to uphold the law for violent criminals, yet weaponized the law against political enemies. This is a travesty, and it should not be happening in the greatest country on Earth.”

Longtime Democratic foes of Trump took a different tack, saying no one should be able to escape prosecution if wrongdoing was alleged but should have their day in court to answer the charges.

Nancy Pelosi, the former speaker of the House of Representatives, wrote on Twitter, “The Grand Jury has acted upon the facts and the law. No one is above the law, and everyone has the right to a trial to prove innocence.”

“Hopefully, the former President will peacefully respect the system, which grants him that right,” she added.

The Democratic Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, said in a statement: “Mr. Trump is subject to the same laws as every American. He will be able to avail himself of the legal system and a jury, not politics, to determine his fate according to the facts and the law. There should be no outside political influence, intimidation or interference in the case. I encourage both Mr. Trump’s critics and supporters to let the process proceed peacefully and according to the law.”

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World Court Rules US Illegally Froze Some Iranian Assets

In a partial victory for Iran, judges at the International Court of Justice on Thursday ruled that Washington had illegally allowed courts to freeze assets of some Iranian companies and ordered the United States to pay compensation, the amount of which will be determined later.  

However, in a blow for Tehran, the World Court said it did not have jurisdiction over $1.75 billion in frozen assets from Iran’s central bank.  

Acting Legal Adviser Rich Visek of the U.S. State Department said in a written statement that the ruling rejected the “vast majority of Iran’s case,” notably where it concerned the assets of the central bank.  

“This is a major victory for the United States and victims of Iran’s state-sponsored terrorism,” Visek added.  

In a reaction shared by Iran’s foreign ministry on its Telegram channel, it hailed the decision as “highlighting the legitimacy” of its positions and “expressing the wrongful behavior of the United States.” 

The ruling came amid heightened tensions between the United States and Iran after tit-for-tat strikes between Iran-backed forces and U.S. personnel in Syria last week. 

Relations have been strained after attempts to revive a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and major world powers stalled, and as Iranian drones are being used by Russia against Ukraine. 

Case brought in 2016

The case before the court was initially brought by Tehran against Washington in 2016 for allegedly breaching a 1955 friendship treaty by allowing U.S. courts to freeze assets of Iranian companies. The money was to be given in compensation to victims of terrorist attacks. 

The Islamic Republic denies supporting international terrorism. 

The 1950s friendship treaty was signed long before Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, which toppled the U.S.-backed shah, and the subsequent severing of U.S.-Iranian relations.  

Washington finally withdrew from the treaty in 2018. Nonetheless, the court ruled that it was in place at the time of the freezing of the assets of Iranian commercial companies and entities. 

“The court has concluded the United States violated its obligations under (…) the treaty of amity,” presiding judge Kirill Gevorgian said. He added that Iran was entitled to compensation and the parties had 24 months to agree on a figure; if that does not work, the court will start new proceedings to determine the amount to be paid.  

The judges also explained the court had no jurisdiction over the $1.75 billion in assets from Iran’s central bank held by the U.S. because that bank was not a commercial enterprise, and thus not protected by the treaty.  

The rulings of the court are binding, but it has no means of enforcing them. The United States and Iran are among a handful of countries to have disregarded its decisions in the past. 

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Vice President Harris Meets Africa’s Only Female President

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris pledged continuing cooperation with Tanzania as she met with the country’s president, the only female head of state in Africa, on her first official visit to the continent. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

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Russia Using TikTok to Push Pro-Moscow Narrative on Ukraine

New data is suggesting at least some U.S. adversaries are taking advantage of the hugely popular TikTok video-sharing app for influence operations.

A report Thursday by the Alliance for Securing Democracy (ASD) finds Russia “has been using the app to push its own narrative” in its effort to undermine Western support for Ukraine.

“Based on our analysis, some users are engaging more with Russian state media than other, more reputable independent news outlets on the platform,” according to the report by the U.S.-based election security advocate that tracks official state actors and state-backed media.

“More TikTok users follow RT than The New York Times,” it said.

The ASD report found that as of March 22, there were 78 Russian-funded news outlets on TikTok with a total of more than 14 million followers.

It also found that despite a commitment from TikTok to label the accounts as belonging to state-controlled media, 31 of the accounts were not labeled.

Yet even labeling the accounts seemed to have little impact on their ability to gain an audience.

“By some measures, including the performance of top posts, labeled Russian state media accounts are reaching larger audiences on TikTok than other platforms,” the report said. “RIA Novosti’s top TikTok post so far in 2023 has more than 5.6 million views. On Twitter, its top post has fewer than 20,000 views.”

The report on Russian state media’s use of TikTok comes as U.S. officials are again voicing concern about the potential for TikTok to be used for disinformation campaigns and foreign influence operations.

“Just a tremendous number of people in the United States use TikTok,” John Plumb, the principal cyber adviser to the U.S. secretary of defense, told members of a House Armed Services subcommittee, warning of “the control China may have to direct information through it” and use it as a “misinformation platform.”

“This provides a foreign nation a platform for information operations,” U.S. Cyber Command’s General Paul Nakasone added, noting that TikTok has 150 million users in the United States.

“One-third of the adult population receives their news from this app,” he said. “One-sixth of our children are saying they’re constantly on this app.”

TikTok, owned by China-based ByteDance, has sought to push back against the concerns.

“Let me state this unequivocally: ByteDance is not an agent of China or any other country,” TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew told U.S. lawmakers during a hearing last week.

“We do not promote or remove content at the request of the Chinese government,” he said, trying to downplay fears about the company’s data collection practices and Chinese laws that would require the company to share that information with the Chinese government if asked.U.S. lawmakers, intelligence and security officials, however, have their doubts.

The top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Marco Rubio, earlier this month warned that TikTok is “probably one of the most valuable surveillance tools on the planet.”

A day later, Cyber Command’s Nakasone told members of the House Intelligence Committee that TikTok is like a “loaded gun,” while FBI Director Christopher Wray warned that TikTok’s recommendation algorithm “could be used to conduct influence operations.”

“That’s not something that would be easily detected,” he added.


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Breaking Down the Trump Indictment 

The indictment of former President Donald Trump in New York stems from the payment of hush money to adult film actress Stormy Daniels in the final days of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

The payment of $130,000 was made by then-Trump lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen as part of a scheme to “catch and kill” damaging stories about the real estate mogul’s marital infidelities.

Cohen has said he made the secret payment at Trump’s direction and was later reimbursed by the Trump Organization, Trump’s real estate company, for “legal” services.

Cohen pleaded guilty in connection with the case in 2018, but federal prosecutors did not charge Trump, leaving it to the Manhattan district attorney to pursue the case under state law.

In court documents in 2018, federal prosecutors laid out how Cohen, working at the behest of Trump, sought to prevent the candidate’s female accusers from going public with their allegations during the 2016 campaign.

‘Catch and kill’

Along with Cohen, a key player in the effort was David Pecker, chairman of American Media Inc. (AMI), the company that at the time published the supermarket tabloid National Enquirer.

A longtime Trump friend, Pecker had offered “to help deal with negative stories about [Trump’s] relationships with women” by identifying stories that could be bought and then suppressed. The practice is known in the publishing industry as “catch and kill.”

In August 2016, AMI agreed to pay former Playboy model Karen McDougal $150,000 for the rights to her story about an alleged affair with Trump in 2006 and 2007. The story was shelved.

Two months later, a representative for Daniels informed AMI that the porn star was going public with her account of a sexual encounter with Trump and was willing to sell her story.

Having failed to secure a deal with Daniels, Pecker put her agent in touch with Cohen, who negotiated a $130,000 agreement to “purchase [her] silence,” prosecutors wrote in August 2018.

Paying hush money is not illegal. But federal prosecutors charged that classifying the payment as a “legal retainer” fee violated federal campaign finance laws.

Trump has acknowledged that Cohen was reimbursed for the $130,000 paid to Daniels to stop what he termed her “false and extortionist accusations.”

But he’s denied the payment was a “campaign contribution.”

While the precise charges against the former president remain sealed, legal experts say they likely center on the falsification of business records.

Under New York law, falsifying business records is normally a misdemeanor. But when it is done with the intent to commit or hide another crime, it rises to the level of a felony punishable by up to four years in prison.

It is not clear what additional criminal offenses, if any, Trump has been charged with.

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