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Voice of America’s immigration news - May 26, 2023 - 19:00
Give us 5 minutes, and we'll give you the world. Around the clock, Voice of America keeps you in touch with the latest news. We bring you reports from our correspondents and interviews with newsmakers from across the world.

Debt Ceiling Deadline Is Extended to June 5, Yellen Says

Voice of America’s immigration news - May 26, 2023 - 18:55
U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said Friday the projected debt ceiling deadline is extended to June 5, four days later than previously estimated. Yet, Yellen renewed her warning in a letter to Congress that inaction on raising the borrowing limit would "cause severe hardship." Yellen's latest letter to legislators on the "X-date" came as Congress broke for the long Memorial Day weekend. She said that the Treasury Department had deployed an extraordinary measure not used since 2015 to get the U.S. financial position to this point. The X-date arrives when the government no longer has enough of a financial cushion to pay all its bills, having exhausted the measures it's been using since January to stretch existing funds. Earlier Friday, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said his Republican debt negotiators and the White House were straining to wrap up an agreement with President Joe Biden to curb federal spending and lift the nation's borrowing limit ahead of the fast-coming deadline. They had hoped to end weeks of frustrating talks and strike a deal by this weekend. Treasury now says the government could start running out of money as soon as a week from Monday, sending the U.S. into a potentially catastrophic default with economic spillover around the world. "The world is watching," said International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva after meeting Friday with Yellen. "Let's remember we are now in the 12th hour." Democrat Biden and the Republican speaker were narrowing differences, laboring to lock in details on a two-year agreement that would restrain federal spending and lift the legal borrowing limit past next year's presidential election. Any deal would need to be a political compromise, with support from both Democrats and Republicans to pass the divided Congress. "We know it's a crunch," McCarthy said as he arrived at the empty Capitol, acknowledging more progress needed to be made. In remarks at the White House honoring Louisiana State University's champion women's basketball team, Biden gave a shoutout to one of his top negotiators saying she's "putting together a deal, hopefully." He was referring to Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young who attended the event as did Representative Garret Graves of Louisiana, a top Republican negotiator. While the contours of the deal have been taking shape to cut spending for 2024 and impose a 1% cap on spending growth for 2025, the two sides remain stuck on various provisions. The debt ceiling, now at $31 trillion, would be lifted for two years to pay the nation's incurred bills. Lawmakers are tentatively not expected back at work until Tuesday, just two days from the June 1 "X-date" when Treasury Secretary Yellen had said the U.S. could face default. Biden will also be away this weekend, departing Friday for the presidential retreat at Camp David, Maryland, and Sunday for his home in Wilmington, Delaware. The Senate is on recess and will return after Memorial Day. Weeks of negotiations between Republicans and the White House have failed to produce a deal — in part because the Biden administration resisted negotiating with McCarthy over the debt limit, arguing that the country's full faith and credit should not be used as leverage to extract other partisan priorities. Meanwhile, Fitch Ratings agency placed the United States' AAA credit on "ratings watch negative," warning of a possible downgrade.

Thai Pro-democracy Activists Urge Senate to Respect Vote

Voice of America’s immigration news - May 26, 2023 - 18:19
Thais voted for the progressive Move Forward Party to lead their next government. But over a week later, powerful political enemies are blocking the party's progress — and forcing an early climbdown over the controversial royal defamation law. Vijitra Duangdee reports from Bangkok.

Taiwanese Reporters Blocked from Covering World Health Assembly

Voice of America’s immigration news - May 26, 2023 - 18:04
Two Taiwanese reporters who had been accredited to cover this week's World Health Assembly in Geneva were told on Monday they would not be allowed to obtain their press passes in a move press freedom advocates say was likely caused by pressure from China. On Monday, Judy Tseng and Tien Hsi-ju, reporters with Taiwan's Central News Agency (CNA), were blocked from covering the 76th World Health Assembly held by the World Health Organization (WHO), even though the reporters had their press credentials approved a week earlier. This is the latest incident in which the World Health Assembly, or WHA, has denied media accreditation to Taiwanese nationals and media, which observers say underscores the intersection of press freedom and global politics. The WHA has regularly denied them accreditation since 2017, according to the press freedom group Reporters Without Borders, or RSF. The WHA also rejected Taiwan's request to join the gathering this year. A Central News Agency report on this week's incident written by Tseng and Hsi-ju cited a United Nations staff member who blamed the situation on pressure from China. "They know everything," the staff member reportedly said. Wanchi You, a member of the Association of Taiwan Journalists executive committee, said, "China has for years used its influence to restrict the participation of Taiwanese reporters in international events. And this limits the ability of Taiwanese media to report on global issues and undermines the principles of transparency, accountability and equal access to information." The Chinese Embassy in Washington said it was "not aware of the specifics" of this week's WHA incident and directed VOA to China's Permanent Mission in Geneva, which did not immediately reply to VOA's email requesting comment. Beijing claims Taiwan, a self-ruling island, as its own territory and perceives the accreditation of Taiwanese reporters at international events as an affirmation of Taiwanese sovereignty, RSF's East Asia Bureau Director Cédric Alviani said. Barring Taiwanese reporters from covering international events is just one way Beijing tries to isolate Taipei on the international stage. The Association of Taiwan Journalists said in a statement, "It is imperative for the United Nations and its affiliated organizations to uphold the value of press freedom they endorse while urging the WHA to abstain from restricting journalists' interviewing rights based on their nationality." Out of 180 countries, China ranks 179 in terms of press freedom, according to RSF. Taiwan ranks 35. "We ask for the United Nations to respect the right of journalists to do their job irrespective of their nationalities,” a CNA spokesperson said in a statement. “The World Health Organization should mend its way by opening the proceedings of the current World Health Assembly to reporters from Taiwan." "The United Nations headquarters are open to individuals in possession of identification from a State recognized by the UN General Assembly," Rolando Gómez, a spokesperson at the UN office in Geneva, told VOA in an emailed statement. Taiwan is not a U.N. member state. "The accreditation for journalists entering the premises of the United Nations (U.N.) in Geneva is handled by the U.N.," WHO spokesperson Margaret Harris said in an emailed statement. "The WHO secretariat made no decision related to the accreditation of reporters to the U.N. premises," including Tseng and Hsi-ju. There was a period between 2009 and 2016 when Taiwanese reporters had an easier time covering these sorts of international events, according to RSF, but that period ended in 2017. RSF's Alviani said that now Taiwanese reporters sometimes don't even bother requesting accreditation for these events because they assume they'll be denied. "Somehow it's about Taiwanese sovereignty," Alviani told VOA. "I want to insist on the fact that we are talking of journalists. We are not talking about government representatives." Alviani added that there is not a clear U.N. policy on how to handle these issues. "It is inconsistent, it is discriminatory and it is unacceptable," he said. U.S. State Department spokesperson Matt Miller said Washington was disappointed that Taiwan was not permitted to attend the WHA. "We did strongly encourage the WHO to invite Taiwan to participate as an observer at the World Health Assembly," Miller said during a Thursday briefing. "We were disappointed that they decided not to do so."

Pentagon Promising to Unleash Cyber Campaigns if Needed

Voice of America’s immigration news - May 26, 2023 - 18:03
U.S. military leaders are starting to unveil the updated Defense Department cyber strategy, calling for troops to "campaign in and through cyberspace" in order to defend the country.  The Pentagon on Friday announced it shared a classified version of its 2023 Cyber Strategy with Congress earlier this week and promised to produce an unclassified summary of the new strategy in the coming months. The new cyber strategy updates the previous one, issued in 2018, and "is informed by years of real-world experience of significant [Defense Department] cyberspace operations," according to a Pentagon statement. Those operations include 47 deployments to 22 countries by U.S. Cyber Command "hunt forward teams," most recently to Latvia and Albania. Hunt forward teams also played a role in securing the 2020 presidential election. U.S. officials have likewise been learning from Russia's attempts to use cyberattacks as part of its invasion of Ukraine. "The department will maximize its cyber capabilities in support of integrated deterrence, employing cyberspace operations in concert with other instruments of national power," the Defense Department said Friday in a separate, unclassified fact sheet. It also warned that U.S. military cyber teams "will campaign in and through cyberspace below the level of armed conflict to reinforce deterrence and frustrate adversaries." In line with previous statements and congressional testimony from top Pentagon officials, the new cyber strategy lists China as the main threat. "The People's Republic of China (PRC) represents the department's pacing challenge," according to the strategy fact sheet. "The PRC has made significant investments in military cyber capabilities and empowered a number of proxy organizations to pursue malicious cyber activities against the United States." Earlier this month, the director of the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, or CISA, warned that China would very likely turn to cyberspace should tensions between Beijing and Washington boil into something more. "In the event of a conflict with the U.S., we will almost certainly see China use aggressive cyber operations against our critical infrastructure and almost certainly be able to disrupt critical infrastructure," Jen Easterly told a forum organized by the Special Competitive Studies Project.   Just this past week, CISA, along with the FBI, the U.S. National Security Agency and partners from Australia, Britain, Canada and New Zealand, issued a warning about cyber activity by a China-linked threat actor known as Volt Typhoon.    A separate report this week, issued by tech giant Microsoft, warned that Volt Typhoon "is pursuing development of capabilities that could disrupt critical communications infrastructure between the United States and Asia region during future crises." It also cautioned that the Chinese-backed cyber actor already "has targeted critical infrastructure organizations in Guam and elsewhere." Other top threats in the 2023 Pentagon Cyber Strategy include Russia, North Korea, Iran, terror organizations and crime syndicates. Additionally, the Pentagon said the new strategy complements the 2023 National Cybersecurity Strategy, launched by the White House earlier this year. White House cybersecurity officials said the national strategy calls for a more aggressive response from all aspects of the U.S. government to any malicious cyber activity. "We are certainly in a more forward-leaning position to make sure that we're protecting the American people from these threats," a senior administration official said during the rollout in March, adding that that included the use of military tools. "These are options that the president has, and we're certainly open to using all of them," the official noted.  Patsy Widakuswara contributed to this report.

UN Weekly Roundup: May 20-26, 2023

Voice of America’s immigration news - May 26, 2023 - 18:00
Editor's note: Here is a fast take on what the international community has been up to this past week, as seen from the United Nations perch. Seven-day cease-fire in Sudan The United Nations welcomed the start on Monday of a U.S.-Saudi brokered 7-day cease-fire across Sudan, intended to allow civilians and humanitarians to move safely. While fighting has continued during previous cease-fires, this one was agreed upon during formal negotiations and has a basic monitoring mechanism. As of Friday, sporadic clashes had been reported between the warring Sudanese army and rival Rapid Security Forces in the capital, Khartoum and in West Darfur, which has seen deadly fighting. 7-Day Cease-Fire Starts in Sudan The U.N. refugee agency is moving tens of thousands of Sudanese refugees in Chad away from the Sudan border into new camps. UNHCR's visiting deputy says concerns about security and access to aid are increasing, along with the number of refugees. Watch this report from Henry Wilkins at the Gaga refugee site in Chad: UN Moves Sudanese Refugees in Chad Away From Border UN chief: Warring parties must protect civilians U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Tuesday that the world is failing to live up to its commitments to protect civilians, an obligation that is preserved in international humanitarian law. Guterres said international humanitarian law “is the difference between life and death” in conflict zones. UN Chief: Warring Nations Must Protect Civilians Ukrainian exports at their lowest since grain deal began Despite renewal of the Black Sea Grain Initiative on May 17, exports of grain and food from Ukraine have slowed to their lowest levels this month since they resumed under the deal in August, as Russian officials repeat complaints that Moscow is not benefiting enough from the initiative. The Istanbul-based Joint Coordination Center that oversees the implementation of the deal said Friday that only two of the three Ukrainian ports authorized to receive and send ships are working, no new vessels have been registered to participate in the initiative in nearly a month, and the number of daily ship inspections have dropped significantly. Ukrainian Exports Under Black Sea Deal Hit Lowest Levels UN rights chief urges Iran to decriminalize mandatory hijab for women The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights urged Iran on Wednesday to decriminalize mandatory veiling laws, warning that the harassment of women, including what they do or do not wear, appears to have intensified as street protests have died down. Volker Türk urged Tehran “to heed Iranians’ calls for reform,” and to begin by repealing regulations that criminalize violations of mandatory dress codes. Parliament is considering tightening penalties for people and institutions that fail to comply with regulations. UN Rights Chief Urges Iran to Decriminalize 'Mandatory Veiling Laws' Funding for Horn of Africa drought-affected countries falls far short Donors raised around $1 billion Wednesday in new commitments for the drought-stricken Horn of Africa during a pledging conference held at the United Nations but failed to close the gap on an appeal seeking $7 billion. The U.N. says the $7 billion is needed this year to assist nearly 32 million people in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia who are facing acute food insecurity after five failed rainy seasons caused unprecedented drought. UN: Substantial Funds Still Needed for Drought-Stricken Horn of Africa In brief — Secretary-General Guterres welcomed the arrest of Rwandan fugitive Fulgence Kayishema in South Africa, for allegedly committing genocide and crimes against humanity in Rwanda in 1994. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda charged him in 2001 with having orchestrated the killings of more than 2,000 people on April 15, 1994, at a church in Nyange, Kibuye Prefecture, in western Rwanda. A U.N. spokesperson said the arrest sends a powerful message that those who are alleged to have committed such crimes cannot evade justice and will eventually be held accountable, even more than a quarter of a century later. — The humanitarian community appealed for $333 million on Tuesday to help 1.6 million people impacted by Cyclone Mocha in the Myanmar states and regions of Rakhine, Chin, Magway, Sagaing and Kachin. The U.N. says it’s in a "race against time" to provide people with shelter and prevent the spread of water-borne diseases. — The World Health Organization will begin Africa’s largest polio vaccination campaign since 2020 on Saturday, aiming to immunize 21 million children under the age of 5. Vaccinations will begin in Cameroon, Chad, Niger and the Central African Republic. The Lake Chad region has one of the highest proportions of so-called “zero dose” children – those who are unvaccinated or under-vaccinated. The campaign comes in response to 14 detections of the poliovirus this year. Quote of note “But the fact of the matter is that today’s world leaders have thus far failed miserably by putting selfish national interests ahead of urgent global needs. They have failed to see the big picture — that the world will sink or swim together — or they have decided to play a dangerous game of chicken — demanding that others do more to curb CO2 emissions.” Former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and current member of The Elders, regretting that his generation is passing the climate crisis to the next, during his commencement address to graduates at Harvard’s Kennedy School this week. What we are watching next week The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency is due to brief the Security Council on Tuesday. Rafael Grossi has been seeking a demilitarized zone around the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant for months and has made several trips to Ukraine and Russia in its pursuit. Did you know? The U.N. marked the 75th anniversary of U.N. Peacekeeping on Thursday. The first U.N. mission of military observers was deployed to the Middle East in 1948. Since then, there have been 71 operations around the world. More than 2 million peacekeepers – or “blue helmets” as they are known for their distinctive colored head gear – from 125 countries have served. Women did not really participate until the 1990s. Today, women make up about 9% of the 87,000 peacekeepers serving in a dozen missions. It is not easy or safe work; more than 4,200 have died in the line of duty since 1948.

VOA Newscasts

Voice of America’s immigration news - May 26, 2023 - 18:00
Give us 5 minutes, and we'll give you the world. Around the clock, Voice of America keeps you in touch with the latest news. We bring you reports from our correspondents and interviews with newsmakers from across the world.

VOA Newscasts

Voice of America’s immigration news - May 26, 2023 - 17:00
Give us 5 minutes, and we'll give you the world. Around the clock, Voice of America keeps you in touch with the latest news. We bring you reports from our correspondents and interviews with newsmakers from across the world.

Ukrainian Exports Under Black Sea Deal Hit Lowest Levels

Voice of America’s immigration news - May 26, 2023 - 16:47
Despite renewal of the Black Sea Grain Initiative on May 17, exports of grain and food from Ukraine have slowed to their lowest levels since they resumed last August under the deal, while Russian officials repeat complaints that Moscow is not benefiting enough from the initiative. The Istanbul-based Joint Coordination Center (JCC) that oversees the implementation of the deal said Friday that only two of the three Ukrainian ports authorized to receive and send ships are working, and no new vessels have been registered to participate in the initiative in nearly a month. Earlier this month, Russia had threatened to withdraw from the grain deal, which has facilitated the export of more than 30 million metric tons of grain and other foodstuffs from Ukraine in the past 10 months, helping to lower global food prices. A parallel Memorandum of Understanding between Russia and the United Nations has made inroads in easing concerns of anxious banks, insurers, shippers and other private sector actors about doing business with Russia. Moscow agreed on May 17 — just hours before the deal would have lapsed — to renew it for another 60 days. However, on Friday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin again said the deal is not working. "Not only is the Russian-U.N. memorandum not being implemented, but even the Russian ammonia exports stipulated under both agreements, including from the port of Yuzhny, as mentioned in the Black Sea initiative, are not being made,” Vershinin said, according to Russian news agency Tass. The export of fertilizer, including ammonia, is part of the initiative, and on Friday the JCC said “there have been no such exports so far.” Food and fertilizer products are not under Western sanctions, and the U.S., Britain, and the European Union have provided so-called “letters of comfort” to businesses to ease their concerns about trading in them with Russia. “We’re trying to push things forward on different tracks, all with the same aim of getting as much food and fertilizer to those who desperately need it,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said of the organization’s efforts to lower barriers to Russian exports. Ukrainian exports are moving slowly. Data from the JCC show that May’s exports are far below their monthly averages and capacity. Just over 1 million metric tons have been exported so far in May from the Ukrainian ports of Chornomorsk and Odesa, and none from the port of Pivdennyi/Yuzhny. In previous months, it has averaged around 3 million metric tons. U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Brink said Thursday on Twitter that Russia is obstructing exports from Pivdennyi and that 28 vessels are waiting to enter the port.   Ships must be inspected by the JCC on their inbound and outbound journeys to Ukraine. Vessel inspections have substantially slowed to an average of 3.2 a day, down from a high of 10.6 in October. Diplomats have previously blamed Russia for slowing inspections at the JCC. The JCC said based on information it received from Ukraine, there are 54 vessels waiting to move to Ukrainian ports. Out of these, 11 applications have been shared with the JCC for registration. There are also 13 vessels loading in Ukrainian ports — six in Chornomorsk and seven in Odesa. Before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the World Food Program purchased more than half of its wheat from Ukraine. Since the Black Sea Grain Initiative began in August, WFP has been able to retrieve 625,000 metric tons of grain for its operations. On Friday, the JCC said it registered two WFP-chartered vessels to sail to Ukraine to pick up cargo.

Turkey's Presidential Candidates Eye Nationalist Support to Win

Voice of America’s immigration news - May 26, 2023 - 16:44
Ahead of Turkey’s presidential runoff election on Sunday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his main contender Kemal Kilicdaroglu are both eyeing voters who back the country’s various nationalist parties. Nationalist parties like Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Good Party (IYIP), Victory Party (ZP) and Great Unity Party (BBP) received more than 23% of the votes in the parliamentary election on May 14, which made Turkish nationalists “the winner of the election,” according to some experts. “Political parties and candidates that define themselves [as] nationalist achieved an outstanding number of votes that no one could foresee,” Ismet Akca, a political scientist formerly with Istanbul’s Yildiz Technical University, told VOA. Kemal Can, a veteran journalist and commentator at digital media outlet Medyascope, does not find the increase in the nationalist votes significant, but thinks that the nationalist parties gained bargaining power. “As a result of these elections, we can say that both the visibility and bargaining ability of nationalism increased rather than the numerical increase,” Can told VOA. Endorsements On Monday, the nationalist ATA alliance’s presidential candidate Sinan Ogan, who placed third in the first round of the presidential election May 14, announced his endorsement of Erdogan, who got 49.52% of the votes in the first round. Ogan also highlighted that his candidacy made Turkish nationalists the key players in the election and explained why he is backing Erdogan as his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the People’s Alliance hold the majority in the parliament. Even though Ogan received 5.2% of the votes in the first round, Kemal Can thinks that Ogan will not be able to carry his support in its entirety to Erdogan. “Ogan was presented as a candidate in front of a group of voters and [received] a reaction,” Can told VOA. “He did not collect these votes; they are not his own votes. They are the votes of an alliance and reactionary votes,” Can added. On Wednesday, Umit Ozdag, the head of the far-right Victory Party, the leading party in the ATA alliance, endorsed Erdogan’s rival Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who received 44.88% of votes in the first round. Kilicdaroglu has toughened his tone before the second round of the election as he pledged to send Syrian refugees back and to end terrorism in his campaign posters. At the same time, Erdogan has repeatedly suggested links between him and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Kilicdaroglu has denied this allegation. Kurdish support Ozdag and Kilicdaroglu also signed a seven-point protocol Wednesday on the principles of their cooperation. The protocol promises to deport all the refugees, including 3.6 million Syrians in Turkey, within a year and to replace elected mayors with state-appointed trustees with court rulings in case of legal proof that shows their links with terrorism. Akca thinks the protocol is a success for Ozdag, but it puts Kilicdaroglu at risk of not receiving the Kurdish votes as he got in the first round because of the trustees. Since the 2019 local elections, at least 48 out of 65 municipalities won by the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party have been run by government-appointed trustees over terrorism allegations. Following Ogan and Ozdag’s endorsements, the pro-Kurdish Green Left Party (YSP) on Thursday reiterated its support for opposition against Erdogan in the runoff without naming Kilicdaroglu. YSP endorsed Kilicdaroglu by name in the first round. “Even though the party has declared its support for Kilicdaroglu, it remains a question how far it can mobilize its voters to go to the ballot box amid this radical nationalist frenzy,” Akca told VOA. Key party Kemal Can said that during this year’s campaign, the opposition asked the public if they wanted to see a change from the country’s current direction. The government instead framed the question as who should decide if there will be change: the Kurds or the nationalists? “We see that nationalists entered into a power play demanding the decision-making power in a reactionary way,” Can said. According to political scientist Akca, nationalists in Turkey see refugees and the Kurds as their main problems. “Existing nationalism [in Turkey] has two main problems, and one is refugees because the nationalist movement has caught a streak over the refugee problem among the public. We see a nationalism based on xenophobia,” Akca told VOA. “The second is the Kurds. ‘Let’s not allow the Kurds and the political movement representing them to become the key party.’ Sinan Ogan and the Victory Party voiced this as they were saying, ‘Everyone will see who the key is,’” Akca added. Akca views the two different endorsements by Ogan and Ozdag, the two main actors of the nationalist ATA alliance, as “a gamble on their political futures.” “Here, I find Umit Ozdağ, who has an organization like the Victory Party behind him, more advantageous than lone-wolf Sinan Ogan,” Akca said.

Russia Offers Military Support to Somalia

Voice of America’s immigration news - May 26, 2023 - 16:09
Somali diplomats said Friday that Russia had offered to help support Somalia’s armed forces in their battle against the al-Shabab terrorist group. The diplomats, who asked for anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters, said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had made the offer during talks with his Somali counterpart, Abshir Omar Jama, in Moscow. One diplomat said, “Russia was ready to provide Somalia's army with military supplies, to strengthen the government fight against al-Shabab.” The diplomats did not specify the kinds of materiel Russia was offering to Somalia, which is under a long-standing U.N. arms embargo. The U.N. Security Council imposed the embargo in 1992 after the outbreak of civil war and factional violence. The embargo was partially lifted in 2013 to help Somalia's security forces fight the Islamist militants. Russia’s offer came hours after al-Shabab militants stormed a military base manned by African Union forces from Uganda in Bulo Marer, an agricultural town in the Lower Shabelle region, about 110 kilometers south of Mogadishu. Earlier, at the opening of the talks between the two foreign ministers, Lavrov emphasized the long relationship between the two countries, which goes back to quick Soviet recognition of Somalia after it gained independence in 1960. He also said he and Jama would discuss preparations for the Russia-Africa summit scheduled for late July in St. Petersburg. Diplomatic relations In modern times, Russia and Somalia have had fairly routine diplomatic relations, with Russia sending humanitarian aid to Somalia several times. In May 2010, Somalia reacted angrily to the way Russian marines handled their rescue of a tanker, the MV Moscow University, that had been hijacked 560 kilometers off the coast of Yemen. Russian media reported at the time that 10 Somali pirates, who had taken the tanker and its crew hostage, were released on the open sea because there were no grounds to prosecute them in Russia. Somali authorities said the pirates never made it ashore and likely died at sea. Somalia’s Foreign Ministry statement at the time warned that relations with Russia might be harmed over the incident and demanded an apology from the Russian government. Since then, two Somali prime ministers, Omar Sharmarke and Hassan Ali Khaire, have met with top Russian officials requesting assistance to strengthen the Somali National Army. In recent years, Somali diplomats, who asked for anonymity, told VOA Somali that the Russian military has been eyeing Berbera port, located in the breakaway republic of Somaliland, as a potential base on the Red Sea. Last November, Russia, China, Gabon and Ghana abstained from a Security Council vote to maintain an arms embargo on Somalia, in support of Mogadishu’s strong objections. The United States and Britain supported maintaining the ban, although the measure did loosen restrictions on some weapons like portable surface-to-air missiles in recognition of the government’s improved oversight of weapons and munitions.

VOA Newscasts

Voice of America’s immigration news - May 26, 2023 - 16:00
Give us 5 minutes, and we'll give you the world. Around the clock, Voice of America keeps you in touch with the latest news. We bring you reports from our correspondents and interviews with newsmakers from across the world.

Mass Pardon in Zimbabwe Frees Convicted Rapists, Stirs Uproar 

Voice of America’s immigration news - May 26, 2023 - 15:30
Rights groups in Zimbabwe are up in arms after President Emmerson Mnangagwa's government ignored details of its own clemency order and paroled thousands of prisoners, including dangerous convicted rapists. Lawyers and rights groups say those convicted of rape should not have been released as their offenses are classified as "specified," which do not qualify for presidential pardons, according to a government clemency order issued before the pardons. Last week, government officials released 4,270 inmates who were granted amnesty by Mnangagwa as part of his effort to decongest the country’s 47 prisons. Women's and children’s advocacy groups in particular were incensed by a local television interview with four recently released inmates who confirmed they had been serving sentences for rape or statutory rape. Wounds 'reopened' In an interview, Pamellah Musimwa of Justice for Children said those convicted of rape or statutory rape should not be eligible for pardons and should be required to serve their full sentences. “It is very concerning that convicts of rape and other sexual offenses were also released through the amnesty,” she told VOA. “These offenses involve trauma and shock on the survivors … who … at least felt safe after the accused have been convicted and imprisoned. “Their wounds, which were probably healing because of the sentence, are now being reopened,” she added. “They now have to interface with unrepentant perpetrators. Besides affecting the survivor, the convicts’ release seems to trivialize the offenses.” The released rapists, she said, were bragging about their releases during the interview. “As a nation, have we done good? ... Are we saying the commission of rape is now trivial, such that the perpetrators could be released anyhow without fully serving their sentences?” Musimwa said, adding that she feared the released offenders might strike again. “I feel the release of these people is a threat to the welfare of child survivors, their relatives and even to the welfare of those that have not been abused.” A representative of Mnangagwa directed VOA’s request for commentary to the Ministry of Justice. In a brief phone call with VOA, Justice Minister Virginia Mabiza said that rapists were not supposed to have been released on parole - and then the phone call abruptly cut out. Several attempts to reach Mabiza a second time were unsuccessful. Another child rights group, Equality Now, said Zimbabwe's premature release of convicted of sexual offenders compromised public safety, denied survivors the closure they deserved and eroded faith in the criminal justice system. “By releasing prisoners convicted of sexual offenses, Zimbabwe has relegated the rights of women and girls and thus exposes them to further violation,” said Equality Now’s Jean-Paul Murunga. “We therefore call [for] immediate reversal of the decision. Further, we call [for] effective implementation of the laws against sexual violence, including proper implementation of a sexual offenders register, to ensure such [a] release is not repeated in future.” Prematurely freeing convicted rapists and perpetrators of gender-based violence sends a “chilling message that these violations are not taken seriously,” he said. “Granting early release disregards the severity of the crimes and undermines the rule of law and the trust placed in the legal system by victims and the public alike,” said Murunga, a Kenyan national. Musimwa of Justice for Children said the clemency order on which the inmates were released does not allow rapists to be on parole. Previous releases Zimbabwe’s former president, the late Robert Mugabe, pardoned thousands of inmates to make room in the country's overcrowded, cash- and resource-strapped prisons in 2016, according to the state-run Herald. The decision followed a March 2015 prison uprising over food shortages that turned violent as some prisoners attempted to break out of jail, said then-Vice President Mnangagwa. The protests resulted in the deaths of five inmates who were shot by police. As president, Mnangagwa pardoned 3,000 to ease overcrowding in 2018. Neither the 2016 nor 2018 pardons extended to those convicted of murder, treason, rape and armed robbery. Some information for this report came from Reuters.

Regulators Take Aim at AI to Protect Consumers, Workers

Voice of America’s immigration news - May 26, 2023 - 15:17
As concerns grow over increasingly powerful artificial intelligence systems like ChatGPT, the nation’s financial watchdog says it’s working to ensure that companies follow the law when they’re using AI. Already, automated systems and algorithms help determine credit ratings, loan terms, bank account fees, and other aspects of our financial lives. AI also affects hiring, housing and working conditions. Ben Winters, senior counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said a joint statement on enforcement released by federal agencies last month was a positive first step. “There’s this narrative that AI is entirely unregulated, which is not really true,” he said. “They’re saying, ‘Just because you use AI to make a decision, that doesn’t mean you’re exempt from responsibility regarding the impacts of that decision. This is our opinion on this. We’re watching.’” In the past year, the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau said it has fined banks over mismanaged automated systems that resulted in wrongful home foreclosures, car repossessions and lost benefit payments, after the institutions relied on new technology and faulty algorithms. There will be no “AI exemptions” to consumer protection, regulators say, pointing to these enforcement actions as examples. Consumer Finance Protection Bureau Director Rohit Chopra said the agency has “already started some work to continue to muscle up internally when it comes to bringing on board data scientists, technologists and others to make sure we can confront these challenges” and that the agency is continuing to identify potentially illegal activity. Representatives from the Federal Trade Commission, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the Department of Justice, as well as the CFPB, all say they’re directing resources and staff to take aim at new tech and identify negative ways it could affect consumers’ lives. “One of the things we’re trying to make crystal clear is that if companies don’t even understand how their AI is making decisions, they can’t really use it,” Chopra said. “In other cases, we’re looking at how our fair lending laws are being adhered to when it comes to the use of all of this data.” Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act and Equal Credit Opportunity Act, for example, financial providers have a legal obligation to explain any adverse credit decision. Those regulations likewise apply to decisions made about housing and employment. Where AI make decisions in ways that are too opaque to explain, regulators say the algorithms shouldn’t be used. “I think there was a sense that, ‘Oh, let’s just give it to the robots and there will be no more discrimination,’” Chopra said. “I think the learning is that that actually isn’t true at all. In some ways the bias is built into the data.” EEOC Chair Charlotte Burrows said there will be enforcement against AI hiring technology that screens out job applicants with disabilities, for example, as well as so-called “bossware” that illegally surveils workers. Burrows also described ways that algorithms might dictate how and when employees can work in ways that would violate existing law. “If you need a break because you have a disability or perhaps you’re pregnant, you need a break,” she said. “The algorithm doesn’t necessarily take into account that accommodation. Those are things that we are looking closely at. ... I want to be clear that while we recognize that the technology is evolving, the underlying message here is the laws still apply and we do have tools to enforce.” OpenAI’s top lawyer, at a conference this month, suggested an industry-led approach to regulation. “I think it first starts with trying to get to some kind of standards,” Jason Kwon, OpenAI’s general counsel, told a tech summit in Washington hosted by software industry group BSA. “Those could start with industry standards and some sort of coalescing around that. And decisions about whether or not to make those compulsory, and also then what’s the process for updating them, those things are probably fertile ground for more conversation.” Sam Altman, the head of OpenAI, which makes ChatGPT, said government intervention “will be critical to mitigate the risks of increasingly powerful” AI systems, suggesting the formation of a U.S. or global agency to license and regulate the technology. While there’s no immediate sign that Congress will craft sweeping new AI rules as European lawmakers are doing, societal concerns brought Altman and other tech CEOs to the White House this month to answer hard questions about the implications of these tools.

Cameroon Separatists Free More Than 30 Abducted Women

Voice of America’s immigration news - May 26, 2023 - 15:07
More than 30 women abducted by separatist rebels for protesting illegal taxes imposed on them have been released, the Cameroon government said Friday.  The women were taken earlier this month from Babanki, a farming village in the Northwest Region of Cameroon, along the border with Nigeria.  "We have taken the women to hospitals where they are being treated for injuries and supported psychosocially," said Simon Emil Mooh, a local government official.  The separatists were collecting monthly payments from children, women and men, imposing taxes on couples before they got married, and forcing families to pay $1,000 to bury their relatives, he said.  The Central African nation has been plagued by fighting since English-speaking separatists launched a rebellion in 2017, with the stated goal of breaking away from the area dominated by the French-speaking majority and setting up an independent, English-speaking state.  The government has accused the separatists of committing atrocities against English-speaking civilians. The conflict has left more than 6,000 people dead and displaced more than 760,000 others, according to the International Crisis Group.  Some of the women released told The Associated Press that they were tortured while in captivity.  "The separatist fighters beat me with their guns after [they] stripped me naked," Vubom Elizabeth told the AP by phone on Friday from the hospital where she was being treated. The rebels broke her left leg and arm, she said.  Separatist leader Capo Daniel said the women were freed after promising to stop protesting but warned that people would continue to be punished if they continue. The governor of Cameroon's Northwest Region, Deben Tchoffo, called on the collaboration of communities to stop the atrocities and said the government will do what it takes to protect the women from separatist brutality. 

UK Man Gets Life Sentence for Joining IS in Syria 

Voice of America’s immigration news - May 26, 2023 - 15:00
A London court jailed a British man for life on Friday for traveling to Syria to join the Islamic State group nearly a decade ago.  Judge Mark Lucraft handed Shabazz Suleman, from High Wycombe northwest of London, the prison term for making his way to Syria to enlist in the terror group, which is barred by English law.  "You went to Syria in order to join IS. You understood IS was a proscribed organization in English law," the judge said as he passed sentence at London's Old Bailey criminal court.   "Your ambition was to become a sniper," he noted.  Suleman, 27, pleaded guilty last month of preparing acts of terrorism by traveling from the U.K. to Turkey in August 2014, when he was 18, to join IS in Syria.   He disappeared while on a family holiday to Turkey, which borders Syria and has long been a gateway to the war-ravaged country for Western would-be jihadists.  Suleman was arrested at Heathrow Airport in September 2021 and charged with various terror offenses, including receiving training in the use of firearms as well as belonging to a proscribed organization.  Suleman will serve a minimum term of nine years and six months under the life sentence.  Tried to desert IS Prosecutor Duncan Atkinson told the court that while attempting to travel to Syria, Suleman was held by Turkish forces before opting to be part of a prisoner swap with IS.  Once inside Syria, he posted on social media about his experiences in IS territory and later gave incriminating interviews to Britain's Sky News.  Later he became disenchanted with jihadism and tried to desert the terrorist group, the court was told.  Following the collapse of IS, he was taken captive by a faction of the Free Syrian Army in 2017, before being transferred to Turkey and then Pakistan.  His lawyer, Abdul Iqbal, said Suleman had been an "immature and idealistic" young man who wanted to help people "in distress" and who participated in "non-combat duties" with IS.  He added that his client had decided within five months of joining the terrorist organization that he wished to flee. 

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Voice of America’s immigration news - May 26, 2023 - 15:00
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Oath Keeper Gets 8½ Years in Prison in Latest January 6 Sentencing 

Voice of America’s immigration news - May 26, 2023 - 14:40
An Army veteran who stormed the U.S. Capitol in a military-style formation with fellow members of the Oath Keepers was sentenced Friday to more than eight years in prison, a day after the far-right group's founder received an 18-year prison term in the January 6, 2021, attack.  Jessica Watkins, of Woodstock, Ohio, was acquitted of the seditious conspiracy charge that Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes was found guilty of in November, but jurors convicted her of obstruction and conspiracy to impede Congress' certification of President Joe Biden's victory.  She was the third member of the anti-government group to receive her punishment this week in one of the most serious cases the Justice Department has brought in the riot. Rhodes' 18 year-term was the longest sentence that has been handed down so far in the hundreds of Capitol riot cases.  U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta said that while Watkins was not a top leader, like Rhodes, she was more than “just foot soldier,” noting that at least three others charged in the riot wouldn’t have been there if she hadn’t recruited them to join. He sentenced her to 8½ years behind bars.  “Your role that day was more aggressive, more assaultive, more purposeful than perhaps others," he told her.  'Just another idiot' Watkins tearfully apologized for her actions before the judge handed down her sentence. She condemned the violence by rioters who assaulted police, but said she knew her presence at the Capitol “probably inspired those people to a degree." She described herself as “just another idiot running around the Capitol” on January 6.  “And today you’re going to hold this idiot responsible,” she told the judge.  The judge, for his part, said her personal story of struggling for years to come to terms with her identity as a transgender woman made it especially difficult for him to understand why she had shown “a lack of empathy for those who suffered” on January 6. Watkins testified at trial about hiding her identity from her parents during a strict Christian upbringing and going AWOL in the Army after a fellow soldier found evidence of her contact with a support group for transgender people.  During the nearly two-month trial in Washington's federal court, lawyers for Watkins and the other Oath Keepers argued there was no plan to attack the Capitol. On the witness stand, Watkins told jurors she never intended to interfere with the certification and never heard any commands for her and other Oath Keepers to enter the building.  Evidence shown to jurors showed Watkins after the 2020 election messaging with people who expressed interest in joining her Ohio militia group about “military-style basic” training. She told one recruit: “I need you fighting fit” by the time of the inauguration, which was January 20, 2021.  On January 6, Watkins and other Oath Keepers wearing helmets and other paramilitary gear were seen shouldering their way through the crowd and up the Capitol stairs in military-style “stack” formation. She communicated with others during the riot over a channel called “Stop the Steal J6" on the walkie-talkie app Zello, declaring “we are in the main dome right now.”  Another Oath Keeper and fellow Army veteran, Kenneth Harrelson, was to be sentenced later Friday. One of their other co-defendants, Florida chapter leader Kelly Meggs, was sentenced Thursday to 12 years behind bars for seditious conspiracy and other charges.  More sentencings next week Rhodes, 58, of Granbury, Texas, was the first January 6 defendant convicted of seditious conspiracy to receive his punishment for what prosecutors said was a weekslong plot to forcibly block the transfer of power from former President Donald Trump to Biden. Four other Oath Keepers convicted of the sedition charge during a second trial in January will be sentenced next week.  During his sentencing Thursday, Rhodes defiantly claimed to be a “political prisoner,” criticized prosecutors and the Biden administration, and tried to play down his actions on January 6. The judge described Rhodes as a continued threat to the United States who clearly “wants democracy in this country to devolve into violence.”  The Oath Keepers' sentences this week could serve as a guide for prosecutors in a separate January 6 case against leaders of the Proud Boys extremist group. Earlier this month, a different jury convicted former Proud Boys national chairman Enrique Tarrio and three other group leaders of seditious conspiracy for what prosecutors said was another plot to keep Trump in the White House.  Before Thursday, the longest sentence in the more than 1,000 Capitol riot cases was 14 years and two months for a man with a long criminal record who attacked police officers with pepper spray and a chair as he stormed the Capitol. Just over 500 of the defendants have been sentenced, with more than half receiving prison time.

FLASHPOINT UKRAINE: Is There A Plan To Train F-16 Pilots

Voice of America’s immigration news - May 26, 2023 - 14:35
The Ukraine Defense Contact Group met on Thursday to discuss a plan for training F-16 pilots as a hospital is destroyed in Dnipro. UNICEF looks at kids’ mental health in the war, our daily update from Kyiv. Plus more and more people are signing up to take Ukrainian language classes.

US Farmers Buffeted by War in Ukraine, High Interest Rates

Voice of America’s immigration news - May 26, 2023 - 14:12
For a second year, the war in Ukraine is adding to worries for American farmers already pinched by higher interest rates. VOA's Kane Farabaugh speaks with farmers in the Midwest state of Illinois about the impact of world events as they launch another planting season. Camera: Kane Farabaugh.