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Voice of America’s immigration news - February 8, 2024 - 20:00
Give us 5 minutes, and we'll give you the world. Around the clock, Voice of America keeps you in touch with the latest news. We bring you reports from our correspondents and interviews with newsmakers from across the world.

VOA Newscasts

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 8, 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.

Journalists Face More Danger, Restrictions While Covering West Bank  

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 8, 2024 - 18:53
Since the October 7 Hamas terror attack, reporting on the West Bank has been more challenging and riskier than ever. VOA’s Celia Mendoza reports from Jerusalem.

UN Chief Warns of 'Gigantic Tragedy' if Israeli Military Expands Fight to Rafah 

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 8, 2024 - 18:04
united nations — U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres renewed his appeal Thursday for a humanitarian cease-fire before a "gigantic tragedy" develops in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where Israel's military is reported to be planning to expand its offensive. "Looking into the situation in Rafah, where you have now more than half the population of Gaza that were pushed there — they didn't go because they wanted to, they were pushed there," Guterres told reporters. "Looking at that situation, it is time to have a humanitarian cease-fire before a gigantic tragedy develops in Gaza — if we have the same kind of intensity of military operations in Gaza as we've seen in Khan Younis and other parts of Gaza's territory." More than half of Gaza's population of 2.2 million people have crammed into the city along the border with Egypt in search of safety, despite some Israeli strikes there. At the White House, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said the Biden administration has not seen any convincing signs that Israel is about to conduct imminent military operations in Rafah. But on Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to signal an operation, saying at a news conference that his government had "instructed the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] to operate also in Rafah," as it is one of the "two last strongholds of Hamas" — Khan Younis being the other. Some in Israel have suggested that Egypt should open its border to admit fleeing Gazans, an idea Guterres rejected. "I think that we should push to avoid a tragedy, instead of pushing for things to facilitate a tragedy," he said. The U.N. chief also questioned the force Israel's military is using in Gaza, noting that Israeli leaders have said they are fighting Hamas and not the Palestinian people. "If that is the case, I can't understand how this is conducted in such a way that has led in Gaza to reportedly around 28,000 people killed, to 75% of the population displaced, and to a level of destruction of entire neighborhoods at the level that it has happened," he said. "I think that there is something wrong in the way the military operations have been conducted." Israel launched its air, ground and sea invasion of Gaza after Hamas fighters infiltrated the country on October 7, killing 1,200 people and taking another 240 hostage. In late November, about 100 hostages were released during a brief humanitarian pause. Netanyahu said on Wednesday that his military is "on our way to an absolute victory" and needs only months to finish the job of eliminating Hamas. No replacement for UNRWA The U.N. agency that assists Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, has come under intense scrutiny and criticism in recent weeks, since Israel accused a dozen staffers of participating in the October 7 terror attacks. At least 16 countries, including top donor the United States, have suspended their funding to the agency. Guterres and UNRWA Commissioner General Philippe Lazzarini acted immediately upon receiving information from Israel and fired nine of the accused. Another staffer was confirmed dead, and officials are clarifying the identity of two others. An internal U.N. investigation has begun, as well as an independent review of the agency's operations. At Wednesday's news conference, Netanyahu called for UNRWA to be dismantled. Guterres said UNRWA is critical and irreplaceable. "There is no other organization that has a presence in Gaza that is capable of being able to respond to the needs," he said. There have been several media reports of a "dossier" containing evidence about the 12 UNRWA staff implicated in the October 7 attacks, but the U.N. says it has not seen it, nor has it received anything in writing from the Israeli government about the allegations, which it said, nonetheless, are credible. Guterres said he terminated the contracts of the individuals before an internal investigation, in the "best interests" of the United Nations. "We couldn't run the risk not to act immediately as the accusations were related to criminal activities that are really dangerous," he told reporters. Political trap? The secretary-general said he was surprised to read press reports that Israel's military and Foreign Ministry were not willing to share the dossier with the United Nations. "And even worse, I read in the press that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs didn't expect me to act," Guterres said. "I can't imagine that this was a trap." He said if Israel presents him with any further credible allegations about Hamas infiltration at any level of the United Nations, he will act on it immediately. Israeli officials have been unrelenting in their criticism of the United Nations and Guterres since the war began. Israel's U.N. ambassador has repeatedly called for his resignation. But Guterres, a longtime politician and a former prime minister of Portugal, has appeared unmoved by the barrage of criticism. He has repeatedly called for an immediate humanitarian cease-fire, the release of all hostages and for both sides to abide by international law.

VOA Newscasts

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 8, 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.

Hungary and EU Face Off Over New Sovereign Defense Law

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 8, 2024 - 17:37
budapest, hungary — Hungary has rejected criticism of its new sovereignty protection law after the European Union instigated legal action against Budapest on Wednesday over concerns the legislation breaches basic democratic rights.  Hungary passed the Defense of National Sovereignty Act in December 2023, creating a new investigative body with sweeping powers to gather information on any groups or individuals that receive foreign funding and influence public debate. Hungary's intelligence services can assist in investigations with little or no judicial oversight. The legislation says that "the use of foreign funds in the context of elections should be punishable under criminal law" with a penalty of up to three years in jail. Critics say the law could potentially target a broad range of people in public life. "We have very vague provisions about a potential threat to sovereignty coming from foreign funding which might affect the voters in Hungary. So, we're using very broad definitions here," Barbara Grabowska-Moroz, senior fellow at Central European University's Democracy Institute, said in an interview with VOA. EU criticism The European Union, which has repeatedly criticized what it sees as democratic backsliding in Hungary in recent years, announced Wednesday it had launched infringement proceedings against Budapest. "The [EU] Commission considers that the laws violate EU law, in particular when it comes to the principle of democracy and the electoral rights of the EU citizens, the fundamental rights enshrined in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, the EU Data Protection Law and several rules applicable to the internal market," EU spokesperson Anitta Hipper told reporters in Brussels. "In addition, the setup of a new authority with the wide-ranging powers, and a strict regime of monitoring enforcement and sanctioning, also risks to seriously harm the democracy in Hungary. In terms of the process, Hungary has now two months to reply to the letter of formal notice," Hipper said. Hungary repeatedly refused VOA requests for an interview. Writing on X, government spokesperson Zoltan Kovacs said the law was introduced after Hungarian opposition parties took foreign funding during the 2022 election, including from Hungarian-born U.S. financier George Soros, a frequent target of the ruling Fidesz Party. Opposition parties deny acting illegally. The law states that "Hungary's sovereignty is increasingly under unlawful attack. ... In order to ensure democratic debate, transparency in public and social decision-making processes, disclosure of foreign interference attempts and the prevention of such attempts, an independent body should be set up to investigate them, and the use of foreign funds in the context of elections should be punishable under criminal law." Critics have compared the legislation to Russia's foreign agents law, which has forced out several nongovernmental organizations and shuttered civil society. Consolidating power The new investigative body is another tool for the government to consolidate its grip on power, according to journalist Andras Petho, founder of the Direkt36 investigative journalism center, one of the few independent journalism organizations left in Hungary. "Its responsibilities and its role is very vague. Basically, it can look into the activities of anyone — it can be private individuals, it can be organizations, the media, it can be civil society organizations. So, it's very vague. That's why we and a lot of other people think that it's dangerous for the public discourse," Petho told VOA. "The government has been building this story, this narrative, for years now, that Hungary — by which they mean themselves — they are under attack from foreign interests, forces. And basically, anyone who criticizes them, or anyone who is not actually serving their interests, is part of that foreign operation," he said. Miklos Ligeti, head of legal affairs at Transparency International in Budapest, said the new law could target organizations like his. "We believe that the new regulation — the whole sovereignty package — was designed to put further constraints on operations and activities of those civil society organizations which are successfully embarrassing the government," he said.

The Inside Story - Strikes and Counterstrikes | Episode 130

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 8, 2024 - 17:34
We are reporting on the situation in the Middle East. The U.S. and Britain have launched missile strikes against Iranian-backed Houthi fighters in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen. Meanwhile, in the U.S., a divided Congress is debating a bipartisan Senate bill that addresses the border crisis and provides funding for Ukraine. This week on The Inside Story, Strikes and Counterstrikes.

VOA Newscasts

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 8, 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.

Iran Foreign Minister Expected in Lebanon, Syria in Coming Days

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 8, 2024 - 16:54
dubai — Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian will travel to Lebanon and Syria to discuss various regional issues, Iranian and Syrian media reported on Thursday. Iranian media said he would be in Lebanon on Friday. Syrian daily Al-Watan, which is close to the government, said Amirabdollahian would be in Damascus "early next week" for a visit with senior officials. Al-Watan said the foreign minister would discuss current developments, including Israeli attacks on Syria and the ongoing war in Gaza, and that he would travel onward to Qatar. Sources told Reuters last week that Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps had pulled back some of its officers from Syria following a string of Israeli strikes there that had killed senior commanders. Iran's ambassador to Syria Hossein Akbari said in remarks on Thursday that Iran remained "present in Syria." "We will not take any step without coordination with the government. And wherever the Syrian side asks us, we will be present. We are present in Syria with the same force, and we have never withdrawn," Akbari said. The Guards have suffered one of their most bruising spells in Syria since arriving a decade ago to aid President Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian civil war. Since December, Israeli strikes have killed more than half a dozen of their members, among them one of the Guards' top intelligence generals.

Meta Removes Instagram, Facebook Accounts of Iran's Khamenei

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 8, 2024 - 16:51
San Francisco — Meta on Thursday said it had removed the Facebook and Instagram accounts of Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for violating its content policy. "We have removed these accounts for repeatedly violating our Dangerous Organizations and Individuals policy," a Meta spokesperson told AFP.  Though Meta did not mention the Israel-Hamas war, the company has been under pressure to ban the leader ever since the October 7 attack by Hamas on Israel. After the attack, Khamenei supported the bloody rampage by Hamas but denied any Iranian involvement. He has also publicly supported Palestinian retaliation against Israel's bombardment of Gaza, as well as attacks on shipping in the Red Sea by Yemen's Houthi rebels. Khamenei, in power in Iran for 35 years, has 5 million followers on Instagram. "In an effort to prevent and disrupt real-world harm, we do not allow organizations or individuals that proclaim a violent mission or are engaged in violence to have a presence on our platforms," says the policy on which Meta based its decision. It also says it will "remove glorification, support and representation of various dangerous organizations and individuals." Hamas is designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the United States. Instagram and Facebook are banned in Iran, but Iranians use virtual private networks, or VPNs, to evade restrictions and access prohibited websites or apps, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Media Watchdog Finds ChatGPT Spreads More Disinformation in Chinese

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 8, 2024 - 16:07
A test of ChatGPT's capabilities to create false information finds the chatbot spreads more disinformation in Chinese, says media watchdog NewsGuard. VOA's Robin Guess has more. VOA footage by Michael Eckels, Roy Kim.

VOA Newscasts

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 8, 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.

Iowa High School Students Visit China on Invitation of Xi Jinping

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 8, 2024 - 15:52
Muscatine, Iowa — Muscatine, Iowa, High School student Cole Loos had never traveled beyond the United States when the question put before him in January was, “Would you like to go to China?” “I was lucky I had my passport to go,” Loos explained to VOA.  The invitation, he learned, wasn’t for a date in the distant future. If he and 24 other students from his high school were to make the trip, they had less than 10 days to commit and prepare to fly. “It was very spontaneous,” Loos said. Spontaneous, but by no means an accident. In 1985, Sarah Lande hosted a group from China visiting Muscatine for several days on an agricultural research tour of the United States. One of the participants was Xi Jinping, now president of the People’s Republic of China. Then, Xi was party committee secretary of Zhengding County, Hebei Province.  Lande helped organize his stay in Muscatine. “Good things happen when you are a good friend to people, I guess,” Lande said during a recent interview in her Muscatine home, where in 2012, Xi — by then vice president of China — returned to visit his “old friends” from Iowa.  "Old friend" is a common phrase China’s communist party uses as a tribute to foreigners considered helpful to their interests. It’s also an expression of nostalgia for longtime companions or acquaintances. During Xi’s 2012 reunion with the “old friends” he met during his first trip to the U.S., they spent an evening in front of a warm fire in Lande’s living room remembering their eventful visit some 30 years earlier. Then last November, Lande was invited to a dinner on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco. In his remarks at the event, Xi expressed his desire to welcome thousands of American students to China, prompting Lande to follow up with a letter to her “old friend.”  “And I got a reply to that letter,” she explained. So, Lande took the opportunity to advocate for Muscatine. “I hope Muscatine could be a part of this. So, that probably was the incentive for this invite,” she said. In January, the China Daily reported that Xi was extending a personal invitation for students and staff from Muscatine High School to come to China.  The invitation came with few strings attached to the all-expenses paid trip. They spent eight days visiting with local students, touring the Great Wall of China and other landmarks and cities, and participated in a conference for students learning the Mandarin language. The trip comes amid increased tensions between the United States and China in the wake of tariffs imposed on the communist country during the Trump administration; the overflight of a Chinese observation balloon across the United States in early 2023; China’s warming relations with Russia’s Vladimir Putin amid the ongoing war in Ukraine; and the country’s ongoing human rights abuses of the predominately Muslim Uyghur minority in China’s western territories. “Both of our countries, you could say, are trying to be number one,” Lande says. “I think our challenge is to grow a curiosity and understanding and find ways to work together." She believes trips and culture exchanges build bridges and encourage dialogue that could lead to change. “I hope if there are ways that we find that China is really transgressing, we can at least bring that up, so it will not lead to conflict,” she said. Loos said it was hard to find any sign of U.S.- China tensions during their trip. “You felt very special over there,” said Loos, who is in his second year of Mandarin language studies at Muscatine High School.   “Actually, I'm very, very proud of them. Seems like they grew super-fast in a few days,” said Heidi Kuo, Loos’ Mandarin teacher.  Kuo is originally from Taiwan and accompanied the students on the trip.  Of the many lessons they learned, she hopes one stands out.  “The world is super big, not only us here,” she said. Ann Edkin grew up in Muscatine, which has a population of about 23,000 and is situated along the banks of the Mississippi River. She now teaches physical education at Muscatine High School and was one of four staff members who made the trip to China.  She thinks the connection between her small town and China’s leader is a baffling but welcome relationship. “The fact that he came here, that’s cool,” she told VOA.  “But to have that ongoing relationship, it’s not just a blip, but a continuing relationship that makes it so unique and special.” As more students prepare for more trips to China, Lande’s next goal is to encourage her “old friend” to return to Muscatine, which she thinks is a perfect location for a future summit with U.S. President Joe Biden.  “We’re open,” she said. “Xi Jinping is open. He might be willing to come here. I think Biden would. Muscatine would welcome it!” A potential venue could be the Muscatine home where Xi stayed in 1985, now preserved as a museum — mostly visited by Chinese tourists.

EU’s Dilemma: Dealing With Hungary’s Viktor Orban

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 8, 2024 - 15:51
Paris — Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, has long been a thorn in the European Union’s side, his many critics say, with attacks on press freedom, judicial independence, immigration and the LBGTQ community among others flouting the EU’s rule of law and democratic values. Orban has a friendly relationship with Russian and Chinese leaders — even as ties between Brussels and Moscow are in a deep freeze, and those with China are tense.  Time and again, Hungary’s 60-year leader has obstructed or watered down a raft of EU sanctions against Russia, along with the bloc’s support for Ukraine. But last week, Orban backed down, voting in favor of a $54 billion aid package for Ukraine, after what was reportedly extensive pressure and lobbying by the EU’s other 26 members. Still uncertain is whether the rare victory was a one-off, or will embolden the bloc’s leaders to keep their black sheep counterpart in line. Analysts say a tough approach is needed, as the EU faces new threats ahead of European Parliament and U.S. elections this year. “I fear the EU member states drew the wrong lesson from this case,” said Daniel Hegedus, senior fellow for the German Marshall Fund policy institute, referring to the bloc’s win on Ukraine aid. “The widespread interpretation within EU capitals would be that at the end of the day Orban gives in, that it’s possible to forge a compromise with the Hungarian government.” Rather than negotiating with Orban to reach “bad compromises,” Hegedus added, “the message should be clear [that] he’s just one step away from the red line. And if he crosses it, there will be far-reaching consequences.” Right now, Hungary’s leader shows few signs of marching in lockstep with his mainstream EU counterparts. On Monday, his right-wing Fidesz party boycotted a Hungarian parliamentary session called to ratify EU member Sweden’s NATO bid. On Wednesday, the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, announced it was beginning legal action against Hungary over new “sovereignty” legislation that critics see as a threat to political opponents and others — and which Brussels says violates the bloc’s democratic principles. Over the years, the EU has fined and withheld funds from Hungary over similar concerns, with mixed success. Critics say Orban has been adept in securing concessions from the EU, in what the bluntest describe as blackmail. Those talents have helped keep Hungary’s prime minister popular at home. Meanwhile, EU membership allows the small, central European country to hit well above its political weight, striking investment deals with major powers like China. Isolated - for now Yet today, Orban is more isolated than ever within the bloc, many say. His ideological ally, Poland’s populist and conservative Law and Justice party, lost October elections to a pro-EU opposition party. Unlike Orban, however, Law and Justice was staunchly anti-Russia. Two other EU nationalist leaders — Italy’s prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, and Slovakia’s prime minister, Robert Fico — both voted in favor of the Ukraine aid package last week. “Fico is not a follower of Orban when it comes to, for example, foreign policy,” says Zsuzsanna Vegh, a central Europe analyst at the European Council on Foreign Relations research group, referring to the Slovak prime minister who has been seen as pro-Russian. “He has other considerations.”   For her part, Meloni strongly supports both Ukraine and NATO. Vegh and other analysts believe Hungary’s leader is looking ahead  — setting his sights on European Union parliamentary elections in June, and a U.S. presidential vote in November, when allies could come into power.   Polls suggest right-wing, populist parties in Germany, France and elsewhere could score strongly in the EU legislative vote, which could influence the bloc’s foreign policy, including on Russia. “Obviously, the new European Parliament will be less left-leaning and liberal minded, less progressive,” the German Marshall Fund’s Hegedus said. “The nationalist conservative forces will have a much larger representation.” The European Commission is also set for renewal. The new right-wing governments in Europe — able to pick European commissioners — will help shape its makeup. Orban also hopes former President Donald Trump, a NATO skeptic, will score a second term in office, many say. “Prime Minister Orban can allow himself to play the long game,” Hegedus said. “And sit out uncomfortable periods, waiting for the better times when allies are coming into power in the European parliament and the United States — when the environment will be much more favorable for him.”   Tougher response needed Against this backdrop, he and others believe, mainstream Europe needs to toughen its response. “None of us really knows why Orban is being such a disruptive, anti-EU, anti-Ukraine, anti-democratic force inside the EU,” said Judy Dempsey, senior fellow at Carnegie Europe. “It’s puzzling. But what’s also puzzling is why [member states] didn’t take on these questions earlier on.” “There was a lack of strategy, a lack of courage,” she added, “and just a lack of consensus to say to a member state, ‘Sign up to our values and democratic institutions — take them or leave them.’” Beyond withholding funds, the EU has a last resort “nuclear option” that suspends voting rights of a member state, but only through a unanimous vote. “It would be a very messy process, we know that Slovakia would block it,” fearing it could be vulnerable as well, said analyst Vegh. “But there’s a growing realization the situation is not sustainable.” She believes the EU should stay tough with Hungary, as it was last week on Ukraine aid, and consider ways to shift to majority — rather than unanimous — voting on foreign policy matters. But the only way to really handle Orban, she believes, is through the ballot box. “Ultimately, it’s up to Hungarians to change their government,” Vegh said. “As long as Orban is in power, the EU can expect the behavior he’s displayed for over a decade.”

China’s State-Sponsored Hacking Record Invalidates Claims of Innocence

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 8, 2024 - 15:25
China has a documented history of malicious and espionage cyberattacks around the world, most of which are linked to Chinese government actors.

Iowa High School Students Visit China on Invitation of Xi Jinping

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 8, 2024 - 15:16
A hastily arranged all-expenses-paid trip to China for students from the Iowa town of Muscatine is the start of Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s effort to welcome as many as 50,000 U.S. students to his country. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh explores Muscatine’s historic connection to China’s leader.