Tribal Canoe Journey Returns to Washington State After COVID-19 Break

For thousands of years, canoes were the primary means of travel for the Native Americans known as the Coast Salish peoples. Tribal Canoe Journey, an event celebrating indigenous tribes of the West Coast, is back after a pandemic hiatus. Natasha Mozgovaya has more. Camera: Natasha Mozgovaya.

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Biden Keeping Space Command Headquarters in Colorado

U.S. President Joe Biden has selected Colorado Springs as the permanent location of the U.S. Space Command headquarters, the U.S. military said Monday, ending a long-running debate over potentially moving it to Republican-stronghold Alabama. 

The Pentagon said the decision by Biden, a Democrat, would ensure “peak readiness” of the command during a critical period. 

Experts have said keeping the base in Colorado Springs would avoid a lengthy transition period to Huntsville, Alabama, a spot favored by former Republican President Donald Trump, and which is known as “Rocket City” for its role in developing space rockets. 

“It will also enable the command to most effectively plan, execute and integrate military space power into multi-domain global operations in order to deter aggression and defend national interests,” the Pentagon said in a statement. 

Biden’s decision comes as a Republican senator from Alabama, Tommy Tuberville, is blocking hundreds of U.S. military appointments to protest the Pentagon’s policy of reimbursing costs for service members who travel to get an abortion. 

Biden last week criticized Tuberville for preventing many women and people of color from moving into more senior roles, some of them historic in nature. 

Those include Air Force General CQ Brown, the first Black person to lead any branch of the armed services, whom Biden has nominated to head the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Navy Admiral Lisa Franchetti, who would become the first woman to command the service and become a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. 

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Darfur Refugees in Chad Scramble for Shelter as Rainy Season Starts

Thousands of refugees fleeing Darfur to neighboring Chad to escape fighting and ethnically targeted attacks in Sudan’s western region are struggling to secure basic shelter and supplies as heavy rains and winds batter makeshift camps.

The United Nations estimates over 300,000 fled from Darfur to Chad since April 15 when fighting between Sudan’s army and paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) broke out in the capital of Khartoum.

Islam, one of the roughly 33,000 refugees in the camp in Chad’s Ourang, pleaded for shelter from the relentless rain as she stood in front of destroyed tents.

“Please provide us with a shelter as soon as possible. This is humiliating. Anyone in here lost three or four people and came here with nothing to eat or drink,” she said as tears streamed down her face.

Some now stay in flimsy tarpaulin tents brought down easily by the rain, others bundle themselves in blankets to stay warm.

The onset of the rainy season makes it harder for aid agencies operating in Chad to provide for refugees arriving on foot or donkey carts, with each flare of clashes prompting more to cross the border. 

A recent attack on the west Darfur town on Sirba killed more than 200 people and made thousands more flee, according to the Darfur Bar Association.

Those who fled Darfur reported shortages of food, electricity, and water supply amid violence in residential areas.

“It was not safe to move around, there was nothing to eat in the market. So, we came with our kids and came here, and we found that the road is worse,” Mohamed Ibrahim told Reuters. 

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Putsch Throws Niger Team at Francophone Games Into Disarray 

Nigerien participants in the Francophone Games, which have kicked off in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s capital, have been left struggling after a putsch in their home country last week.

Drawing athletes and artists from mostly French-speaking states, the games are being held for the first time in DRC’s capital, Kinshasa, the world’s largest French-speaking city.

The event, which features athletic and cultural contests, began in the central African metropolis on Friday.

But just two days prior, army officers had appeared on television screens in Niger to announce the overthrow of President Mohamed Bazoum and the closure of the Sahel state’s borders.

Ibrahim Mahamane, who heads Niger’s cultural delegation to the games, said the putsch had thrown the team into disarray.

Some participants had planned to arrive in Kinshasa on the day of the coup, or shortly afterward.

“Due to certain circumstances prevailing in the country, the entire delegation was unable to travel, and some remained in Niger,” he said.

For example, sculptor Adamou Tchiombiano managed to fly to the DRC in time, but the giraffe sculpture made from recycled flip-flops that he was due to exhibit got stuck in Niger.

“It’s put the brakes on my career,” said the artist, who thinks his sculpture was a winner.

Back at work

But the 33-year-old is undaunted. On Sunday, he was hard at work in Kinshasa’s Academie des Beaux Arts, using a chainsaw to shape tropical wood into a new giraffe sculpture, which he aims to finish before the end of the games.

“They’ve welcomed me with open arms. It’s like a family,” said Tchiombiano.

Some Nigerien artwork also turned up in Kinshasa without the accompanying artist, according to Mahamane. And members of a musical group that was due to compete are missing.

With one of the largest teams in the games, the 100-strong Nigerien delegation proudly waved flags during the opening ceremony on Friday.

Niger is due to compete in 10 out of 11 cultural contests and eight out of nine sporting events, according to the delegation.

“It’s hard. We feel the weight of what happened to us,” said Mahamane, referring to the coup.

But, he added, “Niger is still standing and it’s our mission to represent it.”

Safety concerns and standards of facilities have dogged the games in Kinshasa, prompting some delegations to pull out or send reduced teams.

The Canadian province of Quebec, for example, is not participating.

But the Nigeriens are unfazed and uncomplaining, despite their substandard accommodation.

Their building in the so-called Games Village at the University of Kinshasa has patchy electricity and water, for example, and it’s far away from the event facilities, leaving them vulnerable to Kinshasa’s infamous traffic jams.

They experienced a letdown Friday when they were bused away from the opening ceremony straight after their flag parade, missing the opening ceremony’s sound and light show. 

“It’s a very big disappointment,” said Mahamane, who wanted to see the show. “But we want the games to succeed. We can overcome all that. We’re used to difficulties.”

Issaka Aissata Ibrah, the head of the Nigerien athletic delegation, was equally upbeat.

“We have 50 athletes. We want 50 medals,” she said. “But medals or no medals, we will have had the merit of representing our country.”

In the courtyard of the Nigerien building in the Games Village, a joyful shout burst from a window.

“It’s one of my wrestlers. The water’s come back,” said Mohamed Manzo, the Nigerien wrestling team’s coach. “He hadn’t had a shower for two days.” 

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UN Chief Welcomes Kenya’s Offer to Consider Leading Police Force in Haiti

The United Nations chief on Monday welcomed Kenya’s offer to “positively consider” leading a multinational police force to help combat Haiti’s gangs and improve security in the violence-wracked Caribbean nation. 

Haiti’s Prime Minister Ariel Henry urgently appealed last October for “the immediate deployment of a specialized armed force, in sufficient quantity” to stop the gangs. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has been appealing unsuccessfully since then for a lead nation to help restore order to Latin America’s most impoverished country. 

Kenya’s Foreign Ministry said Saturday that its offer included a commitment to send 1,000 police to help train and assist the Haitian National Police to “restore normalcy in the country and protect strategic installations.” The ministry said it was responding to a request from the Friends of Haiti group of nations. 

“Kenya stands with persons of African descent across the world, including those in the Caribbean, and aligns with the African Union’s diaspora policy and our own commitment to Pan Africanism, and in this case to ‘reclaiming of the Atlantic crossing,'” the ministry said. 

Haiti’s gangs have grown in power since the July 7, 2021, assassination of President Jovenel Moise and are now estimated to control up to 80% of the capital. The surge in killings, rapes and kidnappings has led to a violent uprising by civilian vigilante groups. 

U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said Guterres welcomed “Kenya’s positive response to his call” and expressed gratitude to Kenya for its “solidarity.” 

The secretary-general calls on the U.N. Security Council to support a non-U.N. multinational operation in Haiti “and encourages member states, particularly from the region, to join forces from Kenya” in supporting the country’s police, Haq said. 

Kenya’s Foreign Ministry said its proposed deployment would crystallize once the Security Council adopted a resolution giving a mandate for the force, and once other Kenyan constitutional processes were undertaken. 

A Kenyan task force plans to undertake an assessment mission to Haiti within the next few weeks that “will inform and guide the mandate and operational requirements of the mission,” it said. 

Guterres, who visited Haiti in early July, called afterward for a robust international force to help the Haitian National Police “defeat and dismantle the gangs.” 

He said the estimate by the U.N. independent expert for Haiti, William O’Neill, that up to 2,000 additional anti-gang police officers were needed was no exaggeration. O’Neill, who concluded a 10-day trip to Haiti in July, is an American lawyer who has been working on Haiti for over 30 years and helped establish the Haitian National Police in 1995. 

The Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution on July 14 asking Guterres to come up with “a full range of options” within 30 days to help combat Haiti’s armed gangs, including a non-U.N. multinational force, a possible U.N. peacekeeping force, additional training for the Haitian National Police and support to combat illegal arms trafficking to the country. 

Compounding the gang warfare, which has spread outside the capital, is the country’s political crisis: Haiti was stripped of all democratically elected institutions when the terms of the country’s remaining 10 senators expired in early January. 

The Security Council resolution, co-sponsored by the United States and Ecuador, “strongly urges” all countries to prohibit the supply, sale or transfer of weapons to anyone supporting gang violence and criminal activities. 

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to Kenyan President William Ruto on Monday, and their talk touched on Kenya’s positive consideration of leading a multinational force in Haiti, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said. 

The United States takes over the rotating presidency of the U.N. Security Council for August on Tuesday, and Miller said the U.S. and Ecuador, as a first step, were going to introduce a resolution to authorize a non-U.N. multinational mission. 

The second step is an assessment mission by Kenya, “which they plan to do in the coming days,” and then there will be talks with other countries about what additional assistance is needed, he said. 

“We are committed to finding the resources to support this multinational force,” Miller said. “We’ve been a large humanitarian donor to relief efforts in Haiti for some time, and we have worked behind the scenes to find the lead nation to run this multinational force and are pleased that that has been successful.”

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Crews Battle ‘Fire Whirls’ in California Blaze in Mojave Desert

Crews battled “fire whirls” in California’s Mojave National Preserve this weekend as a massive wildfire crossed into Nevada amid dangerously high temperatures and raging winds.

The York Fire was mapped at roughly 284 square kilometers on Monday with no containment. The blaze erupted Friday near the remote Caruthers Canyon area of the vast wildland preserve, crossed the state line into Nevada on Sunday and sent smoke further east into the Las Vegas Valley.

Wind-driven flames 6 meters high in some spots charred tens of thousands of hectares of desert scrub, juniper and Joshua tree woodland, according to an incident update.

A fire whirl — sometimes called a fire tornado — is a “spinning column of fire” that forms when intense heat and turbulent winds combine, according to the National Park Service.

The vortexes — which can be anywhere from a few meters tall to several hundred meters high, with varying rotational speeds — were spotted Sunday on the north end of the York Fire.

“While these can be fascinating to observe they are a very dangerous natural phenomena that can occur during wildfires,” the park service wrote.

Crews expected to face limited visibility due to the fire’s thick smoke. The cause of the York Fire remains under investigation.

To the southwest, the Bonny Fire burned about 9.3 square kilometers in the rugged hills of Riverside County. The blaze was about 20% contained on Monday. 

More than 1,300 people were ordered to evacuate their homes Saturday near the community of Aguanga that is home to horse ranches and wineries.

One firefighter was injured in the blaze.

Gusty winds and the chance of thunderstorms into Tuesday will heighten the risk of renewed growth, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said in a statement.

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US Sanctions 4 Top Bosnian Serb Officials for Undermining Peace Deal


The United States on Monday imposed sanctions against four top Bosnian Serb officials, including the Serb member of the country’s presidency, for undermining a U.S.-sponsored peace deal that ended the Balkan country’s war in the 1990s.

Bosnia’s presidency member Zeljka Cvijanovic, along with the prime minister, justice minister and parliament speaker of the Serb Republic, facilitated the passage of a law that undermines the Bosnian constitution, U.S. State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said in a statement.

The constitution is part of the Dayton peace accords that ended the 1992-1995 Bosnian war in which 100,000 were killed, dividing the country into two autonomous regions, the Serb Republic and the Bosniak-Croat Federation, linked via a weak central government.

Late in June, lawmakers in the Serb Republic voted to suspend rulings by Bosnia’s constitutional court, a vote initiated by the region’s separatist pro-Russian President Milorad Dodik, who is already under U.S. and U.K. sanctions.

The U.S. Department of the Treasury designated Cvijanovic, Prime Minister Radovan Viskovic, Justice Minister Milos Bukejlovic and parliament speaker Nenad Stevandic for obstructing and threatening the implementation of the Dayton accords by providing the passage of the law.

“This action threatens the stability, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the hard-won peace underpinned by the Dayton Peace Agreement,” said Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian E. Nelson.

“This behavior further threatens the country’s future trajectory and successful integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions,” Nelson added.

Cvijanovic was put under U.K. sanctions last year along with Dodik for what were described as attempts to undermine the legitimacy and functionality of the Bosnian state.

In reaction to the sanctions, Stevandic said that he saw them as a “decoration for consistency, steadfastness and non-indulgence in the face of blackmail and threats from those considered powerful.”

A spokesman for Dodik’s ruling SNSD party said the U.S. decision was “shameless and hypocritical.” “No sanctions will prevent us from doing our job,” Radovan Kovacevic said.

The designations build on prior U.S. sanctions and visa restrictions designed to promote accountability of persons who undermine democratic processes or institutions, the U.S. Department of the Treasury said.

Dodik and his allies have long promoted the secession of the region from Bosnia and its unification with neighboring Serbia. They stepped up activities undermining state institutions in recent months, including suspension of decisions by an international peace envoy.

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Biden Goes West to Talk About Administration’s Efforts to Combat Climate Change

President Joe Biden will travel to Arizona, New Mexico and Utah next week and is expected to talk about his administration’s efforts to combat climate change as the region endures a brutally hot summer with soaring temperatures, the White House said Monday.

Biden is expected to discuss the Inflation Reduction Act, America’s most significant response to climate change, and the push toward more clean energy manufacturing. The act aims to spur clean energy on a scale that will bend the arc of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

July has been the hottest month ever recorded. Biden last week announced new steps to protect workers in extreme heat, including measures to improve weather forecasts and make drinking water more accessible.

Members of Biden’s administration also are fanning out over the next few weeks around the anniversary of the landmark climate change and health care legislation to extol the administration’s successes as the Democratic president seeks reelection in 2024.

Vice President Kamala Harris heads to Wisconsin this week with Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo to talk about broadband infrastructure investments. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack goes to Oregon to highlight wildfire defense grants, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg will go to Illinois and Texas, and Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona heads to Maryland to talk about career and technical education programs.

The Inflation Reduction Act included roughly $375 billion over a decade to combat climate change and capped the cost of a month’s supply of insulin at $35 for older Americans and other Medicare beneficiaries. It also helps an estimated 13 million Americans pay for health care insurance by extending subsidies provided during the coronavirus pandemic.

The measure is paid for by new taxes on large companies and stepped-up IRS enforcement of wealthy individuals and entities, with additional funds going to reduce the federal deficit.

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ECOWAS Warns Niger Coup Leaders to Restore President

The West African regional bloc ECOWAS has given Niger’s coup leaders one week to return the country to normal or face possible military intervention. The deadline comes after Niger’s democratically elected president was toppled by members of his presidential guard last week. There are no easy options and the few that are available come with their own regional consequences. 

Meeting Sunday in an emergency session, members of ECOWAS led by Nigeria’s President Bola Tinubu gave Niger’s junta leaders a week to release and reinstate President Mohamed Bazoum.   

The group says all measures including the use of force are on the table to restore constitutional order.  

Michael Shurkin is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and also the director of global programs at 14 North strategies, an Africa-focused business advisory group. He says he applauds ECOWAS’ determination but wonders how effective a regional military intervention will be.   

“That kind of thing makes me cringe because even if it’s possible, it’s easy to imagine really bad things happening as a result and it’s hard to know how that would be a valuable thing,” Shurkin said.

ECOWAS also imposed sanctions, including the suspension of all commercial and financial transactions between Niger and other ECOWAS member states.  


Shurkin says sanctions in this case might not be effective, especially for a country as poor as Niger.   

“There were ECOWAS sanctions against Mali, which proved to be completely useless. In fact, they were counter-productive,” Shurkin said. “The Malian junta was able to use the so-called international campaign against Malian sovereignty to its advantage to try to rally people behind it and it helped a very illegitimate regime create for itself more legitimacy. And if anything, all the sanctions did was just hurt poor people.”

Last week, Bazoum’s supporters protested in the capital, Niamey, calling for his release.  

On Sunday, pro-coup residents attacked the French embassy as they held their own demonstration.

Dr. Edgar Githua, an international relations and diplomacy expert teaching at the U.S. International University in Nairobi, told VOA that ECOWAS — in conjunction with the United States, France and the European Union – has a strategic imperative for restoring Bazoum to power.  

“For the simple reason that geopolitically speaking, the U.S. doesn’t want Russia to come to that region,” Githua said. “If Bazoum is kicked out of power, the military junta that takes over will open wide arms. The Wagner group, don’t forget, is still in Chad, is still in Libya, // they are around there; they will sweep in so fast. The U.S. knows if there’s a power vacuum, Russia will move in to fill that power vacuum.”

France, the United States and other countries have troops in Niger and while some of these countries have the ability to do some targeted intervention, Shurkin doesn’t think any of these governments would have an appetite in doing so because…  

“It looks terrible. It seems to re-enforce everything that many people fear and say about the French’s role in the Sahel because here is France being a neo-colonial power, picking and choosing leaders and not letting Nigeriens sort things out; same thing if the U.S. did it. It’s very problematic,” Shurkin said. ”

Niger has been a key ally of the West in the fight against militant groups such as Islamic State and al-Qaida in the Sahel region, which has seen a number of coups in the past few years, including in neighboring Burkina Faso and Mali.

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Rights Groups Call for Sudan War Crimes Investigation

A group of Sudanese rights and professional bodies has accused both warring parties in Sudan of committing atrocities that could be prosecuted as war crimes and crimes against humanity. In a petition addressed to United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the coalition called for an investigation by the International Criminal Court. 

More than 30 Sudanese rights groups and professional entities are accusing both the Sudan Armed Forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces of committing human rights violations against civilians in Sudan’s Darfur region and elsewhere.

In a joint statement issued Saturday, the rights groups demanded an immediate investigation into the alleged violations and for the referral of the matter to the International Criminal Court through the United Nations Security Council.

Speaking to VOA, Nafisa Hajar, deputy head of the Darfur Bar Association, said her group has documented a series of violations and attacks, including mass killings, ethnic cleansing and forceful displacement, which she said would amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

She said, given that the judicial system of Sudan is now paralyzed due to the ongoing war, the international community should take action to bring the perpetrators to a court of law.

Hajar said right now there are continued airstrikes on civilian buildings, civilians are forcefully displaced from their homes, and women are being systematically raped. All these atrocities, she said, should be counted as war crimes.

On July 13, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Karim Khan, announced the opening of a new investigation regarding allegations of war crimes in the context of the war in Sudan, especially in the city of El Geneina in West Darfur state.

Hajar said the motive behind the filed petition is to help the victims and to prevent the continued impunity of the alleged perpetrators. 

She said both the army and the RSF deserve to be investigated.

Hajar said at the moment there are serious violations of all treaties and agreements that call for protection of civilians. She said the rights of Sudanese civilians are now being violated by both warring parties.

Sudanese lawyer Abdul Basit Al Haj criticized the Sudan Armed Forces for failing to protect civilians in El Geneina during RSF attacks in the city and elsewhere in Sudan.

Speaking to VOA, Al Haj said the RSF has been attacking hospitals, occupying them, targeting doctors in Khartoum, and committing genocide and ethnic cleansing of non-Arab groups, specifically the Masalit ethnic group in West Darfur state.

“They are occupying civilians’ houses,” he said. “They occupy hospitals, schools, universities, and destroy all these buildings. … According to the definition of war crimes, these are war crimes or crimes against humanity.”

Sudan Army spokesperson Nabeel Abdallah distanced the military from these atrocities, saying “all” were committed by the RSF.

“They took over the homes of citizens in Khartoum by force and turned them into military barracks,” Abdallah told VOA.

VOA reached out to the RSF commander’s special adviser for foreign affairs, Ibrahim Mukhayer, for a comment, but received no immediate reply.

War broke out between the army and the Rapid Support Forces on April 15. The conflict has since forced some 3.5 million people to flee their homes, including 844,000 who have gone to neighboring countries in search of safety, according to the United Nations.

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Sahel Region Coups Make Room for Terrorist Groups: Analysts

West African nations have given Niger one week to return to civilian rule following the recent coup there and threatened measures including the use of force unless coup leaders return ousted President Mohamed Bazoum to power. The situation complicates the fight against terrorism in the Sahel region.

Confidence MacHarry is a Nigeria-based geopolitical security analyst. He says that the region has lost a key ally who has been serious about the fight against terrorists and extreme groups.

“These guys who launched the coup are senior officers who are far removed from actual fighting,” said MacHarry. “Actual fighting differs from other southern parts of Niger. So, on one hand, the region has lost an important ally in Bazoum in the fight against armed groups. There is not much the new military guys can do in that regard.”

The coup leaders say they acted in response to what they termed Niger’s worsening security situation and lack of action against jihadists.

President Bazoum’s overthrow has raised questions about the fight against al-Qaida and Islamic State in the Sahel region. Experts say the terror groups are gaining ground in Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali and Niger.

The foreign forces pulling out of these countries are leaving a security gap that terror groups exploit, says David Otto, head of security and defense analysis with the Geneva Center for Africa Security and Strategic Studies.

“When you have forces that are engaged in counterinsurgency and withdraw those forces, the expectation is that you have to replace them,” said Otto. “If you do not replace them, you create an operational gap in the areas of operation so it means that the forces that will be withdrawn will not be immediately replaced. What is happening, for example, in the case of the Niger Republic, is that there will be a consolidation of power by the military. They will not have time to redeploy their forces. The impact could be dire.”

In May, Martha Ama Akyaa Pobee, a Ghanian diplomat at the United Nations, said the security situation in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger was deteriorating and that armed groups were persistent in launching attacks against both civilians and the military.

According to the Global Terrorism Index, a yearly study conducted by the Australia-based Institute for Economics and Peace, the Sahel region recorded 2,880 deaths out of a total of 6,701 global deaths from terrorism in 2022.

Niger’s military leadership has been threatened with sanctions, military invasion and suspension of government funding.

Otto says sanctions and suspension of aid will empower insurgent groups to carry out more regional attacks.

“Resources are quite key, so the junta has to find alternative resources to be able to relocate its strategy to deal with these jihadist groups and it takes time so that also creates a level of vulnerability, so it’s a win-win for the jihadists while this chaos takes place in the short and medium term,” said Otto. “But in the long term we are still left to see these governments that are popping through military coups will be able to deal with it in the battlefield.”

The call for the military leadership to cede power and restore democracy has grown as Bazoum was seen in Chad Sunday, his first public appearance since the coup last week.

The call for the military leadership to cede power and restore democracy has grown as Bazoum was seen in Chad Sunday, his first public appearance since the coup last week.

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Greece Seeks Better Relations with Turkey, Provided Ankara Drops Aggression

Greece’s prime minister said Monday that his government wants to take full advantage of a developing positive political climate with neighboring Turkey to improve bilateral relations despite a string of decades-old disputes.

But Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said that doesn’t mean Turkey has “substantially changed” its stance on key differences between the two countries and needs to “decisively abandon its aggressive and unlawful conduct” against Greece’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Turkey and Greece remain at odds over maritime boundaries in the eastern Mediterranean, a dispute that affects irregular migration into the European Union, mineral rights and the projection of military power.

Mitsotakis said that he agreed with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, on July 11-12 to initiate new “lines of communication” and to maintain “a period of calm.”

High-level talks between the two countries are expected to take place in the Greek city of Thessaloniki later this year.

However, the Greek prime minister said that Erdogan’s outreach to the EU can’t come at the expense of efforts to heal Cyprus’ nearly half-century ethnic division.

Speaking after talks with Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides, Mitsotakis said that he told Erdogan that improved European-Turkish ties can’t exclude a Cyprus peace accord and that the issue can’t be “left by the wayside.”

Turkey and the breakaway Turkish Cypriots have insisted on a two-state solution since July 2017 when the most recent round of U.N.-facilitated peace talks collapsed.

That position overturned a long-standing agreement sanctioned by the U.N. Security Council in numerous resolutions that any peace deal would aim for a reunified Cyprus as a federation made up of Greek and Turkish speaking zones.

Cyprus was split in 1974 when Turkey invaded following a coup by supporters of a union with Greece. Only Turkey recognizes a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence in the island’s northern third, where more than 35,000 Turkish troops are stationed.

On Friday, Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar repeated that peace talks could resume only if Greek Cypriots recognize the Turkish Cypriots’ “sovereign equality.”

Christodoulides said Monday that any improvement in European-Turkish relations should be based on reciprocal action by Turkey, adding that the EU prioritizes a Cyprus peace deal in line with U.N. resolutions.

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EU Leader Warns Europe Won’t Tolerate Aggression: ‘Not in Ukraine, Not in Indo-Pacific’ 

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen warned on Monday that Europe won’t tolerate aggression in Ukraine or the Indo-Pacific as she reaffirmed the EU’s recognition of a 2016 arbitration decision that invalidated China’s expansive claims in the disputed South China Sea.

Von der Leyen spoke at a joint news conference with Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. after holding talks in Manila that aimed to bolster trade, economic and security relations. The leaders announced the 27-nation bloc would resume negotiations with the Philippines for a free-trade agreement that stalled in 2017 under Marcos’s predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte.

She stressed the need for security cooperation, citing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which she said shows how authoritarian leaders “are willing to act on their threats.”

“Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine shakes the foundation of the international order. It is in violation of the U.N. charter and the fundamental principles of international law, such as territorial integrity and sovereignty,” she said.

“This is why Europe supports Ukraine’s brave fight against the aggressor because the illegal use of force cannot be tolerated, not in Ukraine, not in the Indo-Pacific,” von der Leyen said. “Security in Europe and security in the Indo-Pacific is indivisible. Challenges to the rules-based order in our interconnected world affect all of us.”

“This is why we are concerned about the rising tensions in the Indo-Pacific,” she said, adding that the EU backs a free and open Indo-Pacific “because an Indo-Pacific free of the threats of coercion is key to all our stability to our peace, and to the prosperity of our people.”

Her veiled rhetoric echoed that of U.S. leaders, who have raised alarms over China’s increasingly aggressive actions in the disputed South China Sea.

Without naming China, von der Leyen underscored the EU’s recognition of a decision by a U.N.-backed tribunal that invalidated China’s territorial claims in virtually the entire waterway on historical grounds. China has rejected the arbitration decision as a sham and continues to defy it.

The award “is legally binding” and provides the basis for a peaceful resolution of the disputes, she said.

The European Union is ready to boost cooperation with the Philippines to foster regional maritime security by sharing information, carrying out threat assessments and bolstering the Philippine coast guard, she said.

China has warned the United States and its allies from meddling in what it says is a purely Asian dispute. It has turned seven disputed reefs into missile-protected island bases in the last decade, further alarming Western governments and rival claimants, including the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

Von der Leyen’s visit to the Philippines is a sign of improving ties after a stormy period between the EU and Duterte over human rights. It’s the first such top-level visit in nearly six decades of relations with the Philippines.

The visit came at a time when the EU is assessing whether to extend special trade incentives, including slashed tariffs for a wide variety of products, to the Philippines.

The EU trade incentives under the so-called Generalized Scheme of Preferences for the Philippines and seven other developing countries are anchored on their adherence to more than two dozen international conventions on human and labor rights, environmental protection and good governance.

But the Philippines came under intense EU criticism during Duterte’s six-year term, mainly because of the bloody anti-drugs crackdown he oversaw that left more than 6,000 mostly petty suspects dead. Marcos succeeded Duterte in June last year.

The killings sparked an International Criminal Court investigation as a possible crime against humanity. Duterte withdrew the Philippines from the ICC in 2018, but its prosecutor has proceeded to investigate the widespread deaths that occurred in the years when the country was still part of The Hague-based court.

Duterte then often lashed at the EU’s criticisms of his brutal anti-drugs crackdown with profanity-laced outbursts.

Marcos and von der Leyen said relations between the EU and the Philippines were entering a new era.

We “are like-minded partners through our shared values of democracy, sustainable and inclusive prosperity, the rule of law, peace and stability, and human rights,” Marcos said, comments that reflected a stark departure from Duterte’s hostile rhetoric against the EU.

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Japan Trounces Spain 4-0 to Top Group C at Women’s World Cup  

Japan scored three times from lightning breaks in the first half, once in the second and defended resolutely to trounce Spain 4-0 on Monday and top Group C at the Women’s World Cup.

Hinata Miyazawa scored twice, Riko Ueki scored once and both were instrumental in each other’s goals as Japan switched swiftly from defense to counter-attack and scored from its only three attempts on goal before halftime.

Mina Tanaka came off the bench to score the last in the 82nd minute as Japan, with only 22% of possession, turned on a counter-attacking master class in front of 21,000 fans.

Both teams had already clinched places in the round of 16, Japan for the fourth World Cup in succession, Spain for the second. Both had beaten Zambia 5-0 and Spain had the better goal differential after a 3-0 win over Costa Rica. A draw would have been enough to see Spain finish atop a group for the first time in its history.

But Spain has struggled against Asian teams in World Cup matches, losing to South Korea in 2015 and drawing with China in 2019.

Japan played with a strong and cold wind at its back in the first half and that added carry to long balls forward which helped catch the Spain defense in retreat.

Spain had an overwhelming majority of possession in the half; by the 25-minute mark it had enjoyed 68% and had more than 230 completed passes to Japan’s 43. But it was timid, reluctant to go forward and played mostly around the middle of the field, keeping the ball on the ground in the face of the wind.

Japan was content to defend in depth and to counter-attack. It sprang the trap for the first time in the 12th. From just inside the Spain half and wide on the left Jun Endo sent a long, curling ball forward which fell for Miyakawa, who neatly slipped her shot past Misa Rodriguez.

In the 23rd Moeka Minami cleared from the edge of the Japan area. Ueki nodded the ball back for Nagano to send Miyazawa away on the right. She passed across the goal to Ueki, who took the ball on her left foot, propped to her right and unleashed a shot which deflected off Irene Paredes and ballooned over Rodriguez.

Ueki celebrated the goal a day after her 24th birthday.

In the 40th it was Ueki’s turn to deliver for Miyazawa. She broke incisively on the left, passed across to the right as the Spain defense, backpedaling, tried to regroup and Miyazawa finished clinically with her left foot.

Each goal fell into the same pattern and each was executed with the same precision. Spain had few chances before halftime, perhaps its best was Jennifer Hermoso’s header from Ona Batlle’s cross.

Tanaka’s goal was a magnificent solo effort. She beat Rocio Galvez near halfway, eluded Batlle and Paredes and then drove the ball powerfully into the top left corner. Japan’s four goals came from only five attempts.

Among the fans at Sky Stadium were some from Palmerston North, the provincial town 160 kilometers north of Wellington which was Spain’s base until they quit it suddenly last week.

Japan was a surprise winner of the World Cup in 2011 and runners-up to the United States in 2015. With 12 goals from three group matches this time, they again loom as a title contender.

Japan now will play Group A runner-up Norway on Saturday in the round of 16 and Spain will play Group A winner Switzerland. 


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Zambia Beats Costa Rica 3-1 for First World Cup Win

Debutants Zambia claimed their first ever victory at the Women’s World Cup with a 3-1 win over Costa Rica at Waikato Stadium on Monday, although both teams were already out of contention for the knockout stage.

Zambia, whose first two games ended in 5-0 hammerings, finished third in Group C, with Japan top after their 4-0 thrashing of Spain. Costa Rica finished bottom and did not pick up a point in their three matches.

Defender Lushomo Mweemba scored the fastest goal of the tournament so far, with a spectacular volleyed effort at two minutes and 11 seconds, and captain Barbra Banda doubled the lead from the penalty spot just after the half-hour mark.

Zambia was awarded the spot kick after Banda went to ground inside the six yard box and the forward stepped up to calmly slot the ball into the bottom left corner, scoring the 1,000th goal in Women’s World Cup history.

Playing at its second World Cup, Costa Rica was still searching for its first win in the competition and cut the deficit early in the second half, when Melissa Herrera bundled the ball home after goalkeeper Catherine Musonda was unable to clear it.

Costa Rica appealed for a penalty when midfielder Priscila Chinchilla collided with Musonda in the box, but was denied after a lengthy VAR check when replays showed forward Sheika Scott was offside in the build-up.

Herrera had the ball in the net again with around 20 minutes remaining but was ruled offside and Valeria Del Campo fired wide before, against the run of play, Zambia’s Racheal Kundananji scored from Banda’s cross in stoppage time to seal a historic win.

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EU, US Join ECOWAS in Call for Niger Military Junta to Halt Coup

The European Union and the United States have called for the military junta that seized power in Niger last week to halt their coup and return President Mohamed Bazoum to office. 

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on Monday expressed support for actions by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which Sunday imposed sanctions on the coup leaders and gave them a one-week deadline to cede power or face measures including “the use of force.” 

Borrell said in a statement that Bazoum must be returned to power without delay. He also said the EU rejects accusations of foreign interference and that it will hold the junta responsible for any attacks on civilians or against diplomatic personnel or facilities. 

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also welcomed what he called the strong leadership of ECOWAS to “defend constitutional order in Niger” and said the United States joins calls for the immediate release of Bazoum and restoration of Niger’s democratically elected government. 

Leaders of the coup have said they acted last week in response to what they described as a worsening security situation in Niger and the government’s lack of action against jihadists. 

In a statement on state television Monday, the military junta accused former colonial ruler France of wanting to use military action to free Bazoum. 

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

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14 US Lawmakers Express Concerns Over Crackdown on Bangladesh Opposition 

Fourteen members of the U.S. Congress have written to the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations expressing concerns over reports of an alleged violent crackdown by the Bangladesh government on opposition parties and other dissidents ahead of general elections likely taking place in January.

In their letter to Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the congressmen and women called for the deployment of U.N. peacekeeping forces during the next general election in Bangladesh to ensure free and fair polls.

They also sought the immediate suspension of Bangladesh’s membership in the U.N. Human Rights Council until an “impartial and transparent” investigation into the government’s alleged crimes against political opponents and others, including journalists, is completed.

“Over the past 6 to 8 months, thousands of peaceful and courageous protesters have demonstrated in support of free and fair elections [in Bangladesh],” the letter stated, referring to the demonstrations by the opposition and pro-democracy activists.

“These demonstrations have often been met by violence, tear gas, and brutal assault by police, other state actors, and supporters of [Prime Minister Sheikh] Hasina.”

In the letter, the congress members also raised concerns about the coming elections, which Hasina and her ministers insist will be free and fair.

“Given its history of election fraud, violence, and intimidation; we are highly skeptical that the Hasina government will permit fair and transparent elections,” the congress members noted in the letter.

Allegations of rigging

The 2014 elections were boycotted by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party or BNP — the largest opposition party in the country. And, in 2018, the elections were marred by allegations of massive rigging by Hasina’s ruling Awami League [AL] party— a charge Hasina repeatedly denied.

France-based exiled Bangladeshi pro-democracy activist and popular YouTuber Pinaki Bhattacharya said that Hasina “appears incapable” of delivering a free and fair election.

“She made similar promises in 2018. But we ended up witnessing one of the most fraudulent elections in global history, with ballot boxes stuffed overnight on the eve of the election. She has structured her administration, the election commission, and the police force in such a way that they either actively engage in vote rigging or turn a blind eye when it occurs,” Bhattacharya told VOA.

“Sheikh Hasina has consistently dismissed any legitimate evidence from both national and international sources that indicates rampant election rigging. So, how can she claim to have the capacity or, the willingness to hold a free and fair election?”

Demands to ‘step aside’

For several months, the BNP and its allies have been staging a series of demonstrations demanding that Hasina step aside making way for a non-partisan caretaker government before the next general elections take place — a demand her government has rejected.

On Saturday (July 29), tens of thousands of BNP leaders and supporters staged sit-in protests on main roads in Dhaka demanding the resignation of Hasina.

As the protesters tried to resist by throwing stones, police at several locations fired rubber bullets, pellets and teargas at them. Visuals in local TV channels and newspapers showed AL supporters — carrying machetes and sticks — attack and chase away the BNP protesters, in the presence of police.

Scores of protesters, including senior BNP leaders such as Gayeshwar Chandra Roy, Abdus Salam Azad and Ishraq Hossain, were injured during Saturday’s protests. Some police officers were injured too, a police spokesperson said.

The BNP says several of its initially peaceful rallies on political and other issues were violently attacked by the police and AL activists in the past year and 19 of its activists have been killed.

Also in the past year, according to the BNP statistics, more than 25,000 of its leaders and activists have been arrested. The party says police arrested at least 600 BNP protesters in the past week.

A spokesperson of Dhaka Metropolitan Police did not respond to messages from VOA on WhatsApp related to the July 29 clashes with the BNP protesters. The Bangladesh Ministry of Home Affairs, which controls the police, has not responded to requests for comment either.

Taking to the streets

BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said Hasina, while she was in opposition, took to the streets demanding a neutral caretaker government.

“In 1996, the BNP-led government introduced the election-time caretaker government system to the constitution. In 2009, the Awami League-led government amended the constitution and scrapped the system and kept rigging the elections to stay in power. People have lost interest in such sham elections in the country and are staying away from casting their votes,” Alamgir told VOA. “We want people to cast their votes. For this, we have to change the system. There is no alternative but to reintroduce the election-time non-partisan caretaker government system.”

Since last year, the U.S. and other countries have urged the Hasina government to hold the next general election in a free and fair manner.

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Latest in Ukraine: Saudi Arabia Peace Summit Organized by Kyiv 

Latest developments:

Pope Francis appealed Sunday to Russia to revive the U.N.-brokered Black Sea grain deal allowing Ukraine to export grain from its Black Sea ports. The deal expired July 17. Addressing crowds in St. Peter's Square, the pope urged the faithful to continue praying "for martyred Ukraine, where war is destroying everything, even grain," calling this "a grave insult to God."

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Sunday he expects Russia to resume its attacks on Ukraine's power grid next winter and pledged to do everything possible to protect his nation's power infrastructure.


Saudi Arabia will soon host a summit to discuss implementation of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s peace plan to end the war Russia launched last year.

The head of Zelenskyy’s presidential office, Andriy Yermak, said the summit would bring together national security advisers for talks that follow an initial round held in Copenhagen in June. Yermak said Ukraine is “working hard to involve as many partners as possible from both the West and the Global South.”

Yermak did not confirm a date for the summit, but The Wall Street Journal reported it would take place August 5-6 and involve 30 countries. The Associated Press cited officials saying the United States, Brazil, India and South Africa would participate.

“The Ukrainian Peace Formula contains 10 fundamental points, the implementation of which will not only ensure peace for Ukraine, but also create mechanisms to counter future conflicts in the world,” Yermak said in a statement. “We are deeply convinced that the Ukrainian peace plan should be taken as a basis, because the war is taking place on our land.”

African leaders to get grain

African leaders left Russia after a two-day Russia-Africa summit with no resolution on the resumption of the deal that allowed for the safe export of Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea corridor.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Saturday that higher grain prices, which have risen since Moscow’s exit from the Black Sea Grain Initiative, will benefit Russian companies as well as the world’s poorest countries.

In his effort to woo African leaders, Putin said during a news conference Saturday in St. Petersburg that Russia will share its profits from rising grain prices with African nations and poor countries. Russia, like Ukraine, is a major grain exporter.

That commitment, with no details, follows Putin’s promise to start shipping 25,000 to 50,000 tons of grain for free to each of six African nations in the next three to four months — an amount dwarfed by the 725,000 tons shipped by the United Nations World Food Program to several hungry countries, African and otherwise, under the grain deal. Russia plans to send the free grain to Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Mali, Somalia, Eritrea and the Central African Republic.

Fewer than 20 of Africa’s 54 heads of state or government attended the Russia summit compared to 43 who attended the previous gathering in 2019.

Russian attacks

A Russian missile attack killed at least one person and injured five in the Ukrainian city of Sumy, National Police said Sunday.

The strike by Russian forces hit “an educational facility,” spokesperson Maryna Polosina said.

A video released by Ukrainian police showed injured people being carried away from the scene as smoke rose from a damaged building nearby.

Moscow said Sunday that Russian forces thwarted a Ukrainian attempt to attack Crimea with 25 drones overnight.

“Sixteen Ukrainian UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] were destroyed by air defense fire,” the Russian defense ministry said. “There were no victims.”

Ukrainian drones attacked Moscow early Sunday, but there were no casualties, the Tass news agency reported, citing city Mayor Sergei Sobyanin.

“Tonight, there was a Ukrainian drone attack. The facades of two office buildings in Moscow City (business district) were slightly damaged. There are no casualties,” Sobyanin said on his Telegram channel.

The Russian defense ministry said it downed three drones targeting the city and described the incident as an “attempted terrorist attack by the Kyiv regime.”

A security guard was injured, Tass reported, citing emergency officials.

The Vnukovo airport on the outskirts of the city suspended flights for about an hour, according to Tass, and the airspace over and around Moscow was temporarily closed.

Some information for this story came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters

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US Officials See Stronger Ties After Trip to Indo-Pacific

U.S. officials are leaving Australia feeling emboldened following a nearly weeklong trip that also featured a visit to Papua New Guinea. 

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s ninth trip to the Indo-Pacific aimed to improve intensifying ties with Papua New Guinea by strengthening the government’s defense capabilities, and secure more ambitious plans for defense cooperation with Australia. 

Speaking on the sidelines of multiple meetings with Australian defense officials, U.S. officials said the work, especially discussions in Brisbane for the 33rd annual Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations, paid off. 

“The U.S.-Australia alliance is stronger than it has ever been,” a senior U.S. defense official said, previewing Saturday’s announcement of new defense initiatives with the Australian government. 

Those initiatives include infrastructure improvements to a series of air bases across northern Australia, increased deployments of U.S. forces and capabilities to Australia on a rotational basis, and plans to have Australia start manufacturing precision guided missiles and ammunition, the types of which have been in high demand in Ukraine. 

Beyond those plans, however, U.S. and Australian officials have emphasized the closeness of the alliance. U.S. officials have repeatedly referred to it as “unbreakable,” while Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong called the U.S. Australia’s “vital ally.”  

The U.S. “is our closest global partner, our closest strategic partner,” Wong said following Saturday’s AUSMIN consultations, adding the relationship is now “about operationalizing our alliance to ensure peace, stability” in the Indo-Pacific region. 

Visit to troops

To emphasize the close ties, Austin and Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles on Sunday flew on the U.S. Defense Department’s jet – a militarized Boeing 747 – from Brisbane to Townsville, Australia, to visit troops taking part in Exercise Talisman Sabre. 

The bilateral exercise is the largest joint U.S.-Australian exercise, this year involving 30,000 troops, including those from 11 other nations. Some of those other countries, including Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Tonga, are taking part for the first time. 

“What becomes manifestly clear … is a sense of team and shared vision between the countries participating,” Marles said, addressing a collection of troops from multiple countries. 

“Relationships which are being built and created and which will endure when this exercise comes to an end,” Marles added, before mixing with the troops. “Countries, participating in Talisman Sabre are building a connectedness with each and [in] the way in which we go about our work which enhances the collective security of the Indo-Pacific region.” 

Austin was no less effusive. 

“I’m proud, I’m really proud that we have 13 countries participating in this year’s exercise who share that common vision,” Austin said.  

“You’re bolstering deterrence by building capability,” he said. “You’re practicing logistics interoperability under realistic conditions so that we can improve combined capabilities, as well as our responses to a range of potential contingencies.” 

One of those scenarios is a potential Chinese invasion of Taiwan. 

Chinese President Xi Jinping has publicly ordered his armed forces to be ready to reunite Taiwan with China by force by 2027.  

U.S. intelligence officials have said it is not clear whether Xi will order such an invasion — the latest intelligence continues to suggest he would prefer not to use force — but U.S. military and defense officials have said regardless of Beijing’s actual plans, the U.S. and its allies must be ready. 

There are likewise concerns about China’s ever more aggressive military posture, in the air and on sea, across the Indo-Pacific. 

Australian military officials said some of the necessary capabilities, such as the ability to effectively communicate across militaries and platforms, and efforts to cut through the fog of mis- and disinformation, have been key aspect of the current exercises. 

‘Shared regional vision’

Some analysts also say that the developments over the past several days, and the series of new agreements, will bolster the ability of key U.S. partners to push back against China, if necessary. 

“Today, Australian leaders lack a way to militarily threaten or retaliate against China if Beijing were to commit acts of aggression against Australia,” said Bryan Clark, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Hudson Institute. 

“For example, China is likely to mount ‘gray zone’ operations against Australia as Chinese leaders attempt to expand their military’s reach and influence across the Western Pacific,” he told VOA by email. “If Australia cannot threaten to fight back, China could escalate the scale and intensity of harassment or begin intruding on Australian territory, as China has already done to Japan, the Philippines, and Taiwan.” 

But following this most recent visit, U.S. officials involved in the talks with America’s Pacific partners are encouraged by what they see. 

“There is a shared regional vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific,” a second senior defense official told reporters, briefing on the condition of anonymity. 

“It is not just the United States,” the official said. “You hear it from countries throughout the Indo-Pacific, big and small, that there are certain principles, certain precepts that they believe are important and valuable and [that] undergird stability in the region.” 

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Teamsters Says US Trucking Firm Yellow Notifies It of Shutdown, Bankruptcy

The Teamsters said on Sunday that the union was served a notice that Yellow Corp. is ceasing operations and filing for bankruptcy. 

“Yellow has historically proven that it could not manage itself despite billions of dollars in worker concessions and hundreds of millions in bailout funding from the federal government,” Teamsters General President Sean M. O’Brien said in a statement. 

Yellow did not immediately respond to a Reuters’ request for comment. 

Earlier in the day, The Wall Street Journal reported about the closure of the trucking firm’s operations which cited notices sent to customers and employees. Last week, WSJ also reported that the company has laid off a large number of workers. 

Earlier this month Yellow averted a threatened strike by 22,000 Teamsters-represented workers, saying the company will pay the more than $50 million it owed in worker benefits and pension accruals. 

The company said on Thursday it is exploring opportunities to divest its third-party logistics company Yellow Logistics Inc. and is engaged with multiple interested parties. 

Its customers include large retailers like Walmart WMT.N and Home Depot, manufacturers and Uber Freight, some of which have paused cargo shipments to the company for fear those goods could be lost or stranded if the carrier went bankrupt. 

In 2020, the Donald Trump-led government rescued the company with a $700 million pandemic relief loan in exchange for a 30% stake. 

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Denmark Seeks to Legally Prevent Burnings of Quran, Other Religious Scriptures

Denmark’s foreign minister said Sunday the government will seek to make it illegal to desecrate the Quran or other religious holy books in front of foreign embassies in the Nordic country.

Foreign Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen said in an interview with the Danish public broadcaster DR that the burning of holy scriptures “only serves the purpose of creating division in a world that actually needs unity.”

“That is why we have decided in the government that we will look at how, in very special situations, we can put an end to mockery of other countries, which is in direct conflict with Danish interests and the safety of the Danes,” he said.

A recent string of public Quran desecrations by a handful of anti-Islam activists in Denmark and neighboring Sweden have sparked angry demonstrations in Muslim countries.

Lokke Rasmussen said the Cabinet of Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen is determined to find “a legal tool” to prohibit such acts without compromising freedom of expression, but he acknowledged that would not be easy.

“There must be room for religious criticism, and we have no thoughts of reintroducing a blasphemy clause,” he told DR. “But when you stand up in front of a foreign embassy and burn a Quran or burn the Torah scroll in front of the Israeli embassy, it serves no other purpose than to mock.”

His comments followed a statement issued late Sunday by the Danish government saying freedom of expression is one of the most important values in Danish society.

But, it added, the desecration of the Muslim holy book in Denmark has resulted in the nation being viewed in many places around the world “as a country that facilitates insult and denigration of the cultures, religions, and traditions of other countries.”

The government repeated its condemnation of such desecrations, say they are “deeply offensive and reckless acts committed by few individuals” and “do not represent the values the Danish society is built on.”

In Sweden, Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said Sunday on Instagram that his government is analyzing the legal situation regarding desecration of the Quran and other holy books, given the animosity such acts are stirring up against Sweden.

“We are in the most serious security policy situation since the Second World War,” Kristersson said.

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation has called an emergency remote meeting Monday to discuss the Quran burnings in Sweden and Denmark.

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Haiti Welcomes Kenyan Offer to Lead Multinational Force

Haiti has welcomed “with great interest” a Kenyan offer to lead a 1,000-strong multinational force to bolster security in the violence-torn Caribbean country.

“Haiti appreciates this expression of African solidarity,” a statement from Foreign Minister Jean Victor Geneus said Sunday, “and looks forward to welcoming Kenya’s proposed evaluation mission.” 

Kenya announced Saturday that it was prepared to deploy 1,000 police agents to help train and support their Haitian counterparts in combating the violent gangs that have taken control of much of capital Port-au-Prince.

“Kenya has accepted to positively consider leading a Multi-National Force to Haiti,” said the Kenyan statement, posted by Foreign Minister Alfred Mutua. 

A Kenyan-led deployment would still require a mandate from the United Nations Security Council, as well as formal agreement by local authorities.

The council has asked Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to present by mid-August a report on possible options for Haiti, including a U.N.-led mission.

U.S. diplomats have been actively seeking a country to head a multinational force.

Mutua said Kenya would send an “evaluation mission” to Haiti in coming weeks.

Kenya, seen as a democratic anchor in East Africa, has participated in peacekeeping operations in its own region, including in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia.

Gangs in Haiti control roughly 80% of Port-au-Prince, and violent crimes including kidnappings for ransom, carjackings, rapes and armed thefts are common.

With a weak government and its security forces overwhelmed, the country — the poorest Western Hemisphere nation — has seen compounding humanitarian, political and security crises. 

Both Prime Minister Ariel Henry and the U.N.’s Guterres have for nearly a year called for an international intervention. Up to now, no country had stepped forward.

A U.N. peacekeeping mission was in operation in Haiti from 2004 to 2017 but fell out of favor after a cholera outbreak traced to infected UN personnel from Nepal claimed 9,500 lives.  

This week, the United States ordered nonessential embassy personnel and their families to leave Haiti as soon as possible.

On Thursday, a young American nurse and her infant child were kidnapped in Haiti, according to the Christian aid group for which she works.

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Wildlife Lovers Urged to Join UK’s Annual Butterfly Count

Wildlife enthusiasts across Britain are being encouraged to log sightings of butterflies and some moths, as the world’s largest annual survey of the increasingly endangered pollinating insects returns.

The U.K.-wide “Big Butterfly Count” — which this year runs from July 14 to August 6 — helps conservationists assess the health of the country’s natural environment, amid mounting evidence it is increasingly imperiled. 

Volunteers download a chart helping them to identify different butterfly species and then record their sightings in gardens, parks and elsewhere using a smartphone app and other online tools.

It comes as experts warn the often brightly colored winged insects are in rapid decline in Britain as they fail to cope with unprecedented environmental change. 

“It’s a pretty worrying picture,” Richard Fox, head of science at the Butterfly Conservation charity, which runs the nationwide citizen-led survey, told AFP at Orley Common, a vast park in Devon, southwest England.

“The major causes of the decline are what we humans have done to the landscape in the U.K. over the past 50, 60, 70 years,” he added from the site, which is seeing fewer butterflies despite offering an ideal habitat for them. 

A report published this year that Fox co-authored, based on 23 million items of data, revealed that four in every five U.K. butterfly species have decreased since the 1970s. 

Half of the country’s 58 species are listed as threatened, according to a conservation “red list.” 

‘Citizen scientists’

The UK, one of the world’s most nature-depleted countries, has lost almost half of its biodiversity over recent decades, according to a 2021 U.K. parliament report.

Agriculture, and its use of fertilizers and pesticides, alongside changes to landscapes including the removal of hedge rows to maximize space for growing crops, is partly blamed.

Counting butterflies, which are among the most monitored insects globally, has helped track the grim trend. 

Volunteers have been contributing to the effort since the 1970s, but recording is more popular than ever, in part thanks to evolving technology.

The Big Butterfly Count launched in 2010 and claims to have become the world’s biggest such survey. 

Over 64,000 “citizen scientists” participated last year, submitting 96,257 counts of butterflies and day-flying moths from across Britain.

Butterfly Conservation and the U.K. Centre for Ecology and Hydrology have developed an iRecord Butterflies app to help identify and geo-locate different butterfly species sightings.

It has logged nearly 1 million submissions since launching in 2014.

Butterflies help identify the health of an ecosystem because they react quickly to environmental changes and are seen as an early warning system for other wildlife losses, conservationists note.

“One of the great things about butterflies and of this fantastic data that we have about butterflies is that they act as indicators about all the other groups,” Fox explained. 

“So we know a bit about how our bees are doing, we know a little about how bugs, and beetles, and flies, and wasps, and other important insects are doing.”

‘We’ll starve’

Amy Walkden, Butterfly Conservation’s branch secretary in Devon, is one of many enthusiasts monitoring the insects year-round with the help of her 8-year-old daughter, Robin.

“Having a yearly record of what is around and what is not around I think is really good scientific data to indicate changes such as global warming, habitat destruction,” she said. 

Her daughter Robin appears equally aware of their value.

“If we don’t have any butterflies and all the buzzy things, then the things that eat butterflies won’t have any food,” she noted.

“The food chain is basically what we eat and if there is none of them, we’ll starve and we won’t really be able to survive, will we?”

Fox hopes that the latest annual count will help prompt policy makers to take more action, although he concedes the scale of the task is “enormous.”

The U.K. government has said it wants to reverse biodiversity loss and climate change, partly by planting tens of millions of trees in the next three years.

Fox called the plan “fantastic” but said other areas such as low intensity agri-environment schemes are also needed, “so that the public money paid to farmers will benefit the environment and support biodiversity.”

“There’s a lot more we can do there to make sure that the margins around fields are being managed in a way to turn around the fortunes of our more common and widespread butterflies,” he added.

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UN Says 19,000 Sudanese Refugees Face ‘Critical Challenges’ Arriving in South Sudan

The United Nations says 19,000 refugees and asylum-seekers have fled to South Sudan since Sudan’s military and paramilitary started fighting on April 15, and that those numbers are expected to more than double by the end of the year. Refugees and aid workers describe the challenges they’re facing in this report by Henry Wilkins from Renk, South Sudan.

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