Voice of America

  • Russian Orthodox Church Cuts Ties With Global Orthodox Leadership
    The Russian Orthodox Church announced Monday it would break ties with the Orthodox Patriarchate of Constantinople over the latter's recognition of a new Ukrainian church, the latest development in a major restructuring of the world's second-largest Christian denomination. Unlike Catholicism, which has a centralized hierarchy of authority, Orthodox Christianity has several churches spread out across the world, each with their own jurisdiction and leaders. However, the Patriarch of Constantinople is considered a "first among equals" in the Church leadership.  Traditionally, Orthodox churches in Ukraine have fallen under the jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Moscow. But the 2014 annexation of Crimea and Russia's continued support for separatists fighting against Kyiv in the east drove a wedge in relations that led Ukrainian clerics to declare their own autonomous church. Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople officially recognized  the new Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Ukraine on Oct. 11, sparking celebration in Kyiv and outrage in Moscow. The Russian Orthodox Church's cutting of ties with Constantinople is a direct result of that decision.  Now priests from the two churches will be barred from serving together, while worshippers of one will not take communion in the other. The schism is the most significant Orthodox Christianity has experienced since it split from Catholicism almost a thousand years ago. About 100 million of the world's 260 million Orthodox Christians live in Russia, according to the Pew Center. 

  • Caution, Cancellations, Protests as Concerns Grow on China's Belt and Road
    Concerns about debt diplomacy on China's expansive infrastructure megaproject — the Belt and Road — have become an increasing source of debate from Asia to Africa and the Middle East. In recent weeks, more than $30 billion in projects have been scrapped and other loans and investments are under review.   Public opposition is also testing the resolve of ruling authorities from Hanoi to Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, as concerns about Chinese investment build. In late August, Malaysia's newly elected Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad canceled more than $20 billion in Belt and Road projects for railway and pipelines, and Pakistan lopped another $2 billion off plans for a railway following a decision late last year to cancel a $14 billion dam project, citing financial concerns. Nepal canceled its dam project last month and Sierra Leone announced last week that it was dropping an airport project over debt concerns.   In some countries such as Vietnam, it is just the idea of Chinese investment — against the backdrop of the Belt and Road — that has led to push back. Following public protests, Vietnam recently decided to postpone plans for several special economic zones.   Several Belt and Road projects have seen setbacks in countries where debt concerns have coincided with political elections and a change of power — be it Pakistan, Malaysia or the Maldives, says economist Christopher Balding.   "The people in these countries are very worried about the level of debt that these countries are taking on in regard to China and I think that is very important to note," Balding said. "It's not just anti-China people that are driving this, but that there is a lot of concern on the ground in the countries about that."   China says there are no political strings attached to its investments and loans. It also argues it is providing funding in places others will not. But Beijing's takeover of a port in Sri Lanka last year and the sheer volume of Chinese investments along the Belt and Road project have done little to ease those concerns.   String of ports   Late last year, according to the New York Times, China agreed to forgive Sri Lanka's debt in exchange for a 99-year lease of Hambanthota Port and 15,000 acres of surrounding land. The government of Sri Lanka denies it divested land to a Chinese company, but the deal has convinced some that China is setting up debt traps to then take over the infrastructure that Chinese state-run companies build.   Hambanthota is one of 42 ports where China has participated in construction and operations, with more on the horizon. In 2021, China will take over operation of one of Israel's largest ports in Haifa. Beijing is also being eyed as a possible candidate for the development of Chabahar port in Iran, which is near the Iran-Pakistan border. The port proposal remains in limbo, however, due to U.S. sanctions. And that's not the only obstacle, according to David Kelly, research director at the Beijing-based group China Policy. "It's in the driest and most remote part of Iran," Kelly said. "It looks like a real loser commercially, unless it handles a lot of oil." Analysts say the Middle East, with its oil money and deep pockets, is less at risk for debt traps.   However, the port that is most likely to follow in Sri Lanka's footsteps is Djibouti, a strategically important country on the Horn of Africa, where China recently established its first overseas military base. According to official figures, Djibouti's debt is more than 88 percent of the GDP and China owns $1.4 billion of that. That kind of debt overhang could lead to the same type of concessionary agreements as in Sri Lanka, analysts note.   Debt traps   A report released earlier this year by Washington, D.C.-based Center for Global Development said 23 of the 68 countries where China is investing for Belt and Road projects are at high risk of debt distress. Another eight, including Djibouti, are vulnerable to debt distress linked to future projects.   China argues its investments are aimed at boosting trade and commerce and giving developing countries a leg up.   China Policy's Kelly says places where the debt situation is more critical are countries such as land-locked and poverty-stricken Zambia. There, concerns are causing a very public push for the government to disclose the full burden of Chinese debt.   "The upset and upheaval in Zambia recently, where you've got African civil society coming out and making this case," Kelly said, "That is always going to be more significant where you have the local people, making a local case."   BRI indigestion   Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow with the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, says cancellations and changes are what he calls Belt and Road indigestion. Concerns about debt traps and debt diplomacy will not have an impact on China going forward, he says, but stops, starts and cancellations will continue.   Oh says China's model of development — build infrastructure and the economy will grow — may have worked at home, but it doesn't always fit along the Belt and Road.   "In many of these Belt and Road initiative countries, if you lay out the infrastructure, it doesn't automatically mean that trade and investment will take place," Oh said, "Some of these projects will have to be more attuned to the local requirements of particular countries."

  • Washington Catholic Archdiocese Names 28 Former Clergy Who Committed Abuse 
    The Catholic Church in Washington has released the names of 28 former clergy members that it says were "credibly" accused of sexual abuse since 1948. A letter released Monday by the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington said the move is "a necessary step towards full transparency and accountability and the process of healing." The archdiocese said it created the list on the orders of Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who announced last week he was retiring, following a Pennsylvania grand jury report that said he allowed priests accused of sexual abuse to be reassigned when he was the bishop of Pittsburgh. "This list is a painful reminder of the grave sins committed by clergy, the pain inflicted on innocent young people, and the harm done to the church's faithful, for which we continue to seek forgiveness," Wuerl said in a statement. Wuerl said the list shows that there has not been a credible allegation of abuse of a minor by a priest of the archdiocese in almost 20 years. He also said that no priest currently in active ministry has ever been accused of sexual abuse of a minor. The Washington archdiocese has been in turmoil since the previous archbishop, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, was accused of abusing children and adults, and was suspended in June over the allegations. McCarrick later resigned. Wuerl, a top ally of Pope Francis, announced this month he would retire, following months of criticism over the Pennsylvania grand jury report. The report found that some 300 U.S. priests abused more than 1,000 children since the 1940s, and Wuerl was named as one of several bishops who allegedly covered up for the abusive priests. Last month, when Wuerl was celebrating Mass in Washington, a man stood up and yelled, "Shame on you," after Wuerl asked parishioners to keep Pope Francis in their prayers.

  • Pakistan's Fencing of Afghan Border Remains Source of Mutual Tensions
    Pakistan's unilateral installation of a robust fence on its largely porous border with landlocked Afghanistan this week sparked fresh military clashes between the uneasy neighbors, and provoked Islamabad to close a busy southwestern crossing point. The abrupt closure of the Chaman crossing stranded travelers and hundreds of trucks loaded with commercial goods on both sides.  Pakistani authorities Monday allowed hundreds of stranded people to walk across the border, but they did not permit trade convoys to resume their journey in either direction.  The skirmishes broke out Sunday afternoon near the border town of Chaman when Afghan security forces opened fire at a team of military workers erecting the fence, insisted Pakistani army officials. The fighting lasted for about eight hours, according to Afghan officials. Pakistan military's chief spokesman, Major-General Asif Ghafoor, told VOA the Chaman crossing largely remained closed, saying the "provocative" act by Afghan security forces was to be blamed for the conflict. "But no casualties [occurred] on our [Pakistani] side," Ghafoor said, while responding to Afghan allegations that the clashes killed three Pakistani border forces and injured five others. Islamabad maintains the fencing program will help prevent terrorist infiltration in either direction across the nearly 2,600-kilometer (1,600 miles) rugged border. Afghanistan opposes the Pakistani border security plan because Kabul historically disputes the 1893 demarcation drawn during the British colonial era. Afghan officials also insist any permanent structures on what they call the Durand Line will add to challenges facing divided families stranded on both sides of the frontier.  Kabul's ambassador to Islamabad, Omar Zakhilwal, reiterated those objections while speaking to Pakistani media this week. "We do oppose the barbed wire. That is against the closeness of the population on both sides and the interdependency that exists [between them]," he said.  Pakistan strongly rejected Afghan objections and maintained it inherited the international border after gaining independence from Britain in 1947.  "It is not fencing against the people or the nation of Afghanistan, but it is aimed at stopping the flow of terrorists. We are spending 76 billion rupees [$600 million] of this poor [Pakistan] nation on the border fencing," said army spokesman Gen. Ghafoor.  Pakistan initiated the border security project in 2017. Ghafoor recently told VOA the construction of the fence and new forts along most of the Afghan border is expected to be completed by the end of 2019.   

  • Gambia Launches Truth and Reconciliation Commission
    Gambia has launched a truth and reconciliation commission to look into crimes committed under former President Yahya Jammeh's government, which is accused of torturing and killing perceived opponents.  The tiny West African state swore in 11 members of the new commission Monday.  President Adama Barrow said in a post on Twitter: "Let us stand together to say: 'Never again shall a few people oppress us as a nation. Never again shall the beautiful Smiling Coast experience a tyranny of the minority against the majority.'" Victims, witnesses and alleged perpetrators of crimes are set to start testifying to the commission later this month. The process is expected to take around two years. Jammeh ruled Gambia for 22 years after seizing power in a 1994 coup. He fled into exile in Equatorial Guinea in January 2017 after losing an election to current President Barrow. Jammeh initially did not accept the electoral result, but later stepped down following pressure from regional leaders. Jammeh's government is accused of carrying out executions, disappearances, torture, rape and other crimes during its more than two decades in power. Other African nations have held truth and reconciliation commissions, with the most well known being in South Africa following the end of apartheid in 1994. The commissions encourage people to confess past crimes and allow victims to speak out against crimes committed against them in a public forum.  Gambia's truth and reconciliation commission will have the power to advise on who should be prosecuted and recommend financial compensation to victims.

  • Trump Administration Aims to Force Drug Companies to List Prices in Ads
    The Department of Health and Human Services released proposed regulations Monday that would require companies selling drugs covered by Medicare or Medicaid that cost more than $35 to disclose prices in their television ads. HHS Secretary Alex Azar framed the move as a way to reduce prices and protect consumers. "Patients deserve to know what a given drug could cost when they're being told about the benefits and risks it may have," Azar said in a speech to the National Academy of Medicine announcing the draft regulations. "They deserve to know if the drug company has pushed their prices to abusive levels. And they deserve to know this every time they see a drug advertised to them on TV." The policy, which was previously proposed by the Trump administration, has been roundly criticized by drug companies and policy experts. Trade group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) has opposed it on the basis that listed prices only constitute a "starting point" for the true cost of a drug, which is brought down by insurers. The move is likely to provoke rancor from America's large pharmaceutical industry. PhRMA president Steven Ubl tried to head off the anticipated announcement earlier Monday by announcing that ads by members of the trade group would begin directing viewers to websites that display the list price of drugs, as well as estimates of how much their insurance would cover.

  • Researchers Find Bright Sides to Some Invasive Species
    Off the shores of Newfoundland, Canada, an ecosystem is unraveling at the hands (or pincers) of an invasive crab. Some 1,500 kilometers (930 miles) to the south, the same invasive crab — the European green crab — is helping New England marshes rebuild. Both cases are featured in a new study that shows how the impacts of these alien invaders are not always straightforward. Around the world, invasive species are a major threat to many coastal ecosystems and the benefits they provide, from food to clean water. Attitudes among scientists are evolving, however, as more research demonstrates that they occasionally carry a hidden upside. "It's complicated," said Christina Simkanin, a biologist at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, "which isn't a super-satisfying answer if you want a direct, should we keep it or should we not? But it's the reality." Simkanin co-authored a new study showing that on the whole, coastal ecosystems store more carbon when they are overrun by invasive species.  Good news, crab news Take the contradictory case of the European green crab. These invaders were first spotted in Newfoundland in 2007. Since then, they have devastated eelgrass habitats, digging up native vegetation as they burrow for shelter or dig for prey. Eelgrass is down 50 percent in places the crabs have moved into. Some sites have suffered total collapse. That's been devastating for fish that spend their juvenile days among the seagrass. Where the invasive crabs have moved in, the total weight of fish is down tenfold. The loss of eelgrass also means these underwater meadows soak up less planet-warming carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. In Cape Cod, Massachusetts, the same crab is having the opposite impact. Off the coast of New England, fishermen have caught too many striped bass and blue crabs. These species used to keep native crab populations in check. Without predators to hold them back, native crabs are devouring the marshes. But the invasive European green crab pushes native crabs out of their burrows. Under pressure from the invader, native crabs are eating less marsh grass. Marshes are recovering, and their carbon storage capacity is growing with them. Carbon repositories Simkanin and colleagues compiled these studies and more than 100 others to see whether the net impact on carbon storage has been positive or negative. They found that the ones overtaken by invasive species held about 40 percent more carbon than intact habitats.  They were taken by surprise, she said, because "non-native species are thought of as being negative so often. And they do have detrimental impacts. But in this case, they seem to be storing carbon quicker." At the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center where she works, the invasive reed Phragmites has been steadily overtaking a marsh scientists are studying. Phragmites grows much taller, denser and with deeper roots than the native marsh grass it overruns. But those same traits that make it a powerful invader also mean it stores more carbon than native species. "Phragmites has been referred to as a Jekyll and Hyde species," she said. Not all invaded ecosystems stored more carbon. Invaded seagrass habitats generally lost carbon, and mangroves were basically unchanged. But on balance, gains from marsh invaders outweighed the others. Not a lot of generalities To be clear, Simkanin said the study is not suggesting it's always better to let the invaders take over; but, it reflects an active debate among biologists about the role of invasive species in a changing world. "One of the difficult things in the field of invasion biology is, there aren't a lot of generalities," said Brown University conservation biologist Dov Sax, who was not involved with the research. "There's a lot of nuance." The prevailing view among biologists is that non-native species should be presumed to be destructive unless proven otherwise. When 19 biologists wrote an article in 2011 challenging that view, titled, "Don't judge species on their origins," it drew a forceful rebuke from 141 other experts.  Sax said the argument is likely to become more complicated in the future. "In a changing world, with a rapidly changing climate, we do expect there to be lots of cases where natives will no longer be as successful in a region. And some of the non-natives might actually step in and play some of those ecosystem services roles that we might want," he said. "In that context, what do we do? I definitely don't have all the answers."

  • Native Americans Decry Supreme Court Ruling on Voter ID in North Dakota
    Civil rights groups are expressing outrage over a recent Supreme Court ruling that could make it harder for Native Americans in North Dakota to cast their votes in the upcoming midterm elections. Last week, the Supreme Court ruled against overturning North Dakota's controversial voter ID law which requires voters to present identification that verifies a current residential street address. Proponents of the law say it will help prevent voter fraud. Opponents say it will prevent many Native Americans from voting. "Addressing on reservations and in rural Native American communities is spotty," Jacqueline D. De Leon, a member of the Isleta Pueblo in New Mexico and an attorney for the Native American Rights Fund (NARF), told VOA in August. "Many homes lack street addresses, and their owners must depend on post office boxes to send and receive mail. In addition, poverty and housing shortages have left many homeless or moving from house to house couch surfing, so they aren't able to produce addresses." In April, a federal district court in North Dakota ordered the state to allow voters to cast ballots, provided they had ID cards with a current street address. The court ruled that P.O. Box numbers were permissible, and Native Americans were able to participate in primary elections held in June. But last month, the U.S. Court of Appeals put that order on hold and took the issue to the Supreme Court, which ruled against the federal district court on Oct. 9.  "The law clearly discriminates against Native Americans in North Dakota," said Mike Faith, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, in a written statement. "Our voices should be heard fairly at the polls, just like other Americans." Faith's reservation straddles North and South Dakota. Some analysts suggest the ruling is an attempt by Republicans to block U.S. Senator Heidi Heidkamp, a member of the North Dakota Democratic–Nonpartisan League Party, from winning a second term in the November vote. In 2012, she won by a narrow margin which analysts then attributed to strong Native American support. "The irony here is that I think it [the Supreme Court ruling] was the best thing that could have happened to Heidi Heidkamp," said Mark Trahant, a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribe in Idaho and editor of Indian Country Today. "The Native vote has not necessarily turned out for her this time, but with tribes working overtime to help members obtain valid addresses and ID, she actually could get a turnout of Native voters she wouldn't have gotten any other way." In an emailed comment to VOA, De Leon pointed to an even greater irony: "It is the height of irony that Native Americans, the original inhabitants of this land, are being forced to prove their residency to be able to participate in American democracy," she said. "It is undemocratic that they must do so with a qualification of a residential street address that they do not have through no fault of their own." De Leon vowed that NARF will continue to resist what she called "assaults" on Native Americans' fundamental rights.

  • American Pastor's Hometown Greets His Release From Turkish Prison
    American pastor Andrew Brunson was freed last week by a Turkish court after spending two years in prison on terror charges. The evangelical missionary drew international headlines when his imprisonment became a flashpoint between the Trump administration and Turkey. After his release was announced, VOA Turkish Service's Mehmet Toroglu traveled to Black Mountain, North Carolina to speak with Brunson's parents and visit his home church. Bezhan Hamdard narrates his story.

  • Germany Deports Accomplice of 9/11 Attacks to Morocco
    Germany has deported an accomplice of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States to his home country of Morocco.   Mounir al-Motassadeq had spent almost 15 years in prison in Germany before he was deported Monday to Morocco.   German media published photographs of Motassadeq wearing a blindfold and being led by two armed policemen to a helicopter. German officials confirmed he was flown out by plane from Frankfurt airport on Monday evening.   Motassadeq was convicted of helping Mohamed Atta, the alleged pilot of one of the hijacked 9/11 planes, and other suicide pilots to help plot the attacks on New York and Washington. The suicide pilots were part of an al-Qaida cell based in Hamburg, Germany, where Motassadeq also lived.   Motassadeq was found guilty in 2003 of being a member of a terrorist organization and an accessory to the murder of the passengers aboard the four airliners used in the September 11 attacks. His five years of trials in Germany involved multiple appeals, overturned convictions, and reinstated verdicts. In the end, he received the maximum sentence the German court could hand down for the crimes — 15 years in prison.   Motassadeq denied being involved in the 9/11 plot, but admitted to being friends with those who did. He said his actions to send money to the suicide pilots were merely favors for his friends.   He was the first person convicted anywhere in the world in connection with the September 11 attacks, in which nearly 3,000 people died.   Motassadeq was released shortly before completing his 15-year sentence on the condition that he agreed to be deported to Morocco. Germany says it will re-arrest him if he ever returns.

  • US Budget Deficit Hits Six-Year High
    The U.S. government's budget deficit hit $779 billion in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, while spending increased and tax revenues remained nearly flat, the Treasury said Monday. It was the biggest deficit since 2012, and $113 billion more than the figure a year ago. The 2018 deficit amounted to 3.9 percent of the country's more than $18 trillion annual economy, up from 3.5 percent last year. The government's deficit spending boosted the country's long-term debt figure to more than $21 trillion, forcing the government to pay an extra $65 billion last year in interest on money the government has had to borrow to run its programs. In all, government spending rose by $127 billion last year, while tax collections increased by $14 billion. The Treasury said the annual deficit rose partly because corporate tax collections dropped by $76 billion after Congress approved cuts in tax rates for both businesses and individuals that were supported by President Donald Trump. Mick Mulvaney, the government's budget director, said the country's "booming economy will create increased government revenues — an important step toward long-term fiscal sustainability. But this fiscal picture is a blunt warning to Congress of the dire consequences of irresponsible and unnecessary spending."

  • October 15, 2018
    A look at the best news photos from around the world.

  • Zimbabwe's Government Says Worst of its Economic Woes is Over
    Zimbabwe's government says the country is emerging from a recent economic meltdown that saw shops run out of goods and motorists spend long hours in lines at gas stations. Economists say Zimbabwe's crisis is not over, as people have no confidence in the currency or in President Emmerson Mnangagwa's government. For weeks now, there have been long and winding queues at most fuel stations in Zimbabwe, as the precious liquid has been in short supply. Lameck Mauriri is one of those now tired of the situation. "We are really striving but things are tough to everyone," said Mauriri. "I do not know how those in rural areas, how they are surviving, especially if in Harare it is like this. We are sleeping in fuel queues. There is not fuel, there is no bread, there is no drink. There is no everything. No cash, no jobs." For a decade, the country has been without an official currency and relied on U.S. dollars, the British pound and South African rand to conduct transactions. In the past three years, however, all three currencies have been hard to find, paralyzing the economy. The introduction of bond notes — a currency Zimbabwe started printing two years ago to ease the situation — has not helped. The bond notes were supposed to trade at par with the U.S. dollar; but, on the black market, a dollar now is now equal to close to three bond notes. Prosper Chitambara, an economist of the Labor and Economic Development Research Institute of Zimbabwe says the bond notes are partly to blame for the price increases and shortages in the country. "What is lacking in the economy, in the market is confidence. There is a distrust of the formal economic system," said Chitambara. "The bond notes have definitely contributed a great deal to the current economic situation, a fallacy economic situation. What they have done is for example to increase money supply in the economy. And that money supply is not actually backed by significant productivity in the economy. That actually gives rise to general of inflationary pressures." He said the government's recent introduction of a 2 percent tax on all electronic transactions pushed prices even higher and caused some shops to close. Ndabaningi Nick Mangwana, Zimbabwe's secretary in the Ministry of Information and Publicity, says the situation in the country is normal and there is no need for alarm. "There is no shortage to oil itself, there is no challenge in terms of production of all these essential services," said Mangwana. "That is why they are there if you go. There were a few people who panicked, closed a couple of shops, but those opened within hours. There was fake news and people panicked, but it is all under control." That is not exactly what seems to be the case on the ground. Some shops remain closed and prices continue rising. Long fuel lines remain the order of the day. 

  • European Populism Takes a Left Turn in Spain
    One of the first steps taken by Spain's prime minister after assuming office in June was to order the exhumation of the remains of right-wing military dictator Francisco Franco from a mausoleum in the capital's outskirts, where they have rested since he died in power a half century ago.   "Democracy cannot dignify a dictator," Pedro Sanchez, leader of the Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE), said in justifying the order. The decision was hailed by leftists, but critics warned that polarizing struggles between traditional conservatives and a new breed of left-wing populists could end five decades of bipartisan continuity since Franco's death.   Sanchez maintains a razor-thin edge in parliament's lower chamber through an alliance with hard-left groups and Catalan nationalists. His priorities, he said in an address to last month's U.N. General Assembly, include raising social spending, fighting climate change and promoting women's rights. Elsewhere in Europe, populism has come to be identified with far-right movements whose rhetoric is often associated with the xenophobia and racism that characterized the fascist movements that brought Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini to power.   But today's Spanish populism, says influential opinion columnist Mario Saavedra, is "leftist" and appears rooted in memories of a 1930's republic that was overthrown by Franco in a bloody civil war. The republic established after King Alfonso XIII stepped aside in 1931 captured the imagination of European and American intellectuals such as Ernest Hemingway, who based his novel For Whom the Bell Tolls on his experiences there. It brought together the world's most fashionable utopian ideologies at the time, including communism and anarchist syndicalism. Democratic socialists occupied its presidency.   Historian Javier Arjona draws parallels between the coalition of leftist parties which maneuvered Sanchez into the prime minister's seat and the radical "Popular Front" that came to power through a disputed election victory in 1936. Government supporters scoff at the comparison and Sanchez accuses conservatives of appealing to the "extreme right" in a bid to regain power.   Regardless, a leftist brand of republicanism seems to be back in vogue. Its purple colors appear at social protests and adorn the jerseys of some soccer clubs. Catalan nationalists and the far-left United We Can party who prop up Sanchez's government call for restoring a republic and holding a referendum on the future of the monarchy. Burning pictures of King Felipe has become a ritual at separatist rallies in Catalonia.   United We Can, or Unidos Podemos (UP) in Spanish, is led by Pablo Iglesias, a political science professor who merged a new generation of leftists with remnants of the old communist party. His movement harnessed a wave of social discontent that exploded into mass protests during the recent global recession, in which Spain's unemployment rate topped 25 percent nationally and reached 50 percent among young people.   Disenchanted working-class supporters of Sanchez's mainstream PSOE turned to UP, which promised to confront corruption on all sides.     While Spain has largely recovered from the darkest days of the crash, UP continues to win followers by denouncing abusive business practices such as the eviction of low-income tenants from housing estates when they are bought up by foreign "vulture funds." It also champions an increase in old-age pensions for Spain's growing senior population.   In unveiling its budget October 11, the Sanchez government announced an agreement between the PSOE and UP on a package that includes a massive increase in public spending, the expansion of public services, new regulations, and a substantial rise in the minimum wage.   Sanchez has also called for changing Spain's constitution. His justice minister, Dolores Delgado, an outspoken proponent of women's rights, has said that it needs to be rewritten to make it more gender neutral.   His vice president, Carmen Calvo, has called for curbing press freedoms to counter what she calls a "high volume of half-truths and lies" by conservative media. She has threatened to take legal action against the conservative, pro-monarchy, pro-Catholic newspaper ABC over its published allegations that Sanchez plagiarized his doctoral thesis.     Some business leaders say they are worried. John de Zulueta, chairman of the Circulo de Empresarios, the Spanish business association, said tax hikes proposed by Sanchez to cover a rise in social spending could depress the markets at a time when the economy is not fully out of recession. The IMF has also criticized Sanchez's plans to finance deficit spending.   Government spokespersons defend their actions, saying their plan is adjusted to EU budget requirements.   Conservatives are also trying to block Sanchez from satisfying Catalan separatists by granting pardons to Catalan Vice president Oriol Junqueras and other officials who are in prison awaiting trial for plotting an independence bid. "We have to find a political rather than a judicial solution to the Catalan crisis," Sanchez said after recent violent protests in Barcelona.   Political analyst Ramon Peralta, a professor at Complutense University of Madrid, said Sanchez "tries to shield his government by wrapping it in popular causes."   In his U.N. speech, Sanchez highlighted his feminist agenda, boasting that 60 percent of his cabinet are women and pledging "zero tolerance" of sexual harassment.   Feminist leaders, who see Spain's traditional culture of machismo as toxic to women's rights, are strongly backing Sanchez despite a scandal in which the justice minister was caught on tape speaking insultingly about the interior minister's homosexuality.   Sanchez' moves have been well received by liberals elsewhere in Europe. In a recent editorial, the British newspaper The Guardian said, "exhuming Franco is a necessary step in the final stages of Spain's historic journey away from authoritarian violence towards enduring democracy."   But others, including some of the prime minister's allies, suggest that steps like the exhumation of Franco will simply fan the flames of the extreme right. Since Sanchez announced plans to open Franco's crypt, visits to the mountaintop mausoleum have risen by 77 percent.   The visitors have included blue-shirted members of the Falange party, who raise their arms in the fascist salute while singing their battle hymn, "Cara al Sol," or "Face to the Sun." A new extreme-right party called VOX has threatened to stage mass protests to block the exhumation.   Spanish public opinion is about evenly split. According to a survey in July by polling institute Sigma Dos, about 41 percent support the decision while 39 percent are opposed. 

  • Street Clashes in Comoros Over Presidential Term Extension
    Protesters barricaded roads with tree trunks and clashed with soldiers in Comoros Monday as they demonstrated against President Azali Assoumani’s attempt to extend term limits. Witnesses reported hearing gunfire and seeing security forces dismantle the barricades on Anjouan island, according to the French news agency. The last few months have seen the archipelago between continental Africa and Madagascar rocked by political tumult, as President Assoumani has jailed opposition figures and critics. His bid to compete in the nation's 2019 presidential elections has stoked anger among residents of the island of Anjouan, as doing so would deny them their turn to hold the presidency starting 2021 under a system that rotates the post among the country’s three islands. Assoumani held a referendum last June to determine whether he could run for two more five-year terms. Opposition parties called the move illegal and boycotted the referendum. Assoumani declared victory by a 92.74 percent margin. Assoumani, from the island of Gran Comore, came to power after winning the archipelago's 2016 elections, and previously led the island from 1999 to 2006 after seizing power in a military coup.   Last month, Comoros prosecutors issued an arrest warrant for former Vice President Jaffar Ahmed Said Hassani, a vocal critic of the referendum, on charges of plotting against the state.

  • US Designates Hezbollah, 4 Other Groups as Top Threats
    U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Monday designated five groups, including the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Central American street gang MS-13, as “top transnational organized crime threats,” targeting them for stepped up prosecutions by the Justice Department.   Sessions identified the other three groups as Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion, a Mexican criminal group; the Sinaloa Cartel, an international organized crime syndicate based in Mexico; and Clan del Golfo, a Colombian drug cartel, Sessions said. Speaking to a group of law enforcement officials in Washington, Sessions described the designations as “our next steps to carry out President [Donald] Trump’s order to take MS-13 and other [transnational criminal organizations] off of our streets.” “Taking on transnational criminal groups like the cartels is a priority for this president and for his administration,” Sessions said.  “The same day I was sworn in as Attorney General, President Trump ordered me to disrupt and dismantle these groups.” Session said the five organizations had been identified by the FBI, DEA, the Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF), and the Justice Department’s criminal division.    A task force of prosecutors organized into five committees has been created to “coordinate our efforts and develop a plan to take each of these groups off of our streets for good,” he added.  Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein will head up the task force. Each subcommittee will be led by a prosecutor experienced in investigating and prosecuting the target group.    The subcommittee on Hezbollah will be headed by Ilan Graff, an assistant US attorney in the Southern District of New York overseeing the prosecution of two alleged Hezbollah members, the first Hezbollah operatives to be charged with terrorism in the United States.   The subcommittee will be staffed by members of the Hezbollah Financing and Narcoterrorism Team. Sessions created the team in January as part of the Trump Administration’s anti-Hezbollah campaign, accusing the group of involvement in drug trafficking and vowing to “prosecute those who provide financial support to Hezbollah in an effort to eradicate the illicit networks that fuel terrorism and the drug crisis.” The Lebanese Hezbollah was designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the State Department in 1997. Last October, Sessions designated MS-13, the only street gang listed as a transnational criminal organization in the United States, as a priority for the OCDETF, ordering prosecutors to use every law in their toolkit — from tax laws to firearms laws — to prosecute its members.     “Transnational Criminal Organizations - whether they are gangs, drug trafficking cartels or terrorist groups — are a scourge,” Rosenstein said.  “They sow violence and sell poisonous drugs.  They bribe public officials and fuel corruption.  They terrorize law-abiding citizens.” The newly formed task force has been charged with providing the attorney general with recommendations within 90 days with the best ways to prosecute the target groups. “With the advice of these experienced professionals, the Department will be better able to follow the President’s order and dismantle these organized criminals,” Sessions said.

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  • Global Warming to Leave Us Crying in Our Costlier Beer
    A new study says global warming may leave people crying in their costlier beer. The international study says bouts of extreme heat waves and drought will cut production of barley, a key ingredient of beer. When that happens, beer prices on average could double. In countries like Ireland, prices could triple. Previous studies have detailed how chocolate, coffee and wine will be made scarcer and more expensive because of human-caused global warming. Steve Davis of the University of California, Irvine, says the beer research was partly done to drive home the not-that-palatable message that climate change is messing with all sorts of aspects of our daily lives. Results appear in Monday's journal Nature Plants.

  • US Military Airstrike in Somalia Kills 4 al-Shabab Fighters
    The U.S. military says it has conducted an airstrike that killed four al-Shabab extremists after “partner forces came under small arms fire.” The U.S. Africa Command says Sunday's airstrike was carried out near the community of Araara in Lower Juba region in the south. The statement says no U.S. service members were on the ground during the Somali-led operation and that according to its assessment no civilians were injured or killed in the airstrike. The U.S. military has carried out more than two dozen airstrikes, including drone strikes, this year against the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab, the deadliest Islamic extremist group in sub-Saharan Africa. Somalia on Sunday marked the first anniversary of al-Shabab's deadliest attack, a truck bombing in the capital, Mogadishu, that killed well over 500 people.

  • Keino Given More Time to Report to Police in Corruption Case
    Running great Kip Keino has been given more time to report to police in Kenya after being one of seven former Olympic and government officials accused of corruption relating to the misappropriation of more than $545,000. The seven were ordered to report to police and appear in court on Monday but Keino was one of four who did not.   A judge extended their deadline until 6 a.m. Thursday and ordered they then appear in court Friday to enter pleas. The judge said if they didn't hand themselves in on Thursday warrants for their arrest would be issued.   Former Kenyan sports minister Hassan Wario is one of the suspects and also did not appear on Monday.   The case relates to money set aside to fund Kenya's team at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics but was allegedly embezzled and misused by Keino and the others. Keino was the head of the Kenyan Olympic committee at the time.   The three who did appear in court were former Olympic committee secretary general Francis Kanyili, Rio team manager Stephen Arap Soi and former sports ministry official Richard Ekai.