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Pro-Government Rally Planned in Serbia Amid Growing Discontent After Mass Shootings

Voice of America’s immigration news - May 26, 2023 - 11:29
Tens of thousands of people converged on the Serbian capital on Friday for a major rally in support of President Aleksandar Vucic, who is facing an unprecedented revolt against his autocratic rule amid the crisis triggered by two mass shootings that stunned the nation.  The event was somewhat overshadowed by a new crisis in Serbia's former province of Kosovo, where ethnic Serbs clashed with Kosovo police on Friday and Vucic ordered Serbian troops to be put on a "higher state of alert." Vucic also said he ordered an "urgent" movement of Serbian troops to the border with Kosovo, which declared independence in 2008.  Answering Vucic's call for what he called "the largest rally in the history of Serbia," his supporters, many wearing identical T-shirts with his portrait, were bused to Belgrade from all over the Balkan country as well as neighboring Kosovo and Bosnia.  Those working in state firms and institutions were told to take a day off from work to attend the rally in front of the parliament building. Some said that they were warned that they could lose their jobs if they didn't show up on the buses, which started arriving hours before the gathering was to start.  Serbian officials said the rally promotes "unity and hope" for Serbia.  At three large anti-government protests held earlier this month in the capital, demonstrators demanded Vucic's ouster and the resignation of two senior security officials. They also demanded the withdrawal of broadcasting licenses for two pro-Vucic television stations that they say promote violence and often host convicted war criminals and other crime figures.  Opposition protesters blame Vucic for creating an atmosphere of hopelessness and division in the country that they say indirectly led to the May 3 and May 4 mass shootings that left 18 people dead and 20 wounded, many of them schoolchildren who were gunned down by a 13-year-old schoolmate.  Vucic has vehemently denied any responsibility for the shootings, calling organizers of the opposition protests "vultures" and "hyenas" who want to use the tragedies to try to come to power by force and without an election.  "They are not against violence, they want my head," he said.  Analysts believe that by staging the mass rally, Vucic, who has ruled the country for more than a decade with a firm grip on power, is trying to overshadow the opposition protests with the sheer number of participants.  "For the first time, Vucic has a problem," said political analyst Zoran Gavrilovic. "His problem is not so much the opposition, but Serbian society that has woken up."  During the rally, Vucic is expected to announce he is stepping down from the helm of his Serbian Progressive Party and forming "a movement" that will unite all "patriotic forces" in the country. He also could call for a new parliamentary election for September — something unlikely to be accepted by the opposition under the current conditions where he has full control over all pillars of power, including the mainstream media.  Vucic, a former pro-Russia ultranationalist who now says that he wants to take the country into the European Union, has alleged that "foreign intelligence services" are behind the opposition protests. He said that he received the tip from "sisterly" spy agencies "from the east" — thought to mean Russia.  There are widespread fears that violence could erupt during the rally on Friday that could then be used as a pretext for a crackdown on future opposition protests, including one that is scheduled in Belgrade on Saturday.  Similar big rallies were held in Serbia in the early 1990s when strongman Slobodan Milosevic delivered fiery speeches that heralded the violent breakup of Yugoslavia and rallied the masses for the wars that followed. 

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Voice of America’s immigration news - May 26, 2023 - 11:00
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Pope Runs Fever, Skips Meetings, Vatican Says

Voice of America’s immigration news - May 26, 2023 - 10:56
Pope Francis skipped meetings Friday because he was running a fever, the Vatican said. There were no details about how sick Francis was. The last time he spiked a serious fever, in March, the 86-year-old pontiff was rushed to the hospital where he was diagnosed with acute bronchitis. He received intravenous antibiotics and was released three days later. A Vatican official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak about the pope’s health, said Francis didn’t receive anyone in audience Friday “because of a feverish state.” There were no formal audiences scheduled Friday, but Francis keeps a separate, private and unofficial agenda of meetings with people he receives at his residence. Francis has had a busy week, presiding over a meeting of the Italian bishops conference, participating in an afternoon encounter Thursday with his school foundation Scholas Occurentes, as well as meeting with several other prelates and visiting dignitaries. He is due to preside over Pentecost Mass on Sunday in St. Peter's Basilica, and in a sign that he was expected to recover quickly, the Vatican on Friday announced a new official audience with Italian President Sergio Mattarella, scheduled for Monday.

Pakistan Hands Over 33 Pro-Imran Khan Protesters for Trial in Military Courts

Voice of America’s immigration news - May 26, 2023 - 10:52
Thirty-three supporters of former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan have been handed over to the army to face trial in military courts on charges of attacking armed forces' installations, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah said Friday.  The 33 accused are among the thousands detained since Khan's May 9 arrest sparked violent protests across Pakistan. Those handed over to army authorities are accused of trespassing on and vandalizing sensitive military installations, according to Sanaullah.  Khan was arrested on graft charges, which he denies. While he was subsequently released on bail, his confrontation has escalated with the country's powerful generals.  The political unrest has deteriorated as Pakistan faces its worst economic crisis in decades. Inflation is at record highs, economic growth is anemic, and there are fears the country could default on external debts unless the International Monetary Fund unlocks delayed disbursements.  "The accused who are being handed over to the military are those who trespassed and entered very sensitive defense installations," Sanaullah told a press conference in Islamabad.  He said that evidence suggested the protesters damaged or stole important equipment, computers and other sources of data collection.  Sanaullah said only those involved in breaching out-of-bounds areas would face trial under army laws, suggesting there would not be mass trials in military courts. But in response to a question, he also suggested that Khan could also be tried in a military court, saying: "as far as my own assessment and the evidence we have ... this man is the architect of all this mess and planning, so yes, he comes under this category."  Rights groups have raised concerns over military trials of civilians, saying they cannot ensure a fair trial. Such courts are closed to outsiders and the media.  Sanaullah said after a verdict from the military courts the accused would have a right to appeal to a high court and then the Supreme Court. 

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Voice of America’s immigration news - May 26, 2023 - 10:00
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Voice of America’s immigration news - May 26, 2023 - 09:00
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US Labor Department: Child Labor Violations Have Been on the Rise

Voice of America’s immigration news - May 26, 2023 - 08:54
The US Labor Department says the number of children employed in violation of labor laws has been on the rise since 2015. While the total number of violations is still lower than it was two decades ago, experts say the increase is troubling. For VOA News, Maxim Moskalkov has the story. Camera and video edit: Andre Sergunin and Anna Rice

Ukrainian Artists Turn Ammunition Boxes Into Symbols of Life

Voice of America’s immigration news - May 26, 2023 - 08:43
The traveling art exhibition "Icons on Ammo Boxes" stopped in New York City in early May, featuring the work of Ukrainian artists Oleksandr Klymenko and Sonya Atlantova. The two paint traditional Christian icons on real ammunition boxes from the Ukranian front lines, symbolically portraying life overcoming death. Nina Vishneva has the story, narrated by Anna Rice. Camera: Natalia Latukhina, Vladimir Badikov

Belgian Aid Worker, Iranian Diplomat Freed in Prisoner Swap

Voice of America’s immigration news - May 26, 2023 - 08:37
A Belgian aid worker jailed in Iran and an Iranian diplomat imprisoned in Belgium were freed on Friday in a swap agreement mediated by Oman, both sides said. Aid worker Olivier Vandecasteele had been arrested on a visit to Iran in February 2022 and sentenced in January to 40 years in prison and 74 lashes on charges including spying. Iranian diplomat Asadollah Assadi was convicted in Belgium in 2021 in connection with a foiled bomb plot in France and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Belgian and Iranian authorities had rejected the charges against Vandecasteele and Assadi respectively as fabricated. "As I speak, Belgium's Olivier Vandecasteele is on his way to Belgium. If all goes to plan, he'll be with us this evening. Free at last," Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said in a statement on Friday. "Last night Olivier was flown to Oman where he was looked after by a team of Belgian soldiers and diplomats. This morning he underwent a number of medical examinations to assess his state of health and to enable him to return in the best possible conditions," De Croo added. Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian described Assadi in a Twitter post as "our country's innocent diplomat who was illegally arrested against international law," and said he would return to Iran soon. Oman's foreign ministry said earlier an agreement had been reached under which prisoners were released and transported from Brussels and Tehran to Muscat, the Omani capital, on Friday in preparation for their repatriation. The Gulf Arab country has good relations with both Iran and Western countries and has acted before as a mediator for the two estranged sides on matters such as prisoner swaps. Belgium's justice minister said at the time of Vandecasteele's conviction that it was based on fabricated evidence and amounted to retribution for the prison term given to Assadi. A treaty took force last month under which Belgian prisoners in Iran can serve their sentences at home and vice versa.

Earthquake Jolts Eastern Japan, No Tsunami Warning

Voice of America’s immigration news - May 26, 2023 - 08:05
A strong earthquake shook eastern Japan on Friday evening, but there was no tsunami warning, according to public broadcaster NHK. The temblor struck at 1003 GMT with a magnitude of 6.2, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency. It shook buildings in Tokyo as well as surrounding prefectures, but there were no immediate reports of major damage. The epicenter was near Chiba prefecture, to the east of Tokyo, at a depth of 50 kilometers. Footage from NHK showed buildings shaking near the Narita International Airport in Chiba. Airport authorities were checking for damage to its runways, NHK said. East Japan Railway Co said it was suspending some train services in Chiba prefecture. Earthquakes are common in Japan, one of the world's most seismically active areas. Japan accounts for about one-fifth of the world's earthquakes of magnitude 6 or greater. On March 11, 2011, the northeast coast was struck by a magnitude 9 earthquake, the strongest quake in Japan on record, and a massive tsunami. Those events triggered the world's worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl a quarter of a century earlier. NHK said that Tokyo Electric Power Co. was checking for signs of damage at its nuclear reactors in Fukushima, the site of a meltdown in the 2011 disaster.  

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Voice of America’s immigration news - May 26, 2023 - 08:00
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.

How Are Girls in Afghanistan Continuing Their Education?

Voice of America’s immigration news - May 26, 2023 - 07:01
After the Taliban retook power in Afghanistan in 2021, they severely limited access to education for girls. Yet a club founded in the U.S., Flowers for the Future, helps Afghan girls keep learning through Zoom meetings with U.S. students. Two students, one Afghan, one American, describe their journey with the program and what it's taught them about grit, resilience and the importance of learning. Read the essays by Mahsa Kosha and Emily Khossaravi in the Hechinger Report. (May 2023)

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Voice of America’s immigration news - May 26, 2023 - 07:00
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Japan and US to Commit to Closer Chip Cooperation in Joint Statement

Voice of America’s immigration news - May 26, 2023 - 06:46
Japan and the United States will issue a joint statement on technology cooperation on Friday that will commit them to closer cooperation in research and development of advanced chips and other technologies, a Japanese government source said. Japan's Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Yasutoshi Nishimura and U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo will meet in Detroit in the U.S. on the sidelines of the 2023 APEC Ministers Responsible for Trade Meeting, Yomiuri reported earlier. In addition to semiconductors, they will discuss artificial intelligence and quantum technology, the newspaper added. They want to deepen ties between research and development hubs in Japan and the U.S., the Japanese official told Reuters, asking not to be identified because he is not authorised to talk to the media. It will be another incremental step as they map out their future technology cooperation, he added. As Washington and Tokyo reduce their exposure to Chinese supply chains amid growing tension, they are working together to expand chip manufacturing to ensure access to advanced components that they see as essential for economic growth. Japan has established a new chip maker, Rapidus, that is working with International Business Machines Corp (IBM)(IBM.N) to develop advanced logic semiconductors, and is offering subsidies to U.S. memory maker Micron Technology Inc (MU.O) so it can expand production there. Japan, along with the Netherlands, has also agreed to match U.S. export controls that will limit the sale of some chipmaking tools in China. The meeting between Nishimura and Raimondo comes after the leaders of the Group of Seven advanced democracies agreed at a meeting in Hiroshima, Japan, to reduce their exposure to China because of its "economic coercion." Raimondo on Thursday met China's Minister of Commerce Wang Wentao in Washington where the pair exchanged views on trade, investment and export policies.

Amnesty International: Investigate Taliban for Restrictions on Women

Voice of America’s immigration news - May 26, 2023 - 06:25
A Friday report by Amnesty International and the International Commission of Jurists calls for Afghanistan’s Taliban to be investigated for possible crimes under international law because of severe restrictions on females.   The report, the groups said, provides “a detailed legal analysis of how the Taliban’s draconian restrictions on the rights of Afghanistan’s women and girls, together with the use of imprisonment, enforced disappearance, torture and other ill-treatment, could amount to the crime against humanity of gender persecution.” "These are international crimes. They are organized, widespread, systematic," Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International secretary-general, said in a statement, "Let there be no doubt: this is a war against women."  Santiago A. Canton, secretary-general of the International Commission of Jurists, said the joint investigation, covering the period from August 2021 to January 2023, indicates Taliban repression of women meets all the criteria to qualify as a crime against humanity of gender persecution.

US, South Korea Hold Biggest ‘Annihilation’ Drills

Voice of America’s immigration news - May 26, 2023 - 06:19
The United States and South Korea are kicking off three weeks of massive military drills. The move is part of a show of force against North Korea, which has accelerated its own missile launches. More from VOA’s Bill Gallo, who reports from Pocheon, South Korea, near the demilitarized zone.

Latest in Ukraine: Russian Paramilitary Groups in Crimean Peninsula Spark Concern

Voice of America’s immigration news - May 26, 2023 - 06:15
New developments: Russia accused Ukrainian militia of using U.S.-made armored vehicles in a cross-border incursion on Monday In response, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin emphasized Thursday that U.S. is not at war with Russia JCS Chief Mark Milley said Washington asked Kyiv not to use U.S.-supplied equipment for direct attacks into Russia The British Defense Ministry said Friday in its daily intelligence update on Russia's invasion of Ukraine that for at least 20 years, Russia has experienced a "proliferation of paramilitary groups" from Russia's military. The "paramilitarization" has increased dramatically, the ministry said, since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, especially in the Crimean Peninsula, where many units have been given "some semi-official status as reserve units of the regular army." Sergei Aksyonov, the leader of Russian-occupied Crimea, is described as having been "instrumental" in creating these paramilitary groups in the region. Now, however, Aksyonov is likely eager to distinguish himself by recruiting fighters, but the ministry said he is "likely concerned" about the military's capacity to defend the peninsula. "The main element of the Russian garrison, 22nd Army Corps," the ministry said, "is currently mostly deployed outside the peninsula and has taken heavy casualties." 'This is Ukraine's fight' On Thursday, U.S. defense leaders were careful to draw the distinction that despite Washington's continued support for Ukraine in its fight against Russia, the United States itself is not at war with Russia. At a news conference following a virtual meeting of dozens of countries supporting Ukraine militarily, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin responded to concerns that U.S. military vehicles, reportedly used by a militia in its incursion into Russia on Monday, could be used as a pretext by Moscow to bring the United States directly into the war. "We are not at war with Russia. This is Ukraine's fight. Our goal is to make sure that we're doing everything that we can to make sure Ukraine is successful," Austin said. The United States has long asked Ukraine not to use U.S. weaponry inside Russian territory, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army General Mark Milley, said Thursday. "I can say that we have asked the Ukrainians not to use U.S.-supplied equipment for direct attacks into Russia," Milley said. "This is a Ukrainian war. It is not a war between the United States and Russia. It's not a war between NATO and Russia." Earlier Thursday, Ukraine said its forces shot down 36 Iranian-made Shahed drones that Russia used to attack areas in western Ukraine. Ukraine's Defense Ministry said Russian forces "presumably aimed to attack critical infrastructure and military facilities." Russia has repeatedly used aerial attacks, including attacks involving crashing drones into targets to damage infrastructure sites in Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy posted on Telegram that it had been an "uneasy night." "Continuing to terrorize Ukraine, the enemy used 36 Shaheds. None of them reached their target. Thanks to our air defense forces for the 100% result," Zelenskyy said. In Crimea, Aksyonov said Thursday that air defenses had shot down six drones overnight. He said on Telegram no one had been killed or injured. Bakhmut fight The head of Russia's Wagner mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said in a video published Thursday that his forces had begun withdrawing from the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut. Prigozhin said the Russian military was coming in to replace the Wagner forces and that his units would complete their withdrawal by June 1. The announcement came a day after Prigozhin said the lengthy battle for Bakhmut left 20,000 of his fighters dead. Prigozhin said about half of those killed were Russian convicts who were promised their freedom from sentences for criminal offenses if they fought in Ukraine for six months. But the mercenaries were often sent to the battle front with scant training and often were killed soon after in fierce combat with better-trained Ukrainian troops. White House officials said Prigozhin's casualty estimate was in line with their own and that Russian losses have accelerated. Russia claimed in recent days it has captured Bakhmut, while Ukrainian officials say they have not given up the fight for the city and are trying to surround it. Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.

Scarred by War, Ukrainian Children Carry on After Losing Parents, Homes and Innocence

Voice of America’s immigration news - May 26, 2023 - 06:13
The two children squinted to see through the thick smoke that hung in the air after a deafening blast shook their small home in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region. The pair, ages 9 and 10, called out for their father. Only eerie silence followed. Then Olha Hinkina and her brother, Andrii, rushed to the bomb shelter, as they had been taught. When the booms stopped and the smoke cleared, they found their father on the porch — motionless and covered in blood after being struck by a Russian projectile. “Father was killed at seven in the morning,” said Andrii, who now lives in the safer western city of Lviv, near the border with Poland. The two siblings join a generation of Ukrainian children whose lives have been upended by the war. Russia’s full-scale invasion has subjected them to constant bombardment, uprooted millions from their homes and turned many into orphans. Hundreds of kids have been killed. For the survivors, the wide-ranging trauma is certain to leave psychological scars that will follow them into adolescence and adulthood. “Even if children fled to a safer area, it doesn’t mean they forgot everything that happened to them,” said psychologist Oleksandra Volokhova, who works with children who escaped the violence. At least 483 children have lost their lives and nearly 1,000 have been wounded, according to figures from Ukraine’s general prosecutor’s office. Meanwhile, UNICEF says an estimated 1.5 million Ukrainian children are at risk of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health issues, with potentially lasting effects. Nearly 1,500 Ukrainian children have been orphaned, the National Social Service of Ukraine said. The largest number of child casualties comes from Donetsk, the epicenter of many battles, where 462 children have been killed or wounded, according to Ukrainian officials.  That figure does not include casualties from the Russian occupied city of Mariupol, which is also part of Donetsk province, where Ukrainian officials have found it difficult to track the dead and wounded. Before the war tore them apart, the Hinkin family was like any other living in the village of Torske, which today is just 35 kilometers (22 miles) from the front. With the death of their father in October, the children were orphaned. Their mother died years before the war. Six months later, the siblings appear to be moving past the worst of their ordeal. Police and volunteers evacuated them to a safer area in western Zakarpattia region, where they were cared for by government social services and a Ukrainian charity organization called SOS Children’s Villages, which provided housing and counseling. Their story became known in and around Torske after police released a widely seen video that showed their father’s body being removed from the family home. “We knew the village. We knew where they lived. We knew these people,” said Nina Poliakova, 52, from the nearby town of Lyman. Although she fled last year with her family to Lviv, Poliakova continued to follow news from her native area. Then tragedy struck her life as well when her 16-year-old foster son died suddenly from a heart condition. She also has a 16-year-old foster daughter she took in with her husband in 2016 from the occupied town of Horlivka, where hostilities with Russian-backed separatists began, years before the 2022 invasion.    Mired in grief, Poliakova received a call one day from a local center supporting children. The caller asked if she would be willing to meet the Hinkin siblings. At their first meeting, they talked mostly about the Hinkin family home and the domestic animals they had. One of Andrii’s favorite activities was to feed the pigs. Poliakova decided to welcome the two children into her extended family. “We had that tragedy in our family, and then fate just brought us together,” Poliakova said. “Now many children have been left alone, without parents. Children need care, love. They seek to be embraced and comforted.” Many foundations have emerged to help children overcome the trauma of war, including a group called Voices of Children, which has processed around 700 requests from parents looking for help with children suffering from chronic stress, panic attacks and symptoms of PTSD. The pleas have changed as the war has progressed, according to a report issued by the charity. During this past winter, parents sought help after noticing behavioral changes in their children including apathy, aggression and anxiety, sensitivity to loud noises and anti-social habits. “A child’s psyche remains more malleable than that of adults, and with timely and quality support, we understand that a child can more easily overcome any traumatic events,” said Olena Rozvadovska, the head of Voices of Children. Recovering from months living so close to combat lines was difficult for the siblings, Poliakova said. “They were very scared,” she said. Olha would cry and hug her every time she heard the air-raid sirens. Andrii was relatively calm during the day but would start screaming in the middle of the night. A charity known as Sincere Heart has operated short-term recovery camps for children and their mothers since the start of the invasion last year. More than 8,000 people have used the camp services. Poliakova took her three foster children there. She wanted to help revive the childhood they lost to the war. At the camp they played with other children who had similar experiences and took part in art sessions, dance classes and other activities designed to help children express emotions. Sounds of laughter and play resonate at the camp full of kids from the war-ravaged regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, Kherson and other areas. Many witnessed bombings and experienced the loss of a parent. Some recovered from war-related wounds. During an art session, the children were given white T-shirts and instructed to express their feelings through drawing. Most painted in the blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag and scribbled the phrase “glory to Ukraine.” Olha Hinkina painted a heart in blue and yellow. “Children reflect what lies on the surface,” Rozvadovska said. “They are growing up in an atmosphere of the colors of our flag, the daily updates from the front line, the pride for the army that is standing.” Recovery is within reach for the children, she added. They can grow stronger because they have survived. “They carry the experience that helped them to survive,” she said. “Maybe it even made them more resilient and adaptive.” When Andrii Hinkin remembers his hometown, he doesn’t recall the bombs, the smoke or the thunderous explosions. He remembers it as a beautiful village. Asked what are his biggest dreams, he responds timidly. “I want to grow up.”  

Al-Shabab Storms AU Peacekeeper Base in Southern Somalia

Voice of America’s immigration news - May 26, 2023 - 06:13
Officials in Somalia say Al-Shabab militants early Friday stormed a military base manned by African Union forces from Uganda, multiple sources said. The dawn attack took place in Bulo Marer, an agricultural town in Lower Shabelle region, about 110 kilometers south of Mogadishu. The militants detonated four to six explosions, including improvised bombs in vehicles driven by suicide bombers, three sources, including a local official and a security commander requesting anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the media, told VOA Somali. According to the sources, the militants penetrated perimeters of the base after the explosions, which were followed by a fierce firefight. The militants were also seen inside the town. The base is just outside town. The situation of a second base manned by Somali forces not far from the AU base that al-Shabab claims to have attacked is unclear. The group sent a message via Telegram early Friday claiming they were “overrunning” the base. The Africa Union military command and the Somali government have not yet commented on the attack. The group sent a message via Telegram early Friday claiming they were “overrunning” the base. The AU mission confirmed the attack, and said they are assessing the security situation. An al-Shabab attack on the same base in April 2018 failed after the Ugandan forces held their positions. Somali officials said dozens of militants were killed at the time. This latest attack comes as the Somali government prepares the second phase of military operations against al-Shabab. The first phase, launched in August, drove al-Shabab from vast territories in central Somalia. The Somali government said it will raise enough forces to takeover security responsibilities from the AU peacekeepers by Dec 2024.

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Voice of America’s immigration news - May 26, 2023 - 06:00
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.