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Voice of America’s immigration news - April 16, 2024 - 23:00
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.

At 12, China-central and eastern Europe group faces growing pains

Voice of America’s immigration news - April 16, 2024 - 22:14
Vienna, Austria — Next week, China will mark the 12th anniversary of a group for central and eastern European countries it established to grow its influence in the EU. But when it does, there will be no high-level activities or celebrations to mark the group’s creation. Since 2019, the frequency of meetings between China and central and eastern European leaders has decreased, and one after another, members have withdrawn. Matej Simalcik, executive director at the Central European Institute of Asian Studies, told VOA Mandarin that when the China-Central and Eastern European Countries Cooperation Mechanism was launched on April 26, 2012, central and eastern European, or CEE states “were largely motivated as a reaction to the global financial crisis. Cooperation with China was seen as a means to provide new stimuli for economic growth." Since its inception, however, the initiative has been riddled with problems.  "From the very beginning, agenda-setting within the format was largely dominated by the Chinese side. At the same time, CEE capitals often failed to not just promote, but also come up with their own ideas about what kind of cooperation with China would best serve their interests,” Simalcik said. “With this, the format's annual summits were reduced to mere talk shops, which also served Chinese domestic propaganda purposes." Also known as the 16+1, the group has included Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia and Slovenia. When Greece joined in 2019, it was renamed 17+1. From 2013 to 2019, seven meetings were held: six in the capitals of Romania, Serbia, Latvia, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Croatia and one in Suzhou, China. Members have not held an in-person leadership meeting since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019, and it has been three years since Chinese President Xi Jinping attended a video conference. During that same period, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania announced their withdrawal, while China's relations with the Czech Republic and other central and eastern European countries deteriorated. Ja Ian Chong, associate professor of the Department of Political Science at the National University of Singapore, tells VOA’s Mandarin service that many central and eastern European states have grown more cautious — even suspicious — of Beijing and its projects, "especially after seeing Moscow's aggression toward Ukraine and Beijing's continuing support for Russia.” China’s outward investment projects have started to decline and the economic incentives for cooperation are now no longer as great, Chong adds.  China’s “transnational repression within Europe and diplomatic spats with Czechia and Lithuania that came with economic punishment further reduced appetite for cooperation with Beijing," he said. Simalcik said China's sanctions of members of the European Parliament over the Xinjiang issue and its interference in central and eastern European states’ interactions with Taiwan, especially Taiwan-Czech Republic relations, have also made cooperation between the two sides more difficult. Beijing considers Taiwan a breakaway province and has not ruled out the use of force to unify it with the mainland. Xinjiang is a region of China where Beijing is accused of human rights violations against Uyghur Muslims. Beijing denies the accusations.   Filip Sebok, a China researcher at the Association for International Affairs in Prague, told VOA Mandarin that much has changed since China initiated the 16+1 mechanism in 2012.  While China could present itself at that time as a mostly economic actor, "It is now clear for most European nations, including those in CEE, that China also presents certain security and geopolitical challenges," he said. "At the same time, the authoritarian turn within China, human rights abuses, and the spillover of its authoritarian outreach abroad have also changed perceptions of China," he added.  However, cooperation between China and CEE countries has not been fruitless, Chong said. "In essence, CEE states that are more authoritarian and have friendlier ties with Russia tend to be more positive about the cooperation with the PRC," he said. Sebok said if Beijing wants to win the support of CEE countries, it should meet these countries' expectations for economic cooperation. The mismatch between expectations and results led to the decreasing profile of the China-CEE cooperation format.  "However, we might yet see a reinvigoration of the format in some form. An important factor is the rising Chinese investment in electromobility supply chains, which we are seeing mainly in Hungary, but also in Slovakia and Poland. This might give the cooperation a new impetus," he said. Changes in the political situation in Europe and the United States may also create opportunities for restarting cooperation.  Sebok said that Slovakia, after parliamentary elections in 2023 and presidential election this year, "is exhibiting signs of seeking a closer relationship with China, which might enlarge the group of China-enthusiastic countries." If the United States elects a new president and changes its approach to the EU, that “might also create new opportunities for China to take advantage of the uncertainty in the region and increase its influence," he said. The United States holds its presidential election this November. Adrianna Zhang contributed to this report.

VOA Newscasts

Voice of America’s immigration news - April 16, 2024 - 22:00
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.

Malawi's president moves in to stop tobacco smuggling

Voice of America’s immigration news - April 16, 2024 - 21:56
Blantyre, Malawi — Malawi's President Lazarus Chakwera has ordered police to tighten border security to control tobacco smugglers who sell the crop to neighboring countries for better prices. However, analysts and some farmers say tobacco smuggling would only stop if buyers offer competitive prices to farmers. Tobacco is the main cash crop and major foreign exchange earner in Malawi.    Statistics from the Ministry of Agriculture show that the crop, also known in Malawi as "green gold," contributes about 60% to the country's foreign exchange basket. It also contributes about 13% to the country's gross domestic product.    Recent reports, however, show that almost 10% of the crop is smuggled to neighboring countries like Zambia and Mozambique for better prices.  One farmer, who bypasses Malawi's auction floors and asked not to be named for fear of reprisals, told VOA that they get double the profits from cross-border trading compared to selling in Malawi.    "Currently, tobacco prices at the auction floors in Zambia are averaged $5/kg for the highest quality leaf while the cheapest is $2/kg," he said. "While here in Malawi, the average price for the highest-quality leaf is $3.05 while the cheapest is $2.40/kg."  Another problem is that, among other costs of selling tobacco at Malawi auction floors, a lot of levies are charged on tobacco bales, he said. These include seed and auction taxes as well as a fee by tobacco associations, he said. While in Zambia, he added, the only costs incurred have to do with transportation and auction levies.  Speaking during the opening of this year's tobacco marketing season Monday, President Lazarus Chakwera said tobacco smugglers bring down Malawi's efforts to earn much-needed foreign currency.  "To those of you who are doing this, I will not spare you," he said. "The inspector general of police who is already here, please tighten security in all areas where people are doing this illegal business. Such people should be arrested."  Chakwera said his government recently negotiated with tobacco buyers to offer better prices to farmers this year to curb tobacco smuggling.    Some farmers who sold their crops at the start of selling season Monday said they were happy with the prices offered by the buyers. Others said such has been the trend in the past and the prices drop when the marketing season picks up.         Adam Chikapa, an economist based in Blantyre, said arresting tobacco smugglers cannot end the illegal malpractice which has been there for decades. Previous attempts, he said, have changed nothing. "So the solution in this case, should be just creating conducive environment in terms of the sales that the farmers are making by giving them good prices"  Chikapa said it's time Malawi reduce relying on tobacco for foreign exchange, citing falling demand following anti-smoking campaigns championed by the World Health Organization and the proven link between tobacco use and cancer.  "We need now to embark on the production of other crops that are highly demanded outside there," he said. "We have got industrial hemp, even legumes." Parliament recently passed legislation to permit cultivation of marijuana or cannabis as an alternative to tobacco farming.      The lawmakers said cannibis — if grown full scale — is expected to earn Malawi as much as $700 million per year, more than double the foreign exchange it gets from the sale of tobacco. 

International donors pledge more than $2.13B for Sudan

Voice of America’s immigration news - April 16, 2024 - 21:55
One year after Sudan’s war started, international donors pledged over $2.13 billion dollars in funding for the country at a conference in Paris. Meanwhile, the U.N. says the looming famine in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, is unprecedented, and human rights activists are calling for justice for the “coordinated” ethnic killings that continue in Darfur. Henry Wilkins reports.

Thousands rally in Georgia as parliament debates 'foreign influence' law

Voice of America’s immigration news - April 16, 2024 - 21:29
Tbilisi, Georgia — Georgian lawmakers on Tuesday agreed on an early draft of a controversial "foreign influence" bill, sparking fresh street protests against the legislation criticized for mirroring a repressive Russian law. The bill has sparked outrage in Georgia and concern in the West, with many arguing it undermines Georgia's bid for European Union membership. Lawmakers voted 78 to 25 to move the draft bill on for further debate. Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili, who is at loggerheads with the ruling party, condemned the move as "against the will of the population." It "is a direct provocation — a Russian strategy of destabilization," she said. Thousands rallied in the evening outside the parliament building in Tbilisi, blocking traffic on the main thoroughfare of the Georgian capital, whistling, and shouting, "No to the Russian law!" Riot police cordoned off entrances to the legislature, and demonstrators briefly scuffled with them, attempting to push against the police line, an AFP journalist witnessed. Police used pepper spray against the crowds, and several protestors were detained. A water cannon was also on standby. The Interior Ministry said one police officer had been injured. In chaotic scenes past midnight, riot police chased protesters in the labyrinth of narrow streets near parliament, beating them and making arrests. Several local media outlets said police had attacked their journalists. University student Kote Tatishvili, one of the demonstrators, said, "Georgians will never accept this Russian law."  "We, peaceful demonstrators, will prevail, we will force Russian stooges in the Georgian Dream [ruling party] to withdraw the law," he said. A day earlier, police had detained 14 demonstrators as some 10,000 people took to the streets. The European Union has called on Tbilisi not to pass the legislation, saying it contradicts the democratic reforms the country is required to pursue to progress on its path towards EU membership. Renewing Brussels' criticism of the proposals, EU chief Charles Michel said Tuesday: "The draft Law on Transparency of Foreign Influence is not consistent with Georgia's EU aspiration and its accession trajectory." It "will bring Georgia further away from the EU and not closer," he wrote on X, formerly Twitter. Amnesty International urged Georgian authorities to "immediately stop their incessant efforts to impose repressive legislation on the country's vibrant civil society." It said the draft law "poses a direct threat to the rights to freedom of association and expression." 'Derail from European path' The ruling Georgian Dream party controls 84 seats in the 150-member legislature and can pass the law without opposition backing. If adopted, the bill would require any independent NGO and media organization that receives more than 20% of funding from abroad to register as an "organization pursuing the interests of a foreign power." That was a change from last year's proposal, which used the term "agent of foreign influence." The term "foreign agent" is rooted in the Soviet past and suggests such people are traitors and enemies of the state. A similar law is used in Russia to punish government critics and suffocate independent media. In December, the EU granted Georgia official candidate status but said Tbilisi would have to reform its judicial and electoral systems, reduce political polarization, improve press freedom, and curtail the power of oligarchs before membership talks are formally launched. U.S. State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said last week that passing the law would "derail Georgia from its European path." The ruling party was forced to drop a similar measure last year, following mass protests that saw police use water cannon and tear gas against demonstrators. Then in a surprise move ahead of October's parliamentary elections seen as a key democratic test, it reintroduced the bill in parliament earlier this month. A former Soviet republic, Georgia has sought for years to deepen relations with the West, but the current ruling party is accused of trying to steer the Black Sea nation toward closer ties with Russia. Once seen as leading the democratic transformation of ex-Soviet countries, Georgia has in recent years been criticized for perceived democratic backsliding.

Pacemaker or competitor? Beijing half marathon under probe as Chinese star handed a win

Voice of America’s immigration news - April 16, 2024 - 21:12
WASHINGTON — Chinese long-distance runner He Jie is at the center of a controversy over his win in the Beijing Half Marathon, as organizers started a probe after a trio of African runners appeared to deliberately slow down so He could win the race. A video clip circulating online shows that four athletes — Kenya’s Robert Keter and Willy Mnangat, Ethiopia’s Dejene Hailu Bikila and He — were approaching the finish line around the same time. Then, the three African athletes slowed down and gestured He to pass and take the lead. The four athletes ran neck and neck just meters from the finish line, with He eventually crossing the tape first. The Chinese marathon record holder finished in 1 hour, 3 minutes, and 44 seconds. The African trio finished one second behind him at 1:03:45. He, 25, won gold in the marathon at the 2023 Asian Games and is China's record holder. When the video went viral, Mnangat first told the South China Morning Post that he “let China’s He Jie win” because “he is my friend.” He also said no one had told him to do so, nor had he been promised any monetary reward. Six hours later, Mnangat changed his story, telling BBC Sport Africa that he “allowed He to win” because he was hired to serve as a “pacemaker” and he “was not there to compete.” “It was not a competitive race for me,” he told the BBC. “I don’t know why they put my name on my bib/chest number instead of labeling it as a pacemaker.” He added that his job was to set the pace and help He break the national record, which He did not achieve. However, all three African athletes had entered the race as official competitors rather than as pacemakers. Mnangat’s Chinese agent, Karen Lin, said the issue had “nothing to do with me” and declined to comment further when approached by media. The controversy has shocked Chinese observers, who are now questioning the fairness of the competition. “It’s so fake. This is just too much!” one said on Weibo, China’s X-like social media platform. “The Chinese sports scene give me chills,” another read. Beijing Sports Bureau said it is now investigating the incident, adding that any results will be “promptly disclosed to the public.” Mark Dreyer, an expert on China’s sports industry and the author of “Sporting Superpower: An Insider’s View on China’s Quest to Be the Best,” questioned the “pacemaker” explanation. “So, if they really were pacemakers, as apparently is being claimed, why didn't they just say this originally? Why the need for a detailed investigation?” he posted on X. He added that the “most obvious explanation here is that race fees for the Africans were guaranteed and/or a bonus was offered for letting local runner win.” This is not the first time controversy has hit a marathon, as long-distance running has become a popular sport in China. In 2019, four people were punished for cheating at the Shanghai International Marathon, including one who hopped on a bike. In 2018, 258 people were caught on traffic cameras for taking shortcuts or hiring imposters to help complete the race at the Shenzhen Half Marathon.

VOA Newscasts

Voice of America’s immigration news - April 16, 2024 - 21:00
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.

South Korea cautiously optimistic about US-Japan military upgrades

Voice of America’s immigration news - April 16, 2024 - 20:52
WASHINGTON — South Korea is cautiously optimistic about alliance upgrades that the U.S. and Japan have planned to bolster security in East Asia and the Indo-Pacific region. A South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesperson said the ministry “noted” that the U.S. and Japan, at their summit in Washington last week, spoke of “the defensive nature of the U.S.-Japan alliance” and emphasized “peace and stability” in the region. The spokesperson continued via email to VOA’s Korean Service on Friday that “South Korea, the U.S. and Japan are making efforts to institutionalize expanded trilateral cooperation through agreements made at Camp David last year” and “to strengthen rules-based international order.” The three countries held a trilateral summit at Camp David in August after Seoul and Tokyo mended ties frayed by disputes rooted in Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945. At their bilateral summit held in Washington on April 10, Washington and Tokyo announced wide-ranging plans to revamp their military ties.  The plans include preparations for Japan to develop and produce with the U.S. military hardware, including hypersonic missile interceptors. U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel toured a Mitsubishi Heavy Industries F-35 fighter jet factory near Nagoya on Tuesday. He underlined the importance of Japan’s role in manufacturing weapons as U.S. supplies run thin amid crises in Europe and the Middle East. The plans announced at the summit also call for Japan’s possible involvement in the AUKUS Pillar II security pact, enabling it to develop quantum computing, hypersonic, undersea and other advanced technologies.  AUKUS is a defense and security group of Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States. AUKUS Pillar 2 refers to a suite of cooperative activities conducted by the three nations to develop and field “advanced capabilities.”  Japan will hold trilateral exercises with the U.S. and the U.K. starting in 2025 as the Indo-Pacific and Euro-Atlantic regions become “ever-more linked,” according to the joint statement.  The plans call for Japan to expand its security role and arms buildup in tandem with efforts to implement a national security strategy issued in 2022. That called for an increase in Japan’s defense budget and a shift from a defense-only policy to one that includes counterstrike capabilities amid threats from North Korea and China.  In December, Japan eased its arms export control regime that had allowed it to sell components but not completed weapons.  Cho Han-Bum, a senior research fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification, said “Japan’s arms reinforcement can be viewed as a double-edged sword.”   In an interview Monday with VOA’s Korean Service, he said the arms buildup significantly helps to deter threats from the Chinese military and North Korean nuclear weapons, but that it concerns South Korea. Due to unresolved historical disputes from Japan’s colonization of Korea from 1910 to 1945, “trust” between the militaries of the two countries “is not restored fully,” even as they cooperate together now, he said. South Korea, Japan, and the U.S. conducted a two-day joint naval exercise in the East China Sea from April 11 to 12. The exercise included anti-submarine warfare drills to counter North Korea’s underwater threats and interdiction drills aimed at blocking the North’s weapons shipments.  South Korea, under President Yoon Suk Yeol, has been pursuing a policy of rapprochement with Tokyo, and has aligned itself closely with Washington in countering Beijing’s economic and military coercion.   Under the previous administration of Moon Jae-in, Seoul relied for its security on the U.S. while bolstering economic relations with China. Ties with Tokyo remained tense.  Much of the anti-Japanese sentiment still runs high in South Korea, despite Yoon’s outreach to Tokyo, especially among progressives who increased their majority in an April 10 parliamentary election.  South Korea’s Foreign Ministry lodged a protest on Tuesday against Japan’s claim over a disputed island that sits midway between the two countries, called Dokdo by South Korea and Takeshima by Japan.  Won Gon Park, an adjunct professor of North Korean studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul, said South Korea now has to “make a choice” whether to work more closely with Japan to counter threats from North Korea and China. He said in an interview with VOA’s Korean Service that this might be necessary, as the U.S. builds a regional security structure to bolster defenses against China.  At their summit, the U.S. and Japan also announced a planned revision of the command structure of U.S. forces in Japan. This will complement Japan’s plan to establish a joint operations command to improve coordination of its air, ground, maritime forces by 2025.  Bruce Bennett, a senior defense analyst at the RAND Corporation, said Washington “is increasingly anxious to have global partners” step up their arms manufacturing because the U.S. is not producing enough military hardware to counter all the threats from Russia, China, North Korea and Iran. Speaking with VOA by telephone on Friday, Bennett said what was announced at the summit was that “Japan would be a global partner,” enabling the U.S. to share highly sensitive “information, technology and other capabilities in exchange for taking responsibility with security and stability in the regions that go outside Northeast Asia.” He added, “The U.S. recognizes South Korea can’t afford to send multiple divisions to other areas around the world because of the North Korean threats” but is “anxious” to have South Korea play a deeper global role, especially in the Indo-Pacific.  Kim Hyungjin contributed to the report.

At least 25 killed in North Darfur town, says pro-democracy group

Voice of America’s immigration news - April 16, 2024 - 20:23
Port Sudan, Sudan — Clashes between the Sudanese army and its rival paramilitary have killed at least 25 civilians in the North Darfur town of el-Fasher, a pro-democracy lawyers committee said Tuesday. The city and its surrounding villages have suffered several days of "arbitrary shelling and airstrikes," according to the Emergency Lawyers, which have been documenting atrocities committed against civilians since fighting began a year ago between the army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces. As the war entered its second year, the United Nations and United States have warned that the breakdown of the fragile peace in el-Fasher, the last Darfur state capital not under RSF control, will be catastrophic for hundreds of thousands suffering a humanitarian disaster. El-Fasher also functions as the main humanitarian hub in the vast western region of Darfur, home to around a quarter of Sudan's 48 million people and the site of harrowing violence during this and previous conflicts. Over the past year, Darfur residents and the U.N. have reported displacement centers routinely besieged and attacked by fighters. The fragile health infrastructure in Darfur has nearly collapsed. Across the country, 70 percent of health facilities are out of service, according to the U.N. "Dozens of injured have arrived to the hospital today," a medical source at el-Fasher Southern Hospital told AFP, requesting anonymity for fear of reprisal from the warring parties, who are known to target medics. Both sides have been accused of war crimes, including targeting civilians and aid workers, indiscriminate shelling of residential areas and torture. Since it began last April 15, the war has killed many thousands, including up to 15,000 in a single West Darfur town, according to U.N. experts. It has also forced over 8.5 million people from their homes. But peace talks are on the horizon. Saudi Arabia will host talks within the next three weeks, the United States said, calling Tuesday for both sides to "negotiate in good faith toward a cease-fire." The discussions, which will be held in Saudi Arabia's port city of Jeddah, were announced on Monday at a France-backed international conference in Paris that raised more than 2 million euros for Sudan.

Young Sudanese refugees cope with loss, long for peace

Voice of America’s immigration news - April 16, 2024 - 20:09
Juba, South Sudan — The baby was a newborn when the war broke out in Sudan. No one knew how old she was because her biological mother was missing. A 20-year-old refugee, Ghufran Hamed Al-Nour, took responsibility for the baby, referred to as Deborah in this report. "I feel like I am her mother," said Ghufran. "I feel pity for her for the things we went through in Sudan." The two sat on an old hospital bed in a refugee transit camp health facility in Renk, a South Sudanese town near the border with Sudan. They came to the facility for a checkup because Deborah wasn't feeling well. Deborah was carried out of Sudan by a woman fleeing violence. At the border, the charity Save the Children International took custody of her, then handed her to Ghufran, a young woman whose life was also disrupted by the Sudan conflict. "I will raise her like my daughter," Ghufran said. 'They killed my parents' On April 11, 2023, a 12-year-old boy traveled from Kenya to Khartoum, where he had planned to spend his holiday with his parents. Three days later, fighting broke out. By the following day, he had lost both parents to the war. "My mother and my father, they go to search for work," said the boy, referred to as John in this report. "They killed my parents." These are the sad tales of Sudanese children who are paying the price of a year-long conflict that has claimed thousands of lives and torn apart countless families. Most refugees are children Pornpun Jib, director of Save the Children's operation in South Sudan, said the majority of those fleeing the war in Sudan are under 18 years old. "Since the war broke out in Sudan — over 600,000 arrivals in total, of both returnees and refugees — have arrived in South Sudan, through the Joda border into Renk," said Jib. "Over 300,000 — which is over half of the total arrival — are children. A lot of them came unaccompanied or separated." John and nearly all the children at this camp don't attend school. Most of them spend their time at a "safe space" built by Save the Children and partners — a big field in Renk where they run, play football and make art. "When I come here, I find football," said the boy. "I play." This is how most of the children are kept busy. Jib said he hopes that by playing different sports, children such as John can forget the trauma of violence back at home. "This might seem small to a lot of adults, but to the children, this could be the world," said Jib. "A lot of them that we spoke to also told us point blank — they don't want football or basketball or new clothes. A lot of them just want to go back to school." John said he misses his old life. "When I am in Kenya, I am in school," he said. "No school here and no money. No something to eat." Unlike baby Deborah, who has someone to take care of her, John spends most of his time in the safe space run by Save the Children. Nobody knows whether Deborah's mother is still alive. But the baby — now about 1 year old — does have someone to care for her. "The most important thing," said Ghufran, "is that I found her."

VOA Newscasts

Voice of America’s immigration news - April 16, 2024 - 20:00
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.

VOA Newscasts

Voice of America’s immigration news - April 16, 2024 - 19:00
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.

Moscow sharpens warnings to Israel, in apparent pivot to Iran

Voice of America’s immigration news - April 16, 2024 - 18:58
Moscow has avoided condemning Iran’s attack against Israel while calling on Israeli leaders to exercise restraint. Analysts say the Kremlin’s statements suggest it has chosen Iran as a preferred partner and abandoned the delicate diplomatic balance that it cultivated for decades in the region. Steve Baragona narrates this report by Ricardo Marquina.

US Republicans plan separate Ukraine, Israel aid bills

Voice of America’s immigration news - April 16, 2024 - 18:27
washington — U.S. Democrats said on Tuesday they would wait to respond to a proposal from the Republican-led House of Representatives to consider national security assistance for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan separately, rather than as one bill. More than two months after the Senate approved a $95 billion package of security assistance for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan and other U.S. partners in the Indo-Pacific, House Speaker Mike Johnson said on Monday that the House would consider the aid this week but would do so as separate pieces of legislation. The proposal fueled uncertainty about the long-awaited aid package, particularly for Ukraine, given fierce opposition from some far-right Republicans, who have threatened to oust Johnson if he allows a House vote on assistance for Kyiv. Democrats in the House and Senate — and the White House — said they would look at Johnson's proposals, even as they stressed that the best and quickest strategy would be for the House to pass the legislation approved by the Senate in February. Johnson's plan was endorsed on Tuesday by the leaders of the House Appropriations, Armed Services, Foreign Affairs and Intelligence committees, and the chairperson of the defense appropriations subcommittee. "We don’t have time to spare when it comes to our national security. We need to pass this aid package this week," representatives Tom Cole, Mike Rogers, Michael McCaul, Mike Turner and Ken Calvert said in a joint statement. Turner and Representative Jim Himes, the top Democrat on the intelligence panel, said separately in a statement after a classified briefing that Ukraine's situation on the ground was critical and aid must be passed now. Consideration of separate bills could add weeks to the timeline for the aid to become law, as it must pass the House and then go back for a vote in the Senate, before it can be sent to the White House for Democratic President Joe Biden's signature. "I am reserving judgment on what will come out of the House until we see more about the substance of the proposal and the process by which the proposal will proceed," Senator Chuck Schumer said as the Senate opened. "Hopefully, we will get details of the speaker's proposal later today. Again, time is of the essence," Schumer said. Representative Pete Aguilar, a member of the House Democratic leadership, told a press conference he would wait for the substance of the bill before drawing any conclusions. "We don't want to sink any plan that delivers aid to our allies," he said. The text of the bills was not released — it was expected as soon as late Tuesday — but there would be separate measures providing assistance to Ukraine as it fights a Russian invasion, Israel after the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas and a weekend air assault by Iran, and partners in the Indo-Pacific as they face an increasingly aggressive China. It also was not clear which country's assistance the House would consider first. Republicans have tried repeatedly to push through aid for Israel without anything for Ukraine, an approach Democrats have rejected. The White House has also opposed standalone aid for Israel. When asked whether the White House would support the four separate bills, White House National Security spokesman John Kirby said the administration was awaiting more information. "It does appear at first blush that the speaker's proposal will, in fact, help us get aid to Ukraine, aid to Israel and needed resources to the Indo-Pacific for a wide range of contingencies there. We just want to get more detail," he told reporters. Johnson told Fox News on Tuesday that the fourth bill would include additional sanctions on Russia and Iran as well as the "REPO Act," a provision regarding the seizure of Russian assets to help Ukraine. Ukraine backers have been pushing Johnson to allow a vote on supplemental funding since last year. But Johnson had given a variety of reasons to delay, including the need to focus taxpayer dollars on domestic issues. Many hard-right Republicans, especially those closely allied with former President Donald Trump, who is challenging Biden in the November presidential election, fiercely oppose sending billions more dollars to Ukraine. At least two far-right Republicans have threatened to seek Johnson's removal as speaker if he allows a vote on assistance for Ukraine. Johnson said he would not resign. It was not clear whether he would be removed in case of a hard-right rebellion, as some Democrats have said they would vote to save Johnson's job to prevent chaos in the House. Last year, conservatives ousted then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy, and it took three weeks before Johnson was elected.

Egyptian firm offers escape from Gaza — for $5,000 a head

Voice of America’s immigration news - April 16, 2024 - 18:09
Since the Israel-Hamas war broke out, Egypt has kept the Rafah border crossing from Gaza closed to most Palestinians. A company offering travel from Gaza into Egypt for thousands of dollars per person is being accused of profiteering from refugees. Henry Ridgwell reports. Camera: Hamada Elrasam.

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