Senegalese Navy Stops Two Migrant Boats Carrying 272 People

The Senegalese Navy said it had intercepted two wooden boats carrying 272 would-be migrants Friday 100 kilometers (60 miles) off the coast of the capital Dakar. 

Seven children and 16 women were among the passengers who were taken back to a navy base in Dakar, it said in an online post Saturday. 

It shared a photo of a brightly painted fishing vessel on the open ocean, overloaded with people with no shelter from the elements. 

Thousands of migrants brave the hundreds of miles of ocean separating Africa from Europe each year in a desperate search for a better life. Summer is the busiest period for crossings. 

At least 559 people died attempting to reach the Canary Islands in 2022, while 126 people died or went missing on the same route in the first six months of this year with 15 shipwrecks recorded, according to the International Organization for Migration. 

In August, only 37 survived after a migrant boat carrying 101 people from Senegal had been adrift in the ocean without fuel for weeks. 

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Exit Polls Show Slovak Liberal Party Seen Leading Election

Slovak liberal party Progressive Slovakia (PS) led a parliamentary election Saturday, initial exit polls showed, potentially blocking former leftist Prime Minister Robert Fico from returning his party to power after he pledged to end military aid for neighboring Ukraine. 

Progressive Slovakia was seen winning 23.5% of the vote, ahead of 21.9% for three-time prime minister Fico’s SMER-SSD party, an exit poll by Focus agency for TV Markiza showed. 

A second exit poll by Median agency for public broadcaster RTVS showed the liberal party winning 19.97% of the vote, ahead of 19.09% for Fico’s party in the nation of 5.5 million. 

The PS party has advocated maintaining Slovakia’s strong backing for Ukraine and would likely follow a liberal line within the European Union on issues such as majority voting to make the bloc more flexible, green policies and LGBTQ+ rights. 

A government led by Fico and his SMER-SSD party would mean Slovakia’s joining Hungary in challenging the European Union’s consensus on support for Ukraine, just as the bloc looks to maintain unity in opposing Russia’s invasion. 

The leading party to emerge from the election is due to get a first shot at forming a government, with no party projected to win an outright majority. 

Forming a new government will hinge on results for over half a dozen smaller parties, from libertarians to far-right extremists. 

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New York Drying Out After Record-Breaking Rainfall

New York City began drying out Saturday after being soaked by one of its wettest days in decades, as city dwellers dried out basements and traffic resumed on highways, railways and airports that were temporarily shuttered by Friday’s severe rainfall. 

Record rainfall — more than 8.65 inches (21.97 centimeters) — fell at John F. Kennedy International Airport, surpassing the record for any September day set during Hurricane Donna in 1960, the National Weather Service said. 

Parts of Brooklyn saw more than 7.25 inches (18.41 centimeters), with at least one spot recording 2.5 inches (6 centimeters) in a single hour, turning some streets into knee-deep canals and stranding drivers on highways. 

More rain was expected Saturday, but the worst was over, Governor Kathy Hochul said Saturday morning during a briefing at a transportation control center in Manhattan. 

What could have been a life-threatening event was averted, she said, because many people heeded early calls to stay put or head for higher ground before it was too late. 

As a result, Hochul said, “No lives were lost.” 

The governor said 28 people had to be rescued from the “raging water” by first responders in the Hudson Valley and on Long Island. 

“We’ve seen a whole lot of rainfall in a very short period of time,” Hochul said. “But the good news is that the storm will pass, and we should see some clearing of waterways today and tonight.” 

‘Like an ocean’

The deluge came two years after the remnants of Hurricane Ida dumped record-breaking rain on the Northeast and killed at least 13 people in New York City, mostly in flooded basement apartments. Although no deaths or severe injuries have been reported, Friday’s storm stirred frightening memories. 

Ida killed three of Joy Wong’s neighbors, including a toddler. And on Friday, water began lapping against the front door of her building in Woodside, Queens. 

“Outside was like a lake, like an ocean,” she said. 

Within minutes, water filled the building’s basement nearly to the ceiling. After the family’s deaths in 2021, the basement was turned into a recreation room. It is now destroyed. 

City officials received reports of six flooded basement apartments Friday, but all occupants got out safely. 

Hochul and Mayor Eric Adams declared states of emergency and urged people to stay put if possible. 

Climate change named culprit

The deluge also came less than three months after a storm caused deadly floods in New York’s Hudson Valley and swamped Vermont’s capital, Montpelier. 

Hochul blamed the frequency and intensity of storms on climate change. 

“This is the scale in terms of the water that dropped from the heavens during this torrential rain event that actually was the same as Hurricane Ida. The blessing is that we didn’t have the wind associated with it that accompanied Hurricane Ida. But I remember that event like it was yesterday,” the governor said Saturday. 

As the planet warms, storms are forming in a hotter atmosphere that can hold more moisture, making extreme rainfall more frequent, according to atmospheric scientists. 

For the most part, most New Yorkers returned to their usual weekend routines Saturday, strolling through still-damp pathways in Central Park and city sidewalks. 

Traffic was again flowing through highways that had been at a standstill just a day before, with water above car tires and forcing some drivers to abandon their vehicles. 

Flight delays at LaGuardia Airport could no longer be blamed on downpours and flooding, which forced the closure of one of the airport’s three terminals for several hours before resuming later that night. 

While skies remained overcast, one of the culprits for the severe weather — the remnants of Tropical Storm Ophelia — had moved on. 

Some service interruptions continued Saturday throughout the city’s subway system, which had been in complete chaos the day before because of flooded tracks. 

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New Sports Website Broke Exclusive on Disgraced Spanish Soccer Chief

The fall of Spanish Football Federation chief Luis Rubiales, forced to resign over an unwanted kiss of midfielder Jenni Hermoso, was due in no small part to the work of an upstart sports news site that is shaking up the comfortable world of Spanish sports reporting.    

Founded in May 2022, the media site Relevo wanted to focus attention on teams and women’s sports that receive less coverage by its more established competitors, and to engage more with younger audiences.   

Fermin Elizari, Relevo’s new communities’ manager, said unlike most traditional media, journalists worked closely with social media, commercial and branding teams.  

“Our values … make us quite different,” he told VOA. “Spanish sports news is very traditional, very focused on men and not women and not very innovative. So, we thought that, let’s be very innovative, very inclusive and independent.”  

That method was tested with the website’s coverage of the Rubiales incident. And with it, said Elizari, “We have proved (our model) works.”   

The scandal

The soccer scandal came in the wake of Spain’s victory in the FIFA Women’s World Cup.  

To many, Rubiales’ actions in kissing Hermoso seemed out of place, but Rubiales insisted the player consented, even though she was later filmed in the dressing room telling teammates, “I didn’t like it.”  

The incident, along with footage of Rubiales clutching his crotch during the match against England in August while standing near the teenage daughter of Queen Letizia of Spain, sparked controversy around the world.  

As the Spanish team flew back to Madrid, Rubiales sought to quell the row by issuing an apology, putting out a statement in which Hermoso was quoted as saying, “[The kiss] was a totally spontaneous mutual gesture because of the huge joy of winning a World Cup.”  

But Revelo revealed that Hermoso never uttered those words and even refused to appear alongside Rubiales in a video recording of his apology.   

The exclusive put pressure on Rubiales, who resigned from his post. He is now facing a criminal investigation for sexual assault and coercion. He insists the kiss was consensual. 

The judge in the case has widened the investigation to include Jorge Vilda, the soccer team manager, until he was fired on September 5, along with two other officials.  

Those officials have been placed under investigation for alleged coercion and will appear in court on October 10.   

Part of the success of Relevo was due to a deliberate strategy in a world of Spanish sports coverage dominated by daily newspapers like Marca, Sport, and AS, which focus coverage on Real Madrid and FC Barcelona.  

Until recently, these established newspapers paid scant attention to women’s soccer, whereas Relevo reported widely on women’s sports, sharing its scoops on platforms such as Instagram, TikTok and Twitch.  

Natalia Torrente, the Relevo journalist who landed the Rubiales exclusive, said they carried out a survey that found women, Generation Z (aged 10-24) and millennials were dissatisfied with existing sports reporting. 

“Our journalism does not just talk to women; it talks to Generation Zers and millennials. We use their language, and we report things in a style and a platform which they read. That is why the site looks a bit like TikTok,” she told VOA. 

Torrente said she landed her scoop after realizing words attributed to Hermoso did not appear to be something she would ever say. 

“When the soccer federation put out the statement with Hermoso’s words, we said they were words ‘attributed to’ her. Then I spoke to three independent sources who confirmed that she and her family were put under pressure, but she refused,” she said.   

Her reporting is indicative of what Revelo had set out to achieve in its approach. 

When it was being set up, managers offered the most promising journalists with major sports newspapers — good salaries and the chance to do in-depth reports.  

Alfredo Matilla, head of news at Relevo, said the project was launched on social media in May of last year, becoming a website only in October, after it had built up a following.    

“We were surprised at the strategy, but the idea was to build up a following who knew us and liked what we were doing before we launched the website,” he told VOA.  

Matilla said another part of the strategy that distinguishes Relevo from other Spanish sports media: launching website content that is different from what’s posted to X (formerly known as Twitter), TikTok or Twitch.     

“We have specialists for each social media who can help us adapt the content,” he said. “We don’t just put the same stuff on every [platform].”  

With a young staff — Matilla estimates an average age of 33 — Relevo has also tried to get as many women working for the site as men.  

“I am sure the fact that we had so many women allowed a greater sensitivity to things during the Rubiales case,” Matilla said.   

‘We want to establish … trust’   

For a media organization dedicated to sports, Matilla said getting sports people “to want to talk to us” was crucial.    

“At the moment, they don’t want to talk to the media, and they just say things which their [media relations professionals] allow them to say,” he said. “We don’t want that. We want to establish the trust so that they come to us.”  

Fernando Kallas, Iberia sports correspondent for Reuters news agency, said Relevo was good for Spanish journalism.  

“It has taken something from The Athletic model and many of the best journalists have gone from newspapers like,” he said. “Some of the older journalists on the established papers say it will not work, but it is doing well so far.”   

Graham Hunter, a British journalist who is an expert on Spanish football, said Relevo was shaking up the traditional media, whose relationship with the sports establishment has become too “comfortable.”  

  ‘Refreshing, defiant’

“Relevo in Spanish can be a military term meaning the relief watch, the people who take over. There is a refreshing, defiant, non-institutional attitude [or] tone to what they report on,” he said. “Slightly more fearless than the established media, many of whom have earned their reputation by not kowtowing to the grand institutions but by having contacts there which are too symbiotic, which perhaps become too comfortable.  

“Relevo has set themselves to become more independent, more challenging,” Hunter added. “It is having an impact both for readers and for the traditional media who need to look over their shoulder and think ‘Are we a bit too stuffy? Are we a bit too safe?'”  

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US Supreme Court Will Take Up Abortion, Gun Cases in New Term

The Supreme Court is returning to a new term to take up some familiar topics — guns and abortion — while concerns about ethics swirl around the justices.

The year also will have a heavy focus on social media and how free speech protections apply online. A big unknown is whether the court will be asked to weigh in on any aspect of the criminal cases against former President Donald Trump and others or efforts in some states to keep the Republican off the 2024 presidential ballot because of his role in trying to overturn the results of the 2020 election that he lost to Democrat Joe Biden.

Lower profile but vitally important, several cases in the term that begins Monday ask the justices to constrict the power of regulatory agencies.

“I can’t remember a term where the court was poised to say so much about the power of federal administrative agencies,” said Jeffrey Wall, who served as the deputy solicitor general in the Trump administration.

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

One of those cases, to be argued Tuesday, threatens the ability of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or CFPB, to function. Unlike most agencies, the bureau is not dependent on annual appropriations from Congress, but instead gets its funding directly from the Federal Reserve. The idea when the agency was created following the recession in 2007-08 was to shield it from politics.

But the federal appeals court in New Orleans struck down the funding mechanism. The ruling would cause “profound disruption by calling into question virtually every action the CFPB has taken” since its creation, the Biden administration said in a court filing.

Gun availability

The same federal appeals court also produced the ruling that struck down a federal law that aims to keep guns away from people facing domestic violence restraining orders from having firearms.

The three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said its decision was compelled by the Supreme Court’s 2022 ruling expanding gun rights and directing judges to evaluate restrictions based on history and tradition. Judges also have invalidated other long-standing gun control laws.

The justices will hear the Texas case, in November, in what is their first chance to elaborate on the meaning of that decision in the earlier case, which has come to be known as Bruen.


The abortion case likely to be heard by the justices also would be the court’s first word on the topic since it reversed Roe v. Wade’s right to abortion. The new case stems from a ruling, also by the 5th Circuit, to limit the availability of mifepristone, a medication used in the most common method of abortion in the United States.

The administration already won an order from the high court blocking the appellate ruling while the case continues. The justices could decide later in the fall to take up the mifepristone case this term.

Ideological differences

The assortment of cases from the 5th Circuit could offer Chief Justice John Roberts more opportunities to forge alliances in major cases that cross ideological lines. In those cases, the conservative-dominated appeals court, which includes six Trump appointees, took aggressive legal positions, said Irv Gornstein, executive director of the Georgetown law school’s Supreme Court Institute.

“The 5th Circuit is ready to adopt the politically most-conservative position on almost any issue, no matter how implausible or how much defiling of precedent it takes,” Gornstein said.

The three Supreme Court justices appointed by Trump — Amy Coney Barrett, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh — have been together in the majority of some of the biggest cases in the past two years, including on guns, abortion and ending affirmative action in college admissions.

But in some important cases last term, the court split in unusual ways. In the most notable of those, Kavanaugh joined with Roberts and the court’s three liberal justices to rule that Alabama had not done enough to reflect the political power of Black voters in its congressional redistricting.

Roberts and Kavanaugh, this time joined by Barrett, also were in the majority with the liberal justices in a case that rejected a conservative legal effort to cut out state courts from oversight of elections for Congress and president.

Those outcomes have yet to do much to ameliorate the court’s image in the public’s mind. The most recent Gallup Poll, released last week, found Americans’ approval of and trust in the court hovering near record lows.

It is not clear whether those numbers would improve if the court were to adopt a code of conduct.

Questions about ethics

Several justices have publicly recognized the ethics issues, spurred by a series of stories questioning some of their practices. Many of those stories focused on Justice Clarence Thomas and his failure to disclose travel and other financial ties with wealthy conservative donors, including Harlan Crow and the Koch brothers. But Justices Samuel Alito and Sonia Sotomayor also have been under scrutiny.

Behind the scenes, the justices are talking about an ethics code, and Kavanaugh has said he is hopeful the court would soon take “concrete steps.”

Justice Elena Kagan, who backs a high court code of ethics, said in an appearance at the University of Notre Dame that her colleagues are trying to work through their differences.

“There are, you know, totally good-faith disagreements or concerns, if you will. There are some things to be worked out. I hope we can get them worked out,” Kagan said. There’s no timetable for the court to act.

Democratic lawmakers and progressive critics of Alito and Thomas said those justices’ impartiality in some cases is in doubt because of financial ties, joint travel or friendships with people involved in the cases.

Alito has rejected calls to step aside from a tax case, and Thomas, who has been silent in the past about recusals, seems exceedingly unlikely to bow to his critics’ wishes now.

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Pope Francis Creates 21 New Cardinals to Help Reform Church

Pope Francis created 21 new cardinals at a ritual-filled ceremony Saturday, including key figures at the Vatican and in the field who will help enact his reforms and cement his legacy as he enters a crucial new phase in running the Roman Catholic Church.

On a crisp sunny morning filled with cheers from St. Peter’s Square, Francis further expanded his influence on the College of Cardinals who will help him govern and one day elect his successor: With Saturday’s additions, nearly three-quarters of the voting-age “princes of the church” owe their red hats to the Argentine Jesuit.

In his instructions to the new cardinals at the start of the service, Francis said their variety and geographic diversity would serve the church like musicians in an orchestra, where sometimes they play solos, sometimes as an ensemble.

“Diversity is necessary; it is indispensable. However, each sound must contribute to the common design,” Francis told them. “This is why mutual listening is essential: Each musician must listen to the others.”

Among the new cardinals was the controversial new head of the Vatican’s doctrine office, Victor Manuel Fernandez, and the Chicago-born missionary now responsible for vetting bishop candidates around the globe, Robert Prevost.

Also entering the exclusive club were the Vatican’s ambassadors to the United States and Italy, two important diplomatic posts where the Holy See has a keen interest in reforming the church hierarchy. Leaders of the church in geopolitical hotspots like Hong Kong and Jerusalem, fragile communities like Juba, South Sudan, and sentimental favorites like Cordoba, Argentina, filled out the roster.

Francis’ promotions of Prevost and his ambassador to Washington, French Cardinal Christophe Pierre, were clear signs that he has his eye on shifting the balance of power in the U.S. hierarchy, where some conservative bishops have strongly resisted his reforms. Between them, Pierre and Prevost are responsible for proposing new bishop candidates and overseeing any investigations into problem ones already in place.

“I think I do have some insights into the church in the United States,” Prevost said after the ceremony during a welcome reception in the Apostolic Palace. “So, the need to be able to advise, work with Pope Francis and to look at the challenges that the church in the United States is facing, I hope to be able to respond to them with a healthy dialogue.”

The ceremony took place days before Francis opens a big meeting of bishops and lay Catholics on charting the church’s future, where hot-button issues such as women’s roles in the church, LGBTQ+ Catholics and priestly celibacy are up for discussion.

The October 4-29 synod is the first of two sessions — the second one comes next year — that in many ways could cement Francis’ legacy as he seeks to make the church a place where all are welcomed, where pastors listen to their flocks and accompany them rather than judge them.

Several of the new cardinals are voting members of the synod and have made clear they share Francis’ vision of a church that is more about the people in the pews than the hierarchy, and that creative change is necessary. Among them is Fernandez, known as the “pope’s theologian” and perhaps Francis’ most consequential Vatican appointment in his 10-year pontificate.

In his letter naming Fernandez as prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, Francis made clear he wanted his fellow Argentine to oversee a radical break from the past, saying the former Holy Office often resorted to “immoral methods” to enforce its will.

Rather than condemn and judge, Francis said, he wanted a doctrine office that guards the faith and gives people hope. He also made clear Fernandez wouldn’t have to deal with sex abuse cases, saying the office’s discipline section could handle that dossier.

It was a much-debated decision given that Fernandez himself has admitted he made mistakes handling a case while he was bishop in La Plata, Argentina, and that the scale of the problem globally has long cried out for authoritative, high-ranking leadership.

On the eve of the consistory to make Fernandez a cardinal, clergy abuse survivors, including a La Plata victim, rallied near the Vatican, calling on Francis to rescind the nomination.

“No bishop who has covered up child sex crimes and ignored and dismissed victims of clergy abuse in his diocese should be running the office that oversees, investigates and prosecutes clergy sex offenders from around the world, or be made a cardinal,” said Julieta Añazco, the La Plata survivor, according to a statement from the End Clergy Abuse.

With Saturday’s ceremony, Francis will have named 99 of the 137 cardinals who are under age 80 and thus eligible to vote in a future conclave to elect his successor. While not all are cookie-cutter proteges of the 86-year-old reigning pontiff, many share Francis’ pastoral emphasis as opposed to the doctrinaire-minded cardinals often selected by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

Such a huge proportion of Francis-nominated cardinals almost ensures that a future pope will either be one of his own cardinals or one who managed to secure Franciscan cardinal votes to lead the church after he is gone, suggesting a certain continuity in priorities.

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Canada’s ReconAfrica Violated Namibia’s Laws

A parliamentary investigation in Namibia found that Canadian oil exploration company ReconAfrica violated several of the country’s laws and that its local partner deceived and misled the public about the value of its shareholdings on various international stock exchanges.

Despite the findings, ReconAfrica has been allowed to continue exploring for oil.

Vincent Marenga, a ruling party member of Namibia’s Parliamentary Committee on Natural Resources, told VOA that the committee’s investigation found ReconAfrica did not secure the proper permits before it began its oil exploration activities. But he said the violations were minor.

“That is our argument,” Marenga said. “We are not saying that ReconAfrica is an angel that has been doing everything accordingly. They have violated [laws], but it was for permits. They drilled boreholes without permits, and on that one there will definitely be penalties against them.”

Nadia April, one of the petitioners who approached parliament to protest ReconAfrica’s presence in the Okavango Delta — a wilderness area in northeastern Namibia — said their opposition to the presence of Recon was based on the contamination the oil drilling could create, as well as the plight of the indigenous people.

She said the fact that the company was found in violation of the law but still allowed to proceed was a disappointment to her and the group she represents.

“The project started without the proper consultation within the region, and the consultations were done without the indigenous people,” April said. “We were referring to also the U.N. declaration on rights of indigenous people that says there has to be free, prior and informed consent … from indigenous people, so those consultations were not being done.”

Outside of Namibia, ReconAfrica is being sued in a U.S. court for having allegedly misled its shareholders. The Namibian parliamentary committee said it was concerned that ReconAfrica is seeking to raise money using Namibian resources on the basis of a 10% partnership with a local partner, the Namibia Petroleum Corp., or NAMCOR.

Rinaani Musutua, a trustee of the Economic and Social Justice Trust, opposed ReconAfrica’s presence in Namibia on the basis of environmental concerns, such as fracking and water pollution. 

“Some of the activists that are on the ground in the Kavango region have also told us that ReconAfrica has left, and it’s not a surprise to us at all that they have left,” Musutua said. “They have built up quite a bad reputation for themselves. In the end, they started getting sued by investors, first in the Unites States of America and now in Canada, for having given investors misinformation and provided them with information that wasn’t true.”

ReconAfrica’s spokesperson could not be reached despite various attempts by the Voice of America.

The parliament committee that investigated the petitioners’ concerns said the issues in their petitions were not serious enough to warrant the company’s expulsion from the country.

While the protesters want the company to be forced to leave, the parliament committee recommended the company stay but refrain from breaking Namibian laws.

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As Alpine Glaciers Disappear, New Landscapes Take Their Place

In pockets of Europe’s Alpine mountains, glaciers are abundant enough that ski resorts operate above the snow and ice.

Ski lifts, resorts, cabins and huts dot the landscape — and have done so for decades. But glaciers are also one of the most obvious and early victims of human-caused climate change, and as they shrink year by year, the future of the mountain ecosystems and the people who enjoy them will look starkly different.

Glaciers — centuries of compacted snow and ice — are disappearing at an alarming rate. Swiss glaciers have lost 10% of their volume since 2021, and some glaciers are predicted to disappear entirely in the next few years.

At the Freigerferner glacier in Austria, melting means the glacier has split into two and hollowed out as warm air streamed through the glacier base, exacerbating the thaw.

Gaisskarferner, another glacier that forms part of a ski resort, is only connected to the rest of the snow and ice by sections of glacier that were saved over the summer with protective sheets to shield them from the sun.

But the losses go beyond a shorter ski season and glacier mass.

Andrea Fischer, a glaciologist with the Austrian Academy of Sciences, said the rate of glacier loss can tell the world more about the state of the climate globally and how urgent curbing human-caused warming is.

“The loss of glaciers is not the most dangerous thing about climate change,” said Fischer. “The most dangerous thing about climate change is the effect on ecosystems, on natural hazards, and those processes are much harder to see. The glaciers just teach us how to see climate change.”

From a vantage point above the mountains in a light aircraft, the changing landscape is obvious. The glaciers are noticeably smaller and fewer, and bare rock lies in their place.

Much of the thawing is already locked in, so that even immediate and drastic cuts to planet-warming emissions can’t save the glaciers from disappearing or shrinking in the short term.

While the extent of glacier melt can create awareness and concern for the climate, “being only concerned does not change anything,” Fischer said.

She urged instead that concern should be channeled into “a positive attitude toward designing a new future,” where warming can successfully be curbed to stop the most detrimental effects of climate change.

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On Brink of Government Shutdown, US Senate Tries to Approve Funding

The United States is on the brink of a federal government shutdown after hard-right Republicans in Congress rejected a longshot effort to keep offices open as they fight for steep spending cuts and strict border security measures that Democrats and the White House say are too extreme.

With no deal in place by midnight Saturday, federal workers will face furloughs, more than 2 million active-duty and reserve military troops will work without pay and programs and services that Americans rely on from coast to coast will begin to face shutdown disruptions.

The Senate will be in for a rare Saturday session to advance its own bipartisan package that is supported by Democrats and Republicans and would fund the government for the short-term, through November 17.

But even if the Senate can rush to wrap up its work this weekend to pass the bill, which also includes money for Ukraine aid and U.S. disaster assistance, it won’t prevent an almost certain shutdown amid the chaos in the House. On Friday, a massive hard-right revolt left Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s latest plan to collapse.

“Congress has only one option to avoid a shutdown — bipartisanship,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky echoed the sentiment, warning his own hard-right colleagues there is nothing to gain by shutting down the federal government.

“It heaps unnecessary hardships on the American people, as well as the brave men and women who keep us safe,” McConnell said.

The federal government is heading straight into a shutdown that poses grave uncertainty for federal workers in states all across America and the people who depend on them — from troops to border control agents to office workers, scientists and others.

Families that rely on Head Start for children, food benefits and countless other programs large and small are confronting potential interruptions or outright closures. At the airports, Transportation Security Administration officers and air traffic controllers are expected to work without pay, but travelers could face delays in updating their U.S. passports or other travel documents.

Congress has been unable to fund the federal agencies or pass a temporary bill in time to keep offices open for the start of the new budget year Sunday in large part because McCarthy, a Republican from California, has faced unsurmountable resistance from right-flank Republicans who are refusing to run government as usual.

McCarthy’s last-ditch plan to keep the federal government temporarily open collapsed in dramatic fashion Friday as a robust faction of 21 hard-right holdouts opposed the package, despite steep spending cuts of nearly 30% to many agencies and severe border security provisions, calling it insufficient.

The White House and Democrats rejected the Republican approach as too extreme. The Democrats voted against it.

The House bill’s failure a day before Saturday’s deadline to fund the government leaves few options to prevent a shutdown.

“It’s not the end yet; I’ve got other ideas,” McCarthy told reporters.

Later Friday, after a heated closed-door meeting of House Republicans that pushed into the evening, McCarthy said he was considering options — among them, a two-week stopgap funding measure similar to the effort from hard-right senators that would be certain to exclude any help for Ukraine in the war against Russia.

Even though the House bill already cut routine Ukraine aid, an intensifying Republican resistance to the war effort means the Senate’s plan to attach $6 billion that Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, is seeking from the U.S. may have support from Democrats but not from most of McCarthy’s Republicans.

Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky is working to stop that aid in the Senate package.

The White House has brushed aside McCarthy’s overtures to meet with President Joe Biden after the speaker walked away from the debt deal they brokered earlier this year that set budget levels.

Catering to his hard-right flank, McCarthy had returned to the spending limits the conservatives demanded back in January as part of the deal-making to help him become the House speaker.

The House package would not have cut the Defense, Veterans or Homeland Security departments but would have slashed almost all other agencies by up to 30% — steep hits to a vast array of programs, services and departments Americans routinely depend on.

It also added strict new border security provisions that would kickstart building a wall at the southern border with Mexico, among other measures. Additionally, the package would have set up a bipartisan debt commission to address the nation’s mounting debt load.

As soon as the floor debate began, McCarthy’s chief Republican critic, Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida, announced he would vote against the package, urging his colleagues to “not surrender.”

Gaetz said afterward that the speaker’s bill “went down in flames as I’ve told you all week it would.”

He and others rejecting the temporary measure want the House to keep pushing through the 12 individual spending bills needed to fund the government, typically a weekslong process, as they pursue their conservative priorities.

Republican leaders announced later Friday that the House would stay in session next week, rather than return home, to keep working on some of the 12 spending bills.

Some of the Republican holdouts, including Gaetz, are allies of former President Donald Trump, who is Biden’s chief rival in the 2024 race. Trump has been encouraging the Republicans to fight hard for their priorities and even to “shut it down.”

The hard right, led by Gaetz, has been threatening McCarthy’s ouster, with a looming vote to try to remove him from the speaker’s office unless he meets the conservative demands. Still, it’s unclear if any other Republican would have support from the House majority to lead the party.

Late Friday, Trump turned his ire to McConnell on social media, complaining the Republican leader and other GOP senators are “weak and ineffective” and making compromises with Democrats. He urged them, “Don’t do it!”

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VOA Immigration Weekly Recap, Sept. 24-30

Editor’s note: Here is a look at immigration-related news around the U.S. this week. Questions? Tips? Comments? Email the VOA immigration team:

What Happens to Immigration if US Government Shuts Down?

With congressional leaders gridlocked over the nation’s budget and the deadline to pass spending bills fast approaching, the federal government could shut down on October 1. And that could affect some immigration services and visa programs. If the federal government closes, only essential personnel will be working. All other federal workers will not be allowed to work. So how will that affect immigration in the U.S.? VOA’s Immigration reporter Aline Barros.

Why Immigrants Are More Optimistic Than US-Born Americans

Despite any hardships they might face, immigrants in America are more optimistic than U.S.-born Americans, according to a new survey of 3,358 immigrant adults. “They said, ‘You know, I face challenges here in the U.S., but it’s far better than where I came from. And I have this belief that things will be better for my children,’” says Shannon Schumacher, a senior survey analyst at KFF, a nonprofit organization focused on health policy formerly known as the Kaiser Family Foundation. “Whether that’s their education, their safety, their economic opportunities — on a number of measures, they think that they’re better off and their children are better off.” Produced by Dora Mekouar.

After Lull, Asylum-Seekers Adapt to US Immigration Changes

A group of migrants from China surrendered to a Border Patrol agent in remote Southern California as gusts of wind drowned the hum of high-voltage power lines. They joined others from Ecuador, Brazil, Colombia and elsewhere in a desert campsite with shelters made from tree branches. The Associated Press reports.

Second Texas City at ‘Breaking Point’ as Migrants Flood Border, Mayor Says

The surge of migrants crossing the U.S. border from Mexico has pushed the city of El Paso, Texas, to “a breaking point,” with more than 2,000 people per day seeking asylum, exceeding shelter capacity and straining resources, its mayor said Saturday. “The city of El Paso only has so many resources and we have come to … a breaking point right now,” Mayor Oscar Leeser said. Reuters reports.

Eagle Pass, Texas, Sees Continuing Influx of Migrants

The Eagle Pass area in Texas continues to experience an influx of migrants — the majority from Venezuela, the largest displacement in the Western Hemisphere and the second-largest globally, trailing only behind the Syrian refugee crisis, per the U.N. refugee agency. U.S. border authorities said they are managing the situation, but the noticeable rise in migrant arrivals in Eagle Pass has strained local resources and overwhelmed already crowded facilities. VOA’s Immigration reporter Aline Barros.

VOA Day in Photos: Asylum-Seekers Journey through Mexico to Eagle Pass, Texas

Asylum-seekers waiting on the banks of the Rio Bravo River after crossing during their journey through Mexico to Eagle Pass, Texas, in Piedras Negras, Mexico, Sept. 26, 2023.

Immigration around the world

Illegal Migration to Greece Surges, Sparking Measures to Shield Borders

Thousands of migrants have made their way illegally into Greece from Turkey, using rickety rafts to cross the Aegean Sea, the narrow waterway between the two countries. United Nations data in September shows sea arrivals have already more than doubled the roughly 12,000 migrants who were caught trying to illegally enter Greece last year. Illegal entries along the land border and the massive Evros River, which snakes along the rugged frontiers of the two countries in the northeast, also count record increases of more than 65% in the last two months alone, police said. Produced by Anthee Carassava.

Australian Lawmakers Urge Outside Help for Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict Refugees

Seven Australian lawmakers have toured a refugee camp in Armenia, as thousands of ethnic Armenians flee their homes in Nagorno-Karabakh. Forces from Azerbaijan took control of the contested region last week. The delegation of Australian lawmakers visited Armenia this week and toured a camp for those fleeing the unrest. Produced by Phil Mercer.

Pakistani Vocational School Helps Afghan Women Refugees Build Businesses

In a small workshop in the bustling northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar, a dozen Afghan women sit watching a teacher show them how to make clothes on a sewing machine. Reuters reports.

Charity Urges Court to Force Australia to Repatriate Detainees in Syrian Refugee Camp

Australia’s decision not to repatriate more than 30 women and children from a detention camp in northeast Syria is facing a legal challenge. The women are the wives and widows of Islamic State fighters and have been held in custody for the past four years. Produced by Phil Mercer.

Medics: Hundreds Dead From Dengue Fever in War-Torn Sudan

Outbreaks of dengue fever and acute watery diarrhea have “killed hundreds” in war-torn Sudan, medics reported Monday, warning of “catastrophic spreads” that could overwhelm the country’s decimated health system. In a statement, the Sudanese doctors’ union warned that the health situation in the southeastern state of Gedaref, on the border with Ethiopia, “is deteriorating at a horrific rate,” with thousands infected with dengue fever. Produced by Agence France-Presse.

Violence, Human Rights Violations Risk Future Stability of Syria

United Nations investigators say that human rights violations and abuse in Syria are sowing the seeds for further violence and radicalization, despite diplomatic efforts to stabilize the situation in the country, including through its readmission to the League of Arab States. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

Senior US Officials Travel to Armenia as Karabakh’s Armenians Start to Leave

Senior Biden administration officials arrived Monday in Armenia, a day after ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh began fleeing following Azerbaijan’s defeat of the breakaway region’s fighters in a conflict dating from the Soviet era. Reuters reports.

Spain Turns to Tractors to Tackle Migrant Unemployment, Farm Labor Shortage

Spain’s agricultural sector is threatened by an aging population and a shortage of farm labor. Now a program in Catalonia is training migrants, largely from Africa, to operate tractors to help them gain meaningful employment. Elizabeth Cherneff narrates this report from Alfonso Beato in Barcelona. Videographer and Video Editor: Alfonso Beato.

News brief

— A government shutdown would affect the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s ability to respond to cyberattacks; protect and save lives on land, at sea, and in the air; secure the nation’s borders and critical infrastructure; deploy across the country to help Americans recover from disasters, among others.

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Slovakia Election Pits Pro-Russia Candidate Against Liberal Pro-West One

Voters in Slovakia cast ballots Saturday in an early parliamentary election that pits a populist former prime minister who campaigned on a pro-Russia and anti-American message against a liberal, pro-West newcomer.

Depending on which of them prevails, the election could reverse the small eastern European country’s support for neighboring Ukraine in the war with Russia, threatening to break a fragile unity in the European Union and NATO.

Former Prime MInister Robert Fico, 59, and his leftist Smer, or Direction, party have vowed to withdraw Slovakia’s military support for Ukraine in Russia’s war, if his attempt to return to power is successful.

Smer’s main challenger is Progressive Slovakia, a liberal party formed in 2017 and led by Michal Simecka, 39, a member of the European Parliament.

Fico, who served as prime minister from 2006-10 and again from 2012-18, opposes EU sanctions on Russia, questions whether Ukraine can force out the invading Russian troops and wants to block Ukraine from joining NATO.

He proposes that instead of sending arms to Kyiv, the EU and the U.S. should use their influence to force Russia and Ukraine to strike a compromise peace deal. He has repeated Russian President Vladimir Putin’s unsupported claim that the Ukrainian government runs a Nazi state.

Fico also campaigned against immigration and LGBTQ+ rights and threatened to dismiss investigators from the National Criminal Agency and the special prosecutor who deal with corruption and other serious crimes.

Progressive Slovakia sees the country’s future as firmly tied to its existing membership in the EU and NATO.

The party vowed to continue Slovakia’s support for Ukraine. It also favors LGBTQ+ rights, a rarity among the major parties in a country that is a stronghold of conservative Roman Catholicism.

Popular among young people, the party won the 2019 European Parliament election in Slovakia in coalition with the Together party, gaining more than 20% of the vote. But it narrowly failed to win seats in the national parliament in 2020.

No party is expected to win a majority of seats Saturday, meaning a coalition government will need to be formed. The party that secures the most votes typically gets the first chance to put together a government.

Polls indicate that seven or eight other political groups and parties might surpass a 5% threshold needed for representation in the 150-seat National Council.

They include the Republic, a far-right group led by former members of the openly neo-Nazi People’s Party Our Slovakia whose members use Nazi salutes and want Slovakia out of the EU and NATO.

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Putin Meets with Former Wagner Group Chief of Staff

 Russian officials have released footage of President Vladimir Putin meeting with former Wagner Group Chief of Staff Andrei Troshev and giving Troshev the task of establishing new “volunteer fighting units,” according to the daily intelligence update on Ukraine from the British Defense Ministry.

Saturday’s update said Troshev undertook a role in the Russian security forces around the time of Wagner fighters’ brief June insurrection. It said Troshev was “probably involved” in persuading other Wagner personnel to sign contracts with Russia.

“Many Wagner veterans,” the update said, “likely consider him a traitor.”

Meanwhile, the Russian government is calling up 130,000 conscripts for military service this fall, increasing the age limit of conscripts from 27 to 30, according to a document posted on the Russian government website on Friday.

Russia’s lower house of parliament voted last July to raise the age for conscripts; that legislation will take effect Jan. 1. Putin said earlier this month that he is bracing for a long war with Ukraine as Russia’s armed forces press on with their “special military operation” there, now in its 20th month.

Starting at the age of 18, all men in Russia are required to serve one year in the military.

The conscription will begin Sunday in all parts of the Russian Federation, including in the annexed regions of Ukraine, the Defense Ministry said Friday.

Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia were formally annexed by Russia in September 2022 after so-called referendums, which were universally dismissed as shams by Ukraine and Western nations. Russia had annexed Crimea in 2014.

Last year, Russia announced a plan to increase its professional and conscripted combat force by more than 30% to 1.5 million, a plan made more difficult by its heavy casualties in Ukraine.

Ukraine aid

While the West continues to supply Ukraine with military hardware, the country is planning to produce its own, including air defenses, the Ukrainian president’s chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, told reporters Friday.

“I think very soon specialists will arrive here who will make a plan for our own production of everything that we need. First and foremost, this relates to air defenses,” Yermak said.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg expressed confidence Friday that Poland will find ways to address disagreements with Ukraine without affecting its military support for the country.

“I’m expecting and I’m confident that Ukraine and Poland will find a way to address those issues without that impacting in a negative way the military support to Ukraine,” Stoltenberg told Reuters in an interview in Copenhagen.

Relations have been somewhat strained between Poland, a NATO member, and its neighbor, Ukraine, after Warsaw’s decision to extend a ban on Ukrainian grain imports.

Seven EU countries have ordered ammunition under a landmark European Union procurement framework to get urgently needed artillery shells to Ukraine and replenish depleted Western stocks, according to the European Defense Agency.

The orders are for 155 mm artillery rounds, one of the most important munitions in Ukraine’s defensive war against Russian aggression.

The effort was set up as part of a plan worth at least $2.1 billion, initiated in March, with the aim of getting 1 million shells and missiles to Ukraine within a year.

Some officials and diplomats have expressed skepticism about whether that goal will be met, but the plan is a significant step in the EU’s growing role in defense and military affairs, spurred by the war in Ukraine.

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

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7 Months Into Hospice Care, Jimmy Carter to Celebrate 99th Birthday

Former President Jimmy Carter is set to mark his 99th birthday on October 1 while in hospice care. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on an outpouring of admiration and well wishes for the onetime peanut farmer and Georgia governor who promoted peace and fought tropical diseases after leaving the White House.

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Inside Scientists’ Mission to Save US Wine Industry From Climate Change

The U.S. West Coast produces over 90% of America’s wine, but the region is also prone to wildfires — a combustible combination that spelled disaster for the industry in 2020 and one that scientists are scrambling to neutralize.

Sample a good wine and you might get notes of oak or red fruit. But sip on wine made from grapes that were penetrated by smoke, and it could taste like someone dumped the contents of an ashtray into your glass.

Wine experts from three West Coast universities are working together to meet the threat, including developing spray coatings to protect grapes, pinpointing the elusive compounds that create that nasty ashy taste, and deploying smoke sensors to vineyards to better understand smoke behavior.

The U.S. government is funding their research with millions of dollars.

Wineries are also taking steps to protect their product and brand.

The risk to America’s premier wine-making regions — where wildfires caused billions of dollars in losses in 2020 — is growing, with climate change deepening drought and overgrown forests becoming tinderboxes.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, grapes are the highest-value crop in the United States, with 1 million acres (405,000 hectares) of grape-bearing land, 96% of it on the West Coast.

Winemakers around the world are already adapting to climate change, including by moving their vineyards to cooler zones and planting varieties that do better in drought and heat. Wildfires pose an additional and more immediate risk being tackled by scientists from Oregon State University, Washington State University and the University of California, Davis.

“What’s at stake is the ability to continue to make wine in areas where smoke exposures might be more common,” said Tom Collins, a wine scientist at Washington State University.

Researcher Cole Cerrato recently stood in Oregon State University’s vineyard, nestled below forested hills near the village of Alpine, as he turned on a fan to push smoke from a Weber grill through a dryer vent hose. The smoke emerged onto a row of grapes enclosed in a makeshift greenhouse made of taped-together plastic sheets.

Previously, grapes exposed to smoke in that setup were made into wine by Elizabeth Tomasino, an associate professor leading Oregon State’s efforts, and her researchers.

They found sulfur-containing compounds, thiophenols, in the smoke-impacted wine and determined they contributed to the ashy flavor, along with “volatile phenols,” which Australian researchers identified as factors more than a decade ago. Bush fires have long impacted Australia’s wine industry. Up in Washington state, Collins confirmed that the sulfur compounds were found in the wine that had been exposed to smoke in the Oregon vineyard but weren’t in samples that had no smoke exposure.

The scientists want to find out how thiophenols, which aren’t detectable in wildfire smoke, appear in smoke-impacted wine, and learn how to eliminate them.

“There’s still a lot of very interesting chemistry and very interesting research, to start looking more into these new compounds,” Cerrato said. “We just don’t have the answers yet.”

Wine made with tainted grapes can be so awful that it can’t be marketed. If it does go on shelves, a winemaker’s reputation could be ruined — a risk that few are willing to take.

When record wildfires in 2020 blanketed the West Coast in brown smoke, some California wineries refused to accept grapes unless they had been tested. But most growers couldn’t find places to analyze their grapes because the laboratories were overwhelmed.

The damage to the industry in California alone was $3.7 billion, according to an analysis that Jon Moramarco of the consulting firm bw166 conducted for industry groups. The losses stemmed mostly from wineries having to forego future wine sales.

“But really what drove it was, you know, a lot of the impact was in Napa [Valley], an area of some of the highest priced grapes, highest priced wines in the U.S.,” Moramarco said, adding that if a ton of cabernet sauvignon grapes is ruined, “you lose probably 720 bottles of wine. If it is worth $100 a bottle, it adds up very quickly.”

Between 165,000 to 325,000 tons of California wine grapes were left to wither on the vine in 2020 due to actual or perceived wildfire smoke exposure, said Natalie Collins, president of the California Association of Winegrape Growers.

She said she hasn’t heard of any growers quitting the business due to wildfire impacts, but, “Many of our members are having an extremely difficult time securing insurance due to the fire risk in their region, and if they are able to secure insurance, the rate is astronomically high.”

Some winemakers are trying techniques to reduce smoke impact, such as passing the wine through a membrane or treating it with carbon, but that can also rob a wine of its appealing nuances. Blending impacted grapes with other grapes is another option. Limiting skin contact by making rosé wine instead of red can lower the concentration of smoke flavor compounds.

Collins, over at Washington State University, has been experimenting with spraying fine-powdered kaolin or bentonite, which are clays, mixed with water onto wine grapes so it absorbs materials that are in smoke. The substance would then be washed off before harvest. Oregon State University is developing a spray-on coating.

Meanwhile, dozens of smoke sensors have been installed in vineyards in the three states, financed in part by a $7.65 million USDA grant.

“The instruments will be used to measure for smoke marker compounds,” said Anita Oberholster, leader of UC Davis’ efforts. She said such measurements are essential to develop mitigation strategies and determine smoke exposure risk.

Greg Jones, who runs his family’s Abacela winery in southern Oregon’s Umpqua Valley and is a director of the Oregon Wine Board, applauds the scientists’ efforts.

“This research has really gone a long way to help us try to find: Are there ways in which we can take fruit from the vineyard and quickly find out if it has the potential compounds that would lead to smoke-impacted wine?” Jones said.

Collins predicts success.

“I think it’s increasingly clear that we’re not likely to find a magic bullet,” he said. “But we will find a set of strategies.”

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Food Prices Rising Due to Climate Change, El Nino, and Russia’s War

How do you cook a meal when a staple ingredient is unaffordable? 

This question is playing out in households around the world as they face shortages of essential foods like rice, cooking oil and onions. That is because countries have imposed restrictions on the food they export to protect their own supplies from the combined effect of the war in Ukraine, El Nino’s threat to food production and increasing damage from climate change. 

For Caroline Kyalo, a 28-year-old who works in a salon in Kenya’s capital of Nairobi, it was a question of trying to figure out how to cook for her two children without onions. Restrictions on the export of the vegetable by neighboring Tanzania has led prices to triple. 

Kyalo initially tried to use spring onions instead, but those also got too expensive. As did the prices of other necessities, like cooking oil and corn flour. 

“I just decided to be cooking once a day,” she said. 

Despite the East African country’s fertile lands and large workforce, the high cost of growing and transporting produce and the worst drought in decades led to a drop in local production. Plus, people preferred red onions from Tanzania because they were cheaper and lasted longer. By 2014, Kenya was getting half of its onions from its neighbor, according to a U.N. Food Agriculture Organization report. 

At Nairobi’s major food market, Wakulima, the prices for onions from Tanzania were the highest in seven years, seller Timothy Kinyua said. 

Some traders have adjusted by getting produce from Ethiopia, and others have switched to selling other vegetables, but Kinyua is sticking to onions. 

“It’s something we can’t cook without,” he said. 

Tanzania’s onion limits this year are part of the “contagion” of food restrictions from countries spooked by supply shortages and increased demand for their produce, said Joseph Glauber, senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute. 

Globally, 41 food export restrictions from 19 countries are in effect, ranging from outright bans to taxes, according to the institute. 

India banned shipments of some rice earlier this year, resulting in a shortfall of roughly a fifth of global exports. Neighboring Myanmar, the world’s fifth-biggest rice supplier, responded by stopping some exports of the grain. 

India also restricted shipments of onions after erratic rainfall — fueled by climate change — damaged crops. This sent prices in neighboring Bangladesh soaring, and authorities are scrambling to find new sources for the vegetable. 

Elsewhere, a drought in Spain took its toll on olive oil production. As European buyers turned to Turkey, olive oil prices soared in the Mediterranean country, prompting authorities there to restrict exports. Morocco, also coping with a drought ahead of its recent deadly earthquake, stopped exporting onions, potatoes and tomatoes in February. 

This isn’t the first time food prices have been in a tumult. Prices for staples like rice and wheat more than doubled in 2007-2008, but the world had ample food stocks it could draw on and was able to replenish those in subsequent years. 

But that cushion has shrunk in the past two years, and climate change means food supplies could very quickly run short of demand and spike prices, said Glauber, former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

“I think increased volatility is certainly the new normal,” he said. 

Food prices worldwide, experts say, will be determined by the interplay of three factors: how El Nino plays out and how long it lasts, whether bad weather damages crops and prompts more export restrictions, and the future of Russia’s war in Ukraine. 

The warring nations are both major global suppliers of wheat, barley, sunflower oil and other food, especially to developing nations where food prices have risen and people are going hungry. 

An El Nino is a natural phenomenon that shifts global weather patterns and can result in extreme weather, ranging from drought to flooding. While scientists believe climate change is making this El Nino stronger, its exact impact on food production is impossible to glean until after it’s occurred. 

The early signs are worrying. 

India experienced its driest August in a century, and Thailand is facing a drought that has sparked fears about the world’s sugar supplies. The two are the largest exporters of sugar after Brazil. 

Less rainfall in India also dashed food exporters’ hopes that the new rice harvest in October would end the trade restrictions and stabilize prices. 

“It doesn’t look like [rice] prices will be coming down anytime soon,” said Aman Julka, director of Wesderby India Private Limited. 

Most at risk are nations that rely heavily on food imports. The Philippines, for instance, imports 14% of its food, according to the World Bank, and storm damage to crops could mean further shortfalls. Rice prices surged 8.7% in August from a year earlier, more than doubling from 4.2% in July. 

Food store owners in the capital of Manila are losing money, with prices increasing rapidly since September 1 and customers who used to snap up supplies in bulk buying smaller quantities. 

“We cannot save money anymore. It is like we just work so that we can have food daily,” said Charina Em, 32, who owns a store in the Trabajo market. 

Cynthia Esguerra, 66, has had to choose between food or medicine for her high cholesterol, gallstones and urinary issues. Even then, she can only buy half a kilo of rice at a time — insufficient for her and her husband. 

“I just don’t worry about my sickness. I leave it up to God. I don’t buy medicines anymore, I just put it there to buy food, our loans,” she said. 

The climate risks aren’t limited to rice but apply to anything that needs stable rainfall to thrive, including livestock, said Elyssa Kaur Ludher, a food security researcher at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore. Vegetables, fruit trees and chickens will all face heat stress, raising the risk that food will spoil, she said. 

This constricts food supplies further, and if grain exports from Ukraine aren’t resolved, there will be additional shortages in feed for livestock and fertilizer, Ludher said. 

Russia’s July withdrawal from a wartime agreement that ensured ships could safely transport Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea was a blow to global food security, largely leaving only expensive and divisive routes through Europe for the war-torn country’s exports. 

The conflict also has hurt Ukraine’s agricultural production, with analysts saying farmers aren’t planting nearly as much corn and wheat. 

“This will affect those who already feel food affordability stresses,” Ludher said. 

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Shelters for Migrants Fill Up Across Germany as Attitudes Toward Newcomers Harden

Dozens of people from around the world lined up on a sunny morning this week in front of a former mental health hospital in Berlin to apply for asylum in Germany.

There were two older women from Moldova. A young man from Somalia sat next to them on a bench. A group of five young Pakistanis chatted loudly, standing behind two pregnant women from Vietnam.

The newcomers are among more than 10,000 migrants who have applied for asylum in the German capital this year, and are coming at a time when Berlin is running out of space to accommodate them.

“The situation is not very good at the moment,” Sascha Langenbach, the spokesperson for the state office for refugee affairs in Berlin, said in an interview this week. “This is much more than we expected last year.”

The former mental health hospital in Berlin’s Reinickendorf neighborhood was turned into the city’s registration center for asylum-seekers in 2019 and can house up to 1,000 migrants.

But it’s full.

Officials have put an additional 80 beds in a church on the premises. Beyond that, there are another 100 asylum shelters in Berlin, but those are at capacity too.

Berlin’s state government says it will open a hangar at the former Tempelhof airport to make space for migrants, put up a big tent at the asylum seekers’ registration center, and open a former hardware store and hotels and hostels in the city to provide another 5,500 beds for more migrants the city is expecting will come through the end of the year.

There are also not enough places in kindergartens and schools. In addition to the asylum seekers, Berlin has also taken in another 11,000 Ukrainian refugees this year who fled Russia’s war.

The lack of space and money for migrants and Ukrainian refugees isn’t unique to Berlin. It’s a problem across Germany, where local and state officials have been demanding more funds from the federal government without success.

More than 220,000 people applied for asylum in Germany between January and August — most of them from Syria, Afghanistan, Turkey, Moldova and Georgia. In all of 2022, 240,000 people applied for asylum in Germany.

That’s a far cry from the more than 1 million people who arrived in Germany in 2015-16. But Germany has also taken in more than 1 million Ukrainians since the outbreak of the war in 2022. Unlike others who arrive, Ukrainians immediately receive residency status in Germany and the 26 other European Union countries.

While Germans welcomed asylum seekers with flowers, chocolates and toys when they first arrived in 2015, and many opened their homes to house Ukrainians in 2022, the mood toward new arrivals has profoundly changed since then.

“After two years of the (coronavirus) crisis, then the Ukraine war with its increasing prices for basically everything — heating, gas, also food — it’s sometimes pretty tough to convince people that they have to share places and capacities with people who just arrived,” Langenbach said.

Germany’s far-right Alternative for Germany party, or AfD, has been successfully exploiting Germans’ hardening attitudes toward migrants. Polling now puts it in second place nationally with around 21%, far above the 10.3% it won during the last federal election in 2021.

AfD’s rise in the polls and the party leaders’ relentless anti-migrant rhetoric, including calls to close Germany’s borders to prevent migrants from entering, have put pressure on the national and state governments and other mainstream parties to toughen their approach toward migrants.

On Wednesday, Germany’s interior minister announced the country would increase border controls along “smuggling routes” with Poland and the Czech Republic to prevent irregular migrants from entering.

In June, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz defended plans to stop migrants from entering the EU altogether until their chances of getting asylum have been reviewed, arguing that the bloc’s existing arrangements on sharing the burden of asylum seekers among the different European countries is “completely dysfunctional.”

Germany has been taking in more migrants than most other European countries, but other countries such as Turkey and Lebanon, which shelter millions of migrants from Syria, have taken in more refugees as a percentage of their population.

Despite the changing sentiment toward migrants in Germany, those who make it and apply for asylum are generally grateful to be here.

Abdullah al-Shweiti, from Homs, Syria, recently arrived in Berlin and was waiting for the results of his medical checkup at the asylum welcome center. He said he was relieved to be “in a safe place.”

The 29-year-old said he had run away from home because his family’s house had been bombed in the war and he didn’t want to fight in the army. He said he’d paid 3,000 euros ($3,180) to smugglers who helped him get from Lebanon to Europe. He took the Balkans route, trekking with other young Syrians north via Bulgaria through forests. They traveled on foot, by taxi and by bus until smugglers dropped them off in the German capital.

Mirbeycan Gurhan, a Kurdish man from Bingol in eastern Turkey, said he’d fled suppression by Turkish authorities. He paid 6,000 euros ($6,360) for smugglers to arrange a flight from Ankara to Belgrade, Serbia, and then a car to Germany.

“I hope I will have a better future here. I hope I can find work,” the 24-year-old said with a shy smile as his uncle, who applied for asylum in Berlin four years ago, stood next to him and translated.

Michael Elias, head of the Tamaja company that runs the asylum registration center in Berlin, said the arrival of migrants from all over the world is simply a reflection of the many crises around the globe, such as climate change and wars, and that Germany needs to be prepared for even more people to arrive.

“Yes, a lot of people are coming here, but look at what’s going on in the world,” Elias said. “We must simply anticipate that we’re not an island of the fortunate here, that things will reach us too.”

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US Warns of Large Serbian Military Buildup Near Kosovo

The United States called on Belgrade to pull its forces back from the border with Kosovo on Friday after detecting what it called an unprecedented Serbian military buildup.

Serbia deployed sophisticated tanks and artillery on the frontier after deadly clashes erupted at a monastery in northern Kosovo last week, the White House said.

The violence in which a Kosovo policeman and three Serb gunmen were killed marked one of the gravest escalations for years in Kosovo, a former Serbian breakaway province.

“We are monitoring a large Serbian military deployment along the border with Kosovo,” White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters. “That includes an unprecedented staging of advanced Serbian artillery, tanks, mechanized infantry units.”

“We believe that this is a very destabilizing development,” he said. “We are calling on Serbia to withdraw those forces from the border.”

The buildup happened within the past week, but its purpose was not yet clear, Kirby said.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken had telephoned Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic to urge an “immediate de-escalation and a return to dialogue.”

And White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan spoke to Kosovo’s prime minister.

Serbia’s Vucic did not directly deny there had been a recent buildup but rejected claims that his country’s forces were on alert.

“I have denied untruths where they talk about the highest level of combat readiness of our forces, because I simply did not sign that and it is not accurate,” Vucic told reporters. “We don’t even have half the troops we had two or three months ago.”


Serbia said on Wednesday that the defense minister and head of the armed forces had gone to visit a “deployment zone” but gave no further details.

The clashes on Sunday began when heavily armed Serb gunmen ambushed a patrol a few kilometers from the Serbian border, killing a Kosovo police officer.

Several dozen assailants then barricaded themselves at an Orthodox monastery, sparking an hourlong firefight in which three gunmen were killed and three were arrested.

Kosovo’s government has accused Belgrade of backing the entire operation. A member of a major Kosovo Serb political party admitted to leading the gunmen, his lawyer said Friday.

Kirby said the attack had a “very high level of sophistication,” involving around 20 vehicles, “military-grade” weapons, equipment and training.

“It’s worrisome,” he said. “It doesn’t look like just a bunch of guys who got together to do this.”

Peacekeeping force expected to grow

NATO would be “increasing its presence” of its peacekeeping force known as KFOR following the attack, Kirby added.

In Brussels, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg confirmed that the U.S.-led alliance was ready to boost the force to deal with the situation.

Kosovo broke away from Serbia in a bloody war in 1998-99 and declared independence in 2008 — a status Belgrade and Moscow have refused to recognize.

It has long seen strained relations between its ethnic Albanian majority and Serb minority, which have escalated in recent months in northern Kosovo.

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Activists Mark 5-Year Anniversary of Journalist Khashoggi’s Slaying

Five years ago Monday, journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed in Istanbul. U.S. intelligence has pointed to Saudi leadership as being responsible. Meanwhile, U.S.-Saudi ties continue to normalize, disappointing some press freedom and rule-of-law advocates. VOA’s Laurel Bowman reports.

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Four More Officials Held After Libya Flooding Disaster 

Libya’s prosecutor general has ordered the arrest of four more officials, bringing to 12 the number held as part of an inquiry into this month’s flood that killed thousands. 

Flooding caused by hurricane-strength Storm Daniel tore through eastern Libya on September 10, leaving at least 3,893 people dead and thousands more missing. 

The seaside city of Derna was the worst hit in the flash flood, which witnesses likened to a tsunami. The water burst through two dams and washed entire neighborhoods into the Mediterranean. 

The four additional suspects, including two members of the Derna municipal council, were arrested for suspected “bad management of the administrative and financial missions which were incumbent upon them,” said a statement issued overnight Thursday into Friday by the prosecutor general’s office in Tripoli, western Libya. 

On Monday, the office ordered the arrest of eight officials, including Derna’s mayor, who was sacked after the flood. 

Libya Prosecutor General Al-Seddik al-Sour belongs to the internationally recognized government in the country’s west. A rival administration in the flood-stricken east is backed by military strongman Khalifa Haftar. 

The eastern government has said it plans to host an international donors conference in Benghazi on October 10 to focus on the reconstruction of flood-ravaged areas, but its failure to involve the Tripoli government has drawn mounting criticism from donors. 

Libya has been wracked by division since a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. 

‘Separate’ reconstruction plans 

The United States called on Libyans to set aside their political differences and agree a framework to channel aid to eastern towns. 

“We urge Libyan authorities now to form such unified structures — rather than launching separate efforts — that represent the Libyan people without delay,” U.S. special envoy Richard Norland said in a statement Friday.  

“A proposal to hold a reconstruction conference in Benghazi on October 10 would be much more effective if it were conducted jointly and inclusively,” he said. 

Norland echoed concerns expressed by the United Nations that mechanisms need to be put in place to ensure that foreign aid is spent accountably. 

“Libyans need to be assured public funds are used transparently, accountably, and that assistance goes to those in need,” the U.S. envoy said. 

On Thursday during talks with the European Commission, U.N. envoy Abdoulaye Bathily said he had called for funds to be monitored. 

“I … emphasized the need for a joint assessment of reconstruction needs of storm-affected areas to ensure the utmost accountability in the management of reconstruction resources,” he said. 

On Friday, the eastern authorities said they would begin paying compensation to people affected by the disaster, which a U.N. agency has said uprooted more than 43,000 people. 

People whose homes were destroyed would receive $20,500 in compensation, Faraj Kaeem, the eastern administration’s deputy interior minister, said separately. 

He said those with partially destroyed homes would get about half that amount and those who lost furniture or household appliances would be given one-fifth. 

The eastern administration announced on Wednesday the creation of a fund for the reconstruction of Derna. 

The authorities have yet to specify how the new fund will be financed, but the eastern-based parliament has allocated about $2 billion to reconstruction projects. 

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US Senators Call on Russia to Free American Captives

The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee announced Friday a bipartisan resolution calling for the immediate release by Russia of two American detainees, Evan Gershkovich and Paul Whelan.

The resolution, co-sponsored by 27 senators, focuses on the continuing detention of Gershkovich, 32, a Wall Street Journal reporter, who was arrested on March 29 in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg on espionage charges that carry up to 20 years in prison.

A Moscow court declined Gershkovich’s latest appeal Tuesday of his pre-trial detention.

Whelan, a Michigan corporate security executive, has been imprisoned in Russia since December 2018 on espionage charges that his family and the U.S. government have called baseless. He was convicted in 2020 and sentenced to serve 16 years.

“We believe Paul continues to show tremendous courage in the face of his wrongful detention. Ambassador [Lynne] Tracy reiterated to him that President [Joe] Biden and Secretary [of State Antony] Blinken are committed to bring him home,” said State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller told reporters at a mid-September briefing.

“Evan Gershkovich, a journalist with The Wall Street Journal, has been wrongfully detained in Russia for merely for doing his job: reporting facts and shedding light on President [Vladimir] Putin’s bogus rationale for his illegal war against Ukraine,” said Senator Ben Cardin, the committee’s Democratic chairman.

“Freedom of the press is critical to holding governments accountable around the world,” said Senator Jim Risch, the panel’s top Republican.

During a news briefing Friday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre called Russia’s accusations baseless and called for Russia “to immediately release Evan and also to release wrongfully detained U.S. citizen Paul Whelan. Our efforts to secure their release are ongoing, and we will not stop until they are home.”

“It is clear that Evan is being held for leverage because he is an American,” she said, adding that Biden “has been clear that we have no higher priority than securing the release of Evan, Paul Whelan and all Americans wrongfully detained abroad.”

Russia has said the reporter was caught “red-handed” in Yekaterinburg, where the FSB security service said he was trying to obtain military secrets. It has not provided any details to support that assertion.

The U.S. has accused Russia of using Gershkovich to conduct hostage diplomacy, at a time when relations between the two countries have broken down at their worst point in more than 60 years because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

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

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New York City Area Under State of Emergency After Storms Flood Subways, Strand People in Cars

A potent rush-hour rainstorm swamped the New York metropolitan area on Friday, shutting down some subways and commuter railroads, flooding streets and highways, and delaying flights into LaGuardia Airport.

Up to 13 centimeters of rain fell in some areas overnight, and as much as 18 centimeters more was expected throughout the day, New York Governor Kathy Hochul said Friday morning.

By midday, although there was a break in the downpour, Mayor Eric Adams urged people to stay put if possible.

“It is not over, and I don’t want those gaps in heavy rain to give the appearance that it is over,” he said at a news briefing. He and Hochul, both Democrats, declared states of emergency.

No storm-related deaths or critical injuries had been reported as of midday, city officials said. But residents struggled to get around the waterlogged metropolis.

Traffic hit a standstill, with water above cars’ tires, on a stretch of the FDR Drive — a major artery along the east side of Manhattan. Some drivers abandoned their vehicles.

Priscilla Fontallio said she had been stranded in her car, which was on a piece of the highway that wasn’t flooded but wasn’t moving, for three hours as of 11 a.m.

“Never seen anything like this in my life,” she said.

On a street in South Williamsburg, Brooklyn, workers were up to their knees in water as they tried to unclog a storm drain while cardboard and other debris floated by. The city said that it checked and cleared key drains, especially near subway stations, ahead of the storm. But that was little comfort to Osman Gutierrez, who was trying to pry soaked bags of trash and scraps of food from a drain near the synagogue where he works.

“The city has to do more to clean the streets,” he said. “It’s filthy.”

As the rain briefly slowed, residents emerged from their homes to survey the damage and begin draining the water that had reached the top of many basement doors. Some people arranged milk crates and wooden boards to cross the flooded sidewalks, with water close to waist-deep in the middle of some streets.

High school student Malachi Clark stared at a flooded intersection, unsure how to proceed as he tried to get home to Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. He had tried to take a bus, then a train.

“When it stops the buses, you know it’s bad,” he said. Bus service was severely disrupted citywide, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Elsewhere, photos and video posted on social media showed water pouring into subway stations and basements.

Jessie Lawrence said she awoke to the sound of rain dripping from the ceiling of her fourth-floor apartment in Brooklyn ’s Crown Heights neighborhood. She set out a bowl to catch the drips, but she could hear strange sounds coming from outside her door.

“I opened my front door, and the water was coming in thicker and louder,” pouring into the hallway and flowing down the stairs, she said. The heavy rainfall had pooled atop the roof and was leaking through a skylight above the stairwell.

Dominic Ramunni, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in New York, said Friday’s rain was brought by a coastal storm, with low pressure off the East Coast helping to bring in some deep moisture from the Atlantic Ocean.

“This will be one of the wettest days in quite some time,” he said.

Virtually every subway line was at least partly suspended, rerouted or running with delays, and the Metro-North commuter railroad was suspended.

Flights into LaGuardia were briefly halted Friday morning, and then delayed, because of water in the airport’s refueling area. Flooding also forced the closure of one of the airport’s three terminals.

Friday’s flooding wasn’t nearly as bad as that two years ago, she said, but it was again filling the basement of her home on 64th Street with water. “Too much raining,” she said. “it’s not as bad as before, but still, it’s bad, bad, bad.”

New York City officials said they received reports that six basement apartments had flooded Friday, but all the occupants got out safely. Governor Hochul pleaded with residents to evacuate their homes if the water starts to rise.

“People need to take this extremely seriously,” the governor said.

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Suicide Bomber Hits Tea Shop in Mogadishu, Killing 5

A suicide bomber wearing an explosives vest hit a busy tea shop in Mogadishu on Friday, killing at least five people, a police spokesman told VOA.

Witnesses said the bomber targeted the tea shop inside an internally displaced persons camp, known as Dervish, in Mogadishu’s Wardhigley district, which is close to the premises of the country’s parliament.

“We were just in our daily routine. We were having tea and talking about sports when a man wearing an explosive vest rushed into the tea shop, shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ [God is great], then he blew himself up,” Mohamed Sheikh Abdi, an eyewitness who survived the attack, told VOA.

According to residents familiar with the area, the tea shop is frequented by some government soldiers and civil servants.

In an interview with VOA, Sadiq Adan Ali Dodishe, spokesperson for the Somali police, said civilians were the target of the attack and that no government soldier or staff was harmed.

“An al-Shabab suicide bomber targeted civilians chatting and enjoying at a tea shop, killing five people and six others wounded,” he said. “It is not new to us; it is something the militants have been doing for years.”

Friday’s attack came a day after militants killed at least six people and wounded more than 15 in a car bombing in Somalia’s central Hirshabelle state.

The perpetrator targeted a busy meat market in Bulobarde town, 220 kilometers north of Mogadishu.

In a separate incident on Thursday, security forces prevented double suicide car bomb attacks targeting Dhusamareb, a town 280 kilometers to the north, killing the drivers of two vehicles loaded with explosives, officials said.

Days before, an explosives-laden vehicle detonated at a security checkpoint in the central Somalia city of Beledweyne, killing at least 18.

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Feinstein Leaves Behind Feminist Legacy, Colleagues Say

U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein died on Thursday night at 90, her family confirmed. She was the oldest member of Congress. 

Feinstein’s peers in the Senate say she will be remembered as a trailblazer and an exemplar of perseverance whose many firsts paved the way for generations of women to take charge in politics and society.

She was the first woman to serve as mayor of San Francisco and the first woman to be considered for a presidential ticket in 1984 — though Walter Mondale ultimately ran with Geraldine Ferraro.

Feinstein also was the first female front-runner for governor of California; the state’s first woman to win a seat in the Senate; the first woman to preside over a presidential inauguration; and the first woman to serve 30 years as a senator.

As a self-described centrist, Feinstein sometimes changed her views. Like many older politicians, she was once opposed to same-sex marriage, but reversed herself and became a staunch advocate of it in her later years.

One of her most memorable changes of heart, though, came in the fallout of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Feinstein voted for the Iraq war and was a proponent of many of President George W. Bush’s so-called war on terror policies, including brutal interrogations of suspected extremists, many of whom were transferred to the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.

But in 2007, Feinstein rallied to shut down Guantanamo, and, in 2014, as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, made public a shocking report about the Central Intelligence Agency’s secret prisons across the globe, where extrajudicial torture was being used to extract information from suspected terrorists.

“I came to the conclusion that America’s greatness is being able to say we made a mistake, and we are going to correct it and go from there,” Feinstein said in 2014 after an hour-long speech denouncing the CIA’s interrogation program.

Opened doors for women

For decades, Feinstein built her reputation around open-mindedness and working across the aisle. But she wasn’t one to compromise her values, her colleagues say.

“She was smart. She was strong. She was compassionate, but maybe the trait that stood out most of all was her amazing integrity — her integrity was a diamond,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

On Friday morning, a teary-eyed Schumer led a moment of silence on the Senate floor before delivering a eulogy.

“She gave a voice, a platform and a leader to women throughout the country for decades,” Schumer told his peers. “Dianne didn’t just push down doors that were closed for women, she held them open for generations of women after her, to follow her. Today, there are 25 women serving in this chamber, and every one of them will admit they stand on Dianne’s shoulders.”

Feinstein cast her final vote on Thursday, according to official roll call data. By Friday, her chair was empty, her desk draped in a black sheet with a large vase of white flowers on it.

“Dianne was a trailblazer, and her beloved home state of California, and our entire nation are better for her dogged advocacy,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Friday.

Nearly called off career

For decades, Feinstein was a mainstay of California politics. But there was a point when she nearly called off her career as a public servant.

The year was 1978. After two failed bids for mayor and nearly a decade on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, Feinstein was unsure if politics was her calling. Then tragedy struck. A former supervisor shot dead San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk.

As board president, Feinstein announced their deaths and called for spiritual healing in one of her most famous speeches. Overnight, she became a national symbol of resilience and was appointed mayor, a post she held for nearly a decade before an unsuccessful bid for governor in 1990.

Two years after losing out, Feinstein ran for Senate and won. She would win five reelections, all by considerable margins.

Feinstein said that the horror of watching Milk die always stuck with her. She later recounted how she rushed to Milk’s office after hearing gunshots and attempted to locate a pulse. “My finger went into a bullet hole in his wrist,” she said. Feinstein went on to spearhead the first nationwide ban on assault weapons in 1994, which expired in 2004.

Throughout her career, Feinstein was a vocal critic of congressional inaction on gun control, particularly in recent years with nationwide upticks in school shootings. In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Connecticut, she tried unsuccessfully to restore the ban.

Feinstein also pushed for abortion rights and rights for crime victims. In 2018, she referred then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh to federal investigators over Christine Blasey Ford’s accusation that he sexually assaulted her when the two were teenagers.

“I’ve lived a feminist life,” Feinstein once told a reporter.

In a tribute on Friday, U.S. Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi said “Dianne was a pioneering woman leader who served as San Francisco’s first female mayor with unmatched courage, poise and grace.”

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Russia Drafts 130,000 Conscripts, Increases Age Limit to 30

Russian President Vladimir Putin is calling up 130,000 conscripts for military service this fall, increasing the age limit of conscripts from 27 to 30, according to a document posted on the Russian government website on Friday.

Russia’s lower house of parliament voted last July to raise the age for conscripts, and that legislation will take effect on January 1, 2024. Putin said earlier this month that he is bracing for a long war with Ukraine as Russia’s armed forces press on with their “special military operation” in Ukraine, now in its 20th month.

Starting at the age of 18, all men in Russia are required to serve one year in the military.

The conscription will begin on October 1 in all parts of the Russian Federation, according to the defense ministry, including in the illegally annexed regions of Ukraine, the Defense Ministry said Friday.

Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia were formally annexed by Russia in September 2022 after so-called referendums were held there, which were universally dismissed as shams by Ukraine and Western nations. Russia had annexed Crimea in 2014.

Last year, Russia announced a plan to increase its professional and conscripted combat force by more than 30% to 1.5 million, a plan made more difficult by its heavy casualties in Ukraine.

Ukraine aid

While the West continues to supply Ukraine with military hardware, it is planning to produce its own, including air defenses, the Ukrainian president’s chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, told reporters on Friday.

“I think very soon specialists will arrive here who will make a plan for our own production of everything that we need. First and foremost, this relates to air defenses,” Yermak said.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg expressed confidence Friday that Poland will find ways to address disagreements with Ukraine without affecting its military support for Ukraine.

“I’m expecting and I’m confident that Ukraine and Poland will find a way to address those issues without that impacting in a negative way the military support to Ukraine,” Stoltenberg told Reuters in an interview in Copenhagen.

Relations have been somewhat impaired between Poland, a NATO member, and its neighbor Ukraine, after Warsaw’s decision to extend a ban on Ukrainian grain imports.

Seven EU countries have ordered ammunition under a landmark European Union procurement framework to get urgently needed artillery shells to Ukraine and replenish depleted Western stocks, according to the European Defense Agency.

The orders are for 155-millimeter artillery rounds, one of the most important munitions in Ukraine’s defensive war against Russian aggression.

The scheme was set up as part of a plan worth at least $2.1 billion, initiated in March, with the aim of getting 1 million shells and missiles to Ukraine within a year.

Some officials and diplomats have expressed skepticism about whether that goal will be met, but the plan is a significant step in the EU’s growing role in defense and military affairs, spurred by the war in Ukraine.

Ukraine goes through artillery ammunition rapidly, firing thousands of rounds a day, and Kyiv’s Western allies have been scrambling to keep up.

“It was … not sufficient only to deplete our own stocks,” Stoltenberg said Thursday in Kyiv.

The EDA said the EU deals were for both complete shells and for components such as fuses, projectiles, charges and primers.

The NATO chief also noted Thursday that Ukrainian forces are “gradually gaining ground” amid fierce fighting and he is constantly urging allies to provide more aid, boost defense production and speed up arms deliveries to Ukraine.

“The stronger Ukraine becomes, the closer we come to ending Russia’s aggression,” Stoltenberg told reporters in Kyiv.

Stoltenberg said it is in NATO’s security interest to provide Ukraine what it needs to win the war.

In the United States, as the federal government prepares for a possible shutdown, the country’s aid in the Ukrainian war effort could falter, according to Pentagon Deputy Press Secretary Sabrina Singh.

Those affected by the shutdown would include Pentagon civilians involved in English-language training for Ukraine’s F-16 pilots, so if there is a government shutdown, “there could be impacts to training,” Singh said. “At this point right now, I just don’t have more specific details to offer.”

Wagner redeployment

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered one of the top commanders of the Wagner military mercenary group to take charge of “volunteer units” fighting in Ukraine. Putin tasked Andrei Troshev with forming volunteer units that would fight primarily in the war zone.

Hundreds of fighters previously associated with the Wagner Group “have likely started to redeploy to Ukraine” as individuals and in small groups that are fighting for a variety of pro-Russian units, the British Defense Ministry said Friday in its daily intelligence update on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

It said reports suggest a concentration of Wagner veterans around the eastern city of Bakhmut, a sector where their past experience could be useful.

Their redeployment follows Yevgeny Prigozhin’s death in a suspicious plane crash on August 23, two months after the Wagner chief launched a day-long mutiny against Kremlin in June.

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

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