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Voice of America’s immigration news - May 24, 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.

Allies prepare to mark D-Day’s 80th anniversary in shadow of Ukraine war  

Voice of America’s immigration news - May 24, 2024 - 19:59
Carentan-les-Marais, France — Agnes Scelle grew up listening to her parents’ stories about life in occupied France, living near the Normandy town of Carentan-les-Marais. She heard of the knife pushed up against her father’s throat for trying to block a strategic river, of how German soldiers held her mother at gunpoint. “They were very afraid,” said Scelle, a former postal worker and village mayor, who still lives in her family’s ancestral home. “Even when the American soldiers had landed, they didn’t know what was going on because there were bombings.” As Normandy prepares for the 80th anniversary of the Allied landings on June 6, locals like Scelle are focusing on another war, as Russia gains ground in Ukraine. “The war is at Europe’s doorstep, so of course we’re afraid,” Scelle said. “We need to stick together, the Americans and the European Union, in case we see another conflict on our soil.” That message is expected to resonate next month, as onetime D-Day allies gather to mark the 80th anniversary of landings on Omaha Beach, roughly 30 km from Carentan-les-Marais. But the celebrations come as some Europeans worry that decades-old transatlantic ties may unravel, along with a U.S. commitment to Kyiv. The war in Ukraine is shaping this latest D-Day commemoration in other ways. Host France has invited Russia to the official ceremonies, but not Russian President Vladimir Putin. Even including Moscow has reportedly sparked tensions on the part of other WWII allies. “I can’t say what the solution is for this commemoration,” said Denis Peschanski, a World War II historian at the Sorbonne University in Paris. “What’s certain is we refuse to deny the fundamental contribution of the Soviet army in the liberation. We would never have had a successful landing in Normandy if there hadn’t been 180 German divisions that were blocked on the eastern front’’ by Soviet soldiers. Like other towns across Normandy, Carentan-les-Marais — known to locals as Carentan — has a full schedule of D-Day events running before and well after official ceremonies. Among them: a parachute drop in period clothes, a parade of World War II military vehicles, and an opportunity to meet Ukrainian war veterans and view a phalanx of donated ambulances bound for Ukraine’s battlefields. There’s also the wedding of 100-year-old U.S. World War II veteran Harold Terens to 94-year-old Jeanne Swerlin. Carentan’s mayor, Jean-Pierre Lhonneur, will officiate at the ceremony. "If you come here for the 80th anniversary, you’ll see we almost live in an American state,” said Carentan’s deputy mayor, Sebastien Lesne. “There will be many American flags flying from windows here to celebrate the peace we got back — and especially to say thank you to the veterans who are coming back this year, and who return every year.” Price of freedom A strategic crossroad, cut through by highways, waterways and a railway, Carentan saw a pitched six-day battle before American forces defeated the town’s German occupiers on June 12, 1944. Scelle still remembers her parents’ accounts of German occupation. Troops lived in her home in the village of Baupte, a few kilometers from Carentan. “It was a regular army,” as opposed to Nazi troops, she said. “If you were nice to them, things went well.” But when her father threw stones into the village river to try to block German passage, the soldiers threatened him with a knife. After the D-Day landings, they demanded of her mother at gunpoint that she disclose the location of arriving U.S. soldiers. Her family fled their home under falling bombs and found it ransacked when they finally returned. Roughly 20,000 French civilians died during the nearly three-month Battle of Normandy — along with about 73,000 Allied forces and up to 9,000 or so Germans. Overall, Normandy lost many more of its citizens during its liberation than during the entire German occupation. “My village didn’t have a lot of deaths, but people wouldn’t have been bitter anyway,” Scelle said. “For them, it was the price to pay for freedom.” Today, Scelle is helping out other war survivors. Since Russia invaded Ukraine two years ago, dozens of Ukrainian refugees have arrived in Carentan and surrounding villages. Many have since returned to their homeland. But Ukrainian student Kateryna Vorontsova, 19, and her family remain and count among those Scelle has helped to settle in and learn French. “I would like to stay in France,” said Vorontsova, although she wants to eventually return to her homeland in peace. “I like the weather, the landscape, the culture.” Of D-Day, she added, “it’s important to remember the landings. They’re our common history.” Ukraine ties Carentan has other ties to Ukraine. Donated ambulances line a field next to the D-Day Experience Museum, just outside Carentan. Some are funded by U.S. donors, others by European entities like the government of Madrid. Just after the D-Day anniversary, volunteers will drive them more than 2,000 km to Ukraine. “According to doctors I’ve talked to in Ukraine, every ambulance saves an average of 250 lives a month,” said Brock Bierman, president of Ukraine Focus, a nongovernmental group based in Washington and Ukraine, which is spearheading the effort. He is in Carentan organizing the convoy’s departure. “Our volunteer drivers have delivered them literally to the front lines … in Bakhmut and Kherson, in Odesa and Mykolaiv,” he added, naming towns in Ukraine. “There’s a lot of work to get this done, and we couldn’t do it without an alliance of people from all over Europe and the United States.” A former senior official with the U.S. Agency for International Development during the Trump administration, Bierman strongly backs U.S. aid for Ukraine, including the $60 billion finally passed by Congress in April. Uncertainty about whether those funds would be approved lingers and is among issues feeding doubts in Europe about long-term U.S. commitment to Ukraine and — if Donald Trump returns to office — to the NATO transatlantic alliance. Bierman believes the costs will be high if Washington does not stand by Kyiv. “If we fail to support Ukraine’s independence, what we could be looking at is a longer-term conflict in the next decade — which could involve boots on the ground and possible American lives lost,” he said. At Carentan’s town hall, Deputy Mayor Lesne believes the Normandy landings offer lessons for today. “I think the most important message is in two words: to remember,” he said. “Not to forget what happened, so it won’t be repeated. Millions of people died in the Second World War — we can’t have that happen again.”

Allies prepare to mark D-Day’s 80th anniversary in shadow of Ukraine war 

Voice of America’s immigration news - May 24, 2024 - 19:58
Some of the last surviving World War Two veterans gather in Normandy, France, next month to mark the 1944 allied landings that began the country’s liberation from Nazi German control. But another war on Europe’s doorstep — in Ukraine — casts a dark shadow on this 80th anniversary of D-Day. Lisa Bryant reports from the Normandy town of Carentan-les-Marais.

VOA Newscasts

Voice of America’s immigration news - May 24, 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.

French court issues life sentences to three senior Syrian officials for war crimes 

Voice of America’s immigration news - May 24, 2024 - 18:49
washington — A court in the French capital on Friday ordered life sentences for three senior Syrian government officials in a landmark case.  After a four-day trial, the Paris Criminal Court said three Syrian officials had been found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the war-torn country.  The case against Ali Mamlouk, former director of Syria’s National Security Bureau; Jamil Hassan, former head of the air force intelligence directorate; and Abdel Salam Mahmoud, former head of the air force intelligence’s branch in Damascus, was based on their role in the deaths of two French nationals of Syrian origin.  The two Frenchmen, Mazzen Dabbagh and his son, Patrick, were arrested in Damascus in 2013. The two were declared dead in 2018. The family was formally notified that Patrick had died in 2014 and that Mazzen had died in 2017.  The three Syrian officials were tried in absentia. This was the first time a trial of Syrian government officials had been held in France. The court’s ruling on Friday also upheld international arrest warrants against the Syrian officials that were issued in 2018.  Anwar al-Bunni, a Germany-based Syrian human rights lawyer, said Friday’s ruling was “historic,” and he noted it would have significant political implications for the Syrian government.     “This ruling will prevent any future efforts to normalize with the Syrian regime, especially since one of the officials prosecuted is Ali Mamlouk, who currently serves as a presidential adviser,” he told VOA. Ninar Khalifa, a researcher at Syrians for Truth and Justice, a France-based advocacy group, said the defendants could appeal the court’s decision only if they attended in person.     “But the fact that the verdict included crimes against humanity shows that the entire Syrian regime has been involved in persecuting people in Syria,” she told VOA. “This is not only about three officials. It’s against the military hierarchy of the Syrian regime from top to bottom.”    The government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been accused of committing atrocities against civilians since the beginning of Syria’s civil war in 2011.     The conflict has killed more than half a million people and displaced more than half of the country’s prewar population of 22 million. The U.N. says more than 7 million Syrians have been internally displaced, while the others have fled to other countries. Mazen Darwish, director of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression, or SCM, testified on the final day of the hearings.    “This quest for justice to which we all aspire is in no way revenge. On the contrary, justice in general is there to prevent violence. We cannot destroy this terror and prevent this from happening again without justice putting an end to impunity,” Darwish said in his testimony on Friday, according to a post by SCM on social media platform X.    Darwish testified in the case as a witness since he himself had been arrested by the same Syrian intelligence agency that was responsible for the Dabbaghs’ arrests and during the same period of their imprisonments. He was released from a Damascus prison in 2015 after serving a three-year sentence for his political activism.    Other trials against former Syrian government officials have taken place elsewhere in Europe, notably in Germany. But in those cases, the prosecuted officials held lower ranks in the Syrian government and were present at the hearings.    This report originated in VOA’s Kurdish Service. Some information came from Agence France-Presse.

VOA Newscasts

Voice of America’s immigration news - May 24, 2024 - 18:00
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.

UN: Situation in Sudan’s North Darfur capital grows more dire by the day

Voice of America’s immigration news - May 24, 2024 - 17:40
United Nations — Humanitarians warned Friday that the situation in North Darfur’s capital, El Fasher, is growing more dire by the day, as the state’s only functioning hospital has about a week’s worth of supplies left and as casualties mount. “The fighting has reportedly forced thousands of people to flee since 10 May and caused hundreds of civilian casualties,” U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters. May 10 is when clashes erupted inside El Fasher between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), who are positioned inside the city, and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), who attacked surrounding towns before they entered the state capital. According to Paris-based medical charity Doctors Without Borders, known by its French acronym MSF, at least 700 injured civilians arrived at that last operating hospital, known as South Hospital, in the past two weeks. Eighty-five of them have died. "People are arriving with abdominal injuries, chest wounds, brain trauma, and open fractures,” Claire Nicolet, MSF's head of emergency programs, said earlier this week in a statement. “Some have gunshot wounds, some have been wounded by bomb fragments, and others have been wounded by shelling.” She said the hospital urgently needs more surgeons and supplies. Humanitarians have been struggling for weeks to reach El Fasher, where at least 800,000 civilians are sheltering, many of them having been displaced from other parts of Darfur that have fallen to the RSF. “More than a dozen trucks carrying aid for more than 121,000 people have been trying to reach El Fasher for over a month, but the current security situation is making this all but impossible,” Dujarric said. He added that one World Food Program truck convoy carrying 1,200 metric tons of food and nutrition supplies for about 117,000 people was able to cross into North Darfur from Chad on Thursday, through the Tine crossing. The government of Sudan reopened that crossing in early March, after closing it citing concerns that it could be used to supply the RSF with arms and ammunition. Weapons accusations The Sudanese government has repeatedly accused the United Arab Emirates of sending arms to the RSF via airports in Chad. On Friday, the Security Council met at Sudan’s request to discuss the matter. The meeting was private; Sudan would have preferred it be public. Afterward, Sudan’s envoy said the UAE should be “censured and condemned” for its actions. “The UAE behaves like a rogue state,” Ambassador Al-Harith Idriss Al-Harith Mohamed told reporters. “It must be punished for invading Sudan through local and foreign actors and proxies.” He said those proxies include mercenaries from Chad, southern Libya and parts of the Sahel. Mohammed said the RSF is using arms from the UAE to kill and rape civilians, displace people and destroy the country’s infrastructure. The UAE has repeatedly denied the accusations. “We are aware of the baseless allegations made against the UAE, which we have already addressed, including through letters to the Security Council, most recently of which was on 25 April,” UAE Ambassador Mohamed Abushahab told VOA in a written statement. “We see the efforts by the representative of Sudan as another attempt to distract the Security Council from the atrocities being committed by the warring parties, including attacks on civilians, hospitals and schools, and the obstruction of humanitarian aid,” he said. A report published in January by a panel of experts mandated by the Security Council to monitor sanctions implementation in Sudan said the SAF has used aerial bombing and heavy shelling in urban areas of Darfur, causing a large-scale humanitarian crisis. The panel also found that the RSF in July started using several types of heavy and sophisticated weapons that it did not have at the start of the war, in April 2023. The experts said this gave them a military advantage that let them quickly take over Nyala in South Darfur and El Geneina in West Darfur, while the RSF’s new anti-aircraft devices helped them to counter the SAF’s air force. The panel said that various flight-tracking experts had since June observed numerous cargo planes originating from Abu Dhabi International Airport arriving at Amdjarass International Airport in eastern Chad, with stops in Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda. They said information they gathered substantiated media reports alleging the aircraft carried weapons, ammunition and medical equipment for the RSF. The UAE told the panel that they were transporting humanitarian assistance for displaced Sudanese, not arms.

VOA Newscasts

Voice of America’s immigration news - May 24, 2024 - 17:00
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.

Niger’s journalists wary of red lines, arrests after military coup

Voice of America’s immigration news - May 24, 2024 - 16:02
Abuja, Nigeria — When Gazali Mahaman Abdou heard about the military coup in his home country of Niger last July, he went to work reporting on developments. A journalist for more than 20 years, Abdou reports for the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle from his base in Niger’s capital, Niamey. But with a transitional military leadership in power, Abdou said, covering the situation has become too risky, with some journalists detained. "Sometimes the menace is not coming from the junta directly but the supporters of the junta. That's why we are afraid,” he said. “Someone can attack you anywhere. That is why we're so careful. It's not easy.” Some journalists left Niger because they couldn't work, Abdou said, adding, “After three or four months, they returned to the country, but they can't critique the junta directly." Risky to report Media advocates say that since the military coup that ousted President Mohamed Bazoum, journalists are at risk of arbitrary arrests and intimidation by transitional authorities. In January, the junta suspended Niger's media association, known as the Maison de la Presse, replacing it with a committee headed by the Interior Ministry’s secretary general. Abdou said journalists like himself who have stayed have changed how they report to ensure their safety. "We’ve become more careful with our choice of words,” he said. “When I work, I know that the junta doesn't like to hear about the number of soldiers who died at the front line. We have to be more careful — we don't give the number, but the government number is not the good [correct] number." It’s a situation that worries press freedom and rights advocates. Groups that include Amnesty International report Niger's transitional leaders are targeting and arbitrarily arresting journalists who report on the conflict and security-related topics. Amnesty has called for the immediate release of journalists unjustly detained, including Soumana Maiga. Authorities detained the newspaper editor in April over a story about Russian agents allegedly installing listening equipment in state buildings. Days before that arrest, authorities detained a journalist and former adviser to the ousted president. A regional trend Busola Ajibola, deputy director of the journalism program at the West Africa-focused Center for Journalism Innovation and Development, says the trend is concerning. "When journalists are arrested arbitrarily and held incommunicado, it sends signals to other journalists to begin to self-censor,” she said. “That pattern is spreading not just in Niger but in places like Burkina Faso. “What we worry about is not just the shrinking of the atmosphere for accountability journalism, but ... the total shrinking of the civic space," she said. VOA’s attempts to reach the transitional government were unsuccessful. But the military has said that those journalists detained are accused of trying to undermine national security and destabilize the country. In a tense environment, Ajibola said, media collaboration is one way for Niger’s journalists to get their stories out. "This is the time we need to begin to advocate for regional collaboration among journalists themselves,” she said. “The government of Niger does not constitute a major threat to a journalist in Ghana, Mozambique or Nigeria, so we can now have a situation where journalists that are in Niger find a way to amplify their voices. They necessarily do not have to be the ones telling the stories, especially if they can't tell the stories within a safe zone." Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders, or RSF, last year joined with 80 media groups and journalists to demand the military respect press freedom. But since the coup, Niger has dropped 19 points on the RSF World Press Freedom Index rankings.

VOA Newscasts

Voice of America’s immigration news - May 24, 2024 - 16:00
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.

Mali, Russia start work on major solar plant 

Voice of America’s immigration news - May 24, 2024 - 15:41
Dakar, Senegal — Mali and Russia on Friday launched the construction of the largest solar power plant in West Africa, Malian Energy Minister Bintou Camara said on national television.  It comes as the country continues to be plagued by electricity supply problems, with only half of the population having access to electricity.  The power station, "the first [in terms of size] in the country and even in the subregion ... will greatly reduce the electricity shortage currently affecting our country," Camara told Malian TV station ORTM.  Grigory Nazarov, director of NovaWind, the Russian company in charge of the construction, said it is expected to increase Mali's electricity production by 10%.  NovaWind is a subsidiary of Russia's nuclear agency Rosatom.  The 200-megawatt solar station will cover 314 hectares in Sanankoroba, in southwestern Mali, close to the capital, Bamako.  The work, which is costing over 200 million euros ($217 million), will take a year to complete, Nazarov said.  The solar power plant is designed for "stable operation for 20 years" and will come "under full control of the Malian Ministry of Energy" after 10 years, he added.  Malian electricity production is 70% thermal, which is extremely costly, Finance Minister Alousseni Sanou said in March when the deal with NovaWind was signed.  Burdened with a debt of more than $330 million, Mali's national energy company is no longer able to supply electricity to the capital and other towns around the country.  Construction of two other solar plants near Bamako is scheduled to start on May 28 and June 1 and be built by Chinese and Emirati companies.  Moscow has steadily gained influence in Mali through the deployment of Wagner Group mercenaries, unofficially serving the Kremlin's aims in resource-rich Africa since the 2010s.  During a call in March, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Malian junta leader Colonel Assimi Goita discussed strengthening "cooperation in energy, agricultural and mining projects," the Kremlin said. 

Documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock, who skewered fast food industry, dies at 53

Voice of America’s immigration news - May 24, 2024 - 15:33
NEW YORK — Documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock, an Oscar nominee whose most famous works skewered America's food industry and who notably ate only at McDonald’s for a month to illustrate the dangers of a fast-food diet, has died. He was 53.  Spurlock died Thursday in New York from complications of cancer, according to a statement issued Friday by his family.  “It was a sad day, as we said goodbye to my brother Morgan,” Craig Spurlock, who worked with him on several projects, said in the statement. “Morgan gave so much through his art, ideas, and generosity. The world has lost a true creative genius and a special man. I am so proud to have worked together with him.”  Spurlock made a splash in 2004 with his groundbreaking film “Super Size Me,” which was nominated for an Academy Award. The film chronicled the detrimental physical and psychological effects of Spurlock eating only McDonald’s food for 30 days. He gained about 25 pounds, saw a spike in his cholesterol and lost his sex drive.  “Everything’s bigger in America,” he said in the film. “We’ve got the biggest cars, the biggest houses, the biggest companies, the biggest food, and finally: the biggest people.”  In one scene, Spurlock showed kids a photo of George Washington and none recognized the Founding Father. But they all instantly knew the mascots for Wendy’s and McDonald’s.  The film grossed more than $22 million on a $65,000 budget and preceded the release of Eric Schlosser’s influential “Fast Food Nation,” which accused the industry of being bad for the environment and rife with labor issues.  Spurlock returned in 2017 with “Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken!” — a sober look at an industry that processes 9 billion animals a year in America. He focused on two issues: chicken farmers stuck in a peculiar financial system and the attempt by fast-food chains to deceive customers into thinking they’re eating healthier.  “We’re at an amazing moment in history from a consumer standpoint where consumers are starting to have more and more power,” he told The Associated Press in 2019. “It’s not about return for the shareholders. It’s about return for the consumers.”  Spurlock was a gonzo-like filmmaker who leaned into the bizarre and ridiculous. His stylistic touches included zippy graphics and amusing music, blending a Michael Moore-ish camera-in-your-face style with his own sense of humor and pathos.  “I wanted to be able to lean into the serious moments. I wanted to be able to breathe in the moments of levity. We want to give you permission to laugh in the places where it’s really hard to laugh,” he told the AP.  After he exposed the fast-food and chicken industries, there was an explosion in restaurants stressing freshness, artisanal methods, farm-to-table goodness and ethically sourced ingredients. But nutritionally not much had changed.  “There has been this massive shift and people say to me, ‘So has the food gotten healthier?’ And I say, ‘Well, the marketing sure has,’” he said.  Not all his work dealt with food. Spurlock made documentaries about the boy band One Direction and the geeks and fanboys at Comic-Con. One of his films looked at life behind bars at the Henrico County Jail in Virginia.  With 2008's “Where in the World is Osama bin Laden?” Spurlock went on a global search to find the al-Qaida leader, who was killed in 2011. In “POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold,” Spurlock tackled questions of product placement, marketing and advertising.  “Being aware is half the battle, I think. Literally knowing all the time when you’re being marketed to is a great thing,” Spurlock told AP at the time. “A lot of people don’t realize it. They can’t see the forest for the trees."  “Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken!” was to premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in 2017 but it was shelved at the height of the #MeToo movement when Spurlock came forward to detail his own history of sexual misconduct.  He confessed that he had been accused of rape while in college and had settled a sexual harassment case with a female assistant. He also admitted to cheating on numerous partners. “I am part of the problem,” he wrote.  “For me, there was a moment of kind of realization — as somebody who is a truth-teller and somebody who has made it a point of trying to do what’s right — of recognizing that I could do better in my own life. We should be able to admit we were wrong,” he told the AP.  Spurlock grew up in Beckley, West Virginia. His mother was an English teacher who he remembered would correct his work with a red pen. He graduated with a BFA in film from New York University in 1993.  He is survived by two sons — Laken and Kallen; his mother Phyllis Spurlock; father Ben; brothers Craig and Barry; and former spouses Alexandra Jamieson and Sara Bernstein, the mothers of his children.

Armenia returns four border villages to Azerbaijan 

Voice of America’s immigration news - May 24, 2024 - 15:18
Yerevan, Armenia — Armenia has returned to Azerbaijan four border villages it seized decades ago, the countries confirmed Friday, a key step toward normalizing ties between the historic rivals. The move, which has sparked protracted protests in Armenia, is an important move for reaching a comprehensive peace agreement after years of fruitless talks mediated by Russia and Western countries. The Caucasus countries, both former Soviet republics, fought two wars in the 1990s and in 2020 for control of the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijan recaptured it last year in a lightning offensive, ending three decades of Armenian-separatist rule over the enclave and prompting more than 100,000 residents to flee into Armenia. Yerevan's disastrous defeat provoked a rift with its historic ally Russia, which Armenia accuses of failing to defend it in the face of Azerbaijani threats despite security treaty obligations. After months of diplomatic tensions, Moscow said Friday that it had recalled its ambassador to Armenia for "consultations." Foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova did not provide a reason for the recall, which is typically seen in diplomatic circles as an extreme step in the face of worsening ties. Armenia's security service confirmed Friday that its border guards had taken up new positions in the east of the country, reflecting a recently brokered border demarcation deal that cedes the villages to Azerbaijani control. Azerbaijani Deputy Prime Minister Shahin Mustafayev announced separately that his country's border guards had taken control of the four settlements. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan agreed in March to return the four abandoned villages, which were seized in the 1990s, as part of efforts to secure a lasting peace deal. In a televised statement Friday evening, he said fixing the country's volatile border with Azerbaijan "is a sole guarantee for the very existence of the Armenian republic within its internationally recognized and legitimate frontier." The two countries agreed earlier this month on the new demarcation of 12.7 kilometers of their border, returning the villages of Baghanis Ayrum, Ashaghi Askipara, Kheyrimli and Ghizilhajili to Azerbaijan. Pashinyan has hailed the agreement as "very important" for Armenia's sovereignty and said it "brings our security and stability to a new level." The territory ceded by Yerevan is of strategic importance for landlocked Armenia because it controls sections of a vital highway to Georgia. Armenian residents of nearby settlements say the move could cut them off from the rest of the country, and they accuse Pashinyan of unilaterally giving away territory without getting anything in return. Pashinyan has said Armenia will build new roads in the area over the next few months. His decision has sparked weeks of anti-government protests in Armenia, with thousands of demonstrators led by the charismatic cleric Bagrat Galstanyan demanding Pashinyan's resignation. A new anti-government protest is scheduled for Sunday. A 5.8-kilometer section of the border near the Armenian village of Kirants will be guarded "according to a transitional scheme until July 24," Armenia's national security service said Friday. The village mayor has said locals will be allowed to use a section of the road that is to be transferred to Azerbaijani control, until new roads are built. Local media reported that some Kirants residents had dismantled their houses and fled the village, which is located just meters from the redrawn border. 

Hungary to seek to opt out of NATO efforts to support Ukraine, Orban says

Voice of America’s immigration news - May 24, 2024 - 15:11
BUDAPEST, Hungary — Hungary will seek to opt out of any NATO operations aimed at supporting Ukraine, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said Friday, suggesting that the military alliance and the European Union were moving toward a more direct conflict with Russia.  Orban told state radio that Hungary opposes a plan NATO is weighing to provide more predictable military support to Ukraine in coming years to repel Moscow's full-scale invasion, as better armed Russian troops assert control on the battlefield.  “We do not approve of this, nor do we want to participate in financial or arms support (for Ukraine), even within the framework of NATO,” Orban said, adding that Hungary has taken a position as a “nonparticipant” in any potential NATO operations to assist Kyiv.  “We've got to redefine our position within the military alliance, and our lawyers and officers are working on ... how Hungary can exist as a NATO member while not participating in NATO actions outside of its territory,” he said.  Orban, considered Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest partner in the EU, emphasized NATO's role as a defensive alliance, and said he doesn't share the concerns of some other Central and Eastern European countries that Russia’s military wouldn't cease its aggression if it wins the war in Ukraine.  “NATO’s strength cannot be compared to that of Ukraine,” he said. “I don’t consider it a logical proposition that Russia, which cannot even deal with Ukraine, will come all of a sudden and swallow up the whole Western world.”  Hungary has refused to supply neighboring Ukraine with military aid in contrast to most other countries in the EU, and Orban has vigorously opposed the bloc's sanctions on Moscow though has ultimately always voted for them.  The nationalist leader is preparing for the European Parliament election on June 6-9 and has cast his party as a guarantor of peace in the region. He has characterized the United States and other EU countries that urge greater support for Ukraine as “pro-war” and acting in preparation for a global conflict.

Thousands protest as Georgia MPs plan to override veto of 'foreign influence' law

Voice of America’s immigration news - May 24, 2024 - 15:09
Tbilisi, Georgia — Thousands of people took part in a rally in the Georgian capital on Friday against a controversial anti-NGO law, as the country's parliament said it would start proceedings next week to override a presidential veto.  The ruling Georgian Dream party's "foreign influence" law targets nongovernmental organizations, or NGOs, and media outlets that receive funding from abroad. It has triggered a month of huge street rallies in Tbilisi and sparked condemnation from Europe and the United States.  Opponents say the law mirrors Russian legislation used to silence dissent and risks destroying the Black Sea nation's shot at EU membership.  Georgian Dream blasted the United States for "encroaching" on Georgian sovereignty after Washington announced a plan for visa restrictions on Georgian officials over the legislation.  Almost daily rallies against the law have been held since April 9. And several thousand protesters gathered in central Tbilisi on Friday evening to show solidarity with people arrested at previous demonstrations.  Waving Georgian and EU flags, demonstrators marched from Freedom Square to the Interior Ministry headquarters to demand the release of detainees.  "We will never tolerate a pro-Russian government in Georgia," student demonstrator Misha Kavtaradze, 20, told AFP.   "No to the Russian law, yes to Europe," he said.  Georgian MPs adopted the law last week, but it was later vetoed by President Salome Zourabichvili, who is at loggerheads with the government.  The parliament press office told AFP that a legal affairs committee will discuss overruling the veto on Monday, formally launching the procedure that could see the measure come into force.   A vote at a plenary session is tentatively scheduled for Tuesday, the press office said.    Georgian Dream has enough MPs to override the veto, and Zourabichvili has acknowledged that her attempt to block the legislation holds only "symbolic" power.  The law requires NGOs and media outlets receiving more than 20% of their funding from abroad to register as acting "in the interests of a foreign power."  It has been blasted as undemocratic by Western countries.  Georgian Dream slammed Washington's announcement Thursday of visa restrictions for "individuals who are responsible for or complicit in undermining democracy in Georgia" via the law.  In a statement, it accused the United States of "visa blackmail" and a "flagrant attempt to encroach on Georgia's independence and sovereignty."  The law was reintroduced one year after Georgian Dream dropped similar proposals that also triggered mass protests.   The rallies have turned violent on several occasions. Police have beaten and arrested demonstrators and used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the rallies.  Georgian Dream insists it is still committed to joining the EU and NATO and portrays the bill as being aimed at increasing the transparency of NGO funding.  Protesters accuse the party of bringing the country back into Moscow's orbit and sabotaging Georgia's European aspirations that are enshrined in its constitution. Polls indicated more than 80% of the population support joining the EU.  The showdown comes ahead of parliamentary elections in October, seen as a crucial test of the country's democratic transition more than three decades after it gained independence with the fall of the Soviet Union. 

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