Trial starts for Vietnam tycoon in $146 million graft case

Hanoi, Vietnam — A former Vietnamese property and aviation tycoon charged with $146 million in fraud and stock market manipulation went on trial in Hanoi on Monday, the latest corruption case targeting the communist country’s business elite.

Trinh Van Quyet, who owned the FLC empire of luxury resorts, golf courses, and the budget Bamboo Airways, had nearly $2 billion in stock market wealth before his arrest, according to state media estimates.

But on Monday the 48-year-old, handcuffed and dressed in a white shirt, was led into court by police officers.

The trial comes just days after the death of former Communist Party of Vietnam leader Nguyen Phu Trong, who is credited with spearheading a crackdown on graft at the highest levels.

Trong, 80, died on Friday at a military hospital in Hanoi “due to old age and serious illness,” the party said, a day after announcing he was standing down to seek medical care.

Tycoon Quyet is accused of illegally pocketing more than $146 million between 2017 and 2022.

Following his arrest in March 2022, 49 other alleged accomplices were picked up, including his two sisters and the former chairman of the Ho Chi Minh Stock Exchange and its chief executive officer.

According to the prosecution indictment, Quyet set up several stock market brokerages and registered dozens of family members to, ostensibly, trade shares.

But police said while orders to buy shares were placed in hundreds of trading sessions, pushing up the value of the stock, they were cancelled before being matched.

The case is part of a national corruption crackdown that has swept up numerous officials and members of Vietnam’s business elite in recent years.

In April, a top Vietnamese property tycoon sentenced to death in a $27 billion fraud case, launched an appeal against her conviction.

The head of one of Vietnam’s top soft drinks companies, meanwhile, was jailed for eight years in April in a $40 million fraud case.

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Philippines ‘to assert our rights’ after China sea deal

Manila, Philippines — Manila insisted Monday it will continue to “assert our rights” over a hotspot South China Sea reef, after reaching a deal with Beijing for resupplying Filipino troops stationed on a grounded warship. 

The Philippine foreign ministry also rejected suggestions by China that the “provisional arrangement” announced Sunday required Manila to give Beijing “prior notification” and verification of deliveries to the BRP Sierra Madre on Second Thomas Shoal. 

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, including Second Thomas Shoal, which lies about 200 kilometers from the western Philippine island of Palawan and more than 1,000 kilometers from China’s nearest major landmass, Hainan island. 

“The principles and approaches laid out in the agreement were reached through a series of careful and meticulous consultations between both sides that paved the way for a convergence of ideas without compromising national positions,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Teresita Daza said in a statement. 

“The (Chinese foreign ministry) spokesperson’s statement therefore regarding prior notification and on-site confirmation is inaccurate,” Daza said. 

Daza said the Philippines “will continue to assert our rights and jurisdiction in our maritime zones,” which included Second Thomas Shoal. 

The fish-rich shoal has been a focus of violent clashes between Chinese and Philippine ships in recent months as Beijing steps up efforts to push its claims to almost the entire South China Sea. 

A Filipino sailor lost a thumb in the latest June 17 confrontation when Chinese coast guard members wielding knives, sticks and an axe foiled a Philippine Navy attempt to resupply its troops. 

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said Monday Beijing had agreed to an arrangement with the Philippines over Filipino resupply missions “based on our principled position” that the shoal was part of Chinese territory. 

“Should the Philippines need to send living necessities to the personnel living on the warship, China is willing to allow it in a humanitarian spirit if the Philippines informs China in advance and after on-site verification is conducted,” the spokesperson said. 

But it would “absolutely not accept” the delivery of large amounts of construction materials to the ship and attempts to “build fixed facilities or permanent outpost.” 

The resupply arrangement followed talks with Beijing this month when the countries agreed to “de-escalate tensions” and increase the number of communication channels to resolve maritime disagreements between them. 

A handful of Filipino troops are stationed on the decrepit BRP Sierra Madre that was deliberately grounded on Second Thomas Shoal in 1999 to assert Manila’s claims to the area. 

They require frequent resupplies for food, water and other necessities as well as transport for personnel rotations. 

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Biden’s decision to drop out crystalized Sunday; his staff knew one minute before the public did

WASHINGTON — At 1:45 p.m. Sunday, President Joe Biden’s senior staff was notified that he was stepping away from the 2024 race. At 1:46 p.m., that message was made public.

It was never Biden’s intention to leave the race: Up until he decided to step aside Sunday, he was all in.

His campaign was planning fundraisers and events and setting up travel over the next few weeks. But even as Biden was publicly dug in and insisting he was staying in the race, he was quietly reflecting on the disaster of the past few weeks, on the past three years of his presidency and on the scope of his half-century career in politics.

In the end, it was the president’s decision alone, and he made it quietly, from his vacation home in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, sick with COVID-19, the first lady with him as he talked it through with a small circle of people who have been with him for decades.

“This has got to be one of the hardest decisions he’s ever made,” said Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., the president’s closest ally in Congress, who spoke with him Sunday. “I know he wanted to fight and keep going and show that he could beat Donald Trump again, but as he heard more and more input, I think he was wrestling with what would be the best for the country,” Coons said in an interview with The Associated Press.

This story is based on interviews with more than a dozen people familiar with the president’s thinking over the past few weeks, days and hours as he made his decision. They spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to talk about private discussions.

Deciding to leave the race

It wasn’t until Saturday evening that Biden began to come to the conclusion that he would not run for reelection. He started writing a letter to the American people.

Biden had been off the campaign trail for a few days, isolated because of COVID-19, when it all started to deeply sink in — his worsening chances of being able to defeat Donald Trump with so much of his party in open rebellion, seeking to push him out of the race — not to mention the persistent voter concerns about his age that were only exacerbated by the catastrophic debate.

Biden was at his beach home with some of his and Jill Biden’s closest aides: chief strategist Mike Donilon, counselor to the president Steve Ricchetti, White House deputy chief of staff Annie Tomasini, and Anthony Bernal, senior adviser to the first lady.

By Sunday, his decision crystalized. He spoke multiple times with Vice President Kamala Harris, whom he would endorse. He informed White House chief of staff Jeff Zients, and his longtime aide and campaign chairwoman Jen O’Malley Dillon.

A small group of senior advisers from both the campaign and the White House were assembled for the 1:45 p.m. call to relay Biden’s decision, while his campaign staff released the social media announcement one minute later.

“It has been the greatest honor of my life to serve as your President. And while it has been my intention to seek reelection, I believe it is in the best interest of my party and the country for me to stand down and to focus solely on fulfilling my duties as President for the remainder of my term,” Biden wrote.

Just about a half-hour later came his public vote of support for Harris. It was a carefully choreographed strategy meant to give the president’s initial statement full weight, and to put a period on the moment before launching forward into the next step.

“Today I want to offer my full support and endorsement for Kamala to be the nominee of our party this year,” Biden said in another post on X. “Democrats — it’s time to come together and beat Trump.”

About that debate

It’s not like things had been going great before the June 27 debate. In an August 2023 poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, fully 77% of U.S. adults said Biden was too old to be effective for four more years. Not only did 89% of Republicans say that, but so did 69% of Democrats.

And it hadn’t gotten any better by April, when more than half of U.S. adults thought Biden’s presidency hurt the country on issues like the cost of living and immigration.

But Biden had insisted — to himself, to the nation, to his supporters — that he would be able to bring voters around if he got out there, told people about his record, explained it to them. Talked to them. Looked them in the eye.

He had a lifetime of experience that told him that if he stuck to it, he’d overcome. His campaign was so confident, in fact, that they arranged to go around the Commission on Presidential Debates to set up a series of faceoffs with Trump under a new set of rules.

That produced the June 27 debate that set Biden’s downfall in motion. Biden gave nonsensical answers, trailed off mid-sentence and appeared to stare blankly in front of an audience of 51 million people. Perhaps most distressing to other Democrats, Biden didn’t go after Trump’s myriad falsehoods about his involvement in the violence around the insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021, abortion rights or immigration.

Biden and his team blamed the night on so many different things. He had a cold. He was jet-lagged. He needed to get more sleep. That night opened the door for his party to push him out.

A slow acceptance

Publicly and privately Biden was fighting to stay in the race. He was working to convince voters that he was up for the task for another four years. He was frustrated by the Democrats coming out publicly against him, but even angrier about the leaks and anonymous sources relaying how even former President Barack Obama and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi were working to get him to drop out.

It looked like he’d won out a couple times; the chorus of naysayers seemed to die down. He had some well-received speeches mixed with so-so TV interviews and a day featuring an extended news conference in which he displayed a nuanced grasp of policy but also committed a few gasp-inducing gaffes.

But the doubts didn’t go away.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer eventually invited top Biden staff to a meeting on July 11 to talk about their concerns. It didn’t go well. Senators expressed their concerns, and almost none of them said they had confidence in the president. But even afterward, Schumer was worried it wasn’t getting to Biden.

Following the meeting, Schumer called Democratic House Leader Hakeem Jeffries, former Speaker Nancy Pelosi and former President Obama. Schumer decided that day to request a meeting with Biden.

At a July 13 meeting in Rehoboth, Schumer told Biden he was there out of love and affection. And he delivered a personal appeal focused on Biden’s legacy, the country’s future and the impact the top of the ticket could have on congressional races — and how that could potentially affect the Supreme Court. That same day came the attempted assassination of Donald Trump.

Schumer told the president he didn’t expect him to make an immediate decision, but he hoped Biden would think about what he said, according to a person familiar with the conversation.

Biden responded, “I need another week,” and the two men hugged.

Sunday’s decision

It was full steam ahead until Biden pulled the emergency brake.

The president had lost his voice, but he was recovering well and his doctor had sent an update to the public shortly before 1 p.m. on his condition. His small circle decided to post the statement on X on Sunday, rather than let it leak out for days before he was prepared to address the nation, which he is expected to do sometime early this week.

Much of his campaign was blindsided, and it was clear by how little had changed after he dropped out. For hours after the announcement, Biden’s campaign website reflected that he was still running and KamalaHarris.com still redirected to Biden’s page.

Even Harris’ statement announcing her intent to succeed Biden was sent from “Joe Biden for President.”

After the public announcement, Zients held a senior staff call, sent out an email and spoke with Biden’s cabinet. The president was also making personal calls.

“Team — I wanted to make sure you saw the attached letter from the President,” Zients wrote in the staff email. “I could not be more proud to work for President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and the American people — alongside all of you, the best White House team in history. There’s so much more to do — and as President Biden says, ‘there is nothing America can’t do — when we do it together.'”

Vermont Sen. Peter Welch, a Democrat who had called for Biden to bow out, was gardening with his wife when the news broke, and said he was momentarily “stunned.” Senators texted each other questioning if it was really happening.

Democratic Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal was at an event in his state, and there was spontaneous applause when it was announced to the crowd that Biden wouldn’t run, he said.

There was a sense of excitement and energy in the crowd “that has been completely lacking,” Blumenthal said.

“It was also, let’s be blunt, a sense of relief,” he said. “And a sense of reverence for Joe Biden.”

By Sunday evening, Biden for President had formally changed to Harris for President.

O’Malley Dillon told campaign staff their jobs were safe, because the operation was shifting to a campaign for Harris.

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Malawi orphanage provides shelter to vulnerable children

In Malawi, according to the U.N.’s most recent numbers, over 15% of children under the age of 18 are orphans, due in part to the high prevalence of deaths from HIV and AIDS among caregivers. The Zoe Foundation is trying to give these at-risk children a future. Reporting from Ndodani village in Lilongwe, Malawi, Chimwemwe Padatha has more.

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Sudan, Iran trade ambassadors after 8-year rupture

Port Sudan, Sudan — Sudan’s de facto leader, army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, received an Iranian ambassador Sunday and sent his own to Tehran, the government said, cementing a rapprochement after an eight-year rupture.

Sudan and Iran agreed last October to resume diplomatic relations, as the army-aligned government scrambled for allies during its war with the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF). 

The Sudanese government, loyal to the army in its 15-month fight against the RSF, announced in a statement that Burhan had received Tehran’s new ambassador Hassan Shah Hosseini in Port Sudan. 

The Red Sea city has become Sudan’s de facto seat of government since Khartoum became wracked by fighting. 

This is “the beginning of a new phase in the course of bilateral relations between the two countries,” foreign ministry undersecretary Hussein al-Amin said as Burhan sent off Sudan’s new ambassador to Iran, Abdelaziz Hassan Saleh. 

Sudan broke off relations with Iran in 2016 in a show of solidarity with Saudi Arabia, after the kingdom’s embassy in Tehran was attacked following the Saudi execution of a prominent Shiite cleric. 

Several Saudi allies in the region also cut ties with Iran at the time. 

In March 2023, however, Riyadh and Tehran announced the restoration of their relations following an agreement brokered by China. 

Iran has since moved to cement or restore relations with neighboring Arab countries.  

Since Sudan’s war began in April 2023, several foreign powers have supported rival forces.  

In December, Sudan expelled diplomats from the United Arab Emirates on allegations that the Gulf state was funneling weapons to the RSF. 

The UAE has denied taking sides in the conflict. 

Egypt and Turkey have backed the army. 

The United States in February voiced concern at reported arms shipments by Washington’s foe Iran to Sudan’s military. 

Around that time, the army recovered some territory after months of defeats at the hands of the RSF. 

Sudan has also recently drawn closer to Russia, which experts say has reconsidered its previous relationship with the RSF, with which it had links through the mercenary Wagner group. 

Sudan under former strongman Omar al-Bashir, who was toppled in 2019, developed close relations with Iran’s clerical state. 

The war in Sudan has killed tens of thousands of people, with some estimates placing the death toll as high as 150,000, according to the U.S. envoy to Sudan, Tom Perriello. 

It has also created the world’s worst displacement crisis — with more than 11 million uprooted, according to the United Nations — and brought the country to the brink of famine. 

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Outrage after Italy reporter attacked at neo-fascist event 

Rome — Italian politicians including Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni expressed outrage Sunday after a journalist was beaten up in the northern city of Turin by suspected neo-fascists. 

On Saturday night, the reporter for La Stampa daily came upon by chance a party being held by the neo-fascist fringe group CasaPound, involving smoke bombs and fireworks. He started filming with his phone. 

According to his footage and an account by the newspaper, a group of men came up to him and asked, “Are you one of us?” Then they attacked him, causing him to require hospital treatment. 

Meloni, the leader of the far-right Brothers of Italy party, offered her solidarity with the journalist, Andrea Joly, over the “unacceptable attack.”  

It was “an act of violence that I strongly condemn and for which I hope those responsible will be identified as quickly as possible,” she said in a statement. 

Elly Schlein, leader of the center-left opposition Democratic Party, also offered her solidarity with Joly and condemned a “climate of impunity.” 

“What else are we waiting for before neo-fascist organizations are dissolved, as the constitution says?” she asked. 

The attack was one of two incidents of random violence that made headlines this weekend in Italy, after a shocking video emerged of two gay men being beaten up by three men and a woman in Rome. 

That attack also drew condemnation from across the political spectrum.  

Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani on Sunday deplored “too much violence and intolerance in Italy against those who do not think like you,” writing on X, formerly Twitter, that he “strongly condemned any violence.”

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Austrian police detain 53 protesters trying to disrupt march by far-right extremists

Berlin, Germany — Police said Sunday that they detained more than 50 people as they clashed with protesters trying to disrupt a march by hundreds of right-wing extremists in the Austrian capital.

The demonstrations Saturday came as Austria’s political parties gear up for September parliamentary elections that are expected to see the far-right make significant gains.

Anti-fascist groups and left-leaning political parties had called for protests against a demonstration and march by identitarian and other hard-right activists, the Austrian Press Agency reported. Social media posts showed marchers in downtown Vienna with a banner calling for “remigration,” a term used to advocate for the mass return of migrants to their countries of origin.

Hundreds of officers were deployed to keep apart the opposing groups — each several hundred strong. Forty-three people were temporarily detained for refusing to end a sit-down protest blocking the march, APA reported, citing city police.

A further 10 were detained after some masked protesters threw rocks and bottles. Three officers were injured, and the windows of a patrol car smashed, police said.

Interior Minister Gehard Karner, a conservative, said police would prosecute offenses, including during demonstrations, “whether they are committed by left- or right-wing extremists or other enemies of democracy.”

Austria goes to the polls on Sept. 29 for elections expected to confirm a recent pan-European trend by swinging toward the political right. The far-right Freedom Party narrowly beat the conservative People’s Party in recent elections to the European Parliament.

Politicians from left-leaning parties including the Greens — the conservatives’ current coalition partner — and the opposition Social Democrats warn that a government that includes the Freedom Party would embolden right-wing radicals.

“They want nothing other than the end of our pluralistic democratic society,” said Eva Blimlinger, a spokesperson for the Greens. 

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Florida zoo works to protect animals from summer heat 

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Malayan tigers and Aldabra tortoises are native to hot and humid lands, but that doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy a frozen treat on a hot Florida summer day.

Temperatures in South Florida this month have reached the upper 90s Fahrenheit (mid-30s Celsius) with humidity reaching 70%, combining for “feels like” temperatures regularly exceeding 100 F (38 C).

Staff at the Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society use a variety of techniques to keep their animals cool. Zookeepers throw large piles of ice into the black bear enclosure for the animals to wallow in, chilling their pool to 23 C. The otters get ice blocks and frozen fish tossed into their water for playing and eating.

Tigers feast on more ingenious treats: They get frozen cow bones crammed into blocks of ice, along with a side of frozen goat milk. The big cats also like to swim.

Giant tortoises, native to the islands of the Indian Ocean, enjoy cool showers from a hose, which they can feel through their shells.

“Even though all of our animals are acclimatized to the South Florida weather, they look for ways to cool off during the hot days, just like we do,” said Mike Terrell, the zoo’s curator of animal experiences. “All of our animals that we have here at the zoo were specifically chosen because they’re used to warm climates. And so they’re totally happy in a high, high heat, high humidity environment.”

The zoo’s guests love to watch the animals cool down and children press their faces up against the glass for a better look, Terrell said.

Figuring out what cooling activities the animals enjoy requires a bit of trial and error, he said.

“They really tell us what they like,” Terrell said. “We can take our best guess, but if we’re giving them something that they don’t like or they’re not interacting with, we’re not going to continue to give it to them.”

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Unregistered Senegal youth struggle for legal status

Dakar — It was only when 12-year-old Senegalese schoolboy Lassou Samb prepared to sit his end-of-year exams that his lack of any legal documentation finally caught up with him.

Like many young people in the West African country, Samb was never registered at birth, an oversight with potentially profound consequences for his education.

Hundreds of thousands of Senegalese pupils are sitting exams until Wednesday to mark the end of their school year.

But Samb almost did not take the test needed to move onto the next grade because he lacked the required birth certificate.

Every year, the exam period highlights a major failure to register births, not just in Senegal but across Africa.

Of the more than 300,000 students registered for the end of elementary school exams, almost 70,000 had no civil status documents, the examinations department said.

The issue has potentially serious consequences ranging from the protection of rights, access to public services and government policy planning.

Samb, one of six children born in a village in central Senegal, was the only one in his family not to be registered.

“Our (school) director often calls me into his office to remind me that I haven’t brought my birth certificate yet, but I don’t know what to tell him,” he said.

Samb “was born with a fractured hand at a time when things were hard for us,” said his father Malick, a factory worker.

“The priority then was to treat him.”

Like previous administrations, Senegal’s new government this year ignored the rule requiring a birth certificate for exams and allowed children to sit them without.

Unregistered children

“There is no question of sacrificing these children twice,” said Moussa Bala Fofana, Minister for Local and Regional Authorities. 

“Firstly by not declaring them at birth, and secondly by preventing them from sitting their exams because they have no papers, even though they have nothing to do with it,” he said.

While 98 percent of births are registered in Europe, the number stands at just 44 percent in Africa, according to a 2024 WHO report.

More than half of the world’s unregistered children live in Africa, totaling around 91 million, the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF said in 2022.

Birth registration is a critical first step in access to healthcare, education and justice, and is also an essential tool in government planning for public health and development.

But long distances to registry offices, a lack of knowledge, local customs and, in some countries, discriminatory practices and fees can prevent parents from registering a birth, UNICEF said.

Some parents neglect or ignore the importance of birth certificates even though they have up to a year to register their child free of charge, said Aliou Ousmane Sall, Director of Senegal’s national civil status agency.

After this deadline, a court has to authorize the registration and parents must pay a fee of 4,000 CFA francs ($7).

Fraud

Obtaining a birth certificate can take several years due to the difficulty of accessing the necessary services, obsolete equipment and poorly trained officials.

“For most of our African countries, we had to make a transition from the colonial state to the post-colonial state,” said Oumar Ba, president of the country’s mayors’ association.

“As a result, many measures were not taken in time. Our states inherited a civil registry that was not well structured,” he added. 

The shortfalls are conducive to fraud, with concerns about identification number trafficking widespread in Senegal.

Seydina Aidara, 23, said he was about to sit his final high school exams when he discovered that his civil registration number had been stolen, preventing him from taking the test.

For Lassou Samb, a birth certificate would later allow him to get an identity card, passport or driving license.

But his father said that despite his efforts, he had not been able to complete the registration process.

The government has launched a plan to modernize and digitize the civil registry in a bid to improve access and minimize fraud.

Nineteen million records have already been digitized, said Sall, of the national civil status agency.

“With this program, the problems will soon be over,” he said.

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Five things to know about Turkey’s interests in Africa

Istanbul — Turkey is pushing for diplomatic and economic influence on the world stage — not least in Africa, where it announced plans this week to search for oil and gas off Somalia.

Over President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s two decades in power, Ankara has consolidated its foothold on the continent, quadrupling its number of embassies there.

Here are five of Turkey’s diplomatic and economic interests and strategies in Africa:

‘Alternative to the West’

At a time when many African countries are turning away from their former colonial rulers, Turkey has looked to fill the void left behind.

“Erdogan presents himself as an alternative to the West,” said Selin Gucum, author of a study on Turkish interests in Africa for Paris’s Observatory of Contemporary Turkey.

Gucum told AFP that Ankara often emphasizes the “sincerity” of its presence on the continent compared to that of Europeans, who bear the legacy of colonialism.

And Erdogan can be less squeamish about what partners he chooses, according to a report on Turkey’s defense accords with African countries by Teresa Nogueira Pinto, an analyst at Geopolitical Intelligence Services.

“Unlike the West, Turkey does not make this assistance conditional on governance or human rights commitments,” Pinto wrote.

Defense and security

Turkey has signed defense agreements with a number of states spanning the breadth of the continent, including Somalia, Libya, Kenya, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Nigeria and Ghana.

Those agreements have opened up contracts for Turkey’s defense manufacturers, notably for its reputedly reliable and inexpensive drones.

Popularly used in the fight against terrorism, Turkish drones have been recently delivered to Chad, Togo, and the junta-led Sahel trio of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger.

Fossil fuels and nuclear

Turkey is also expanding its interests in Africa’s energy sector.

In September or October it plans to launch an oil and gas exploration mission off the coast of Somalia, similar to the one it is carrying out in Libyan waters.

Ankara is also said to be coveting Niger’s abundant uranium deposits which it needs to operate its future Russian-built Akkuyu nuclear power station — although Ankara’s diplomats deny this.

Nonetheless, Erdogan has bolstered ties with Niger’s ruling generals since their 2023 coup d’etat. Niamey received Turkey’s intelligence chief and foreign, energy and defence ministers on Wednesday.

Infrastructure and construction

Ankara is generally seen as a “reliable partner”, said Didier Billion, Turkey specialist at the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs — “particularly in the construction and infrastructure sectors.”

When Turkish companies build big-ticket projects like hospitals, airports, or mosques, “deadlines and budgets are met, he added.

That reputation means more demand: in 2023, Turkish contractors were involved in $85.5 billion worth of projects, according to the trade ministry.

Turkish Airlines also crisscrosses the continent, flying to 62 destinations in Africa.

In 2012, it became the first airline to return to Mogadishu, whose airport was rebuilt with Turkish funding and assistance.

Religion, schools and television

Turkey has accumulated considerable soft power in the region, notably through education, the media and its shared religion with Africa’s many Muslim countries.

The religious Turkish Maarif Foundation has expanded to a network of 140 schools and institutions catering for 17,000 pupils, while 60,000 Africans are students in Turkey.

Ankara’s powerful Directorate of Religious Affairs has stepped up its humanitarian activities and support for mosques and religious education across the region.

Billing itself as the first Turkish television channel on the continent, NRT boasts on its website that it serves 49 African countries, spreading the Turkish language.

Public broadcaster TRT also has programs in French, English, Swahili and Hausa and is developing training courses for future journalists. 

Turkey’s religious conservatism likewise resonates with many African countries, at a time when anti-LGBTQ laws are being adopted on the continent.

“When Erdogan denounces ‘LGBTQ people who undermine family values’, for many Africans, that’s music to their ears,” Billion said.

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Zelenskyy calls for long-range weapons after drone attack on Kyiv

KYIV — Ukraine needs long-range weapons to protect its cities and troops on the frontline from Russian bombs and drones, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Sunday after a massive overnight drone and missile attack.

Russia launched its fifth drone attack on Kyiv in two weeks overnight, with Ukraine’s air defense systems destroying all the air weapons before they reached the capital, Ukraine’s military said.

Ukraine’s air force said on Telegram that its air defense systems destroyed 35 of the 39 drones and two cruise missiles that Russia had launched overnight. The weapons, the air force said, targeted 10 of Ukraine’s regions.

It was not immediately clear how many drones were launched at Kyiv. There were no casualties and no significant damage reported, Serhiy Popko, head of the Ukrainian capital’s military administration, said on the Telegram.

“During last night alone, the Russian army used almost 40 ‘Shaheds’ against Ukraine. Importantly, most of them were shot down by our defenders of the sky,” Zelenskyy said on Telegram, referring to the drones.

He said it was necessary to destroy Russian bombers at Russian air bases to protect Ukraine from air raids.

“Our sufficient long-range capabilities should be a fair response to Russian terror. Everyone who supports us in this supports the defence against terror,” Zelenskyy said.

Zelenskyy renewed his call for Western allies to allow long-range strikes on Russia on Friday in London, saying Britain should try to convince its partners to remove the limits on their use.

NATO members have taken different approaches to how Ukraine can use weapons they donate. Some have made clear Kyiv can use them to strike targets inside Russia while the United States has taken a narrower approach, allowing its weapons to be used only just inside Russia’s border against targets supporting Russian military operations in Ukraine.

Russia launched three Iskander ballistic missiles, Ukraine’s air force said, without saying what happened to them.

The military administration of the Sumy region in Ukraine’s northeast bordering Russia said on Telegram that a Russian missile damaged critical infrastructure in the Shostkynskyi district of the region.

The administration did not provide detail on what infrastructure was hit.

There was no immediate comment from Russia about the attacks. Moscow says it does not attack civilian targets in Ukraine.

“These systematic attacks … with drones, once again prove that the invader is actively looking for an opportunity to strike Kyiv,” Popko said. “They’re testing new tactics, looking for new approach routes to the capital, trying to expose the location of our air defense.”

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Taiwan must protect its sovereignty, know its own history, president says

taipei, taiwan — Taiwan must protect its sovereignty and know its own culture and history, President Lai Ching-te said on Sunday, rejecting what he said was the previous mistaken belief the island could serve as a base to “retake” China.   

Lai, who took office in May, and his ruling Democratic Progressive Party, champion Taiwan’s separate identity from China, a position that frequently angers Beijing which views the island as an inviolable part of Chinese territory.   

Speaking to the DPP’s annual convention, Lai said those who fought to bring democracy to Taiwan — martial law only ended in 1987 — had a clear understanding of the island’s place in the world.   

They “did not hesitate to shed blood and used their lives to debunk the mistaken idea that ‘Taiwan is a base to retake the mainland’, and instituted the national policy of putting Taiwan first,” said Lai, who is also DPP chairman. 

Chiang Kai-shek and his defeated Republic of China government fled to Taiwan in 1949 after losing a civil war with Mao Zedong’s communists. 

Chiang hoped to regroup his forces on Taiwan and attack China to destroy Mao’s People’s Republic of China. Chiang died in 1975 without achieving that dream. 

Lai said Taiwan had different priorities. 

“Now, our responsibility to unite the people, oppose annexation [by China] and ensure national sovereignty,” he said, speaking in Taiwanese, also known as Hokkien, rather than the main language of government, Mandarin. 

“We must do our best to let the whole country’s people understand Taiwan’s own history and culture, and establish a national identity that the 23 million people living in Taiwan are a community of destiny,” he added. 

China’s Taiwan Affairs Office did not answer calls seeking comment outside of office hours on Sunday. China calls Lai a “separatist.” 

Lai rejects China’s sovereignty claims saying only Taiwan’s people can decide their future. He has repeatedly offered talks with Beijing but been rebuffed. 

China staged war games shortly after Lai’s inauguration, and has continued to send warplanes and warships around Taiwan on a daily basis.   

Taiwan starts is annual Han Kuang war games on Monday, which this year aim to be as close as possible to actual combat. 

Lai said the DPP will always adhere to a democratic and free constitutional system.  

“We will never allow Taiwan to suffer the danger of extinction due to the failure of democratic politics,” he added. 

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With AI, jets and police, Paris is securing Olympics — and worrying critics

paris — A year ago, the head of the Paris Olympics boldly declared that France’s capital would be ” the safest place in the world ” when the Games open this Friday. Tony Estanguet’s confident forecast looks less far-fetched now with squadrons of police patrolling Paris’ streets, fighter jets and soldiers primed to scramble, and imposing metal-fence security barriers erected like an iron curtain on both sides of the River Seine that will star in the opening show.

France’s vast police and military operation is in large part because the July 26-August 11 Games face unprecedented security challenges. The city has repeatedly suffered deadly extremist attacks, and international tensions are high because of the wars in Ukraine and Gaza.

Rather than build an Olympic park with venues grouped together outside of the city center, like Rio de Janeiro in 2016 or London in 2012, Paris has chosen to host many of the events in the heart of the bustling capital of 2 million inhabitants, with others dotted around suburbs that house millions more. Putting temporary sports arenas in public spaces and the unprecedented choice to stage a river-borne opening ceremony stretching for kilometers along the Seine, makes safeguarding them more complex.

Olympic organizers also have cyberattack concerns, while rights campaigners and Games critics are worried about Paris’ use of AI-equipped surveillance technology and the broad scope and scale of Olympic security.

Paris, in short, has a lot riding on keeping 10,500 athletes and millions of visitors safe. Here’s how it aims to do it.

The security operation, by the numbers

A Games-time force of up to 45,000 police and gendarmes is also backed up by a 10,000-strong contingent of soldiers that has set up the largest military camp in Paris since World War II, from which soldiers should be able to reach any of the city’s Olympic venues within 30 minutes.

Armed military patrols aboard vehicles and on foot have become common in crowded places in France since gunmen and suicide bombers acting in the names of al-Qaida and the Islamic State group repeatedly struck Paris in 2015. They don’t have police powers of arrest but can tackle attackers and restrain them until police arrive. For visitors from countries where armed street patrols aren’t the norm, the sight of soldiers with assault rifles might be jarring, just as it was initially for people in France.

“At the beginning, it was very strange for them to see us and they were always avoiding our presence, making a detour,” said General Eric Chasboeuf, deputy commander of the counter-terror military force, called Sentinelle.

“Now, it’s in the landscape,” he said.

Rafale fighter jets, airspace-monitoring AWACS surveillance flights, Reaper surveillance drones, helicopters that can carry sharpshooters, and equipment to disable drones will police Paris skies, which will be closed during the opening ceremony by a no-fly zone extending for 150 kilometers (93.2 miles) around the capital. Cameras twinned with artificial intelligence software — authorized by a law that expands the state’s surveillance powers for the Games — will flag potential security risks, such as abandoned packages or crowd surges.

France is also getting help from more than 40 countries that, together, have sent at least 1,900 police reinforcements.

Trump assassination attempt highlights Olympic risks

Attacks by lone individuals are major concern, a risk driven home most recently to French officials by the assassination attempt against former U.S. President and current Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Some involved in the Olympic security operation were stunned that the gunman armed with an AR-style rifle got within range of the former president.

“No one can guarantee that there won’t be mistakes. There, however, it was quite glaring,” said General Philippe Pourque, who oversaw the construction of a temporary camp in southeast Paris housing 4,500 soldiers from the Sentinelle force.

In France, in the last 13 months alone, men acting alone have carried out knife attacks that targeted tourists in Paris, and children in a park in an Alpine town, among others. A man who stabbed a teacher to death at his former high school in northern France in October had been under surveillance by French security services for suspected Islamic radicalization.

With long and bitter experience of deadly extremist attacks, France has armed itself with a dense network of police units, intelligence services and investigators who specialize in fighting terrorism, and suspects in terrorism cases can be held longer for questioning.

Hundreds of thousands of background checks have scrutinized Olympic ticket-holders, workers and others involved in the Games and applicants for passes to enter Paris’ most tightly controlled security zone, along the Seine’s banks. The checks blocked more than 3,900 people from attending, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said. He said some were flagged for suspected Islamic radicalization, left- or right-wing political extremism, significant criminal records and other security concerns.

“We’re particularly attentive to Russian and Belorussian citizens,” Darmanin added, although he stopped short of linking exclusions to Russia’s war in Ukraine and Belarus’ role as an ally of Moscow.

Darmanin said 155 people considered to be “very dangerous” potential terror threats are also being kept away from the opening ceremony and the Games, with police searching their homes for weapons and computers in some cases.

He said intelligence services haven’t identified any proven terror plots against the Games “but we are being extremely attentive.”

Critics fear intrusive Olympic security will stay after Games

Campaigners for digital rights worry that Olympic surveillance cameras and AI systems could erode privacy and other freedoms, and zero in on people without fixed homes who spend a lot of time in public spaces.

Saccage 2024, a group that has campaigned for months against the Paris Games, took aim at the scope of the Olympic security, describing it as a “repressive arsenal” in a statement to The Associated Press.

“And this is not a French exception, far from it, but a systematic occurrence in host countries,” it said. “Is it reasonable to offer one month of ‘festivities’ to the most well-off tourists at the cost of a long-term securitization legacy for all residents of the city and the country?”

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Australia warns of ‘malicious websites’ after cyber outage

sydney — Australia’s cyber intelligence agency said on Saturday that “malicious websites and unofficial code” were being released online claiming to aid recovery from Friday’s global digital outage, which hit media, retailers, banks and airlines. 

Australia was one of many countries affected by the outage that caused havoc worldwide after a botched software update from CrowdStrike. 

On Saturday, the Australian Signals Directorate — the country’s cyber intelligence agency — said “a number of malicious websites and unofficial code are being released claiming to help entities recover from the widespread outages caused by the CrowdStrike technical incident.” 

On its website, the agency said its cyber security center “strongly encourages all consumers to source their technical information and updates from official CrowdStrike sources only.” 

Cyber Security Minister Clare O’Neil said on social media platform X on Saturday that Australians should “be on the lookout for possible scams and phishing attempts.” 

CrowdStrike — which previously reached a market cap of about $83 billion — is a major cybersecurity provider, with close to 30,000 subscribers globally. 

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Belarus in talks with Berlin about German man on death row

Warsaw, Poland — Belarus and Germany are holding “consultations” over the fate of a German man reportedly sentenced to death by a court in Minsk last month, Belarus’s foreign ministry said Saturday. 

Rico Krieger, 30, was convicted under six articles of Belarus’s criminal code including “terrorism” and “mercenary activity” at a secretive trial held at the end of June, according to Belarusian rights group Viasna. 

“Taking into account a request from the German Foreign Ministry, Belarus has proposed concrete solutions on the available options for developing the situation,” Belarusian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Anatoly Glaz said. 

“The foreign ministries of the two countries are holding consultations on this topic,” he added. 

Few details have been published about the case. 

Part of the court proceedings were held behind closed doors, the exact allegations against the man were not immediately clear and there has been little information in Belarusian state media about the trial. 

According to a LinkedIn profile that Viasna said belonged to Krieger, he worked as a medic for the German Red Cross and had previously been employed as an armed security officer for the U.S. Embassy in Berlin. 

A source at the German Foreign Ministry told AFP on Friday that it and the embassy in Minsk were “providing the person in question with consular services and are making intensive representations to the Belarusian authorities on his behalf.” 

The source added that “the death penalty is a cruel and inhuman form of punishment that Germany rejects under all circumstances.” 

Belarus is reported to have executed as many as 400 people since it gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, according to Amnesty International.  

But executions of foreign citizens are rare.  

The country is run as an authoritarian regime by long-time leader Alexander Lukashenko, who has detained thousands of dissidents and civic activists who oppose him. 

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Vietnam to hold state funeral for communist party leader Trong next week

hanoi, vietnam — Vietnam will hold a state funeral next week for Nguyen Phu Trong, the leader of its ruling Communist Party who died Friday, the government said on Saturday.

There will be two days of national mourning July 25-26, a government statement said, with the state funeral the second day. During the mourning period there will be no public entertainment and flags at offices and other public places will fly at half-staff, it said.

Trong, 80, died after holding Vietnam’s most powerful position for 13 years, overseeing fast economic growth, a years-long anti-graft crackdown and a pragmatic foreign policy.

His duties have been temporarily assigned to President To Lam, a rising star within the party who could further consolidate his powers if he is allowed to keep the two roles.

The government statement called Trong’s death a huge loss to the party, the state, the Vietnamese people and his family.

“After nearly 60 years of work, Trong has made many great and especially outstanding contributions to the glorious revolutionary cause of the Party and the nation,” it added.

During his time as party head Trong had pursued a pragmatic foreign policy, including nurturing ties with the United States.

Foreign leaders, including U.S. President Joe Biden, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin, have sent condolences to the people of Vietnam and his family, according to a statement from the Communist Party of Vietnam.

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Ugandan leader says anti-corruption protesters ‘playing with fire’

Kampala, Uganda — Ugandan protesters who said they would press ahead with a banned anti-corruption march on Tuesday are “playing with fire,” the country’s president warned.  

“Some elements have been planning illegal demonstrations, riots,” President Yoweri Museveni said in a televised address late Saturday.  

Museveni has ruled the East African country with an iron fist since 1986. 

He said the protesters included “elements working for foreign interests,” without elaborating. 

Earlier Saturday, Ugandan police had informed organizers that it would not permit the planned protest in the capital, Kampala, as authorities had intelligence that “some elements were trying to take advantage of the demonstration to cause chaos in the country.” 

“Demonstrations can only be allowed under our mandate as long as they are not causing public disorder and disrupting lives of lawful citizens,” Ugandan police operations director Frank Mwesigwa told AFP. 

The protest organizers told AFP they would press on with the demonstration. 

“We don’t need police permission to carry out a peaceful demonstration,” one of the main protest leaders, Louez Aloikin Opolose, said Saturday. “It is our constitutional right.” 

The protesters hope to take the march past parliament, which they accuse of tolerating corruption. 

“Our starting point in the fight against corruption is parliament … and the demonstration is on irrespective of what police is saying,” protester Shamim Nambasa said. 

The NGO Transparency International ranks Uganda low on its corruption perceptions index. With the least corrupt countries ranking highest, Uganda comes in at 141 on the list of 180 countries. 

The anti-corruption protesters have been keeping track of the sometimes deadly demonstrations that have shaken neighboring Kenya for more than a month. 

The Kenyan protests, which began as peaceful rallies against controversial tax hikes, turned into a wider anti-government campaign, with disgruntled activists also seeking action against corruption and alleged police brutality. 

At least 50 people have been killed and 413 injured since the demonstrations began on June 18, according to the state-funded Kenya National Commission on Human Rights. 

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Azerbaijan’s president vows to help French territories secure independence

SHUSHA, Azerbaijan — Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev pledged Saturday to help France’s overseas territories secure independence, the latest in a series of incidents pitting his ex-Soviet state against Paris over long-running conflicts in the Caucasus region. 

Aliyev accuses France of interfering in its affairs over its contacts with Armenia, against which it has waged two wars in 30 years linked to disputes over Baku’s breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh. 

In recent months, Azerbaijani leaders have focused on France’s South Pacific territory of New Caledonia, gripped by weeks of violence over the objections of Indigenous Kanak activists to a contentious electoral reform. 

Aliyev made his latest comments at a media forum days before the opening of the Olympic Games in Paris and just after the staging in Baku of a congress bringing together pro-independence groups from New Caledonia and other French territories. 

“We will support you until you are free,” Aliyev told the forum, citing French territories that he said were still subject to colonialism. 

“Some countries are still suffering from this. The Comoros islands, Mayotte are still under colonial rule. It has been our duty to help these countries liberate themselves from this revolting remnant from the past.” 

Accusations of meddling

Earlier this week, an “initiative group” staged a congress in Baku attended by pro-independence groups from New Caledonia and other French territories, including Corsica and Caribbean and Pacific islands. 

French media accounts of the meeting said participants sharply criticized French authorities and an Azerbaijani delegation was invited to visit New Caledonia. 

France accused Azerbaijan in May of meddling and abetting unrest in New Caledonia by flooding social media with what it said were misleading photos and videos targeting French police. 

Azerbaijan has denied the allegations. 

Azerbaijani authorities accuse France of bias in favor of Armenia in efforts to achieve a peace treaty to end three decades of conflict and in signing defense contracts with authorities in Yerevan. Azerbaijan expelled two French diplomats last December. 

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US urges travelers to avoid Bangladesh amid civil unrest

washington — The U.S. State Department said on Saturday it has raised Bangladesh’s travel advisory to level four, which urges people to not travel to the Asian country because of what Washington described as “civil unrest” amid ongoing protests.

The State Department also said it authorized the voluntary departure of non-emergency U.S. government employees and family members in Bangladesh. A day earlier, the department had urged people to reconsider travel to the country.

Why it’s important

Massive protests have broken out in Bangladesh over student anger against quotas.

Police have fired tear gas to scatter protesters in some areas while the government has banned public gatherings, imposed communications restrictions, deployed the army in some parts and imposed a curfew. Dozens have been killed in the past week.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said the government would form a judicial committee to investigate the killings of protesters.

Key quotes

“Travelers should not travel to Bangladesh due to ongoing civil unrest in Dhaka. Demonstrations and violent clashes have been reported throughout the city of Dhaka, its neighboring areas, and throughout Bangladesh,” the State Department said in a statement.

“Due to the security situation, there may be a delay in provision of routine consular services,” it added.

The State Department also said that due to security concerns, U.S. Embassy personnel in Bangladesh are subject to some movement and travel restrictions, which could limit their ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in Bangladesh.

Reaction

The United States and Canada have called on Bangladesh to uphold the right to peaceful protest and expressed concern over violence that has occurred in the country in recent days.

Context

Students have protested over public sector job quotas, which include a 30% reservation for family members of fighters from the 1971 War of Independence from Pakistan.

The quotas have caused anger among students who face high youth unemployment rates, with nearly 32 million young Bangladeshis not working or in school out of a total population of 170 million people.

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Experts discuss effects of indictment of former CIA analyst as South Korea secret agent

washington — The indictment of a former CIA analyst who allegedly worked for the South Korean government — and the abrupt resignation of the top U.S. envoy for North Korea — will not affect the coordination between Washington and Seoul in dealing with Pyongyang’s threats, said former U.S. officials who dealt extensively with relations between the United States and South Korea.

Sue Mi Terry, a former CIA analyst and prominent North Korea expert, has been indicted by a New York grand jury on charges of secretly working for the South Korean government, serving as a secret agent for South Korea’s main intelligence agency in exchange for luxury goods, expensive meals and $37,000 for a public policy program that she controlled, according to an indictment unsealed last week.

Damning indictment

Terry served in the U.S. government from 2001 to 2011, first as a CIA analyst and later as the deputy national intelligence officer for East Asia at the National Intelligence Council, before working for think tanks.

Terry is a well-known North Korea expert with a prominent media presence. News of her indictment rattled North Korea experts in Seoul and Washington.

“At the direction of ROK government officials, Terry advocated ROK policy positions, including in published articles and during media appearances, disclosed nonpublic U.S. government information to ROK intelligence officers, and facilitated access for ROK government officials to U.S. government officials,” according to the indictment, which was released Wednesday. ROK refers to the Republic of Korea or South Korea.

Prosecutors say Terry never registered with the Justice Department as a foreign agent. She faces two counts, one for failing to register under the federal Foreign Agents Registration Act and the other for conspiring to violate it.

Abrupt resignation

The indictment of Terry followed the abrupt resignation earlier this month of Jung Pak, the U.S. senior official for North Korea, who oversaw North Korean affairs at the U.S. State Department.

A State Department spokesperson told VOA’s Korean Service via email on July 9 that Pak “stepped down from her duties as U.S. senior official for the DPRK and deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs on July 5.”

DPRK stands for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, North Korea’s official name.

The indictment and the resignation come as North Korea escalates tensions on the Korean Peninsula while Washington is enhancing security cooperation with Seoul.

U.S. President Joe Biden and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol met on July 11 on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Washington. They reaffirmed their commitments to the Washington Declaration, which is designed to reinforce U.S. extended deterrence to South Korea in response to North Korea’s advancing nuclear threats.

US-ROK ties

Some South Korean news media outlets raised concerns that the indictment of Terry could affect overall ties between the U.S. and South Korea.

Former U.S. officials say these are separate events that are unlikely to affect the joint efforts by the U.S. and South Korea in addressing the North Korean issues.

Susan Thornton, who served as acting assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs during the Trump administration, told VOA’s Korean Service via email Friday that she doesn’t believe there would be any disruption to the U.S.-South Korea bilateral coordination.

“Sue Mi Terry is not in the government and the position of DPRK special representative was created to focus on negotiations with North Korea, which do not appear likely any time soon,” Thornton said.

“The two governments currently have ample channels for regular coordination on DPRK threats through the Departments of State, Defense, U.S. forces in Korea and the National Security Council, among others,” she added.

“I will say that I foresee no reduction in cooperation and coordination between the U.S. and South Korea, especially in the combined military relationship,” said Harry Harris, former U.S. ambassador to South Korea during the Trump administration, in an email to VOA’s Korean Service on Friday.

Close coordination

The U.S. dismissed the concerns over the possible friction with one of its closest allies in the world.

“We will continue to consult closely with the Republic of Korea, Japan and other allies and partners about how to best engage the DPRK, deter aggression and coordinate international responses to the DPRK’s violations of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions,” a State Department spokesperson told VOA’s Korean Service in a written statement Friday, referring to South Korea by its official name.

The spokesperson said that the vacancy of the U.S. official, who would solely cover the North Korean affairs, will not affect the U.S. policy toward North Korea.

“EAP Assistant Secretary Dan Kritenbrink is currently overseeing DPRK policy for the Department of State. Ambassador Julie Turner continues to serve as special envoy on North Korean Human Rights,” the spokesperson said. EAP is the State Department’s term for East Asian and Pacific affairs.

Seoul also stressed that South Korea and the U.S. are cooperating and maintaining close communication at various levels related to North Korea policy.

“The director of the Korean Peninsula Policy Bureau continues to serve as the special representative for North Korea and communicates closely with the U.S. counterpart, and the Director of Diplomatic Strategy and Intelligence Division is discussing issues that require high-level consultations,” a spokesperson for the South Korean foreign ministry told VOA’s Korean Service via email Friday.

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