Russia Talks About Continuing with Black Sea Grain Initiative

The United Nations and Russia began talks Friday about Russia’s continued participation in the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which facilitates the export of Ukrainian grain and other agricultural products from Back Sea ports. Rebecca Greenspan, secretary-general of the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development, held discussions with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin. Before the talks, however, Vershinin said some recent Ukraine developments could not be overlooked in the talks. Those events include the destruction of the Kakhovka dam in the Kharkov region and the destruction of Russia’s Togliatti Odessa ammonia pipeline, also in Kharkov. The pipeline is one of the world’s longest for transporting ammonia. Russia said earlier this week a Ukrainian sabotage and reconnaissance group were behind the pipeline destruction. The initial 120-day grain agreement has been extended several times, most recently in May. …

Boris Johnson’s Shock Exit Reverberates Through British Ruling Party

Old rifts resurfaced Saturday in Britain’s ruling Conservative Party following former Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s abrupt resignation from parliament, while the opposition Labor Party sensed opportunity ahead of a general election next year. Johnson quit his 22-year political career late Friday to protest an investigation by lawmakers into his conduct as prime minister during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when lockdown-breaking parties were held in Downing Street. In his resignation statement, Johnson railed against the inquiry examining whether he misled the House of Commons about the gatherings. He also took aim at current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. Conservative lawmakers loyal to Johnson, some of whom received political honors from him just hours before his resignation, praised his record in social media posts. The rest were silent. “Well done Rishi for starting this nonsense!!” lawmaker Andrea Jenkyns wrote in a Conservative Party WhatsApp group, according to a screenshot shared by a Sky News reporter. Jenkyns received the honorary title of Dame from Johnson Friday, a power given to outgoing prime ministers. His premiership was cut short in part by anger in his own party and across Britain over COVID rule-breaking lockdown parties in his Downing Street office and residence. Johnson said the investigating committee had not found “a shred of evidence” against him. “Sunak supporters used resignations to drive Boris and his supporters from office,” veteran Conservative lawmaker John Redwood said Saturday, referring to Sunak’s decision to quit Johnson’s administration last year. “To avoid resignations from parliament the PM has to take the party in a direction more MPs want to go in and use more of its talent,” Redwood added.   Labor smells blood Johnson’s departure from parliament, alongside his ally Nadine Dorries who also resigned Friday, triggered by-elections for two Conservative-held constituencies that Sunak must now defend. The opposition Labor Party, which enjoys a roughly 16-point lead over Sunak’s Conservatives in opinion polls, said it relished the prospect. “We will be fighting to win in those constituencies,” Labor’s deputy leader Angela Rayner told the BBC Saturday. “They’ve created a by-election because both of them (Johnson and Dorries) have thrown their toys out of the pram.” Johnson’s decision to resign may be the end of his 22-year political career, where he rose from parliament to mayor of London and then built a profile that tipped the balance of the 2016 European Union referendum in favor of Brexit. Ed Davey, … Continue reading “Boris Johnson’s Shock Exit Reverberates Through British Ruling Party”

Ugandan Baseball Player Debuts in America

In the heart of Maryland, the Frederick Keys baseball team introduced its newest player last week, one unlike any other the team has seen in its 35-year history. Dennis Kasumba, 18-year-old catcher. From Uganda. Kasuma recently turned what seemed like an impossible dream into a reality, making the leap from the rough fields of his home country to the manicured grass of American professional baseball stadiums. For those following his journey, he stands as a symbol of resilience. Just three days after flying to the U.S., Kasumba took his first official steps onto an American baseball diamond on June 1 with the Keys. Batting in the ninth inning, he struck out on three pitches, but was able to make contact on the first pitch, fouling it off. The young player who once honed his skills on muddy streets using old tires and oil drums in Uganda, now finds himself playing high-quality amateur league baseball, one step below the professional minor leagues. “My first game was very, very good because I faced a pitcher who threw 95 [miles per hour – about 153 kph], yeah. And I hit it,” Kasumba told VOA. “I need to hit because I am here to hit, to show my skill, I am ready to hit. I want to show I can hit. I want to show them I can throw.” Kasumba’s story extends beyond his on-field skills. His journey from Uganda to the U.S. has captured the imagination of thousands on social media who have marveled at his intense workouts. In one, he practices his catching drills with a tire strapped to his back. One of these admirers was Joshua Williams, an American attorney and baseball enthusiast who helped make Kasumba’s dream a reality. “It all just started because I saw a video of him hitting off of a tire, hitting a baseball off of the tire with a Coke bottle,” Williams said. “So, I reached out to him on Facebook, started talking to him. We talked about his dreams and aspirations.” It took Kasumba almost two years to get a contract with an American team and several attempts at the U.S. Embassy in Uganda to secure a travel visa. Williams and some friends intensified their efforts after his third visa request was denied. “We started making our application a lot stronger. Several immigration attorneys at my firm jumped in and they were like, ‘Let’s … Continue reading “Ugandan Baseball Player Debuts in America”

US-Kosovo Diplomatic Spat Casts Shadow on Bilateral Relations

The United States and Kosovo are continuing to engage in an unusual public spat, after the staunch U.S. ally’s prime minister, Albin Kurti, resisted calls to take steps that the West says are necessary to de-escalate ethnic tensions in the country’s north. Tensions flared last week as ethnic Albanian mayors entered municipal buildings with the backing of police, despite having won with only 3.5 percent of the vote in local elections that ethnic Serbs boycotted. U.S. Special Envoy for the Western Balkans Gabriel Escobar and EU Special Envoy Miroslav Lajcak visited Kosovo and Serbia this week, where they asked the leaders of the two countries to de-escalate, hold quick new elections in northern Kosovo and resume their dialogue. It’s unclear if they will be able to persuade the two sides. Escobar has called Kurti inflexible and uncooperative, and Kurti complained that Washington and Brussels are biased in favor of Serbia. What’s at stake is a deal between Kosovo and Serbia aimed at normalizing relations, but so far no concrete steps have been taken. On Thursday, U.S. Ambassador to Serbia Christopher Hill was blunt in an interview with VOA’s Serbian Service, saying Washington has a problem with Kurti. “He’s not willing to comply, and I think we have some very fundamental issues with him on whether we can count on him as a partner,” he said. Kurti fired back, complaining in an interview with The Associated Press of bias against his country from the United States and the European Union and tolerance of what he calls Serbia’s authoritarian regime. “Behaving well with an autocrat doesn’t make him behave better. On the contrary,” he told AP. Hill confirmed a view that many who have followed the Western Balkans and U.S. engagement with Kosovo share these days. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a deep division, really … what we have going right now between Pristina and Washington,” he said. US approach debated While analysts agree that the situation is dangerous, they have different opinions on the United States’ open criticism of Kurti. Luke Coffey, a senior fellow with the Hudson Institute, said the biggest concern for him has been the way the Biden administration has handled the situation, calling Escobar’s approach “almost reckless.” “I understand this desire to put pressure on both sides by the U.S. government, but it seems like right now the pressure is disproportionately on Kosovo. … And … Continue reading “US-Kosovo Diplomatic Spat Casts Shadow on Bilateral Relations”

Biden, Stoltenberg to Meet Amid Jockeying for NATO Chief’s Successor 

U.S. President Joe Biden is set to meet outgoing NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg at the White House on Monday as jockeying to secure his successor intensifies. While the White House says the official agenda for the meeting is to discuss the alliance’s July summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, the issue of who will be next at NATO’s helm during this difficult period in its 74-year history will no doubt be front and center, as the alliance faces Russia’s war in Ukraine. Stoltenberg, a former Norwegian prime minister, is the longest-serving NATO chief in a generation and has had his tenure extended three times since taking the job in 2014. In February, his spokesperson said he would leave office when his current term ends in October. Stoltenberg is widely credited for managing rocky transatlantic relations between former U.S. President Donald Trump and European allies over defense spending; the withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan in August 2021; and the alliance’s response to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. His preference about his successor carries weight and Biden is expected to consult with him. “A lot of people will look to him to say, ‘Who do you think is the best to follow up your leadership?” Andrew Hyde, senior fellow at the Stimson Center, told VOA. Whoever succeeds Stoltenberg will face the daunting challenge of shepherding the security of 1 billion people in 31 countries and growing. He or she must manage the tough balancing act of supporting Ukraine militarily while preventing the conflict from bleeding into the territory of a NATO member, which would trigger the alliance’s Article 5 principle of collective defense and potentially lead to World War III.   Consensus based  A U.S. general is traditionally the Supreme Allied Commander Europe but the post of NATO chief has always been assumed by a European, even though there’s nothing in the alliance’s charter that requires it. There’s no formal process and candidates don’t announce that they’re running for the post. Selection is done through consensus, achieved mostly through quiet and informal diplomatic channels. As the biggest donor, the U.S. plays a key role — the reason why two contenders have visited the Oval Office recently. Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen met with Biden at the White House on Monday. She is seen as a front-runner; however, her candidacy would mean a third successive secretary-general from a Nordic country. Another potential hurdle is that Denmark … Continue reading “Biden, Stoltenberg to Meet Amid Jockeying for NATO Chief’s Successor “

Archbishop of Canterbury ‘Dismayed’ at Ugandan Church Support of New Anti-Gay Law

The archbishop of Canterbury has written to Ugandan Archbishop Stephen Kaziimba to express his “grief and dismay” at the Church of Uganda’s support of the African country’s anti-LGBT law. “Within the Anglican Communion we continue to disagree over matters of sexuality, but in our commitment to God-given human dignity we must be united,” Justin Welby said in a statement Friday. The Ugandan law, approved by President Yoweri Museveni, is severe.  Under the law, gay sex is punishable by life in prison. “Aggravated homosexuality,” which includes transmitting HIV, is punishable by death. Kaziimba has said he welcomes the new law, saying that homosexuality was being pushed on Ugandans by “foreign actors.” “This is not about imposing Western values on our Ugandan Anglican sisters and brothers,” Welby said in his statement.  “It is about reminding them of the commitments we have made as Anglicans to treat every person with the care and respect they deserve as children of God.” …

US Ambassador to UN ‘Gravely Concerned’ About Russia-Iran Military Cooperation

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said Friday she is “gravely concerned by the growing military cooperation” between Russia and Iran because it enables “Russia’s prosecution of its brutal war against Ukraine.” Thomas-Greenfield said in a statement, the recent release of information by the United States documenting how Iran has provided Russia with hundreds of one-way, attack unmanned aerial vehicles and UAV production equipment, has enabled Russia to use the UAVs “in recent weeks to strike Kyiv, destroy Ukranian infrastructure, and kill and terrorize Ukrainians civilians.” She said Russia and Iran’s actions violate U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231, “which prohibits all countries – including permanent members of the U.N. Security Council – from transferring these types of weapons from Iran.” Many countries, including Ukraine and the United States, have reported these violations to the Security Council and have also provided supporting material and analysis, according to Thomas-Greenfield. “There is an urgent need for the secretary-general to respond to calls from the international community to investigate these violations,” she said. “Doing so could save lives.” …

UN: Sudan Cannot Apply ‘Persona Non Grata’ to UN Envoy 

The United Nations said Friday that U.N. personnel cannot be made persona non grata after Sudan declared U.N. special envoy to Sudan Volker Perthes unwelcome in the country.   Sudan’s army – led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan – and the country’s paramilitary Rapid Support Forces began fighting eight weeks ago, sparking a major humanitarian crisis. They agreed to a nationwide, 24-hour cease-fire beginning Saturday morning, U.S. and Saudi Arabian mediators said Friday.   Sudan said Thursday that it had notified the United Nations that Perthes was persona non grata. Burhan had previously expressed his disapproval of the envoy.  “The secretary-general recalls that the doctrine of persona non grata is not applicable to or in respect of United Nations personnel, and its invocation is contrary to the obligations of states under the Charter of the United Nations,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Friday.   He said Perthes was currently in Addis Ababa.  …

UN Weekly Roundup: June 3-9, 2023

Editor’s note: Here is a fast take on what the international community has been up to this past week, as seen from the United Nations perch. Ukrainian sites flooded following blast at dam On Tuesday, a major dam in southern Ukraine was blown up, resulting in flooding that has displaced thousands, destroyed crops and killed livestock, and potentially dislodged landmines and unexploded ordnance that could now pose hazards to the general population. Ukraine and Russia accused each other of being behind the blast at the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant dam, which is under Russian control. The dam also provides water upstream to cool reactors at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure must stop. The U.N. has been assisting the affected region with humanitarian aid, including clean drinking water. The U.N. Security Council met late Tuesday in an emergency session at both Ukraine’s and Russia’s insistence. Ukraine’s president visited the region Thursday, calling for a scaled up international response. Dam Blown Up in Country’s South Unleashes Torrent of Water, Evacuations 300 children rescued from Sudanese orphanage The U.N. children’s agency, UNICEF, said Thursday that nearly 300 children were safely relocated from an orphanage in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, to a transit center in a safer location. The International Committee for the Red Cross facilitated the evacuation of the children and their caretakers. At least 70 children had reportedly died at the Mygoma orphanage since fighting began April 15. Read more from The Associated Press: UNICEF Says 300 Trapped Children Rescued from Sudanese Orphanage After 71 Others Died Food aid diverted in Ethiopia The World Food Program said Friday that it is speeding up efforts to roll out improved safeguards and controls to ensure humanitarian food aid reaches the people it is intended for in Ethiopia. WFP’s announcement follows a joint statement by Ethiopia’s Foreign Ministry and USAID about revelations of food aid diversion in the country. WFP paused food distributions in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region in April, after evidence of significant food aid sales in local markets. In a statement, WFP said while it has temporarily halted food aid assistance in Ethiopia, it has continued nutrition assistance to children, pregnant and breastfeeding women, school meals programs, and activities for building the resilience of farmers and pastoralists. More than 20 million people across Ethiopia need food assistance this year. Report: US Suspends … Continue reading “UN Weekly Roundup: June 3-9, 2023”

White House Warns Private Entities: Products Could Be Used in Iran Drones 

The White House has warned private entities, especially technology companies, about the risks of their products ending up in Iranian hands. Russia has been using drones in its war against Ukraine, attacking cities and destroying infrastructure, and — according to the White House — is working with Iran to produce them from inside Russia. VOA Persian’s White House correspondent Farhad Pouladi on Friday spoke with John Kirby, National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, about this and other issues the administration is tackling regarding the Islamic Republic. VOA: On Iran and Russia cooperation on drones, what advice does the administration have by issuing this new advisory? NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS JOHN KIRBY: Well, we want to make sure that private entities, certainly technology companies, understand the risks of their products potentially ending up in Iranian hands to be used for the manufacture of Iranian drones in this case that can be used to kill innocent Ukrainian people. So, the purpose of the advisory was really to make sure that the business community understands our concerns and is taking a look at its own procedures and procedures. VOA: In the past two weeks, Iran unveiled a hypersonic missile called Fattah and a 2 kilometer-range missile called Kheibar. With the arms embargo under UNSC Resolution 2231 coming to an end in October, and considering Russia’s veto power, what is the U.S. hoping to do? KIRBY: Well, I can’t get ahead of the U.N. process here. But you’re right. This activity by Iran, particularly with ballistic missiles, is a violation of 2231. Again, I won’t get ahead of the process here and where it’s going. Clear violations, we’re going to continue to work with our allies and partners at the U.N. and outside the U.N. to make sure that we’re putting enough pressure on Iran so that they stop this destabilizing activity. Their ballistic missile program continues to improve. It presents a clear threat to the region, certainly to our friends in the region. And now some of these capabilities, not ballistic missiles necessarily but in terms of UAVs, [unmanned aerial vehicles] now, this capability, this technology is being used inside Ukraine to kill innocent Ukrainians. And now we know that Iran is working with Russia on the potential construction of a manufacturing facility, or the conversion of one, to be used inside Russia to actually produce, organically, there inside … Continue reading “White House Warns Private Entities: Products Could Be Used in Iran Drones “

UN Sending Home Peacekeepers Implicated in Sexual Abuse

The United Nations said Friday that it is sending home a unit of 60 Tanzanian peacekeepers from the Central African Republic, after a preliminary investigation found credible evidence that 11 of them allegedly sexually exploited and abused at least four victims.   “The unit has been relocated to another base while investigations continue, and its members have been confined to the barracks, in order to protect victims and the integrity of the investigation,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters. “The unit will be repatriated once their presence is no longer required by the investigation.”  Dujarric said the victims are being provided with care and support by the mission’s humanitarian partners. He added that Tanzanian authorities have been notified and are deploying their own investigators to the Central African Republic.  “In reaffirming their commitment to zero tolerance for sexual exploitation and abuse, the Tanzanian authorities noted the seriousness of the allegations and have committed to taking the necessary action to address these matters,” Dujarric said.  VOA has asked Tanzania’s U.N. ambassador for comment.  According to the Department of Peacekeeping’s website, Tanzania has about 1,586 uniformed personnel in the C.A.R. as part of the more than 17,000-strong mission, known by its acronym, MINUSCA.  The U.N. has the authority to repatriate international peacekeepers when there is credible evidence that members of a military or police unit have engaged in widespread or systemic sexual exploitation or abuse.  Dujarric said the Tanzanian peacekeepers were deployed at a temporary operating base in the western part of the Central African Republic.  The country has been locked in a cycle of political instability, violence and human rights abuses since the 1990s. Intense sectarian fighting in 2013 led to the U.N. authorizing the stabilization mission to the country the following year.  Since it was established, MINUSCA has had repeated problems with international peacekeepers engaging in sexual exploitation and abuse, including the abuse of children.  “The United Nations remains committed to robustly implementing the secretary-general’s zero-tolerance policy on sexual exploitation and abuse,” Dujarric told reporters. …

Damage Assessment of Ukraine Dam Disaster Underway

From up close, the catastrophic destruction of the Kakhovka dam in Ukraine appears worse than how it’s depicted in news reports and far off satellite imagery, according to U.N. officials who assessed conditions in the area on Friday. “We have been visiting this morning with the authorities the communities, the small villages along the river that have been completely submerged by the flooding,” said Denise Brown, one of several U.N. officials who addressed journalists via satellite from the town of Bilozerka, on the west bank of Dnipro River. “The status situation is dramatic,” said Brown, humanitarian coordinator in Ukraine for the U.N. office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs, OCHA. “This is a town that is five kilometers from the front line,” Brown said. “Daily shelling, including yesterday, and now because of the destruction of the bridge, which is a result of the war, and now this flooding, which came in the middle of the night. It came very fast, very quickly and people were totally taken by surprise. “We visited a few homes this morning with people who are, as you can imagine, totally distraught by this latest catastrophe to hit them,” she said. “But I must say, as always, they are incredibly resilient and vowing to stay in their homes.” Ukrainian authorities report at least 80 towns and villages in the Kherson region are fully or partially flooded, as well as thousands of hectares of agricultural land, with some 17,000 people in government-controlled areas affected by the flooding. Shabia Mantoo, spokeswoman for the U.N. refugee agency, said, “Many thousands more in the areas under the temporary military control of the Russian Federation, to [which] humanitarian organizations currently have no access, have also been affected.” The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights reports that it has repeatedly asked the Russian Federation for access to the territories it occupies. “The Russian Federation has denied us this access,” said Jeremy Laurence, spokesman for the OHCHR. “Not only OHCHR monitors, but humanitarian actors cannot get into the occupied territories.” He added, “We reiterate the broader U.N. call to the Russian Federation to grant access to the occupied territories, to assist clinicians who have suffered from the humanitarian catastrophe caused by the destruction of the Khakhova dam.” Humanitarian agencies report that Ukrainian authorities, the International Red Cross, as well as U.N., and non-governmental organizations reacted quickly after the dam broke on … Continue reading “Damage Assessment of Ukraine Dam Disaster Underway”

Reflection: Historic Trump Indictment Opens New Chapter in US Politics

Donald Trump made history on Thursday. The 78-year-old former president and front-runner in next year’s Republican presidential primaries announced he has been indicted on federal criminal charges. None of his predecessors, since the United States declared independence in 1776, has ever faced such legal peril.   While politics is a zero-sum game in many countries, including some democracies where rival leaders will use the levers of powers to neutralize their predecessors, that has not traditionally been the case in America.  When he was president, Trump’s critics accused him of lurching towards authoritarianism and trying to use his political office to stay in power after he lost his bid for reelection. Of course Trump, in his trademark approach to politics, is now alleging just such an abuse of office, accusing the Democratic administration of Joe Biden of weaponizing the Federal Bureau of Investigation and its parent agency, the Department of Justice, in “warfare for the law.”  Trump, who like all defendants is presumed innocent pending the outcome of a trial, has been claiming the system is rigged against him since the first votes were cast in the Iowa caucuses in 2016. Back then he blamed rival candidate Ted Cruz and demanded, without success, that “a new election should take place or Cruz results (be) nullified.”  Even when he won the general election later that year, he claimed fraud. Trump won the Electoral College vote (based on a majority of votes in each individual state) but lost the popular vote to Democrat Hillary Clinton.  “In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally,” Trump stated without any evidence.  During his four years in office, in which he was impeached twice by the House but not convicted in the Senate, Trump repeatedly stated he was the target of witch hunts and that he never did anything wrong. There was the “perfect phone call” with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in which he repeatedly pressed for the foreign leader to investigate Biden in a suggested quid pro quo. That led to the first impeachment.  Then there was the ignominious day at the U.S. Capitol when Trump supporters stormed the symbol of American democracy after their president incited them to “fight like hell” or “you’re not going to have a country anymore. So let’s walk down Pennsylvania Avenue.” Trump returned … Continue reading “Reflection: Historic Trump Indictment Opens New Chapter in US Politics”

Russia Receiving Hundreds of Iranian Drones, Plans to Produce Them: White House

Moscow has not only received hundreds of Iranian drones but is working with Iran to produce them from inside Russia, according to the White House — a sign of the deepening military partnership between the two countries. “We have information that Russia is receiving materials from Iran needed to build a UAV manufacturing plant inside Russia,” said National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby in a statement sent to VOA Thursday. “This plant could be fully operational early next year.”  The White House released satellite imagery of the planned location of the UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) manufacturing plant in Russia’s Alabuga Special Economic Zone.  Kirby said that currently, drones are built in Iran, shipped across the Caspian Sea from Amirabad, Iran to Makhachkala, Russia, and then used operationally by Russian forces against Ukraine. On Friday, the Biden Administration is releasing a new advisory to help businesses and other governments “better understand the risks posed by Iran’s UAV program and the illicit practices Iran uses to procure components for it.”   “This will help governments and businesses put in place measures to ensure they are not inadvertently contributing to Iran’s UAV program,” Kirby added.  Russia has increasingly deployed drones to bombard Ukrainian cities and targets in recent weeks. They are “a difficult target because Ukraine has limited air defense resources,” Ukrainian Air Force spokesperson Yurii Ihnat told VOA Friday. “Iranian drones are hard to detect; they are slow,” he said. “The Shaheds fly very low, use the river delta and forest, and drop from the radars.” Ihnat noted that Moscow sends the drones to all parts of Ukrainian territory from different directions. “Ukraine Air defense today is focused on the protection of big towns, infrastructure objects, and critical infrastructure,” he said. JCPOA sunset This latest revelation is part of the administration’s periodic release of intelligence findings about Russia’s war in Ukraine, with the goal of further isolating Moscow and its supporters.  The timing coincides with sunset clauses in the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which imposed international restrictions on Iranian weapons. Many of the JCPOA’s sunset clauses were already made obsolete after President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the agreement in May 2018 and reimposed sanctions, which led Iran to breach its obligations and enrich uranium to higher levels beginning in July 2019.  Still, since the JCPOA was never officially nullified by … Continue reading “Russia Receiving Hundreds of Iranian Drones, Plans to Produce Them: White House”

Macron Visits Victims of Stabbing that Shocked France

French President Emmanuel Macron, accompanied by his wife, Brigitte, traveled to the French Alps Friday to be with families of the victims stabbed Thursday in a lakeside park in the city of Annecy.  The couple’s first stop was a hospital in the French city of Grenoble, where three of the four young children are receiving treatment.   Government officials said all four children have undergone surgery and are “under constant medical surveillance,” with one child in critical condition.  The fourth child is being treated in Geneva, in Switzerland.   It is not immediately clear whether the president and his wife will go to Geneva.  A man stabbed the children and two adults at the park Thursday morning in an attack Macron said shocked the country.  All four children suffered life-threatening knife wounds, lead prosecutor Line Bonnet-Mathis said. The youngest is 22 months old, two are 2 years old and the oldest is 3, the prosecutor said. Police quickly detained the suspect — a 31-year-old Syrian national. French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said the suspect has refugee status in Sweden. “The nation is in shock,” Macron tweeted. He described the assault as an “attack of absolute cowardice.”   Video appearing to show the attack circulated on social media. In the video, a man in dark glasses with a blue scarf covering his head wielded a knife as people screamed for help.   One woman tried to fend off the attacker in the enclosed play park, but she could not stop him from leaning over her stroller and stabbing downward multiple times.   Two of the young victims were French.  The other two were tourists, one British, the other Dutch.  Two adults also suffered knife wounds. One of the adults was also injured by a shot fired by police as they were arresting the suspect, Bonnet-Mathis said.   In Paris, lawmakers paused a debate to hold a moment of silence for the victims.   The National Assembly president, Yaël Braun-Pivet, said, “There are some very young children who are in critical condition, and I invite you to respect a minute of silence for them, for their families, and so that, we hope, the consequences of this very grave attack do not lead to the nation grieving.” “Nothing more abominable than to attack children,” Braun-Pivet said on Twitter.  Some information in this report came from Reuters and The Associated Press. …

Smoke Gives US East Coast, Canada New View of Fire Threat

Images of smoke obscuring the New York skyline and the Washington Monument this week have given the world a new picture of the perils of wildfire, far from where blazes regularly turn skies into hazardous haze. A third day of unhealthy air from Canadian wildfires may have been an unnerving novelty for millions of people on the U.S. East Coast, but it was a reminder of conditions routinely troubling the country’s West — and a wake-up call about the future, scientists say. “This is kind of an astounding event” but likely to become more common amid global warming, said Justin Mankin, a Dartmouth College geography professor and climate scientist. “This is something that we, as the eastern side of the country, need to take quite seriously.” Millions of residents could see that for themselves Thursday. The conditions sent asthma sufferers to hospitals, delayed flights, postponed ballgames and even pushed back a White House Pride Month celebration. The fires sent plumes of fine particulate matter as far away as North Carolina and northern Europe and parked clumps of air rated unhealthy or worse over the heavily populated Eastern Seaboard. At points this week, air quality in places including New York, the nation’s most populous city, nearly hit the top of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s air-pollution scale. Local officials urged people to stay indoors as much as possible and wear face masks when they venture out. Such conditions are nothing new — indeed, increasingly frequent — on the U.S. West Coast, where residents were buying masks and air filters even before the coronavirus pandemic and have become accustomed to checking air quality daily in summertime. Since 2017, California has seen eight of its 10 largest wildfires and six of the most destructive. The hazardous air has sometimes forced children, older adults and people with asthma and other respiratory conditions to stay indoors for weeks at a time. Officials have opened smoke shelters for people who are homeless or who might not have access to clean indoor air. So what’s the big deal about the smoke out East? “The West has always burned, as has Canada, but what’s important now is that we’re getting these massive amounts of smoke in a very populated region, so many, many people are getting affected,” said Loretta Mickley, the co-leader of Harvard University’s Atmospheric Chemistry Modeling Group. Fueled by an unusually dry and warm period in … Continue reading “Smoke Gives US East Coast, Canada New View of Fire Threat”

US Supreme Court Rules In Favor Of Black Alabama Voters

The Supreme Court on Thursday issued a surprising 5-4 ruling in favor of Black voters in a congressional redistricting case from Alabama, with two conservative justices joining liberals in rejecting a Republican-led effort to weaken a landmark voting rights law. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh aligned with the court’s liberals in affirming a lower court ruling that found a likely violation of the Voting Rights Act in an Alabama congressional map with one majority Black seat out of seven districts in a state where more than one in four residents is Black. The state now will have to draw a new map for next year’s elections. The decision was keenly anticipated for its potential effect on control of the closely divided U.S. House of Representatives. Because of the ruling, new maps are likely in Alabama and Louisiana that could allow Democratic-leaning Black voters to elect their preferred candidates in two more congressional districts. The outcome was unexpected in that the court had allowed the challenged Alabama map to be used for the 2022 elections, and in arguments last October the justices appeared willing to make it harder to challenge redistricting plans as racially discriminatory under the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The chief justice himself suggested last year that he was open to changes in the way courts weigh discrimination claims under the part of the law known as section 2. But on Thursday, Roberts wrote that the court was declining “to recast our section 2 case law as Alabama requests.” Roberts also was part of conservative high-court majorities in earlier cases that made it harder for racial minorities to use the Voting Rights Act in ideologically divided rulings in 2013 and 2021. The other four conservative justices dissented Thursday. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the decision forces “Alabama to intentionally redraw its longstanding congressional districts so that black voters can control a number of seats roughly proportional to the black share of the State’s population. Section 2 demands no such thing, and, if it did, the Constitution would not permit it.” The Biden administration sided with the Black voters in Alabama. Attorney General Merrick Garland applauded the ruling: “Today’s decision rejects efforts to further erode fundamental voting rights protections, and preserves the principle that in the United States, all eligible voters must be able to exercise their constitutional right to vote free from discrimination based on … Continue reading “US Supreme Court Rules In Favor Of Black Alabama Voters”