Kia Recalls 427,000 Telluride SUVs; Could Roll Away While Parked

New York — Kia is recalling more than 427,000 of its Telluride SUVs due to a defect that may cause the cars to roll away while they’re parked.

According to documents published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the intermediate shaft and right front driveshaft of certain 2020-2024 Tellurides may not be fully engaged. Over time, this can lead to “unintended vehicle movement” while the cars are in park — increasing potential crash risks.

Kia America decided to recall all 2020-2023 model year and select 2024 model year Tellurides earlier this month, NHTSA documents show. At the time, no injuries or crashes were reported.

Improper assembly is suspected to be the cause of the shaft engagement problem — with the recall covering 2020-2024 Tellurides that were manufactured between Jan. 9, 2019, and Oct. 19, 2023. Kia America estimates that 1% have the defect.

To remedy this issue, recall documents say, dealers will update the affected cars’ electronic parking brake software and replace any damaged intermediate shafts for free. Owners who already incurred repair expenses will also be reimbursed.

In the meantime, drivers of the impacted Tellurides are instructed to manually engage the emergency brake before exiting the vehicle. Drivers can also confirm if their specific vehicle is included in this recall and find more information using the NHTSA site and/or Kia’s recall lookup platform.

Owner notification letters are otherwise set to be mailed out on May 15, with dealer notification beginning a few days prior.

The Associated Press reached out to Irvine, California-based Kia America for further comment Sunday. No comment was received.

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Vietnam Objects to China’s Expanded Reach in Gulf of Tonkin

washington — Vietnam is crying foul over a Chinese bid to redefine its coastal waters in the Gulf of Tonkin, a waterway at the northern end of the South China Sea lying between China’s Hainan Island and Vietnam.

Beijing’s delineation of a new baseline in the gulf was declared earlier this month. Under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), a country’s baseline is essentially its shoreline at low tide and is used to determine the extent of coastal waters and exclusive economic zones.

The convention makes exceptions in the case of close-in coastal islands, inlets and other unusual features, in which case a straight-line baseline may be applied. But experts say China has taken this provision to extremes by drawing a series of straight lines between islands far off its coast.

While the immediate implications of China’s latest sea grab are limited, the experts say it could have implications for freedom of navigation in the region, and in an extreme case, Beijing could seek to apply the principle to declare the Taiwan Strait as Chinese coastal waters.

It also follows a pattern of aggressive Chinese behavior in the South China Sea, where since 2013 the country has been building artificial islands in waters claimed by Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

China says its delineation of the baseline in the Gulf of Tonkin, known as the Beibu Gulf in China, “strictly complies with domestic laws, international laws and bilateral agreements” and “will not impact Vietnam’s interests or those of any other nation,” according to a March 4 statement by the Chinese Foreign Ministry quoted by the official Global Times.

Hanoi disputes this assertion. When asked about the baseline more than a week later, its Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Pham Thu Hang, stressed that “coastal countries need to abide by the UNCLOS 1982 when determining the baseline for measuring their territorial waters” and urged Beijing to honor a previously negotiated bilateral demarcation agreement in the gulf. UNCLOS was ratified in 1982.

Free of disputes

Unlike other parts of the South China Sea, the Gulf of Tonkin has been largely free of disputes since Hanoi and Beijing signed the delineation agreement in 2000 that went into effect four years later.

The Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman declined to comment on whether China’s new baseline could jeopardize that agreement, according to Reuters.

Hoang Viet, a lecturer at Ho Chi Minh City’s University of Law who follows regional maritime issues closely, told VOA Vietnamese over the phone, “The gulf was already demarcated. China cannot claim more than what it agreed on in the deal, no matter what baseline it draws in the gulf.”

He stressed that “it’s almost impossible” for Beijing to amend the agreement already ratified by the two nations.

Raymond Powell, a team leader at Stanford University’s Gordian Knot Center for National Security Innovation, told VOA Vietnamese in an email that China’s baseline delineation varies from the standard UNCLOS practice, which says the baseline “must not depart to any appreciable extent from the general direction of the coast.”

“China has drawn a straight baseline from its coast to a couple of offshore islands to illegally expand its territorial sea,” Powell said. “UNCLOS does not allow drawing straight baselines except in extreme circumstances, such as the complex fjords of Norway. This is not one of those special cases.”

According to UNCLOS, any waters inside the baseline are considered internal waters of a coastal state and unapproved passage of foreign vessels or aircraft is not allowed.

“The new baseline turns a significant area into China’s closed waters. Qiongzhou Strait [the strait between Hainan island and the Chinese mainland] is now wholly China’s internal waters,” said Viet. “It affects the freedom of navigation of foreign vessels.”

He added that China could cite this as a precedent to claim the Taiwan Strait as internal waters.

Powell predicted that Beijing’s new claim “may someday” draw a U.S. Freedom of Navigation Operation (FONOP), in which a warship will enter an unrecognized claim and either transit without notification or conduct military activity. The United States “challenges excessive maritime claims around the world regardless of the identity of the claimant,” according to the U.S. Navy press office.  

Most FONOPs in the region have been confined to the South China Sea to challenge Beijing’s territorial claims.

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Iranian TV Journalist Stabbed in London in Stable Condition

London — A U.K.-based journalist for independent Iranian media who was attacked outside his London home, prompting a counterterrorism police probe, is “doing very well,” his news channel said Saturday.  

Pouria Zeraati, a presenter for Persian-language outlet Iran International was in stable condition, the channel’s spokesman Adam Baillie said.  

“He’s doing very well actually. He’s in the hospital recovering from the attack,” Baillie told BBC radio, calling Friday’s attack “a shocking, shocking incident whatever the outcome of (the) investigation reveals.”

London’s Metropolitan Police has said its counterterrorism unit is investigating the stabbing, given previous hostile threats by Iran against perceived opponents in Britain.  

The force said the motive was unclear and officers were keeping “an open mind,” but that “the victim’s occupation as a journalist at a Persian-language media organization based in the U.K.” was being considered.

Iran’s charge d’affaires in the U.K., Mehdi Hosseini Matin said Saturday that Tehran “denied any link” to the incident.  

Zeraati, in his 30s, sustained injuries to his leg in the mid-afternoon attack outside his home in Wimbledon, southwest London.  

Announcing the incident on social media, Iran International noted it came after Tehran was implicated in a plot to kill two of its television anchors in 2022.  

Baillie said the channel’s journalists and their families and others had been repeatedly targeted and threatened by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

“Along with our colleagues at BBC Persian, Iran International has been under threat, very heavy threats, for the last 18 months since the IRGC said, ‘We’re coming for you,’” he added.

Baillie said the paramilitary security force gets “in touch through proxies” and its tactics include taking in relatives in Iran for questioning and threatening.  

“The scale of that has increased dramatically over the last few months. And the scale and the type of questioning is more aggressive,” he added.

The Met has disrupted what it has called plots in the U.K. to kidnap or even kill British or Britain-based individuals perceived as enemies of Tehran.

An Austrian national was convicted last December of spying for a group that may have been preparing to attack Iran International.  

The Iranian government has declared the outlet a terrorist organization after it reported on protests sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini.

She died in 2022 after her arrest in Tehran for an alleged breach of the Islamic republic’s strict dress code for women.   

The U.K. government last year unveiled a tougher sanctions regime against Iran over alleged human rights violations and hostile actions against its opponents on U.K. soil.

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‘Godzilla x Kong’ Roars to $80 Million Box Office Debut

Los Angeles — The Godzilla-King Kong combo stomped on expectations as “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire” roared to an $80 million opening on 3,861 North American screens, according to Sunday studio estimates.


The monster mash-up from Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures starring Rebecca Hall and Brian Tyree Henry brought the second-highest opening in what has been a robust year, falling just short of the $81.5 million debut of “Dune: Part 2.”  Projections had put the opening weekend of “Godzilla x Kong: Frozen Empire” at closer to $50 million.


Last week’s No. 1 at the box office, “Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire,” was second with $15.7 million for a two-week total of $73.4 million.


“Dune: Part Two” stayed strong in its fifth week, falling in the third spot with an $11.1 million take and a domestic total of $252.4 million.


The last matchup of the two monsters from Warner Bros. and Legendary, 2021’s “Godzilla vs. Kong,” had a much smaller opening weekend of $48.5 million, but that was a huge number for a film slowed by the coronavirus pandemic and released simultaneously on HBO Max.


The newer film had the second biggest opening of the studios’ broader MonsterVerse franchise. “Godzilla” brought in $93.2 million in 2014.


Estimated ticket sales are for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters,  

according to Comscore. Final domestic figures will be released Monday.


  1. “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire,” $80 million.

  2. “Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire,” $15.7 million.

  3. “Dune: Part Two,” $11.1 million.

  4. “Kung Fu Panda 4,” $10.2. million.

  5. “Immaculate,” $3.3 million.

  6. “Arthur the King,” $2.4 million.

  7. “Late Night With the Devil,” $2.2 million.

  8. “Tillu Square,” $1.8 million.

  9. “Crew,” $1.5 million.

  10. “Imaginary,” $1.4 million.

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Romania, Bulgaria Partially Join Europe’s Schengen Travel Zone

SOFIA, Bulgaria — Romania and Bulgaria partially joined Europe’s ID-check-free travel zone Sunday, marking a new step in the two countries’ integration with the European Union.

After years of negotiations to join the Schengen area, there is now free access for travelers arriving by air or sea from both countries. However, land border checks will remain in place due to opposition primarily from Austria which has long blocked their bid over illegal migration concerns.

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen hailed the change as a “huge success for both countries” and a “historic moment” for what is the world’s largest free travel zone.

The Schengen Area was established in 1985. Before Bulgaria’s and Romania’s admission, it was comprised of 23 of the 27 EU member countries, along with Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. Around 3.5 million people cross an internal border each day.

Austria vetoed Romania and Bulgaria’s admission into the Schengen zone at the end of 2022 but allowed Croatia full accession. Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU in 2007 and Croatia in 2013.

Siegfried Muresan, a Romanian Member of the European Parliament, told The Associated Press that it is “an important first step” that will benefit millions of travelers annually.

“Bulgaria and Romania have been fulfilling all criteria for joining the Schengen area for years — we are entitled to join with the terrestrial border as well,” he said, adding that it “will offer additional arguments to the last EU member state that has been vetoing the full accession.”

Romanian Prime Minister Marcel Ciolacu called it a “well-deserved achievement” for Romania that he said will benefit citizens who can travel more easily and will bolster the economy.

“We have a clear and firmly assumed government plan for full accession to the Schengen Area by the end of the year,” he said.

The EU’s executive branch, the European Commission, has said for more than a decade that Romania and Bulgaria both meet the technical criteria for full accession, which requires unanimous support from their partners. Both countries have agreed to implement random security screening at airports and maritime borders to combat illegal migration and cross-border crime.

“Bulgaria’s full accession to Schengen will happen by the end of 2024,” Kalin Stoyanov, Bulgaria’s interior minister, told reporters Sunday. “We showed and continue to show to illegal migrants that they should not take the road to Europe through Bulgaria.”

The lifting of border control is expected to facilitate operations at Bulgaria’s four international airports, which in 2023 saw nearly 11 million passengers, according to official data.

The airport in the capital, Sofia, serves as the biggest hub for Schengen flights which constitute 70% of all flights, airport representatives said.

While the eased regulations are expected to positively impact the tourism sector, members of the European Parliament have voiced concerns about long queues at the EU’s land borders and the impact it can have on trade in the bloc’s single market, as well as the health and safety of drivers.

Truck drivers are frequently stuck in kilometers-long (miles-long) queues at the borders of both Romania and Bulgaria. The Union of International Carriers in Bulgaria estimates delays cost the sector tens of millions of euros each year.

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Baltimore Bridge Being Cut Up After Ship Collision 

Baltimore, Maryland — The crumpled Baltimore bridge was being cut up in preparation for its removal, Maryland’s governor said Sunday, promising “progress” was being made after it was destroyed by an out-of-control ship.

Demolition crews using blow torches sliced through the top part of the Francis Scott Key Bridge, which collapsed when the Dali cargo vessel lost power and struck it on Tuesday, killing six people.

“Progress is beginning to happen despite the fact that it’s an incredibly complicated situation,” said Maryland Governor Wes Moore, adding that weather conditions and debris in the water meant divers were unable to assist with the recovery operation.

“We now do have cranes, the Chesapeake 1,000, which has a capacity of lifting a thousand pounds,” Moore told CNN on Sunday.

“[Workers have] begun to cut up the remnants of the bridge that we can then prepare for removal.”

Video footage shared Saturday by the Unified Command — the overall response team that includes the U.S. Coast Guard — showed sparks flying as crews suspended in cages cut through an upper section of the steel structure.

The Unified Command said the wreckage will lifted away and processed at a Baltimore shipping site before being taken to a disposal site.

Moore said the recovery would be a “long road,” adding: “This is a very complex operation, but movement is happening.”

The difficult conditions have hampered efforts to recover the bodies of the six road workers — all Latino immigrants — who died when the bridge collapsed, with just two bodies recovered so far.

Shipping in and out of Baltimore — one of the United States’ busiest ports — has been halted, with the waterway impassable due to the sprawling wreckage.

Moore told MSNBC on Sunday that his priorities were recovering the victims’ bodies before reopening the channel.

“It’s impacting the nation’s economy. It’s the largest port for new cars, heavy trucks, agricultural equipment. It’s impacting people all over the country,” he said.

The ship veered towards the bridge due to power trouble, with the pilot issuing a Mayday call that allowed some road traffic to be stopped just before the collision at 1:30am after which the structure collapsed in seconds.

“It takes a lot to make sure that it can be dismantled safely, to make sure that the vessel stays where it is supposed to be and doesn’t swing out into the channel,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told “Face the Nation” on CBS.

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Japan, China Experts Discuss Concerns Over Discharge of Treated Radioactive Water  

Tokyo — Japan said Sunday its experts have held talks with their Chinese counterparts to try to assuage Beijing’s concerns over the discharge of treated radioactive wastewater from the wrecked Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant into the sea. 

The discharges have been opposed by fishing groups and neighboring countries especially China, which banned all imports of Japanese seafood. China’s move has largely affected Japanese scallop growers and exporters to China. 

During the talks held Saturday in the northeastern Chinese city of Dalian, Japanese officials provided “science-based” explanation of how the discharges have been safely carried out as planned, according to the Japanese Foreign Ministry. 

A 2011 earthquake and tsunami damaged the Fukushima plant’s power supply and reactor cooling functions, triggering meltdowns of three reactors and causing large amounts of radioactive wastewater to accumulate. After more than a decade of storage in tanks taking up much space on the complex, the plant began discharging the water after treating it at least once and diluting it with seawater on Aug. 24, starting a process that’s expected to take decades. 

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Chinese President Xi Jinping — at their summit meeting in November — agreed to hold scientific talks by experts, and the countries have since held several informal meetings. Sunday’s statement from the Japanese Foreign Ministry was its first public acknowledgement of the talks. 

The experts exchanged views on “technical matters” involving the discharges, the ministry official said on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue. While stressing the importance of transparency, the official declined to give any other details, including what the Chinese side said and whether their differences have been narrowed. 

The meeting comes just after the International Atomic Energy Agency chief Rafael Mariano Grossi’s visit to the plant in mid-March confirming that the ongoing discharges have been safely carried out as planned. 

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New $20 Minimum Wage for California Fast Food Workers Starts Monday 

LIVERMORE, Calif. — Most fast food workers in California will be paid at least $20 an hour beginning Monday when a new law is scheduled to kick in giving more financial security to an historically low-paying profession while threatening to raise prices in a state already known for its high cost of living.

Democrats in the state Legislature passed the law last year in part as an acknowledgement that many of the more than 500,000 people who work in fast food restaurants are not teenagers earning some spending money, but adults working to support their families.

That includes immigrants like Ingrid Vilorio, who said she started working at a McDonald’s shortly after arriving in the United States in 2019. Fast food was her full-time job until last year. Now, she works about eight hours per week at a Jack in the Box while working other jobs.

“The $20 raise is great. I wish this would have come sooner,” Vilorio said through a translator. “Because I would not have been looking for so many other jobs in different places.”

The law was supported by the trade association representing fast food franchise owners. But since it passed, many franchise owners have bemoaned the impact the law is having on them, especially during California’s slowing economy.

Alex Johnson owns 10 Auntie Anne’s Pretzels and Cinnabon restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area. He said sales have slowed in 2024, prompting him to lay off his office staff and rely on his parents to help with payroll and human resources.

Increasing his employees’ wages will cost Johnson about $470,000 each year. He will have to raise prices anywhere from 5% to 15% at his stores, and is no longer hiring or seeking to open new locations in California, he said.

“I try to do right by my employees. I pay them as much as I can. But this law is really hitting our operations hard,” Johnson said.

“I have to consider selling and even closing my business,” he said. “The profit margin has become too slim when you factor in all the other expenses that are also going up.”

Over the past decade, California has doubled its minimum wage for most workers to $16 per hour. A big concern over that time was whether the increase would cause some workers to lose their jobs as employers’ expenses increased.

Instead, data showed wages went up and employment did not fall, said Michael Reich, a labor economics professor at the University of California-Berkeley.

“I was surprised at how little, or how difficult it was to find disemployment effects. If anything, we find positive employment effects,” Reich said.

Plus, Reich said while the statewide minimum wage is $16 per hour, many of the state’s larger cities have their own minimum wage laws setting the rate higher than that. For many fast food restaurants, this means the jump to $20 per hour will be smaller.

The law reflected a carefully crafted compromise between the fast food industry and labor unions, which had been fighting over wages, benefits and legal liabilities for close to two years. The law originated during private negotiations between unions and the industry, including the unusual step of signing confidentiality agreements.

The law applies to restaurants offering limited or no table service and which are part of a national chain with at least 60 establishments nationwide. Restaurants operating inside a grocery establishment are exempt, as are restaurants producing and selling bread as a stand-alone menu item.

At first, it appeared the bread exemption applied to Panera Bread restaurants. Bloomberg News reported the change would benefit Greg Flynn, a wealthy campaign donor to Newsom. But the Newsom administration said the wage increase law does apply to Panera Bread because the restaurant does not make dough on-site. Also, Flynn has announced he would pay his workers at least $20 per hour.

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King Charles greets well-wishers after Easter Sunday service 

Windsor, England — Britain’s King Charles greeted well-wishers in an impromptu walkabout after an Easter church service in Windsor on Sunday, his first appearance at a public royal event since his cancer diagnosis was announced in February. 

A smiling Charles, 75, accompanied by Queen Camilla, shook hands with scores of people gathered outside St George’s Chapel, the resting place of his late mother Queen Elizabeth. 

Charles had postponed all previous public engagements since Buckingham Palace announced he was to undergo treatment for an unspecified form of cancer. The illness was found in tests after he had a corrective procedure for an enlarged prostate in January. 

While the king attended church on Sunday, his son Prince William and his family did not. William’s wife Kate said earlier this month she was undergoing preventative chemotherapy after cancer was discovered following abdominal surgery in January. 

The king, wearing a dark overcoat, and queen waved to onlookers when they arrived at the chapel by car from their residence at Windsor Castle. 

The queen was wearing a green coat dress and an emerald and diamond brooch that was the late queen’s. 

Some of the onlookers wished Charles good health, while others said “Happy Easter.”  

The king said: “You’re very brave to stand out here in the cold.”  

A woman who spoke to the king said he seemed “very well.” 

Buckingham Palace has not confirmed any future public engagements for the king, but his eagerness to meet people on Sunday will be taken as a positive sign about his health.  

Also attending the annual service were the king’s sister, the Princess Royal, and brother, the Duke of Edinburgh, accompanied by their spouses. 

The Duke of York, who was removed from royal duties in 2022 due to his friendship with the late sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, was also present. 

Charles has kept up with the bulk of his non-public state duties such as greeting foreign officials and holding regular meetings with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. 

Last week the king did not attend an annual Maundy Thursday service but issued an audio message which aired at the event in which he expressed his sorrow at not being there and wished the public a Happy Easter. 

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India Rescuing Citizens Forced Into Cyber Fraud Schemes in Cambodia

NEW DELHI — The Indian government said it was rescuing its citizens who were lured into employment in Cambodia and were being forced to participate in cyber fraud schemes.

The Indian Embassy in Cambodia is working with Cambodian authorities and has rescued and repatriated about 250 Indians, including 75 in the last three months, India’s Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Randhir Jaiswal said in a statement Saturday.

Jaiswal was responding to Indian news reports that stated more than 5,000 Indians are trapped in Cambodia and being forced to carry out cyber frauds on people back home.

“We are also working with Cambodian authorities and with agencies in India to crack down on those responsible for these fraudulent schemes,” Jaiswal said.

The Indian government and its embassy in Cambodia have issued several advisories informing them about such scams, the spokesperson said.

The Cambodian Embassy in India did not respond immediately to a request for comment Sunday. 

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Pope Francis Presides Over Easter Sunday Mass

Vatican City — Pope Francis on Sunday celebrated Easter Mass with tens of thousands of Catholics at Saint Peter’s Square in Vatican City before his traditional blessing, as concerns persist over his health.

The 87-year-old arrived in a wheelchair to preside over the Mass from 10 a.m. (0800 GMT) in cloudy and windy weather, with the events broadcast live around the globe.

Francis will pronounce the “Urbi et Orbi” (To the City and the World) blessing at midday where he is expected to bring up the international conflicts raging worldwide.

For Christians, Easter Sunday marks the resurrection of Jesus Christ and is the culmination of Holy Week, a major part of the Catholic calendar followed by 1.3 billion people.

The pope on Saturday presided over the Easter Vigil at the Vatican in front of some 6,000 people from around the world, a day after his last-minute cancellation at a major Good Friday procession revived questions about his health.

He delivered a 10-minute homily in Italian, speaking without any undue difficulty and condemning “the walls of selfishness and indifference” in the world.

At the end of the 2½-hour service he showed little sign of fatigue, taking time to greet and bless some of the worshippers.

In a brief statement Friday, the Vatican had said that “to preserve his health ahead of tomorrow’s vigil and the Easter Sunday Mass, Pope Francis will this evening follow the Way of the Cross at the Colosseum from the Santa Marta Residence,” where he lives.

Health concerns

The last-minute decision raised questions about how long Francis can continue to lead the Catholic Church.

A Vatican source told AFP on Friday there was “no particular concern” about his health and the decision to pull out had been “simply a measure of caution.”

The Argentinian Jesuit had also canceled his participation in the “Via Crucis” in 2023, but that followed a three-day hospital stay for bronchitis, and was announced well ahead of time. Weeks later, he underwent a hernia operation.

Up until Friday, the pope had attended his various engagements throughout the week, but he recently appeared tired and has sometimes delegated speaking roles to colleagues.

Francis, who never takes holidays, made his last trip in September, to the southern French city of Marseille. In December, he canceled a much-anticipated attendance at the COP28 climate summit in Dubai.

His next scheduled trip is to Venice on April 28. The Vatican has not yet confirmed a planned trip to Asia and Pacific Ocean nations for this summer.

Francis has previously left the door open to stepping down if he can no longer do the job. That would follow the example of his immediate predecessor, Benedict XVI, who in 2013 became the first pope since the Middle Ages to voluntarily step aside.

But in a memoir published this month, Francis wrote that he did “not have any cause serious enough to make me think of resigning.” 

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Russia Conducts ‘Counter-Terrorism Operation’ in Southern Dagestan

MOSCOW — Russia has imposed a “counter-terrorism operation” regime in the southern region of Dagestan, detaining three people by Sunday morning, Russian news agencies reported, citing the National Anti-Terrorism Committee.

Russia is on high alert following a mass shooting at a concert hall in Moscow on March 22 — the deadliest attack in the country in 20 years with at least 144 killed.

“Security agencies detained three bandits who were planning a number of terrorist offenses. During the inspection of the places where they  were detained, automatic weapons, ammunition and an improvised explosive device ready for use were found,” the committee said Sunday.

Earlier the committee said that suspected criminals had been blocked by security services in several flats in residential areas of the regional capital, Makhachkala, and one of the biggest cities in the republic, Kaspiysk.

There were no civilian casualties and no losses among the law enforcement personnel.

The operation continues, the committee said.

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Warhol Portrait of Mao Goes Missing, College Seeks Return ‘No Questions Asked’

Washington/Los Angeles — A California college is seeking the return, “no questions asked,” of an iconic image of Chinese Communist Party founder Mao Zedong created by famed American artist Andy Warhol.

Two weeks ago, Orange Coast College discovered that one of Warhol’s signed silkscreen prints of Mao was missing from its vault. The portrait has an estimated value of $50,000.

Doug Bennett, executive director for college advancement at Orange Coast College, told VOA’s Mandarin Service that the print was purchased by a person close to the school from a gallery in Laguna Beach, California, in 1974 and donated to the school anonymously in September 2020.

But now, even before it was put on display, it’s gone missing.

Bennett said he hopes someone just took the print by mistake, adding that the college wouldn’t ask questions if it was returned.

“Someone perhaps took it and put it in their office or put it in their home and thought it was OK to do. Or maybe it was misplaced, but I don’t think it was like a ring of art thieves that stole it,” he said.

Warhol made the portraits of Mao in the 1970s after U.S. President Richard Nixon’s historic visit to China.

“When it [the portrait of Mao] first came out in the 1970s, it was very controversial, still maybe to some people,” Bennett said.

From 1972-73, Warhol used the image of Mao from the Little Red Book, widely circulated in China, as a template to create 199 richly colored Mao silkscreen works in five series.

The school immediately launched an internal investigation after discovering the print was missing on March 13. A week later, a report was made to the Costa Mesa Police Department in Orange County, where the school is located. The police are investigating.

“It’s a high priority for the police department, and two detectives are assigned to the case and are working on it,” Bennett said.

The Costa Mesa Police Department told VOA the investigation is ongoing but did not provide any new details.

Police and the school are appealing for anyone with information to come forward.

Warhol, who is known as the godfather of the pop art movement, began using ubiquitous objects such as Campbell’s soup cans and Coca-Cola bottles as subjects for his creations in the 1960s, kicking off the movement.

A summary of the Mao portraits by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York says this about the series: “As interpreted by Warhol, these works, with their repeated image painted in flamboyant colors and with expressionistic marks, may suggest a parallel between political propaganda and capitalist advertising.”

In 1982, Warhol visited China and took a photo in front of the portrait of Mao in Tiananmen Square. Five years later, Warhol died.

In 2013, Warhol’s works toured China, but the Mao series was forced to be withdrawn. At the time, Chinese state media claimed that the Mao in the works “far exceeded the officially acceptable image.”

However, the Mao series has become one of Warhol’s most sought-after celebrity portraits by collectors. According to data from Sotheby’s auction house, in 2015, a Mao painting was sold for $47.5 million. In 2017, another painting of Mao was sold for $12.7 million.

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China Spy Agency Fingers Consultancies as Espionage Threat

Taipei, Taiwan — China’s Ministry of State Security issued a fresh warning this week about overseas spy agencies and what it says are their efforts in recent years to obtain state secrets under the disguise of consulting agencies.

The six-minute video released Thursday on the ministry’s official WeChat social media account reenacts what it says was a real case where overseas spy agencies instructed a consulting firm to steal classified information from a Chinese company seeking to invest abroad.

The release of the video comes as Chinese leader Xi Jinping met this week with American CEOs in a bid reassure them that China remains open for business, despite concerns about its economy and worrying signals from the authoritarian government.

Over the past year, foreign investment in China has shrunk as supply chains shift to other countries while Chinese authorities have rolled out a new anti-espionage law and used exit bans to keep business executives and others from leaving the country. It has also carried out raids on consulting and due diligence firms.

During the same period, the Ministry of State Security has ramped up its use of social media to raise the alarm about foreign spies.

Its latest video — the fourth since it launched its social media account last year — has the feel of a spy thriller with dramatic music and fast-paced video elements and graphics.

It tells the story of an executive at a Chinese company who is pressed by a consulting firm representative on a string of questions, including the company’s total profit, the technical parameters of its products, and how its products are used by the Air Force.

In a WeChat post released with the video, the ministry warned about the national security risks that consultancy agencies pose.

“The seemingly normal investigation conducted by consulting firms are in fact attempts to illegally acquire our commercial secrets and efforts to suppress our advantageous industries,” the ministry wrote, adding that these consulting firms are accomplices to foreign spy agencies aiming to infiltrate key sectors in China.

Intimidation campaign against Chinese citizens

Some experts say the video is tailored to the Chinese audience rather than foreign investors since the video is purely in Mandarin and features the arrest of a Chinese national working for a foreign consulting firm.

The purpose of the video is “to inform and intimidate Chinese citizens by telling them that the government is watching them,” said Dennis Wilder, a former U.S. national security official. He added that the campaign will likely create a chilling effect among Chinese citizens, especially those working for foreign companies.

Over the last year, Chinese authorities have raided several American companies’ offices in China and detained some of their Chinese employees. Companies affected include due diligence firm Mintz Group, business consulting firm Capvision, and management consultancy Bain & Company.

Chilling effect for new foreign businesses

While the campaign focuses on Chinese citizens, Wilder said Beijing’s efforts to safeguard national security will also create a chilling effect for foreign businesses trying to enter the Chinese market.

Unlike big foreign companies with an established presence in China, such as Apple or Qualcomm, he said companies that have no presence in China need to conduct due diligence. “They have to understand what their counterparts in China are all about, but if they can’t conduct due diligence, they won’t invest in China,” he told VOA in a video interview.

A survey conducted by foreign business groups in 2023 suggests foreign companies are increasingly pulling investments and operations out of China. Survey data show that only 45% of American companies view China as their primary or among their top three investment destinations while 66% of the companies surveyed by the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China said they found operating in China has become increasingly difficult.

Despite foreign companies’ lack of confidence in the Chinese market, some analysts say the Chinese government thinks efforts to safeguard national security and enhance foreign investors’ confidence in the Chinese market are not mutually contradictory.

“Beijing believes that while they try to attract more foreign businesses to invest in China, they also should ensure key national interests, such as core data or key infrastructure won’t be easily obtained by foreign businesses,” said Hung Chin-fu, a political scientist at National Cheng Kung University in Taiwan.

He said Beijing’s approach will be met with deep suspicion among foreign businesses. “At a time when the Chinese government has laid out many red lines in the name of national security, investing in China will be like walking on thin ice for foreign companies,” he told VOA by phone.

As foreign businesses will likely remain hesitant to increase their investment volumes in China, Wilder thinks Chinese leaders may have different views on whether to prioritize efforts to attract more foreign investment or the need to safeguard national security.

“For Xi Jinping, I think if he has to choose between foreign investment and economic growth and what he perceives as national security, he will always come out on the national security side,” he told VOA.

But for other Communist Party leaders who must consider economic growth, such as Chinese Premier Li Qiang, Wilder thinks their consideration will be different from Xi’s. 

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US Powerball Jackpot Jumps to $975 Million

DES MOINES, Iowa — The Powerball jackpot climbed to an estimated $975 million after no one matched the six numbers drawn Saturday night, continuing a nearly three-month stretch without a big winner.

The winning numbers drawn were: 12, 13, 33, 50, 52 and the red Powerball 23.

No one has won Powerball’s top prize since New Year’s Day when a ticket in Michigan hit for $842.4 million, bringing the number of consecutive drawings without a jackpot winner to 38. That winless streak nears the record of 41 consecutive drawings, set twice in 2022 and 2021.

The $975 million prize is for a sole winner who chooses an annuity paid over 30 years. A winner opting for cash would be paid $471.7 million. The prizes would be subject to federal taxes, and many states also tax lottery winnings.

As the prizes grow, the drawings attract more ticket sales and the jackpots subsequently become harder to hit. The game’s long odds for Saturday’s drawing were 1 in 292.2 million.

Powerball is played in 45 states plus Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

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Ambassadors Lay Flowers at Site of Moscow Concert Hall Massacre

MOSCOW — Foreign diplomats in Russia laid flowers Saturday at the site of last week’s attack on a suburban Moscow concert hall that killed 144 people.

Those in attendance included ambassadors from the United States, EU countries, Africa and Latin America. Russian state news agency RIA Novosti said the “around 130 diplomatic missions” taking part included representatives of “unfriendly states.”

Since the attack, thousands of people have brought bunches of flowers, wreaths and other tokens such as teddy bears, creating a makeshift memorial at the Crocus City Hall.

Russian state news agency Tass reported Saturday that the number of people wounded in the attack was 551, quoting figures from the Moscow regional department of the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry. Previous figures have been much lower and it did not explain the discrepancy.

The death toll rose to 144 on Friday when a severely injured victim died in a hospital, according to Russian Health Minister Mikhail Murashko.

Russia’s Investigative Committee said Saturday that 134 of the dead had been identified. “Genetic tests are being carried out for other, as yet unidentified, victims,” the committee said in a statement on messaging app Telegram.

An affiliate of the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack, the deadliest on Russian soil in years. The Kremlin, however, has insisted that Ukraine and the West had a role, something Kyiv has vehemently denied.

Nine people were detained by Tajikistan’s state security service in relation to the attack, RIA Novosti said Friday.

In Russia, a total of nine suspects have faced court so far and were remanded in pre-trial detention. The latest hearing took place Friday, with a judge in the Basmanny District Court ruling that suspect Lutfulloi Nazrimad should be held in custody until at least May 22. Russian independent news site Mediazona cited Nazrimad as saying in court that he was born in Tajikistan.

Since the attack, Tajikistan’s Ministry of Labor, Migration and Employment has recorded an outflow of migrants workers from Moscow back to Tajikistan.

“There are a lot of calls. These are most likely not so much complaints about harassment, but about our citizens’ fear, panic. Many want to leave. We are now monitoring the situation; more people are coming (to Tajikistan) than leaving,” Deputy Labour Minister Shakhnoza Nodiri told Tass, the news agency said Saturday.

Russian officials previously said that 11 suspects had been arrested, including four who allegedly carried out the attack. Those four, identified as Tajik nationals, appeared in a Moscow court on Sunday on terrorism charges and showed signs of severe beatings. One appeared to be barely conscious during the hearing.

Russia’s Investigative Committee additionally said Thursday it had detained another suspect in relation to the raid on Crocus City Hall, on suspicion of being involved in financing the attack. It did not give further details of the suspect’s identity or alleged actions.

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Pope Presides Over Easter Vigil, Delivers 10-Minute Homily

ROME — Pope Francis presided over the Vatican’s somber Easter Vigil service on Saturday night, delivering a 10-minute homily and baptizing eight people, a day after suddenly skipping the Good Friday procession at the Colosseum as a health precaution.

Francis entered the darkened, silent St. Peter’s Basilica in his wheelchair, took his place in a chair and offered an opening prayer. Sounding somewhat congested and out of breath, he blessed an elaborately decorated Easter candle, the flame of which was then shared with other candles until the whole basilica twinkled.

Over an hour later, Francis delivered a 10-minute homily in a strong voice, clearing his throat occasionally.

The evening service, one of the most solemn and important moments in the Catholic liturgical calendar, commemorates the resurrection of Jesus. The Vatican had said Francis skipped the Good Friday procession to ensure his participation in both the vigil service Saturday night, which usually lasts about two hours, and Easter Sunday Mass a few hours later.

The 87-year-old Francis, who had part of one lung removed as a young man, has been battling respiratory problems all winter that have made it difficult for him to speak at length. He and the Vatican have said he has had bronchitis, a cold or the flu.

He has canceled some audiences and often asked an aide to read aloud some of his speeches. But the alarm was raised when he ditched his Palm Sunday homily altogether last week at the last minute and then decided suddenly Friday to stay home rather than preside over the Way of the Cross procession at the Colosseum reenacting Christ’s crucifixion.

The Vatican said in a brief explanation that the decision was made to “conserve his health.”

The decision appeared to have paid off Saturday night, as Francis was able to recite the prayers of the lengthy vigil service and perform the sacrament of baptism for the eight adults. The baptism is a traditional feature of the Vatican’s Easter Vigil service.

In his homily Francis referred to the stone that the faithful believe was removed from Christ’s tomb after his death. Francis urged Catholics to remove the stones in their lives that “block the door of our hearts, stifling life, extinguishing hope, imprisoning us in the tomb of our fears and regrets.”

“Let us lift our eyes to him and ask that the power of his resurrection may roll away the heavy stones that weigh down our souls,” he said.

Holy Week is trying for a pope under any circumstance, given four days of liturgies, rites, fasting and prayer. But that is especially true for Francis, who canceled a trip to Dubai late last year, just days prior, on doctor’s orders because of his respiratory problems.

In addition to his respiratory problems, Francis had a chunk of his large intestine removed in 2021 and was hospitalized twice last year, including once to remove intestinal scar tissue from previous surgeries to address diverticulosis, or bulges in his intestinal wall. He has been using a wheelchair or cane for nearly two years because of bad knee ligaments.

In his recently published memoirs, Life: My Story Through History, Francis said he isn’t suffering from any health problems that would require him to resign and that he still has ” many projects to bring to fruition.”

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Crews Start To Remove Steel From Collapsed Bridge in US

baltimore, maryland — Teams of engineers are working Saturday on the intricate process of cutting and lifting the first section of twisted steel from the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge in Maryland. 

The bridge crumpled into the Patapsco River on Tuesday after a massive cargo ship crashed into one of its main supports. 

Sparks could be seen flying from a section of bent and crumpled steel Saturday afternoon. The U.S. Coast Guard confirmed that work has started to remove a section of the toppled structure. 

Crews are carefully measuring and cutting the steel from the broken bridge before attaching straps so it can be lifted onto a barge and floated away, Coast Guard Rear Adm. Shannon Gilreath said Saturday. 

Seven floating cranes — including a massive one capable of lifting 1,000 tons — 10 tugboats, nine barges, eight salvage vessels and five Coast Guard boats are on site in the water southeast of Baltimore. 

Each movement affects what happens next and ultimately how long it will take to remove all the debris and reopen the ship channel and the blocked Port of Baltimore, Maryland Governor Wes Moore said. 

“I cannot stress enough how important today and the first movement of this bridge and of the wreckage is. This is going to be a remarkably complicated process,” Moore said. 

Undeterred by the chilly morning weather, longtime Baltimore resident Randy Lichtenberg and others took cellphones photos or just quietly looked at the broken pieces of the bridge, which including its steel trusses, weigh as much as 4,000 tons. 

“I wouldn’t want to be in that water. It’s got to be cold. It’s a tough job,” said Lichtenberg from a spot on the river called Sparrows Point. 

The shock of waking up Tuesday morning to video of what he called an iconic part of the Baltimore skyline falling into the water has given way to sadness. 

“It never hits you that quickly. It’s just unbelievable,” Lichtenberg said. 

What’s next

One of the first goals for crews on the water is to get a smaller auxiliary ship channel open so tugboats and other small barges can move freely. Crews also want to stabilize the site so divers can continue a search for four missing workers who are presumed dead. 

Two workers were rescued from the water in the hours following the bridge collapse early Tuesday, and the bodies of two more were recovered from a pickup truck that fell and was submerged in the river. They had been filling potholes on the bridge and while police were able to stop vehicle traffic after the ship called in a mayday they could not get to the construction crew who were from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. 

The crew of the cargo ship Dali, which is managed by Synergy Marine Group, remains on board with the debris from the bridge around it. They are safe and are being interviewed. They are keeping the ship running as they will be needed to get it out of the channel once more debris has been removed. The vessel is owned by Grace Ocean Private Ltd. and was chartered by Danish shipping giant Maersk. 

The collision and collapse appeared to be an accident that came after the ship lost power. Federal and state investigators are still trying to determine why. 

Assuaging concern about possible pollution from the crash, Adam Ortiz, the Environmental Protection Agency’s mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator, said there was no indication in the water of active releases from the ship or materials hazardous to human health. 

Rebuilding bridge, economy

Officials are also trying to figure out how to handle the economic impact of a closed port and the severing of a major highway link. The bridge was completed in 1977 and carried Interstate 695 around southeast Baltimore. 

Maryland transportation officials are planning to rebuild the bridge, promising to consider innovative designs or building materials to hopefully shorten a project that could take years. 

President Joe Biden’s administration has approved $60 million in immediate aid and promised the federal government will pay the full cost to rebuild. 

Ship traffic at the Port of Baltimore remains suspended, but the Maryland Port Administration said trucks were still being processed at marine terminals. 

The loss of a road that carried 30,000 vehicles a day and the port disruption will affect not only thousands of dockworkers and commuters, but also U.S. consumers, who are likely to feel the impact of shipping delays. The port handles more cars and more farm equipment than any other U.S. facility. 

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IMF Confirms Increasing Egypt’s Bailout Loan To $8 Billion

CAIRO — The executive board of the International Monetary Fund confirmed a deal with Egypt to increase its bailout loan from $3 billion to $8 billion, in a move that is meant to shore up the Arab country’s economy, which is hit by a staggering shortage of foreign currency and soaring inflation.

In a statement late Friday, the board said its decision would enable Egypt to immediately receive about $820 million as part of the deal, which was announced earlier this month.

The deal was achieved after Egypt agreed with the IMF on a reform plan that is centered on floating the local currency, reducing public investment and allowing the private sector to become the engine of growth, the statement said.

Egypt has already floated the pound and sharply increased the main interest rate.

Commercial banks are now trading the U.S. currency at more than 47 pounds, up from about 31 pounds. The measures are meant to combat ballooning inflation and attract foreign investment.

The Egyptian economy has been hit hard by years of government austerity, the coronavirus pandemic, the fallout from Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine and, most recently, the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza. The Houthi attacks on shipping routes in the Red Sea have slashed Suez Canal revenues, which is a major source of foreign currency. The attacks forced traffic away from the canal and around the tip of Africa.

“Egypt is facing significant macroeconomic challenges that have become more complex to manage given the spillovers from the recent conflict in Gaza and Israel. The disruptions in the Red Sea are also reducing Suez Canal receipts, which are an important source of foreign exchange inflows and fiscal revenue,” said IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva.

The IMF said such external shocks, combined with delayed reforms, have hurt economic activity. Growth slowed to 3.8% in the fiscal year 2022-23 due to weak confidence and foreign currency shortages and is projected to slow further, to 3%, in the fiscal year 2023-24 before recovering to about 4.5% in 2024-25, the IMF statement said.

The annual inflation rate was 36% in February, but is expected to ease over the medium term, the IMF said.

The currency devaluation and interest rate increase have inflicted further pain on Egyptians already struggling with skyrocketing prices over the past years. Nearly 30% of Egyptians live in poverty, according to official figures.

Finance Minister Mohamed Maait said the confirmation by the IMF executive board “reflects the importance of the correcting measures” taken by the government.

Egypt also this month signed a deal with the European Union that includes a 7.4 billion-euro ($8 billion) aid package for the most populous Arab country over three years.

To quickly inject much-needed funds into Egypt’s staggering economy, the EU intends to fast-track 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) of the package, using an urgent funding procedure that bypasses parliamentary oversight and other safeguards, according to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

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Canada to Train Troops From Caribbean Nations for Haiti Mission

ottowa, canada — OTTAWA – Canada has sent about 70 soldiers to Jamaica to train troops from Caribbean nations who are set to take part in a United Nations-authorized mission to Haiti, the Canadian defense ministry said Saturday. 

Kenya announced last year it would lead the force, which is designed to help national police fight powerful gangs in Haiti where spiraling violence has fueled a humanitarian disaster. The initiative has been tied up in Kenyan court challenges ever since, effectively putting the mission on hold. 

The Canadian troops, from the predominantly French-speaking province of Quebec, will provide training on core peacekeeping skills and combat first aid, the defense ministry said in a statement. French is one of Haiti’s two official languages. 

The troops are scheduled to stay in Jamaica for an initial period of a month and will train about 330 troops from Jamaica, Belize and the Bahamas. 

Canada said last month it would give $59.6 1illion to support the deployment of the Kenyan-led mission.

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Japanese Authorities Raid ‘Health Supplements’ Factory Linked to 5 Deaths

tokyo — Japanese government health officials raided a factory Saturday producing health supplements that they say have killed at least five people and hospitalized more than 100 others. 

About a dozen people wearing dark suits solemnly walked into the Osaka plant of Kobayashi Pharmaceutical Co. in the raid shown widely on Japanese TV news, including public broadcaster NHK. 

The company says little is known about the exact cause of the sicknesses, which include kidney failure. An investigation into the products is underway in cooperation with government health authorities. 

The supplements all used “benikoji,” a kind of red mold. Kobayashi Pharmaceuticals’ pink pills called Benikoji Choleste Help were billed as helping lower cholesterol levels. 

Kobayashi Pharmaceuticals, based in the western Japanese city of Osaka, said about 1 million packages were sold over the past three fiscal years. It also sold benikoji to other manufacturers, and some products have been exported. The supplements could be bought at drug stores without a prescription from a doctor. 

Reports of health problems surfaced in 2023, although benikoji has been used in products for years. 

Kobayashi Pharmaceuticals President Akihiro Kobayashi has apologized for not having acted sooner. The recall came March 22, two months after the company had received official medical reports about the problem. 

On Friday, the company said five people had died and 114 people were being treated in hospitals after taking the products. Japan’s health ministry says the supplements are responsible for the deaths and illnesses and warned that the number of those affected could grow. 

Some analysts blame the recent deregulation initiatives, which simplified and sped up approval for health products to spur economic growth. But deaths from a mass-produced item is rare in Japan, as government checks over consumer products are relatively stringent. 

The government has ordered a review of the approval system in response to supplement-related illnesses. A report is due in May.  

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