Voice of America

  • Bloomberg Donates 'Unprecedented' $1.8B to Johns Hopkins
    Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg announced Sunday he's donating $1.8 billion to his alma mater, Johns Hopkins University, to boost financial aid for low- and middle-income students. The Baltimore university said the contribution - the largest ever to any education institution in the U.S. - will allow Johns Hopkins to eliminate student loans in financial aid packages starting next fall. The university will instead offer scholarships that don't have to be repaid.   University President Ronald Daniels said Bloomberg's contribution will also let the institution permanently commit to “need-blind admissions,” or the principle of admitting the highest-achieving students, regardless of their ability to pay for their education.   “Hopkins has received a gift that is unprecedented and transformative,” he said in a statement, noting the prestigious school was founded in 1876 by a $7 million gift from Baltimore merchant Johns Hopkins that was, similarly, the largest gift of its kind at the time.     By way of comparison, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation launched the Gates Millennium Scholars program in 1999 with a $1 billion commitment over 20 years. The Chronicle of Higher Education listed it as the largest private donation to a higher-education institution in the U.S. earlier this month.   Bloomberg said he expects the money will allow Hopkins to offer more generous scholarships and ease the debt burden for graduates.   “America is at its best when we reward people based on the quality of their work, not the size of their pocketbook,” he said in a statement. “Denying students entry to a college based on their ability to pay undermines equal opportunity.”   The 76-year-old founder of the global finances services and media company, Bloomberg L.P., is among the world's richest people. He graduated from Hopkins in 1964, served as New York mayor from 2002 to 2013 and has for years weighed running for president, including in 2020.      

  • UK Foreign Secretary to Make First Visit to Iran
    British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt will visit Iran for the first time on Monday for talks with the Iranian government on issues including the future of the 2015 nuclear deal, his office said in a statement. In May, U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned the deal, negotiated with five other world powers during Democratic president Barack Obama's administration, and earlier this month the United States restored sanctions targeting Iran's oil, banking and transportation sectors. Hunt's office said he would meet Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and would stress that the UK is committed to the nuclear deal as long as Iran sticks to its terms. He will also discuss European efforts to maintain nuclear-related sanctions relief. "The Iran nuclear deal remains a vital component of stability in the Middle East by eliminating the threat of a nuclearized Iran. It needs 100 percent compliance though to survive," Hunt said in a statement ahead of the visit. "We will stick to our side of the bargain as long as Iran does. But we also need to see an end to destabilizing activity by Iran in the rest of the region if we are going to tackle the root causes of the challenges the region faces." Hunt will also discuss Iran's role in the conflicts in Syria and Yemen, his office said, and press Iran on its human rights record, calling for the immediate release of detained British-Iranian dual nationals where there are humanitarian grounds to do so. "I arrive in Iran with a clear message for the country’s leaders: putting innocent people in prison cannot and must not be used as a tool of diplomatic leverage," he said.  

  • Migrant Caravan Triggers Protests in Tijuana, Mexico
    Hundreds of Tijuana residents congregated around a monument in an affluent section of the city south of California on Sunday to protest the thousands of Central American migrants who have arrived via caravan in hopes of a new life in the U.S. Tensions have built as nearly 3,000 migrants from the caravan poured into Tijuana in recent days after more than a month on the road, and with many more months ahead of them while they seek asylum. The federal government estimates the number of migrants could soon swell to 10,000. U.S. border inspectors are processing only about 100 asylum claims a day at Tijuana's main crossing to San Diego. Asylum seekers register their names in a tattered notebook managed by migrants themselves that had more than 3,000 names even before the caravan arrived. On Sunday, displeased Tijuana residents waved Mexican flags, sang the Mexican national anthem and chanted “Out! Out!” in front of a statue of the Aztec ruler Cuauhtemoc, 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) from the U.S. border. They accused the migrants of being messy, ungrateful and a danger to Tijuana. They also complained about how the caravan forced its way into Mexico, calling it an "invasion." And they voiced worries that their taxes might be spent to care for the group. “We don't want them in Tijuana,” protesters shouted.    Juana Rodriguez, a housewife, said the government needs to conduct background checks on the migrants to make sure they don't have criminal records. A woman who gave her name as Paloma lambasted the migrants, who she said came to Mexico in search of handouts. “Let their government take care of them,” she told video reporters covering the protest. A block away, fewer than a dozen Tijuana residents stood with signs of support for the migrants. Keila Samarron, a 38-year-old teacher, said the protesters don't represent her way of thinking as she held a sign saying: Childhood has no borders.   Most of the migrants who have reached Tijuana via caravan in recent days set out more than a month ago from Honduras, a country of 9 million people. Dozens of migrants in the caravan who have been interviewed by Associated Press reporters have said they left their country after death threats.   But the journey has been hard, and many have turned around.   Alden Rivera, the Honduran ambassador in Mexico, told the AP on Saturday that 1,800 Hondurans have returned to their country since the caravan first set out on Oct. 13, and that he hopes more will make that decision. ``We want them to return to Honduras,'' said Rivera. Honduras has a murder rate of 43 per 100,000 residents, similar to U.S. cities like New Orleans and Detroit. In addition to violence, migrants in the caravan have mentioned poor economic prospects as a motivator for their departures. Per capita income hovers around $120 a month in Honduras, where the World Bank says two out of three people live in poverty.   The migrants' expected long stay in Tijuana has raised concerns about the ability of the border city of more than 1.6 million people to handle the influx.   While many in Tijuana are sympathetic to the migrants' plight and trying to assist, some locals have shouted insults, hurled rocks and even thrown punches at them. The cold reception contrasts sharply with the warmth that accompanied the migrants in southern Mexico, where residents of small towns greeted them with hot food, campsites and even live music.   Tijuana Mayor Juan Manuel Gastelum has called the migrants' arrival an "avalanche" that the city is ill-prepared to handle, calculating that they will be in Tijuana for at least six months as they wait to file asylum claims. Gastelum has appealed to the federal government for more assistance to cope with the influx.   Mexico's Interior Ministry said Saturday that the federal government was flying in food and blankets for the migrants in Tijuana.   Tijuana officials converted a municipal gymnasium and recreational complex into a shelter to keep migrants out of public spaces. The city's privately run shelters have a maximum capacity of 700. The municipal complex can hold up to 3,000.   At the municipal shelter, Josue Caseres, 24, expressed dismay at the protests against the caravan. “We are fleeing violence,” said the entertainer from Santa Barbara, Honduras. ``How can they think we are going to come here to be violent?''     Some from the caravan have diverted to other border cities, such as Mexicali, a few hours to the east of Tijuana.   U.S. President Donald Trump, who sought to make the caravan a campaign issue in the midterm elections, used Twitter on Sunday to voice support for the mayor of Tijuana and try to discourage the migrants from seeking entry to the U.S. Trump wrote that like Tijuana, “the U.S. is ill-prepared for this invasion, and will not stand for it. They are causing crime and big problems in Mexico. Go home!” He followed that tweet by writing: “Catch and Release is an obsolete term. It is now Catch and Detain. Illegal Immigrants trying to come into the U.S.A., often proudly flying the flag of their nation as they ask for U.S. Asylum, will be detained or turned away.”    

  • Peru: Ex-President Has Sought Asylum in Uruguay
    Former Peruvian President Alan Garcia has sought asylum in Uruguay's diplomatic mission hours after a judge retained his passport as part of a corruption probe, Peru's Foreign Ministry announced Sunday.   The ministry said it was informed by Uruguay's ambassador that Garcia entered his residence Saturday night seeking protection. It vowed to provide unspecified information to Uruguay as it evaluates Garcia's request. Late Saturday, a judge in Lima granted prosecutors' request that Garcia be banned from leaving Peru for 18 months as investigators probe allegations he received illegal payment from Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht. Odebrecht is at the center of Latin America's biggest corruption scandal after admitting in a 2016 plea agreement with the U.S. Justice Department that it paid corrupt officials across Latin America nearly $800 million in exchange for major infrastructure contracts. The scandal has led to the jailing of numerous senior politicians across the region, especially in Brazil and Peru, where former President Pedro Pablo Kucyznski was forced to resign for hiding his past work as a consultant to Odebrecht and Garcia as well as two other former presidents, Ollanta Humala and Alejandro Toledo, are under investigation for allegedly taking illegal payments. Garcia, who splits his time between Madrid and Peru, downplayed the threat of arrest when he arrived home on Thursday. “For me it's not a punishment to be confined 18 months to my homeland,” he said on Twitter while denying that he had ever received money from Odebrecht. President Martin Vizcarra, who has made tackling corruption the focus of his administration since taking over from Kuczynski, rejected Garcia's claims the case against him was built on false testimony. “Political persecution doesn't exist in Peru, and all of us Peruvians must obey justice, without exceptions,” he wrote on Twitter shortly after news of Garcia's asylum request. Garcia is under investigation for bribes allegedly paid during the construction of Lima's metro during his 2006-2011 government. Garcia, 69, was a populist firebrand whose erratic first presidency in the 1980s was marked by hyperinflation, rampant corruption and the rise of the Shining Path guerrilla movement. When he returned to power two decades later he ran a more conservative government, helping usher in a commodities-led investment boom in which Odebrecht played a major supporting role. This is the second time Garcia has sought to flee to another country amid corruption charges. Following the end of his first government he spent nine years in exile in neighboring Colombia and then France after his successor, Alberto Fujimori, raided his house and reopened a corruption probe.  

  • WHO: DRC Ebola Response Efforts Resume in Beni After Clashes
    Efforts to fight a deadly Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo's restive eastern Beni region have resumed after a brief suspension following clashes, the World Health Organization said Sunday. "On Sunday, all activities have re-launched, including vaccination," the U.N. health agency said in a statement. Congo's health ministry had announced a suspension of operations in Beni after deadly clashes erupted Friday just a "few meters" from a local emergency center and the hotels of several response teams. UN peacekeepers from the MONUSCO mission had repelled an offensive by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) militia in Beni city's northern Boikene neighborhood, a ministry statement said. The ADF, a shadowy armed group that has killed hundreds of people since 2014 and at least seven peacekeepers in clashes just last week, wanted to "attack one of MONUSCO's bases", the statement added. WHO said that all the health workers involved in the Ebola response were safe, but said 16 of its staff in Beni had been temporarily evacuated to Goma for psychological care after the building they were staying in was hit by a shell that did not explode. Michel Yao, WHO's coordinator for Ebola response operations in Beni, told AFP Saturday that no one was injured, and said it remained unclear whether the shell had come from the ADF or MONUSCO forces. Since August 1, the Ebola outbreak in Beni, home to up to 300,000 people, has killed 213 people. A total of 30 health workers have been infected in the outbreak to date, including three deaths, according to the WHO. The UN has said unrest is hampering efforts to contain the disease in a region that has been troubled for decades by inter-ethnic bloodshed and militia violence. "WHO will continue to work side-by-side with the ministry and our partners to bring this Ebola outbreak to an end," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in Sunday's statement. "We honor the memory of those who have died battling this outbreak, and deplore the continuing threats on the security of those still working to end it," he added.  

  • Nigeria's Buhari Launches Re-Election Bid With Corruption Still in Focus
    Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari launched his manifesto on Sunday, hoping his anti-corruption agenda can win him a second term at a February 16 election. Buhari, a military ruler in the early 1980s, in 2015 became the first opposition candidate to oust a president through the ballot box. His focus on corruption may be offset by Nigeria's slow growth. The country emerged from its first recession in a quarter of a century - largely caused by low crude prices – last year. In his first term, Buhari ordered government revenues and funds recovered in corruption investigations to be placed in a central bank account known as the Treasury Single Account (TSA). That had protected government coffers from corruption when oil receipts - which make up two-thirds of revenues - were low, he said. "We are committed to deepening the work we started this first term such that the nation's assets and resources continue to be organized and utilized to do good for the common man," he said at the manifesto launch. Buhari said Nigeria had a chance to make "a break from its tainted past which favored an opportunistic few". Despite the president's focus on tackling corruption, there have not been any significant convictions related to graft in his first term. The main opposition party has accused Buhari of focusing on its members, which the presidency denies. The campaign team of opposition candidate, former vice president Atiku Abubakar, said Buhari's manifesto was an "anti-climax" and did not address Nigerians' economic problems. "If the state of the average Nigerian has not improved in the last three and a half years, more of the same is obviously not what they need," it said in an emailed statement. Abubakar is expected to unveil his policy plans on Monday.

  • Washington Looks for Clarity on Who Ordered Khashoggi Killed
    Confusion continues in Washington over what the Trump administration has concluded regarding the death of Saudi journalist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi – and the implications for U.S.-Saudi relations. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, President Donald Trump has repeatedly deflected questions about the kingdom’s crown prince amid news reports the CIA believes Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing, last month in Turkey.

  • Florida Governor Scott Wins US Senate Seat Following Recount
    Republican Rick Scott has won Florida's U.S. Senate race, defeating incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson - ending two weeks of insults, lawsuits, charges, and counter-charges. Scott says Nelson "graciously conceded" the election Sunday after a mandatory hand recount gave the Florida governor a 10,000 vote margin. State election officials are expected to certify the results Tuesday. President Donald Trump tweeted his congratulations to Scott, saying he waged a "courageous and successful campaign." Nelson, the incumbent, will likely retire from politics. He held the U.S. Senate seat from Florida since 2000 after serving 12 years in the House of Representatives. Scott led Nelson on election night by about 15,000 votes, triggering an automatic machine recount that was also inconclusive. This led to a second automatic recount, this time by hand. In the meantime, both Democrats and Republicans filed number of lawsuits relating to the recounts, including one that said many ballots were not counted because the signatures did not exactly match the ones on file. There were also problems involving electronic counting machines and one recount coming up 800 votes short of the original tally. Trump accused Nelson and the Democrats of fraud and trying to steal the election. Federal judge Mark Walker berated all sides last week, saying Florida's inability to decide elections has made the state a global "laughingstock." He was no doubt thinking about the 2000 presidential election which had to be decided by the Supreme Court when a state-wide vote recount in Florida was turning into a mess of confusion. Two other Florida contests have also been decided after recounts. Democrat Andrew Gillum conceded the race for governor to Republican Ron DeSantis Saturday. Gillum was trying to become Florida's first African-American governor. Democrat Nikki Fried narrowly beat Republican Matt Caldwell in the battle for Florida state agriculture commissioner.  

  • Trump Gives Himself an A+ as President
    Nearly halfway through his four-year term in the White House, U.S. President Donald Trump says he thinks of himself in the top rung of American presidents. "I would give myself an A+," Trump said in an interview with Fox News Sunday. "Can I go higher than that?" But the U.S. leader, in a White House interview taped Friday and aired Sunday, made a rare acknowledgement of an error in judgment, saying he should have gone last Monday to Arlington National Cemetery to commemorate the country's annual Veterans Day honoring those who have served in the U.S. armed forces or are currently serving in one of its military branches. "In retrospect, I should have," Trump told interviewer Chris Wallace. The U.S. leader, who has yet to visit U.S. troops in any war zones overseas, also said, "There are things that are being planned. I will be doing that." He declined to say when such a visit might occur because of security concerns. In the November 6 nationwide congressional and state elections, opposition Democrats took control of the House of Representatives for the first time in eight years and captured key governor's races in industrial states that were vital to Trump's 2016 election as president. National political surveys show Americans disapprove of his White House performance by a 52.9 to 43.3 percent margin, according to an average of polls by Real Clear Politics. But Trump took no blame for the losses because his name was not on the ballot, even though he told several political rallies ahead of the elections that voters ought to look at the voting that way, as a referendum on his policies and performance during the first 22 months of his presidency. "I won the Senate and that's historic, too," Trump said. "That's a tremendous victory." Trump's Republican party could add two seats to its current 51-49 majority bloc in the Senate, when two close contests are decided. Trump said Republicans also "had a tremendous set of victories" by winning governorships in the southern states of Georgia and Florida and the midwestern state of Ohio, even as Democrats won governorships in other electoral battlegrounds, including the key midwestern states of Michigan and Wisconsin that had been held by Republicans. As for the electoral losses, Trump said, "I didn't run. My name wasn't on the ballot. I had people that wouldn't vote because I wasn't on the ballot." Trump is already deep in planning for his 2020 re-election bid, while a long list of Democrats are considering whether to seek their party's presidential nomination to oppose him.      

  • November 18, 2018
    A look at the best news photos from around the world.

  • US-Led Coalition Denies Reports It Killed Dozens in Syria
    The U.S.-led coalition is denying reports that airstrikes it carried out in a part of eastern Syria held by the Islamic State group killed dozens of civilians. Syrian state media, a war monitor and an IS-linked news agency reported Saturday that coalition airstrikes killed 40 people, mostly women and children.   The coalition said in a statement late Saturday that it conducted 19 strikes in the area starting late Friday in support of ground operations against IS. It says all the targets it struck were "legitimate" and that no civilians were present.   It says another 10 strikes in the area were not carried out by the coalition.   Syria and Russia regularly launch airstrikes against suspected militants, and Iraq has carried out cross-border strikes targeting IS.    

  • Trump Tours Site of Devastating California Fire
    President Donald Trump on Saturday toured the site of California’s deadliest wildfire, which struck the town of Paradise and nearby communities. The death toll stands at 76, with more than 1,000 people still unaccounted for in the blaze in Northern California. Three people died in a separate fire near Los Angeles. Mike O’Sullivan reports that Trump promises to cooperate with California officials to prevent a recurrence.

  • Trump: No Plans to Listen to Tape of Khashoggi Killing
    U.S. President Donald Trump says he has been fully briefed on an audio recording of the killing of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside Riyadh's consulate in Istanbul last month, but has no intention of listening to it because of the violence it depicts. "It's a suffering tape. It's a terrible tape," Trump told Fox News Sunday in a White House interview that was taped Friday. "It's very violent, very vicious and terrible," Trump said. Trump said Saturday the U.S. government would release its findings on the October 2 killing of Khashoggi on Tuesday. The State Department says no final conclusions have been reached, although some U.S. news accounts have reported that the Central Intelligence Agency has concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Riyadh's de facto leader, ordered the killing. Watch related video by VOA's Michael Bowman: Asked in the Fox interview if the crown prince lied to him about his involvement, Trump replied, "I don't know. Who can really know? But I can say this, he's got many people... that say he had no knowledge." Trump added, "He told me that he had nothing to do with it. He told me that, I would say, maybe five times at different points, as recently as a few days ago." Saudi Arabia has filed charges against 11 operatives accused of involvement in Khashoggi's killing and said it will seek the death penalty against five of them. Trump conceded that people close to the prince "were probably involved." But he said, "I want to stick with an ally that in many ways has been very good." Fox interviewer Chris Wallace asked Trump whether he would go along with moves in Congress to cut off U.S. involvement in the Saudi-led war in Yemen or halt arms sales to Riyadh, but Trump said it depends. "I want to see Yemen end," he said. "It takes two to tango and Iran has to end also. I want Saudi to stop but I want Iran to stop also." Trump was briefed Saturday on the U.S. investigation of the killing of Khashoggi by telephone by CIA Director Gina Haspel and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo while the president was aboard Air Force One en route to California to inspect the devastation from wildfires in the western state. The State Department said the U.S. government "is determined to hold all those responsible for the killing... accountable" but that "numerous unanswered questions" remain. The assessment by the CIA, first reported Friday by The Washington Post, contradicts that of Saudi Arabia, whose top prosecutor one day earlier exonerated the crown prince in the killing of Khashoggi.   U.S. officials say the CIA concluded that 15 Saudi agents flew in a Saudi government aircraft to Istanbul and assassinated Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate.   Khashoggi, who wrote opinion columns for the Post and was a critic of the Saudi crown prince, was killed at the Saudi consulate while he was trying to get documents for his planned marriage to a Turkish woman. The Post said the CIA based its conclusion on multiple sources of intelligence, including a phone call that the prince's brother, Khalid bin Salman, who is also the Saudi ambassador to the United States, had with Khashoggi. In the phone call, Khalid told Khashoggi that it would be safe for him to go the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to retrieve the documents for his marriage. The paper said it was not known whether or not Khalid knew Khashoggi would be killed.   Khalid denied in a tweet on Friday that he had spoken with Khashoggi. “The last contact I had with Mr. Khashoggi was via text on Oct. 26, 2017. I never talked to him by phone and certainly never suggested he go to Turkey for any reason. I ask the U.S. government to release any information regarding this claim,'' he said.  

  • California Governor Lauds Trump for Not Cutting Funding Amid Fires
    California's governor expressed optimism Sunday that U.S. President Donald Trump would support the state as it battles one of the worst wildfires in its history. Following Trump's visit to California the day before, Democratic governor Jerry Brown said that the president has "got our back" and has pledged to continue to help in an interview with CBS' "Face the Nation" Sunday. "The president not only has signed a presidential declaration giving California substantial funding, but he said and pledged very specifically to continue to help us, that he's got our back," Brown said. "And I thought that was a very positive thing." Brown also suggested in Sunday's interview that California's wildfires will make the most ardent of climate change skeptics believers in the coming years. Trump visited California Saturday to get a close-up look at the widespread damage that raging wildfires have inflicted on the state. He flew from Washington to California and back to Washington in one day. "Nobody would have ever thought this could have happened," he said to reporters after walking through burned-out ruins in the Northern California town of Paradise. "It's like total devastation." At least 9,700 homes were destroyed in the flames and 76 people have died. More than 1,000 people are missing. The blaze known as the Camp Fire is now the deadliest one in California history. More than 5,500 firefighters are still trying to bring it under control. "I think people have to see this really to understand it," Trump said. Trump was accompanied on his visit by Paradise Mayor Jody Jones, California Governor Brown, Governor-elect Gavin Newsom, and Federal Emergency Management Agency head Brock Long. He pledged to the California officials the support of the federal government, saying, "We're all going to work together." He vowed also to work with environmental groups on better forest management and added, "Hopefully this is going to be the last of these because this was a really, really bad one." But when asked if the fire had changed his mind on climate change, Trump said, "No, no." He said he believes a lot of factors are to blame. The president also visited a local command center in Chico, California, and praised the firefighters and other first responders. "You folks have been incredible," he said, adding that those battling the flames are "fighting like hell." More than a week after the blaze erupted and raced through Paradise, the fire has burned about 590 square kilometers and is about 50 percent contained, officials said. Woolsey fire Late afternoon, Trump landed in Southern California, where the Woolsey Fire has burned nearly 390 square kilometers. Fire officials say the blaze had been about 60 percent contained by Friday. Evacuated residents are returning to the area. En route from Northern to Southern California, Trump told reporters he had not discussed climate change with Governor Brown and Governor-elect Newsom, both of whom accompanied him on the flight. "We have different views," Trump said. "But maybe not as different as people think." On the same issue, Brown told reporters, "We'll let science determine this over a longer period of time. Right now we're collaborating on the most immediate response and that's very important." Steve Herman contributed to this report.

  • Pence, Xi Sell Competing Views to Asian Regional Economies
    The United States and China offered competing views to regional leaders at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings in Papua New Guinea, trading sharp words over trade, investment, and regional security.  Washington said it can provide a better option for regional allies under is “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” strategy.  as VOA's State Department correspondent Nike Ching reports, the APEC gathering ended without a formal leaders' statement.

  • Trump: 'Probably' Won't Sit for Interview in Russia Investigation
    U.S. President Donald Trump is declaring that he "probably" won't sit for an in-person interview with special counsel Robert Mueller probing links between his 2016 campaign and Russia, suggesting that his written answers to the prosecutor's questions will be his final response. Trump told Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace that in recent days he gave "very, very complete answers to questions I shouldn't have been asked. Probably this is the end." In an interview at the White House taped Friday and broadcast Sunday, Trump said his lawyers are completing answers to Mueller's two dozen or so questions, but that, "They're writing what I tell them. It wasn't a big deal." Trump's lawyers are expected to turn over his written responses in the coming days, although Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani said last week some of the questions created "more issues for us legally than others.” Giuliani described some of the questions as "unnecessary,” some were “possible traps” and that “we might consider some as irrelevant.” The questions concerned events leading up to the November 2016 national election, not the two-plus months while Trump was the president-elect, or of events during Trump's presidency, where Mueller is investigating whether Trump obstructed justice by trying to thwart the probe. Trump, in the Fox interview, renewed his long-standing attacks on the 18-month Mueller investigation. "It's a scam," he said. "There was no collusion." A day after the nationwide congressional elections earlier this month, Trump ousted Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who had long drawn Trump's ire for removing himself from oversight of Mueller's investigation. Trump replaced him with a loyalist, acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, who had, before becoming Sessions's chief of staff more than a year ago, suggested that a replacement attorney, such as he is now, could cut funding for Mueller's probe so that it "grinds almost to a halt." Trump said he was unaware of Whitaker's commentary on news network CNN opposing the Mueller investigation before naming him as the country's top law enforcement official, but dismissed concerns about he will deal with the Mueller investigation. "He happened to be right," Trump said. "He said there was no collusion, he's right." But Trump he would leave it up to Whitaker, whom he described as an "astute politician," in how he oversees Mueller's probe, after Sessions had delegated Mueller oversight to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. "It's going to be up to him," Trump said of Whitaker. "I really believe he's going to do what's right." Some lawmakers, Democrats and Republicans alike, have demanded that Whitaker, because of his past attacks on the Mueller investigation, recuse himself from oversight, just as Sessions did. The former attorney general adhered to Justice Department rules requiring officials to recuse themselves from involvement in cases in which they might have a conflict of interest. Sessions was the first major political figure to support Trump in the 2016 election, but also had met with Russia's then-ambassador to Washington in the run-up to the voting two years ago. Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff, likely to head the House Intelligence Committee when Democrats take control of the House of Representatives in January, told ABC News, "The biggest flaw from my point of view is that [Whitaker] was chosen for the purpose of interfering with the Mueller investigation." Trump, who often brands political opponents with snarky nicknames, later said on Twitter, "So funny to see little Adam Schitt (D-CA) talking about the fact that Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker was not approved by the Senate, but not mentioning the fact that Bob Mueller (who is highly conflicted) was not approved by the Senate!" Schiff, with his name spelled by Trump into a vulgarity, retorted, "Wow, Mr. President, that's a good one. Was that like your answers to Mr. Mueller's questions, or did you write this one yourself?" Whitaker has not publicly commented on his role in overseeing the Mueller investigation, although the Justice Department has said that he is consulting ethics officials about any concerns they may have.        

  • Painting Found in Romania Studied As Possibly Stolen Picasso
    Romanian prosecutors are investigating whether a painting by Pablo Picasso that was snatched from a museum in the Netherlands six years ago has turned up in Romania. Four Romanians were convicted of stealing Picasso's “Tete d'Arlequin” and six other valuable paintings from the Kunsthal gallery in Rotterdam. One of them, Olga Dogaru, told investigators she burned the paintings in her stove to protect her son, the alleged leader of the 2012 heist. She later retracted the statement. Romania's Directorate for the Investigation of Organized Crime and Terrorism said Sunday it was examining the circumstances of a painting a fiction writer said she found under a tree after receiving an anonymous tip. The work, purported to be the stolen Picasso, was given to the Dutch embassy in Romania on Saturday.

  • Gene Editing Having Impact on Farming World
    Humans have been genetically modifying foods for centuries. Wild tomatoes or carrots for instance don't look much like the mass produced foods we eat today. But in these days of genetic modification, consumers have tended to keep so called "Frankenfoods" at arms length. VOA's Kevin Enochs reports a new generation of precision editing techniques may change that.

  • US Envoy 'Cautiously Optimistic' About Achieving Afghan Peace Deal
    The U.S. special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation says despite challenges and difficulties he is “cautiously optimistic or hopeful” about facilitating an inter-Afghan peace dialogue to end the 17-year war. Zalmay Khalilzad, an Afghan-born American diplomat, spoke to reporters Sunday, a day after returning to the Afghan capital from three days of marathon talks with Qatar-based political envoys of the Taliban. He spoke with Afghan politicians inside and outside of the government before traveling to the Gulf nation, where the insurgent group maintains its “political office.” “I know that the government of Afghanistan wants peace. The Taliban are saying that they do not believe that they can succeed militarily that they would like to see the problems that remain resolved by peaceful means, by political negotiations,” the U.S. envoy noted without sharing further details of his meetings with Taliban negotiators. “I think there is an opportunity for reconciliation and peace... I don’t have anything to announce today, but I remain cautiously optimistic or hopeful given the complexities that exist. I don't want to underestimate the challenges and I don't want to raise false expectations,” said Khalilzad. On Saturday, several Taliban sources also noted that both sides were optimistic about the dialogue process with Khalilzad’s team. He would not say whether the the Taliban is willing to give up on its key demands and insisted it is for Afghans themselves to discuss such internal issues when the rival sides come to the negotiating table. “The first thing to do is to get delegations selected, start a process for dialogue and from that dialogue or negotiations, then will come an outcome, hopefully a positive outcome, and that will have a roadmap for the future,” the ambassador said. The Taliban has recently boosted its team of negotiators in Qatar while Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has been holding meetings with leaders and representatives of Afghan political parties and civil society organizations about forming a negotiating team. Khalilzad has held two publicly known round of talks with the Taliban in more than a month. The Trump administration appointed him to the office in September with the goal of bringing the Afghan government and the insurgent group to the negotiating table. The Taliban says its dialogue process with Washington is aimed at securing a timetable for the withdrawal of all American and NATO troops from Afghanistan to pave the way for an intra-Afghan dialogue. But the insurgent group has not said whether it would be ready to hold direct talks with the Afghan government the Taliban dismisses as an “American puppet.”   “The government is an internationally recognized legitimate government of Afghanistan. So, I don't see a way around talking to the government,” the envoy noted when asked whether he was seeking talks between Kabul and the Taliban. Khalilzad stressed “the most important issue facing Afghanistan right now is the issue of peace”, but he denied comments attributed to him that the United States is seeking postponement of the April 20 presidential elections to allow the peace process to shape up first. “I hope that the Taliban and other Afghans would use the election date as a deadline to achieve a peace agreement before then ... because the violence will end, participation will be broader, the outcome would be more broadly accepted,” he explained. Ambassador Khalilzad spoke a day after the top U.S. military commander said the Taliban "are not losing" in Afghanistan and a political reconciliation, not the military effort, will help end the stalemated conflict. “Our task is to make sure the Taliban realize that they cannot win on the battlefield. They are not losing right now. I think that’s a fair statement,” Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a security forum Saturday in Halifax, Nova Scotia. “We used the term stalemate a year ago and relatively speaking it has not changed much,” Dunford added. He said that both political and military pressure is continuously being applied to push the Taliban to the negotiating table. “While there is much going on in that regard below the surface I think we are a long way from where we can say that we are on the right path,” the American commander noted.

  • In Jordan's Ancient Petra, Sirens Warn of Flash Floods
    In ancient times, Arab tribesmen dug diversion tunnels to protect their low-lying trading post of Petra against desert flash floods. More than two millennia later, an alarm system warns visitors if flood water rushes toward what has become Jordan's main tourist attraction. Earlier this month, the alarms were activated for the first time, said Hussein al-Hasanat of the Petra Development & Tourism Region Authority. Sirens blared minutes before a torrent fed by heavy rains approached the UNESCO World Heritage site carved into rose-hued rock face. Hundreds of tourists were able to seek higher ground and were later evacuated, he said. Amateur video posted online at the time showed visitors running through a steep, narrow canyon leading to the Treasury, Petra's main draw, as guides urged them to hurry. Later, visitors were seen standing on a higher patch near the Treasury as knee-high water poured through the canyon. Elsewhere in Jordan, such alarms are still missing. Thirty-four people were killed in flash floods in late September and early November. The last fatal flash flood struck Petra in 1963 when 22 French tourists and a local guide were killed by rapidly rising waters. In response, Jordan's Department of Antiquities built a dam to keep water from entering the canyon leading to the Treasury. In 2014, the alarm system was installed as added protection, with sirens set to go off when flood water rises above a certain level. On Nov. 9, the system was triggered for the first time, through a computer in the Petra Authority's control room. The computer is connected to eight rain forecast systems and two water detection stations placed in the area, within 8 kilometers (5 miles) of Petra. The network generates instant data allowing officials to measure possible danger and warn people by the time the water reaches Petra. Omar Dajani, a meteorologist at the Arabia Weather company, said alarms should be installed in all vulnerable areas in Jordan. He said urban sprawl has exacerbated the flood risk, which is particularly high in dry areas. “Now towns have spread so much and many of them were not built with respect for the geography of the region, such as valleys for example, where the water has naturally caused floods for millions of years,” Dajani said.