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Updated: 20 min 52 sec ago

On Father's Day, LGBTQ+ couple celebrates their sperm donor

44 min 11 sec ago
PRAIRIE VILLAGE, Kansas — David Titterington had a sense of what his childhood friend would ask him when she led him into a photo booth at a mutual friend's wedding roughly a decade ago. As the countdown for the second photo ticked, Jen Wilson popped the question: Will you be my sperm donor? "Of course I said yes," Titterington said. "I mean, who would have guessed that, being a gay man, I would have this opportunity to have biological children and also be part of their lives?" On Father's Day, which is Sunday, Kansas residents Jen and Whitney Wilson will pack up their three children — ages 9, 7 and 3 — and head to picnic at Titterington's Missouri house to celebrate the man who helped make their family possible. Like other LGBTQ+ couples, they and their sperm donor have created their own traditions around Father's Day. "We just have decided to celebrate him," said Jen Wilson, who works as the executive director of the LGBTQ+ advocacy group Modern Family Alliance. For LGBTQ+ people, single-parent households, other nontraditional families or those with strained family relationships, Father's Day and Mother's Day can be painful and confusing. Events featuring those holidays at school can make some children feel isolated. Jen Wilson said many schools are working toward being more inclusive, such as turning events like "Donuts with Dads" to "Donuts with Grown-Ups." "There are families who don't have a David, who can't really point to, like, this is what it means to be a dad or have a father figure. So I consider us really lucky," Whitney Wilson said. She later added: "I think we're really lucky in that we have lots of people in our life to point to. Not just David ... grandpas and uncles and all kinds of people who are also fathers." Between 2 million and 3.3 million children under age 18 have an LGBTQ+ parent, according to the group Family Equality. Such families are growing more visible in recent years, said Cathy Renna, the communications director of the National LGBTQ Task Force. Most Pride events now include family-friendly activities, like climbing walls, she said. "Now we see families of all kinds and shapes and sizes, and that's really important. It's important not just for us," Renna said. "It's also important for kids to understand, you know, that families do come in many different, configurations and that families are about love." When it comes to Father's Day, Jen Wilson said: "People focus so much on just their own father instead of highlighting the fact that there are a lot of really great fathers in the world in lots of different communities and just celebrating them for stepping up and ... being the great dads that they are." Jen Wilson and Titterington have been friends since childhood. When Jen Wilson and her wife began planning for a family, Titterington tossed out the idea of being a sperm donor, and he was overjoyed when the couple later made the ask official. Titterington sees his role in the kids' lives as more akin to a godfather than a father. He and his husband go to school events and birthday parties, and Titterington said they see themselves as "coaching them from the sidelines." He said he is partial to the title "blood father," but the Wilsons said the children more often refer to him as their "bio dad" or "donor dad." "I am their father, but I'm not really their parent," Titterington said. "Because Jennifer and Whitney are the two parents, and they're doing an amazing job." Even with David, the idea that the children don't have a dad can be hard for them, Whitney Wilson said, but it isn't "something that keeps anybody in our house up at night." "There are a lot of people that would love the opportunity to tell our children how terrible it is that they don't have a father figure in their life," Jen Wilson said. "We know that's not true." For Titterington, fatherhood is the weight of the Wilsons' firstborn falling asleep on his chest, gifts of scribbled artwork that can never be thrown away, and cleaning up after a toddler in potty training. But after a tiring weekend slumber party, he can send the children home to their mothers. "There's so many ways to be a father," Titterington said. "We get to celebrate all kinds of fathers on Father's Day."

Divers find remains of Finnish WWII plane that was shot down by Moscow

55 min 29 sec ago
HELSINKI — The World War II mystery of what happened to a Finnish passenger plane after it was shot down over the Baltic Sea by Soviet bombers appears to finally be solved more than eight decades later. The plane was carrying American and French diplomatic couriers in June 1940 when it was downed just days before Moscow annexed the Baltic states. All nine people on board the plane were killed, including the two-member Finnish crew and the seven passengers — an American diplomat, two French, two Germans, a Swede and a dual Estonian-Finnish national. A diving and salvage team in Estonia said this week that it had located well-preserved parts and debris from the Junkers Ju 52 plane operated by Finnish airline Aero, which is now Finnair. It was found off the tiny island of Keri near Estonia's capital, Tallinn, at a depth of around 70 meters. "Basically, we started from scratch. We took a whole different approach to the search," Kaido Peremees, spokesman for the Estonian diving and underwater survey company Tuukritoode OU, explained the group's success in finding the plane's remains. The downing of the civilian plane, named Kaleva, en route from Tallinn to Helsinki happened on June 14, 1940 — just three months after Finland had signed a peace treaty with Moscow following the 1939-40 Winter War. The news about the fate of the plane was met with disbelief and anger by authorities in Helsinki who were informed that it was shot down by two Soviet DB-3 bombers 10 minutes after taking off from Tallinn's Ulemiste airport. "It was unique that a passenger plane was shot down during peacetime on a normal scheduled flight," said Finnish aviation historian Carl-Fredrik Geust, who has investigated Kaleva's case since the 1980s. Finland officially kept silent for years about the details of the aircraft's destruction, saying publicly only that a "mysterious crash" had taken place over the Baltic Sea, because it didn't want to provoke Moscow. Though well documented by books, research and television documentaries, the 84-year-old mystery has intrigued Finns. The case is an essential part of the Nordic country's complex World War II history and sheds light into its troubled ties with Moscow. But perhaps more importantly, the downing of the plane happened at a critical time just days before Josef Stalin's Soviet Union was preparing to annex the three Baltic states, sealing the fate of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania for the next half-century before they eventually regained independence in 1991. Moscow occupied Estonia on June 17, 1940, and Kaleva's doomed journey was the last flight out of Tallinn, though Soviets had already started enforcing a tight transport embargo around the Estonian capital. American diplomat Henry W. Antheil Jr., who is now considered one of the first U.S. casualties of World War II, was aboard the plane when it went down. The 27-year-old Antheil, the younger brother of the acclaimed composer and pianist George Antheil, was on a rushed government mission evacuating sensitive diplomatic pouches from U.S. missions in Tallinn and Riga, Latvia, as it had become clear that Moscow was preparing to swallow up the small Baltic nations. An Associated Press wire item dated June 15, 1940, noted that "Henry W. Antheil Jr. of Trenton, N. J., attached to the United States Legation in Helsinki, was killed in the mysterious explosion of a Finnish airliner yesterday." In the U.S. media, Antheil's death was overshadowed by much bigger news from Europe at the time: the Nazi occupation of Paris. The U.S. Embassy in Tallinn has thoroughly documented and researched the case over the years. Embassy spokesperson Mike Snyder told the AP that "news of the possible location of the wreck of the Kaleva passenger plane is of great interest to the United States, especially since one of the first U.S. casualties of the Second World War, Diplomat Henry Antheil, occurred as a result of the plane being downed." Earlier this month, the U.S. ambassador in Estonia, George P. Kent, shared a post on X that included photos of Antheil, Kaleva and a memorial plaque by the American Foreign Service Association in Washington with Antheil's name engraved in it. Kaleva was carrying 227 kilograms of diplomatic post, including Antheil's pouches and material from two French diplomatic couriers — identified as Paul Longuet and Frederic Marty. Estonian fishermen and the lighthouse operator on Keri told Finnish media decades after the downing of the plane that a Soviet submarine surfaced close to Kaleva's crash site and retrieved floating debris, including document pouches, that had been collected by fishermen from the site. This has led to conspiracy theories regarding the contents of the pouches and Moscow's decision to shoot down the plane. It still remains unclear why precisely the Soviet Union decided to down a civilian Finnish passenger plane during peacetime. "Lots of speculation on the plane's cargo has been heard over the years," Geust said. "What was the plane transporting? Many suggest Moscow wanted to prevent sensitive material and documents from exiting Estonia." But he said that it could have simply been "a mistake" by the Soviet bomber pilots. Various attempts to find Kaleva have been recorded since Estonia regained independence more than three decades ago. However, none of them have been successful. Not even the U.S. Navy's oceanographic survey vessel Pathfinder could locate remains of the plane in a 2008 search around the Keri island in a venture commissioned by the Estonian government from the Pentagon. "The wreckage is in pieces and the seabed is quite challenging with rock formations, valleys and hills. It's very easy to miss" small parts and debris from the aircraft, Peremees said. "Techniques have, of course, evolved a lot over the time. As always, you can have good technology but be out of luck." New video taken by underwater robots from Peremees' company show clear images of the three-engine Junkers' landing gear, one of the motors and parts of the wings. Peremees and his group are "absolutely" convinced the parts belong to Kaleva because of the distinctive and recognizable design of the German-made Junkers Ju 52, one of the most popular European passenger and wartime transport planes in the 1930s and early 1940s. The plane was operated by the predecessor of the Finnish national airline Finnair. Jaakko Schildt, chief operations officer of Finnair, described Kaleva's downing as "a tragic and profoundly sad event for the young airline" that Finnair, then named Aero, was in 1940. "Finding the wreckage of Kaleva in a way brings closure to this, even though it does not bring back the lives of our customers and crew that were lost," Schildt said. "The interest towards locating Kaleva in the Baltic Sea speaks of the importance this tragic event has in the aviation history of our region." Peremees said his company would now focus on creating 3D images of Kaleva's debris and discuss with Estonian authorities about the possibility of raising some of the items and, if found, the plane's cargo and human remains. Snyder from the U.S. Embassy in Tallinn said that Washington is closely monitoring the diving group's efforts. "We are following the investigation of the site and will be happy to discuss with our Finnish and Estonian (NATO) allies any developments resulting from recovery efforts," Snyder said. A stone memorial set up in the early 1990s to the victims of the Kaleva crash is located on Keri, and Helsinki's old preserved Malmi airport terminal building, where Kaleva was supposed to arrive, has a memorial plaque set up in 2020 with the names of the victims.

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55 min 29 sec ago
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Israel announces 'tactical pause' to increase flow of Gaza aid

1 hour 20 min ago
JERUSALEM — The Israeli military on Sunday announced a "tactical pause" in its offensive in the southern Gaza Strip to allow the deliveries of increased quantities of humanitarian aid. The army said the pause would begin in the Rafah area at 8 a.m. (0500 GMT, 1 a.m. Eastern) and remain in effect until 7 p.m. (1600 GMT, noon Eastern). It said the pauses would take place every day until further notice. The pause is aimed at allowing aid trucks to reach the nearby Israel-controlled Kerem Shalom crossing, the main entry point for incoming aid, and travel safely to the Salah a-Din highway, a main north-south road, to deliver supplies to other parts of Gaza, the military said. It said the pause was being coordinated with the U.N. and international aid agencies. The crossing has suffered from a bottleneck since Israeli ground troops moved into Rafah in early May. Israel's eight-month military offensive against the Hamas militant group has plunged Gaza into a humanitarian crisis, with the U.N. reporting widespread hunger and hundreds of thousands of people on the brink of famine. The international community has urged Israel to do more to ease the crunch. From May 6 until June 6, the U.N. received an average of 68 trucks of aid a day, according to figures from the U.N. humanitarian office, known as OCHA. That was down from 168 a day in April and far below the 500 trucks a day that aid groups say are needed. The flow of aid in southern Gaza declined just as the humanitarian need grew. More than 1 million Palestinians, many of whom had already been displaced, fled Rafah after the invasion, crowding into other parts of southern and central Gaza. Most now languish in ramshackle tent camps, using trenches as latrines, with open sewage in the streets. COGAT, the Israeli military body that oversees aid distribution in Gaza, says there are no restrictions on the entry of trucks. It says more than 8,600 trucks of all kinds, both aid and commercial, entered Gaza from all crossings from May 2 to June 13, an average of 201 a day. But much of that aid has piled up at the crossings and not reached its final destination. A spokesperson for COGAT, Shimon Freedman, said it was the U.N.'s fault that its cargo stacked up on the Gaza side of Kerem Shalom. He said the agencies have "fundamental logistical problems that they have not fixed," especially a lack of trucks. The U.N. denies such allegations. It says the fighting between Israel and Hamas often makes it too dangerous for U.N. trucks inside Gaza to travel to Kerem Shalom, which is right next to Israel's border. It also says the pace of deliveries has been slowed because the Israeli military must authorize drivers to travel to the site, a system Israel says was designed for the drivers' safety. Due to a lack of security, aid trucks in some cases have also been looted by crowds as they moved along Gaza's roads. The new arrangement aims to reduce the need for coordinating deliveries by providing an 11-hour uninterrupted window each day for trucks to move in and out of the crossing. It was not immediately clear whether the army would provide security to protect the aid trucks as they move along the highway.

Midwives: State law could jeopardize Native Hawaiian birth traditions

1 hour 39 min ago
HONOLULU — Ki'inaniokalani Kahoʻohanohano longed for a deeper connection to her Native Hawaiian ancestors and culture as she prepared to give birth to her first child at home on the north shore of Maui in 2003. But generations of colonialist suppression had eroded many Hawaiian traditions, and it was hard to find information on how the islands' Indigenous people honored pregnancy or childbirth. Nor could she find a Native Hawaiian midwife. That experience led Kahoʻohanohano — now a mother of five — to become a Native Hawaiian midwife herself, a role in which she spent years helping to deliver as many as three babies a month, receiving them in a traditional cloth made of woven bark and uttering sacred, tremorous chants as she welcomed them into the world. Her quest to preserve tradition also led her into a downtown Honolulu courtroom this week, where she and others are seeking to block a state law that they say endangers their ability to continue serving pregnant women who hope for such customary Native Hawaiian births. "To be able to have our babies in the places and in the ways of our kupuna, our ancestors, is very vital," she testified. "To me, the point of what we do is to be able to return birth home to these places." Lawmakers enacted a midwife licensure law in 2019, finding that the "improper practice of midwifery poses a significant risk of harm to the mother or newborn, and may result in death." Violations are punishable by up to a year in jail, plus thousands of dollars in criminal and civil fines. The measure requires anyone who provides "assessment, monitoring, and care" during pregnancy, labor, childbirth and during the postpartum period to be licensed. The women's lawsuit says that would include a wide range of people, including midwives, doulas, lactation consultants, and even family and friends of the new mother. Until last summer, the law provided an exception for "birth attendants," which allowed Kahoʻohanohano to continue practicing Native Hawaiian birth customs. With that exception now expired, however, she and others face the licensing requirements — which, they say, include costly programs only available out of state or online that don't align with Hawaiian culture and beliefs. In 2022, the average cost of an accredited midwifery program was $6,200 to $6,900 a year, according to court documents filed by the state. Attorneys for the state argued in a court filing that the law "undoubtedly serves a compelling interest in protecting pregnant persons from receiving ill-advice from untrained individuals." State Deputy Attorney General Isaac Ickes told Judge Shirley Kawamura that the law doesn't outlaw Native Hawaiian midwifery or homebirths, but that requiring a license reduces the risks of harm or death. The dispute is the latest in a long history of debate about how and whether Hawaii should regulate the practice of traditional healing arts that dates to well before the islands became the 50th state in 1959. Those arts were banished or severely restricted for much of the 20th century, but the Hawaiian Indigenous rights movement of the 1970s renewed interest in the customary ways. Hawaii eventually adopted a system where councils versed in Native Hawaiian healing certify traditional practitioners, though those suing say their efforts to form such a council for midwifery have failed. Practicing midwifery without a license, meanwhile, was banned until 1998 — when, lawmakers say, they inadvertently decriminalized it when they altered the regulation of nurse-midwives, something the 2019 law sought to remedy. Among the nine plaintiffs are women who seek traditional births and argue that the new licensing requirement violates their right of privacy and reproductive autonomy under Hawaii's Constitution. They are represented by the Center for Reproductive Rights and the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation. "For pregnant people whose own family may no longer hold the knowledge of the ceremonial and sacred aspects of birth, a midwife trained in Native Hawaiian traditional and customary birthing practices can be an invaluable, culturally informed health care provider," the lawsuit states. When Kahoʻohanohano was unable to find a Native Hawaiian midwife to attend the birth of her first child, she turned instead to a Native American one, who was open to incorporating traditional Hawaiian aspects that Kahoʻohanohano gleaned from her elders. She surrounded herself with Hawaiian cultural practitioners focusing on pule, or prayer, and lomilomi, a traditional massage with physical and spiritual elements. It all helped ease her three days of labor, she said. And then, "two pushes and pau" — done — the boy was born. The births of her five children in various Maui communities, Kahoʻohanohano said, were her "greatest teachers" in herself becoming one of the very few midwives who know about Native Hawaiian birthing practices. She is believed to be the first person in a century to give birth on her husband's ancestral lands in Kahakuloa, a remote west Maui valley of mostly Native Hawaiians, where her daughter was born in 2015. The community is at least 40 minutes along winding roads to the island's only hospital. Kahoʻohanohano testified about helping low-risk pregnant women and identifying instances where she transferred someone to receive care at the hospital but said she's never experienced any emergency situations. Among the other plaintiffs are midwives she has helped train and women she has aided through birth. Makalani Franco-Francis testified that she learned about customary birth practices from Kahoʻohanohano, including how to receive a newborn in kapa, or traditional cloth, and cultural protocols for a placenta, including taking it to the ocean or burying it to connect a newborn to its ancestral lands. The law has halted her education, Franco-Francis said. She testified that she's not interested in resuming her midwifery education through out-of-state or online programs. "It's not in alignment with our cultural practices, and it's also a financial obligation," she said. The judge heard testimony through the week. It's not clear how soon a ruling might come.

England wins to leapfrog Scotland into Super Eight stage

1 hour 54 min ago
NORTH SOUND, Antigua — England's defense of the Twenty20 World Cup title is still alive after a must-win over Namibia in a rain-affected match, followed by a helping hand from traditional rivals Australia later on Saturday. To reach the Super Eight, England first had to beat Namibia in their maiden T20 matchup. Persistent showers almost ruined the chance, but the match started three hours late and was reduced to 11 overs, then 10 overs after another heavy shower. England was made to bat first and rallied to 122-5. Namibia, given a rain-adjusted target of 126, managed only 84-3 and lost by 41 runs. England did what it had to, then had to wait a few more hours and hope Scotland lost to Australia in Saint Lucia to be sure of advancing from Group B. Australia, which had already qualified from Group B, were made to work but eventually overpowered Scotland in a five-wicket win to give England the result it needed to progress to the Super Eights. England was anxious for most of the day, thanks to the weather. It had already suffered one washout — its opener against Scotland — and a second washout in four group games would have sent it home. Because of what was at stake, the umpires waited as long as possible at Sir Vivian Richards Stadium to get play under way. England lost the plot early. Only one run was taken from the opening over bowled by 39-year-old David Wiese; captain Jos Buttler was bowled for a duck by fast bowler Ruben Trumpelmann; and Wiese returned to nick out the other opener, Phil Salt. England was 13-2 after 13 balls. Jonny Bairstow and Harry Brook counterattacked. Bairstow made 31 off 18 balls just before the last rain delay. Brook finished with an unbeaten 47 off 20, and had late support from Moeen Ali and Liam Livingstone, who both contributed to taking 21 runs off the last over. Namibia's chase was relatively fast but not fast enough. Opener Michael van Lingen, after 33 off 29, was pulled out under the pretense of retiring hurt, and Wiese inserted to up the run rate. He duly delivered 27 off 12 but it was too late. It was the last international for allrounder Wiese, captain Gerhard Erasmus said. Wiese started with South Africa in 2013 but after five years off he debuted for Namibia in the 2021 T20 World Cup and was invaluable. "Inspired us to new heights," Erasmus said. Australia ends Scotland's dreamAt Gros Islet, St Lucia, Group B leaders Australia were made to work hard in its maiden T20 matchup against Scotland before it rallied late to win by five wickets. After England's 41-run victory over Namibia in a rain-affected match earlier Saturday saw it jump into second place in the group standings, Scotland knew it had to beat Australia to advance to the Super Eight stage. Scotland were made to bat first and built a competitive 180-5. Australia were on the backfoot for most of its innings until some big-hitting from Travis Head and Marcus Stoinis, who both scored half centuries, seized back momentum in the late overs and saw the Aussies home. Scotland seeking to make the playoff stage of a T20 World Cup for the first time started brightly with George Munsey (35 off 23 balls) and Brandon McMullen (60 off 34 balls) getting Scotland off to a brisk start after Michael Jones was bowled by Ashton Agar in the first over. Captain Richie Berrington kept the scoreboard ticking for the Scots with an unbeaten 42 off 31 balls, but Australia's closing bowlers off Nathan Ellis, Mitchell Starc and Adam Zampa restricted Scotland from getting closer to the 200 run total they looked like achieving for most of the innings. Australia's reply started shakily with David Warner out for one in the second over caught in the deep off Brad Wheal. Captain Mitch Marsh never got going in his brief innings of eight off nine balls before he was Safyarn Shariff's first wicket as Australia fell to 34-2 in a subdued powerplay. Glenn Maxwell was then bowled by a brilliant offspin delivery from Mark Watt as Scotland's hopes of reaching the Super Eight round were raised. Scotland's bowlers were mostly disciplined in their line and length as they restricted Head and Stonis from finding the acceleration they needed to chase down the 181-run target. But the match turned quickly in the 16th over when Head hit three sixes off Sharif (2-42) before he holed-out looking for another. Stoinis found another boundary off the final ball of the over to raise his half-century off 25 balls as Australia plundered a game-changing 24 runs. Now needing 36 runs off the final four overs, Tim David (24 off 14 balls) made light work of the chase with a string of boundaries to finally end Scotland's hopes of a famous victory and a spot in the Super Eight stage at England's expense. Australia topped Group B with eight points from four matches, with England leaping into second place on five points and ahead of Scotland on net run rate. India washout The India-Canada game in Florida was abandoned without a ball bowled. The outfield in Broward County Stadium was too wet for play, and the match was called off only an hour after its scheduled morning start. While there was light rain on Saturday morning, the outfield was damp from Friday showers which led to a second straight abandoned game at the venue. The United States-Ireland game on Friday never started. Pakistan and Ireland are scheduled to play at the ground on Sunday. While the teams waited for a decision, India's Rishabh Pant and coach Rahul Dravid went to the boundary to sign autographs, and Virat Kohli posed with some of the Canada players. Unbeaten India had already qualified for the Super Eight as the Group A winner. Canada finished group play with only a precious win over Ireland. India starts the Super Eight against Afghanistan on Thursday in Barbados.

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1 hour 55 min ago
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Honduras plans to build a 20,000-capacity 'megaprison'

June 15, 2024 - 23:45
TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — The president of Honduras has announced the creation of a new 20,000-capacity "megaprison," part of the government's larger crackdown on gang violence and efforts to overhaul its long-troubled prison system. President Xiomara Castro unveiled a series of emergency measures in a nationally televised address early Saturday, including plans to strengthen the military's role in fighting organized crime, prosecute drug traffickers as terrorists and build new facilities to ease overcrowding as narcoviolence and other crimes mount in the nation of 10 million. Left-wing Castro's "megaprison" ambitions mirror those of President Nayib Bukele in neighboring El Salvador, who has built the largest prison in Latin America — a 40,000-capacity facility to house a surging number of detainees swept up in the president's campaign of mass arrests. Honduran security forces must "urgently carry out interventions" in all parts of the country now witnessing "the highest rates of gang violence, drug trafficking, money laundering" and other crimes, Castro said in her midnight address. Authorities plan to immediately construct and send dangerous gangsters to a 20,000-capacity prison near the rural province of Olancho, in the country's east, said Maj. Gen. Roosevelt Hernández, the army chief of staff. Escalated police raids have driven up the Honduran prison population to 19,500 inmates, crammed into a system designed for 13,000, the Honduran national committee against torture, or CONAPREV, reported last year. The government has rushed to build new detention facilities. Last year, Castro announced plans to construct the only island prison colony in the Western Hemisphere — an isolated 2,000-capacity prison on the Islas del Cisne archipelago about 250 kilometers off the country's coast. The Honduran defense council also demanded that Congress change the penal code to allow authorities to detain suspected gang leaders without filing charges and carry out mass trials, as they do for alleged terrorists. The raft of measures marked the latest example of Castro's hard-line stance on security that intensified amid a surge of narcoviolence in 2022, when she imposed a state of emergency to combat the bloodshed and suspended part of the constitution — a page straight from the playbook of Bukele in El Salvador. Like Bukele's anti-gang crackdown that has restricted civil liberties in El Salvador, Castro's tactics have drawn criticism from human rights groups that accuse her government of taking its tough-on-crime tactics too far. But Bukele's success in eradicating gangs that once terrorized large swaths of El Salvador has won him admiration across the region, including in Honduras, where a weary public wants to see results. Last week, Honduran Security Minister Gustavo Sánchez announced that the government recorded 20% fewer homicides in the first five months of 2024 compared to the same period last year. Yet critics remain skeptical that the Bukele model can deliver results in Honduras, where gangs remain powerful and corruption entrenched, despite the recent drop in homicides.

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June 15, 2024 - 23:00
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Brazilian women protest bill that equates late abortions with homicide

June 15, 2024 - 21:04
SAO PAULO — Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Sao Paulo on Saturday as protests sweep across Brazil in opposition to a bill that would further criminalize abortions. If passed, the law would equate the termination of a pregnancy after 22 weeks with homicide. The bill, proposed by conservative lawmakers and heading for a vote in the lower house, would also apply in cases of rape. Critics say those who seek an abortion so late are mostly child rape victims, as their pregnancies tend to be detected later. To rally opposition, rights’ groups created the ‘A child is not a mother’ campaign that has flooded social media. Placards, stickers and banners emblazoned with the slogan have abounded during demonstrations. And viral visuals depicting women in red cloaks compare Brazil to Gilead, the theocratic patriarchy Margaret Atwood created in her dystopian novel, The Handmaid’s Tale. About 10,000 people, mostly women, filled several blocks of Sao Paulo’s main boulevard on Saturday afternoon, organizers estimated. It was the biggest demonstration yet, following events in Rio de Janeiro, Brasilia, Florianopolis, Recife, Manaus, and other cities. Marli Gavioli, 65, has mostly refrained from protesting since demonstrations in the 1980s that called for the end of the military dictatorship, but she told The Associated Press she's too outraged to remain home. "I couldn’t stay out of this, or I would regret it too much. We are being whipped from all sides, us women. It’s past time we do something," she said. Brazil only permits abortion in cases of rape if there is an evident risk to the mother’s life or if the fetus has no functioning brain. Aside from those exceptions, Brazil’s penal code imposes between one- and three-years jail time for women who end a pregnancy. Some Brazilian women fly abroad to obtain abortions. If the bill becomes law, the sentence will rise to between six and 20 years when an abortion is performed after 22 weeks. Critics have highlighted that would mean convicted rapists could receive lesser sentences than their victims. Experts say that late access to abortion reflects inequalities in health care. Children, poor women, Black women and those living in rural areas are particularly at risk. "We cannot be sentenced to prison for having suffered a rape and not receiving support and care," Talita Rodrigues, a member of rights’ group National Front against the Criminalization of Women and for the Legalization of Abortion, said by phone. Of the 74,930 people who were victims of rape in Brazil in 2022, 61.4% were under 14 years old, according to a 2023 study of the Brazilian Forum on Public Safety, an independent group that tracks crimes. "For children, it is common for a pregnancy to be discovered only after 22 weeks," Ivanilda Figueiredo, a professor of law at the State University of Rio de Janeiro, said by phone. For example, they might not know that periods — a sign a woman isn't pregnant — are monthly, she said. Among the protesters in downtown Rio on Thursday was Graziela Souza, a 25-year-old student who was sexually assaulted as a child. "I think it’s very important for victims to be present, as much as it hurts," Souza said. "We must speak out and fight against it, because if we stay at home we are going to lose." Defenders of the bill have argued that abortions at a later stage were unimaginable when Brazil’s penal code was adopted in 1940, which explains why there is currently no time limit. Had it been envisioned, they argue, it would be considered infanticide. The bill’s author, lawmaker and Evangelical pastor Sóstenes Cavalcante, declined an interview request from the AP. On Wednesday, the lower house Speaker Arthur Lira rushed through a procedure to fast-track the bill in under 30 seconds, with many lawmakers reportedly unaware it was taking place. The maneuver allows the plenary to vote without the bill first clearing committees. Lira has been a top target for protesters' ire. Signs on Saturday read "What if it happened to your daughter, Lira?" and simply "Lira out." Conservative lawmakers proposing the bill — who protesters have dubbed ‘the rape caucus’ — are playing politics, hoping to boost turnout and support from Evangelical voters in October municipal elections, Fernanda Barros dos Santos, a political scientist at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, said by phone. Abortion is a topic of high concern for Christians, who make up a majority of voters in Brazil. "The bill puts people who are progressive in a very difficult situation, because they lose votes by defending abortion rights," said Figueiredo, the law professor. President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s government has been seeking inroads with Evangelicals, a key voting bloc for far-right former President Jair Bolsonaro. Lula beat Bolsonaro in the 2022 presidential election. "The president sent a letter to Evangelicals in the campaign saying he was against abortion. We want to see if he will veto it. Let’s test Lula," Cavalcante, the bill's author, told local news outlet G1 on Tuesday. First lady Rosângela da Silva, known as Janja, slammed the proposal on social media Friday, saying women and girls who are raped need to be protected, not revictimized. Lula finally weighed in on Saturday, speaking at the G7 in Italy. "I had five kids, eight grandchildren and a great-grandchild. I'm against abortion. However, since abortion is a reality, we need to treat abortion as a public health issue," he said in a news conference. "And I think it's insanity that someone wants to punish a woman with a sentence that's longer than the criminal who committed the rape." Although strict abortion laws have long been the norm across the predominantly Roman Catholic region of Latin America, feminist movements have gained momentum in recent years and delivered successive victories for abortion-rights campaigners. Colombia’s Supreme Court decriminalized abortion in 2022, following a similar breakthrough ruling by Mexico. Argentina’s Congress legalized abortion in 2020, and a few years earlier Chile rolled back a strict ban.

VOA Newscasts

June 15, 2024 - 21:00
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Dutch visitor dies on Greek island, 4 foreign missing

June 15, 2024 - 20:02
athens, greece — A missing Dutch tourist was found dead early Saturday on the eastern Greek island of Samos, local media reported, the latest in a string of recent cases in which tourists in the Greek islands have died or gone missing. Some, if not all, had set out on hikes in blistering hot temperatures.  Dr. Michael Mosley, a noted British television anchor and author, was found dead last Sunday on the island of Symi. A coroner concluded Mosley had died the previous Wednesday, shortly after going for a hike over difficult, rocky terrain.  Samos, like Symi, lies very close to the Turkish coast.  The body of the 74-year-old Dutch tourist was found by a Fire Service drone lying face down in a ravine about 300 meters (330 yards) from the spot where he was last observed Sunday, walking with some difficulty in the blistering heat.  Authorities were still searching for four people reported missing in the past few days.  On Friday, two French tourists were reported missing on Sikinos, a relatively secluded Cyclades island in the Aegean Sea, with less than 400 permanent residents.  The two women, aged 73 and 64, had left their respective hotels to meet.  A 70-year-old American tourist was reported missing Thursday on the small island of Mathraki in Greece's northwest extremity by his host, a Greek-American friend. The tourist had last been seen Tuesday at a cafe in the company of two female tourists who have since left the island.  Mathraki, population 100, is a 3.9-square-kilometer (1.2-square-mile) heavily wooded island, west of the better-known island of Corfu. Strong winds had prevented police and the fire service from reaching the island to search for the missing person as of Saturday afternoon, media reported.  On the island of Amorgos, authorities were still searching for a 59-year-old tourist reported missing since Tuesday, when he had gone on a solo hike in very hot conditions.  U.S. media identified the missing tourist as retired Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriff Albert Calibet of Hermosa Beach, California.  Amorgos, the easternmost of the Cyclades islands, is a rocky 122-square-kilometer (47-square-mile) island of less than 2,000 inhabitants. A couple of years ago the island had a record number of visitors, over 100,000.  Some media commentary has focused on the need to inform tourists of the dangers of setting off on hikes in intense heat.  Temperatures across Greece on Saturday were more than 10 degrees Celsius (18 Fahrenheit) lower than on Thursday, when they peaked at almost 45 C (113 F). They are expected to rise again from Sunday, although not to heat-wave levels.  

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June 15, 2024 - 20:00
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UN warns that 'miscalculation' could escalate Hezbollah-Israel conflict

June 15, 2024 - 19:15
beirut — There is a "very real" risk that a miscalculation along Lebanon's southern border could trigger a wider conflict between Hezbollah and the Israeli military, two United Nations officials in Lebanon warned Saturday.  The United Nations special coordinator for Lebanon, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, and the head of U.N. peacekeeping forces in Lebanon, Aroldo Lazaro, said they were "deeply concerned" about the recent escalation along Lebanon's border.  Iran-backed Hezbollah last week launched the largest volleys of rockets and drones yet in the eight months it has been exchanging fire with the Israeli military, in parallel with the Gaza war.  "The danger of miscalculation leading to a sudden and wider conflict is very real," the two officials said in a written statement Saturday.  The United States and France are working on a negotiated settlement to the hostilities along Lebanon's southern border. Hezbollah says it will not halt fire unless Israel's military offensive in Gaza stops. 

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June 15, 2024 - 19:00
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Frustrated Ghanaians brace for more disruptions in power

June 15, 2024 - 18:34
Accra, Ghana — Exasperated Ghanaians already grappling with frequent, unplanned power outages are steeling themselves for more misery after electricity distributors announced increased disruption to the grid in the coming weeks.  The blackouts — known as "dumsor" in Ghana's Akan language — are making it harder to run businesses already struggling due to the country's economic crisis — the worst in a decade.   On Thursday, the Ghana Grid Company and the Electricity Company of Ghana, which distribute power throughout the West African country of 33 million people, said there would be three weeks of load management because of maintenance work by a gas supplier in Nigeria.  Nigeria provides Ghana with a percentage of the gas it needs to fire its power-generating plants.  The announcement came a day after WAPCo, the operator of the pipeline importing gas from Nigeria, also warned there would be a drop in the quantity of gas available because of maintenance work in Nigeria.    The news has exasperated Ghanaians already dealing with frequent power cuts.  "The current unannounced power cuts are already making it very hard to keep my poultry frozen," Judith Esi Baidoo, a 50-year-old frozen poultry vendor in Accra, told AFP.  She added: "Now, with this three-week load management plan, I fear my entire stock will spoil. I don't know how my business can survive this."  The erratic power supply is tipped to become a key topic in the campaign for December's presidential election.  Timothy Oddoye, who repairs mobile phones in the Accra suburb of Kokomlemle, said, "The government had failed us. They've had years to fix these problems, yet we are still suffering from the same issues.  "How can we grow our businesses when we can't even rely on basic electricity?"  Despite being one of the African countries where electrification is most advanced, Ghana continues to experience chronic power shortages.   Domestic electricity production — generated by power plants that are in many cases old and poorly maintained — has struggled to expand in line with rising demand.  According to International Energy Agency figures, Ghana generates 34 percent of its electricity from hydropower and 63 percent from gas.   The country produces both oil and gas but still needs to import gas from Nigeria via the 678-kilometer (420-mile) West African Gas Pipeline through Benin and Togo.  "The reliance on gas, especially from external suppliers, leaves us vulnerable," said Ben Boakye, executive director of the Africa Center for Energy Policy.  "The government must prioritize investments in renewable energy and upgrade our existing hydro and thermal plants to ensure [a] consistent power supply."  Public frustration at the power cuts erupted on June 8, when hundreds of Ghanaians, led by prominent celebrities, took to the streets of Accra to protest the erratic supply under the slogan #DumsorMustStop.   These power cuts are even more disturbing for Ghanaians as the country emerges from an economic crisis that saw inflation soar to 54 percent in December 2022.  It fell back to 25 percent in April 2023, but the population still suffers. 

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June 15, 2024 - 18:00
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Nigeria's annual inflation rate hits 28-year high: 33.95%

June 15, 2024 - 17:54
abuja, nigeria — Nigeria's annual inflation rose to a 28-year high of 33.95% in May, official data showed Saturday, worsening hardships that have fueled public anger against President Bola Tinubu's economic reforms. It was the 18th straight month that inflation has risen, up from 33.69% a month earlier. Price pressures have been spurred by Tinubu's reforms, chiefly slashing petrol and electricity subsidies and devaluing the naira currency twice within a year. Labor unions, which suspended a strike called to demand a new minimum wage, have argued that the reforms hurt the poor and have left millions grappling with the worst cost-of-living crisis in decades. Data published by the National Bureau of Statistics showed food and non-alcoholic beverages continued to be the biggest contributor to inflation in May. Food inflation, which accounts for the bulk of Nigeria's inflation basket, rose to 40.66% from 40.53% the previous month. High food prices and a weaker naira are the main drivers of inflation in Nigeria, analysts say. The central bank raised interest rates in May for the third time this year in response to the continued rise in inflation. Governor Olayemi Cardoso of the Central Bank of Nigeria has indicated that rates will stay high for as long as necessary to bring inflation down.

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June 15, 2024 - 17:00
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