State oil giant Saudi Aramco reported a soaring 90% rise in second-quarter profit on Sunday, beating analyst expectations and propelled by higher oil prices, volumes sold and refining margins. The company expects "oil demand to continue to grow for the rest of the decade, despite downward economic pressures on short-term global forecasts," Aramco chief executive Amin Nasser said in the earnings report. Aramco's net profit rose to $48.39 billion for the quarter to June 30 from $25.43 billion a year earlier. Analysts had expected a net profit of $46.2 billion, according to the mean estimate from 15 analysts. It declared a dividend of $18.8 billion in the second quarter, in line with its own target, which will be paid in the third quarter. Aramco shares have risen over 25% this year as oil and natural gas prices have scaled multi-year highs after Western sanctions against major exporter Russia squeezed an already under-supplied global market. Aramco joins other oil majors that have reported strong results in recent weeks. On July 29, Exxon Mobil Corp posted its biggest quarterly profit ever, a net income of $17.9 billion, an almost four-fold increase over the year earlier period. Margins for making fuels like gasoline and diesel surged worldwide, boosting the profits of oil giants, including European majors Shell and TotalEnergies, both of which reported results on July 27. Aramco said its average total hydrocarbon production was 13.6 million barrels of oil equivalent per day in the second quarter. “But while there is a very real and present need to safeguard the security of energy supplies, climate goals remain critical, which is why Aramco is working to increase production from multiple energy sources - including oil and gas, as well as renewables, and blue hydrogen." said Nasser. Capital expenditure increased by 25% to $9.4 billion in the second quarter compared to the same period in 2021. Aramco said it continued to invest in growth, expanding its chemicals business and developing prospects in low-carbon businesses.
Some of the world’s most prized works of contemporary Western art have been unveiled for the first time in decades — in Tehran. Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, a hard-line cleric, rails against the influence of the West. Authorities have lashed out at “deviant” artists for “attacking Iran’s revolutionary culture." And the Islamic Republic has plunged further into confrontation with the United States and Europe as it rapidly accelerates its nuclear program and diplomatic efforts stall. But contradictions abound in the Iranian capital, where thousands of well-heeled men and hijab-clad women marveled at 19th- and 20th-century American and European minimalist and conceptual masterpieces on display this summer for the first time at the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art. On a recent August afternoon, art critics and students were delighted at Marcel Duchamp's see-through 1915 mural, “The Large Glass,” long interpreted as an exploration of erotic frustration. They gazed at a rare 4-meter (13-foot) untitled sculpture by American minimalist pioneer Donald Judd and one of Sol Lewitt's best-known serial pieces, “Open Cube," among other important works. The Judd sculpture, consisting of a horizontal array of lacquered brass and aluminum panels, is likely worth millions of dollars. “Setting up a show with such a theme and such works is a bold move that takes a lot of courage,” said Babak Bahari, 62, who was viewing the exhibit of 130 works for the fourth time since it opened in late June. “Even in the West these works are at the heart of discussions and dialogue.” The government of Iran’s Western-backed shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, and his wife, the former Empress Farah Pahlavi, built the museum and acquired the multibillion-dollar collection in the late 1970s, when oil boomed and Western economies stagnated. Upon opening, it showed sensational works by Pablo Picasso, Mark Rothko, Claude Monet, Jackson Pollock and other heavyweights, enhancing Iran’s cultural standing on the world stage. But just two years later, in 1979, Shiite clerics ousted the shah and packed away the art in the museum’s vault. Some paintings — cubist, surrealist, impressionist, even pop art — sat untouched for decades to avoid offending Islamic values and catering to Western sensibilities. But during a thaw in Iran's hard-line politics, the art started to resurface. While Andy Warhol's paintings of the Pahlavis and some choice nudes are still hidden in the basement, much of the museum's collection has been brought out to great fanfare as Iran's cultural restrictions have eased. The ongoing exhibit on minimalism, featuring 34 Western artists, has captured particular attention. Over 17,000 people have made the trip since it opened, the museum said — nearly double the footfall of past shows. Curator Behrang Samadzadegan credits a recent renewed interest in conceptual art, which first shocked audiences in the 1960s by drawing on political themes and taking art out of traditional galleries and into the wider world. The museum's spokesperson, Hasan Noferesti, said the size of the crowds coming to the exhibition, which lasts until mid-September, shows the thrill of experiencing long-hidden modern masterpieces. It also attests to the enduring appetite for art among Iran’s young generation. Over 50% of the country's roughly 85 million people are under 30 years old. Despite their country's deepening global isolation, and fears that their already limited social and cultural freedoms may be further curtailed under the hard-line government elected a year ago, young Iranians are increasingly exploring the international art world on social media. New galleries are buzzing. Art and architecture schools are thriving. “These are good works of art, you don’t want to imitate them," said Mohammad Shahsavari, a 20-year-old architecture student standing before Lewitt's cube structure. “Rather, you get inspiration from them."
Before the pandemic, before the war in Ukraine, before new came to define normal, Netchanok "Love" Promkao and Dmytro Denysov met in a Bangkok restaurant when Netchanok's friends asked the solo traveler to join them. A gym-fit Ukrainian with dark blond hair, Denysov was "breaking bad, drinking and smoking" in September 2019, with Bangkok another stop on a monthslong Asia trek. He had just broken up with his girlfriend in China. Netchanok had just broken up with her boyfriend in South Korea. They bonded as rebound buddies. Each had been married and divorced. Denysov helped Netchanok build online engagement for the social media channels she developed for her online marketplace while managing a Bangkok restaurant. By February 2020, they were a committed couple unaware that their future would manifest a snarl of bureaucracy, prejudice, online celebrity, money woes and mental illness, an ever-changing chaos made endurable by a love many failed to understand. Then, before March arrived, Denysov departed on an unplanned two-month visit to Ukraine to care for his ailing father. COVID-19 pandemic travel restrictions kept the couple apart until May 2021, when they reunited in Hua Hin, a dreamy seaside resort town once favored by Thai nobility. As the couple adjusted from long-distance to up-close loving, Denysov told Netchanok, "I want to change. I want to take (female sex) hormones." Since the age of 12, Denysov, now 37, had wanted to live as Jane. "When I started traveling, I started seeing like 'Oh, it's normal' that people can be who they want to be … and I have enough power right now to do what I want," he said. "Because we only have one life, I want to live my life, to be myself and not to fall." As Denysov recalled, Netchanok looked confused for a moment, then told him, "'No problem.'" "Then, we just went to a pharmacy together," Jane told VOA Thai. "My only regret is why I didn't start taking hormones earlier." Netchanok, 33, the mother of two, observed, "No one lives problem-free. No one is perfectly perfect. I would like to choose the most understanding one as my partner. I think Jane is the one." *** In the following months, the couple moved between Thailand and Europe, where they found Ukraine challenging. A survey by the sociological group "Rating" published last August indicated that 47% of respondents in Ukraine had a negative view of the LGBTQ+ community, Reuters reported. "Ukraine came from the Soviet Union, so there're restrictions about everything LGBTQ+," Jane told VOA Thai via video interview in late June, wearing full makeup and a platinum wig. Partly in response to encountering these restrictions, in June 2021 the couple launched their TikTok channel. They became social media personalities with more than 256,000 followers, most of them in Thailand. Jane tried speaking some Thai as well as English on their channel. At one point, she used "kathoey" which is Thai for a transgender woman or a gay man who presents as a woman. "The automatic translation put it as 'homosexual.' My mother saw it and was like 'What's wrong with you? Are you homosexual?' and I was like 'No, no, no,'" Jane said. *** In October 2021, Netchanok decided to travel with Jane to Kyiv to meet with her in-laws. "When I went to meet my parents, I was wearing something oversized to hide my breasts," Jane said. "They had thought I dressed up as a woman only for TikTok appearance. They didn't expect it to be real." Netchanok said Jane's parents were initially "shocked yet eventually accepting" and supported the couple's marriage that December in Kyiv, a ceremony possible because Jane was a man before the law and the altar. Video translation: 0.01-0.09: Here we are. I would like to say that I and Jane have been married. Thank you for supporting us. 0.10 - 0.14: Today is a good day. I’m very happy. Let me hug her first. 0.17 - 0.28: We’ve been through obstacles for… how many years have we dated each other? Around three years. We have been through a lot. 0.37 - 0.43: From the first day we met and that’s been three years, Jane’s Thai language level has been the same. 0.45- 0.51: You may’ve notice we’ve been inactive on TikTok for a couple of weeks. 0.52 – 0.58: We got temporarily banned by TikTok. We also had to prepare our visas among other things. 1.00-1.03: But now, we’re back to see you again! Then Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. "We would hear siren sounds for 20 minutes and after they stopped for another 20 minutes, bombing would usually follow," Netchanok said. "The siren sounds were so frequent that most people did not seem to escape when hearing them unless when they were in dangerous zones." The war meant the couple couldn't use ATMs to access their Ukrainian accounts. Given Netchanok's outlay on her Ukraine visa application and Jane's recent apartment purchase in Ukraine, money became a problem. Jane, who had struggled with diagnosed depression since childhood, fell into a dark place. Together, they began planning to leave Ukraine, an effort complicated by the government's wartime ban on male citizens aged 18-60 leaving the country. The couple went first to Lviv, where the Thai embassy in Warsaw, which also oversees Thai interests in Ukraine, had established a temporary post to assist and repatriate Thai nationals. Netchanok wanted to move Jane to Thailand because she believed Jane would receive better care there. When Thai officials told the couple Jane did not qualify for help despite being married to a Thai citizen, Netchanok declared, "If you're not going, I'm not going. We have to be together no matter what." By March, Jane was cutting herself, and Netchanok was struggling to stay in touch with family in Thailand. "It was a big mess," Netchanok said. "It was about dealing with war, work, family and Jane's emotions. "I wasn't worried about myself," she said. "I was worried about my children and necessary spending. I had to quit a job shortly after the war broke out and most of our savings went to an apartment in Kyiv, from where we had to evacuate." *** Netchanok found a hospital to treat Jane in April after a friend in Lviv referred them to a military medical office in Dnipro where Jane eventually received consultations for depression. The couple assembled proof of Jane's unsuitability for the military, documentation that included a video clip of Jane, wearing women's clothing and presenting as a woman, being publicly assaulted in Ukraine. Video translation: Jane 4.58-5.22: I can’t go out in high heels … with make-up, with hair. Because if I do, people will think there’s something wrong with me, that I’m an idiot. I can’t be myself. Netchanok 5.23- 5.29: As far as I have observed, especially in Lviv, people tend to be more conservative. From what I’ve seen, especially in Lviv, people tend to be conservative. 5.30-5.33: We wouldn’t know whether if Jane would be in trouble if when she dresses as a woman in public. 5.34-5.40: This is what we see in Ukrainians, not only Ukraine actually but also in Russia, because they seem to be very Soviet-like. 5.41- 5.46: However, there are around about 70% of the younger generations who seem to be more progressive … 5.47 - 5.50: … while the other 30% tend to be more conservative and pro-Russia. Jane received a military service waiver. The couple spent three weeks in Dnipro sorting out their paperwork, then returned to Lviv for a 72-hour bus trip to Switzerland. Netchanok and Jane decided to settle in Switzerland after the LGBTQ+ community there suggested it. Medical treatments to support gender change are relatively accessible, they learned. Jane plans to receive facial surgery, vocal feminization surgery and breast augmentation. She doesn't want complete gender-confirmation surgery. "I don't want to change this part of my body because I have a wife and I like her," Jane said. A Swiss law effective since Jan. 1 allows people in the country to legally change gender without hormone therapy, medical diagnosis or gender-confirmation surgery. However, the gender options under Swiss laws remain binary, and this means Jane is considered female under Swiss law, the couple says. Jane and Netchanok, who settled in Geneva on May 27, are waiting to receive a one-year renewable "Permit S" that allows people in need of protection to stay and work in Switzerland provisionally. According to Swissinfo, Switzerland had handed out work permits to at least 1,500 of the 57,000 refugees from Ukraine as of June16. Switzerland's Federal Council provides 21,000 francs for each Ukrainian refugee. Jane said she enjoys Geneva, where she lives without fear. This is so new, so transformative for her that she told VOA Thai she "needs to study" to be herself again, adding, "It sounds weird but that's really true because (normally) there would be some people laughing at me … In Kyiv, it was always like this." Video translation: 0.01-0.02: We’re going to review Swiss government’s assistance. 0.03-0.10: This is the check. Because we haven’t opened our account yet, the Swiss government would give us an actual check for us to cash. 0.11-0.16: However, in Switzerland, unlike in Thailand, we can cash this check at a post office instead of a bank. 0.17-0.23: We would like to say that the Swiss government takes a very good care of Ukrainian migrants. The couple has started mapping out their future. They want to divide their time between Thailand and Ukraine so they are always with family. Beyond their online celebrity in Thailand, Netchanok has maintained her business connections there. Thailand draws Jane because of what she sees as an acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community, even though the Thai government has yet to recognize the LGBTQ+ community in full. Gender is legally assigned at birth and cannot be changed under Thai law, which does not recognize same-sex marriage on par with heterosexual marriage. In June, the Thai Cabinet approved a civil partnership bill which, while partially recognizing same-sex partnership, still lacks benefits enjoyed by heterosexual couples such as tax benefits, government pensions and spousal medical decisions. Swiss laws are more progressive than Ukraine's on LGBTQ+ rights. Switzerland has a score of 42% on ILGA-Europe's Rainbow Map and Index based on legal and policy practices for LGBT+ people in Europe, compared with Ukraine's score of 19%. Same-sex marriage in Switzerland became legal on July 1. Although Ukraine does not recognize same-sex marriages and civil partnerships, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy asked his government on Aug. 2 to look into whether they should be legalized, according to Reuters, adding there would be no change as the war with Russia continues. But Jane said that in Switzerland, "there are not so many people like me, so I don't have transsexual society here." Although she acknowledges that this may be because she hasn't been in Geneva long enough to find like-minded people, "I still want to go back to Thailand," she said. For their primary source of income, the couple wants to expand their online celebrity via TikTok, YouTube and Facebook. Netchanok plans to operate a Thai massage parlor in Switzerland, once she obtains a business permit. This would be the first step toward accumulating resources and experience in a European market before expanding in a post-war Ukraine, Netchanok said. The concept could also provide a future source of income for their Thai family. It is a long shot to think that far ahead, they told VOA Thai. "We barely have hope with (situations) in Ukraine," Netchanok said. "With a lot of foreign soldiers and military hardware there right now, I certainly don't think things will end by this year."
Gul Agha Jalali used to spend his nights planting bombs -- hoping to target an Afghan government soldier or, better still, a foreign serviceman. These days, the 23-year-old Taliban member is studying English and has enrolled in a computer science course in the capital, Kabul. "When our country was occupied by infidels, we needed bombs, mortars and guns," says Jalali, an employee at the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation. Now there is a greater need for education, he told AFP. Since the Taliban swept back to power in August last year, hundreds of fighters have returned to school -- either on their own or pushed by their commanders. The word "Taliban" actually means "students" in Arabic, and the hardline Islamist movement's name stems from the religious schools in southern Afghanistan it emerged from in the 1990s. Most Taliban fighters were educated in these madrassas, where studies are largely limited to the Koran and other Islamic themes. Many conservative Afghan clerics -- particularly among the Taliban -- are sceptical of more modern education, apart from subjects than can be applied practically, such as engineering or medicine. "The world is evolving, we need technology and development," said Jalali, who planted bombs for five years but is now among a dozen Taliban studying computers at the transport ministry. 'Motivated mujahideen' The desire of fighters like Jalali to go back to school showed Afghans yearned for education, government spokesman Bilal Karimi said. "Many motivated mujahideen who had not completed their studies reached out to educational institutions and are now studying their favorite courses," he told AFP. But education is a hugely problematic issue in the country, with secondary school girls barred from classes since the Taliban returned to power -- and no sign of them being allowed back despite promises from some in the leadership. While the earlier curriculum largely remains the same, studies on music and sculpture have been scrapped at schools and universities, which are suffering a paucity of teachers and lecturers following an exodus of Afghanistan's educated elite. But some Taliban students, like Jalali, have big plans. Kabul's Muslim Institute has a student body of around 3,000 -- half of them women -- and includes some 300 Taliban fighters, many distinctive with their bushy beards and turbans. On a recent tour, AFP saw one Taliban fighter retrieve a pistol from a locker room at the end of his lessons -- an incongruous sight in a pastel-colored room adorned with posters of smiling co-ed students. "When they arrive, they hand over their weapons. They don't use force or take advantage of their position," said an institute official who asked not to be named. Desire to study Amanullah Mubariz was 18 when he joined the Taliban but never gave up his desire to study. "I applied to a university in India, but I failed my English test," said Mubariz, now 25, declining to reveal his current position in the Taliban. "That's why I enrolled here," he said, referring to the Muslim Institute. Mohammad Sabir, in contrast, is happy to admit he works for the Taliban's intelligence agency despite also being a student at the private Dawat University. "I resumed my studies this year after the victory of the Islamic Emirate," he says, his long hair and eyes lined with traditional kohl eyeliner peeking out from beneath a white turban. Like Jalali, he paused his education to join the Taliban and also planted bombs and carried out ambushes with his brother in Wardak province. All the Taliban students AFP spoke to said they wanted to use their education to help develop the country, so how do they feel about girls being deprived of that opportunity? "Personally, as a young man, a student and a member of the Emirate, I think that they have the right to education," said Mubariz. "They can serve our country the way we are doing." "This country needs them as much as it needs us," added Jalali.
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.
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.
Salespeople, food servers, postal workers -- "Help Wanted" ads are proliferating across the United States, as companies struggle to deal with a worker shortage caused by the pandemic, a rash of early retirements and restrictive immigration laws. More than 10 million openings went unfilled in June, according to government data, while fewer than 6 million people were seeking work, even as employers desperately try to boost hiring amid a frenzy of consumer spending. "We have a lot of jobs, but not enough workers to fill them," the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which represents American companies, said in a statement. Many of those who stopped working as COVID-19 first ravaged the U.S. economy in early 2020 have never returned. "There would be 3.4 million more workers today if labor force participation" -- the percentage of the working-age population currently employed or actively seeking work -- was at the pre-pandemic rate, the Chamber calculated. It has slipped from 63.4% to 62.1%. And where have all these people gone? Many simply took early retirement. "Part of that is just the US population continues to age," Nick Bunker, a labor-market specialist with jobs website Indeed, told AFP. Too few immigrants The huge cohort of baby boomers had already begun leaving the labor market, but there has been an "acceleration in retirements" since the pandemic struck, Diane Swonk, chief economist at KPMG, told AFP. Millions of people opted for early retirement, concerned for their health and with sufficient assets -- thanks to a then-buoyant stock market and high real-estate prices -- to leave the workplace. In the short term, Bunker said, "We're unlikely to get back to exactly the pre-pandemic level of labor-force participation because of the aging of the population." Adding to this, said Swonk, "We haven't had immigration at the pace to replace the baby boomers." Restrictions imposed under President Donald Trump, plus the impact of COVID, steeply reduced the number of foreigners entering the country. "It has rebounded a little bit, but still not at the levels we were seeing several years ago," Bunker said. The Chamber of Commerce also underscored the impact of generous government assistance during the pandemic, which "bolstered people's economic stability -- allowing them to continue sitting out of the labor force." Long COVID Large numbers of women quit their jobs in 2020, in part because extended school closings required many to stay home to care for children. Those who wanted to place children in day care were often frustrated, as labor shortages hit the day care sector as well. Swonk noted that not only COVID infections but also the debilitating effects of long COVID have had a serious impact. It's "really one of the most underestimated and misunderstood issues" keeping workers sidelined, she said. To lure workers back, many employers have boosted pay and benefits. And if Americans' buying frenzy slows, analysts say, companies will need fewer workers. The labor shortage is expected to ease a bit as the Federal Reserve continues aggressively raising interest rates in its effort to combat inflation. In the meantime, wage earners have profited. Over the past year, millions have changed jobs, often lured elsewhere by higher wages and better working conditions. This "Great Resignation" has resulted in higher hourly wages. The private sector average is now $32.27, up 5.2% in a year, adding to inflationary pressures. The US labor market showed new signs of vitality in July. The 22 million jobs lost due to COVID-19 have returned, and the unemployment rate is a historically low 3.5%.
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.
In a very special bakery in Kyiv, thousands of loaves of bread are being baked every week and sent out to those in need. Anna Kosstutschenko has the story.
For full coverage of the crisis in Ukraine, visit Flashpoint Ukraine. The latest developments in Russia’s war on Ukraine. All times EDT. 1:29 a.m.: Details on the process of the audit are to be determined by the Amnesty board next week, after the various national organizations have had a chance to give their input, according to the German Press Agency. 12:02 a.m.: German businesses and public institutions should heat their offices no higher than 19 degrees Celsius this winter to help reduce the country's consumption of natural gas, Germany's economy minister said Saturday, according to The Associated Press. Germany, the European Union's biggest economy, is quickly trying to wean itself off using natural gas from Russia in response to Moscow's attack on Ukraine. However, Germany uses more Russian gas imports than many other EU nations. Russia has cut off gas exports to several EU nations, and officials fear Moscow will use the gas exports as a political weapon to get sanctions against Russia reduced — or even cut the exports to Europe off altogether in the winter, when demand is the highest. Economy Minister Robert Habeck said while the EU's 27 countries have pledged to cut their gas use by 15% from August compared to the previous five-year average, Germany needs to reduce its consumption by 20%. Some information in this report came from The Associated Press.
A gunman opened fire at a bus near Jerusalem's Old City early Sunday, wounding eight Israelis in a suspected Palestinian attack that came a week after violence flared between Israel and militants in Gaza, police and medics said. Two of the victims were in serious condition, according to Israeli hospitals treating them. The shooting occurred as the bus waited in a parking lot near the Western Wall, which is considered the holiest site where Jews can pray. Israeli police said forces were dispatched to the scene to begin investigations. Israeli security forces also pushed into the nearby Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan pursuing the suspected attacker. The attack in Jerusalem followed a tense week between Israel and Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. Last weekend, Israeli aircraft unleashed an offensive in the Gaza Strip targeting the militant group Islamic Jihad and setting off three days of fierce cross-border fighting. Islamic Jihad fired hundreds of rockets to avenge the airstrikes, which killed two of its commanders and other militants. Israel said the attack was meant to thwart threats from the group to respond to the arrest of one of its officials in the occupied West Bank. Forty-nine Palestinians, including 17 children and 14 militants, were killed, and several hundred were injured in the fighting, which ended with an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire. No Israeli was killed or seriously injured. The Islamic militant group Hamas, which controls Gaza, stayed on the sidelines. A day after the cease-fire halted the worst round of Gaza fighting in more than a year, Israeli troops killed three Palestinian militants and wounded dozens in a shootout that erupted during an arrest raid in the West Bank city of Nablus.
Three-day-old lion cubs were on display Saturday in a cardboard box at a Gaza City zoo, a rare joyous sight for children and adults alike, just days after Israeli aircraft pounded the territory and Gaza militants fired hundreds of rockets at Israel. Veterinarian Mahmoud al-Sultan said each cub weighed about 700 grams. He said he felt lucky the birth was successful despite the deafening sound of constant explosions during three days of fighting. The cubs' mother had suffered miscarriages in the past, said al-Sultan. Loud noise "causes stress to the wild animals, especially the lions, whose roars get higher, and they keep moving in a circular way inside the cage,” he said. The cubs were born Friday, several hours apart, and five days after an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire halted the fighting between Israel and Islamic Jihad militants. Forty-nine Palestinians, including 17 children, were killed and several hundred were injured in the fighting. Shocks from war aren't the only threat to animals. Gaza is impoverished, with double-digit unemployment, largely as a result of a border blockade Egypt and Israel imposed after Hamas militants took control of the territory 15 years ago. In the past, a number of animals in small private Gaza zoos starved to death or were killed in the long-running conflict, which included four Israel-Hamas wars and countless smaller skirmishes. International animal welfare groups carried out several evacuations to move frail lions and tigers to sanctuaries in Jordan and Africa. The costly effort to rescue animals, while some 2.3 million Gazans remain largely trapped in a small territory, has also drawn criticism. On Saturday, visitors flocked to the small Nama zoo on the outskirts of Gaza City, with children allowed to pet the newborns. Nama is operated by a private charity, putting it in a slightly better position than the small number of private zoos that often struggle to provide for the animals. Schools organize daily trips to the zoo and the entry fee is less than $1, helping to cover costs. The zoo also houses a variety of birds, along with monkeys, deer, foxes, wolves and hyenas.
Mohamed gave up farming because of successive droughts that have hit his previously fertile but isolated village in Morocco and because he just couldn't bear it any longer. "To see villagers rush to public fountains in the morning or to a neighbor to get water makes you want to cry," the man in his 60s said. "The water shortage is making us suffer," he told AFP in Ouled Essi Masseoud village, around 140 kilometers from the country's economic capital Casablanca. But it is not just his village that is suffering — all of the North African country has been hit. No longer having access to potable running water, the villagers of Ouled Essi Masseoud rely solely on sporadic supplies in public fountains and from private wells. "The fountains work just one or two days a week, the wells are starting to dry up and the river next to it is drying up more and more," said Mohamed Sbai as he went to fetch water from neighbors. The situation is critical, given the village's position in the agricultural province of Settat, near the Oum Er-Rbia River and the Al Massira Dam, Morocco's second largest. Its reservoir supplies drinking water to several cities, including the 3 million people who live in Casablanca. But the latest official figures show it is now filling at a rate of just 5%. Al Massira reservoir has been reduced to little more than a pond bordered by kilometers of cracked earth. Nationally, dams are filling at a rate of only 27%, precipitated by the country's worst drought in at least four decades. Water rationing At 600 cubic meters of water annually per capita, Morocco is already well below the water scarcity threshold of 1,700 cubic meters per capita per year, according to the World Health Organization. In the 1960s, water availability was four times higher — at 2,600 cubic meters. A July World Bank report on the Moroccan economy said the decrease in the availability of renewable water resources put the country in a situation of "structural water stress." The authorities have now introduced water rationing. The interior ministry ordered local authorities to restrict supplies when necessary and prohibits using drinking water to irrigate green spaces and golf courses. Illegal withdrawals from wells, springs or waterways have also been prohibited. In the longer-term, the government plans to build 20 seawater desalination plants by 2030, which should cover a large part of the country's needs. "We are in crisis management rather than in anticipated risk management," water resources expert Mohamed Jalil told AFP. He added that it was "difficult to monitor effectively the measures taken by the authorities." Agronomist Mohamed Srairi said Morocco's Achilles' heel was its agricultural policy "which favors water-consuming fruit trees and industrial agriculture." Key sector He said such agriculture relies on drip irrigation which, although it can save water, paradoxically results in increased consumption as previously arid areas become cultivable. The World Bank report noted that cultivated areas under drip irrigation in Morocco have more than tripled. It said that "modern irrigation technologies may have altered cropping decisions in ways that increased rather than decreased the total quantity of water consumed by the agricultural sector." More than 80% of Morocco's water supply is allocated to agriculture, a key economic sector that accounts for 14% of gross domestic product. Mohamed, in his nineties, stood on an area of parched earth not far from the Al Massira Dam. "We don't plough the land anymore because there is no water," he said, but added that he had to "accept adversity anyway because we have no choice." Younger generations in the village appear gloomier. Soufiane, a 14-year-old shepherd boy, told AFP, "We are living in a precarious state with this drought. I think it will get even worse in the future."
Two rival Shiite Muslim blocs are holding competing sit-ins in Baghdad, ramping up tensions in conflict-weary Iraq, but shopkeeper Mustafa says he's more worried about how he's going to make a living. "We have no work," said the man in his 40s as a lone fan pumped hot summer air around his clothes store. The two camps are "defending their personal interests," he said, declining to provide his surname because of security concerns. Political deadlock has left Iraq without a new government, president or prime minister following general elections 10 months ago. Rival Shiite blocs Supporters of firebrand cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who once led an anti-U.S. militia and has millions of devoted followers, stormed Iraq's parliament late last month and began a sit-in, first inside the building and then on its grounds. They were angered after their Shiite rivals, the pro-Iran Coordination Framework, nominated a candidate they saw as unacceptable for prime minister. The Sadrists are now demanding early elections. The Framework brings together the party of ex-Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the Hashed al-Shaabi, a pro-Iran former paramilitary network now integrated into the security forces. The alliance says it wants a new government as quickly as possible, and its supporters on Friday began their own sit-in to press for that demand. Framework supporters have set up tents on a road leading to the Green Zone, which is home to government and diplomatic buildings, including parliament. Business slows Mustafa, whose shop is around 5 kilometers from the area, says his customers have stopped coming. The two camps started protesting "and economic activity took a hit," he said, with his 8-year-old son sitting beside him. "Since 2003, not a single politician has governed the country properly," Mustafa said, referring to the year of a U.S.-led invasion that toppled longtime dictator Saddam Hussein. Iraq has been ravaged by decades of conflict and endemic corruption. It is blighted by ailing infrastructure, power cuts and crumbling public services, and now faces water shortages as drought ravages swathes of the country. Despite its oil wealth, many Iraqis live in poverty, and about 35% of its young people are unemployed, according to the UN. The al-Sadr camp says it wants to fight corruption and bring change. The Coordination Framework says it wants a government that can offer solutions to everyday problems like the electricity and water crises. "I've voted twice in my life," Mustafa said. "Both times, I regretted it." 'Own interests' Some Iraqis were surprised after al-Sadr's supporters managed to storm Baghdad's highly fortified Green Zone, facing tear gas but little other serious opposition from security forces. An anti-government protest movement that erupted in late 2019 was met with a deadly security crackdown. "We didn't even manage to cross the bridge that led to the Green Zone," said 50-year-old communist activist Ali Jaber, recalling the 2019 protests. "It took them eight minutes," the civil servant said of the Sadrists, alleging "indulgence" by the security forces. He dismissed the demands of both the Sadrists and their rivals. "It's not a fight to build a state, it's the ultimate political conflict in the name of their own interests," he said. "They are in another world." 'Intra-elite fight' Analyst Lahib Higel from the International Crisis Group said the demonstrations were "less a people's revolution than an intra-elite fight, mainly pitting Sadr and his political backers against Maliki and his." The standoff has "exposed once more the fragility of Iraq's post-2003 political system," she said. "While the oligarchical elites have come together after each previous election to divvy up shares of the government pie, they seem no longer able to do so," she said. Ahmed, 23, said he was a al-Sadr supporter but didn't follow politics much. "It gets on your nerves," said the law student, also declining to provide his surname because of security concerns. He works in a phone shop with his brother and said daily life was difficult. "Today, without electricity, we have to sleep with blocks of ice," he said. "At parliament, there are no power cuts."
Every sunset on the India-Pakistan border, crowds go wild, and soldiers goose-step in a chest-puffing theatrical ritual symbolizing the countries' antipathy 75 years after independence, but the display ends with a brisk, brotherly handshake. Several hours before the ceremony, enthusiastic spectators begin trickling into sitting areas on either side of chunky iron gates separating the nuclear-armed Asian rivals at the Attari-Wagah frontier. So close that they can see the faces of people on the other side, energetic masters of ceremony and ear-splitting nationalistic songs chivvy up the crowds as Indian and Pakistani flags sway atop immense poles. On the Indian side there is space for 25,000 spectators — more than on the other side — chanting "India Zindabad" ("long live India") as a group of women perform with flags and dance wildly to the patriotic playlist. Then the soldiers arrive, stomping up to the gate, kicking their legs up — the Indians in red-fanned hats and khaki uniforms, the Pakistanis in a dapper black. The climax is when the gates open. One tall Indian soldier twirls his moustache with menacing intent and flexes his biceps, with equally lofty Pakistani soldiers standing just a couple of feet away. Then the ceremony, officially known as Beating Retreat, draws to a close with the lowering of the flags and a handshake. The flags are folded, and the massive iron gates clunk shut. "My blood is boiling. I also want to join the Indian army. Today's show has filled me with nationalism," said Mangilal Vishnoi, 22, who traveled from Rajasthan to watch the ceremony with his friends. Bloody history India and Pakistan, which celebrate 75 years of independence from Britain next week, share deep cultural and linguistic links, but their history has been mired in violence and bloodshed. They were partitioned in 1947 into predominantly Hindu India and Muslim-majority Pakistan against the backdrop of communal massacres and the movement of millions of people. The countries have since fought three wars, two of them over the disputed region of Kashmir, as well as other military clashes. The latest conflict was in 2019 when India carried out airstrikes inside Pakistan in retaliation for a suicide bombing in Kashmir that killed 40 paramilitaries. Pakistan launched its own raid the next day and later shot down an Indian fighter jet and captured its pilot, taking the archrivals to the brink of war. The daily border ritual, which began in 1959, has largely endured, surviving innumerable diplomatic flare-ups and military skirmishes. It is supposed to be a symbol of cooperation but most of the spectators AFP spoke to said they felt a strong sense of rivalry. "India and Pakistan can never be friends. Even if they extend an arm of friendship, they will soon stab us behind the back," said Harsh Sharma, 26, on the Indian side. "It was like watching an India-Pakistan cricket game. There was so much drama and action," said housewife Nisha Soni, 25, who had Indian tricolor flags painted on her cheeks. "In the end I will say India won. We were louder and better in every way."
Italy's worst drought in decades has reduced Lake Garda, the country's largest lake, to near its lowest level ever recorded, exposing swaths of previously underwater rocks and warming the water to temperatures that approach the average in the Caribbean Sea. Tourists flocking to the popular northern lake Friday for the start of Italy's key summer long weekend found a vastly different landscape than in past years. An expansive stretch of bleached rock extended far from the normal shoreline, ringing the southern Sirmione Peninsula with a yellow halo between the green hues of the water and the trees on the shore. "We came last year, we liked it, and we came back this year," tourist Beatrice Masi said as she sat on the rocks. "We found the landscape had changed a lot. We were a bit shocked when we arrived because we had our usual walk around, and the water wasn't there." Little snow or rain Northern Italy hasn't seen significant rainfall for months, and snowfall this year was down 70%, drying up important rivers like the Po, which flows across Italy's agricultural and industrial heartland. Many European countries, including Spain, Germany, Portugal, France, the Netherlands and Britain, are enduring droughts this summer that have hurt farmers and shippers and promoted authorities to restrict water use. The parched condition of the Po, Italy's longest river, has caused billions of euros in losses to farmers who normally rely on it to irrigate fields and rice paddies. To compensate, authorities allowed more water from Lake Garda to flow out to local rivers — 70 cubic meters (2,472 cubic feet) of water per second. But in late July, they reduced the amount to protect the lake and the financially important tourism tied to it. With 45 cubic meters (1,589 cubic feet) of water per second being diverted to rivers, the lake on Friday was 32 centimeters (12.6 inches) above the water table, near the record lows in 2003 and 2007. Garda Mayor Davide Bedinelli said he had to protect both farmers and the tourist industry. He insisted that the summer tourist season was going better than expected, despite cancellations, mostly from German tourists, during Italy's latest heat wave in late July. "Drought is a fact that we have to deal with this year, but the tourist season is in no danger," Bendinelli wrote in a July 20 Facebook post. He confirmed the lake was losing two centimeters (0.78 inches) of water a day. Caribbean temperatures The lake's temperature, meanwhile, has been above average for August, according to seatemperature.org. On Friday, the Garda's water was nearly 26 degrees Celsius (78 degrees Fahrenheit), several degrees warmer than the average August temperature of 22 C (71.6 F) and nearing the Caribbean Sea's average of around 27 C (80 F). For Mario Treccani, who owns a lakefront concession of beach chairs and umbrellas, the lake's expanded shoreline means fewer people are renting his chairs since there are now plenty of rocks on which to sunbathe. "The lake is usually a meter or more than a meter higher," he said from the rocks. Pointing to a small wall that usually blocks the water from the beach chairs, he recalled that on windy days, sometimes waves from the lake would splash up onto the tourists. Not anymore. "It is a bit sad. Before, you could hear the noise of the waves breaking up here. Now, you don't hear anything," he said.