The Kremlin announced that journalists from "unfriendly countries" will be banned from attending the St Petersburg International Economic Forum. This is the first time since 1997, when the forum was first held, that western journalists are not allowed to attend. Belgorod’s governor, Vyacheslav Gladkov said Saturday, two people were killed and two were injured by Ukrainian artillery fire on Belgorod’s border region with Ukraine. On Friday, attacks in the area prompted about 5,000 evacuees from nearby border villages to find makeshift housing in the city of Belgorod, said the mayor, Valentin Demidov. Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin said Saturday that Kremlin factions are destroying Russia by trying to sow discord between his and Chechen commanders who also fight alongside Russians against Ukraine. An explosion caused by a Russian missile strike near the central Ukrainian city of Dnipro on Saturday, hit a two-story dwelling, injuring at least 20 people, five of them children, Ukraine's State Emergency Service said. Three of the injured children are in serious condition while 17 people in total are hospitalized, said the regional governor, Serhiy Lysak. Rescue teams are pulling residents from under the rubble, Lysak said. "Once again, Russia proves it is a terrorist state," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy wrote on Telegram. Pictures from the explosion posted on social media showed rescue teams working at a shattered, smoldering building amid heaps of twisted building materials. In his nightly video address, Zelenskyy reminded everyone of the importance of thanking all of those who have made Ukrainian resistance against Russian invaders possible and effective. “Our defense, our active actions, and the independence of Ukraine are not something abstract. These are very particular people, particular actions of particular heroes, thanks to which Ukraine exists and Ukraine will exist,” he said. He added, “it's important to hear words of gratitude when you fight for your people like this.” Bomb shelters unfit About a quarter of Ukraine’s bomb shelters have been inspected and were found either unavailable or unfit to protect civilians, officials said Saturday. According to the Ukrainian interior ministry, of the more than 4,800 shelters it inspected, 252 were locked and 893 more were “unfit for use.” Interior Minister Ihor Klymenko said civilian safety is compromised by unsuitable shelters during airstrikes in Ukraine. The results of the inspection were announced just days after three people, including a mother and her 9-year-old daughter, were killed while trying to enter a locked shelter in the early hours of Thursday. The husband of another woman killed by missile debris told reporters his wife was trying to get into a shelter in a medical facility, which turned out to be closed. The Kyiv regional prosecutor’s office reported that four people were detained in a criminal probe into one of the deaths on Thursday. The prosecutor’s office said that one person, a security guard, who had failed to unlock the doors, remained under arrest, while three others, including a local official, had been placed under house arrest. The prosecutor’s office says the suspects face up to eight years in prison for negligence leading to a person’s death. In a Telegram message on Saturday, Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said city authorities have logged “more than a thousand" complaints regarding locked, dilapidated or insufficient air-raid shelters within a day of launching an online feedback service. The interior ministry said that more than 5,300 volunteers, including emergency workers, police officers and local officials, would continue to inspect shelters across the country. Zelenskyy: Counteroffensive 'will succeed' President Zelenskyy says Ukraine is ready to launch a counteroffensive against Russia. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal published Saturday, the Ukrainian leader said, “We strongly believe that we will succeed.” “I don’t know how long it will take,” he said, “but … we are ready.” He said he wished he had more Western weapons, “but we can’t wait for months.” Zelenskyy did not reveal a date for the counteroffensive. In addition, Zelenskyy said he is a bit apprehensive about the outcome of the U.S. presidential election in 2024 because a less supportive administration could win. Some information in this article came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.
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President Tayyip Erdogan signaled Saturday his newly elected government would return to more orthodox economic policies when he named Mehmet Simsek to his Cabinet to tackle Turkey's cost-of-living crisis and other strains. Simsek's appointment as treasury and finance minister could set the stage for interest rate hikes in the coming months, analysts said, a marked turnaround from Erdogan's longstanding policy of slashing rates despite soaring inflation. After winning a runoff election last weekend, Erdogan, 69, who has ruled for more than two decades, began his new five-year term by calling on Turks to set aside differences and focus on the future. Turkey's new cabinet also includes Cevdet Yilmaz, another orthodox economic manager, as vice president, and the former head of the National Intelligence Organization Hakan Fidan as foreign minister, replacing Mevlut Cavusoglu. Erdogan's inauguration ceremony at Ankara's presidential palace was attended by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and other dignitaries and high-level officials. The apparent U-turn on the economy comes as many analysts say the big emerging market is heading for turmoil given depleted foreign reserves, an expanding state-backed protected deposits scheme, and unchecked inflation expectations. Simsek, 56, was highly regarded by financial markets when he served as finance minister and deputy prime minister between 2009 and 2018. Analysts said that after episodes in which Erdogan pivoted to orthodoxy only to quickly return to his rate-cutting ways, much would depend on how much independence Simsek is granted. "This suggests Erdogan has recognized the eroding trust in his ability to manage Turkey’s economic challenges. But while Simsek’s appointment is likely to delay a crisis, it is unlikely to present long-term fixes to the economy," said Emre Peker, a director at Eurasia Group covering Turkey. "Simsek will likely have a strong mandate early in his tenure, but face rapidly increasing political headwinds to implement policies as March 2024 local elections draw near," Peker added. Erdogan's economic program since 2021 stresses monetary stimulus and targeted credit to boost economic growth, exports and investments, pressing the central bank into action and badly eroding its independence. As a result, annual inflation hit a 24-year peak above 85% last year before easing. The lira has lost more than 90% of its value in the last decade after a series of crashes, the worst in late 2021. It hit new all-time lows of more than 20 to the dollar after the May 28 vote. Turkey's longest-serving leader, Erdogan won 52.2% support in the runoff, defying polls that predicted economic strains would lead to his defeat. His new mandate will allow Erdogan to pursue the increasingly authoritarian policies that have polarized the country, a NATO member, but strengthened its position as a regional military power. At the inauguration ceremony, attended by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, Erdogan struck a conciliatory tone. "We will embrace all 85 million people regardless of their political views. ... Let's put aside the resentment of the election period. Let's look for ways to reconcile," he said. "Together, we must look ahead, focus on the future, and try to say new things. We should try to build the future by learning from the mistakes of the past," he said. Erdogan became prime minister in 2003 after his AK Party won an election in late 2002 following Turkey's worst economic crisis since the 1970s. In 2014, he became the country's first popularly elected president and was elected again in 2018 after securing new executive powers for the presidency in a 2017 referendum.
A senior United Arab Emirates official says the Gulf nation wants the U.N. climate summit it's hosting later this year to deliver "game-changing results" for international efforts to curb global warming, but doing so will require having the fossil fuel industry at the table. Environmental campaigners have slammed the presence of oil and gas lobbyists at previous rounds of talks, warning that their interests are opposed to the goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions — caused to a large degree by the burning of fossil fuels. Last month scores of U.S. and European lawmakers called for the summit's designated chair, Sultan al-Jaber, to be replaced over his links to the state-owned Abu Dhabi National Oil Company. The issue complicates already-delicate negotiations ahead of the Nov. 30 - Dec. 12 meeting in Dubai, known as COP28. Preliminary talks starting next week in Bonn, Germany, will show whether the incoming UAE presidency can overcome skepticism among parties and civil society groups about its ability to shepherd almost 200 nations toward a landmark deal. "Our leadership have been very clear to me and our team and our president that they don't want just another COP that's incremental," said Majid al-Suwaidi, who as director-general of the summit plays a key role in the diplomatic negotiations. "They want a COP that is going to deliver real, big, game-changing results because they see, just like all of us, that we're not on track to achieve the goals of Paris." Oil and gas at the negotiating table Governments agreed eight years ago in the French capital to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) — ideally no more than 1.5C (2.7F). With average global temperatures already about 1.2C (2.2F) above pre-industrial levels, experts say the window to meet the more ambitious target is closing fast and even the less stringent goal would be missed if emissions aren't slashed sharply soon. "We need to have everybody at the table discussing with us about how to deliver that," al-Suwaidi told The Associated Press in an interview Friday. "We need to have oil and gas, we need to have industry, we need to have aviation, we need to have shipping, we need to have all the hard to abate sectors," he said, adding, "We need all those who can to deliver what they can, regardless of who they are." Al-Suwaidi pushed back against the idea that the fossil fuel industry would undermine meaningful talks on emissions cuts the way they have done in the past through disinformation campaigns and keeping quiet their own knowledge about climate change. "There's no doubt in my mind that the position of the sector has completely changed and that they are engaging with us in an active conversation," he said. Asked whether the talks might consider a phaseout of fossil fuels, proposed last year by nations most vulnerable to climate change, al-Suwaidi said the presidency wouldn't preclude such conversations. "We welcome any kind of discussion," the UAE's former ambassador to Spain said. "But the parties are the ones who will decide what that discussion is and where we land." Cut emissions So far, the summit's designated chair al-Jaber has emphasized the need to cut emissions, rather than end fossil fuel use itself. It's prompted fears that he might seek loopholes for untested carbon-capture technologies and so-called offsets — both aimed at reducing current levels of carbon dioxide in the air — that experts say distract from the need to end the release of greenhouse gases. A report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change earlier this year called for a nearly two-thirds cut in carbon emissions by 2035, warning that failure to do so greatly increases the risk of droughts, flooding, sea-level rise and other short- and long-term disasters. Al-Suwaidi, who also has a background in the oil and gas sector, said the UAE leadership is acutely aware of the existential threat global warming poses — including to their own sun-rich but water-poor nation — and is committed to shifting from fossil fuels toward renewable energy such as wind and solar. "We want to be part of this new economy," he said. "We're a country that's running headfirst into this future." Al-Suwaidi said agreeing to a global goal for ramping up renewable energy in Dubai could send a positive message to those anxious about the transformation required to stop climate change. "Rather than talking about what we're stopping people from doing, let's talk about how we're helping them to take up solutions ... that are going to help us to address the emissions problem we have," he said. Global stock-taking The talks in Dubai will also see countries conduct the first 'global stock take' of efforts to tackle climate change since Paris in 2015. The results are meant to inform a new round of commitments by nations to cut emissions and address the impacts of global warming. Poor nations are also demanding rich countries make good on pledges for vast financial support, an issue that has often caused major disagreements at past meetings. "We need the developing world to leapfrog into this new climate system and we need to support that transition for them," said al-Suwaidi. "Finance is going to be really fundamental at COP28." This will require rich countries, including the Group of Seven major economies, who are historically responsible for a large chunk of global emissions, to step up, he said.
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While judges, lawyers and support staff at the federal courthouse in Concord, New Hampshire, keep the American justice system buzzing, thousands of humble honeybees on the building's roof are playing their part in a more important task — feeding the world. The Warren B. Rudman courthouse is one of several federal facilities around the country participating in the General Services Administration's Pollinator Initiative, a government program aimed at assessing and promoting the health of bees and other pollinators, which are critical to life on Earth. "Anybody who eats food, needs bees," said Noah Wilson-Rich, co-founder, CEO and chief scientific officer of the Boston-based Best Bees company, which contracts with the government to take care of the honeybee hives at the New Hampshire courthouse and at some other federal buildings. Bees help pollinate the fruits and vegetables that sustain humans, he said. They pollinate hay and alfalfa, which feed cattle that provide the meat we eat. And they promote the health of plants that, through photosynthesis, give us clean air to breathe. Yet the busy insects that contribute an estimated $25 billion to the U.S. economy annually are under threat from diseases, agricultural chemicals and habitat loss that kill about half of all honeybee hives annually. Without human intervention, including beekeepers creating new hives, the world could experience a bee extinction that would lead to global hunger and economic collapse, Wilson-Rich said. The pollinator program is part of the federal government's commitment to promoting sustainability, which includes reducing greenhouse gas emissions and promoting climate resilient infrastructure, said David Johnson, the General Services Administration's sustainability program manager for New England. The GSA's program started last year with hives at 11 sites. Some of those sites are no longer in the program. Hives placed at the National Archives building in Waltham, Massachusetts, last year did not survive the winter. Since then, other sites were added. Two hives, each home to thousands of bees, were placed on the roof of the Rudman building in March. The program is collecting data to find out whether the honeybees, which can fly 3 to 5 miles from the roof in their quest for pollen, can help the health of not just the plants on the roof, but also of the flora in the entire area, Johnson said. "Honeybees are actually very opportunistic," he said. "They will feed on a lot of different types of plants." The program can help identify the plants and landscapes beneficial to pollinators and help the government make more informed decisions about what trees and flowers to plant on building grounds. Best Bees tests the plant DNA in the honey to get an idea of the plant diversity and health in the area, Wilson-Rich said, and they have found that bees that forage on a more diverse diet seem to have better survival and productivity outcomes. Other federal facilities with hives include the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services headquarters in Baltimore; the federal courthouse in Hammond, Indiana; the Federal Archives Records Center in Chicago; and the Denver Federal Center. The federal government isn't alone in its efforts to save the bees. The hives placed at federal sites are part of a wider network of about 1,000 hives at home gardens, businesses and institutions nationwide that combined can help determine what's helping the bees, what's hurting them and why. The GSA's Pollinator Initiative is also looking to identify ways to keep the bee population healthy and vibrant and model those lessons at other properties — both government and private sector — said Amber Levofsky, the senior program advisor for the GSA's Center for Urban Development. "The goal of this initiative was really aimed at gathering location-based data at facilities to help update directives and policies to help facilities managers to really target pollinator protection and habitat management regionally," she said. And there is one other benefit to the government honeybee program that's already come to fruition: the excess honey that's produced is donated to area food banks.
Kaija Saariaho, who wrote acclaimed works that made her the among the most prominent composers of the 21st century, died Friday. She was 70. Saariaho died at her apartment in Paris, her family said in a statement posted on her Facebook page. She had been diagnosed in February 2021 with glioblastoma, an aggressive and incurable brain tumor. "The multiplying tumors did not affect her cognitive facilities until the terminal phase of her illness," the statement said. Her family said Saariaho had undergone experimental treatment at Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris. "Kaija's appearance in a wheelchair or walking with a cane have prompted many questions, to which she answered elusively," the family said. "Following her physician's advice, she kept her illness a private matter, in order to maintain a positive mindset and keep the focus of her work." Her "L'Amour de Loin (Love from Afar)" premiered at the Salzburg Festival in 2000 and made its U.S. debut at the Santa Fe Opera two years later. In 2016, it became the first staged work by a female composer at the Metropolitan Opera since Ethel M. Smyth's "Der Wald" in 1903. "She was one of the most original voices and enjoyed enormous success," Met general manager Peter Gelb said. "It had (an) impact on one's intellect as well as one's emotions. It was music that really moves people's hearts. She was truly one of the great, great artists." Saariaho did not like to be thought of as a female composer, rather a woman who was a composer. "I would not even like to speak about it," she said during an interview with The Associated Press after a piano rehearsal at the Met. "It should be a shame." Helsinki-born Born in Helsinki on Oct. 14, 1952, Saariaho studied at the Sibelius Academy and the Hochschule für Musik Freiburg. She helped found a Finnish group "Korvat auki (Ears Open) in the 1970s. "The problem in Finland in the 1970s and '80s was that it was very closed," she told NPR last year. "My generation felt that there was no place for us and no interest in our music — and more generally, modern music was heard much less." Saariaho started work in 1982 at Paris' Institute for Research and Coordination in Acoustics/Music (IRCAM), a center of contemporary music founded in the 1970s by Pierre Boulez. She incorporated electronics in her composition. "I am interested in spatialization, but under the condition that it's not applied gratuitously," she said in a 2014 conversation posted on her website. "It has to be necessary — in the same way that material and form must be linked together organically. Inspired by viewing Messiaen's "St. Francois d'Assise" at the 1992 Salzburg Festival, she wrote "L'Amour de Loin." She went on to compose "Adriana Mater," which premiered at the Opéra Bastille in 2006 and "Émilie," which debuted at the Lyon Opéra in 2010. Award-winning work Her latest opera, "Innocence," was first seen at the 2021 Aix-en-Provence Festival. Putting a spotlight on gun violence, the work was staged in London this spring and is scheduled for the Met's 2025-26 season. "This is undoubtedly the work of a mature master, in such full command of her resources that she can focus simply on telling a story and illuminating characters," Zachary Woolfe wrote in The New York Times. Saariaho received the University of Louisville's Grawemeyer Award in 2003 and was selected Musical America's Musician of the Year in 2008. Kent Nagano's recording of "L'Amour de Loin" won a 2011 Grammy Award. Saariaho's final work, a trumpet concerto titled "HUSH," is to premiere in Helsinki on Aug. 24 with Susanna Mälkki leading the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra. The announcement of Saariaho's death was posted by her husband, composer Jean-Baptiste Barrière; son Aleksi Barrière, a writer; and daughter Aliisa Neige Barrière, a conductor and violinist.
The number of people killed in days of clashes between Senegalese police and supporters of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko has now risen to 15, including two security officers, the government said Saturday. Clashes continued in pockets of the city Friday evening with demonstrators throwing rocks, burning cars and damaging supermarkets as police fired tear gas and the government deployed the military in tanks. Sonko was convicted Thursday of corrupting youth but acquitted on charges of raping a woman who worked at a massage parlor and making death threats against her. Sonko, who didn't attend his trial in Dakar, was sentenced to two years in prison. His lawyer said a warrant hadn't been issued yet for his arrest. Sonko came in third in Senegal's 2019 presidential election and is popular with the country's youth. His supporters maintain his legal troubles are part of a government effort to derail his candidacy in the 2024 presidential election. Sonko is considered President Macky Sall's main competition and has urged Sall to state publicly that he won't seek a third term in office. The international community has called on Senegal's government to resolve the tensions. France's ministry for Europe and foreign affairs said it was "extremely concerned by the violence" and called for a resolution to this crisis, in keeping with Senegal's long democratic tradition. Rights groups have condemned the government crackdown, which has included arbitrary arrests and restrictions on social media. Some social media sites used by demonstrators to incite violence, such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter have been suspended for nearly two days. Senegalese are blaming the government for the violence and the loss of lives. One woman, Seynabou Diop, told The Associated Press on Saturday that her 21-year-old son, Khadim, was killed in the protests by a bullet to the chest. "I feel deep pain. What's happening is hard. Our children are dying. I never thought I'd have to go through this," she said. This was the first time her son, a disciplined and kind mechanic, had joined in the protests, rushing out of the house as soon as he heard Sonko was convicted, she said. "I think Macky Sall is responsible. If he'd talked to the Senegalese people, especially young people, maybe we wouldn't have all these problems," Diop said. The Associated Press cannot verify the cause of death. The family said an autopsy was underway. Corrupting young people, which includes using one's position of power to have sex with people younger than 21, is a criminal offense in Senegal, punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $6,000. Under Senegalese law, Sonko's conviction would bar him from running in next year's election, said Bamba Cisse, another defense lawyer. However, the government said that Sonko could ask for a retrial once he was imprisoned. It was unclear when he would be taken into custody. If violence continues, it could threaten the country's institutions, analysts say. "Never in their worst forms of nightmare (would) Senegalese have thought of witnessing the prevailing forms of apocalyptic and irrational violence," said Alioune Tine, founder of Afrikajom Center, a West African think tank. "The most shared feeling about the current situation is fear, stress, exhaustion and helplessness. Thus what the people are now seeking for is peace," he said. The West African country has been seen as a bastion of democratic stability in the region. Sonko hasn't been heard from or seen since the verdict. In a statement Friday, his PASTEF-Patriots party called on Senegalese to "amplify and intensify the constitutional resistance" until President Sall leaves office. Government spokesman Abdou Karim Fofana said the damage caused by months of demonstrations had cost the country millions of dollars. He argued the protesters themselves posed a threat to democracy. "These calls (to protest), it's a bit like the anti-republican nature of all these movements that hide behind social networks and don't believe in the foundations of democracy, which are elections, freedom of expression, but also the resources that our (legal) system offers," Fofana said.
Pretty Peter flipped through frantic messages from friends at home in Uganda. The transgender woman is relatively safe in neighboring Kenya. Her friends feel threatened by the latest anti-gay legislation in Uganda prescribing the death penalty for "aggravated homosexuality." Frightened Ugandans are searching for a way to get out like Pretty Peter did. Some have stayed indoors since the law was signed Monday, fearing that they'll be targeted, she said. "Right now, homophobes have received a validation from the government to attack people," the 26-year-old said, standing in a room decorated with somber portraits from a global project called "Where Love is Illegal." "My friends have already seen a change of attitude among their neighbors and are working on obtaining papers and transport money to seek refuge in Kenya," she said. That's challenging: One message to Pretty Peter read, "Me and the girls we want to come but things a(re) too hard." Another said that just one person had transport, and some didn't have passports. New anti-gay law Homosexuality has long been illegal in Uganda under a colonial-era law criminalizing sexual activity "against the order of nature." The punishment for that offense is life imprisonment. Pretty Peter, who wished to be identified by her chosen name out of concern for her safety, fled the country in 2019 after police arrested 150 people at a gay club and paraded them in front of the media before charging them with public nuisance. The new law signed by President Yoweri Museveni has been widely condemned by rights activists and others abroad. The version signed did not criminalize those who identify as LGBT+, following an outcry over an earlier draft. Museveni had returned the bill to the national assembly in April asking for changes that would differentiate between identifying as LGBTQ+ and engaging in homosexual acts. Still, the new law prescribes the death penalty for "aggravated homosexuality," which is defined as cases of sexual relations involving people infected with HIV, as well as with minors and other categories of vulnerable people. A suspect convicted of "attempted aggravated homosexuality" can be imprisoned for up to 14 years. And there's a 20-year prison term for a suspect convicted of "promoting" homosexuality, a broad category affecting everyone from journalists to rights activists and campaigners. After the law's signing, U.S. President Joe Biden called the new law "a tragic violation of universal human rights." The United Nations human rights office said it was "appalled." A joint statement by the leaders of the U.N. AIDS program, the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and the Global Fund said Uganda's progress on its HIV response "is now in grave jeopardy," as the law can obstruct health education and outreach. Legal challenges While a legal challenge to the new law is mounted by activists and academics seeking to stop its enforcement, LGBTQ+ people in Uganda have been chilled by the growing anti-gay sentiment there. The new law is the result of years of efforts by lawmakers, church leaders and others. Scores of university students marched Wednesday to the parliamentary chambers in the capital, Kampala, to thank lawmakers for enacting the bill, underscoring the fervency of the bill's supporters. The new bill was introduced in the national assembly in February, days after the Church of England announced its decision to bless civil marriages of same-sex couples, outraging religious leaders in many African countries. Homosexuality is criminalized in more than 30 of Africa's 54 countries. The top Anglican cleric in Uganda, Archbishop Stephen Kaziimba, has publicly said he no longer recognizes the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury as spiritual leader of the Anglican communion. In a statement issued after the bill was signed, Kaziimba spoke of "the diligent work" of lawmakers and the president in enacting the law. However, he added that life imprisonment is preferable to death for the most serious homosexual offenses. Warning signs There were signs a new anti-gay bill was coming in late 2022. There had been widespread concern over reports of alleged sodomy in boarding schools. One mother at a prominent school accused a male teacher of sexually abusing her son. Even some signs of solidarity or support with LGBTQ+ people have been seen as a threat. In January, a tower in a children's park in the city of Entebbe that had been painted in rainbow colors had to be reworked after residents said they were offended by what they saw as an LBTGQ+ connection. Mayor Fabrice Rulinda agreed, saying in a statement that authorities "need to curb any vices that would corrupt the minds of our children." In Kenya, Pretty Peter has watched the events closely. "Ugandans have in recent days been fed with a lot of negativities towards the LGBT, and the government is trying to flex its muscles," she said of the administration of the 78-year-old Museveni, who has held office since 1986 as one of Africa's longest-serving leaders. Pretty Peter said Kenya, a relative haven in the region despite its criminalization of same-sex relationships, is not as safe as she and fellow LGBTQ+ exiles would like it to be. Still, Kenya hosts an estimated 1,000 LGBTQ+ refugees and is the only country in the region offering asylum based on sexual orientation, according to the United Nations refugee agency.
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Editor's note: Here is a look at immigration-related news around the U.S. this week. Questions? Tips? Comments? Email the VOA immigration team: ImmigrationUnit@voanews.com. Texas County's Heat, Brushy Terrain Deadly for Border-Crossing Migrants The U.S. Border Patrol has recorded more than 8,000 migrant deaths along the U.S.-Mexico border since 1998. VOA immigration reporter Aline Barros visited a South Texas county with a high number of migrant deaths. Federal Judge Hears DACA Case; Ruling Months Away The future of a federal policy that protects from deportation hundreds of thousands of immigrants brought to the U.S. as children is in federal court. U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen heard arguments Thursday in Texas v. United States, a case brought by nine Republican-led states aimed at halting the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. He is to decide on the legality of the DACA rule issued by the Department of Homeland Security in 2022 that tried to fortify the program and correct Hanen’s earlier objection to DACA. VOA immigration reporter Aline Barros reports. US Expands Slots for Asylum App at Land Crossings as Demand Overwhelms Supply U.S. authorities on Thursday expanded slots to seek asylum at land crossings with Mexico through a mobile app for the second time in less than a month, seeking to dispel doubts it isn't a viable option. There are now 1,250 appointments daily at eight land crossings, up from 1,000 previously and 740 in early May. The Associated Press reports. Seeking Asylum and Work, Migrants Bused Out of NYC Find Hostility Before he left Mauritania, the West African nation of his birth, Mohamed thought of New York as a place of "open arms," a refuge for immigrants fleeing dire circumstances. Mohamed is one of about 400 international migrants the city has been putting up in a small number of hotels in other parts of the state this month to relieve pressure on its overtaxed homeless shelter system. Some of the relocated asylum-seekers say they now regret leaving the city, pointing to a lack of job opportunities and resources to pursue their asylum cases, as well as a hostile reception. The Associated Press reports. 52 Documentary: During the past decades, many Iranian LGBTQ+ refugees made Turkey their new home and found a community. Leo, a gender-fluid belly dancer, is one of these asylum-seekers. She performs and teaches dancing by night and regularly attends protests in Istanbul in front of the Iranian Consulate. Despite the Islamic Republic’s ban on women dancing publicly, Leo’s made a thriving career out of her passion, in Turkey. Immigration around the world Anti-Refugee Rhetoric, Forced Deportations of Syrians Increase in Lebanon As many as 1.5 million Syrian refugees have fled death and destruction engulfing their homeland by crossing into Lebanon. Their presence has drawn more hostility from Lebanese since the country’s economic crisis came to a head in 2019. Dale Gavlak reports from Jordan. 'Nothing Left': Refugees Describe City Demolished by Fighting in West Darfur Intercommunal violence and fighting between Sudanese armed forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces in West Darfur state have intensified in recent days, according to reports. Witnesses who escaped the city of Geneina say their hometown is being ripped apart. Henry Wilkins reports from Adre, Chad. Cholera Catastrophe Looming at Kenya Refugee Camp, Aid Group Warns Health care providers in Kenya's Dadaab refugee camp say an ongoing cholera outbreak is becoming a looming catastrophe. Doctors Without Borders has described the six-month-long cholera outbreak as the worst yet, amid an influx of new refugees from Somalia. Produced by Victoria Amunga Call for Better Mental Health Support for Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh, After Cyclone Mocha On a cold evening, after completing her maghreb (post-sunset) prayer, a woman holds her children close to keep them warm with her threadbare scarf. They sit huddled together outside a now-dilapidated shelter made of bamboo sticks and plastic sheets — their home. Shielded from her children’s gaze, the mother of two lets tears slip down her face. Produced by Sarah Aziz. Relocated Refugees in Malawi Decry Dehumanizing Conditions In Malawi, hundreds of people who were forcibly relocated to the country's only refugee camp are complaining of poor conditions with no food, clean water or shelter. The U.N.’s refugee agency and the World Food Program say they cannot cater to the needs of those at the highly congested camp because of funding shortfalls. Produced by Lameck Masina. News Brief — After 32 years of service to the United States Border Patrol, Chief Raul L. Ortiz announced his retirement. “Chief Ortiz tackled some of the biggest challenges the Border Patrol has had to face. He managed the critical transition out of the COVID-19 pandemic and into the enforcement of our traditional immigration authorities under Title 8 of the United States Code,” Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas wrote in a statement.
U.S. President Joe Biden signed into law on Saturday legislation that suspends the U.S. government’s debt limit through January 2025 and avoids a potentially disastrous default just days before the government runs out of cash to pay its bills. His signature came with two days to spare: the Treasury Department had said the government wouldn’t have enough money to pay all of its bills by Monday. The White House said the signing was done in private and announced it in an emailed statement. In the statement, Biden thanked congressional leaders. The Fiscal Responsibility Act is the result of weeks of tough negotiations between Democrats and Republicans. “No one got everything they wanted but the American people got what they needed,” Biden said of the debt ceiling legislation. “We averted an economic crisis and an economic collapse.” The bill allows the government to continue to borrow more money over the next 19 months to meet its obligations, exceeding the current $31.4 trillion debt limit. The Senate voted Thursday night 63-36 in support of the measure. The bill passed the House of Representatives on a 314-117 vote Wednesday night.
Richard Tsoi was attending a university studying mathematics in Hong Kong when pro-democracy protests erupted in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989. A student leader at the time, Tsoi organized rallies in the then-British colony - destined to return to Chinese sovereignty in 1997 - to support protesters in neighboring mainland China. “We wanted Hong Kong to be democratic and of course we wanted to support the students in the mainland, … but none of us could’ve guessed that on June 3 and 4, tanks would go into the city and open fire on the people. It was shocking,” Tsoi said, recalling that he and other students couldn’t sleep the night of June 3rd as they watched live coverage of the bloody crackdown on local TV. “I felt very sad and angry … we couldn’t accept the government opening fire on unarmed civilians and students. After experiencing that night, I felt that I wanted to do what I could to promote China’s democracy,” Tsoi said. Little did he know then that he would later become vice chairman of a Hong Kong pro-democracy alliance that, for the past 34 years, has organized an annual candlelight vigil - the only public commemoration allowed in China and the largest in the world, to remember victims of the crackdown, which killed hundreds and possibly 2,000 people, according to estimates. On the eve of the 34th anniversary, it has become a sad reality to Tsoi and other activists that the vigil, which had attracted tens of thousands of people to Hong Kong’s Victoria Park each year, may not be held anymore. “At this time, not only is Hong Kong no longer capable of supporting the Chinese democracy movement, they’re also no longer capable of commemorating it. The key organizers of the Victoria Park vigils are all in prison. They’re under systematic attack,” said Wu’er Kaixi, a former student leader in the Tiananmen protests. “Hong Kong has lost its freedom. Hong Kong has fallen.” The last major vigil was held in 2019. That year, Hong Kong saw widespread and sometimes violent protests against a later-rescinded extradition bill that would’ve sent suspects to the mainland for trial. In response, Beijing passed a national security law the following year, outlawing secession, subversion, collusion with foreign forces and terrorism. Analyst Tso Chen-dong said Beijing tolerated the annual vigil for years, but the 2019 protests changed everything. “The 2019 protests are an unfortunate incident. It led to the breakdown in the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) trust in Hong Kong, so it’s stepping up direct control of Hong Kong,” said Tso, a political science professor at National Taiwan University. “It’s not just about this activity anymore, to the CCP it needs to tighten control and prevent a political strength seen as hostile to the CCP from growing in Hong Kong.” In 2020-2021, the government banned the vigils, citing COVID-19 restrictions. Thousands of people defied the ban and 26 were arrested. In 2021, police sealed off the park. That same year, organizers of the vigil, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, disbanded after it was investigated for working on behalf of foreign groups — an accusation it denied. Three of its leaders are in jail facing trial on charges of inciting subversion. Last year, no one applied to hold the vigil while social distancing restrictions were still in place. This year is the first since Hong Kong has fully reopened from COVID-19 lockdowns, but again no group has applied — a reflection of a much-changed political environment. Since the security law was passed, around 250 activists, opposition politicians, hardcore protesters, newspaper publishers and journalists, have been arrested, with 150 charged and 100 convicted, according to the website ChinaFile. A new museum dedicated to teaching people about the crackdown was forced to close two years ago, after a national security investigation. Books with sensitive content, including about the Tiananmen crackdown, have been pulled from public library shelves. Statues commemorating the Tiananmen movement have been removed from universities. Instead of the vigil, the park’s open space will be taken up Sunday, June 4, by pro-Beijing groups, which will hold a carnival showcasing food from different parts of China, media reports said. According to the South China Morning Post, Hong Kong’s police are planning to deploy as many as 5,000 officers to guard against potential trouble and unauthorized gatherings this weekend. It cited sources saying security would be ramped up around Victoria Park, with officers setting up roadblocks and conducting stop-and-search checks. The government has threatened to take "resolute action" against people who use the “special occasion” to endanger national security, but has not explicitly said whether mourning the crackdown was illegal. Freedom of assembly and speech are technically still allowed under Hong Kong’s Basic Law, but those rights are widely seen as disappearing. At least eight people were apprehended by the police as they sought to commemorate the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown in Causeway Bay on Saturday, according to local media. They reported police confirmed four arrests for alleged sedition and public disorder. Those taken away included two activists who put red tape over their mouth to signify attempts to silence dissent. One of them was seen wearing a t-shirt that was printed with a candle and the Chinese word for “truth.” Two performance artists were also detained, according to reports. One of them repeatedly shouted “don’t forget June 4” and “Hongkongers don’t be afraid” as he was escorted to a police car, the Hong Kong Free Press cited footage showing. Despite planned commemorations elsewhere, including in Taiwan and New York, where the shutdown museum reopened this week, Wu’er Kaixi said Hong Kong’s annual vigils held significance not just because of their size, but because the fate of the people of Hong Kong is tied to that of the mainland. “Being a survivor of June 4th, I’m extremely grateful to Hong Kong for giving a new significance to the June 4th massacre. The commemorations can take place in other places and have always been taking place in other places, … (but) no one can replace Hong Kong,” he said. Tsoi, who served eight months in prison after defying the government’s ban and holding the vigil in 2020, remains hopeful. “Hong Kong definitely has changed. … The situation now doesn’t make people happy of course, but I don’t think it’s hopeless,” Tsoi said. “We have to be practical and continue going forward. The method can’t be like before, but I believe we’ll find a way.” Some shopkeepers are giving out free LED candles while independent bookstores are making books on Tiananmen available. Tsoi said he hasn’t decided what he will do. “Looking back, I feel proud we’ve managed to organize the vigil for 30 years, I hope everyone can carry on the legacy,” Tsoi said. “As to how much space we have to do so, it takes Hong Kong people to continue to test to see.”
A son of Libya’s late leader Moammar Gadhafi, who has been held in Lebanon for more than seven years, began a hunger strike Saturday to protest his detention without trial, his lawyer said. Hannibal Gadhafi has been held in Lebanon since 2015 after he was kidnapped from neighboring Syria where he had been living as a political refugee. He was abducted by Lebanese militants demanding information about the fate of a Shiite cleric who went missing in Libya 45 years ago. Gadhafi was later taken by Lebanese authorities and has been held in a Beirut jail without trial. Attorney Paul Romanos told The Associated Press that his client started the hunger strike Saturday morning and “he is serious and will continue with it until the end.” Romanos did not go into details of the case as he was not authorized to speak about it to the media. Gadhafi issued a statement describing his conditions. “How can a political prisoner be held without a fair trial all these years?” Gadhafi, who is married to a Lebanese woman, wrote in his statement. The Libyan citizen added that now that he is on hunger strike, “those who are treating me unjustly” will be responsible for the results. He added that “the time has come to liberate the law from the hands of politicians.” Romanos said his client suffers from back pain due to being held in a small cell for years without being able to move or exercise. The disappearance of prominent Lebanese Shiite cleric Moussa al-Sadr in 1978 has been a long-standing sore point in Lebanon. The cleric’s family believes he may still be alive in a Libyan prison, though most Lebanese presume al-Sadr is dead. He would be 94 years old. Al-Sadr was the founder of a Shiite political and military group that took part in the lengthy Lebanese civil war that began in 1975, largely pitting Muslims against Christians. Born in the Iranian holy city of Qom, al-Sadr came to Lebanon in 1959 to work for the rights of Shiites in the southern port town of Tyre. In 1974, a year before Lebanon’s 15-year civil war broke out, al-Sadr founded the Movement of the Deprived, attracting thousands of followers. The following year, he established the military wing Amal — Arabic for “hope” and an acronym for the militia’s Arabic name, the Lebanese Resistance Brigades — which later fought in Lebanon’s civil war. The group is headed by Lebanon’s powerful Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri. Since al-Sadr’s disappearance, Libya has maintained that the cleric and his two traveling companions left Tripoli in 1978 on a flight to Rome and suggested he was a victim of a power struggle among Shiites. Most of al-Sadr’s followers are convinced that Moammar Gadhafi ordered al-Sadr killed in a dispute over Libyan payments to Lebanese militias. The Libyan leader was killed by opposition fighters in 2011, ending his four-decade rule of the north African country. Even after his death, al-Sadr’s fate is still unknown. Hannibal Gadhafi was born two years before al-Sadr disappeared. He fled to Algeria after Tripoli fell, along with his mother and several other relatives. He later ended up in Syria where he was given political asylum before being kidnapped and brought to Lebanon.
Three Europeans returned home Saturday a day after being released by Iran in a prisoner swap, and Tehran said there was no reason for Europeans to be arrested if they were not "exploited" by foreign security services. The three men - two with dual Austrian-Iranian nationality and one Dane - were released Friday by Iran in return for Iranian diplomat Asadollah Assadi as part of a swap in which Iran freed Belgian aid worker Olivier Vandecasteele last week, a Belgian government spokesperson said. Assadi was convicted in Belgium in 2021 in connection with a foiled bomb plot in France and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Iran said the charges against him were fabricated. After a stop in Oman and medical tests, the three Europeans were flown to Melsbroek military airport in Belgium, which had helped secure their release. They arrived around 2:45 a.m. (0045 GMT) and were greeted by Belgian Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib, Belgium's Belga news agency reported. Danish citizen Thomas Kjems flew on to Copenhagen, landing at around 11 a.m. (0900 GMT) Saturday. "It's been up and down. I haven't really believed that this was real, but it has happened - I'm in Denmark and logic is back," he told reporters. "There has been no physical torture or anything," he said about his time spent in an Iranian prison. "I've been given my food and drink etcetera, but when your freedom is taken away from you, that's what you think about," he added. Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg tweeted photos of the two Austrians arriving in Vienna. Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian tweeted Saturday that he had told Lahbib that he hoped the prisoners' release would "open a new page" in Iran's relations with Belgium and Europe. "If some European citizens are not exploited by foreign security services, there is no reason to detain them," Amir Abdollahian said. Many Western countries have advised their nationals not to travel to Iran, citing issues including the risk of arbitrary arrests. Spy charges Austria's Foreign Ministry said its citizens, Massud Mosaheb and Kamran Ghaderi, had been released after 1,586 and 2,709 days respectively. In a statement Friday, the Belgian government said the two dual nationals were "wrongfully arrested in ... January 2016 and January 2019," while the Dane was arrested in Iran in November 2022 in connection with women's rights demonstrations. Mosaheb is the co-chairman of the Iranian-Austrian Friendship Society and had been sentenced to 10 years in prison for espionage, while Ghaderi is a businessman who was also sentenced to 10 years for espionage. On Friday, Danish Foreign Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen declined to give more information about the Danish citizen but said in a statement that he was "both happy and relieved that a Danish citizen is now on the way home to their family after having been jailed in Iran." Kazem Gharibabadi, Iran's top human rights official, said the three men were released on humanitarian grounds, Iranian state media reported. Oman also helped in getting the prisoners freed. The Gulf Arab country has good relations with both Iran and Western countries and has acted before as a mediator. Belgian government officials said that officially there were still 22 Europeans in Iranian prisons, but that no more Europeans would be exchanged for Assadi. They also said that Belgium was continuing to work for the release of Ahmadreza Djalali, a Swedish-Iranian national who guest-lectured at the university of Brussels and who was arrested in 2016 while on an academic visit to Iran. Iran has arrested dozens of foreigners and dual nationals in recent years, mostly on espionage and security-related accusations. Rights groups have criticized the arrests as a tactic to win concessions from abroad by inventing charges, an accusation Tehran denies.