The military announced late Wednesday that it was grounding all of its Osprey V-22 helicopters, one week after eight Air Force Special Operations Command service members died in a crash off the coast of Japan. The Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps took the extraordinary step of grounding hundreds of aircraft after a preliminary investigation of last week's crash indicated that a material failure — something went wrong with the aircraft — and not a mistake by the crew led to the deaths. The crash raised new questions about the safety of the Osprey, which has been involved in multiple fatal accidents over its relatively short time in service. Japan grounded its fleet of 14 Ospreys after the crash. Lieutenant General Tony Bauernfeind, head of Air Force Special Operations Command, directed the stand-down "to mitigate risk while the investigation continues," the command said in a statement. "Preliminary investigation information indicates a potential materiel failure caused the mishap, but the underlying cause of the failure is unknown at this time." In a separate notice, Naval Air Systems Command said it was grounding all Ospreys. The command is responsible for the Marine Corps and Navy variants of the aircraft. The Air Force said it was unknown how long the aircraft would be grounded. It said the stand-down was expected to remain in place until the investigation has determined the cause of the Japan crash and made recommendations to allow the fleet to return to operations. The U.S.-made Osprey is a hybrid aircraft that takes off and lands like a helicopter but can rotate its propellers forward and cruise much faster, like an airplane, during flight. Air Force Special Operations Command has 51 Ospreys, the U.S. Marine Corps flies more than 400, and the U.S. Navy operates 27. The Osprey is still a relatively young plane in the military's fleet — the first Ospreys became operational in 2007 after decades of testing. But more than 50 troops have died either in testing the Osprey or conducting training flights in the aircraft, including 20 deaths in four crashes over the past 20 months. An Osprey accident in August in Australia killed three Marines. That accident also is still under investigation.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's chief of staff on Wednesday said he wanted to arrange a meeting between the Ukrainian and Hungarian leaders amid Budapest's opposition to a proposal to start talks on European Union membership for Kyiv. Andriy Yermak said he had spoken to Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto about a possible meeting between Zelenskyy and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban - after Orban and his party publicly opposed starting membership talks. Yermak, writing on Telegram, said the two had agreed "to work on setting a suitable date for such a meeting." Unanimous approval at an EU summit next week is needed to proceed with membership talks for Ukraine and Moldova, a former Soviet republic, as recommended by the European Commission. Kyiv sees EU membership as a key step, 21 months into Russia's invasion of Ukraine, of moving closer to the West. Yermak, currently in Washington with a Ukrainian delegation discussing U.S. aid to Kyiv, said Ukraine "was counting on a positive decision" from the EU meeting. He said lawmakers in Kyiv would consider in the coming days legislation critical to Ukraine's membership bid. "We are fulfilling our obligations in full," Yermak wrote. Orban has warned that EU leaders could fail to reach a consensus on starting membership talks with Ukraine and said the issue should not be put on the summit's agenda. Distrust of Orban is high in Brussels after run-ins during his 13 years in power over the rights of gay people and migrants and tighter state controls over academics, the courts and media. Billions of euros of EU funds for Hungary have been frozen. A parliamentary resolution from his ruling Fidesz party on Monday said EU expansion "should remain an objective process based on rules and performance. "The start of membership talks with Ukraine should be based on a consensus among European Union member states... The conditions for this are not present today." Fidesz said EU leaders should thoroughly assess how Ukraine's possible membership would affect cohesion and agricultural policies within the bloc, of which the EU's poorer members, including Hungary, are among the main beneficiaries. An inflow of Ukrainian grains into the EU triggered protests from farmers in Eastern Europe last year, while Polish truckers have blockaded border crossings with Ukraine, calling on the EU to restore permits limiting transit for Ukrainian competitors. Orban will meet French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris on Thursday, ahead of the summit, his press chief said. "Orban has committed to a very public strategy of creating chaos and panic ahead of the EU Council Summit. The spectacle he is producing is designed to create stress and maximize his leverage before EU leaders meet," said Roger Hilton, a research fellow at GLOBSEC, a think tank. Former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko was prevented from leaving the country last week, with the SBU security service saying Russia intended to exploit a meeting he had planned with Orban to hurt Kyiv's interests.
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Ten Republicans who posed as fake electors for former U.S. President Donald Trump in Wisconsin and filed paperwork falsely saying he had won the battleground state have settled a civil lawsuit and admitted their actions were part of an effort to overturn President Joe Biden's victory, attorneys who filed the case announced Wednesday. Under the agreement, the fake electors acknowledged that Biden won the state, withdrew their filings, and agreed not to serve as presidential electors in 2024 or any other election where Trump is on the ballot. The 10 fake electors agreed to send a statement to the government offices that received the Electoral College votes saying that their actions were "part of an attempt to improperly overturn the 2020 presidential election results." The settlement marks the first time that any Trump electors have revoked their filings sent to Congress purporting that Trump had won in seven battleground states. Nevada on Wednesday became the third state to criminally charge fake electors, following Georgia and Michigan. Trump faces charges in Georgia and in a federal investigation of his conduct related to the January 6, 2021, Capitol riot. The settlement was announced by Law Forward, Georgetown University Law Center's Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection and the Madison-based Stafford Rosenbaum law firm. "Americans believe in democracy and the idea that the people choose their leaders through elections," said Jeff Mandell, one of the attorneys who brought the case on behalf of Democratic voters, including two who served as Biden electors. "The defendants' actions violated those bedrock principles. We brought this case to ensure that they are held accountable." There is no known criminal investigation ongoing in Wisconsin. Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul has signaled he is relying on federal investigators to look into what happened in Wisconsin, while also not ruling out a state probe. Lawsuit sought $2.4 million Democrats brought the lawsuit last year seeking $2.4 million in damages from 10 Republicans who submitted a document to Congress falsely declaring Trump as the 2020 election winner in Wisconsin. They also sued two of Trump's attorneys, including one who has already pleaded guilty to other charges stemming from the 2020 election in Georgia. The case was scheduled to go to a trial by jury in September 2024, two months before the presidential election. Under the deal, the fake electors don't pay any damages or attorneys' fees, and there is no admission of wrongdoing or liability. The Wisconsin Republican electors have long said that they were partaking in the plan in case a court later ruled that Trump had won the state. One of the fake electors, former Wisconsin state Republican Chairman Andrew Hitt, repeated that position in a statement Wednesday. "The Wisconsin electors were tricked and misled into participating in what became the alternate elector scheme and would have never taken any actions had we known that there were ulterior reasons beyond preserving an ongoing legal strategy," he said. Hitt said he has been working with the Justice Department since May of 2022, and he will not be supporting Trump in 2024. Fake electors signed fake certificates The fake elector plan hatched in seven battleground states was central to the federal indictment filed against Trump earlier in August that alleged he tried to overturn results of the 2020 election. Federal prosecutors said the scheme originated in Wisconsin. Fake electors met in Wisconsin and six other states where Trump was defeated in 2020 and signed certificates that falsely stated Trump, not Biden, won their states. The fake certificates were ignored. One of the attorneys named in the Wisconsin lawsuit, Kenneth Chesebro, pleaded guilty to a felony charge of conspiracy to commit filing false documents after being charged with participating in efforts to overturn Trump's loss in Georgia. Chesebro was charged alongside Trump and 17 others with violating the state's anti-racketeering law. The Wisconsin lawsuit cites a memo Chesebro sent to Trump's attorney in Wisconsin, Jim Troupis, in November 2020 detailing the elector plan. Fake electors agree to help Democrats Under the settlement, the 10 fake electors promised to assist the Department of Justice with its ongoing investigation. They also agreed to help the Democrats as they continue their lawsuit against Troupis and Chesebro. Troupis and Chesebro did not return voicemail messages seeking comment. The fake electors also released nearly 600 pages of documents related to their scheme, under terms of the settlement. Those show one Republican involved with the fake elector plot texting another one referring to their action declaring Trump the winner of Wisconsin as a "possible steal." The sender said they felt compelled to go along with the plan or else Trump supporters would be upset, and there "would be a target on my back." Government and outside investigations have uniformly found there was no evidence of widespread voter fraud that could have swung the election from Biden. Trump has continued to spread falsehoods about the 2020 election. Electors are people appointed to represent voters in presidential elections. The winner of the popular vote in each state determines which party's electors are sent to the Electoral College, which meets in December after the election to certify the outcome.
A Tehran court has ordered the U.S. government to pay nearly $50 billion in damages for assassinating a top Iranian general nearly four years ago, the judiciary said Wednesday. Then-U.S. President Donald Trump ordered a drone strike near Baghdad International Airport that killed General Qassem Soleimani, 62, and his Iraqi lieutenant, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, on January 3, 2020. Days later, Iran retaliated by firing missiles at bases in Iraq housing American and other coalition troops. No U.S. personnel were killed, but Washington said dozens suffered traumatic brain injuries. The Iranian judiciary's Mizan Online news agency said a Tehran court had sentenced the U.S. government to pay $49.7 billion in "material, moral and punitive damages" in response to a lawsuit filed by more than 3,300 Iranians. The court found 42 individuals and legal persons guilty, including Trump, the U.S. government, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Mizan added. Hero of Iran-Iraq War Soleimani commanded the Quds Force, the foreign operations arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. One of the country's most popular public figures, he spearheaded Iran's Middle East operations and was seen as a hero of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War. Iranian courts have now handed down several rulings against the United States. Last month, an Iranian court ordered the U.S. government to pay $420 million in compensation to victims of an abortive 1980 operation to free hostages held at the U.S. Embassy. In August, a Tehran court demanded Washington pay $330 million in damages for "planning a coup" in 1980 against the fledgling Islamic Republic. Those suits followed a series of multibillion-dollar compensation rulings against Tehran by U.S. courts. In 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered that Iranian assets frozen in the United States should be paid to victims of attacks Washington has blamed on Tehran, including the 1983 bombing of a U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut and a 1996 blast in Saudi Arabia. Tehran denies all responsibility for the attacks. It has appealed to international justice to help unlock funds of several Iranian individuals and companies that have been frozen by Washington. In March, the International Court of Justice ruled that Washington's freezing of funds was "manifestly unreasonable." But it ruled it had no jurisdiction to unblock nearly $2 billion in Iranian Central Bank assets frozen by the United States. Iran and Washington have had no diplomatic relations since the aftermath of the 1979 revolution.
Peru's former President Alberto Fujimori was released from prison Wednesday on humanitarian grounds, despite a request from a regional human rights court to delay his release. Fujimori, 85, was serving a 25-year sentence in connection with the slayings of 25 Peruvians by death squads in the 1990s. Peru's constitutional court ordered his immediate release on Tuesday, but the Inter-American Court of Human Rights asked for a delay to study the ruling. Fujimori, who governed Peru from 1990 to 2000, was sentenced in 2009 on charges of human rights abuses. He was accused of being the mastermind behind the slayings of the 25 Peruvians while the government fought the Shining Path communist rebels. The Constitutional Court on Tuesday ruled in favor of a humanitarian pardon granted to Fujimori on Christmas Eve in 2017 by then-President Pablo Kuczynski. The country's Supreme Court overturned the pardon under pressure from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in 2018 and ordered the former strongman returned to prison to serve out his sentence. After the Constitutional Court issued its latest ruling, the president of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Ricardo Pérez Manrique, in a resolution asked for the delay of Fujimori's release in order to "guarantee the right of access to justice" of the 25 people who were murdered in two massacres. "We live in an orphanhood because we do not have institutions of any kind capable of defending us," Gisela Ortiz, a sister of one of the 25 victims, told The Associated Press. "Peru gives the image of a country where the rights of victims are not guaranteed and where human rights issues have no importance." The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Turk, on Wednesday said the Constitutional Court's order to release Fujimori "is a worrying setback," adding that "any humanitarian release of those responsible for serious human rights violations must be in accordance with international law." Fujimori remains a polarizing figure in Peru. His policies improved the country's economy and pulled it out of a cycle of hyperinflation. But he also used the military to dissolve Congress and rewrite the constitution as well as to crack down on guerrilla violence. The first of the two massacres he is accused of plotting occurred in 1991 in a poverty-stricken Lima neighborhood. Hooded soldiers fatally shot 15 residents, including an 8-year-old child, who had gathered at a party. Then, in 1992, the clandestine military squad kidnapped and killed nine students and a professor from the Enrique Guzmán y Valle University. Forensic experts reported the victims were tortured and shot in the back of the head. Their bodies were burned and hidden in common graves. The accusations against Fujimori have led to years of legal wrangling. He resigned just as he was starting a third term and fled the country in disgrace after leaked videotapes showed his spy chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, bribing lawmakers. Fujimori went to Japan, his parents' homeland, and sent in his resignation by fax. Five years later, he stunned supporters and enemies alike when he flew to neighboring Chile, where he was arrested and extradited to Peru. Fujimori's goal was to run for Peru's presidency again in 2006, but instead, he was put on trial.
Iran said Wednesday that it had sent a capsule into orbit capable of carrying animals as it prepares for human missions in coming years. A report by the official IRNA news agency quoted Telecommunications Minister Isa Zarepour as saying the capsule was launched 130 kilometers into orbit. Zarepour said the launch of the 500-kilogram capsule was aimed at sending Iranian astronauts to space in coming years. He did not say whether any animals were in the capsule. He told state TV that Iran planned to send astronauts into space by 2029 after further tests involving animals. State TV showed footage of a rocket named Salman carrying the capsule. Iran occasionally announces successful launches of satellites and other spacecraft. In September, Iran said it sent a data-collecting satellite into space. In 2013, Iran said it sent a monkey into space and returned it successfully. Reports said the country's Defense Ministry built and launched the Salman rocket, while the capsule was built by the Iranian civil space agency. Media reports did not say where the launch took place. Iran usually makes launches from Imam Khomenei Space Center in northern Semnan province. Iran says its satellite program is for scientific research and other civilian applications. The U.S. and other Western countries have long been suspicious of the program because the same technology can be used to develop long-range missiles. In 2020, Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said it put the Islamic republic's first military satellite into orbit, unveiling what experts described as a secret space program.
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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Wednesday met virtually with leaders from the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations, telling them that Moscow is counting on Western unity to "collapse" next year. Attendees, including Kyiv's key allies such as U.S. President Joe Biden and U.K. leader Rishi Sunak, said they remained committed to supporting Ukraine. Their comments came amid fears that Western support for Ukraine could wane as Kyiv makes limited progress on the battlefield. “We are determined to support an independent, democratic Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders,” leaders of the G7 said in a statement after the meeting. The leaders announced actions to be taken against Russia, including banning imports of nonindustrial diamonds from Russia by January, and Russian diamonds processed by third countries by March, in an effort to decrease Russian revenue. The G7 announced additional measures, including increased enforcement of a price cap on Russian oil, and called on all third parties to immediately stop providing Russia with military materials or face a “severe cost.” The leaders also committed to increasing humanitarian efforts for Ukraine as winter approaches, calling on Russia to end its aggression and pay for the damage it has already done. As Zelenskyy met with G7 leaders, Russian President Vladimir Putin took a rare trip abroad — a one-day visit to the Middle East with stops in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia — to try to increase Russia’s standing in the region. The UAE, host country of COP28, the U.N. climate summit, is a U.S. ally with close ties to Russia. UAE officials greeted Putin warmly in Abu Dhabi. Putin also met with UAE President Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, discussing many topics, including what he called the “Ukrainian crisis,” before continuing on to talks with Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Those talks were also expected to include Ukraine. Ukrainians in the UAE for COP28 condemned Putin's visit to the region, citing environmental crimes Russia has committed in their country. “It is extremely upsetting to see how the world treats war criminals, because that’s what he is, in my opinion,” said Marharyta Bohdanova, a worker at the Ukrainian pavilion at the COP28 climate summit. “Seeing how people let people like him in the big events ... treating him like a dear guest, is just so hypocritical, in my opinion.” Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.
It was a decade ago that Capitol Hill was consumed by an urgency to overhaul the nation's immigration system, fueled in no small part by Republicans who felt a political imperative to make inroads with minority voters by embracing more generous policies. But nothing ever became law, and in the time since, Washington's center of gravity on immigration has shifted demonstrably to the right, with the debate now focused on measures meant to keep migrants out as Republicans sense they have the political upper hand. Long gone are the chatter and horse-trading between parties over how to secure a pathway to citizenship for immigrants, or a modernized work permit system to encourage more legal migration. Instead, the fights of late have centered on how much to tighten asylum laws and restrain a president's traditional powers to protect certain groups of migrants. Now, Democrats and Republicans are again struggling to strike an immigration deal — and the consequences of failure stretch far beyond the southern border. Congressional Republicans are insisting on tougher border measures as their price for greenlighting billions in additional aid to Ukraine, and the stalemate is putting the future of U.S. military assistance to Kyiv at risk as Russia's invasion of Ukraine nears the two-year mark. Democrats have "ceded the ground to Republicans on immigration and the border," said Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy director at the American Immigration Council, a nonprofit that advocates for immigrant rights. "The administration seems to see no advantage in leading on this issue, but I think that they're shooting themselves in the foot." The intractable nature of immigration debates is coming into sharp relief this week as a bipartisan group of senators tasked with finding a border deal is running out of time to reach an agreement. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, has promised to put up for a vote a nearly $106 billion emergency spending request from Biden to cover national security needs including Ukraine, Israel and the border. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, is an unwavering backer of Ukraine yet has stressed privately to President Joe Biden that the administration will need to bend on border policy to unlock that money. In remarks at the White House on Wednesday, Biden made it clear that he was prepared to agree to at least some of the changes Republicans are seeking. "I am willing to make significant compromises on the border," he said. "We need to fix the broken border system. It is broken." Behind closed doors, Democrats have resisted demands from Republicans to scale back Biden's executive powers to temporarily admit certain migrants into the country. Yet Democrats privately appear willing to concede to GOP negotiators in other areas, particularly on making it tougher for asylum-seekers to clear an initial bar before their legal proceedings can continue in the United States. That's a shift in favor of Republicans from even last year: There were similar agreements around asylum among Senate negotiators back then, but that would have been in exchange for a conditional pathway to citizenship for roughly 2 million "Dreamers" who came to the United States illegally as children. Senator Thom Tillis, a North Carolina Republican, a perennial negotiator on immigration, stressed that in "every Congress, the foundation for compromise changes." "The Democrats have to understand we lead one of the two chambers on Capitol Hill," Tillis said. "They have to understand that we rightfully will get something more conservative than some of the deals that are negotiated in the last Congress." Throughout the Senate border negotiations, the White House has remained visibly hands off, largely trying to replicate its strategy on previously successful legislative talks like those that eventually led to tougher gun restrictions becoming law. But it's also no secret the border is one issue Biden would prefer to avoid. Though Biden as vice president spearheaded the Obama administration's diplomatic efforts in Central America, the border specifically is one of the few issues that he did not manage during his 36 years in the Senate nor two terms as vice president. As president, Biden's aim has been to adopt a foreign policy approach to the border, framing the issue as a hemispheric challenge, not solely a U.S. problem. Biden almost immediately after taking office unraveled some of former President Donald Trump's more hardline policies. And last year, he oversaw the end of Title 42, the pandemic-era health restrictions at the border that had made it easier to deny migrants entry into the U.S. He has tried to broaden legal pathways while cracking down on illegal border crossings. But the number of migrants at the border, after an initial dip following the end of Title 42, has been climbing dramatically. Now, cities like Chicago, New York and Denver are struggling to manage the migrants who have been relocated to their cities, forcing Democrats in areas far north to confront similar challenges to those long faced by border states. Inside the White House, deputy chief of staff Natalie Quillian — tapped initially to oversee implementation of Biden's signature laws, like the massive infrastructure package that just turned two years old — is now coordinating the administration's response to Democratic-led cities and states that have asked for help managing the influx of migrants. "There is a fundamental shift in the Democratic Party on immigration" that has happened within the past six months, as the number of migrants in those cities has swelled, said Muzaffar Chishti, a senior fellow and director of the Migration Policy Institute office at New York University's law school. Before, Democrats would bristle at any potential discussion over the border, particularly following Trump. But Chishti added: "That's no longer true. Their backs don't go up when they see someone saying we want to make some changes in the policies at the border." Aides and allies to Biden have said the president is willing to accept new restrictions on asylum and potentially other Republican-led immigration policy changes, particularly as the numbers at the border continue to rise. His supplemental funding request, which seeks $14 billion for the border, would hire more asylum officers, increase detention capacity for migrant families and hire more immigration court judges. There's now a backlog of more than 1 million cases, and it's only increasing. Some migrants are released into the U.S. and wait for years before they are told whether they qualify for asylum. Arrests at the U.S.-Mexico border in August through October more than doubled over the previous three months as migrants and smugglers adjusted to new asylum regulations following the end of Title 42. Illegal border crossings were at 188,778 in October, down from 218,763 in September, which was the second-highest month on record. The White House decision to lump additional funding for the border in with Ukraine assistance has given lawmakers, Republicans say, an implicit nod to negotiate policy changes that would otherwise make Democrats feel uncomfortable. "The fact that they are trying to actually work and figure out what we can do to come up with border security tells me he understands the American people are getting fed up with their current posture," Tillis said of Biden and the White House. Bolstering the GOP posture even further is a new House Republican majority that is largely resistant to continued Ukraine assistance, making the price of additional aid for the White House that much higher. And unlike gun talks last year — when Democrats wielded political advantage after mass shootings galvanized public calls for increased restrictions — immigration is largely seen as an issue that is being fought on Republicans' turf. But in the Democrats' view, Trump and his hardline immigration policies, coupled with antipathy toward Ukraine aid, continue to loom large, rendering Republicans unable to close any deal that would involve irking portion of their base that remain staunchly opposed to Ukraine aid and anything less than the hardline policies they've already laid out. Senator Michael Bennet, a Democrat from Colorado, one of the chief authors of the 2013 immigration bill that never became law, said the U.S. immigration system, writ large, still needs an overhaul. But "we can't do that right now in the context of this Ukraine bill," he said. "It's too complicated. It's too far reaching. And frankly, there's no reason to be attaching the border to Ukraine funding."
When police arrived at the home of Aziz Orujov, the Azerbaijani journalist's 3-year-old daughter tried to stand between her father and the masked officials there to arrest him. Video shows the girl, her hair in pigtails and barely measuring up to her father's waist, wrap her arms around Orujov as masked men stand in the corner. "She's trying to keep Aziz from the police and tries not to let him go with them," Orujov's brother Anar Orujov told VOA. Arrested in late November on illegal construction charges that media advocates view as retaliatory, Aziz Orujov will be held in pre-trial detention for three months. If convicted, the director of the independent channel Kanal 13 faces up to three years in prison. Orujov is one of six independent journalists detained in Azerbaijan over the past two weeks. Press freedom experts say the move is politically motivated and underscores the lack of civil liberties for the media and Azeri society. "It's shocking and outrageous to see this high number of journalists being arrested in such a short time frame," said Karol Luczka, who works on Azerbaijan at the Vienna-based International Press Institute. "I haven't seen anything like this in the region." Journalists consider arrests retaliatory The first journalist detained was Ulvi Hasanli, the director of the independent outlet Abzas Media. Police arrested Hasanli early on November 20 on suspicion of illegally bringing money into the country. Police later raided his apartment and searched Abzas Media's offices. In a statement posted on Facebook, Abzas Media said Hasanli's arrest and the raid were part of President Ilham Aliyev's pressure on the outlet for "a series of investigations into the corruption crimes of the president and officials appointed by him." In the days that followed, authorities arrested Sevinj Vagifgizi, the outlet's editor in chief; Mahammad Kekalov, the deputy director; and Nargiz Absalamova, a journalist. All are in pretrial detention for terms of between three and four months and stand accused of illegally bringing money into the country. Azerbaijan's Washington embassy did not reply to VOA's email requesting comment. International groups condemn arrests One of the few remaining independent outlets in Azerbaijan, Abzas Media is known for its coverage of corruption, including allegations that touch on the ruling family. "[Abzas Media] is for ordinary people, ordinary people in Azerbaijan, ordinary readers who should know what happens in their own country. So that's why they were so dangerous," said Shahin Hajiyev, executive director of the media development fund, the Najaf Najafov Foundation. At Kanal 13, in addition to the arrest of the founder Orujov, police on December 4 arrested Rufat Muradli, a presenter, on charges of minor hooliganism and disobeying police orders. He was sentenced to 30 days in prison. Anar Orujov, Aziz's brother and Kanal 13's editor in chief, has been watching this latest media crackdown from Germany, where he has lived in exile since 2014. International press freedom and human rights groups have widely condemned the arrests. Hajiyev, who heads the media development fund, says large numbers of arrests, which have occurred before in Azerbaijan, are likely to discourage younger people from pursuing independent journalism. "It has a very negative influence on younger generations of journalists who will realize that if they [do] independent journalism, they have no future in this country," he said. Media watchdogs have said the arrests appear to be politically motivated. But Azerbaijani Minister of Internal Affairs Vilayat Eyvazov told the Committee to Protect Journalists — often referred to as CPJ — that such claims of a politically motivated crackdown are "completely groundless." Eyvazov said that Hasanli, Vagifgizi and Kekalov had smuggled "a large amount of foreign currency" across Azerbaijan's border. Gulnoza Said, the Europe and Central Asia program coordinator at the CPJ, sees a geopolitical goal in the arrests. In the wake of Azerbaijan's military victory in Nagorno-Karabakh — the disputed region that Azerbaijan took from ethnic Armenian control in September — Baku is trying to show governments that have been supportive of Armenia that it has complete control over the media, according to Said. On November 28, Azerbaijan's Foreign Ministry said it summoned the U.S., French and German envoys to condemn what it described as "illegal financial operations" in the three countries to support Abzas Media. 'Complete environment of fear' "That's supposed to serve as a warning" to not support the outlets or Armenia, Said told VOA. The media advocate told VOA that the arrests fostered a "complete environment of fear" among the country's journalists. "Right now, everybody is scared that they can be the next," she said, "and it is very likely that this wave of detentions is not over."
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Amirhossein Maghsoudloo, professionally known as Tataloo, has been handed over to Iranian authorities by Turkish police at the Bazargan border crossing, the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) news agency reported Wednesday. The IRIB report cited charges of “spreading corruption and obscenity” for his arrest. The allegations also included the alleged presence of underaged people at his residence in Istanbul. Turkish authorities on Saturday arrested Tataloo following a complaint lodged by the Consulate of the Islamic Republic. According to Iranian domestic news agencies, Tataloo visited the consulate on Friday and became involved in a confrontation with its staff, resulting in a formal complaint. Experts speculate that he could be convicted in Iran of "corruption on Earth," a judgment that comes with the death penalty. Tataloo has never performed a concert in Iran. He is known for his distinctive appearance, makeup, tattoos, unconventional attire and the provocative content in his songs, videos and social media posts. Tataloo has been criticized in Iran for various reasons, including allegedly “promoting insult and violence against women” or allegedly “encouraging teenagers to engage in sexual relationships.” Despite these critiques, he maintains a substantial fan base, known as Tatalities, who admire his notoriety and find no fault with his conduct, speech and lifestyle. He made headlines for endorsing Ebrahim Raisi in the 2017 Iranian presidential election, although he has criticized Raisi, who was elected president in 2021, since moving to Turkey. And in 2015, he made a video defending Iran’s nuclear program. A sociologist, opting for anonymity, who spoke to VOA, attributed Tataloo's prominence to the prevalent restrictions in Iran. They noted that despite the Islamic Republic's four-decade-long endeavor to establish an Islamic society, a generation of singers like Tataloo has emerged, challenging the government's religious and moral values yet garnering thousands of followers. Some information for this report came from The Associated Press.
Synagogues, mosques and other faith-based organizations are getting some help from the U.S. government as they confront a spike in hate crimes in the aftermath of the October 7 Hamas terror attack on Israel. The Homeland Security Department issued a new guide Wednesday to help religious organizations implement cost-effective strategies to improve the security of their buildings and facilities, and to help keep their congregations safe. "I wish we were all convening to have a multifaith celebration of the upcoming holidays, but we are gathered together on a more somber and sobering note,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told faith-based organizations and community leaders during a video call. “We are in a heightened threat environment in our country," he said, adding, “There is no such thing as a small act of hate.” The Department of Homeland Security is not alone in its concern. Hate crimes have been on the rise for some time, according to data tracked by the FBI, but the bureau’s director told lawmakers Wednesday that the number of cases has spiked by about 60% since October, with the vast majority of the threats targeting the U.S. Jewish community. There also have been high-profile attacks against Muslims and those of Arab or Palestinian descent, including the fatal stabbing of a 6-year-old Palestinian American boy outside Chicago in October and the shooting of three Palestinian college students in Burlington, Vermont, late last month. “The fear so many communities are facing is palpable,” U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland told faith-based leaders taking part in the call hosted by DHS. “Your communities are looking to you for guidance and protection at this difficult time. That is not an easy burden to shoulder,” he said. “We are working every day to make sure that you do not have to shoulder it alone." The new DHS guide seeks to help faith-based organizations think about how to make sure they take steps to eliminate practices that could put their members at risk from an attack. Recommendations range from forming a security and safety planning team to assess risks, to improving lighting or installing security systems to monitor buildings. It also urges faith-based organizations to create a response plan in case of an emergency and to do security exercises so that congregants are familiar with what to do in case of an attack. At the same time, DHS officials say they are focused on additional outreach to help make sure faith-based organizations have the resources they need. “We are engaging with communities, multifaith communities across the country,” Mayorkas said. “We have really increased the tempo in which we share intelligence and analysis with our private and public sector partners across the country." Homeland Security and law enforcement officials warn the greatest danger, for now, remains lone offenders or small groups who are angered by current events and may take inspiration from any number of extremist groups. They also warn, though, that the number of extremist groups calling for attacks on the U.S. in the aftermath of the October 7 terror attack on Israel is growing, and that they continue to be wary that one of those groups could try to direct an attack. “I see blinking lights everywhere I turn," FBI Director Christopher Wray told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee when asked about the threat level in the U.S. during an appearance Tuesday. "I've never seen a time where all the threats, or so many of the threats, are all elevated, all at exactly the same time,” he said.
Britain published draft emergency legislation on Wednesday that it hopes will allow its Rwandan migrant deportation plan to finally take off by bypassing domestic and international human rights laws that might block it. The Safety of Rwanda Bill, published the day after Britain signed a new treaty with Rwanda, is designed to overcome a ruling by the United Kingdom Supreme Court that the government's proposed initiative to send thousands of asylum-seekers to the East African country was unlawful. The government said that the bill was "the toughest immigration legislation ever introduced" and that it would be fast-tracked through parliament. But it suffered a blow when the immigration minister resigned over it. It shows the divisiveness of the proposals in Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's governing Conservative Party, and it could also trigger further legal challenges. "Through this new landmark emergency legislation, we will control our borders, deter people taking perilous journeys across the channel and end the continuous legal challenges filling our courts," Sunak said in a statement. He has vowed that flights would begin in the spring next year. "We will disapply sections of the Human Rights Act from the key parts of the Bill, specifically in the case of Rwanda, to ensure our plan cannot be stopped," he said in the statement. The bill will instruct judges to ignore some sections of the Human Rights Act and "any other provision or rule of domestic law, and any interpretation of international law by the court or tribunal" that might deem that Rwanda was not a safe country to send asylum- seekers. Ministers alone would also decide on whether to comply with any injunction from the European Court of Human Rights, which issued an interim order blocking the first planned flight last year. The Rwanda plan is at the center of Sunak's immigration policy, and its success is likely to be key to the fortunes of his Conservative Party, trailing by about 20 points in opinion polls, before an election expected next year and with the issue one of the biggest concerns among voters. It was not clear whether the bill will satisfy Sunak's critics on the right of the party who have called for Britain to leave the European Convention on Human Rights altogether. Earlier, former Home Minister Suella Braverman warned that a weak bill would lead to "electoral oblivion." Interior Minister James Cleverly confirmed that Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick had resigned from government after he was absent from a debate in parliament on the issue. Meanwhile, conservatives who had warned they might not support a bill that flouts international law welcomed assurances from the government that the measures were legal. "It is a bill which is lawful. It is fair and it is necessary, because people will only stop coming here illegally when they know that they cannot stay here," Cleverly told parliament. However, legal commentators said the new legislation would inevitably face challenges in the courts. "If the government had wished to avoid legal challenges and had also had a high degree of confidence that Rwanda, in fact, is — and will continue to be — a safe place, it seems unlikely that it would have chosen to introduce a bill in this form," said Nick Vineall, chair of the Bar Council. The government says the Rwanda initiative would deter migrants from paying smugglers to ferry them from Europe across the channel to Britain. Almost 29,000 people have arrived on the southern English coast without permission this year, after a record 45,755 were detected in 2022. Meanwhile, the cost of housing the 175,000 migrants awaiting an asylum decision is costing $10 million a day. In its ruling, the Supreme Court said the plan would violate international human rights laws enshrined in domestic legislation because deficiencies in the Rwanda asylum system meant migrants were at risk of being sent back to homelands where they were at risk of abuse. The government said its new binding treaty, which replaced a memorandum of understanding, together with the new law, will satisfy those concerns. Rwandan Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta said it was important that the partnership with Britain was lawful. "Without lawful behavior by the U.K., Rwanda would not be able to continue with the ... partnership," he said. The opposition Labour Party's home affairs spokesperson Yvette Cooper criticized the government's new law, saying, "The only thing stopping the British government ignoring international law completely is the Rwandan government. "[Cleverly] has a treaty and a law he knows will not stop dangerous boat crossings,” she said.
Police officers were responding Wednesday to a "confirmed active shooter" in a building at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, the university announced in a post on the social media platform X. "This is not a test," the university wrote. "RUN-HIDE-FIGHT." Las Vegas police said in a separate post on X that there appeared to be multiple victims. The university said the shooter was at the Beam Hall, Frank and Estella Building, home of UNLV's Lee Business School, which sits near the student union.
Agriculture and climate experts say there is good news for the world’s small farmers in a declaration endorsed by 134 world leaders during the opening days of COP28, the global climate summit unfolding this month in Dubai. In what is known as the COP28 UAE Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems, and Climate Action, the leaders have mobilized more than $2.5 billion to begin addressing agriculture-related climate issues, summit officials announced. The declaration was accompanied by the announcement of several other initiatives, including a $200 million partnership between the host UAE and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to go toward agriculture-related research. “Countries must put food systems and agriculture at the heart of their climate ambitions, addressing both global emissions and protecting the lives and livelihoods of farmers living on the front line of climate change,” said Mariam bint Mohammed Almheiri, UAE minister of climate change and environment, at the release of the declaration on December 1. “Today’s commitment from countries around the world will help to build a global food system fit for the future,” she said. Agriculture and climate experts have enthusiastically welcomed the recognition of the link between food and climate in the declaration, endorsed by countries representing more than 5.7 billion people and nearly 500 million farmers. “If all this is well-managed with farmers at the center of operations, accompanied by civil society organizations, these resources and partnerships will enable farmers to scale up the sustainable food systems they are already practicing, but with limited means,” said Richard Ouedraogo, project manager for the Secrétariat Permanent des Organisations Non Gouvernementales (SPONG) from Burkina Faso. “This will considerably reduce their vulnerability when it comes to food, and they will be able to take a greater interest in and give more of themselves to climate change issues by putting into practice and scaling up techniques to combat climate change,” he told VOA. Rosinah Mbenya, country coordinator for a Kenyan network of agriculture-oriented nongovernmental orgranizations, was similarly hopeful in an interview on the sidelines of the Dubai conference. The declaration “gives hope that the small-scale farmers and pastoralists will be at the center of climate action through increased attention on resilient programs and financing,” said Nbebya, whose group, known as PELUM Kenya, promotes agro-ecological principles and practices to improve the livelihoods and resilience of small-scale farmers and pastoralists. The new funding is expected to boost the sort of initiatives already underway in places like Ethiopia, where a warning system has helped farmers save millions of dollars by avoiding losses from a crop disease. Farmers in several African countries are also growing new varieties of crops that are more resilient to stress caused by climate changes. But the experts say there is a growing gap between what farmers hope for and the resources available to help them. Climate models show that in Africa and Southeast Asia, where small family farms are vital for food and jobs, there could be a significant drop in food production, leading to greater poverty, hunger and economic inequality in these regions. Edward Leo Davey, who has advised the COP28 presidency on food this year, said if leaders in the signatory countries move toward genuine implementation of the declaration in their nations, “this will represent a significant positive step forward in the lives of smallholder farmers.” “Farmers across these regions and elsewhere require support and financing for extension services, including more resilient and diverse seed varieties,” said Davey, the London-based partnerships director for the Food and Land Use Coalition at the World Resources Institute. He said they also have needs for “more resilient and diverse seed varieties; for digital technology and access to meteorological data; and for the kinds of infrastructure and access to capital that will enable them to get their products more quickly and safely to market in the context of a changing climate.” Ewi Stephanie Lamma, a self-employed climate justice advocate from Cameroon, noted that the declaration encourages farmers to adopt sustainable farming techniques, such as agroecology, organic farming and agroforestry, as is being done by the Voices for Forests Alliance in her home country. These environmentally friendly practices “help reduce the use of harmful agrochemicals, conserve water resources, and protect soil health,” she told VOA. “Adaptive measures, such as crop diversification, improved irrigation systems, enable farmers to better withstand climate-related risks.”
Paranoia has become something of a way of life for Sarada Taing, ever since the journalist received violent threats from a pro-government social media personality in Cambodia in June. In one audio message sent via Facebook Messenger on June 19, Pheng Vannak, a former police officer, said he “wants to chop my head if I come to Cambodia,” said Taing, who lives in Washington. In a second audio message, the caller said he knew people in the United States who also hated Taing. Days later, on June 22, Vannak hosted a Facebook Live discussion, during which he said he would not think twice about killing Taing. Both messages — reviewed and translated by VOA — are profanity-laced tirades that include threats of sexual violence against the journalist’s family. "I feel really shocked, and I got really scared. My family is very scared,” said Taing. “I don’t have any mechanism to protect myself very much.” Corruption accusation Taing said Vannak had harassed him for several years, but the latest incidents appeared to come after the media outlet Taing works with aired a report about a Cambodian businessman accused of corruption. Vannak, who runs a Facebook news page with nearly 685,000 followers, did not reply to a VOA request for comment. A dual U.S.-Cambodian citizen, Taing is chief correspondent at The Cambodia Daily, a media outlet that operates in exile under the name of an independent English-language media outlet shuttered in 2017. On his Khmer-language video show “Idea Talk,” Taing attracts between 50,000 and 80,000 viewers as he challenges the Cambodian government on corruption, human rights, environmental issues and other topics. Taing said his experience of being harassed underscores the even steeper challenges for journalists who work inside Cambodia. Most independent news outlets there have been shuttered and authorities harass critical reporters, press freedom watchdogs say. Taing’s experience accentuates trends that exist beyond Cambodia, too, with authoritarian governments targeting dissidents outside their borders in a tactic known as transnational repression. Freedom House documented 10 cases of physical transnational repression perpetrated by the Cambodian government between 2014 and 2022, according to Grady Vaughan, who co-authored the nonprofit’s December report on transnational repression targeting reporters. “They don’t want any opposition forming in exile,” Vaughn said, referring to Cambodia’s authoritarian government. “So they try to intimidate these people into silence.” Media watchdogs including Reporters Without Borders, or RSF, and local journalists still working inside Cambodia echo Taing’s concerns. “Press freedom in Cambodia is in a deplorable state,” RSF’s Arthur Rochereau told VOA from Taiwan. Still, audiences inside the country rely on the few independent voices — including those run from exile — that report. “People depend on us so much,” said Taing, who moved to the United States in 2008. “The most important thing is they want to hear the truth about what’s happening, about what’s going on in Cambodia.” Online harassment is par for the course with reporting on Phnom Penh, but Taing said the June threat was more extreme than anything faced previously. During a reporting trip to New York in September, Taing said he felt nervous while covering a protest against Cambodia’s newly installed leader, Prime Minister Hun Manet, the son of Hun Sen, who led the country for nearly four decades of strict rule. "I have to be really careful. I don’t know who likes or who doesn’t like me,” Taing said. Foreign-based news sites blocked The threats against Taing came just a few weeks before a major Cambodian election in July. Ahead of the election, the Cambodian government blocked multiple foreign-based news websites, according to Rochereau. Cambodia’s democratic transition in the early 1990s brought a vibrant media landscape, according to Rochereau. But “2017 marked a turning point as former Prime Minister Hun Sen and his clan, fearing a loss of power, launched a war against Cambodian media,” he said. Out of 180 countries, the Southeast Asian country now ranks 147th in terms of press freedom, according to RSF. This new period has been punctuated with media closures, including earlier this year when authorities shut Voice of Democracy, one of the few remaining independent outlets. Cambodia’s Washington embassy did not reply to a VOA email requesting comment. The environment takes a toll on journalists like Mech Dara who still work inside Cambodia. When Voice of Democracy shut down, it was the third time an outlet Dara worked at had been silenced. He worked at The Cambodia Daily when it was shuttered in 2017. The following year, he worked at The Phnom Penh Post when the outlet was sold to a public relations firm that had done work for the government. “The space is getting narrower, and the stakes are very high,” Dara, now a freelance journalist in Cambodia, told VOA. This fall, Voice of Democracy relaunched from the United States. Every step in the reporting process is a struggle in Cambodia, Dara said, from pitching stories and finding sources to the intimidation and harassment that can come after stories are published. The journalist said he has been arrested before over his work but added that’s just part of the job. “We are fearful,” Dara said. “But I am the one who picked this path, so I have to walk through that path. I know that something could happen, but I don’t know when. I don’t know how.” 'I fear for my life' Back in Washington, family is top of mind for Taing. He lives with his young son, his wife and her elderly parents. In an effort to improve their security, Taing changed the locks on his doors, added a digital security code and installed video surveillance. He said he also emailed the FBI and the State Department. “I fear for my life and the life of those close to me due to my work as a journalist,” he wrote. But more than anything, Taing worries about his family members who still live in Cambodia. Despite safety concerns, Taing said he has never considered stopping his work. He said a love for his birth country motivates him. "I want to see Cambodia have more freedom, more democracy and respect of human rights,” Taing said. “I want the Cambodian people to have real democracy, to have real peace, to have justice.”