British Troops Patrol Kosovo-Serbia Border as Tensions Remain High

British troops are patrolling the Kosovo-Serbia border as part of a NATO peacekeeping presence being bolstered amid concern that the former wartime foes could return to open conflict following a series of violent incidents in recent months.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization sent hundreds of additional forces to Kosovo from Britain and Romania after a battle between the authorities and armed Serbs holed up in a monastery turned a quiet village in northern Kosovo into a war zone on Sept. 24.

One police officer and three gunmen were killed in the village of Banjska in what was seen as the worst violence since Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008. Kosovo accused Serbia of providing financial and practical support for the gunmen, which Belgrade denies.

NATO has sent 1,000 extra troops to the region, bringing its presence there to 4,500 peacekeepers from 27 countries. British soldiers are now being deployed in 18-hour shifts in freezing conditions to make sure no weapons or armed groups enter Kosovo.

“Currently we are here on a routine patrol, which consists of understanding patterns of life, gaining intelligence on any illegal or suspicious activity that then gets fed back to KFOR (NATO mission) and higher,” Lieutenant Joss Gaddie from the British Army told Reuters at the border with Serbia.

During a visit on Monday to the western Balkans, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the organization is reviewing whether a more permanent increase of forces was needed “to ensure that this doesn’t spiral out of control and creates a new violent conflict in Kosovo or in the wider region.”

Kosovo, which has an ethnic Albanian majority, declared independence from Serbia in 2008 after a guerrilla uprising and a 1999 NATO intervention.

Around 5% of the population in Kosovo are ethnic Serbs, of which half live in the north and refuse to recognize Kosovo independence and see Belgrade as their capital. They have often clashed with Kosovo police and international peacekeepers.

For more than two decades many ethnic Serbs have refused to register vehicles with Kosovo car plates, using their own system instead which is seen as illegal by Pristina.

Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti’s government has set a December 1 deadline for around 10,000 motorists to register their cars with Kosovo numbers or face heavy penalties. A similar request sparked violence last year.

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Alaska Landslide Devastates Family, Killing 3 Members, Leaving 2 Children Missing

Authorities on Friday identified those missing or killed in a southeast Alaska landslide this week as five family members and their neighbor, a commercial fisherman who made a longshot bid for the state’s seat in the U.S. House of Representatives last year.

Timothy Heller, 44, and Beth Heller, 36 — plus their children Mara, 16; Derek, 12; and Kara, 11 — were at home Monday night when the landslide struck near the island community of Wrangell. Search crews found the bodies of the parents and the oldest child late Monday or early Tuesday; the younger children remain missing, as does neighbor Otto Florschutz, 65, the Alaska Department of Public Safety said in an emailed statement.

Florschutz’s wife survived.

Florschutz, a Republican, was one of 48 candidates who entered the race to fill the vacant congressional seat. He received 193 votes out of nearly 162,000 cast.

In a candidate statement provided to the Anchorage Daily News back then, Florschutz said he was known for his ability to forge consensus.

“As a 42-year commercial fisherman, I have worn many hats,” he said. “Besides catching fish, I have served in community elected positions, done boat repair, mechanics, welding, carpentry, business and much more.”

Beth Heller served on the Wrangell School Board from 2019 to 2020 after several years on the district’s parent advisory committee.

The Hellers ran a construction company called Heller High Water, said Tyla Nelson, who described herself as Beth Heller’s best friend since high school. Beth and Timothy both grew up in Wrangell and married in August 2010, Nelson said.

Nelson sobbed as she described her friend as a “fantastic human.”

“And she was a wonderful mother,” she said. “She did everything for those babies.”

The slide tore down a swath of evergreen trees from the top of the mountain above the community to the ocean, striking three homes and burying a highway near the island community of Wrangell, about 250 kilometers (155 miles) south of Alaska’s state capital, Juneau. One of the homes was unoccupied.

The slide — estimated to be 137 meters (450 feet) wide — occurred during heavy rainfall and high winds.

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Kyiv Suffers Largest Drone Attack Since Russian Invasion

Kyiv was rocked by a massive drone attack early Saturday, using Iranian-designed Shahed drones.

Five people, including a child, were wounded in the attack, according to Mayor Vitali Klitschko’s Telegram post.

Ukraine’s air force said the attack was the largest drone attack since the beginning of Russia’s invasion.

The British Defense Ministry said Saturday in its daily report on the invasion that Russia’s Black Sea Fleet’s ability to reload vessels with cruise missiles at its Novorossiysk base will likely be “a significant factor” in the effectiveness of the fleet.

The fleet has traditionally reloaded its cruise missiles at Sevastopol, but the Crimean facility is facing increasing risk of being hit by Ukrainian long-range strikes.

The British intelligence update said Novorossiysk would be a better alternative site, but that move would require relocating and reloading the missiles and would also require new delivery, storage, handling and loading processes.

Last month, Ukraine said Russia was having logistical problems with firing cruise missiles from Novorossiysk.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Friday that his country was looking for “three victories” from its Western allies, including the passage of two military aid packages — by the United States and the European Union — and the formal start of talks to join the European bloc.

“We need three victories. The first one is the victory with U.S. Congress. It’s a challenge, it’s not easy, but Ukraine is doing everything,” Zelenskyy told a news conference in Kyiv.

President Joe Biden has proposed billions of dollars in new assistance for Ukraine, but the funding was not included in a stopgap measure Congress passed this month.

Some Republican lawmakers oppose approving more aid for Ukraine, but a majority of Republicans and Democrats in Congress still support the additional aid.

In a statement Monday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken appealed to lawmakers to support Biden’s latest funding request for Ukraine military aid.

“Helping Ukraine defend itself … helps prevent larger conflict in the region and deters future aggression, which makes us all safer,” Blinken said.

Zelenskyy said the second “victory” needed abroad was that “we need the help from the EU on the 50 billion-euro package,” and “the third is to open a dialog about our future membership.”

The European Union recently announced a 50 billion-euro package for Ukraine, but it has not yet been approved and is facing opposition by Hungary. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has also said he is opposed to launching EU membership talks with Kyiv.

Zelenskyy made the comments at a joint news conference in Kyiv with Latvian President Edgars Rinkevics, who expressed optimism that the EU aid package for Ukraine would eventually pass.

Moldova sanctions

In Moscow, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said Friday that it viewed Moldova’s decision to join EU sanctions against it as a hostile step.

“We regard this as yet another hostile step by the Moldovan leadership, which is fully integrated into the anti-Russian campaign of the ‘collective West,'” the ministry said in a statement.

“Its aim is the complete destruction of Russian-Moldovan relations,” it said.

Moldova’s parliament agreed to the sanctions against Russia on Friday, part of the country’s bid to eventually join the European Union.

Russian crackdown

Russia’s Justice Ministry said Friday that former Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, who later became a critic of the Kremlin, had been added to a registry of foreign agents.

Kasyanov served as prime minister for the first four years of Putin’s administration but was fired in 2004.

He later became a prominent opposition figure, and after leaving the country in 2022, he criticized Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The foreign agent law has been used against opposition figures and independent news media. It requires those designated as foreign agents who publish information to prominently label that the material comes from a foreign agent.


The Russian Defense Ministry said its missile defenses downed 13 Ukrainian drones over Crimea and three more over the Volgograd region early Friday.

Ukrainian officials did not comment on the Russian report.

Also Friday, officials in Ukraine said Russian forces were escalating their attacks on the eastern Ukrainian city of Avdiivka.

Russia has been trying to capture the city since mid-October, in a brutal battle that has drawn parallels to the fight for the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, which Russia eventually captured after months of intense fighting.

The city sits on the front line five kilometers from Donetsk, the Russian-controlled capital of the region, one of four regions Moscow said it annexed from Ukraine.

The British Defense Ministry said Friday in its daily intelligence update on the war that Russia continued to face “mass casualties from Ukrainian long-range precision strikes well behind the front line.”

The ministry said that on November 10, more than 70 Russian troops were probably killed in a strike on a truck convoy 23 kilometers behind the front line in Hladkivka, a village in Kherson oblast. Then, the ministry said, a November 19 strike on an award ceremony or concert in Kumachove, 60 kilometers behind the lines, probably caused “tens” of casualties.

Ukraine, though, has suffered similar casualties, the update said, adding that a Russian missile killed 19 members of a Ukrainian brigade at a medal ceremony November 3.

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

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Pope Cancels Saturday Activities Because of Mild Flu

Pope Francis canceled his morning audiences on Saturday because of mild flu, the Vatican said in a statement.

The 86-year-old pontiff holds regular meetings with Vatican officials on Saturdays as well as private audiences.

Earlier this month, the pope skipped reading a prepared speech for a meeting with European rabbis as he was suffering from a cold, but he appeared to be in good health during a meeting with children just hours later.

In June, he had surgery on an abdominal hernia. He spent nine days in hospital and appears to have recovered fully from that operation.

The pope’s next public appearance is scheduled for Sunday, when he is expected to address crowds in his weekly Angelus message in St. Peter’s Square.

Francis is also scheduled to attend the COP28 climate conference in Dubai from Dec. 1-3, where he is expected to have nearly an entire day of bilateral meetings with world leaders attending the event. The conference runs from Nov. 30-Dec. 12. 

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Decision on North Dakota Wild Horses Expected Next Year

About 200 wild horses roam free in a western North Dakota national park, but that number could shrink as the National Park Service is expected to decide next year whether it will eliminate that population.

Advocates fear a predetermined outcome that will remove the beloved animals from Theodore Roosevelt National Park. An extended public comment period ends Friday on the recent environmental assessment of the park’s three proposals: reduce the horse population quickly, reduce it gradually or take no immediate action.

The horses have some powerful allies — including North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and U.S. Sen. John Hoeven — while advocates are pulling out all the stops to see that the animals stay. Park officials say they want to hear from the public.

The horses are popular with park visitors, who often see and photograph them along the park’s scenic road and hiking trails through the rugged Badlands.

Evaluating whether the horses belong in the park has “been a long time in coming, and it realigns us with our overarching policies to remove non-native species from parks whenever they pose a potential risk to resources,” said Jenny Powers, a wildlife veterinarian who leads the wildlife health program for the National Park Service.

“This isn’t an easy decision for us, but it is one that is directly called for by our mission and mandates,” she told The Associated Press last month.

One of the horses’ biggest advocates fears park officials have already decided to oust the horses. Chasing Horses Wild Horse Advocates President Chris Kman cites several alternatives for keeping horses that park officials considered but dismissed in the recent environmental assessment.

In the document, the Park Service said those alternatives wouldn’t be “in alignment with NPS priorities to maintain the native prairie ecosystem” and wouldn’t address the animals’ impacts, among its reasons.

Kman said she is “optimistic that we will ultimately win this fight. I don’t have any faith that the park will do the right thing and keep the horses in the park.”

Even if the horses ultimately stay, Park Superintendent Angie Richman said they would have to be reduced to 35-60 animals under a 1978 environmental assessment. The ongoing process is part of the park’s proposed management plan for “livestock,” a term the horses’ allies reject.

Wild horses were accidentally fenced into the park in its early years. They were eventually kept as a historic demonstration herd after years of efforts to eradicate them, according to Castle McLaughlin, who researched the horses’ history in the 1980s as a graduate student working for the Park Service in North Dakota.

Wild horse advocates would like the park to conduct a greater environmental review, and want to ultimately see a genetically viable herd of at least 150 horses maintained.

A vast majority of previous public comments opposed removal of the horses, making it “really difficult to understand why the government would choose to take them away from the American people,” said Grace Kuhn, communications director for the American Wild Horse Campaign.

The wild horses “have a right to be in the national park” and align with Roosevelt’s sentiment to preserve cultural resources for future generations, she said.

“Essentially, the Park Service by implementing a plan to either eradicate them quickly or eradicate them slowly, they’re thumbing their noses at the American public and their mission,” Kuhn said last month.

Burgum in January offered state collaboration for keeping the horses in the park. His office and park officials have discussed options for the horses. State management or assistance in managing the horses in the park are options North Dakota would consider; relocation is not, spokesperson for the governor’s office Mike Nowatzki said Monday.

Park officials “are certainly willing to work with the governor and the state to find a good outcome,” Park Superintendent Richman said last month, adding that the park was working with the governor on “a lot of different options.”

“It would be premature to share pre-decisional discussions at this time,” she said Wednesday.

Sen. Hoeven has worked on negotiations with park officials, and included legislation in the U.S. Interior Department’s appropriations bill to preserve the horses. “If that doesn’t get it done,” he would pursue further legislation, he said last month.

“My objective is to keep horses in the park,” Hoeven said.

The park’s ultimate decision also will affect nine longhorn cattle in the park’s North Unit. All of the horses are in the park’s South Unit.

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Homicides Rising in DC, but Police Solving Far Fewer Cases

Though it’s no longer the homicide capital of the United States, the nation’s capital is witnessing a multiyear spike in the number of homicides but solving far fewer of them.

And for families of the victims, the issue of unsolved killings cuts deep.

Asiyah Timimi’s husband, Aqueel, was stabbed in a dispute in January 2021 and died several days later. “You just don’t feel safe until they’re caught,” Timimi said. “I could be walking past the person that killed my husband.”

Natalia Mitchell wants justice for her son Morris, who was fatally shot in March 2022, and closure for herself. A successful arrest of her son’s killer, she said, “doesn’t bring Morris back, but it would help.”

The percentage of homicides that are solved by the Metropolitan Police Department has declined sharply in 2023, leaving the city on track to record its lowest so-called “clearance rate” or “closure rate” in more than 15 years.

As of Nov. 13, only 75 of the 244 homicides committed this year have been solved by police. Factoring in the 33 prior-year homicides cleared thus far in 2023, the overall closure rate stands at around 45%. That would be the lowest rate dating back at least to 2007, according to statistics provided by the MPD.

Nationally, the average clearance rate tends to hover between 50% and 60%, said Rick Rosenfeld, a professor of criminology at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

A low closure rate, particularly on homicides, can erode police morale and community trust in the police and lessen the public cooperation between citizens and police that is vital for many investigations, said Christopher Herrmann, an associate professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a former crime analyst supervisor with the New York Police Department.

“That whole process can kind of spiral down, where the community doesn’t trust the police that much anymore or there’s a lack of faith,” he said. “There’s much less cooperation between the community and the police. And once the police see a lack of cooperation from the community, some of them will kind of throw their hands up in the air and say, ‘Why should we care when no one in the community wants to help?'”

Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Lyndsey Appiah acknowledged that closure represents “some sense of justice for victims.”

In addition, she said, “The surety of consequence is a deterrent to crime. So it’s important that we are, as quickly as possible, closing cases and solving cases.”

The drop in homicide closures is just part of a complicated public safety crisis facing the nation’s capital. Appiah, in testimony to the House Judiciary Committee this year, flatly acknowledged the scope of the problem.

“Oxford defines a crisis as a time of intense difficulty, trouble or danger,” she testified. “So I would say there is a crisis.”

Homicides in Washington are up 33% this year over last year. Violent crimes involving juveniles also are rising steadily, as are carjackings, with a U.S. congressman and a diplomat from the United Arab Emirates among the recent victims.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Appiah cited police staffing issues and difficulties with crime scene analysis among the potential factors impacting the clearance rate.

It’s at around 3,300 officers this year — down from 3,800 in 2020.

The MPD is at around 3,300 officers this year, down from 3,800 officers since 2020 — a decrease of 500 over three years. Police union officials have publicly blamed the D.C. Council for what they say are anti-police policies that have driven away officers and stifled recruiting efforts. The mayor, however, wants to get the number of officers up to 4,000.

D.C.’s crime lab, the Department of Forensic Science, also lost its accreditation in spring 2021 over allegations of flaws in its analysis. Appiah said the lab hopes to regain its accreditation early next year; in the meantime, the city is outsourcing its crime scene analysis, a process that consumes time and money, she said.

Appiah said that 10 months into the year is too soon to judge the success of homicide investigations that can take months or years. And, in fairness, the MPD just arrested a man in late October for a killing that took place in 2009. In cases like that, the arrest counts as part of this year’s clearance rate.

But with just a few weeks left in the year, it would take a remarkable run of successful arrests to prevent 2023 from having the lowest homicide clearance rate in more than 15 years.

The impact of these unsolved killings can have a corrosive effect in multiple directions.

“It devastates the Black family, and it can devastate the police department,” said Ronald Moten, a community activist who, in his youth, spent time in federal prison on drug charges. “It always gives the family some sense of relief if there’s a closure. It doesn’t help you heal by itself, but it’s part of the healing process.”

Moten’s half-brother was slain in 1991, during the period when homicides in D.C. regularly exceeded 400 per year. The case was never solved.

“It hurts because you feel like somebody’s gotten away with killing your child with no consequences,” Moten said. “That’s painful. You want closure, and you want somebody to be held accountable.”

Preventing that negative cycle from becoming entrenched is one of the city’s top priorities. To close cases, police need residents to help uproot violent criminals from their communities, said Appiah, the deputy mayor.

“We need their help. And they need to trust that if they come forward with information and help us, that it will move towards accountability,” she said. “If they provide us tips on someone engaged in a shooting and then that person is just back in the community, they will not trust MPD in the same way. … We need the community to help us close cases, and then we need the rest of the system to work to help keep them safe.”

Timimi, whose son Khalil was shot outside of Washington in neighboring Prince Georges County in Maryland about six weeks after her husband was stabbed, now cares for her paralyzed son and runs a charitable organization teaching modern life skills to urban youths.

She said she fears a return to the days when Washington routinely led the nation in per-capita killings. Two of her former neighbors have lost children to gun violence in recent years, and in 2021 her godson was caught in a crossfire and killed while he was home from college because of the national COVID-19 pandemic shutdown.

“In the ’80s and ’90s, I remember going to a funeral every week,” she said. “And when it’s unsolved, you just feel like they’ve forgotten you.”

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Ex-Officer Convicted of Killing George Floyd Stabbed in Prison, Source Says

Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer convicted of murdering George Floyd, was stabbed by another inmate and seriously injured Friday at a federal prison in Arizona, a person familiar with the matter told The Associated Press.

The attack happened at the Federal Correctional Institution, Tucson, a medium-security prison that has been plagued by security lapses and staffing shortages. The person was not authorized to publicly discuss details of the attack and spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity.

The Bureau of Prisons confirmed that an incarcerated person was assaulted at FCI Tucson at around 12:30 p.m. local time Friday. In a statement, the agency said responding employees contained the incident and performed “life-saving measures” before the inmate, whom it did not name, was taken to a hospital for further treatment and evaluation.

No employees were injured, and the FBI was notified, the Bureau of Prisons said. Visiting at the facility, which has about 380 inmates, has been suspended.

Messages seeking comment were left with Chauvin’s lawyers and the FBI. 

Chauvin’s stabbing is the second high-profile attack on a federal prisoner in the past five months. In July, disgraced sports doctor Larry Nassar was stabbed by a fellow inmate at a federal penitentiary in Florida.

It is also the second major incident at the Tucson federal prison in a little over a year. In November 2022, an inmate at the facility’s low-security prison camp pulled out a gun and attempted to shoot a visitor in the head. The weapon, which the inmate shouldn’t have had, misfired and no one was hurt.

Chauvin, 47, was sent to FCI Tucson from a maximum-security Minnesota state prison in August 2022 to simultaneously serve a 21-year federal sentence for violating Floyd’s civil rights and a 22½-year state sentence for second-degree murder.

Chauvin’s lawyer, Eric Nelson, had advocated for keeping him out of the general population and away from other inmates, anticipating he’d be a target. In Minnesota, Chauvin was mainly kept in solitary confinement “largely for his own protection,” Nelson wrote in court papers last year.

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Chauvin’s appeal of his murder conviction. Separately, Chauvin is making a longshot bid to overturn his federal guilty plea, claiming new evidence shows he didn’t cause Floyd’s death.

Floyd, who was Black, died on May 25, 2020, after Chauvin, who is white, pressed a knee on his neck for 9½ minutes on the street outside a convenience store where Floyd was suspected of trying to pass a counterfeit $20 bill.

Bystander video captured Floyd’s fading cries of “I can’t breathe.” His death touched off protests worldwide, some of which turned violent, and forced a national reckoning with police brutality and racism.

Three other former officers who were at the scene received lesser state and federal sentences for their roles in Floyd’s death.

Chauvin’s stabbing comes as the federal Bureau of Prisons has faced increased scrutiny in recent years following wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein’s jail suicide in 2019. 

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Booming Migrant Charter Flights to Nicaragua Prompt US Crackdown

Cuban and Haitian migrants are increasingly taking chartered flights to Nicaragua from where they seek to travel overland to the United States, prompting Washington to impose sanctions this week on the operators of the aircraft.

Irma Perez, a 28-year-old Cuban, told AFP she arrived in the Nicaraguan capital Managua last month aboard a charter flight run by Mexican aviation firm Viva Aerobus.

“We had a 45-minute layover in Cancun (Mexico) without disembarking, and then came to Managua,” she said.

Perez was speaking from Mexico, after she, her husband and 1-year-old son traveled there overland with the help of a smuggler. The family plans to head toward the United States.

Several Cuban migrants told AFP they had traveled with the same company on flights chartered by small travel agencies.

Viva Aerobus, which does not advertise fights between Cuba and Nicaragua on its website, did not respond to AFP’s requests for comment.

Perez said she and her husband paid $1,250 each for their tickets, and $350 for that of her son. The smuggler cost them another $2,100.

‘New phenomenon’

The use of charter flights to aid migrants in getting to their dream destination “is a relatively new phenomenon,” said Manuel Orozco, a director of migration issues at the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue.

The Central American country of Nicaragua has not required visas for Cubans since November 2021.

Since then, a record 421,000 Cubans have entered the United States, according to official figures from Washington.

In April, the U.S. began deporting Cubans with the first flight leaving April 24 after a two-year pause.

Two other Central American nations, Panama and Costa Rica, imposed a transit visa on Cubans in 2022 to tackle the influx of migrants.

A report by the Inter-American Dialogue thinktank said that an average of 50 charter flights a month traveled between Havana and Managua between January and October 2023.

Meanwhile flights between Haiti and Nicaragua quadrupled in the past three months.

“Nicaragua was a bridge for almost 100,000 people,” seeking to migrate, since January, according to the report.

Orozco believes that airline operators and Nicaraguan airport authorities made “an economic calculation” for their “mutual benefit.”

US sanctions

Advertisements abound on Facebook: “Tickets available Havana-Nicaragua … prices for families, charter and regular flights,” read one.

At the beginning of November, Brian Nichols, the U.S. deputy secretary of state, expressed concern about the dramatic increase in these flights.

“No one should profit from the desperation of vulnerable migrants – not smugglers, private companies, public officials or governments,” he wrote on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.

On Tuesday, Washington announced it would restrict visas for those in charge of the aviation companies.

Cuban Deputy Foreign Minister Carlos Fernandez de Cossio told journalists that the number of flights has begun to decrease.

Mexico began requiring an airport transit visa for Cubans in late October.

A taxi driver from Managua, who consults the airport website every day for his work, told AFP on condition of anonymity that he had noticed the number of planes carrying migrants had dropped from “22 to 23 daily” to six.

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Marrakech Kicks Off Film Festival in Shadow of War in Middle East

Film industry leaders in Marrakech attending one of the Arab world’s largest film festivals emphasized Friday the importance of elevating cinema and artistic expression amid a shadow cast by Israel’s war with Hamas and an earthquake that struck Morocco less than three months ago.

“In the weeks leading up to the festival, we were not sure that we would even be able to be here. The world we share is shattered and devoured,” said American actor Jessica Chastain, serving as the president of the festival’s jury, in a speech on the festival’s opening night.

“Throughout history, art has been used as an accessible tool for communication, raising awareness about social issues and affecting positive change,” she added.

Surrounded by red carpet crowds and flashing camera lights, others agreed.

“We know what’s happening and don’t forget it,” said Melita Toscan Du Plantier, director of the Marrakech International Film Festival. “But heart is important. Heart is a weapon against obscurity and against conflict. We’re here to talk about heart, show movies and talk about directors from this region.”

Organizers said they looked forward to showcasing cinema from Morocco, the Middle East and Africa. Throughout the week, they plan to honor Moroccan director Faouzi Bensaidi, and workshop films from throughout the region in a developmental program presided over by director Martin Scorsese.

The festival opened Friday with Richard Linklater’s action-comedy Hit Man. Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen was honored with a career achievement award for his films including Another Round, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Casino Royale, in which he played a Bond villain.

The festival is expected to feature more than 70 additional films, including Michel Franco’s Memory, starring Chastain, and Matteo Garrone’s Italian immigration drama Io Capitano.

It’s one of Morocco’s most widely publicized international events and comes in the aftermath of an earthquake that wreaked particular havoc on the mountain communities surrounding Marrakech. Moroccan Prince Moulay Rachid, who leads the foundation responsible for the festival, called it a “bastion of peace that brings people closer together.”

The prince said in a statement that the festival was an “invitation for discovery, empathy and sharing.”

The Marrakech International Film Festival, along with Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea Film Festival that is scheduled to open next week, are taking place as protests sweep North Africa and the Middle East, including Morocco, over the war in Gaza. That’s in contrast to the Cairo International Film Festival and Tunisia’s Carthage Film Festival, both of which were canceled because of the war.

The festival is scheduled to run through Dec. 2.

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Russian Lawmaker Disputes Report He Adopted Child Taken from Ukraine

A Russian lawmaker and staunch supporter of President Vladimir Putin has denied media allegations that he adopted a missing 2-year-old girl who was removed from a Ukrainian children’s home and changed her name in Russia.

Sergey Mironov, 70, the leader of political party A Just Russia, asserted on social media that the Ukrainian security services and their Western partners concocted a “fake” report to discredit true Russian patriots like himself.

His statement, posted on X, followed the BBC and independent Russian news outlet Important Stories publishing an investigation Thursday that said Mironov adopted a child named Margarita Prokopenko who was allegedly taken to Moscow at the age of 10 months by the woman to whom he is now married.

Mironov accused the two news organizations of having only “one goal — to discredit those who take an uncompromising patriotic position.”

“You are trying in vain,” he wrote, adding that Russia would win its war in Ukraine.

The office of the Ukrainian parliament’s human rights commissioner told The Associated Press it was looking into the news report.

In March, the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova, the commissioner for children’s rights in Putin’s office, accusing them of committing war crimes through their involvement in the abduction of children from Ukraine.

Bill Van Esveld, associate director of the Children’s Rights Division at Human Rights Watch, said Friday that the agency could not independently confirm the BBC and Important Stories’ findings. But he thinks the deportation of the girl to Russia, her adoption and her name change would be “a black and white war crime.”

The investigation by the BBC and Important Stories said Margarita was collected in August 2022 from a home for children needing specialized medical care or missing parents in the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson, which was occupied by Russian soldiers at the time.

The news organizations identified a woman who had visited the baby in Kherson before a group of Russian men removed the child from the home as Inna Varlamova, 55, who later married Mironov. The investigation also cited a birth record created several months later that listed Mironov and Varlamova as the parents of child named Marina who was born Oct. 31, 2021 — Margarita’s birthday.

Ukrainian authorities have estimated that around 20,000 children were sent out of the country without their parents’ knowledge or under false pretenses since Russia invaded in February 2022. A study by Yale University found more than 2,400 Ukrainian children aged 6-17 have been taken to Belarus from four regions of Ukraine that are partially occupied by Russian forces.

The AP reported in Oct. 2022 that Russian officials deported Ukrainian children to Russia or Russian-held territories without consent, told them they weren’t wanted by their parents and gave them Russian families and citizenship.

Vira Yastrebova, director of Eastern Human Rights Group, a Ukrainian nongovernmental organization, said Russian authorities were increasingly placing children into Russian foster families for eventual adoption instead of temporary guardianship.

Because Russian law makes it very difficult to find information about adoptions, it is therefore easy “to hide any information” about the children, Yastrebova said.

The Russian ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov, maintained in September that Russia does not “kidnap” Ukrainian children but is “saving” them.

Russia has said it will return children to their families once a parent or guardian requests it. But, because many Ukrainian families do not know where their children were taken, they are unable to make the requests.

Even when children are located, reuniting them with their families during the ongoing war often is a complicated process, involving a lot of paperwork and international border crossings. Pope Francis tasked his Ukraine peace envoy earlier this year with trying to get young Ukrainians returned to their country.

The transfer of Ukrainian children to Russia will affect them profoundly and have “a lifelong impact,” Van Esveld told the AP in a phone interview Friday.

“They have no opportunity to go back to their community or country and their development, right to education and right to form their own identity without coercion — is impacted,” he said.

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Israel to Summon Spanish, Belgian Ambassadors Following Criticism During Rafah Visit 

The Israeli government said Friday that it would summon the Belgian and Spanish ambassadors following remarks by Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and his Belgian counterpart Alexander de Croo on the war between Israel and Hamas. 

The announcement came after the two leaders criticized Israel for the suffering of Palestinian civilians under Israeli military operations in Gaza. Sanchez also called for European Union recognition of a Palestinian state, saying Spain might do so on its own. 

Speaking at a joint news conference Friday on the Egyptian side of the Rafah border crossing with Gaza, Sanchez said the time had come for the international community and the European Union to once and for all recognize a Palestinian state. He said it would be better if the EU did it together, “but if this is not the case … Spain will take their own decisions.” 

Sanchez was speaking at the end of a two-day visit to Israel, the Palestinian territories and Egypt with de Croo. Spain currently holds the EU’s rotational presidency and Belgium takes over in January. 

Sanchez reiterated comments made Thursday to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regarding the killing of civilians. 

“I also reiterate Israel’s right to defend itself, but it must do so within the parameters and limits imposed by international humanitarian law, and this is not the case,” Sanchez said. “The indiscriminate killing of civilians, including thousands of boys and girls, are completely unacceptable.” 

‘First things first’

De Croo did not comment on recognition of a Palestinian state, but said, “First things first, let’s stop the violence. Let’s liberate the hostages. Let’s get the aid inside … the first priority is [to] help people who are suffering.” 

De Croo stressed the need and hope for a permanent cease-fire, adding that this “needs to be built together. And it can only be built together if both parties understand that the solution to this conflict is never going to be violence. A solution to this conflict is that people sit around the table.” 

“A military operation needs to respect international humanitarian law. The killing of civilians needs to stop now. Way too many people have died. The destruction of Gaza is unacceptable,” he said. 

“We cannot accept that a society is being destroyed the way it is being destroyed,” he added. 

Israel later lashed out at the two prime ministers “for not placing full responsibility for the crimes against humanity committed by Hamas, who massacred our citizens and used the Palestinians as human shields.” 

Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen instructed the countries’ ambassadors to be summoned for a sharp reprimand. “We condemn the false claims of the prime ministers of Spain and Belgium who give support to terrorism,” Cohen said. 

“Israel is acting according to international law and fighting a murderous terrorist organization worse than [the Islamic State group] that commits war crimes and crimes against humanity.” 

Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares responded to the summoning of Spain’s ambassador late Friday. 

“The Israeli government’s accusations against the president of the government and the Belgian prime minister are totally false and unacceptable,” he said in a statement. “We categorically reject them.” 

Albares said the Spanish prime minister has publicly and repeatedly defended Israel’s right to self-defense and that his tour in the region this week was seeking “a path to peace.”

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Arizona Terminating Saudi Leases to Grow Alfalfa

Authorities in the southwest U.S. state of Arizona are canceling land leases that are being used to grow alfalfa for livestock raised in Saudi Arabia. From Vicksburg, Arizona, Levi Stallings reports on a dispute over groundwater.

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WHO Confirms First Sexual Spread of Mpox in Congo Amid Record Outbreak

The World Health Organization said it has confirmed sexual transmission of mpox in the Democratic Republic of Congo for the first time as the country experiences its biggest outbreak, a worrying development that African scientists warn could make it more difficult to stop the disease.

In a statement issued late Thursday, the U.N. health agency said a resident of Belgium traveled to Congo in March and tested positive for mpox, or monkeypox, shortly afterward. The WHO said the individual “identified himself as a man who has sexual relations with other men” and that he had gone to several underground clubs for gay and bisexual men.

Among his sexual contacts, five later tested positive for mpox, the WHO said.

“This is the first definitive proof of sexual transmission of monkeypox in Africa,” said Oyewale Tomori, a Nigerian virologist who sits on several WHO advisory groups. “The idea that this kind of transmission could not be happening here has now been debunked.”

Mpox has been endemic in parts of central and west Africa for decades, where it mostly jumped into humans from infected rodents and caused limited outbreaks. Last year, epidemics triggered mainly by sex among gay and bisexual men in Europe hit more than 100 countries. The WHO declared the outbreak as a global emergency, and it has caused about 91,000 cases to date.

The WHO noted there were dozens of discrete clubs in Congo where men have sex with other men, including members who travel to other parts of Africa and Europe. The agency described the recent mpox outbreak as unusual and said it highlighted the risk the disease could spread widely among sexual networks.

The WHO added that the mpox outbreak this year in Congo, which has infected more than 12,500 people and killed about 580, also marked the first time the disease has been identified in the capital, Kinshasa, and in the conflict-ridden province of South Kivu. Those figures are roughly double the mpox toll in 2020, making it Congo’s biggest outbreak, the WHO said.

Virologist Tomori said that even those figures were likely an underestimate and had implications for the rest of Africa, given the continent’s often patchy disease surveillance.

“What’s happening in Congo is probably happening in other parts of Africa,” he said. “Sexual transmission of monkeypox is likely established here, but [gay] communities are hiding it because of the draconian [anti-LGBTQ+] laws in several countries.”

He warned that driving people at risk for the virus underground would make the disease harder to curb.

The mpox virus causes fever, chills, rash and lesions on the face or genitals. Most people recover within several weeks without requiring hospitalization.

The WHO said the risk of mpox spreading to other countries in Africa and globally “appears to be significant,” adding that there could be “potentially more severe consequences” than the worldwide epidemic last year.

Tomori lamented that while the mpox outbreaks in Europe and North America prompted mass immunization campaigns among affected populations, no such plans were being proposed for Africa.

“Despite the thousands of cases in Congo, no vaccines have arrived,” he said. Even after mpox epidemics subsided in the West, few shots or treatments were made available for Africa.

“We have been saying for years in Africa that monkeypox is a problem,” he said. “Now that sexual transmission has been confirmed here, this should be a signal to everyone to take it much more seriously.”

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Suspected Militants Kill at Least 14 in Congo Night Raid

Suspected Islamist militants killed at least 14 people in an attack on a village in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo on Thursday night, a local official, a civil society leader and a survivor said on Friday.

The assailants are believed to be rebels from the Allied Democratic Forces, or ADF, a Ugandan armed group based in eastern Congo that has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group and frequently raids villages, sometimes with machetes and hatchets.

The militants attacked the village of Makodu at night when locals were sleeping in their homes.

Nobody was expecting it, civil society leader Marcel Nzanzu and survivor Dieudonné Kakule told Reuters.

The mayor of Oicha, a town located in eastern North Kivu province, told Reuters that ADF rebels killed civilians with knives and firearms before fleeing.

“For the time being, calm has returned to the area, even if the residents are afraid,” said Mayor Nicolas Kikuku, adding that some bodies have arrived at Oicha’s morgue.

Nzanzu said that after the attack some residents headed for areas considered to be safe.

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French Foreign Minister: China’s Cooperation Vital to Ending Russia-Ukraine War

French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said Friday that China’s cooperation is vital on an issue that has divided it and much of Europe: ending the war in Ukraine.

She encouraged China to continue working on its Ukrainian peace proposal while also ensuring that Chinese entities do not aid Russia in what she called “the ongoing war of aggression in Ukraine” — phrasing the Chinese side would disagree with.

“France underlines once again how its cooperation with China is essential to promote a just and lasting peace,” she said after talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. “We are counting on the vigilance of the Chinese authorities so that no structure in China, particularly private, contributes directly or indirectly to Russia’s illegal war effort in Ukraine.”

Her meetings in Beijing underscored an effort by both sides to continue a dialogue despite their growing differences, whether on the Ukraine war, the Israel-Hamas war or Europe’s huge trade deficit with China. The talks in some ways foreshadowed an EU-China leaders meeting next month.

In a meeting with Chinese Premier Li Qiang earlier in the day, Colonna said their countries should work together to address issues such as climate change and biodiversity. A major U.N. climate conference starts next week in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

“As big powers, we both share the responsibility to tackle global challenges … and we can make concerted efforts in alleviating tensions around the world,” she said.

China has been critical of U.S. efforts to seek the help of its allies, including in Europe, in its competition with China over trade, technology and security. It has accused the U.S. of building groupings to contain China’s development and rise.

Wang warned against the politicizing of issues and protectionism. The European Union has been taking a tougher line on China, launching a trade investigation into subsidies given to Chinese electric vehicle makers.

“We believe that as long as China and Europe work together, there will be no confrontation between camps, no division of the world, and no new Cold War,” Wang said.

The Chinese government has refrained from criticizing Russia’s invasion or the Hamas attack that sparked its latest war with Israel, taking a different stance than many in Europe and the United States. It has accused the West of prolonging the European conflict by supplying arms to Ukraine and called for an end to the fighting in both wars.

Colonna said that dialogue with China on the Gaza situation, and even cooperation, would be useful. She called for the release of all the hostages, including eight French-Israeli citizens, three of whom are children.

“Every state has the right to defend itself, but we must cooperate so that terrorism is contained and so that what happened cannot happen again,” she said.

Her trip came shortly after a delegation of foreign ministers from Muslim-majority countries and territories visited China and France as part of a series of meetings with permanent members of the U.N. Security Council to push for a cease-fire in Gaza.

A four-day truce in the war started Friday.

Despite their differences, China has been trying to repair its relations with major trading partners including Europe, the U.S. and Australia. The lifting of China’s pandemic restrictions last December has helped, making it much easier to hold in-person meetings.

French President Emmanuel Macron visited China in April followed by Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire in July.

“Relations between China and France are getting better and better in all aspects,” Premier Li, the country’s No. 2 leader, said. “In particular, our exchanges at all levels are now becoming more frequent because many of the mechanisms have been restored.”

Wang tried to reassure European companies that China remains a good and safe place to do business. New regulations have added uncertainty to the business environment and made foreign investors wary at a time when China is seeking investment to help revive a sluggish economy.

“We will listen to the voices of the European business community, earnestly solving the problems of investors in China,” he said.

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South African Runner Oscar Pistorius Granted Parole

Double-amputee Olympic runner Oscar Pistorius was granted parole Friday, 10 years after shooting his girlfriend through a toilet door at his home in South Africa in a killing that jolted the world. He will be released from prison on January 5 but will be constantly monitored by parole officials for five years until his sentence expires, the Department of Corrections said.

Pistorius’ parole will come with other conditions, Department of Corrections spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo said outside of the prison where Pistorius has been incarcerated in the South African capital, Pretoria.

Pistorius will not be allowed to leave the area of Pretoria without permission from authorities. He will also attend a program to deal with anger issues and another program on violence against women. He will have to perform community service.

“Parole does not mean the end of the sentence. It is still part of the sentence. It only means the inmate will complete the sentence outside a correctional facility,” Nxumalo said. “What will happen is that Mr. Pistorius will be allocated a monitoring official. This official will work with him until his sentence expires.”

Nxumalo said the monitoring official would need to be notified of any major events in Pistorius’ life, including if he wants to move or get a job.

“We have to be informed of each and every activity,” Nxumalo said.

Pistorius will not wear a monitoring bracelet as that is not part of South African parole procedure, Nxumalo said. Pistorius’ sentence will expire on December 5, 2029.

The decision to grant parole was made at a hearing at the prison earlier Friday.

Pistorius, who turned 37 this week, has been in jail since late 2014 for the Valentine’s Day 2013 killing of model Reeva Steenkamp, although he was released for a period of house arrest in 2015 while one of the numerous appeals in his case was heard. He was ultimately convicted of murder and sentenced to 13 years and five months in prison.

Serious offenders in South Africa must serve at least half of their sentence to be eligible for parole, which Pistorius has done.

Pistorius was at the height of his fame and one of the world’s most admired athletes when he killed Steenkamp. He shot her multiple times in the bathroom of his Pretoria villa in the predawn hours with his licensed 9-millimeter pistol.

Pistorius’ parole hearing was his second in the space of eight months. He was wrongly ruled ineligible for early release at a hearing in March. That was due to an error made by an appeals court over when the sentence officially started.

Pistorius was initially convicted of culpable homicide — a charge comparable to manslaughter — for killing Steenkamp. That conviction was overturned, and he was convicted of murder after an appeal by prosecutors. They also appealed against an initial sentence of six years for murder, and Pistorius was ultimately sentenced to 13 years and five months in prison.

Pistorius testified at his murder trial that he killed Steenkamp by mistake when he fired four times through the door thinking she was a dangerous intruder hiding in his bathroom in the middle of the night. Prosecutors argued that Steenkamp, a 29-year-old model and reality TV star, had fled to the toilet cubicle during a late-night argument and that Pistorius killed her in a rage.

Pistorius was eventually convicted of murder on a legal principle known as dolus eventualis, which means he acted with extreme recklessness and should have known that whoever was behind the door would likely be killed. It’s comparable to third-degree murder.

Steenkamp’s father, Barry Steenkamp, died in September. Her mother, June Steenkamp, did not oppose Pistorius’ parole but said in a statement before the hearing that she did not believe Pistorius had been fully rehabilitated and was still lying about the killing.

Rob Matthews, a South African man whose 21-year-old daughter was murdered in 2004 and who became a Steenkamp family friend, read out June Steenkamp’s statement. She said she was not opposing Pistorius’ parole and didn’t attend the hearing because “I simply cannot muster the energy to face him again at this stage.”

Nevertheless, “I do not believe Oscar’s version that he thought the person in the toilet was a burglar,” June Steenkamp said in the statement. “In fact, I do not know anybody who does. My dearest child screamed for her life. … I believe he knew it was Reeva.”

While out on parole, Pistorius is expected to live at his uncle’s luxurious mansion in a wealthy Pretoria suburb, where he stayed during his murder trial.

There have been only occasional glimpses of Pistorius’ life behind bars. His father has said he has been holding Bible classes for fellow prisoners, while a criminologist who worked with him said he had been driving a tractor at a part of the prison where vegetables are grown.

Pistorius’ lawyers have said he has been a “model prisoner.” There have been flashes of trouble, though, including an altercation Pistorius had with another inmate over a prison telephone that left him requiring medical treatment.

Pistorius killed Steenkamp just months after he had become the first double-amputee to compete at the Olympics. He was also a multiple Paralympic sprinting champion and one of sport’s most marketable figures, having overcome the amputation of both his legs below the knee as a baby to run on specially designed carbon-fiber blades. He was known as the “Blade Runner.”

At his sensational trial, prosecutors argued there was another side to Pistorius’ life that involved guns and angry confrontations with others. Pistorius was also found guilty of a second charge of recklessly firing a gun in a restaurant.

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Putin to Boost AI in Russia to Fight ‘Unacceptable and Dangerous’ Western Monopoly

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday announced a plan to endorse a national strategy for the development of artificial intelligence, emphasizing that it’s essential to prevent a Western monopoly.

Speaking at an AI conference in Moscow, Putin noted that “it’s imperative to use Russian solutions in the field of creating reliable and transparent artificial intelligence systems that are also safe for humans.”

“Monopolistic dominance of such foreign technology in Russia is unacceptable, dangerous and inadmissible,” Putin said.

He noted that “many modern systems, trained on Western data are intended for the Western market” and “reflect that part of Western ethics, norms of behavior, public policy to which we object.”

During his more than two decades in power, Putin has overseen a multi-pronged crackdown on the opposition and civil society groups, and promoted “traditional values” to counter purported Western influence — policies that have become even more oppressive after he sent troops into Ukraine in February 2022.

Putin warned that algorithms developed by Western platforms could lead to a digital “cancellation” of Russia and its culture.

“An artificial intelligence created in line with Western standards and patterns could be xenophobic,” Putin said.

“Western search engines and generative models often work in a very selective, biased manner, do not take into account, and sometimes simply ignore and cancel Russian culture,” he said. “Simply put, the machine is given some kind of creative task, and it solves it using only English-language data, which is convenient and beneficial to the system developers. And so an algorithm, for example, can indicate to a machine that Russia, our culture, science, music, literature simply do not exist.”

He pledged to pour additional resources into the development of supercomputers and other technologies to help intensify national AI research.

“We are talking about expanding fundamental and applied research in the field of generative artificial intelligence and large language models,” Putin said.

“In the era of technological revolution, it is the cultural and spiritual heritage that is the key factor in preserving national identity, and therefore the diversity of our world, and the stability of international relations,” Putin said. “Our traditional values, the richness and beauty of the Russian languages and languages of other peoples of Russia must form the basis of our developments,” helping create “reliable, transparent and secure AI systems.”

Putin emphasized that trying to ban AI development would be impossible, but noted the importance of ensuring necessary safeguards.

“I am convinced that the future does not lie in bans on the development of technology, it is simply impossible,” he said. “If we ban something, it will develop elsewhere, and we will only fall behind, that’s all.”

Putin added that the global community will be able to work out the security guidelines for AI once it fully realizes the risks.

“When they feel the threat of its uncontrolled spread, uncontrolled activities in this sphere, a desire to reach agreement will come immediately,” he said.

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The Netherlands’ Longtime Ruling Party Says It Won’t Join New Government Following Far-Right’s Win

A senator from the Netherlands’ Party for Freedom was appointed Friday to investigate possible governing coalitions after the far-right party’s election victory, while the party of outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte said it would support a center-right administration in parliament but not join the next government.

The Party for Freedom, or PVV, led by veteran anti-Islam lawmaker Geert Wilders, won 37 seats in the 150-seat lower house, indicating a seismic shift to the right for the Netherlands. Rutte’s People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy won 24 seats, 10 fewer than in the previous election, according to a near complete count of Wednesday’s votes.

After a meeting of party leaders at the parliament, PVV Senator Gom van Strien was appointed to investigate possible coalitions. Newly elected lawmakers will debate his findings on December 6.

Dilan Yeşilgöz-Zegerius, the new leader of the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, or VVD, tweeted that after losing 10 seats in the election, the longtime ruling party would “make possible and constructively support a center-right Cabinet with good policies,” but wouldn’t join a government.

Wilders called the decision, which was announced before formal coalition talks had begun, “extremely disappointing.”

The election result and appointment of Van Strien pave the way for Wilders to take the lead in forming a new coalition and potentially to succeed Rutte as prime minister. However, he will likely have to convince potential coalition partners that he would tone down some of his anti-Islam policies.

His party’s election platform states that the Netherlands “is not an Islamic country. No Islamic schools, Qurans and mosques.”

One potential coalition partner for Wilders is the recently formed New Social Contract party, or NSC, which won 20 seats. The party’s centrist leader, Pieter Omtzigt, said he couldn’t accept “unconstitutional” policies.

Article 1 of the Dutch Constitution outlaws discrimination “on grounds of religion, belief, political opinion, race, gender, disability, sexual orientation or on any other grounds.”

In an election-night victory speech, Wilders pledged not to push any policies that would breach Dutch law or the constitution.

His foreign policy also has raised concern among the Netherlands’ allies, Dutch caretaker Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren said Friday.

Wilders’ election program says, “We will not send our money and defense equipment such as F-16s to Ukraine.”

“I hope and expect that the support will remain,” Ollongren told reporters in The Hague. She said she had received concerned calls about the issue since the election.

The caretaker administration led by Rutte will remain in office until a new coalition is formed.

In August, Rutte said that the Netherlands and Denmark would send F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine to help the fight against Russia’s invading forces. An international training hub for F-16 pilots including from Ukraine was opened earlier this month in Romania.

Rutte tweeted Friday that he had held one of his regular calls with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

“The Netherlands stands with the people of Ukraine and supports Ukraine in its fight against Russian aggression,” Rutte said.

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UN Urges Probe After Zimbabwe Activist Found Dead

The United Nations called Friday for an independent investigation after an opposition activist in Zimbabwe was found dead following his abduction ahead of controversial by-elections.

The body of Tapfumanei Masaya, a pastor and an activist with the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC), was discovered Monday, 30 kilometers (18 miles) outside Harare, the UN rights office said.

He and fellow activist Jeffrey Kalosi had been snatched by armed men in broad daylight two days earlier while campaigning in the Zimbabwean capital for a CCC candidate.

“Both were reportedly tortured,” UN rights office spokeswoman Liz Throssell said, adding that Kalosi had been released in the same area where Masaya’s body turned up.

The killing follows a string of reported abductions, arrests and other violent acts that the CCC says are part of a campaign of intimidation against its supporters following disputed general elections last August.

Throssell noted that Zimbabwean authorities had said Masaya’s killing was being investigated.

“We urge them to ensure there are thorough, prompt and independent investigations not only into his death but also into all allegations of people being tortured and kidnapped,” she said.

“Perpetrators should be held accountable in fair trials that follow due process.”

Throssell warned that crimes like Masaya’s killing “violate not only the right to life, but also have a stifling effect on the rights to freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of association and equal participation.”

In August, CCC leader Nelson Chamisa, 45, lost his bid for the presidency to incumbent Emmerson Mnangagwa, 81, in elections that also gave the ruling ZANU-PF party a majority in parliament. 

International observers said the vote fell short of democratic standards.

Dozens of CCC lawmakers have lost their seats recently after what they say is an impostor posing as a party official recalled them, and parliament went along with it. 

The move has triggered by-elections to be held on December 9 that could hand ZANU-PF, in power since independence from Britain in 1980, a two-thirds majority needed to amend the constitution.

Analysts believe the party might use a super majority to remove a two-term presidential limit and enable Mnangagwa, who came to power on the back of a coup that ousted long-time ruler Robert Mugabe in 2017, to rule beyond 2028. 

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Irish Police Arrest 34 in Dublin Rioting Following Stabbings Outside School

Irish police arrested 34 people after suspected far-right protesters in central Dublin attacked police, damaged shops and set fire to vehicles Thursday night following the stabbing of three children by an unidentified man earlier in the day.

The head of the Irish police, Commissioner Drew Harris, said one officer was seriously injured in the violence that began after news spread that a 5-year-old girl was receiving emergency medical treatment at a Dublin hospital following the attack outside a school. At least 100 people took to the streets, some armed with metal bars and covering their faces.

Harris described the protesters as a “complete lunatic hooligan faction driven by far-right ideology.”

Police said over 400 officers, including many in riot gear, were deployed throughout the city center to contain the unrest, which they said was “caused by a small group of thugs.” A cordon was set up around the Irish Parliament building, Leinster House, and mounted officers were dispatched to nearby Grafton Street.

“These (riots) are scenes that we have not seen in decades, but what is clear is that people have been radicalized through social media and the internet,” Harris told reporters on Friday.

“But I don’t want to lose focus on the terrible event in terms of the dreadful assault on schoolchildren and their teacher. There’s a full investigation ongoing. There’s also a full investigation in respect on the disorder.”

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Russian Consumers Feel Themselves in a Tight Spot as High Inflation Persists

The shelves at Moscow supermarkets are full of fruit and vegetables, cheese and meat. But many of the shoppers look at the selection with dismay as inflation makes their wallets feel empty.

Russia’s Central Bank has raised its key lending rate four times this year to try to get inflation under control and stabilize the ruble’s exchange rate as the economy weathers the effects of Russia’s military operation in Ukraine and the Western sanctions imposed as a consequence.

The last time it raised the rate — to 15%, doubled that from the beginning of the year — the bank said it was concerned about prices that were increasing at an annualized pace of about 12%. The bank now forecasts inflation for the full year, as well as next year, to be about 7.5%.

Although that rate is high, it may be an understatement.

“If we talk in percentage terms, then, probably, (prices) increased by 25%. This is meat, staple products — dairy produce, fruits, vegetables, sausages. My husband can’t live without sausage! Sometimes I’m just amazed at price spikes,” said Roxana Gheltkova, a shopper in a Moscow supermarket.

Asked if her income as a pensioner was enough to keep food on the table, customer Lilya Tsarkova said: “No, of course not. I get help from my children.”

Without their assistance, “I don’t know how to pay rent and food,” the 70-year-old said.

Figures from the state statistical service Rosstat released on Nov. 1 show a huge spike in prices for some foods compared with 2022 — 74% for cabbage, 72% for oranges and 47% for cucumbers.

The Russian parliament has approved a 2024-26 budget that earmarks a record amount for defense spending. Maxim Blant, a Russian economy analyst based in Latvia, sees that as an indication that prices will continue to rise sharply.

“It is simply impossible to solve the issue of inflation in conditions … when the military-industrial complex receives unlimited funding, when everything they ask for is given to them, when the share of this military-industrial complex in the economy grows at a very rapid pace,” he told The Associated Press.

The central bank’s rate hikes have slightly cooled the ruble’s exchange rate slide — the rate is now about 88 to the U.S. dollar from over 100 earlier. But that’s still far higher than in the summer of 2022, when it was about 60 to the dollar.

That keeps the cost of imports high, even as import possibilities shrink due to Western sanctions.

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Can Burned Maui Town Be Made Safe? No One Know

When Daniel Skousen scrubs at the ash and soot covering his Maui home, he worries about the smell.

What chemicals created the burning-trash-barrel scent that has lingered since a deadly wildfire tore through Lahaina in August? Should he believe government agencies’ assessment of when the air, land and water will be safe enough for his family to return?

Or will political and economic pressures to rebuild and restore Maui’s robust tourism industry — where visitors normally spend $14 million per day — lead officials to look at any testing results through rose-colored glasses?

“It appears very important to them to get that tourism tax revenue back,” said Skousen. “It makes you wonder if the testing will be biased.”

The fire blew out Skousen’s windows and filled his home with ash, but the building is still standing, and he hopes someday to move back in. The home next door burned to the ground.

Skousen wants a second opinion on any government environmental assessments, preferably from an expert with a stake in the community. But the raw data isn’t easy to find, and experts say the long-term health effects from fires like the one that incinerated Lahaina are mostly unknown. There are no national standards that detail how clean is clean enough for a residential home damaged by a nearby fire.

At least 100 people died in the Aug. 8 wildfire, and thousands were displaced. Nearly 7,000 were still in short-term lodging two months later.

The rubble left behind includes electrical cables, plastic pipes and vehicle tires that emit dangerous dioxins when burned; lead from melted vehicles or old house paint; and arsenic-laden ash from termite-resistant building materials.

After a major wildfire burned 1,000 homes in Boulder County, Colorado, in 2021, health officials learned that even professionally remediated homes were often still polluted with ash, char and other toxic substances long after the fire, said Bill Hayes, the county’s air quality program coordinator.

The reason? High winds — like those that plagued Maui during the wildfire this summer — forced fine particulate matter into every crevice, Hayes said. Those particulates would sit inside window panes, behind light switches, between shingles and elsewhere until the winds started up again, re-contaminating the home.

“Char is a carcinogen, so we don’t ever say any level of those particulates are safe,” Hayes said. “That became a challenge in the cleanup – determining the level of when is it clean enough?”

State and federal agencies have released regular updates on Lahaina’s relative safety. The water in much of the town is still unsafe to drink, and visitors have been advised to use protective gear in impacted areas. Officials say pregnant people and kids should stay out of the burn zone, though the Hawaii Department of Education says the schools, which are above the burned part of town, are safe.

Crews have installed air quality monitors throughout town and are spraying a soil sealant to prevent toxic ash from being washed into the ocean or blowing around.

An attorney representing Skousen and about two dozen other Lahaina residents sent a public records request to the Environmental Protection Agency last month asking for all records regarding residential testing of contaminants in Lahaina and their impact to human health.

The EPA’s reply, sent earlier this month, wasn’t reassuring: “No records could be located that are responsive to your request.”

EPA spokesperson Kellen Ashford told The Associated Press his agency did some environmental hazard testing in the burn zone, but only to determine the immediate risk for workers involved in the initial cleanup.

He referred further questions about such testing to the Hawaii Department of Health, which he said was responsible for determining longer-term safety for residents.

The Hawaii Department of Health’s Environmental Health Services Division also told Skousen’s attorney it had no records about residential testing of contaminants to release.

The Health Department declined interview requests. Spokesperson Shawn Hamamoto said in an email the department will pursue additional air quality and ash testing when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers begins removing debris from Lahaina.

“I think that they’re playing ‘hide the ball,'” said Skousen’s attorney, Edward Neiger. “The question is, why do they feel the need to hide anything?”

Ashford acknowledged some residents are skeptical of the cleanup efforts. He said the EPA has people stationed at the Lahaina Civic Center and at work sites to talk to community members about their concerns.

Andrew Shoemaker, a fine art photographer who operated a gallery on Lahaina’s famous Front Street, believes it’s an important part of healing to go back to the burned areas to see what is left, but he has recently had a lung infection and doesn’t want to risk his health.

“I don’t even want to take the chance of going over there,” he said.

Dioxins, toxic compounds that can be released when plastic pipes, tires and other household materials are burned, are a particular concern for Shoemaker. Dioxins can last for decades inside the human body, and can cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage the immune system, interfere with hormones and cause cancer, according to the World Health Organization.

The EPA has found that forest fires and household trash burning in backyard burn barrels — how Skousen now describes the scent of Lahaina — are both major sources of dioxin emissions.

Irva Hertz-Picciotto, a professor and environmental epidemiologist with University of California-Davis, said the air monitors are effective and can measure particles that are about 30 times smaller than the width of a human hair.

Still, there is a lot that scientists don’t yet know about the long-term health risks posed by fires, Hertz-Picciotto said.

That post-fire smell noticed by Skousen can be a result of off-gassing, she said, which occurs when volatile organic compounds are absorbed into surfaces and released later.

Even with careful air quality monitoring, off-gassing can expose residents and cleanup workers to toxic fire emissions for months, and research shows only some volatile organic compounds can be trapped by high-quality air particle filters, according to the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder.

“If it smells like burned plastic or burned electrical cables, then probably those chemicals are in the air and not healthy,” Hertz-Picciotto said. “The other side of that, though, is even if you can’t smell it that doesn’t mean it’s safe.”

Skousen is a teacher and runs a cleaning business on the side. He’s spent his off hours in Lahaina working on cleaning his and his neighbors’ homes. Skousen and his wife decided to homeschool their kids at their temporary residence outside of Lahaina for now rather than risk exposing them to possible health problems.

Most of the guidelines for human exposure to pollutants are based on industrial settings, where people might work 40 hours a week — not their homes, where they might spend 90% of their time, said Hayes, the Boulder County air quality coordinator. Whether a home can be made safe enough for residency comes down in part to the resident’s risk tolerance, Hayes said.

“There is no black-and-white, clear-cut answer,” he said. “If they have young children in the home, or anyone has respiratory conditions, they might want to do significantly more cleaning that what the guidance documents are recognizing.”

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Sea Turtle Nests Break Records on US Beaches

Just as they have for millions of years, sea turtles by the thousands made their labored crawl from the ocean to U.S. beaches to lay their eggs over the past several months. This year, record nesting was found in Florida and elsewhere despite growing concern about threats from climate change.

In Florida, preliminary state statistics show more than 133,840 loggerhead turtle nests, breaking a record set in 2016. Same for green turtles, where the estimate of at least 76,500 nests is well above the previous mark set in 2017.

High sea turtle nest numbers also have been reported in South Carolina, Alabama, North Carolina and Georgia, although not all set records like Florida, where Justin Perrault, vice president of research at Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach, said the number of nests is remarkable this year.

“We had more nests than we had ever seen before on our local beaches,” said Perrault, whose organization monitors Palm Beach County and broke a local record by 4,000 nests. “That’s quite a bit of nesting.”

There are seven species of sea turtles: loggerhead, green, leatherback, hawksbill, Kemp’s ridley, olive ridley and flatback. All are considered either endangered or threatened. They come ashore on summer nights, digging pits in the sand and depositing dozens of eggs before covering them up and returning to the sea. Florida beaches are one of the most important hatcheries for loggerheads in the world.

Only about one in 1,000 sea turtle hatchlings live to adulthood. They face myriad natural threats, including predators on land and in the ocean, disruptions to nests and failure to make it to the water after hatching. This year along one stretch of Florida’s Gulf Coast where 75 nests had been counted, most were wiped out by the surge from Hurricane Idalia in August.

“Unfortunately, the nests pre-Idalia were almost all lost due to the high tides and flooding on our barrier islands,” said Carly Oakley, senior turtle conservation biologist at Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

Female turtles generally lay eggs in a three-year cycle, leading to up-and-down years of nests, she said. “The nesting process is very exhausting, and, in this break, females regain the energy to do the process again,” Oakley said.

Climate change has added to those challenges, reducing beaches as sea levels rise and causing more powerful tropical storms. Hotter air, water and sand and changes in the ocean currents turtles use to migrate also lower the odds of surviving, according to Oceana, an international conservation group.

Sand temperatures play a major role in determining sea turtle sex. In general, warmer temperatures produce more female turtles, and sand temperatures are projected to increase dramatically around the world by 2100, according to researchers at Florida State University.

“So the warmer the nest is, the more likely that nest is to produce females,” Perrault said. “Additionally, hatchlings that come out of warmer nests are much smaller and often slower.”

A study led by FSU professor Mariana Fuentes that was published recently in the Global Change Biology journal found sea turtles will have to nest much later or much earlier than they currently do to cope with changing environmental conditions.

Even that may not be enough for every species, said Fuentes, who works in FSU’s Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science. Turtles have adapted to altered climates over millions of years, but today’s rapid changes could happen too quickly for them to evolve, she said.

“We have found that even if they do change the timing of their nesting, that’s not going to be sufficient to maintain the temperatures of current nesting grounds,” Fuentes said.

Sea turtle mothers already have to lumber out of the water to find a good spot to nest, which can be difficult in areas where humans have built seawalls. Some female turtles make several attempts, known as false crawls, before finding a suitable location.

Racoons, coyotes and other predators raid the nests and hatchlings, once they dig their way out, have to crawl to the sea before being snatched up by birds and other animals. Electric lights can disorient them, causing turtles to head the wrong way on the beach instead of following light from the moon and stars. And when the lucky ones finally start swimming, hungry fish await.

Michelle Pate, biologist at the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, said tens of thousands of hatchlings don’t make it to the water, even as nest numbers trend higher across much of the Southeast.

“If we can’t get hatchlings to emerge and make it to the ocean, then an increase in nest numbers doesn’t help,” she said.

The increase in turtle nests this year conceals an ominous future for the animals, Perrault said.

“Yes, we’re seeing record numbers, but our hatchling production may not be that great,” he said. “And so in the future, 20 to 30 years from now, and these things come back to nest, we may not be seeing these record numbers that we’re seeing now.”

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Russia Launches Fierce, Costly Attacks on Ukraine City

Russia, which had bombarded the eastern city of Avdiivka for weeks, is now sending waves of troops toward the destroyed but strategically important spot in eastern Ukraine — and suffering terrible losses, Ukrainian senior officials and soldiers said Thursday.

“The fields are just littered with corpses,” Oleksandr, a deputy of a Ukrainian battalion in the 47th mechanized brigade, told Agence France-Presse.

“They are trying to exhaust our lines with constant waves of attacks,” he said. He declined to provide his full name for security reasons.

It is a strategy similar to the one Russia used against Bakhmut, a city it eventually captured.

Since mid-October, Russia has been trying to wrest the small city from Ukraine with no success, the Ukrainians say. The city sits on the front line 5 kilometers from Donetsk, the Russian-controlled capital of the region, one of four regions Moscow said it annexed from Ukraine.

Russia-backed separatists captured Avdiivka in 2014 and held it briefly before Ukrainian forces took it back and have been fortifying it ever since.

About 1,400 residents remain of the city’s prewar population of 32,000, said Vitaliy Barabash, head of Avdiivka’s military administration, who described the Russian onslaught as fierce.

“As regards the city, there is an average number of eight to 16 to 18 air attacks per day. Sometimes 30. We don’t have time to count them,” Barabash told Channel 24 television on Thursday. Russian reports on the war rarely mention Avdiivka.

Reuters could not independently verify battle reports from either side.

Earlier Thursday, four people were killed and five were wounded in Russian shelling in Ukraine’s southern region of Kherson on Thursday, Ukrainian officials said.

Ukrainian Interior Minister Ihor Klymenko said more than 60 residential and infrastructure buildings were damaged in the attack.

“It is preliminarily known that the shelling was carried out with cluster munitions,” Andriy Yermak, the head of Ukraine’s presidential office, said on Telegram. VOA could not independently verify that report.

The Russian army abandoned Kherson late last year but still regularly targets the area from the eastern bank of the Dnipro River.

Meanwhile, Russian state television said Thursday one of its journalists died after being hurt in a Ukrainian drone attack in the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia region of southern Ukraine.

The Russian network announced the death of Boris Maksudov a day after the Russian defense ministry said he was hit while working in Zaporizhzhia.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy used part of his nightly address Wednesday to highlight new military aid packages from allies that he said include help for his country’s air defenses.

Zelenskyy said the aid would better protect Ukraine’s cities and towns from Russian attacks and that “Ukraine’s sky shield is getting more powerful literally every month.”

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

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