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Turkish, Israeli Leaders Meet After Years of Animosity

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, boosting hopes of a rapprochement between the countries. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul.

New York Mayor Urges UN Leaders to Act on Migration Crisis

New York City is hosting world leaders at the United Nations this week. But it is also facing a crisis because border states such as Texas are sending hundreds of migrants to the city each day. Jorge Agobian has the story in this report narrated by Aline Barros.

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September 21, 2023

A look at the best news photos from around the world.

Shutdown Looms as US House Republicans Again Block Own Spending Bill

U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy's attempt to restart his stalled spending agenda failed on Thursday when Republicans for a third time blocked a procedural vote on defense spending, raising the risk of a government shutdown in just 10 days.  The House of Representatives voted 216-212 against beginning debate on an $886 billion defense appropriations bill amid opposition from a small group of hardline conservative Republicans.  It represented a setback for McCarthy the morning after his fractious 221-212 majority met for 2-1/2 hours seeking common ground on legislation to avert the fourth government shutdown in a decade beginning October 1.   As the vote failed, McCarthy told reporters that he will pursue the "same strategy I had from January: just keep working; never give up."  Federal agencies will begin to shut down on October 1 unless Congress passes either a short-term continuing resolution, known as a CR, or a full-year funding bill. So far House Republicans have failed to unify around either possibility, and the ideas they have considered have only Republican support, making them unlikely to win support in the Democratic-majority Senate or be signed into law by President Joe Biden.  "Instead of decreasing the chance of a shutdown, Speaker McCarthy is actually increasing it by wasting time on extremist proposals that cannot become law in the Senate," top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer said.  The bill had been scheduled for a five-minute vote that Republicans kept open for over a half hour in a vain hope of winning additional votes.  Republican Representative Keith Self, who had voted to advance the bill, said the motion's failure showed a lack of trust in McCarthy's leadership.  "It's a matter of trust," Self told reporters while declining to elaborate. Asked about the mood in the chamber, Self said: "There were emotions running high."  Donald Trump, the front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, added to McCarthy's distractions with a call to shut the government, as occurred three times during his four years in the White House.  "Republicans in Congress can and must defund all aspects of Crooked Joe Biden’s weaponized Government that refuses to close the Border, and treats half the Country as Enemies of the State," the former president said on his Truth Social platform.  Trump is awaiting four criminal trials, including two brought by federal prosecutors, over charges including his attempts to overturn his 2020 election defeat. He has claimed without evidence that all four prosecutions are politically motivated.  Political brinkmanship has begun to attract the attention of Wall Street, with rating agency Fitch citing repeated down-to-the-wire negotiations that threaten the government's ability to pay its bills when it downgraded U.S. debt rating to AA+ from its top-notch AAA designation earlier this year.  "The unpredictability is sad for the country," said Representative Rosa DeLauro, top Democrat on the House appropriations panel. "They have stopped our ability to respond to the needs of the American people."  The Republican spending agenda has run afoul of a small group of Republican hardline conservatives, who want assurances that fiscal 2024 appropriations will not exceed a 2022 top line of $1.47 trillion, $120 billion less than McCarthy and Biden agreed to in May.  A bipartisan group of 64 lawmakers known as the "Problem Solvers Caucus" proposed a measure that would fund the government through January 11, though without McCarthy's support it is unclear how the measure would advance.  McCarthy on Tuesday had to pull a procedural vote on a proposed 30-day CR. Then a vote to open floor debate on the defense appropriations bill failed. The defense bill had already been delayed earlier in the month.  McCarthy has proposed a 30-day CR that would cut spending to the 2022 level, according to two sources familiar with the discussion. The CR would include a commission to tackle the federal debt and conservative restrictions on immigration and the border.  McCarthy's proposal would also set a top line for full-year fiscal 2024 spending at just under $1.53 trillion, the sources said. That is still $60 billion less than he agreed to with Biden in May.  It was not clear how much support the CR or the 2024 top line would draw from House Republicans. 

Thai King's Disavowed Son Suggests Listening to Critics of Royal Defamation Law

Thailand has some of the world’s strictest laws against criticizing the country’s monarchy, with up to 15 years in prison for each offense. At an exhibition in New York this week, which featured the stories of 25 people prosecuted under the law, the Thai King’s disavowed son came and told reporters he was there to learn about the issue.  Vacharaesorn Vivacharawongse, the second son of Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn, now lives in New York City and attended the opening of an exhibition at Columbia University, “Faces of Victims of 112.” The exhibit features the stories and portraits of 25 people prosecuted under Thailand’s harsh lèse-majesté law, Article 112 of the criminal code. His appearance marked the first time anyone so closely linked to the monarchy has openly paid attention to activism against the controversial law. Vacharaesorn is one of the four sons of King Maha Vajiralongkorn, 71, and his second wife, Sujarinee Vivacharawongse (formerly known as Yuvadhida Polpraserth), whom he married in 1994. After the couple divorced, Vajiralongkorn disavowed Vacharaesorn, his three brothers and mother. His sister remained in the royal fold.   Exhibition creator Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a Thai academic charged under Section 112, now lives in exile in Kyoto, Japan. At the opening, he told VOA Thai that the exhibition is trying to raise international awareness of a law frequently used by Thailand's previous government backed by the military to silence dissent in the name of protecting the Thai royal family. The former prince announced on his personal Facebook page that “as a Thai living in New York, I will attend (the exhibition),” and that “I love and revere the institution (monarchy).”  VOA Thai was able to ask the 42-year-old two questions. The following transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity:  VOA Thai: Why do you attend this exhibition?  Vacharaesorn: I came (to the exhibition) because, from my personal opinion, it is better to know than not to know. Everyone has their own opinion and viewpoint, based on their experiences. It does not matter if we listen to them or not, they will still hold on to their opinions. So, not listening to them will not change their views in any way.  Then, knowing is better than not (knowing). It is each person’s decision to agree or not.  Still, listening to them and being aware of it all is the best thing (we can do).   VOA Thai: What is your view on Section 112?  Vacharaesorn: Section 112 is a sensitive issue (in Thailand). People have different opinions about it and we cannot say who is right or who is wrong. What matters is that we listen to each other, to the reasons. You can have your own (reasons), but listen to theirs and reflect them on ours. 

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Kenya Marks 10 Years Since Westgate Mall Attack, Reflecting on Security Progress

Kenya is marking 10 years since a group of Somali al-Shabab militants attacked a major shopping mall in Nairobi, killing more than 60 people. While terror threats in the capital have since decreased, the group continues to perpetrate attacks along Kenya's coast and in the country’s northeastern region. One Saturday in 2013, four armed men from the al-Shabab terror group stormed Westgate Mall, attacking shoppers and killing anyone on sight. The attack was followed by a siege, wherein the attackers engaged security forces in a gun battle for days. In the end, 67 people were killed and more than 150 were injured. Thirty-six-year-old John Wangombe worked as an IT expert and was among the hundreds trapped in the mall that day. The father of three said he is happy to be alive. "Now things have changed. At that time, I was single and now I am married. I would say thank God he gave me another chance to live. I would say the country is a bit secure. We don't have an al-Shabab attack at the moment in our city. The security is now better compared to that time," he said. Kenyan security forces were criticized for how they handled the attack and for lack of coordination in dealing with the militants. Richard Tuta, a Nairobi-based security analyst, said the mall attack has changed how Kenyan security forces deal with terror threats and attacks. "It has even shaped how our security agencies are structured currently. If you look at how our security agencies were structured before and after, a lot has changed. Secondly, now we have a well-trained, well-equipped, well-structured anti-terror police unit that is fused with the intelligence component within it, unlike before," he said. In October 2020, a Kenyan court found two men guilty for their roles in the deadly 2013 mall attack. Convicted of conspiring with and aiding the attackers, the men were sentenced to prison. But the security improvements and some courtroom convictions have yet to heal the hundreds who survived and lost family and friends. In 2015, the mall reopened for shopping. Wangombe has since visited the mall, but bad memories prevent him from returning. "I would say the security was a bit better. You could see the security guys looked experienced. But even with that security, there is that fear that you have: It can happen again. I remember where we were hiding. I remember that building where I used to work. If I go there, it will bring bad memories," he said. A heightened security presence in the capital has reduced the number of attacks, but al-Shabab continues to carry out frequent attacks in northeastern and coastal regions. Tuta said eradicating terrorism is no easy task. "Terrorism is something that is there to stay. It's there to stay. It's not something that one country can boast of that it has done away with it. Actually, what it can do is to transform itself in terms of operations and in terms of selections of targets and in terms of how they undertake it. But it will be there for a while — because, remember, this is an ideology," he said.  Al-Shabab has vowed to wage war against Kenya until Kenyan troops are withdrawn from the country, where they were deployed in 2011.

Somali PM Optimistic About Winning Stronger International Support Against Al-Shabab

Somali Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre said Thursday that his government is appealing for more international support in its long-running war against al-Shahab militants. In an exclusive interview with VOA, Barre says he will appeal to the U.N. General Assembly this weekend about removing an international arms embargo so Somalia is capable of eliminating al-Shabab, a U.N. and U.S.-designated terrorist organization that has fought the Somali government for 16 years. Barre said Somalia’s first priority is security, which he said cannot be fully achieved without a well-trained and well-equipped Somali national army. “We need and would implore the world community for a complete lifting of the arms embargo that has been imposed on Somalia since 1992," he said. "By doing so, our security forces would be able to take full control and responsibility of the country’s security.” The embargo was imposed during Somalia’s early 1990s civil war. Barre’s appeal comes as the African Union Transition Mission, or ATMIS, in Somalia, announced the start of the second round of a planned troop withdrawal. AU forces have been stationed in Somalia since 2007. Barre, who is scheduled to address the U.N. General Assembly on Saturday, said he would give a comprehensive overview of Somalia's progress. The prime minister said he aimed to shed light on the nation's achievements in diverse areas like poverty reduction, health care, education, economic growth, human rights, peace, security, and climate change. Somalia's army is in the middle of a military offensive against al-Shabab. Since President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud declared a "total war" against the militants in August 2022, al-Shabab fighters have withdrawn from some of the group’s central Somalia strongholds under pressure from the army and allied local militias. According to government military officials, the role of international partners in the ongoing operations has been limited to airstrikes against al-Shabab fighters and vehicles, which Barre says is not enough. “In fact, many countries support us in different ways in the fight against al-Shabab, primarily the United States, European Union, Turkey, and the African Union troops. The question is, though, is if their support is at the level we would like to be. I would say it is not enough,” he told VOA. Barre said there are grounds for optimism that the current battle against al-Shabab will successfully eradicate the terror organization. “If we were talking about al-Shabab militants threatening Mogadishu security, now, we are talking about fighting with them in their remote strongholds, and that is a sign of optimism, and that peace and stability is on the horizon,” Barre said. Barre said there was a need for concerted international efforts to protect gains made over the years and ensure sustained pressure against al-Shabab.

Pakistan to Hold National Elections in January

The official panel responsible for organizing elections in Pakistan announced Thursday the much-awaited national parliamentary polls will take place in the last week of January, confirming a delay of about two months and ending uncertainty about the fate of the electoral process. In a brief statement, the Election Commission of Pakistan, or ECP, defended the decision, saying it needed more time to redraw nationwide constituencies following the latest population census. "The final list of the new constituencies will be published on November 30, and the elections will be held in the last week of January 2024 after a 54-day election program [or campaigning]," the ECP said, without giving the exact date for the vote. The elections in Pakistan were due to be held within 90 days, in line with the constitution after the outgoing parliament completed its five-year term on August 9 and then-Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif dissolved his government. A caretaker government, led by Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar, has since been installed to supervise the vote in the South Asian nation of about 241 million people. Kakar told a Thursday event at the Council on Foreign Relations think tank in New York that his government was determined to facilitate “free, fair and transparent elections” in Pakistan.   “We’re committed to abiding by the principles of democracy that are enshrined Pakistan’s constitution. My government will work diligently to ensure that the people of Pakistan are fully represented in the government that would be formed,” he said.     The caretaker prime minister delivered the public talk on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly session. The ECP announcement comes as nuclear-armed Pakistan struggles to tackle deepening economic, political and security challenges. The political turmoil erupted in April 2022 when a parliamentary no-confidence motion removed then-Prime Minister Imran Khan from power. The ousted Pakistani leader and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, or PTI, party have since been calling for early elections in the country, denouncing the no-confidence vote as illegal and accusing the politically powerful military of orchestrating it. Thousands of PTI members, including senior leaders, have been arrested since a military-backed crackdown on the party began in May. Khan was convicted of controversial graft charges and sentenced to three years in jail early last month. A high court suspended the sentence, but the 70-year-old former prime minister remains in custody over accusations of leaking contents of a classified diplomatic cable, known as a cipher, for political gains. Khan says that the cipher proves the United States collaborated with the Pakistani military and Sharif to topple his government, charges Washington and Islamabad have denied. The cricket star-turned-deposed Pakistani leader remains the most popular politician in Pakistan, and his party is the largest national political force, according to public polls. Militant attacks have also dramatically surged in the country, killing nearly 600 people since the start of the year, raising security concerns ahead of the upcoming vote. The deteriorating security and lingering political crisis have hampered efforts to tackle one of Pakistan's worst economic crises in decades, with inflation rising to record levels. A last-minute bailout package from the International Monetary Fund in July helped Islamabad avert a default on its external debt servicing. But the IMF linked the $3 billion loan agreement to much-needed and long-delayed economic reforms in Pakistan, such as removing subsidies on power and fuel prices and forcing the wealthy class to pay taxes. Rising fuel and power prices have triggered anti-government protests, adding to the popularity of Khan's party, according to political observers.

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Academic Integrity in the US: What International Students Need to Know

International students have many things to learn about the U.S. when they arrive on American campuses. U.S. News & World Report delves into a less-common topic: academic integrity. The magazine explores basic expectations at many U.S. schools, including how to use quotes and citations in papers, how to avoid plagiarism and navigating artificial intelligence pitfalls. Read the full story here. (August 2023) 

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China Boosts Anti-US Conspiracy Theory About Maui Fire

At least five organizations that are authoritative in cybersecurity have independently verified that the Chinese government has created a massive network of social media users tasked with sowing discord in the United States.

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Rupert Murdoch, Creator of Fox News, Stepping Down as Head of News Corp. and Fox Corp.

Rupert Murdoch, the 92-year-old media magnate who created Fox News, is stepping down as leader of both Fox's parent company and his News Corp. media holdings. Fox said Thursday that Murdoch would become chairman emeritus of both companies. His son, Lachlan, will become News Corp. chairman and continue as chief executive officer of Fox Corp. Lachlan Murdoch said that "we are grateful that he will serve as chairman emeritus and know he will continue to provide valued counsel to both companies." Besides Fox News, Murdoch started the Fox broadcast network, the first to successfully challenge the Big Three of ABC, CBS and NBC. He is owner of the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post. Murdoch is a force in the conservative world, where Fox News Channel has profoundly influenced television and the nation's politics since its start in 1996. Murdoch vowed in a letter to employees that he would remain engaged at Fox. "In my new role, I can guarantee you that I will be involved every day in the contest of ideas, Murdoch wrote. "Our companies are communities, and I will be an active member of our community. I will be watching our broadcasts with a critical eye, reading our newspapers and websites and books with much interest." There was no immediate word on why Murdoch's announcement came now. Ironically, it is the week author and Murdoch biographer Michael Wolff is publishing a book, "The End of Fox News," speculating on what will happen to the network when the patriarch is gone.

UK Prosecutors Authorize Five People to Be Charged with Spying for Russia

British prosecutors said on Thursday they had authorized charges to be brought against five Bulgarian nationals accused of spying for Russia for almost three years. The three men and two women are accused of "conspiring to collect information intended to be directly or indirectly useful to an enemy" between Aug. 30, 2020 and Feb. 8, 2023, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said. The alleged spies were named as Orlin Roussev, 45, Bizer Dzhambazov, 41, Katrin Ivanova, 31, Ivan Stoyanov, 31, and Vanya Gaberova, 29, all Bulgarian nationals who lived in London and Norfolk. They are due to appear at Westminster Magistrates' Court on Sept. 26. "The charges follow an investigation by the Metropolitan Police," said Nick Price, head of the CPS Special Crime and Counter Terrorism Division. "Criminal proceedings against the five individuals are active and they each have the right to a fair trial." Roussev, Dzhambazov, and Ivanova had already been charged in February with identity document offenses, the CPS said.

Iraq's Catholic Leader Seeks Vatican Support as Iran Pressures Grow

Iraq's Chaldean Catholic Cardinal, Louis Sako, is asking for more Vatican support to regain his title of patriarch, stripped from him in July by the Iraqi president.  Analysts and others say the move was likely instigated by a Chaldean Catholic militia leader with ties to Iran seeking a land grab.  Sako and observers accuse Rayan al-Kildani, a leader of a nominally Chaldean Catholic militia in Iraq, the Babylon Brigades, and closely tied to Iran, of getting him stripped of his title as patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic church, one of the world’s oldest Christian churches in communion with Rome.   The U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned al-Kildani in 2019 for alleged human rights abuses, while critics accuse him of seeking control of Chaldean Church assets, including properties that Sako oversees. Sako is appealing for more help from the Vatican to restore his position.  “I want the Vatican also to take a strong position,” Sako told reporters through an interpreter in an online forum this week. “We need to resolve this problem and defend this very old church. We’ve paid a heavy price for our faith and to remain here (in Iraq) and to continue to speak up about the Christian faith very bravely.”    Sako helped organize Pope Francis’ historic visit to Iraq in 2021, meant to reconcile various religious and ethnic communities. But analyst Michael Knights of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy told VOA that Iran is using militia leader al-Kilani to grab church and other Christian property in Iraq.   “Only in the Christian community has there been an organized peaceful resistance against the use of an Iran-backed militia to basically take over that minority community,” Knights said. “That’s partly because the Christian community in Iraq has more of an external force from the global diaspora and the Vatican than any other of the Iraqi micro-minorities. It’s the only thing that is holding Rayan al-Kildani back.” Joseph Amar, an emeritus professor of Christianity in the Middle East at the University of Notre Dame, told VOA that while other Christian denominations in Iraq also recognize Cardinal Sako as their advocate and spokesman and stand with him, there are concerns for the community’s future, as numbers have dwindled to some 150,000 following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, while Iran’s influence grows in government.  Sako’s own leverage is a concern.  “But with his actual authority diminished the way it is, that rallying point is going to diminish also,” Amar said. “Because he won’t be able to deliver the way he has in the past. He had all of the contacts in the West behind him. Other Christian minorities recognized that, so they made common cause, which gave them all strength. Now with the degree of the exodus, there’s just very few people left to rally behind him. Iran knows this."  Amar said that the “Vatican is being super careful here because it doesn’t know who to talk to in Iraq right now because of the chaos in the government.”

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Ukrainian Families With Children Forced to Evacuate From City of Huliaipole

The city of Huliaipole [pron: hool-aye-poh-leh] in the Zaporizhzhia region of Ukraine is located just a few kilometers away from the frontlines. Despite constant shelling, some residents and families with children are still living there. Eva Myronova spoke with one family about why they are staying. Anna Rice narrates the story. Camera: Oleksandr Oliynik