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Chinese Airlines Can Boost US Flights to 50 Per Week, US Says

WASHINGTON — Chinese passenger airlines will be allowed to boost their weekly round-trip U.S. flights to 50 starting on March 31, up from the current 35, the U.S. Transportation Department said on Monday, returning the market to nearly one-third of pre-pandemic levels. The approval "is a significant step forward in further normalization of the U.S.-China market in anticipation of the Summer 2024 traffic season," the USDOT said. More than 150 weekly round-trip passenger flights were allowed by each side before restrictions were imposed in early 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but until August 2023, Chinese and U.S. carriers could each fly only 12 a week between the two countries. The number rose on Sept. 1 to 18 weekly roundtrips and then to 24 per week starting Oct. 29. The USDOT approved 35 for Chinese carriers in November. Airlines for America, a group representing American Airlines , Delta Air Lines and United Airlines, which fly a combined 31 weekly flights to China, said it "supports the U.S. government's approach to slowly, gradually and reciprocally reopen the market with China. It's imperative the U.S. government maintains this approach." The Chinese embassy in Washington said it was "glad to see the positive progress made on increasing direct passenger flights between China and the U.S." The embassy added it is working to "further facilitate cross-border travel and promote people-to-people exchange between the two countries." Reuters reported last June that newly approved Chinese flights to the United States were not overflying Russia, which would have given them a shorter flight time and fuel advantage over U.S. rivals blocked from Russian airspace. Other international air markets involving China have reopened far more quickly, with seat capacity between China and the United Kingdom this month exceeding pre-pandemic levels by 30%, and China-Singapore by 6%, according to aviation data provider OAG. The USDOT said it was engaged in a productive dialogue with China's aviation regulator towards the "implementation of a roadmap to provide for a gradual, broader reopening of the U.S.-China air services market and a phased and predictable return to the capacity entitlements" specified under a U.S.-China agreement. On a trip to China last year, U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said she wanted to boost travel and tourism between the two countries. If China returned to 2019 U.S. tourism levels, it would add $30 billion to the U.S. economy and 50,000 U.S. jobs, Raimondo said in August.

Rat on Plane Sparks Worries for Sri Lanka's Airline

Colombo, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka's national airline on Tuesday blamed a rat for grounding a plane for three days, sparking chaotic delays and fears it will scare off investors for the cash-strapped carrier. The stowaway rodent was spotted enjoying the SriLankan Airlines Airbus A330 flight from the Pakistani city of Lahore on Thursday, triggering an aircraft search to ensure it had not chewed through critical components. An airline official said the plane has now resumed flights, but that the grounding had an effect on the entire schedule. "The aircraft was grounded for three days at Colombo," an airline official said, declining to be named. "The plane could not be flown without making sure that the rat was accounted for. It was found dead." The state-owned airline, which had accumulated losses of more than $1.8 billion at the end of March 2023, has three other aircraft grounded for over a year out of a fleet of 23. The carrier has no foreign exchange to pay for mandatory overhauling of the engines. Aviation minister Nimal Siripala de Silva told reporters the errant rodent might scare off "the few investors" interested in taking over the debt-burdened airline. Successive governments have attempted to sell it without success. A previous government offered the airline for one dollar, but there were no takers. The International Monetary Fund, which bailed out Sri Lanka last year with a $2.9 billion loan spread over four years, has stressed that such state-owned enterprises are a heavy burden on the national budget. The airline was profitable until a management agreement with Emirates was scrapped in 2008, following a dispute with then-president Mahinda Rajapaksa. The carrier had refused to bump fare-paying passengers and give their seats to 35 members of Rajapaksa's family, who were returning from a holiday in London. Ironically, one of the airline's most profitable years was in 2001, when the Tamil Tigers separatist movement destroyed several aircraft in an attack — with the insurance payouts and the removal of excess capacity boosting its income.

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US Army Using Own Funding to Pay for Training of Ukrainian Forces

The U.S. military has been forced to dip into its own funding to cover American training of Ukrainian forces, a strategy that could leave the Army short on finances in Europe as the Russian war on Ukraine enters its third year. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb has details.

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Voice of America’s immigration news - February 26, 2024 - 23:00
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Sweden to Become 32nd Nation to Join NATO

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 26, 2024 - 22:35
A vote by Hungary’s Parliament clears the way for Sweden to join NATO, the 32nd nation to do so. The Netherlands contributes 100 million euros to Ukraine’s war effort. U.S. President Biden says Gaza cease-fire could begin this weekend. And, girls skateboarding in South Africa shaking things up.

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Voice of America’s immigration news - February 26, 2024 - 22:00
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Voice of America’s immigration news - February 26, 2024 - 21:00
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2 Exiled Chinese Bloggers Warn of Police Interrogating Their Followers

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 26, 2024 - 20:42
SHANGHAI — Two prominent Chinese bloggers in exile said that police were investigating their millions of followers on international social media platforms, in an escalation of Beijing’s attempts to clamp down on critical speech even outside of the country’s borders. Former state broadcaster CCTV journalist Wang Zhi’an and artist-turned-dissident Li Ying, both Chinese citizens known for posting uncensored Chinese news, said in separate posts Sunday that police were interrogating people who followed them on social media, and urged followers to take precautions such as unfollowing their accounts, changing their usernames, avoiding Chinese-made phones and preparing to be questioned. Li Ying, known as Teacher Li, came to prominence as a source of news about the White Paper protests, a rare moment of anti-government protests in mainland China in 2022. Teacher Li's account on X, formerly known as Twitter, @whyyoutouzhele now posts news and videos submitted by users, which cover everything from local protests to viral videos of real-life incidents that are censored on the Chinese internet. In a post Sunday evening, Teacher Li suggested people unfollow his account. “Currently, the public security bureau is checking my 1.6 million followers and people in the comments, one by one.” Li shared screenshots of private messages he received from followers over the past few months, which claimed that police had interrogated individuals, and that one person had even lost their job. As of Monday afternoon, Li had dropped down to 1.4 million followers on X. International social media platforms like X and YouTube are blocked in China but can still be accessed with software that circumvents the country's censorship systems. Wang, who has a million subscribers on X and 1.2 million followers on YouTube, also told his fans to unsubscribe. Li, Wang and the Chinese foreign ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Over the past decade, Beijing has cracked down on dissent on Chinese social media, with thousands of censors employed both at private companies and with the Chinese state. Chinese users expressing critical opinions online have reported being called, harassed or interrogated by police, with some called in for questioning and ordered to take down certain posts or delete their accounts. In some cases, users have been detained, with some spending up to two weeks in jail and a small number sentenced to years in prison. More recently, Beijing has extended its reach to tracking non-Chinese platforms such as Facebook, Telegram and X. A recent leak of documents from I-Soon, a private contractor linked to China’s top policing agency and other parts of its government, described tools used by Chinese police to curb dissent on overseas social media, including one tool specifically created to surveil users on X. Hackers also created tools for police to hack email inboxes and unmask anonymous users of X, the documents show. Sometimes, officers sent requests to surveil specific individuals to I-Soon, the leak revealed. Li said he would not stop posting even if people unfollowed, but he urged his followers to take basic digital safety precautions. “I don't want your life to be impacted just because you wanted to understand the real news in China,” Li said, in an additional post. “You only want to understand what's happening, but the price is quite high  

China's C919 Jet Displayed at Singapore Air Show, But It's Not Ready to Compete 

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 26, 2024 - 20:09
singapore — China’s C919 single-aisle jet made its international debut at the Singapore Airshow, attracting masses of visitors and hundreds of orders, but analysts say it still has a long way to go before it can compete with aircraft from market leaders Boeing and Airbus. The Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC) has received over 1,000 orders for the jet, mostly from Chinese airlines. A lack of international certification means the aircraft cannot operate commercially in most countries unless they recognize certifications by China’s civil aviation regulator. During last week's airshow, which drew nearly 120,000 trade and public visitors, the C919 performed flybys, letting visitors see the jet in action. Its only previous foray outside mainland China was to Hong Kong in December. “It’s quite symbolic and a major milestone in that push by China to become considered, alongside Airbus and Boeing, for commercial aircraft,” said Brendan Sobie, an independent aviation analyst based in Singapore.  Another aspect COMAC needs to work on before its jets can become serious contenders alongside the Airbus A320neo and Boeing’s 737 Max narrow-body airliners is building up a reliable distribution system and market support services for its aircraft. “The challenge moving forward is that in order to have a sustainable future, COMAC must demonstrate that they are able to go beyond Chinese shores,” said Mabel Kwan, managing director at consultancy Alton Aviation. COMAC declined to make its executives available for an interview. So far, the state-owned company says it has received 1,061 domestic orders for the C919, but it has yet to secure many international customers. Brunei-based GallopAir, which is backed by Chinese investors, signed a letter of intent in September to purchase 30 aircraft from COMAC, including a C919 jet, in a deal estimated to be worth $2 billion. COMAC faces supply chain challenges like those of Boeing and Airbus, which have backlogs of thousands of aircraft yet to be delivered. While the C919 is designed in China, much of its technology and many of its parts are from foreign suppliers. Its engine, for example, is made by CFM International, a joint venture between GE Aerospace and France’s Safran Aircraft Engines. “It’s not like China has its own supply system, its own avionics, its own engines, so that they’re not impacted by what’s happening globally,” Sobie said, adding that COMAC might not be a high priority for suppliers also struggling to catch up with deliveries to Boeing and Airbus. COMAC, however, does have the luxury of a wide talent pool from China, Kwan said, and in the long run this may allow the firm to develop more homegrown technology and parts for use in its aircraft. “Right now, COMAC is using mostly Western technology … but with enough research and development, training and education, the whole ecosystem may be able to overcome [challenges in the long term],” she said. 

Pakistan Arrests Two Journalists as X Remains Restricted for 10 Days

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 26, 2024 - 20:08
islamabad — Authorities in Pakistan detained a journalist Monday, the second within a week, while domestic access to social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, remained disrupted for a 10th consecutive day. The crackdown comes amid widespread electoral fraud allegations following parliamentary elections, fueling concerns about freedom of speech in a country known for throttling media. Asad Ali Toor, an independent journalist with nearly 300,000 followers on X and more than 160,000 subscribers to his YouTube channel, was taken into custody Monday evening by the Federal Investigation Agency, or FIA, his lawyer confirmed. Imaan Zainab Mazari-Hazir said that the FIA’s cybercrime reporting center in the capital, Islamabad, had summoned Toor earlier in the day to join an inquiry into allegations that he was running a “malicious campaign” through social media platforms against top judges, including the country’s chief justice. “[The] manner in which journalists in this country are being treated is appalling. Constitutional Courts must play their role 2 [sic] ensure fundamental rights are not brazenly violated in this manner,” the lawyer wrote on X. The FIA or government officials immediately did not comment on Toor’s detention, which has outraged journalists and human rights activists. “The assault on press freedom in Pakistan continues to strengthen as journalists are arrested simply for reporting, asking critical questions, & speaking truth to power,” Usama Khilji, a digital rights activist, said on X. He noted that Toor was critical of some of the controversial rulings that Supreme Court Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa announced. “Is the Supreme Court above criticism? Is the media’s role of accountability obsolete? Is this still a democracy?” Khilji asked. Munizae Jahangir, a television talk show host and co-chairperson of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, said they would stage a rally against the arrest and “for freedom of expression” in Islamabad on Tuesday. “Arrest of @AsadAToor must be condemned. Criticism of judgments is not a crime & they are public property,” Jahangir wrote on X, adding that “it is a journalist’s duty and right to criticize” judgments and comment on court proceedings. Last Thursday, police in the country’s most populous province of Punjab arrested Imran Riaz Khan in a late-night raid on his home, citing corruption charges. He denied any wrongdoing and told the judge during a Friday court hearing that he was being targeted for his critical reporting on alleged state-sponsored rigging in the national elections. Khan returned home only recently after allegedly being detained and tortured for five months by Pakistani intelligence agency operatives. He has 5.6 million followers on X and 4.6 million subscribers to his YouTube channel. X remains blocked Meanwhile, X services remained restricted in Pakistan on Monday, 10 days after services were suspended amid allegations of massive rigging in the February 8 vote. “Metrics show that X/Twitter remains restricted in #Pakistan into a tenth day, as the nation joins an exclusive set of countries that have imposed extended or permanent bans on international social media platforms,” Netblocks, a U.K.-based global cybersecurity watchdog, said on X. Pakistan has experienced five internet service interruptions since the beginning of 2024, affecting its 128 million users, Surfshark, a Lithuania-based internet shutdown tracker, reported last week. It said that three restrictions happened this month and were directly related to the parliamentary elections, while the remaining two happened in January during virtual campaign events organized by jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s opposition, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, or PTI, party. Many Pakistani users are skirting the restriction through virtual private networks, or VPNs, which allow users to hide online locations and identities. “With reports of VPN restrictions coming to light as well, it seems that the country is prepared to take any means necessary to cut its citizens off from each other and the rest of the world,” said Lina Survila, the Surfshark spokeswoman. Authorities shut down mobile internet services across Pakistan on election day and for several hours beyond, citing terrorism threats to the electoral process. The move, however, triggered domestic and international backlash and fueled vote-rigging allegations. PTI alleged the communications blackout was carried out to manipulate final results, preventing its candidates from winning and enabling pro-military parties to gain the upper hand despite losing by big margins in initial projections. The interim government has rejected the fraud charges and dismissed calls from several countries, including the United States and Britain, to fully investigate the allegations as an interference in Pakistan’s internal affairs.  

UN Member States Focus on Environmental Crisis at Nairobi Meeting

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 26, 2024 - 20:02
The U.N. Environment Assembly, known as UNEA-6, is meeting in Nairobi this week to chart solutions to the triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution. Juma Majanga reports from the U.N. Environment headquarters in Nairobi.

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Voice of America’s immigration news - February 26, 2024 - 20:00
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Iran Court Changes Jail Time to Home Confinement for Pop Singer

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 26, 2024 - 19:42
tehran, iran — An Iranian court has changed the sentence against a pop singer who criticized the mandatory headscarf for women to home confinement instead of jail time, due to health issues, his lawyer said. Mehdi Yarrahi, 42, was arrested in August for releasing an "illegal song" that challenged "the morals and customs of Islamic society." He was released on bail in October. In January, the court sentenced Yarrahi to "a total of two years and eight months in prison" on multiple charges. Under Iranian law jail sentences run concurrently, meaning he would only have to have served one year behind bars, which will now be changed to home confinement. "Due to my client's illness and his need for medical care, the one-year imprisonment was changed to electronic tagging [bound with a movement radius of 1,000 meters]," lawyer Zahra Minouei said on X, formerly Twitter, late Sunday. It was not immediately clear what Yarrahi's illness was. She said Yarrahi has been under electronic monitoring since February 20, and the court order included paying a bail of 15 billion tomans (around $270,000). The singer released the track "Roosarito," which means "your headscarf" in Persian, shortly before the anniversary of the death of Mahsa Amini. Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurd, died in police custody on September 16, 2022, following her arrest for allegedly flouting Iran's mandatory hijab law for women. Hundreds of people, including dozens of security personnel, were killed in protests that broke out across Iran after Amini's death and nine men were executed for protest-related "crimes." Thousands of protesters were also arrested, accused by the authorities of taking part in "riots" fomented by the West. In a three-minute video accompanying the release of "Roosarito," Yarrahi had voiced support for women's right to choose whether to wear the headscarf and dedicated the song to the "courageous Iranian women" involved in the protest movement. Yarrahi is a past winner of the best pop singer award at the Fajr Festival, Iran's most important government-held music event. His song "Soroode Zan (Woman's Anthem),” which was released in October 2022, became a protest anthem, particularly on university campuses. Yarrahi has repeatedly criticized the authorities during his concerts, especially for discrimination in his ethnically diverse southwestern home province of Khuzestan.

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