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Voice of America’s immigration news - February 9, 2024 - 04:00
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.

10 African Penguin Chicks Hatch at San Francisco Museum

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 9, 2024 - 03:23
SAN FRANCISCO — A bounty of 10 African penguin chicks has hatched in just over a year at a San Francisco science museum as part of an effort to conserve the endangered bird. The penguins began hatching in November 2022, ending a four-year period without any new chicks, and continued through January of this year, the California Academy of Sciences announced Wednesday. African penguins have dwindled to 9,000 breeding pairs in the wild, the academy said in a statement. Threats such as overfishing, habitat degradation and oil spills have reduced colonies of the charismatic black-and-white birds, said Brenda Melton, director of animal care and well-being at the museum's Steinhart Aquarium. "Every chick we welcome strengthens the genetics and overall population of the species in human care," she said. Chicks spend their first three weeks with their penguin parents in a nest box. They then attend "fish school," where they learn to swim on their own and eat fish provided by biologists. Once ready, they are introduced to the colony. The 21 penguins at the museum in Golden Gate Park have distinct personalities and are identifiable by their flipper bands, according to the academy's website. Opal is the oldest and, at age 36, has perfected the ability to catch fish in mid-air. Her partner, Pete, is a messy eater and a flirt. Partners Stanlee and Bernie, who both like to bray, produced four of the 10 chicks, including Fyn, named for a type of vegetation found on the southern tip of Africa. Fyn is the youngest on exhibit and older sister to Nelson and Alice, both hatched in November. Fyn often runs up to biologists when they enter the habitat and shakes her head at them — typical courtship behavior that chicks and juveniles commonly display toward people who have cared for them since hatching. The youngest chick hatched January 12, and its sex has not yet been determined. African penguins can live to be 27 years old in the wild, and longer in captivity.

VOA Newscasts

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 9, 2024 - 03:00
Give us 5 minutes, and we'll give you the world. Around the clock, Voice of America keeps you in touch with the latest news. We bring you reports from our correspondents and interviews with newsmakers from across the world.

VOA Newscasts

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 9, 2024 - 02:00
Give us 5 minutes, and we'll give you the world. Around the clock, Voice of America keeps you in touch with the latest news. We bring you reports from our correspondents and interviews with newsmakers from across the world.

VOA Newscasts

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 9, 2024 - 01:00
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.

Iran-Backed Militants Vow Vengeance After US Kills Commander in Iraq

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 9, 2024 - 00:19
Tensions were building in the Middle East on Thursday, a day after the US took out a commander of an Iranian-backed militant group in a drone strike in Baghdad. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb has more.

VOA Newscasts

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 9, 2024 - 00:00
Give us 5 minutes, and we'll give you the world. Around the clock, Voice of America keeps you in touch with the latest news. We bring you reports from our correspondents and interviews with newsmakers from across the world.

VOA Newscasts

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 8, 2024 - 23:00
Give us 5 minutes, and we'll give you the world. Around the clock, Voice of America keeps you in touch with the latest news. We bring you reports from our correspondents and interviews with newsmakers from across the world.

Biden Denies Claims of Poor Document Handling, Contrasts Case with Trump’s

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 8, 2024 - 22:50
WASHINGTON — U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday pushed back on claims he incorrectly handled sensitive government documents, forcefully contrasting his case with that of former President Donald Trump – and drawing a contrast with Trump’s own high-stakes legal travails the same day the Supreme Court heard arguments in a case that could remove Trump from the presidential race. Biden, at turns defiant and bitterly jocular with the reporters called in for the last-minute remarks Thursday evening, strongly disputed that he "willfully" retained and shared classified materials, as was said in a report released earlier in the day. "These assertions are not only misleading, they're just plain wrong," he said. The report by special counsel Robert Hur concluded that no criminal charges should be brought, and that many of the classified documents found in Biden’s offices and home were kept by mistake. In a statement earlier in the day, Biden said he was "pleased" the special counsel had "reached the conclusion I believed all along they would reach — that there would be no charges brought in this case and the matter is now closed." That evening, he parried questions over a section of the report in which the author described the 81-year old president as "a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory." "I’m well-meaning and I’m an elderly man and I know what the hell I’m doing," Biden replied to a reporter who asked after his memory and cited voters’ concerns over his age. "I’ve been president, I put this country back on its feet. I don’t need his recommendation." Bob Bauer, Biden’s personal lawyer, also pushed back on the report in a statement, accusing Hur of "trashing" the investigation’s subject "with extraneous, unfounded and irrelevant critical commentary." "The special counsel could not refrain from investigative excess, perhaps unsurprising given the intense pressures of the current political environment," Bauer’s statement read. "Whatever the impact of those pressures on the final report, it flouts department regulations and norms." Biden’s detractors weighed in within the hour. "The President’s press conference this evening further confirmed on live television what the Special Counsel report outlined," Speaker of the House Mike Johnson posted on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter. "He is not fit to be President." Biden is not the only president to face criticism over his handling of documents. In 1973, a Washington Post reporter who had had lunch in 1970 with then-former President Lyndon B. Johnson, wrote that "the ex-President came prepared with the goods in the form of stacks of papers marked TOP SECRET and TOP SECRET SENSITIVE. Over and over, he read from the various memoranda, letters and other documents to back up his positions." Trump faces 40 felony counts over his alleged mishandling of classified documents after he left office. Trump, in a statement, said the Biden case was "100 times different and more severe than mine." He added: "I did nothing wrong, and I cooperated far more." Trump’s case is the first federal indictment of a U.S. president. He has pleaded not guilty.

US Supreme Court Weighs Trump’s Bid to Stay on Colorado Ballot

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 8, 2024 - 22:35
The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments about Colorado’s decision to remove Donald Trump from its presidential ballot. Brazilian police confiscated former President Jair Bolsonaro's passport over an alleged coup attempt. And, bad weather preventing people from getting home for Chinese New Year.

4 Months After Hamas Attack, Israelis Struggle with Trauma, Question Future

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 8, 2024 - 22:27
Four months after the October 7 Hamas terror attack in southern Israel, Israelis are still grappling with the consequences of the intrusion on their territory, the trauma to their families, and concerns about the future. VOA’s Celia Mendoza reports from Jerusalem. Camera: Celia Mendoza

Biden Says Israel’s Response in Gaza is ‘Over the Top’  

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 8, 2024 - 22:20
white house — President Joe Biden on Thursday gave his sharpest criticism yet of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s military campaign, which has killed more than 27,000 Palestinians, according to health officials in Gaza. “I’m of the view, as you know, that the conduct of the response in Gaza, in the Gaza Strip, has been over the top,” Biden said in response to a reporter’s question at the White House. Biden said he has been “pushing very hard” for a temporary cease-fire in exchange for the release of hostages held by Hamas and freeing of Palestinians in Israeli jails. On Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected the deal, calling the terms proposed by Hamas “delusional.” “I've been working tirelessly in this deal,” Biden said, adding that he believes it could be extended to a “sustained pause in the fighting.” He said he has been pushing to increase humanitarian assistance into Gaza. “As you know, initially, the president of Mexico, Sissi, did not want to open up the gate to allow humanitarian material to get in,” Biden said, mistakenly referring to Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi. “I talked to him. I convinced him to open the gate. And talked to Bibi [Netanyahu] to open the gate on Israeli side.”  Biden said this during hastily scheduled remarks in response to a special counsel report released Thursday. The report concluded he willfully retained and disclosed classified military and national security information and cited his memory lapses – a concern for American voters ahead of the November presidential election. Three-quarters of voters, including half of Democrats, say they have concerns about Biden’s mental and physical health, according to an NBC News poll released this week. “My memory is fine," Biden said. Warning on Rafah Earlier Thursday, the White House issued a stern warning to Israel, cautioning the Netanyahu government against carrying its military campaign into the city of Rafah along the border with Egypt, where more than half of Gaza's population of 2.2 million people have taken shelter. "Absent any full consideration of protecting civilians at that scale in Gaza, military operations right now would be a disaster for those people, and it's not something that we would support," said National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby during a White House briefing. His comments echoed those of U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who warned earlier Thursday of the risk of a "gigantic tragedy" as the Palestinians crammed in Rafah "have nowhere to go." Kirby underscored the administration does not believe Israel is about to conduct imminent military operations in Rafah, saying it has not "seen any convincing plans" for such an advance. This despite Netanyahu saying on Wednesday that his government had instructed the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to "operate also in Rafah," as well as Khan Younis, the two places he identified as the "two last strongholds of Hamas." Israel is unlikely to swiftly move into Rafah as long as the IDF continues fighting in Khan Younis and around its tunnels, where it thinks that Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar, a native of Khan Younis, is hiding, said David Makovsky, the Ziegler distinguished fellow at the Washington Institute and director of the Koret Project on Arab-Israel Relations. "I think Netanyahu and [Israeli Defense Minister Yoav] Gallant want to signal that Israel is not afraid of going into Rafah," he told VOA. "But I think we are still talking about the signaling phase." As Palestinians in Rafah shelter in fear of a more intensive campaign and ground assault, Israeli forces bombed areas of the city, killing at least 11 people. Cairo concerned Cairo is concerned that an Israeli advance into Rafah could lead to a mass effort by Gazans to escape across the border, a spokesperson for Egypt's Foreign Ministry said Thursday. Washington also worries that the conflict could spread into Egypt, said Jonathan Rynhold, head of the Department of Political Studies at Bar-Ilan University. "What could happen here with the relationship with Egypt? What will happen if the Palestinians try and rush into Egypt? How are you going to deal with that? Those are the kinds of questions that are being asked [by the U.S. to the Israelis]," Rynhold told VOA. Despite its increasingly blunt public warnings to Israel, the U.S. remains a staunch supporter of Israel's military campaign to eliminate Hamas. So far Biden has refrained from using Washington's considerable leverage, said Aaron David Miller, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace with experience in Middle East peace negotiations under various U.S. administrations. That leverage includes the possibility of reducing military aid or diplomatic support at the United Nations, where more than 150 countries have called for a cease-fire. "Those levers have been available since the beginning of this crisis, but he hasn't pulled any of them," he told VOA. Kirby pushed back against questions about why Biden would not do more to rein in Netanyahu. The notion that the administration has not tried to influence the way the Israelis have been prosecuting military operations is "just not true," Kirby told VOA during Thursday's briefing. "And they've been receptive to many of our lessons learned and perspectives we share." Rynhold said Biden is likely withholding U.S. leverage for when he may need to restrain Israel from broadening the conflict, particularly against Lebanon. Hezbollah-led forces have been attacking Israeli communities and military posts along the Lebanon-Israel border on a near-daily basis since the October 7 attack by Hamas that killed 1,200 people in Israel. Cease-fire The White House said it is optimistic that there is still a path toward a temporary cease-fire, despite Netanyahu's public dismissal of the plan that highlighted the divide between the two allies. Kirby said that "conversations are still happening" and Biden is "optimistic." Biden is set to meet with Jordan's King Abdullah in Washington next week as part of his push for a deal. The Carnegie Endowment's Miller warned that a deal may be elusive because "neither Hamas nor the Israelis right now are really interested." "There's no urgency for either of them in a comprehensive sort of cessation of hostilities," he said. "The only people that appear to be in a hurry is the Biden administration." Biden is facing intense backlash from Arab and Muslim Americans. In an effort to repair relations, his aides met Thursday with Arab American and Muslim leaders in Michigan. The state has a high percentage of Muslims, and their votes could determine whether the president can hold on to the crucial swing state in the November presidential election.

VOA Newscasts

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 8, 2024 - 22:00
Give us 5 minutes, and we'll give you the world. Around the clock, Voice of America keeps you in touch with the latest news. We bring you reports from our correspondents and interviews with newsmakers from across the world.

Canada Postpones Plan to Allow Euthanasia for Mentally Ill

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 8, 2024 - 21:40
vancouver, british columbia — The Canadian government is delaying access to medically assisted death for people with mental illness. Those suffering from mental illness were supposed to be able to access Medical Assistance in Dying — also known as MAID — starting March 17. The recent announcement by the government of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was the second delay after original legislation authorizing the practice passed in 2021. The delay came in response to a recommendation by a majority of the members of a committee made up of senators and members of Parliament. One of the most high-profile proponents of MAID is British Columbia-based lawyer Chris Considine. In the mid-1990s, he represented Sue Rodriguez, who was dying from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as ALS. Their bid for approval of a medically assisted death was rejected at the time by the Supreme Court of Canada. But a law passed in 2016 legalized euthanasia for individuals with terminal conditions. From then until 2022, more than 45,000 people chose to die. Considine said he was in favor of postponing an extension of the law to those with mental illness because depression can have numerous reasons, such as poor housing or job prospects. He pointed to the difficulty many people face in getting timely psychiatric help. He said pressure for the delay came from numerous parts of Canadian society. "I think that there was pressure from a number of sources, including provincial governments in Canada, a number of them who felt that they could not provide the funding nor the resources for persons who are depressed to receive access to health care professionals, such as psychologists and psychiatrists," he said. Pamela Wallin, a former journalist, was one of three senators in the minority on the parliamentary committee. She told VOA that medical experts say they are ready, but not the politicians. She feels continuing the delay is cruel. "But if you have a mental illness, no, no, no. We've already made you work and wait for three years on this, and we promised you it would be ready," she said. "But now we're going to make you wait another three years while we think about it some more. I'm just appalled that we would do this to people who are suffering in ways that many of us can't even understand." Sally Thorne, a professor emeritus of nursing at the University of British Columbia, said if mentally ill people wish to apply for medical assistance in their deaths, they have to meet all the current requirements for people with physical ailments whose deaths are not reasonably foreseeable but who have chronic and life-limiting conditions. These requirements include evaluations by multiple doctors, including a specialist in a patient's particular condition, being offered other methods of treatment, and a 90-day waiting period. Thorne said she was not worried about the argument that those with mental disorders lack the ability to give consent. "Because such people do, in our society, buy a house or sign consent for cardiac surgery or something like that. We do as a society understand that there's a difference between having a mental illness and having the capacity to provide informed consent," she said. Thorne said it was an interesting paradox that those with mental illness who also have qualifying physical conditions can legally access medical assistance in dying. Arthur Schafer, the founding director of the Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics at the University of Manitoba, said the pressure for the latest pause was entirely expected and was misguided. "I think when people are asking their opinion when the general public is there, assuming, 'Hey, if you're mentally ill, you won't really know what you want, or you won't be capable, or you may be temporarily depressed, and that makes you vulnerable.' But that isn't what will happen," he said. Nicole Scheidl, the executive director of Ottawa-based Physicians for Life, who is strongly opposed to euthanasia, said the idea of extending MAID to cover mental health sufferers should be abandoned permanently. "Frankly, I think they should drop it," she said. "I don't see how there's any medical evidence to show that they can produce clinical practical guidelines, practice guidelines, that would be useful." The Trudeau government has announced the delay will last until at least 2027. This will move the issue until after the next federal election, which must happen no later than October 20, 2025.

US Defends Airstrikes as Iraqi Anger Mounts

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 8, 2024 - 21:05
Pentagon — The United States is giving no indication of relenting after its latest airstrike in Iraq — targeting an Iranian-backed militia commander in downtown Baghdad — sparked renewed anger and fresh calls for the removal of U.S. troops from the country. Instead, officials in Washington on Thursday defended Tuesday’s strike and warned that the U.S. would not hesitate to act again should its forces come under further attacks. "We fully respect Iraq’s sovereignty,” White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters. “But, look, if there were no attacks on our troops, who are there at the invitation of the Iraqi government, there would be no need for retaliatory strikes.” Multiple U.S. military officials sent a similar message from the Pentagon.  "If you attack and you hurt our people, we know who you are, and we will find you," said General Daniel Hokanson, the U.S. National Guard bureau chief, regarding the U.S. response to last month’s attack on a base in Jordan that killed three soldiers and injured 40 National Guard troops. “There will be a bill to pay much greater than anything that was left on us,” he added. The U.S. has blamed Iranian-backed militias, operating under the banner of the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, for the deadly attack on the Tower 22 base in Jordan, as well as for many of the 168 attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria dating to mid-October. Washington’s gaze, in particular, has fallen on Kataib Hezbollah, with some Pentagon officials going as far as to say that the attack in Jordan "bears the hallmarks” of the prominent Iranian-backed group. Tuesday’s airstrike targeted senior Kataib Hezbollah commander Wisam Mohammad al-Saedi. Initial U.S. statements said al-Saedi was “responsible for directly planning and participating in attacks on U.S. forces in the region.” But a U.S. official said Thursday that he was the top Kataib Hezbollah official for Syria, overseeing all operations in the country. The strike killing al-Saedi followed a wave of airstrikes last Friday on seven locations used by the Iranian-backed militias in Syria and Iraq. U.S. defense officials now believe those strikes destroyed more than 80 individual targets and killed or wounded 40 militia members. Yet the repeated strikes have stoked growing anger among Iraqi officials. Iraqi military spokesman Yehia Rasool early Thursday called the strike that killed al-Saedi “a blatant assassination” that showed “no regard for civilian lives or international laws.”  “The trajectory compels the Iraqi government more than ever to terminate the mission of this coalition, which has become a factor for instability and threatens to entangle Iraq in the cycle of conflict,” he said in a statement posted on social media. A social media post from the office of Iraqi Prime Minister Mohamed Shia al-Sudani likewise indicated it was time for U.S. troops, and those from the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State terror group, to leave. The prime minister “highlighted Iraq's enhanced capabilities in combating terrorism, leading to the decision to end the coalition's mission as ISIS terrorist remnants no longer pose a threat to Iraq,” the post said, using an acronym for the Islamic State, also known as IS or Daesh. The U.S. has about 2,500 troops in Iraq tasked with advising and assisting Iraqi Security Forces as they pursue the remnants of IS. Another 900 U.S. forces are stationed in Syria, charged with the same mission. And while the U.S. has been in talks with Iraq about eventually reducing the U.S. military footprint and transitioning from the counter-IS mission, officials suggested Thursday that the time has not yet come. “In Iraq and Syria, they are down, but they're not out,” said Pentagon press secretary Major General Patrick Ryder. “And so, again, this work by an international coalition continues to try to prevent a resurgence.” Ryder further called IS “insidious” when it comes to taking advantage of turmoil, adding, “It's obviously not helpful when you have things like Iranian proxies attacking your forces that are there for that mission.” U.S. counterterrorism and intelligence officials have estimated there are fewer than 2,000 IS fighters across Iraq and Syria, though some key allies have recently warned the terror group is resurging, carrying out more attacks while seeing its ranks grow. It is a warning the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, repeated Thursday. “We have seen a spike in movements of ISIS,” said SDF commander General Mazloum Abdi, talking to reporters in Washington by video link from his headquarters in northeastern Syria. Abdi also warned that the group is “taking a benefit” from the constant attacks by the Iranian-backed militias, who have started targeting SDF positions in addition to their drone and missile attacks on U.S. forces. “We do not have any protection measures against them," he said through a translator, adding that the SDF has requested anti-drone defense systems from Washington. One attack, against the SDF base at the Omar Oil Field this past Sunday, killed six SDF fighters. Abdi said another drone attack came close to hitting a prison in Hasakah, one of dozens of facilities holding a total of about 9,000 captured IS fighters. He said one drone hit the prison’s roof, but that fortunately, U.S. forces downed the other three before they could do more serious damage. Despite the precarious situation, the SDF commander said he was not worried U.S. forces would be leaving in the short term. "We have been reassured by United States officials ... there's not going to be any withdrawal [from Syria] anytime soon," Abdi said, warning that should the U.S. change course, the result would be chaos.  “Many actors, forces, will be trying to take advantage,” he said. “U.S. presence on the ground is a main factor maintaining balance here." VOA Pentagon Correspondent Carla Babb and White House Bureau Chief Patsy Widakuswara contributed to this report. 

VOA Newscasts

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 8, 2024 - 21:00
Give us 5 minutes, and we'll give you the world. Around the clock, Voice of America keeps you in touch with the latest news. We bring you reports from our correspondents and interviews with newsmakers from across the world.

Pakistan Election Results Suffer Delay

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 8, 2024 - 20:50
ISLAMABAD/LAHORE — Pakistan held its long-delayed elections Thursday, but almost nine hours after polling ended, no constituency had reported a complete tally. Former Prime Minister Imran Khan's party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, or PTI, claimed a lead based on an initial, unofficial count. Polling stations across the South Asian nation closed at 5 p.m. local time after nine hours of balloting. Until 2 a.m. Friday, several constituencies had barely tallied 10% of the vote, according to local media reports. The independent Election Commission of Pakistan did not issue an update on when counts would be completed. Prior to elections, it announced that polling officials should send results to the commission by 2 a.m. February 9. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Pakistan's former foreign minister and leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party, complained on X that the results were "incredibly slow" coming in. More than 90,000 polling stations were set up to serve more than 128 million registered voters for the February 8 general election. Sporadic violence and the nationwide suspension of mobile phone and internet services overshadowed the largely peaceful polls, raising credibility concerns about an already controversial vote. An early morning Interior Ministry announcement said the disruption in phone service was meant to "mitigate potential security threats" and "maintain law and order." The ministry did not discuss the internet outage, which came a day after separate bomb blasts outside campaign offices in southwestern Baluchistan province Wednesday killed 30 people. The Islamic State extremist group claimed responsibility for the bombings. Militant attacks in parts of the country on election day also killed several people, mostly policemen. Analysts say whoever wins the election will serve a public that is deeply disappointed in the political system, has little faith in the electoral process and is extremely worried about the nation's economic survival. Three-time former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's Muslim League (Nawaz) Party is viewed as the favorite of the powerful military, while the last elected prime minister, Imran Khan, is in jail. A military-backed crackdown on his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Party has left many disappointed in this democratic exercise. "I came out thinking that maybe my vote will improve something for this country and for us," said Faiza Tariq, a first-time female voter in the eastern city of Lahore. Fazal-Ur-Rehman was among those who did not vote, citing a lack of trust in the process. "It doesn't matter if I vote or not. Those who are supposed to come in power will come in power," he said. Nazward Atta, a Pakistani living abroad, said she returned only to vote to fight the alleged unfairness. "We just want to change the fate of Pakistan and the future of Pakistan," she said. Other voters, like Anam Khan, criticized the disruption of communication services. "Why? Is there a war going on here? Do they want to keep people from posting videos on social media? People can do that later, God willing," she said. The Pakistani government deployed more than 650,000 army, paramilitary and police personnel to provide security for tens of thousands of polling stations across the world's fifth most populous country, with an estimated population of 241 million. Several hours after the polling ended, the Interior Ministry said mobile services were being partially restored nationwide and would soon be fully reinstated. The suspension of phone and internet services sparked widespread allegations of an attempt by Pakistan's military-backed interim government to rig the polls, mainly to prevent candidates loyal to Khan's party from gaining an upper hand. Khan a central figure Khan, the 71-year-old popular politician, has been convicted and sentenced to lengthy prison terms for highly disputed corruption and other charges in the lead-up to the vote. The cricket hero-turned-political leader's PTI has been subjected to a monthslong nationwide clampdown, in which hundreds of workers and candidates were arrested without charges and released only after quitting the party or withdrawing from the election. "Despite being in jail, Khan remains a central figure in the election," said Michael Kugelman, director of the South Asia Institute at the Wilson Center. "He retains a large base that will want to vote for the independent candidates sponsored by his party. "But it appears the state is creating an enabling environment for rigging with its suspension of mobile services. This threatens to deny many Pakistanis the right to vote for who they choose, casting doubt on the government's insistence that this election will be free and fair," Kugelman told VOA. Internet outage criticized "We're tracking reports of restrictions on internet and cellphone access across Pakistan on polling day," Vedant Patel, the State Department principal deputy spokesperson, told reporters in Washington. "We, along with the international community, will continue to emphasize the importance of democratic institutions, a free press, a vibrant civil society and expanded opportunities for political participation of all Pakistanis," Patel said. Amnesty International denounced the election day internet shutdown as "reckless" and a "blunt attack" on the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. Pakistan has nearly 190 million cellular subscribers, including 128 million using mobile broadband services. The suspension of service left many voters unable to access the election commission's data system to retrieve polling station locations and other details. Sikandar Sultan, Pakistan's chief election commissioner, said security agencies maintaining law and order were solely authorized to make decisions such as suspending phone service. "I don't think the commission should interfere in their work, nor will it do so," Sultan told reporters in Islamabad when asked if the commission would direct authorities to reinstate service. Journalists with mainstream Pakistani television channels said they could not promptly report rigging incidents and other irregularities from the field throughout the day due to the suspension. "Shutting down mobile networks on polling day is the beginning of election day rigging," said Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, an independent candidate for the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament in Islamabad. "Cutting candidates off from their agents and staff on election day is unacceptable. How's one supposed to keep a check and highlight any irregularity? By the time news comes out, [the] election would have been stolen," Khokhar said. Sharif confident Sharif appeared confident that his party would win and form a government on its own, saying a coalition government would not be able to address Pakistan's economic problems. "For God's sake, don't mention a coalition government," he told reporters after casting his vote in his native Lahore. More than 5,000 candidates were contesting for 266 general seats in the 342-member National Assembly. About 12,600 candidates were running for assembly seats in Pakistan's four provinces. The U.S.-based Gallup polling company found in a survey on the eve of the elections that more than two-thirds of Pakistanis "lack confidence in the honesty of their elections."

Funds to Counter China in Pacific Missing From Senate Spending Package

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 8, 2024 - 20:34
Key funding to counter China in the Pacific is missing from a spending package under consideration on Capitol Hill. After weeks of being included in a tranche of emergency supplemental funding, $7 billion for the Compacts of Free Association was dropped from the bill. VOA’s Jessica Stone reports.