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Israeli French Hostage Was Groped, Denied Food for Days While in Gaza

Voice of America’s immigration news - December 30, 2023 - 18:23
jerusalem — A woman who recently was freed from captivity in the Gaza Strip says she was groped by her Palestinian kidnapper and lived in constant fear throughout the weeks she was held hostage.  Mia Schem, a 21-year-old dual citizen of Israel and France, was attending a music festival in southern Israel when Hamas militants burst across the border and raided the event site on October 7. More than 300 people were killed and dozens taken hostage.  She was released on November 30 during a weeklong cease-fire.  In an interview broadcast Friday on Israel's Channel 13 TV, Schem said she was captured after she got out her friend's burning car. She said her captor began touching her upper body inappropriately and only stopped when she screamed and he noticed that she had been shot in the arm and badly wounded.  "I started screaming, going crazy," she said. "There were burnt vehicles, bodies."  No showers, medication While in captivity, she was held in a house with a family and watched around the clock by the father, Schem said. She said his constant staring made her uncomfortable and fearful that he might try to harm her. The man's wife did not like her and sometimes denied her food for days at a time, she said.  Israeli authorities have said that sexual violence was part of the Hamas rampage into southern Israel, and they accused the international community of playing down or ignoring the pain of the victims.  The Associated Press generally does not identify victims of sexual violence, but Schem spoke out publicly about her experience.  Schem made international headlines when Hamas released a video of her in captivity days after she was taken hostage. In the video, she lay in bed as someone bandaged her right arm, and she says she wants to go home. At the time, it was the first sign of life from the hostages.  Schem said she barely slept during her time as a hostage because she was so terrified, and that she also did not shower or receive any medications. She said her captor's children occasionally came in to look at her "like I'm some animal in a petting zoo."  One piece of pita a day Schem said she was taken from the home into a tunnel and held with other hostages during her final days in captivity.  During this time, she said she knew she would soon be released. Schem said she was kept with six or seven people in a small room and received only one piece of pita bread a day. She said she feels guilty because of the other hostages she left behind.  Schem broke down during the interview, saying she has not come to terms with her return as she processes the ordeal.  "I can't get it out of my head," she said. 

Activists File Lawsuit Alleging Killings, Assaults at Del Monte Farm in Kenya

Voice of America’s immigration news - December 30, 2023 - 18:03
Nairobi, Kenya — A rights group and community activists filed a lawsuit Saturday against U.S. multinational food giant Del Monte over accusations of killings and assaults at its vast pineapple plantation near Nairobi.  The case, lodged at the High Court of Kenya, is also on behalf of people who say they had been attacked by Del Monte security guards, and relatives of alleged victims.  The company, which employs 6,000 people in Kenya and has faced accusations of abuse and violence in the past, could not be immediately contacted for comment.  In the most recent incident, Kenyan police are investigating the suspicious deaths this month of four men accused of trying to steal pineapples from the Del Monte farm near Thika, northeast of the capital Nairobi.  Saturday's lawsuit, a copy of which was seen by AFP, said Del Monte has been locked in a land ownership row with the local community, which claims the company's land as its ancestral home.  It said locals had been long been crossing the 10,000-acre (4,000-hectare) plantation "leading to conflicts with the security personnel deployed by Del Monte, who assault, beat, torture, maim, rape and/or kill the trespassers.  "Multiple killings have occurred at Del Monte's pineapple farm in Kenya, where security guards allegedly murdered trespassers and showed general violence against locals," it added.  Alleged thieves have been beaten to death by the guards, drowned in dams or dumped in the nearby river, it charged.  Accusations of pesticides in water  In addition, it said wastewater from Del Monte operations was laced with "toxic pesticides" deemed hazardous by the World Health Organization.  Several petitioners claimed they had suffered various injuries at the hands of guards in separate incidents over the past few years.  One said he had been run over, while another claimed he had been sexually harassed then attacked with stones as he ran away.  The lawsuit lists Del Monte's Kenya operation as well as top police and legal officials as respondents.  It is seeking compensation and punitive damages and has also called on the High Court to rule that the actions of the respondents were violations of human rights, environment and constitutional laws.  Earlier this week, Kenyan police launched an investigation after the bodies of four men were discovered on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in a river near the plantation.  Results of a post-mortem released Friday found that at least three of the four had drowned and bore signs of injury, according to Kenyan media reports.  Company says it is cooperating Kenyan National Commission for Human Rights official Kamanda Mucheke was quoted by the leading Daily Nation newspaper as saying the men were beaten by Del Monte security guards.  "Our preliminary investigations reveal beyond reasonable doubt that the four men were attacked before they were forcibly drowned," he said.  The multinational company said CCTV footage showed the four had attempted to steal pineapples from its farm and showed "no foul play on Del Monte's part."  "Del Monte Kenya is cooperating with Kenyan authorities as they continue to investigate the circumstances surrounding the four bodies," it said in a statement to AFP earlier this week.  "Organized crime, particularly around pineapple theft, is becoming increasingly rampant in the area," it added.

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Voice of America’s immigration news - December 30, 2023 - 18:00
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Lebanon to Seek UNESCO Recognition for Pioneering TV Archive

Voice of America’s immigration news - December 30, 2023 - 17:36
Beirut, Lebanon — For decades, Tele Liban has been a mainstay of Lebanese living rooms. Now the country is seeking UNESCO recognition for the archives of its pioneering Arab broadcaster.  Information Minister Ziad Makary told AFP that Beirut would apply to have the full archives of Tele Liban added to the United Nations cultural body's Memory of the World Register, which UNESCO says "aims to prevent the irrevocable loss of documentary heritage."  Tele Liban was "the first television (network) to be established in the Arab world on a state level," Makary said, adding that Lebanon had the region's "oldest audiovisual archive."  The collection includes footage that dates back "to World War II and the 1940s," although Tele Liban did air its first program until 1959, the minister said from his Beirut office.  Were it to join the register, it would sit alongside hundreds of other entries, spanning print, audiovisual, digital and other heritage from across the globe.  Archives documents culture, politics The only television channel in Lebanon until 1985, the broadcaster's archive is brimming with years of history, politics and culture not only from Lebanon but across the Arab world, during tumultuous decades in the region.  It counts more than 50,000 hours of recordings, from interviews and news programs to music concerts, including of Egypt's revered 20th century singer Umm Kalthoum and French diva Dalida.  The collection captured Lebanon's "cultural and political life" and was unique in the country, Alfred Akar, Tele Liban's head of archives, told AFP.  In Lebanon, there is nostalgia for the now cash-strapped Tele Liban's "golden age" during the 1960s and '70s, when it featured prominent personalities on its programs that ranged from entertainment and comedy to drama.  As sectarian tensions peaked and the country plunged into the grueling 1975-1990 civil war, Tele Liban became a witness to the country's divisions and suffering.  Makary noted the need to preserve history, pointing to "the archive's importance in the collective memory and (its) cultural impact on the region."  Putting heritage on map If successful, its entry on the UNESCO register would have great symbolic importance and put Lebanon's "media heritage on the world map," Makary said.  The aim is to include not only Tele Liban's archive but also that of the public radio and the National News Agency, Makary said, adding that work on the official submission would begin next month.  Lebanon has two other entries on the Memory of the World Register: commemorative stela spanning more than three millennia at a site north of Beirut, and the Phoenician alphabet, which the U.N. body's website describes as "the prototype for all alphabets in the world."   In 2010, work began on modernizing the Tele Liban archive and transferring it to updated equipment despite little financial support, in a country where dysfunctional public services have now been swallowed by a crushing four-year economic crisis.  The digitization process is ongoing.  Zaven Kouyoumdjian, author of two books on television including "Lebanon on Screen," said Tele Liban was part of a modernizing effort in the Arab world and also "brought all Lebanese together."  The broadcaster's archive is "a national treasure," said the author and television personality.  It "stores Lebanon's cultural identity," he told AFP. 

No Sign Houthis Will Halt Red Sea Attacks, Says US

Voice of America’s immigration news - December 30, 2023 - 17:00
CHRISTIANSTED, U.S. Virgin Islands — Yemen's Houthi rebels show no signs of ending their attacks on commercial ships in the Red Sea, the top commander of U.S. naval forces in the Middle East said Saturday.  Since the U.S. announced Operation Prosperity Guardian about 10 days ago, 1,200 merchant ships have traveled through the Red Sea region, and none has been hit by drone or missile strikes, Vice Admiral Brad Cooper said in an Associated Press interview.   He said additional countries are expected to sign on. Denmark was the latest, announcing Friday it plans to send a frigate to join the multinational security initiative that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced on December 18 during a visit to Bahrain, where the Navy's 5th Fleet is based, saying that "this is an international challenge that demands collective action."  The narrow Bab el-Mandeb Strait connects the Gulf of Aden to the Red Sea and then the Suez Canal. The crucial trade route links markets in Asia and Europe. The seriousness of the attacks, several of which have damaged vessels, led multiple shipping companies to order their vessels to hold in place and not enter the strait until the security situation improved. Some major shippers were sending their ships around Africa and the Cape of Good Hope, adding time and costs to the journeys.  There are five warships from the United States, France, and the United Kingdom patrolling the waters of the southern Red Sea and the western Gulf of Aden, said Cooper, who heads the 5th Fleet. Since the operation started, the ships have shot down a total of 17 drones and four anti-ship ballistic missiles, he said.  Two days ago, the USS Mason, a Navy destroyer, shot down a drone and an anti-ship ballistic missile that were fired by the Iranian-backed Houthis, according to U.S. Central Command. The U.S. said the 22nd attack on international shipping by the Houthis since October 19 caused no damage to any of the 18 ships in the area or any reported injuries.  "I expect in the coming weeks we're going to get additional countries," Cooper said, noting Denmark's recent announcement.  The U.S. has said that more than 20 nations are participating, but a number of those nations have not acknowledged it publicly.  Cooper said the coalition is in direct communication with commercial ships to provide guidance on "maneuvering and the best practices to avoid being attacked," and working closely with the shipping industry to coordinate security.  An international task force was set up in April 2022 to improve maritime security in the region. But Cooper said Operation Prosperity Guardian has more ships and a persistent presence to assist vessels.  Since the operation started, the Houthis have stepped up their use of anti-ship ballistic missiles, Cooper said.  "We are clear-eyed that the Houthi reckless attacks will likely continue," he said.  The Houthi rebels seized Yemen's capital, Sanaa, in 2014, launching a grinding war against a Saudi-led coalition that sought to restore the government. The militants have sporadically targeted ships in the region, but the attacks increased since the start of the Israel-Hamas war.  The Houthis threatened to attack any vessel they believe is either going to or coming from Israel. That has escalated, with container ships and oil tankers flagged to countries such as Norway and Liberia being attacked or drawing missile fire.  The shipping company Maersk had announced earlier that it had decided to re-route its ships that have been paused for days outside the strait and Red Sea and send them around Africa instead. But on December 25, Maersk announced that it was going to resume sending ships through the strait, citing the operation. Cooper said another shipping company had also resumed using the route.  "Commerce is definitely flowing," Cooper said. 

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Voice of America’s immigration news - December 30, 2023 - 17:00
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Taliban Balk at UN Security Council Plan for Special Afghan Envoy

Voice of America’s immigration news - December 30, 2023 - 16:33
Kabul, Afghanistan — Afghanistan's Taliban authorities Saturday criticized the United Nations Security Council's plan for a special envoy to promote gender and human rights in the country as "unnecessary."  The Taliban government is not officially recognized by any country or world body, and the United Nations refers to the administration as the "Taliban de facto authorities."  Many are torn over engaging with Kabul's rulers in a bid to roll back their controls on women and girls — or freezing them out until they make concessions such as reopening educational opportunities for females.  On Friday, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) adopted a resolution calling for the appointment of a special envoy for Afghanistan to increase engagement with the country and its Taliban leaders.  But foreign ministry spokesperson Abdul Qahar Balkhi said a new envoy "is unnecessary as Afghanistan is not a conflict zone and is ruled by a central government that is able to secure its national interests."  In a social media post on X, he said the Taliban government welcomes "more robust and enhanced engagement" with the U.N., but special envoys "have complicated situations further via imposition of external solutions."  "The approach of the government of Afghanistan will ultimately be guided by the unaltered religious beliefs, cultural values and national interests of the people of Afghanistan," he said on X, formerly known as Twitter.  Since the Taliban surged back to power in August 2021, Kabul's new rulers have insisted on their right to impose harsh social controls in accordance with their austere interpretation of Islam.  They have rejected appeals to obey international law as undue meddling in their domestic affairs.  Teenage girls have been banned from attending most secondary schools and women from universities, prompting global outrage and protests in some Afghan cities.  Late in 2022, women were prohibited from entering parks, funfairs, gyms and public baths.  The U.N. resolution followed an independent assessment report issued in November calling for greater engagement with Afghanistan.  It was adopted after 13 members of the Security Council voted in favor, while Russia and China abstained. 

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Voice of America’s immigration news - December 30, 2023 - 16:00
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Voice of America’s immigration news - December 30, 2023 - 15:00
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Voice of America’s immigration news - December 30, 2023 - 14:00
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Nicaragua Arrests 4 More Priests, Intensifies Crackdown on Catholic Church

Voice of America’s immigration news - December 30, 2023 - 13:57
SAN JOSE, COSTA RICA — Nicaraguan police detained four more priests early Saturday, bringing the total number to 12 over the past three days, according to local media and a high-ranking member of the Catholic Church with knowledge of the matter.  Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, who has governed the Central American country since 2007, has started a crackdown on the Catholic Church and political opponents.  Priests Mikel Monterrey, Gerardo Rodriguez and Raul Zamora, along with Monsignor Miguel Mantica, the son of one of the richest families in Nicaragua, were taken from their respective homes, the source said.  "They're all from the Archdiocese of Managua," said the source, who spoke to Reuters on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.  The Nicaraguan government and police did not respond to a request for comment. La Prensa, one of the country's last remaining newspapers, also reported the four arrests of the priests.  Among those arrested early Saturday were two priests — Monterrey and Zamora — who opened the doors of their parish to students from two universities that were attacked by the government in 2018.  In total, 12 priests and Bishop Isidro Mora have now been arrested in recent days. In August 2022, Bishop Rolando Alvarez was arrested and sentenced to 26 years in prison. Since the 2018 protests, Ortega has accused priests of organizing themselves and orchestrating a coup; the bishops had asked the president for justice for those who died during the protests, and early elections.

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Voice of America’s immigration news - December 30, 2023 - 13:00
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Taiwan’s Presidential Candidates Emphasize Peace With Beijing

Voice of America’s immigration news - December 30, 2023 - 12:45
TAIPEI, TAIWAN — Taiwan’s presidential candidates expressed desire for peaceful relations with Beijing, which has described the January 13 elections on the self-ruled island as a choice between war and peace and stepped up harassment of the territory it claims as its own. Lai Ching-te, the front-runner and currently Taiwan's vice president from the ruling Democratic People’s Party, said in a televised debate Saturday that he was open to communicating with the government in Beijing, which has refused to talk with him or President Tsai Ing-wen. Beijing favors the candidate from the more China-friendly Nationalist, or Kuomintang, Party and has criticized Lai and Tsai as “separatists,” accusing them of trying to provoke a Chinese attack on Taiwan. Taiwan split from China amid civil war in 1949, but Beijing continues to regard the island of 23 million with its high-tech economy as Chinese territory and has been steadily increasing its threat to achieve that goal, by military force if necessary. Tensions with China have featured strongly in the presidential campaign. China has also stepped up military pressure on the island by sending military jets and ships near it almost daily. Taiwan’s Defense Ministry this month also reported Chinese balloons, which could be used for spying, flying in its vicinity. Differences over Taiwan are a major flashpoint in U.S.-China relations. The United States is bound by law to provide Taiwan with the weapons it needs to defend itself. Lai — who tops most opinion polls — promised to help strengthen Taiwan’s defense and economy if elected. “As long as there is equality and dignity on both sides of the Taiwan Strait, Taiwan’s door will always be open,” he said during the debate. “I am willing to conduct exchanges and cooperation with China to enhance the well-being of the people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait. “The international community has realized the threat China poses to Taiwan and the international community,” Lai said. “In fact, everyone is already preparing to respond. We should … unite and cooperate to ensure peace.” Hou Yu-ih, the Kuomintang candidate, also said he sought peaceful relations with Beijing. The Kuomintang previously endorsed unification with China but has shifted its stance in recent years as Taiwan’s electorate is increasingly identifying as Taiwanese — as opposed to Chinese — and wants to maintain the status quo in relations with Beijing. Hou said he opposed Taiwan’s independence but also a potential unification under China’s “one country, two systems” framework, which Beijing has used to govern Hong Kong, a former British colony that returned to China in 1997. Hou said he sought “democracy and freedom” for Taiwan. The third candidate, Ko Wen-je, from the smaller Taiwan People’s Party, referenced a quote by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken regarding U.S.-China relations, saying that “Taiwan and China will cooperate if they can cooperate, compete if there’s a need to compete, and confront each other if they must confront each other.” “The people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait are of the same race and have the same history, language, religion and culture, but at this stage, we have a different political system and way of life,” Ko said. "Taiwan needs self-reliance, and both sides of the Taiwan Strait need peace. “We have to make it clear to the Chinese government that my bottom line is that Taiwan must maintain its current democratic and free political system and way of life,” Ko said. “Only if these conditions are met can we have [a] dialogue.”

Albania's Ex-PM Berisha Under House Arrest During Corruption Probe

Voice of America’s immigration news - December 30, 2023 - 12:10
TIRANA, ALBANIA — An Albanian court Saturday ordered house arrest for former Prime Minister Sali Berisha, who leads the opposition Democratic Party and is being investigated for possible corruption. Judge Irena Gjoka of the First Instance Special Court on Corruption and Organized Crime, which covers cases involving senior officials and politicians, accepted prosecutors’ request to put Berisha, 79, under house arrest after he violated the previous restrictive measures of reporting every two weeks. He was also barred from traveling abroad. His lawyer, Genc Gjokutaj, said the court also barred Berisha from communicating with people other than members of his family who live with him. Gjokutaj said he would appeal the court order. “No criminal charge or new evidence supported this new request,” Gjokutaj said. “None of the legal criteria required for imposing or escalating such restrictions are met in this case.” Albanian media outlets reported the arrival of police officers at Berisha’s apartment building in downtown Tirana. It is not clear how officers planned to monitor him. Last week, parliament voted to strip Berisha of his legal immunity. Lawmakers loyal to Berisha tried to disrupt the session and boycotted the vote. Berisha has criticized the investigation of him and called his arrest political repression ordered by Prime Minister Edi Rama. Depriving Berisha of communication may become a wider political issue because he’s the leader of the main opposition party. He has warned of “powerful protests.” “The Democratic Party calls on all Albanians and its supporters to continue our ‘today or never’ battle for the restoration of the political pluralism and [Prime Minister] Edi Rama’s deserved punishment,” Luciano Boci, a senior party leader, said at a news conference after the judge issued the order. In October, prosecutors publicly put Berisha under investigation for allegedly abusing his post to help his son-in-law, Jamarber Malltezi, privatize public land to build 17 apartment buildings. Prosecutors have yet to file formal charges in court and Berisha is still technically under investigation. “Rama’s New Year postcard is the arrest and isolation of the opposition leader!” Berisha’s son Shkelzen posted on Facebook. Rama declined to comment on the court order authorizing Berisha's house arrest. “The arrest of anyone of whichever political party is never the victory of any party," he said. "The parties win elections to take the country ahead, and the parties are not military organizations which operate to eliminate the opponents.” Berisha served as Albania’s prime minister from 2005-13, and as president from 1992-97. He was reelected as a lawmaker for the Democratic Party in the 2021 parliamentary elections. The United States government in May 2021 and the United Kingdom in July 2022 barred Berisha and close family members from entering their countries because of alleged involvement in corruption. Opposition lawmakers have regularly disrupted sessions of parliament to protest the ruling Socialists’ refusal to create commissions to investigate alleged cases of corruption involving Rama and other top government officials. The Socialists say the plans are not in line with constitutional requirements. The disruptions are an obstacle to much-needed reforms at a time when the European Union has agreed to start the process of harmonizing Albanian laws with those of the EU as part of the Balkan country’s path toward full membership in the bloc.

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Voice of America’s immigration news - December 30, 2023 - 12:00
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Thousands Accuse Serbia's Ruling Populists of Election Fraud at Rally

Voice of America’s immigration news - December 30, 2023 - 11:44
BELGRADE, SERBIA — Thousands of people rallied in Serbia's capital Saturday, chanting “Thieves!” and accusing the populist authorities of President Aleksandar Vucic of orchestrating a fraud during a recent general election. The rally in central Belgrade capped nearly two weeks of street protests over reported widespread irregularities during the December 17 parliamentary and local ballot — irregularities that were also noted by international election observers. The ruling Serbian Progressive Party was declared the election winner, but the main opposition alliance, Serbia Against Violence, has claimed the election was stolen, particularly in the vote for the Belgrade city authorities. Serbia Against Violence has led daily protests since December 17 demanding that the vote be annulled and rerun. Tensions have soared following violent incidents and arrests of opposition supporters at a protest last weekend. The crowd at the rally Saturday roared in approval at the appearance of Marinika Tepic, a leading opposition politician who has been on a hunger strike since the ballot. Tepic's health reportedly has been jeopardized, and she was expected to be hospitalized after appearing at the rally. “These elections must be rerun," a frail-looking Tepic told the crowd, waving feebly from the stage and saying she doesn't have the strength to make a longer speech. Another opposition politician, Radomir Lazovic, urged the international community “not to stay silent” and set up a commission to investigate the irregularities and pressure authorities to hold a new election that's free and fair. After the speeches, participants marched by the headquarters of the state electoral commission toward Serbia's Constitutional Court, which will ultimately rule on electoral complaints. A protester from Belgrade, Rajko Dimitrijevic, said he came to the rally because he felt “humiliation” and the “doctoring of the people's will.” Ivana Grobic, also from Belgrade, said she had always joined protests "because I want a better life, I want the institutions of this country to do their job.” It was not immediately clear if or when opposition protests would resume. The rally Saturday was organized by an independent civic initiative, ProGlas, or pro-vote, that had campaigned for high turnout ahead of the ballot. Ruling party leader Milos Vucevic said the “small number of demonstrators" at the rally Saturday showed that “people don't want them [the opposition].” The opposition has urged an international probe of the vote after representatives of several global watchdogs reported multiple irregularities, including cases of vote-buying and ballot box stuffing. Local election monitors also alleged that voters from across Serbia and neighboring countries were registered and bused in to cast ballots in Belgrade. Vucic and his party have rejected the reports as “fabricated.” Saturday’s gathering symbolically was organized at a central area in Belgrade that in the early 1990s was the scene of demonstrations against strongman Slobodan Milosevic's warmongering and undemocratic policies. Critics nowadays say that Vucic, who was an ultranationalist ally of Milosevic in the 1990s, has reinstated that autocracy in Serbia since coming to power in 2012, by taking full control over the media and all state institutions. Vucic has said the elections were fair. He accused the opposition of inciting violence at protests with the aim of overthrowing the government under instructions from abroad, which opposition leaders have denied. On Sunday evening, protesters tried to enter Belgrade city hall, breaking windows, before riot police pushed them back using tear gas, pepper spray and batons. Police detained at least 38 people. Serbia is formally seeking membership in the European Union, but the Balkan nation has maintained close ties with Moscow and has refused to join Western sanctions imposed on Russia over the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Russian officials have extended full support to Vucic in the crackdown against the protesters and backed his claims that the vote was free and fair.

Venice Limits Tourist Groups to 25 People to Protect Canal City

Voice of America’s immigration news - December 30, 2023 - 11:06
MILAN — The Italian city of Venice announced new limits Saturday on the size of tourist groups, the latest move to reduce the pressure of mass tourism on the famed canal city. Starting in June, groups will be limited to 25 people, or roughly half the capacity of a tourist bus, and the use of loudspeakers, “which can generate confusion and disturbances,” will be banned, the city said in a statement. The city official charged with security, Elisabetta Pesce, said the policies were aimed at improving the movement of groups through Venice’s historic center as well as the heavily visited islands of Murano, Burano and Torcello. The city previously announced plans to test a new day-tripper fee this year. The 5 euros ($5.45) per-person fee will be applied on 29 peak days between April and mid-July, including most weekends. It is intended to regulate crowds, encourage longer visits and improve the quality of life for Venice residents. The U.N. cultural agency cited tourism's impact on the fragile lagoon city as a major factor in it twice considering placing Venice on UNESCO’s list of heritage sites in danger. The city escaped the first time by limiting the arrival of large cruise ships through the Giudecca Canal and again in September when it announced the roll-out of the day-tripper charge, which had been delayed when tourism declined during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Voice of America’s immigration news - December 30, 2023 - 11:00
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‘Extinction Rebellion’ Climate Activists Block Part of Amsterdam Highway

Voice of America’s immigration news - December 30, 2023 - 10:51
AMSTERDAM — Climate activists blocked part of the main highway around Amsterdam near the former headquarters of ING bank Saturday to protest its financing of fossil fuels. Amsterdam Municipality said in a message on X, formerly Twitter, that traffic authorities closed part of the road and diverted traffic “to prevent a life-threatening situation." Hundreds of activists walked onto the road in the latest road blockade organized by the Dutch branch of Extinction Rebellion. Earlier this year, the activist organization repeatedly blocked a highway leading into The Hague. Some of Saturday's protesters walked along the closed A10 highway carrying a banner emblazoned with the words “Change or die” as two police vans drove slowly behind them. Another person carried a handwritten banner that said: “ING get out of oil and gas now!” Others glued their hands to the road surface. Police criticized the protesters for blocking the road close to the VU medical center, one of Amsterdam's main hospitals. “The blockade is very undesirable given its impact on the traffic in the city and, for example, employees at the nearby VU medical center and people visiting patients,” Amsterdam police said in a statement. The protest took place despite ING announcing earlier this month that it is accelerating its moves to phase out loans for fossil fuel exploration. ING made its announcement a week after nearly 200 countries at the COP28 climate meeting in Dubai agreed to move away from planet-warming fossil fuels in a document that critics said contained significant loopholes. Extinction Rebellion spokesperson Let de Jong said the phase-out plan was not fast enough. “We demand that ING immediately stops all fossil fuel financing,” De Jong said in a statement ahead of the protest. “Every day, people are dying around the world because of the climate and ecological crisis. That has to stop.” At past protests in The Hague, police used a water cannon to force activists off the road and arrested hundreds of people.

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