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US, China defense chiefs hold first call since 2022

Voice of America’s immigration news - April 16, 2024 - 11:00
Pentagon — U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with his Chinese counterpart on Tuesday, the first dialogue between the two countries’ defense chiefs in nearly 17 months. The Pentagon said Austin and Chinese Admiral Dong Jun discussed “defense relations” and global security issues from Russia’s unprovoked war in Ukraine to recent provocations from North Korea. A press release said Austin stressed the importance of “respect for high seas freedom of navigation as guaranteed under international law, especially in the South China Sea.” Beijing has asserted its desire to control access to the South China Sea and bring Taiwan under its control, by force if necessary. President Joe Biden has said U.S. troops would defend the democratically-run island from attack. Tensions have risen between China and U.S. ally the Philippines in the South China Sea as well, with China’s coast guard using water cannons this month to threaten Filipino fishing ships. China has also used collision and ramming tactics, undersea barriers and a military-grade laser to stop Philippine resupply and patrol missions. A senior defense official, speaking to reporters on condition of anonymity ahead of the talks, said the call between Austin and Dong was an “important step” in keeping lines of communication open between the two military powers. “These engagements provide us with opportunities to prevent competition from veering into conflict by speaking candidly about our concerns. That includes the PRC's behavior in the South China Sea, as well as the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” said the senior defense official. PRC is the acronym for the People’s Republic of China, the country’s official name. The call marked the first time Austin has ever spoken to Dong, who has served as China’s minister of national defense since December. It also marked the first time that Austin has spoken at length with a PRC counterpart since November 2022, when he met with then-Minister of National Defense General Wei Fenghe in Cambodia. China’s previous defense minister, General Li Shangfu, was subjected to U.S. sanctions that China deemed an obstacle to having him communicate directly with Austin. The only engagement Austin had with General Li was a handshake at the Shangri-la dialogue in Singapore last year. The senior defense official said conversations between U.S. and Chinese defense leaders “ensure that the PRC has a clear understanding of our positions on all of the regional and global security issues.” The talks come as the Pentagon said it had indications that a Chinese surge of weapons technology sales to Russia is helping ramp up Moscow’s defense production as it continues to attack its neighbor, Ukraine. Pentagon press secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters in response to a question from VOA Monday that China had sold “significant quantities” of machine tools, microelectronics, optics, drones and cruise missile technology to Russia, which Moscow is using to make propellants for weapons. “So this support is actively enabling Russia's war in Ukraine and poses a significant threat to security — international security,” Ryder added. The Associated Press reported on Friday that two senior Biden administration officials said that about 90% of Russia’s microelectronics in 2023 and nearly 70% of Russia’s machine tool imports in the last quarter of 2023 came from China. Russia used that technology to make missiles, tanks and aircraft. Chinese and Russian entities have jointly produced drones inside Russia, and China-based companies are providing optical components for use in Russian tanks and armored vehicles, the officials also told AP. The call between Austin and Dong is the latest in a series of recent conversations between U.S. and Chinese defense leaders. The top U.S. general, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. C.Q. Brown, spoke with his Chinese military counterpart in December. Earlier this month, the U.S. and Chinese militaries held working-level Military Maritime Consultative Agreement talks in Hawaii for the first time since 2021.

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Voice of America’s immigration news - April 16, 2024 - 11:00
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Under Biden, US reimagines Asian alliances as 'lattice' fence

Voice of America’s immigration news - April 16, 2024 - 10:36
Seoul, South Korea — For decades, U.S. policy in Asia has relied on what was informally known as the “hub and spokes” system of bilateral alliances. But lately, U.S. officials have used another analogy to describe their vision for the region: a lattice fence. It may sound like only a metaphorical tweak, but officials in the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden say it could have big implications, as they try to create a durable plan to respond to China's growing power. Under the old framework, the United States, the global military superpower, acted as the hub and its Asian allies, such as Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines, served as spokes. Spokes are not linked to each other. But that dynamic is changing, as several major U.S. allies and partners coalesce around what they have come to call a “free and open Indo-Pacific.” What U.S. officials envision is not a multilateral treaty alliance like NATO. Analysts have long said such a security framework is impossible in Asia, given competing interests and deep historical animosities, even among U.S. allies. Instead, the goal is to help create an expanding number of mutually reinforcing links between like-minded countries, which together form a barrier – or in other words, a lattice. Trilateral summit The lattice strategy was on display last week, when Biden hosted Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. for their countries’ first ever trilateral summit. The meeting had important symbolic value. A joint statement expressed “serious concerns” about China’s behavior in the East and South China Seas, where China is trying to push its territorial claims over those of Japan and the Philippines. The United States and Japan also pledged further assistance for the Philippines’ military modernization efforts and vowed to continue expanding joint military drills in the region, which have involved a growing number of partners in recent years. At a separate meeting between Biden and Kishida, the United States and Japan announced dozens of bilateral deals related to defense cooperation, including plans to allow U.S. and Japanese forces to work more closely during a potential conflict. According to a U.S. administration official who spoke to reporters during a background briefing, the meetings are evidence that Biden’s Asia plan is working. “(Biden’s) theory of case was that if the United States reinvested in its alliances and partnerships in the Indo-Pacific … those allies and partners would step up alongside in ways that made us much better equipped to accomplish our objectives,” the U.S. official said. Nowhere is this theory better proven, the official added, than in the U.S. alliance with Japan, where Kishida “has stepped up and stepped out into the world more than anyone really could have imagined.” Japan a key player As Japan loosens its self-imposed pacifist restraints, the country has become a major player in regional security. Japan has dramatically increased defense spending, moved to acquire missiles that can hit other countries, and enacted legal changes allowing it to more easily export weapons. Japan is now heavily involved in many U.S.-led forums, including the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, an informal coalition that also includes Australia and India, and the Group of Seven advanced economies, which has increasingly focused on China. Last week, Britain, the United States, and Australia announced they are considering cooperation with Japan through their AUKUS security pact. NATO, the European military alliance, has also expanded cooperation with Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand. “Today’s Japan is no longer the timid and inward-looking nation that counted on its embrace of pacifism and on American muscle to insulate it from external threats,” said Daniel Russel, a vice president at the Asia Society and a former top Asia official at the State Department.  One of the most crucial regional developments is the improvement of Japan-South Korea relations, which have long been strained because of issues related to Japan’s colonial occupation of Korea. Under South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, the two countries now regularly participate in military drills with the United States. Last year, the three countries unveiled a new system for sharing North Korean missile warning data in real-time. But will it work? Few observers deny that big changes are occurring, as countries respond to a more powerful China. But the strategic shift toward the United States is far from unanimous. “Most governments in the region are hedging, recognizing the reality that China is a permanent and central feature of (the) Asian political economy,” said Van Jackson, who teaches at New Zealand’s Victoria University of Wellington. According to a survey released this month by the Singapore-based ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, Southeast Asian perceptions of the United States have worsened over the past year. The State of Southeast Asia survey asks the same questions every year to a group of experts and government officials. More than half, 51%, of Southeast Asian respondents said they would side with China over the United States if they were forced to choose. It is the first time that the survey has shown a preference for China.  One of the key complaints, according to the poll, is skepticism about U.S. economic engagement. Following then-President Donald Trump’s 2017 withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement, many in Asia have questioned whether the United States is as committed as it once was to free trade.   Biden officials dispute that notion, touting the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework or IPEF, as a counterweight to China's economic clout. But IPEF differs from traditional free trade deals in that it does not provide greater market access or reduce tariffs — areas no longer seen as safe in a U.S. domestic political context. Regardless, Trump has vowed to kill IPEF if he defeats Biden in November’s presidential election. In the opinion of Philip Turner, a former New Zealand diplomat, IPEF appears to have largely failed. “Many Asian countries and regional players like Australia and New Zealand have pointed out that the U.S. failure to commit economically to the region undercuts its claims to regional leadership,” said Turner, who most recently served as New Zealand’s ambassador to South Korea. While there are increasing regional worries about China’s rise and behavior, few if any Asian countries support efforts to contain China’s growth, Turner added. “They would prefer the U.S. climb down from its high horse of economic coercion against China and find ways of getting on with each other short of conflict,” he said. 

From Titanic travelers to textile tycoons, Arab Americans have long been part of the American story

Voice of America’s immigration news - April 16, 2024 - 10:35
Dearborn, Michigan — All About America explores American culture, politics, trends, history, ideals and places of interest. The term slacks, meaning pants worn during relaxation activities, was coined by an Arab American. Joseph Haggar, a Lebanese immigrant, founded the iconic Haggar men’s clothing brand in 1926. “He settled in Texas, and he started this pant company that was extremely successful in the 20th century,” says Diana Abouali, director of the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. “He also revolutionized the way that pants and clothing were mass produced.” An exhibit at the museum is dedicated to Haggar, whose pants were worn by U.S. President Lyndon Johnson. Stories like Haggar’s are integral to the museum’s mission to demonstrate how Arab Americans have been part of the American fabric since the late 19th century. “We communicate the American narrative in the voices of Arab Americans. They express their experiences in their own words,” Abouali says. “This provides people with a more authentic and real representation of what it means to be Arab American.” The museum attempts to share the full range of the Arab American experience, including the journey to America, home and work life, and service in the U.S. Armed Forces. The diverse offerings include an exhibit about the hundreds of Syrian and Lebanese immigrants who owned homesteads in North Dakota between 1890 and World War I. Thousands of descendants of those pioneers still live in North Dakota. Another exhibit includes lists of Arab American passengers on the doomed Titanic, which sank in 1912. The museum also challenges religious misconceptions. “Half of the Arab American community is Christian,” Abouali says. “And in fact, the earlier immigrants, who came in the late 19th century, early 20th century, were predominantly Christian.” A wall of fame highlights prominent Arab Americans like journalist Helen Thomas, actress Kathy Najimy, politicians like former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala, and Candace Lightner, who founded Mothers Against Drunk Driving in 1980. Arab immigrant stories aren’t well-known among mainstream America. And what little Americans do know about Arabs is often informed by negative stereotypes. “The obvious one would be the angry Arab, the terrorist Arab, the being afraid of the Arab that comes from abroad. I think that's the very obvious one, but it's a bit overplayed,” says Jasmine Hawamdeh, director of arts and culture at the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, a civil rights advocacy group. “And I think one of the more harmful stereotypes that currently exists in American media is the oppressed Arab woman.” The museum tries to correct false narratives about Arab Americans. “We're not always responding to misconceptions and narrative, although that's a major part of our work and a major sort of impetus for creating a museum like this,” Abouali says, “but also we're sort of presenting ourselves, as we are, unapologetically.” Arab Americans are a diverse community that come from 22 Arab countries stretching from northern Africa to western Asia. But once they settle in the U.S., the museum director says, they become as American as they are Arab.

From Titanic travelers to textile tycoons: Arab Americans have long been part of US history

Voice of America’s immigration news - April 16, 2024 - 10:33
April is Arab American Heritage Month in the United States. This month highlights a community that often has to battle negative stereotypes. One institution that helps to do that is the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, which VOA’s Dora Mekouar recently visited. Camera: Adam Greenbaum.

Charges against Trump and January 6 rioters at stake as Supreme Court hears debate over obstruction law

Voice of America’s immigration news - April 16, 2024 - 10:11
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Tuesday is taking up the first of two cases that could affect the criminal prosecution of former President Donald Trump for his efforts to overturn his election loss in 2020. Hundreds of charges stemming from the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot are also at stake.  The justices are hearing arguments over the charge of obstruction of an official proceeding. That charge, stemming from a law passed in the aftermath of the Enron financial scandal more than two decades ago, has been brought against 330 people, according to the Justice Department. The court will consider whether it can be used against those who disrupted Congress' certification of Joe Biden's 2020 presidential election victory over Trump.  The former president and presumptive nominee for the 2024 Republican nomination is facing two charges in the case brought by special counsel Jack Smith in Washington that could be knocked out with a favorable ruling from the nation's highest court. Next week, the justices will hear arguments over whether Trump has "absolute immunity" from prosecution in the case, a proposition that has so far been rejected by two lower courts.  The first former U.S. president under indictment, Trump is on trial on hush money charges in New York and also has been charged with election interference in Georgia and with mishandling classified documents in Florida.  In Tuesday's case, the court is hearing an appeal from Joseph Fischer, a former Pennsylvania police officer who has been indicted on seven counts, including obstruction, for his actions on Jan. 6, 2021, when a mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol in a bid to keep Biden, a Democrat, from taking the White House. Lawyers for Fischer argue that the charge doesn't cover his conduct.  The obstruction charge, which carries up to 20 years behind bars, is among the most widely used felony charges brought in the massive federal prosecution following the deadly insurrection.  Roughly 170 January 6 defendants have been convicted of obstructing or conspiring to obstruct the January 6 joint session of Congress, including the leaders of two far-right extremist groups, the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers. A number of defendants have had their sentencings delayed until after the justices rule on the matter.  Some rioters have even won early release from prison while the appeal is pending over concerns that they might end up serving longer than they should have if the Supreme Court rules against the Justice Department. That includes Kevin Seefried, a Delaware man who threatened a Black police officer with a pole attached to a Confederate battle flag as he stormed the Capitol. Seefried was sentenced last year to three years behind bars, but a judge recently ordered that he be released one year into his prison term while awaiting the Supreme Court's ruling.  The high court case focuses on whether the anti-obstruction provision of a law that was enacted in 2002 in response to the financial scandal that brought down Enron Corp. can be used against January 6 defendants.  Fischer's lawyers argue that the provision was meant to close a loophole in criminal law and discourage the destruction of records in response to an investigation. Until the Capitol riot, they told the court, every criminal case using the provision had involved allegations of destroying or otherwise manipulating records.  But the administration says the other side is reading the law too narrowly, arguing it serves "as a catchall offense designed to ensure complete coverage of all forms of corrupt obstruction of an official proceeding," including Fischer's "alleged conduct in joining a violent riot to disrupt the joint session of Congress certifying the presidential election results."  Smith has argued separately in the immunity case that the obstruction charges against Trump are valid, no matter the outcome of Fischer's case.  Most lower court judges who have weighed in have allowed the charge to stand. Among them, U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich, a Trump appointee, wrote that "statutes often reach beyond the principal evil that animated them."  But U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols, another Trump appointee, dismissed the charge against Fischer and two other defendants, writing that prosecutors went too far. A divided panel of the federal appeals court in Washington reinstated the charge before the Supreme Court agreed to take up the case.  While it's not important to the Supreme Court case, the two sides present starkly differing accounts of Fischer's actions on January 6. Fischer's lawyers say he "was not part of the mob" that forced lawmakers to flee the House and Senate chambers, noting that he entered the Capitol after Congress had recessed. The weight of the crowd pushed Fischer into a line of police inside, they said in a court filing.  Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Representatives Jim Jordan of Ohio, Lauren Boebert of Colorado, Matt Gaetz of Florida and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia are among 23 Republican members of Congress who say the administration's use of the obstruction charge "presents an intolerable risk of politicized prosecutions. Only a clear rebuke from this Court will stop the madness."  The Justice Department says Fischer can be heard on a video yelling "Charge!" before he pushed through a crowd and "crashed into the police line." Prosecutors also cite text messages Fischer sent before January 6 saying things might turn violent and social media posts after the riot in which he wrote, "we pushed police back about 25 feet."  More than 1,350 people have been charged with Capitol riot-related federal crimes. Approximately 1,000 of them have pleaded guilty or been convicted by a jury or judge after a trial.

Zimbabwe's new gold-backed currency sliding on black market

Voice of America’s immigration news - April 16, 2024 - 10:11
Harare, Zimbabwe — Zimbabwe’s recently introduced gold-backed currency is sliding on the local black market but officials insist the currency is getting stronger and has a bright future. Columbus Mavhunga reports from Harare. Even songs are played on the radio encouraging citizens to embrace the currency, called Zimbabwe Gold — or ZiG — introduced on April 5 trading at 13.56 to the U.S. dollar. Official statistics say ZiG is now trading at 13.41. But on the black market it is around 20. Chamunorwa Musengi, a street vendor in Harare, is not optimistic about the new currency which for the moment is trading electronically, with notes and coins coming into circulation on April 30:   “Let’s wait and see,” he said. “Maybe it will boost our economy for some time. But I do not see anything changing with the new currency, because things are really tight at the moment. We been through this before. When they introduced bond notes, things stabilized for a short time and then it started sliding on the market. They are saying ZiG is around 13 — it will end up around 40,000 against the dollar.” Bond notes refer to the currency which was launched in 2019 after a decade of Zimbabwe using the U.S. dollar and other currencies.  The bond note had lost about 80% of its value and was trading at around 40,000 to the dollar before its official demise. Samson Kabwe, a minibus conductor, says he cannot wait for the physical notes and coins of ZiG to be released. “We are for ZiG, especially for change,” he said. “We had no small notes for change. If ZiG notes and coins come, the government would have done a great thing. We want it like now.” The government says for now, commodities like fuel will still be bought and sold using U.S. dollars.  Gift Mugano, an economics professor, predicts the new currency will go the way of the abandoned one. “[In] 2016, we introduced bond notes which was backed by Afreximbank (African Export–Import Bank) facility of $400 million,” he said. “The Afreximbank is an international bank with reputation. But that was not be sufficient to guarantee the success of the bond notes. So it failed. Right? Why are we failing to guarantee stability? There is no sustained production in the economy because you defend the economy with production. Secondly, confidence issues. People do not trust this system because we have lost money several times.” But John Mushayavanhu, the new governor or the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, predicts the currency will succeed because it is backed by reserves of gold and other minerals worth $175 million and $100 million cash.    “We are doing what we are doing to ensure that our local currency does not die,” he said. “We were already in a situation where almost 85% of transactions are being conducted in U.S. dollars because [the] local currency was not living up to the function of store of value. We are going to restore that store of value so that we can start reviving our currency. So, we are starting at $80 million worth, and as we get more reserves, we will gradually be moving towards greater use of the local currency. It is my wish that if we get to the year (end) at 70-30, next year 60-40, the year after 50-50; by the time we get to 50-50 people will be indifferent as to which currency they are using. And that way we regain use of our local currency.” While Mushayavanhu has that confidence, social media is awash with people and traders — including government departments — refusing to accept the outgoing Zimbabwe currency.

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Voice of America’s immigration news - April 16, 2024 - 10:00
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Voice of America’s immigration news - April 16, 2024 - 09:00
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Voice of America’s immigration news - April 16, 2024 - 08:00
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Chinese security presence in the Pacific comes into focus ahead of major political events   

Voice of America’s immigration news - April 16, 2024 - 07:33
Taipei, Taiwan — China’s growing security presence in the Pacific will be scrutinized this week as the Solomon Islands holds its national election on Wednesday. While the Pacific island nation has been plagued by a slew of domestic issues such as youth unemployment and weakening health and education systems, some analysts say the election is a “de-facto referendum” on its relationship with China. “The results will determine whether the Solomon Islands continues growing its relationship with China or changes course in favor of a different approach,” Parker Novak, a nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council's Global China Hub, told VOA in a written response. Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, who seeks an unprecedented second consecutive term, has focused on deepening the country’s ties with China since he returned to power in 2019. After switching Solomon Islands’ diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in 2019, Sogavare signed a series of security-related agreements with China, including a security pact in 2022 and a police cooperation agreement in 2023. The developments prompted the U.S., Australia and other Pacific island nations to express concerns about the security implications of these deals. So far, the Solomon Islands hasn’t revealed details of the controversial security pact with China. However, a leaked draft agreement shows that China could potentially deploy security and naval assets to the country. The lack of transparency around the security deal with China has prompted several opposition candidates in the Solomon Islands to vow to abolish or review the security pact. While opposition leaders have sounded the alarm about China’s growing security presence in the Solomon Islands, Sogavare has strongly defended his administration’s efforts to deepen bilateral ties with China. Centering his campaign around his signature “Look North strategy,” which aims to consolidate Solomon Islands’ economic and diplomatic ties with Asian countries, Sogavare has repeatedly emphasized how Chinese support with infrastructure developments and the Pacific Games has helped place the Pacific island nation “in a more favorable footing domestically and internationally.” In response to opposition politicians’ concerns about China’s growing influence over the Solomon Islands, China’s Foreign Ministry said Monday that Beijing supports the people of Solomon Islands “in choosing a development path that suits their national conditions.” Some experts say China’s entry into the Solomon Islands’ security sector in recent years has created friction with traditional security partners like Australia. “There has been an increase in friction as a result of China’s entry into the security space in the Solomon Islands and other parts of the Pacific,” said Mihai Sora, a research fellow in the Pacific Islands program at Lowy Institute in Australia. While the Solomon Islands is trying to retain relationships with partners like Australia amid its efforts to deepen ties with China, Sora said the Sogavare administration’s attempt will be difficult to execute because of continuing “strategic friction” between Beijing and Canberra, especially in the security space. [The Solomon Islands] “will need to resolve the increasing frictions,” he told VOA by phone. Chinese security presence in the Pacific comes into focus In addition to the Solomon Islands, China’s growing security presence in other parts of the Pacific region is also coming under scrutiny ahead of other major political events. Earlier this month, Tonga’s Prime Minister Siaosi Sovaleni said he would be open to accepting Chinese security support when the country hosts the Pacific Islands Forum in August. “There’s no reason to be concerned. China is offering to assist with the hosting of the foreign leaders' meeting,” he told reporters in the Tongan capital Nukuʻalofa. The Chinese Embassy in Tonga told AFP in a statement that Beijing “has no interest in geopolitical competition or seeking the so-called 'sphere of influence.’” Some analysts say Tonga’s decision to welcome China as a potential security provider reflects Pacific island nations’ efforts to diversify their security partners since 2021. “China has had success in presenting itself as a security stakeholder in the region and this is certainly of concern to Canberra, Wellington and Washington, who view China’s security interests in the Pacific as disruptive and indicative of China’s broader interests,” Anna Powles, an associate professor in security studies at Massey University in New Zealand, told VOA in a written response. Meanwhile, Fiji’s Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka told ABC Australia in March that the country has removed Chinese police embedded in its police force despite the earlier decision to uphold Fiji’s policing cooperation agreement with China. Some experts say Fiji is “walking a fine line” in its relationship with China and Western countries. “By not throwing away the police deal, Fiji is showing that they are not willing to go all in and align with the West,” Michael Walsh, an affiliated researcher at the Georgetown School of Foreign Service, told VOA by phone. In his view, Fiji’s careful calibration of its security relationship with China demonstrates that “they are going to keep having a relationship with China that extends into the security domain for the foreseeable future.” While some experts agree that China has made progress in expanding its security presence in the Pacific, Novak from the Atlantic Council said Beijing’s security influence in the region “shouldn’t be overstated.” “More often than not, Pacific islands countries have elected to maintain or even grow traditional security partnerships with countries like Australia, New Zealand and the United States while carefully maintaining their own sovereignty,” he told VOA.

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Voice of America’s immigration news - April 16, 2024 - 06:00
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Boat capsizes in Indian-controlled Kashmir, killing at least 4

Voice of America’s immigration news - April 16, 2024 - 05:19
SRINAGAR, India — A boat carrying a group of people capsized in a river in Indian-controlled Kashmir on Tuesday, drowning four of them, news agency Press Trust of India reported. The boat capsized in Jhelum river near Srinagar, the region’s main city. Most of the passengers were children, and rescuers were searching for many others who were still missing. Heavy rains fell over the region in the past few days, leading to higher water levels in the river. Boating accidents are common in India, where many vessels are overcrowded and have inadequate safety equipment. Last year, 22 people drowned when a double-decker boat carrying more than 30 passengers capsized near a beach in Kerala state in southern India. In May 2018, 30 people died when their boat capsized on the swollen Godavari River in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh.

Heavy rains lash UAE, death toll in Oman flooding rises to 18

Voice of America’s immigration news - April 16, 2024 - 05:13
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Heavy rains lashed the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday, flooding out portions of major highways and leaving vehicles abandoned on roadways across Dubai. Meanwhile, the death toll in separate heavy flooding in neighboring Oman rose to 18 with others still missing as the sultanate prepared for the storm. The rains began overnight, leaving massive ponds on streets as whipping winds disrupted flights at Dubai International Airport, the world's busiest for international travel and the home of the long-haul carrier Emirates. Police and emergency personnel drove slowly through the flooded streets, their emergency lights flashing across the darkened morning. Lightning flashed across the sky, occasionally touching the tip of the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building. Schools across the UAE, a federation of seven sheikhdoms, largely shut ahead of the storm and government employees were largely working remotely if able. Many workers stayed home as well, though some ventured out, with the unfortunate stalling out their vehicles in deeper-than-expected water covering some roads. Authorities sent tanker trucks out into the streets and highways to pump away the water. Rain is unusual in the UAE, an arid, Arabian Peninsula nation, but occurs periodically during the cooler winter months. Many roads and other areas lack drainage given the lack of regular rainfall, causing flooding. Initial estimates suggested over 30 millimeters (1 inch) of rain fell over the morning in Dubai, with as much as 128 mm (5 inches) of rain expected throughout the day. Rain also fell in Bahrain, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. In neighboring Oman, a sultanate that rests on the eastern edge of the Arabian Peninsula, at least 18 people had been killed in heavy rains in recent days, according to a statement Tuesday from the country's National Committee for Emergency Management. That includes some 10 schoolchildren swept away in a vehicle with an adult, which saw condolences come into the country from rulers across the region.

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Voice of America’s immigration news - April 16, 2024 - 05:00
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Israel calls for sanctions on Iran missile program after massive attack

Voice of America’s immigration news - April 16, 2024 - 04:21
PENTAGON — Israel called Tuesday for new sanctions against Iran as part of the response to the Iranian military and some of its allies launching an unprecedented aerial attack on the Jewish state. Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz said on social media that he reached out to more than 30 nations to push for sanctions against Iran’s missile program and for declaring Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) a terrorist organization. The United States is one of several countries that have already designated the IRGC as a terror group. Since October, the U.S. has imposed several rounds of sanctions targeting the Iranian ballistic missile program as U.N. sanctions expired. Israel also appears bent on exacting a measure of revenge militarily, despite pleas by world leaders for a de-escalation of the situation. Israeli military officials said Monday that Tehran must pay a price for Saturday’s barrage of some 350 missiles and drones, many launched from Iranian soil. The Iranian attack “will be met with a response,” said Israeli military chief Lieutenant General Herzi Halevi. “Iran will face the consequences for its actions,” he said, speaking from Nevatim air base in southern Israel. Israeli military officials did not elaborate on what that response could look like, though Israel Defense Forces spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said it would come, “at the time that we choose.” The tough Israeli rhetoric comes even as its most ardent backer, the United States, has urged Israel to show restraint, arguing the failure of Iran’s drone and missile barrage to inflict much damage was itself a massive victory. "It's pretty telling that Iran launched over 300 air threats … and 99% of those were knocked down," said Pentagon press secretary Major General Pat Ryder. The White House on Monday was even more strident.  “Israel today is in a far stronger strategic position than it was only a few days ago," White House national security spokesperson John Kirby told reporters, noting the range of countries that came to Israel’s aid. Britain, France, Jordan and Saudi Arabia joined with the U.S. and Israel to shoot down the Iranian missiles and drones. "Iran's vaunted missile program, something it has used to threaten Israel and the region, proved to be far less effective,” Kirby said. “Israel's defenses on the other hand proved even better than many had long assumed." The Pentagon said late Monday U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin “reiterated steadfast U.S. support for Israel's defense and reaffirmed the strategic goal of regional stability” as he spoke with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant. Senior U.S. officials have said the Iranian attack on Israel, the first ever launched from Iranian soil, involved more than 110 ballistic missiles, 30 cruise missiles and more than 150 one-way, explosive aerial drones. They said Iranian proxy forces in Iraq, Syria and Yemen also took part in the attack. Iran, which described the Saturday assault as a success, said it was a response to a suspected Israeli airstrike on its embassy compound in Syria on April 1 that killed seven Iranian Revolutionary Guards officers, including two senior commanders. Some officials from Turkey, Jordan and Iraq said Sunday that Iran shared warnings of the attack ahead of time to avoid mass casualties and to prevent hostilities from escalating further. But Iran’s foreign ministry spokesperson rejected such claims during a news conference in Tehran on Monday, saying, "There was no pre-arranged deal between us and any other side.” U.S. officials also disputed reports that the attack by Tehran was meant to be symbolic. “I've seen reporting that the Iranians meant to fail, that this spectacular and embarrassing failure was all by design,” said Kirby, calling such claims “categorically false.” “Given the scale of this attack, Iran's intent was clearly to cause significant destruction and casualties,” Kirby said. “The aim was to get as many of them [missiles and drones] through Israel's defenses as possible.”        Despite Iran’s intent, U.S. President Joe Biden has told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the United States will not participate in any Israeli counteroffensive against Iran. But various U.S. officials said Monday that Washington’s support for Israel in the face of Iranian aggression remains “ironclad,” and that U.S. military assets placed in the region to fend off the Iranian barrage remained in place should Tehran try again. Still, concerns persist that the Iranian attack and a potential Israeli response could spark a wider regional conflict. “We call on all parties for self-restraint,” said Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Muhammad Ali Tamim during a visit to the U.S. State Department in Washington on Monday. “We hope escalations and tensions in the area will end,” Tamim said, adding Iraq does not want to see the region “dragged into a wider war that will threaten international security and safety.” European officials, likewise, urged caution. "We're on the edge of the cliff and we have to move away from it," Josep Borrell, the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, told Spanish radio station Onda Cero. "We have to step on the brakes and reverse gear." French President Emmanuel Macron said Monday, his government will do all it can to avoid an escalation of the situation between Israel and Iran. Speaking to French media BFM-TV and RMC, Macron also urged Israel to pursue isolation of Iran rather than escalation. The White House later Monday confirmed those efforts are already underway, with members of the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations, or G7, already working on a new round of sanctions targeting industries that support Iran’s missile programs. The G7 includes Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States. Some information was provided by The Associated Press and Reuters.

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