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Former Austrian Leader Convicted of False Statements, Given Suspended Sentence

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 23, 2024 - 15:57
vienna — Former Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz was convicted Friday of making false statements to a parliamentary inquiry into alleged corruption in his first government. He was given an eight-month suspended sentence. The verdict at the Vienna criminal court followed a four-month trial. The case marked the first time in more than 30 years that a former Austrian chancellor had stood trial. The case centered on Kurz's testimony to an inquiry that focused on the coalition he led from 2017, when his conservative Austrian People's Party formed a coalition with the far-right Freedom Party, until its collapse in 2019. Prosecutors accused the 37-year-old of having given false evidence in June 2020 regarding his role in the setup of a holding company, OeBAG, which administers the state's role in some companies, and the appointment of his former close confidant, Thomas Schmid, to its leadership. Judge Michael Radasztics found Kurz guilty of making false statements about the appointment of the company's supervisory board, though not about that of Schmid. Kurz stood motionless as Radasztics announced the verdict to a packed courtroom. His lawyer later said he would appeal the verdict. Once a rising star among conservatives in Europe, Kurz resigned in 2021 after a separate corruption probe opened and has since left politics. However, his People's Party continues to lead the government under current Chancellor Karl Nehammer. The party is currently trailing in polls ahead of a national election expected in September, and the Kurz verdict could put it under more pressure. In his closing statement, prosecutor Gregor Adamovic said Kurz had "actively" supported Schmid with the aim of handing OeBAG's leadership to his preferred candidate, and contended that it was clear the then-chancellor signed off on all the candidates for the company's board. Kurz has repeatedly stated that he was only "informed" about but not actively involved in the decision. The prosecution also contended that Kurz made false statements in order to avoid public criticism of cronyism which he had himself declared to be fighting in the Austrian political system. In their indictment, which wasn't released to the public but was obtained by The Associated Press, prosecutors reference potentially incriminating chat messages found on Schmid's phone. Schmid, who is cooperating with prosecutors, testified extensively. In an emotional closing statement to a court session that stretched into the evening, Kurz said it made him feel "helpless" to see that the trial was mainly about how prosecutors interpreted his statement to the inquiry and not what he had actually meant. "What I said during the parliamentary inquiry does not correspond to the interpretation of the prosecution," he said. Kurz rose to power with an anti-immigration platform and was only 31 when he became the leader of the People's Party and then chancellor in 2017. Kurz pulled the plug on his first government after a video surfaced that showed the vice chancellor and Freedom Party leader at the time, Heinz-Christian Strache, appearing to offer favors to a purported Russian investor. A few months later, Kurz returned to power in a new coalition with the environmentalist Greens in early 2020 but resigned in October 2021. The Greens had demanded his replacement after prosecutors announced that he was a target of a second investigation into suspected bribery and breach of trust. Kurz also denied any wrongdoing in that case. His former chief of staff, Bernhard Bonelli, was tried along with Kurz and was convicted Friday of making a false statement to the parliamentary inquiry about his own involvement and that of Kurz in the selection of OeBAG supervisory board members. He was given a six-month suspended sentence. Bonelli's lawyer also plans to appeal.

8 People Die in Brazil's Rio de Janeiro State as Rain Causes Landslides, Floods

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 23, 2024 - 15:43
RIO DE JANEIRO — At least eight people died in Rio de Janeiro state because of landslides and floods caused by heavy rains Thursday, Brazilian authorities said. A 6-year-old was listed as missing in the countryside city of Mendes. Four of the dead, including an 8-month-old, were members of the same family in the city of Barra do Pirai, officials said. A landslide destroyed the family's house. More than 100 people were left homeless across the state, according to mayors of different cities. The state government warned that there was still a high possibility of more floods and landslides in 10 cities, including in Rio de Janeiro city. Local media reported several cases of desperate residents working as improvised rescue teams in an attempt to save lives. Firefighters and police had not yet reached some hard-hit areas.

Botswana Pushes Against European Opposition to Trophy Hunting

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 23, 2024 - 15:28
Gaborone, Botswana   — Botswana says it will use next week’s U.N. Environment Assembly to lobby against a proposed European ban on importing wildlife trophies from Africa. This comes as Botswana’s former president visits the U.K. to lobby in favor of the ban, defying his country’s position. Botswana’s acting minister of environment and tourism, Machana Shamukuni, told Parliament that he would be present when the U.N. Environment Assembly convenes Monday in Nairobi. He said he would be reminding like-minded delegates to continue to lobby against Europe’s efforts to ban trophy hunting. Trophy hunting is the practice of killing large animals such as elephants, lions and tigers for sport. Hunters often keep the heads or other parts of the animals for display. In 2022, the European Parliament announced plans to introduce a ban on the import of wildlife trophies. Conservationists are concerned that continued hunting will further deplete wildlife populations, which are declining in many areas from loss of habitat and poaching. However, Botswana has the world’s largest elephant population at more than 130,000, and the giant animals are often in conflict with humans. Investigation urged Siyoka Simasiku is director of the Ngamiland Council of Nongovernmental Organizations, a conservation coalition, and has been involved in the campaign against the proposed wildlife trophy import bans. He said authorities in Europe needed to travel to southern Africa to get firsthand information about how limited elephant hunting helps Botswana. “This has been the call of the community — to invite European countries, including the U.K., to come directly to their areas to witness what the benefits from this wildlife have actually provided them, and also to see the damages that are also brought about by wildlife within their areas in terms of crop damage, competition for water holes and loss of lives," Simasiku said. "These are things that are dear to our communities.” Currently, Botswana issues about 300 elephant hunting licenses per year, generating approximately $3 million for the country, separate from the other revenues the hunters generate. Meanwhile, former Botswana President Ian Khama this week arrived in the United Kingdom to drum up support for the hunting ban. While in office, Khama enacted a hunting ban in 2014, but his successor, President Mokgweetsi Masisi, lifted the moratorium in 2019. Simasiku said wildlife communities in Botswana oppose Khama’s recent actions. “The Botswana communities strongly oppose this move where the former president advocates for a trophy hunting ban in London," he said. "They have expressed concerns about the negative impact on their livelihoods and conservation efforts. They argue that a blanket ban overlooks their role in sustainable wildlife management and urge for a more inclusive approach that considers their perspectives and needs.” No European Union ban on wildlife trophy imports has materialized so far, but the U.K. House of Lords considered a ban that failed to pass, while Germany and France are considering similar prohibitions. Last month, Belgium succeeded in introducing a ban, amid calls for the rest of Europe to follow suit.

UN Report Accuses Sudan’s Warring Parties of Crimes Against Civilians

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 23, 2024 - 15:18
GENEVA — A report by the U.N. human rights office accuses both of Sudan’s warring parties of committing horrific violations and abuses against the country’s civilian population, “some of which may amount to war crimes and possibly other serious crimes under international law.” The 16-page report is based on interviews with 303 victims and witnesses, as well as analysis of photographs, videos and satellite imagery gathered between April 15 and December 2023. The report holds the Sudanese Armed Forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces responsible for the killings of at least 14,600 civilians and the forced displacement of more than 8 million people both inside Sudan and as refugees in five neighboring countries. Authors of the report say the intensity of hostilities between the armed forces and “the significant lack of adherence to international humanitarian law and international human rights law standards are concerning.” In a statement Friday, Volker Turk, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, said, “For nearly a year now, accounts coming out of Sudan have been of death, suffering and despair, as the senseless conflict and human rights violations and abuses have persisted with no end in sight.” Since the rival generals plunged Sudan into war on April 15, the report says, armed forces and their allies have indiscriminately attacked civilians in densely populated areas, including sites sheltering internally displaced people, with most attacks occurring in the capital, Khartoum, as well as Kordorfan state and Darfur. Since April, there have been widespread allegations of sexual and gender-based violence in the conflict-affected hot spots. As of December 15, the report says, it has received reports that at least 118 people had been subjected to sexual violence, including rape, gang rape and attempted rape, among them 19 children. The report finds many victims were trafficked “for the purpose of sexual exploitation and forced prostitution, by both parties to the conflict and their allied groups, which are prohibited under international law.” Seif Magango, the U.N. human rights office regional spokesperson, said the warring parties also have looted property, conscripted child soldiers and otherwise violated the human rights of thousands of helpless, destitute people. Speaking in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, he said his office just this week received credible video evidence that several students traveling by road in North Kordofan State may have been beheaded by men in SAF uniforms in El-Obeid City. He says the students were likely killed “based on their perceived ethnicity as being RSF supporters.” He says the video, which was posted on social media on February 15, “shows troops parading with decapitated heads in the street while chanting ethnic slurs.” In Darfur, the U.N. report says, thousands of people have been killed in RSF attacks, “some of which were ethnically motivated.” For example, between May and November, it says, the RSF and its allied Arab militia carried out at least 10 attacks against civilians in El-Geneina, the capital of West Darfur, “killing thousands of people, most from the African Masalit ethnic community.” Magango described the situation in Sudan as very concerning and getting worse. He said it is disturbing that the appalling crimes are taking place out of the international limelight, as Sudan risks becoming a forgotten conflict. Nevertheless, he said the human rights office continues to document and record multiple cases of killings, injury, displacement and growing cases of sexual violence, among other forms of abuse. “These violations are incredibly serious under international law,” he said. “The high commissioner has stated in response to this report … that these violations would amount to war crimes and should be promptly and thoroughly investigated and the perpetrators brought to account.” Commanders of the RSF and the Sudanese Armed Forces have previously denied committing war crimes as they battle for control of the country. In his statement, High Commissioner Turk said the report makes “more painful reading on the tragedy being needlessly inflicted on the Sudanese people since April 2023.” He underlined “the dire need to end the fighting and to break the cycle of impunity that gave rise to this conflict in the first place.” “The guns must be silenced, and civilians must be protected,” he said.

US, China Discuss Russia-North Korea Cooperation, Says State Department

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 23, 2024 - 15:07
washington — A top U.S. official on North Korea held a video call this week with China's envoy on Korean Peninsula affairs in which they discussed the growing military cooperation between Moscow and Pyongyang, the State Department said Friday. The U.S. senior official for North Korea, Jung Pak, and her Chinese counterpart, Liu Xiaoming, also addressed North Korea's "increasingly destabilizing and escalatory behavior," the department said in a statement. It said the growing military cooperation between Russia and North Korea was "in violation of numerous U.N. Security Council resolutions." Russia has long been party to U.N. sanctions on North Korea over the latter's ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs but has stepped up ties with Pyongyang since invading Ukraine in 2022. The United States has accused North Korea of supplying Russia with artillery shells and missiles used in Ukraine. Moscow and Pyongyang deny the accusations but vowed last year to deepen military relations. The State Department said the video call followed a February 16 meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Munich at which they "affirmed the importance of continued communication on [North Korea] issues at all levels." The Kremlin on Tuesday said Russian President Vladimir Putin had given North Korean leader Kim Jong Un a Russian Aurus limousine as a gift. On Friday, Washington imposed sanctions on the producer of the car as part of a sweeping round of sanctions against Russia over the death of opposition leader Alexey Navalny and to mark the second anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine. The sanctions and trade restrictions also targeted Chinese firms that the U.S. said were assisting Russia's war. Sino-U.S. relations have shown signs of improvement in recent months with steps to reestablish communication channels after ties sank to their lowest levels in decades. But many points of friction remain, including U.S. sanctions on China over security and human rights issues. China said Wang told Blinken in Munich that these should be lifted. The top U.S. official for arms control, Bonnie Jenkins, told an event on Thursday that Washington was keen for more talks with China on strategic stability and crisis management and that a more aggressive North Korea was not in Beijing's interest. She said she believed North Korea, which borders China, is keen to acquire fighter aircraft, surface-to-air missiles, armored vehicles, ballistic missile production equipment or materials and other advanced technologies from its cooperation with Russia.

Biden Slaps 500 New Sanctions on Russia over War, Navalny Death

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 23, 2024 - 15:04
washington — U.S. President Joe Biden on Friday announced a significant sanctions escalation against Russia, targeting its financial system and military infrastructure with over 500 new penalties, marking the largest tranche of sanctions since Moscow's invasion of Ukraine nearly two years ago. The measure was announced ahead of the invasion’s anniversary on Saturday and followed the death of Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny in a penal colony in the Arctic earlier this month. The sanctions target various sectors, including Russia's state-owned National Payment Card System, banks, investment firms, venture capital funds and other financial institutions, its defense industry and procurement networks. They also target individuals involved in evading sanctions, in Russia and abroad, as well as prison officials who Washington believes to be linked to Navalny's death. Urging lawmakers in the House of Representatives to pass the $95 billion Senate-approved supplemental funding measure that includes additional military aid for Kyiv, Biden vowed to respond with further punishment for Russian President Vladimir Putin. “We in the United States are going to continue to ensure that Putin pays a price for his aggression abroad and repression at home,” he said Friday. Failure to do so, he warned, would embolden further aggression in Ukraine and worldwide. Since Moscow’s invasion, Washington and its allies have imposed sanctions on thousands of Russian targets. Friday’s package includes nearly 300 people and entities targeted by the U.S. Treasury Department, as well as 250 people and entities targeted by the State Department. The Commerce Department added over 90 companies to the entity list. However, simply adding individuals and companies with no links to the United States and arguably with limited links to the world outside of Russia at large is ineffectual, said Dalibor Rohac, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Instead, the administration should better coordinate with allies to prevent existing sanctions evasion, especially for those related to oil revenue, Rohac told VOA. “And a seizing of Russia's sovereign assets overseas — particularly its central bank reserves,” Rohac said. Beginning in December 2022, the U.S. and its allies imposed a $60 per barrel cap on Russian oil, limiting services such as insurance and trade finance for shipping Russian oil sold above that price. According to a Treasury Department analysis released Friday, the cap has reduced Russia’s oil income. Over the past month, the policy forced Russia to discount its oil by $19 per barrel. The cap, combined with a European Union ban on nearly all Russian oil imports, was designed to choke funding to Putin’s war machine. However, countries can still legally buy Moscow’s crude if it is refined elsewhere, including in Turkey and India. “As long as Russia can continue to sell their oil, they'll be able to continue buying missiles, and bullets and pay for soldiers,” William Browder, head of the Global Magnitsky Justice Campaign, told VOA. “As long as we allow that, then this war is never going to end.” Earlier this week the EU also slapped Moscow with a new round of sanctions, focusing on fighting sanctions evasion by targeting companies around the world accused of providing Russia with advanced technology and military goods. Nearly 200 people and entities, mostly from Russia, have been added to the entity list, now totaling more than 2,000 individuals and entities. For the first time, the EU sanctions are hitting companies in mainland China suspected of helping the Kremlin. Companies from India, Turkey, Serbia, Kazakhstan, Singapore, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Hong Kong are also targeted. Cindy Saine contributed to this report.

VOA Newscasts

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 23, 2024 - 15:00
Give us 5 minutes, and we'll give you the world. Around the clock, Voice of America keeps you in touch with the latest news. We bring you reports from our correspondents and interviews with newsmakers from across the world.

On the Water

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 23, 2024 - 14:24
VOA Connect Episode 318 - Life both within and beyond the water’s surface.

Family Fish Camp

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 23, 2024 - 14:24
Home to the largest sockeye salmon run in the world, Bristol Bay salmon thrive while salmon fisheries elsewhere decline. They use a stationary fishing method called set-netting, which involves nets anchored near fish camps along the beach during the summer fishing season. Producer | Camera | Editor: Gabrielle Weiss

Coral Reef Bleaching

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 23, 2024 - 14:24
We look at the impact of record-high temperatures on Florida's coral reefs and how a marine conservation organization is working to restore and preserve these critical ecosystems in the face of rapid climate change. Producer | Camera | Editor: Genia Dulot

Nature | Sailing on the Chesapeake Bay

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 23, 2024 - 14:24
The waterway provides an unforgettable experience, highlighting the Chesapeake Bay. Producer | Camera | Editor: Zdenko Novacki

Spanish Politician Shot in Madrid Blames Iran

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 23, 2024 - 14:16
madrid, spain — A right-wing Spanish politician who was shot in November in Madrid on Friday accused Iran of being behind his attempted murder during his first public appearance since the attack. Alejo Vidal-Quadras, a founder of Spain's far-right Vox party and former head of its center-right People's Party in Catalonia who has long supported Iran's opposition movement, was shot in the face in broad daylight near his home in the upscale Salamanca neighborhood on November 9 by a motorcycle passenger. "I have no doubt that it was the Iranian regime," the 78-year-old, who was European Parliament vice president between 2009 and 2014, told a news conference in the Spanish capital. Tehran has "a long tradition, a track record, of extraterritorial terrorist activities" against "dissidents and against foreigners who support then," he added, without offering any proof to back up his claim. Four people have been arrested as part of the investigation into the shooting, but the suspected gunman — a French national of Tunisian origin with several previous convictions in France — remains at large. Police have not commented on a possible motive for the shooting. Vidal-Quadras, who already pointed the finger at Iran when he was questioned by police after the shooting, said it was a "miracle" that he survived. "I made a movement of my head that meant that the shot, which was supposed to be fatal, was not," he said. The bullet entered one side of his jaw and exited the other, and Vidal-Quadras spent time in hospital recovering from a jaw fracture. "The detonation sounded like a thunderclap in my head, in fact I have a perforated eardrum, and I started bleeding, it caused a puddle on the floor," he said. Vidal-Quadras said he believes the quick intervention of a passerby, who stopped the bleeding with a piece of clothing, saved his life. He said he has suffered from after effects since the shooting, including "some paralysis of the facial muscles." Vidal-Quadras, a top member of the International Committee in Search of Justice that supports the "Iranian resistance," has long called for the international community to harden its position toward Iran.

Zimbabwe Army Accused of Forcing Investigative Outlet to Self-Censor

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 23, 2024 - 14:15
Harare, Zimbabwe — Press freedom monitor groups in Africa are worried after an online investigative publication in Zimbabwe said it will halt its coverage of corruption in the army after receiving “threats and direct pressure” from state security agents. The online publication The NewsHawks said in a statement it will stop pursuing articles on issues of transparency and accountability in the Zimbabwe National Army following “subtle threats and brazen direct pressure from state security agents, particularly military intelligence operatives.” The publication rankled the army recently when it reported that three senior generals were getting at least $400,000 for housing but still subsidizing themselves through corruption to get upmarket housing in a price range that was above their pay grade. Friday, officials at The NewsHawks could not be reached for comment on their statement. Tabani Moyo, director of the Media Institute of Southern Africa, said parties upset with the publication should approach the government-run Zimbabwe Media Commission or the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe if they had issues with journalists’ reportage. “This is key to us as we believe that the media is a critical pillar of society and its engagement on issues of national importance like accountability, transparency need to be respected as they are provided for by the constitution of the land,” Moyo said. Men and women in uniform, Moyo added, need to handle the media and not hinder them from performing their watchdog role. Perfect Hlongwane, secretary general of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists, said the country had repealed some tough media laws – such as the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, commonly referred to as AIPPA — since President Emmerson Mnangagwa came to power in 2017. Hlongwane said with the reported threats to The NewsHawks, the country might be headed toward dark days for the media. “Our concern is that we may be regressing as a country having managed to record so much positive reform within the media space under the Second Republic,” Hlongwane said. “We saw quite a number of changes where we saw some laws such as AIPPA being repealed. We hope [authorities] will not ignore the fundamental rights and freedoms of the media to operate without any kind of gagging and our trust has always been to engage. And we shall continue to pursue that.” Zimbabwe officials did not respond to requests for interviews by VOA. Presidential spokesman George Charamba was quoted in a government-controlled daily newspaper this week saying the army had zero tolerance for corruption. However, he added, the government “notes with concern attempts by The [News]Hawks and other media outlets to peddle” what he called falsehoods.

VOA Newscasts

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 23, 2024 - 14:00
Give us 5 minutes, and we'll give you the world. Around the clock, Voice of America keeps you in touch with the latest news. We bring you reports from our correspondents and interviews with newsmakers from across the world.

Ukraine's War-Battered Economy Shows Signs of Recovery

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 23, 2024 - 13:41
Ukraine's economy shrank 29% in 2022, the year Russia launched its full-scale invasion. In addition, Ukrainian businesses were destroyed, exports were halted and millions of people were displaced. But in 2023, Ukranian officials' say, the economy actually grew 5%. Eastern Europe Bureau Chief Myroslava Gongadze reports from Kyiv.

New Sanctions For Russia

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 23, 2024 - 13:35
On the eve of the anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion, the UN General Assembly meets to discuss the situation in Ukraine as the US imposes more sanctions on Russia. Israel rejects a Palestinian state while the world looks ahead to the end of the fighting in Gaza.

Marathon Record Holder Kiptum Remembered for Humility, Hard Work at Funeral

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 23, 2024 - 13:27
NAIROBI, KENYA — Marathon world record-holder Kelvin Kiptum, who was killed this month along with his coach Gervais Hakizimana in a car crash, was buried Friday in his hometown of Chepkorio in western Kenya. Mourners remembered Kiptum as a humble, talented and hardworking athlete. Family members, friends, top dignitaries, and thousands of others showed up Friday to say farewell and pay a final tribute to Kelvin Kiptum. Kenyan President was William Ruto among the speakers. “In Kelvin, we saw the future of athletics in Kenya. Kelvin has stood out not just as a great athlete but as a great person...he was ambitious, disciplined and focused.” Kiptum, who was just 24 when he died, touched many, including Brian Chebii, a resident of the runner’s home Elgeyo-Marakwet County. Chebii spoke to VOA after signing Kiptum’s condolence book for Athletics Kenya, the country’s sports governing body. “Kelvin Kiptum … was a guy of capabilities ... running was his passion. He motivated us. That’s why when he passed away, it was a great pain for us. We can’t just send him off that way. That’s why I had to come and represent the rest of my colleagues.” Other messages in the book range from “Rest well, champ” to “The greats never die. They live in us and keep us going.” Kiptum accomplished much in his short life, including setting a world record marathon time of two hours, 35 seconds in Chicago last October, beating the previous record holder, Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge. Kipchoge said Friday he was deeply saddened by the sudden death of an athlete “who had a whole life ahead of him to accomplish incredible greatness.” That feeling was echoed by one of Kenya’s fastest sprinters, Ferdinand Omanyala, who told VOA the world lost Kiptum too soon. “I was so touched by what happened because I can relate at how ambitious athletes are when they start doing professional athletics and how many goals they’ve set for themselves, so that's a very tragic thing that happened.” It is important for young people to know that for an athlete, rising to the top can be a herculean task, he said. “It’s a lot of work because it took me five years to run [the 100 meter dash] under 10 seconds. So that’s five years of consistent training, discipline, hard work and a lot of challenges in between, so it’s not an easy thing to rise to the top and be among the top in the world.”  Paul Tuitoek is the chair of Athletics Kenya, university division. “The whole athletics family is definitely devastated. All our athletes are mourning, including our top marathoners. ... Of course, Kenyans were waiting to see what would happen at the Paris Olympics.” Tuitoek told VOA he was hoping Team Kenya, with top athletes such as Kiptum, Kipchoge, Omanyala and others would scoop a few medals at the upcoming Summer Olympics in Paris. Meanwhile, he said, the world can participate in shaping the legacy of Kiptum. “I feel the family in conjunction with the government and Athletics Kenya can ... create a legacy for him so that he can be remembered because he’s already put marathon world running in another level.” And Kiptum was hoping to do even better by becoming the first human to run a full marathon in under two hours. He was an only child and leaves behind two children and a widow who, in tears, said that Kiptum was the love of her life and was the best husband and father to their two children. She said he will be missed.

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