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Poland's president seeks release of Polish traveler sentenced to life in Congo

WARSAW, Poland — Polish President Andrzej Duda has spoken on the phone with Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi to try to obtain the release of a Polish traveler who was sentenced to life in prison in the Central African country on espionage charges, an aide said Monday. Congolese forces detained Mariusz Majewski, 52, in February and he later faced a military court in the restive nation, accused of spying. The allegations against him said that he had “approached the front line with Mobondo militiamen," moved along the front line without authorization and "took photos of sensitive and strategic places and secretly observed military activities.” The Mobondo have been involved in intercommunal violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo's southwest since 2022. Majewski was convicted last week and sentenced to life in prison. No details have been released as to where he is being held.  Duda's aide, Wojciech Kolarski, did not say what the outcome of the conversation between the two presidents was but stressed that the state had the obligation to take care of its citizens who find themselves in such dramatic situations overseas. Majewski's family says he is in poor health and insists that he is just a traveler. Last week, Polish Foreign Ministry spokesperson Pawel Wronski said without elaborating that Majewski “is not a spy, he is a member of a travelers club" and was just following his “passion in life.” Wronski said a chain of coincidental circumstances and events led to Majewski's presence in Congo and his "behavior was the result of a lack of knowledge of local customs.” Polish authorities are aware of the “very difficult political situation in Congo" and a recent coup attempt there but expressed hope that Majewski would not be implicated in a situation he has no connection to. Poland does not have a diplomatic mission in Congo. Earlier this month, the Congolese army said it had foiled a coup attempt and arrested the perpetrators, including some foreigners. Several U.S. citizens were among those arrested.

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Biden, Trump campaign for Black votes 

U.S. presidential candidates Joe Biden and Donald Trump are both campaigning for the support of Black voters. VOA Correspondent Scott Stearns looks at how the presidential campaigns are trying to build African American support.

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Russian missiles hit a popular Kharkiv mall crowded shoppers

Russian missiles struck a popular shopping mall in Ukraine’s second largest city of Kharkiv lover the weekend, killing at least 18 people and wounding dozens more. Spain has pledged to provide military equipment to Ukraine worth 1 billion euros this year under a bilateral agreement signed on Monday between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez in Madrid. Experts say there has been a sharp increase in cases of Ukrainians suffering from anxiety, depression, PTSD and other mental health problems that likely will have a long-term impact.

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Dozens killed in Rafah airstrike

Dozens are killed in an Israeli airstrike on Rafah just days after the International Court of Justice rules that the assault must stop. Israel claims two senior Hamas leaders were killed in the strike that started a fire in a tent city. The government of Papua New Guinea now says that as many as two thousand people may be buried beneath the rubble from last week’s landslide in a remote area of the country’s north. An update from Kyiv and a look at the trilateral summit between Japan, South Korea and China. Plus, the race to find a successor to President Ebrahim Raisi in Iran and an election preview in South Africa.

Rafael Nadal loses in French Open's first round to Alexander Zverev

PARIS — Rafael Nadal lost in the first round of the French Open to Alexander Zverev 6-3, 7-6 (5), 6-3 on Monday in what might turn out to be the 14-time Roland Garros champion’s last match at his favorite tournament.  Nadal has indicated 2024 likely would be his last season before retirement, but he said Saturday that he is not 100% sure he won’t play again at the French Open. And he reiterated that after Monday’s defeat, only his fourth in 116 career matches at the place.  When it ended, in anticlimactic fashion, with 22-time Grand Slam champion Nadal simply unable to play at his usual level after 1 1/2 years of hip and abdominal injuries, he thanked the raucous Court Philippe Chatrier crowd, saying was it “incredible the amount of energy” it provided throughout the 3 hours, 5 minutes of play.  “It's difficult for me to talk. I don't know (if) it's going to be the last time I am here. I am not 100% sure,” said Nadal, whose 1 1/2-year-old son, Rafael Jr., sat on his mother's lap in the stands. “If it's the last time, I enjoyed it.”  It is the first time in his long and illustrious career that Nadal has been beaten in two consecutive matches on clay courts and the first time he has dropped a match earlier than the fourth round at the French Open.  The match was played with the retractable roof shut, and the loud chants of “Ra-fa!” from most in the capacity crowd of about 15,000 echoed.  Nadal turns 38 on June 3 and he has been dealing with hip and abdominal injuries since January 2023, limiting him to 15 matches and an 8-7 record since the start of last year. His infrequent play dropped his ranking to No. 275 and he was unseeded for the French Open for the first time.  That is why he ended up facing the No. 4-seeded Zverev, the runner-up at the 2020 U.S. Open, a gold medalist at the Tokyo Olympics and the only man to reach the semifinals in Paris each of the past three years.  Nadal's other losses at Roland Garros came against Robin Soderling in 2010 and against Novak Djokovic in 2015 and 2021.  “To be honest, I don't know what to say. First of all: Thank you, Rafa, from all of the tennis world,” Zverev said. “It's such a great honor. I've watched Rafa play all my childhood, and I was lucky enough to play Rafa when I became a professional. ... Today is not my moment. It’s Rafa’s moment.”   

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North Korea says its latest satellite launch exploded in flight

SEOUL/TOKYO — North Korea said its attempt to launch a new military reconnaissance satellite ended in failure Monday when a newly developed rocket engine exploded in flight.  The attempt came just hours after Pyongyang issued a warning that it would try to launch a satellite by June 4, in what would have been its second spy satellite in orbit.  Instead, the launch became the nuclear-armed North's latest failure, following two other fiery crashes last year. It successfully placed its first spy satellite in orbit in November.  "The launch of the new satellite carrier rocket failed when it exploded in mid-air during the flight of the first stage," the deputy director general of North Korea's National Aerospace Technology Administration said in a report carried by state media.  An initial analysis suggested that the cause was a newly developed liquid fuel rocket motor, but other possible causes were being investigated, the report said.  Officials in South Korea and Japan had earlier reported that the launch seemed to have failed.  North Korea fired the projectile on a southern path off its west coast at around 10:44 p.m. (1344 GMT), the South's Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said.  JCS said it had detected a large amount of debris from the rocket in the sea just two minutes after launch, however.  The object launched by North Korea disappeared over the Yellow Sea, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi told reporters, adding the government presumes nothing had entered into space.  “These launches are in violation of relevant security council resolutions and are a serious matter concerning the safety of our people," Hayashi said.  Japanese public broadcaster NHK showed video of what appeared to be an orange dot flying into the night sky and then bursting into flames in an area close to the border between China and North Korea.  A Japanese defense ministry official told reporters that the color of the flames in the footage suggests that liquid fuel may be burning, but details are currently being analyzed, NHK reported.   The launch appeared to originate from Dongchang-ri, a northwestern area of the country where North Korea's main space flight center is based, JCS said.  The Japanese government issued an emergency warning Monday for residents in the south to take cover from the possible threat of a North Korean missile, before lifting the warning and saying it was not expected to fly over Japanese territory.  Japan said over its J-Alert broadcasting system that North Korea appeared to have fired a missile, sending out the warning to residents in the southern prefecture of Okinawa.  Several failures, one success  The launch would be the nuclear-armed North's attempt to place a second spy satellite into orbit. After several failed attempts that ended when the rockets crashed, North Korea successfully placed its first such satellite in orbit in November.  The North's first bid to launch the new Chollima-1 satellite rocket, on May 31 last year, ended after a failure in the second stage. State media blamed the setback on an unstable and unreliable new engine system and fuel.  After the May launch attempt, South Korea retrieved the wreckage of the satellite from the sea and said an analysis showed it had no meaningful use as a reconnaissance platform.  Another attempt in August also ended in failure, with stages of the rocket boosters experiencing problems resulting in the payloads crashing into the sea.  North Korea's space authorities had described the August failure after the rocket booster experienced a problem with its third stage as "not a big issue" in terms of the rocket system's overall reliability.  In February, U.S. space experts said North Korea's first spy satellite, dubbed the Malligyong-1, was "alive," after detecting changes in its orbit that suggested Pyongyang was successfully controlling the spacecraft — although its capabilities remain unknown.  North Korean state media reported that the satellite had transmitted photos of the Pentagon and White House, among other areas, but has not released any of the images.  The successful November launch was the first after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made a rare trip abroad in September and toured Russia's most modern space launch center, where President Vladimir Putin promised to help Pyongyang build satellites.  Neither country has elaborated on the extent of that future aid, which could violate United Nations Security Council resolutions against North Korea.  Russian experts have visited North Korea to help with the satellite and space rocket program, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported, citing an unnamed South Korean senior defense official.  Pyongyang has said it needs a military reconnaissance satellite to boost monitoring of U.S. and South Korean military activities.

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Biden says each generation has to 'earn' freedom, in solemn Memorial Day remarks

Washington — President Joe Biden marked Memorial Day with a pledge that the country would continue the work of the nation's fallen toward creating a more perfect union, "for which they lived, and for which they died for." Delivering remarks at a solemn remembrance ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, Biden said each generation must ensure the sacrifice of the country's service members is not in vain. “Freedom has never been guaranteed,” Biden said under gray skies in the memorial amphitheater. “Every generation has to earn it, fight for it, defend it in the battle between autocracy and democracy, between the greed of a few, and the rights of many.” He added: “On this day, we came together again to reflect, to remember, and above all, to recommit to the future they fought for, a future grounded in freedom, democracy, opportunity and equality. Not just for some, but for all.” Before the ceremony began, Biden, joined by Vice President Kamala Harris and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. In his remarks, Biden invoked the anniversary this week of the death of his son Beau, who served in Iraq and later died from brain cancer that the president attributes to his time stationed near toxic burn pits, to highlight the importance of honoring the service of those who came home with injuries, in addition to the dead. “Last year, the VA delivered more benefits and processed more claims than ever in our history," Biden said, crediting the PACT Act which grants automatic coverage for certain health conditions suffered by veterans by presuming they result from their military service. “For too long after fighting for our nation, these veterans had to fight to get the right health care, to get the benefits they had earned, not anymore.” Biden began the day hosting a breakfast at the White House for administration officials, military leaders, veterans, and Gold Star family members.

China book corner set up at Kenya workers training institution

Nairobi — Chinese authorities are setting up a China book corner in Kenya's state training institutions, to provide Chinese literature, language resources and insights for scholars and students. But analysts say such a display of soft power is an effort to maintain Beijing's influence on the continent. At one school in Kenya's capital, Nairobi, more than 30 students are enrolled in part-time classes on Chinese language and culture. Steve Wakoli has been teaching the three-month course for three years. Inspired by employment opportunities as a translator, Wakoli learned Chinese in 2020. Now a private teacher, he said Chinese literature is helping him earn a living. ''I did accounts as my bachelor's degree, but it reached a point where everyone is doing accounts and others are doing finance. This is a field that was crowded, so I decided to go for something unique. I found that there were translation jobs, teaching jobs,” he said. Kenyan authorities have begun to display Chinese literature to the public in places like the state workers training institute — the Kenya School of Government. More than 100 books on governance, politics and development are showcased in the school's library in what is called the “China Book Corner.” Prisca Oluoch, the school's director of linkages, collaborations and partnerships, said the books can help readers understand how China grows an economy. ''A lot of our books currently in our library are from American authors, from European authors. How about the East? How about China, Korea, Singapore? How did they do it?” Prisca said. “Having the China corner helps us to have that perspective to be able to also build, in terms of our own African leadership and management, drawing from the Chinese experience.'' According to a study by the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, a key pillar of China's efforts to gain influence in Africa and globally is to create the impression of universal support for the Chinese Communist Party in a strategy known as the “united front.” Historical relations between African countries like Kenya and the West or Europe can be unassailable for newcomers, but Beijing is taking advantage of its technological expertise to make inroads, said international relations professor Chacha Nyaigotti. “African nations, which some of them were colonized by the French and others, British or English people, still cherish that network between the U.K. and commonwealth countries in Africa, and France with French speaking countries in Africa. But I think African[s] are being driven toward China mainly because China supports their infrastructural development,'' Chacha said. The books, authored by writers including China President Xi Jinping, were donated by the Chinese Embassy in Kenya. Some are translated into the Kenyan language, Swahili. Officials believe that with access to Chinese literature, the public can learn different economic methods which may help alleviate poverty.

EU partners with Kenya to prosecute suspected maritime crime suspects

Nairobi, Kenya — Kenya has agreed to help the European Union in dealing with maritime crime suspects in the region, amid a rising threat from pirate activity and attacks by Yemen’s Houthi rebels. The EU, which has a force operating in the Indian Ocean, is concerned that the insecurity which is also affecting ship traffic in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea, is disrupting international trade.   With threats to shipping on the rise in the Indian Ocean, Gulf of Aden, and the Red Sea, the European Union is asking Kenya for assistance in prosecuting suspected criminals caught in the region's waters. Henriette Geiger, the EU ambassador to Kenya, said the bloc is working with Kenya in dealing with suspected criminals caught in the region's waters. "Kenya would conclude a legal finished agreement with the European Union which would allow then EU Atalanta to drop, first seized arms, weapons but also traffickers, arms and drug traffickers, here for prosecution,” she said. “Seychelles has already agreed, they already have a legal finished agreement, but it's a small island; they cannot stand alone." The EU's Operation Atalanta is a military operation in the Horn of Africa that counters piracy at sea. Geiger explained that the EU navy force lacks the authority to prosecute suspects and cannot detain them for long without charges. Therefore, countries like Kenya are needed to assist in prosecuting suspects. Isaiah Nakoru, the head of Kenya’s Department for Shipping and Maritime Affairs, says his country is ready to work on issues that promote security and the free flow of goods and people.   "We have to work together to ensure that we achieve the aspiration for ensuring there is sustainability and security, and all activities that threaten the livelihoods of people and movements of people have to be addressed in partnership with all those who have a stake," he said. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Kenya is holding at least 120 suspected pirates and has convicted 18 of them.   Kenya faced criticism about whether its legal system allows the prosecution of suspected pirates accused of having committed crimes far away from its territory. However, in 2012, a Kenyan court ruled the East African nation has jurisdiction to try Somali pirates carrying out attacks in international waters. Andrew Mwangura is a consultant on maritime safety and security in Kenya. More than ten years ago, he helped negotiate the release of some pirate captives. He says Kenya will always face legal challenges in prosecuting suspects who have not committed a crime in its territory.   "The problem is still the same because there are challenges to prosecution in Kenya of the Somali pirates,” he said. “This pirate activity happens away from Kenya. They do not happen in Kenyan waters, and there will be legal challenges. To prosecute, to arrest them, that's not a solution. The solution is to fight illegal fishing in East African territorial waters."   Recently, there have been reports of piracy attacks off the coast of Somalia, sparking worries about the return of Somali piracy. In the early 2010s, Somali pirates hijacked dozens of ships, holding them for millions of dollars in ransom.   Two weeks ago, six suspected pirates accused of attacking a merchant vessel were moved from Somalia to the Seychelles for trial by the EU naval force. Last Friday, the EU force freed a merchant ship and its 17 crew members.

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