US suggests Israel need not retaliate against Iran

WASHINGTON — Top officials in Washington are attempting to avoid a widening war in the Middle East after Iran launched an unprecedented attack on Israel with explosive drones and missiles.  “There need to be some consequences here,” said a senior U.S. official briefing reporters Sunday afternoon on the condition of not being named.  But U.S. President Joe Biden, in his latest conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, “made very clear to the prime minister last night that we do have to think carefully and strategically about risks of escalation,” especially in view of the attack causing only light damage and no significant casualties, the official said. Israeli officials insist there will be a response, but the country’s war Cabinet appears divided on how and when.  If Israel retaliates, it would be doing it alone.  “We would not envision ourselves participating in such a thing,” replied the senior administration official when asked whether the United States would participate in any military response to the Iranian attack.  It was an “incredible military achievement” by Israel, the United States and other partners in repelling “more than 300 drones and missiles” launched by Iran, according to White House national security spokesperson John Kirby. US Central Command says its forces, supported by US European Command destroyers, on Saturday and on Sunday morning “successfully engaged and destroyed more than 80 one-way attack uncrewed aerial vehicles (OWA UAV) and at least six ballistic missiles intended to strike Israel from Iran and Yemen. This includes a ballistic missile on its launcher vehicle and seven UAVs destroyed on the ground in Iranian-backed Houthi controlled areas of Yemen prior to their launch.” U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, in a statement late Saturday, said the explosive aircraft and missiles were launched from the territories of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Yemen. “We call on Iran to immediately halt any further attacks, including from its proxy forces, and to deescalate tensions,” Austin said. “We do not seek conflict with Iran, but we will not hesitate to act to protect our forces and support the defense of Israel.” He spoke by phone Sunday for the third time during the weekend with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant. Biden convened a hastily arranged video conference Sunday of leaders of the Group of Seven nations to coordinate a united diplomatic response to the Iranian attack. “With its actions, Iran has further stepped toward the destabilization of the … “US suggests Israel need not retaliate against Iran”

American Scottie Scheffler wins 2024 Masters golf tournament

Augusta, Georgia — American Scottie Scheffler won his second Masters title with an ice-cool four stroke victory at Augusta National on Sunday. Scheffler, the world number one and 2022 Masters winner, shot a final round four-under par 68 to end on 11-under for the tournament with Masters first-timer Ludvig Aberg of Sweden finishing as the runner-up. It was a classic display of calmness and precision from Scheffler, who kept his focus after making bogies on the fourth and seventh holes to run away with the contest on the back nine. Scheffler began the round with a one-shot lead over fellow American Collin Morikawa but the contest took a decisive turn on the ninth hole. Morikawa double-bogeyed and Scheffler made birdie and the three-stroke swing left the 24-year-old Aberg his closest challenger after the turn. But after Aberg double-bogeyed the 11th, the outcome was in Scheffler’s safe hands and the 27-year-old Texan made sure of victory with birdies on 13, 14 and 16. The win is Scheffler’s third victory of the season coming after his wins at Bay Hill and the Players Championship last month. …

Private California school sponsoring students from Ukraine, Afghanistan

A private high school in California has provided scholarships to three refugee students — one from Ukraine and two from Afghanistan. VOA’s Genia Dulot has the story of an American educator who has even opened her home to the two Afghans teens as they complete their studies. …

AI-generated fashion models could bring more diversity to industry — or leave it with less

Chicago, Illinois — London-based model Alexsandrah has a twin, but not in the way you’d expect: Her counterpart is made of pixels instead of flesh and blood. The virtual twin was generated by artificial intelligence and has already appeared as a stand-in for the real-life Alexsandrah in a photo shoot. Alexsandrah, who goes by her first name professionally, in turn receives credit and compensation whenever the AI version of herself gets used — just like a human model. Alexsandrah says she and her alter-ego mirror each other “even down to the baby hairs.” And it is yet another example of how AI is transforming creative industries — and the way humans may or may not be compensated. Proponents say the growing use of AI in fashion modeling showcases diversity in all shapes and sizes, allowing consumers to make more tailored purchase decisions that in turn reduces fashion waste from product returns. And digital modeling saves money for companies and creates opportunities for people who want to work with the technology. But critics raise concerns that digital models may push human models — and other professionals like makeup artists and photographers — out of a job. Unsuspecting consumers could also be fooled into thinking AI models are real, and companies could claim credit for fulfilling diversity commitments without employing actual humans. “Fashion is exclusive, with limited opportunities for people of color to break in,” said Sara Ziff, a former fashion model and founder of the Model Alliance, a nonprofit aiming to advance workers’ rights in the fashion industry. “I think the use of AI to distort racial representation and marginalize actual models of color reveals this troubling gap between the industry’s declared intentions and their real actions.”   Women of color in particular have long faced higher barriers to entry in modeling and AI could upend some of the gains they’ve made. Data suggests that women are more likely to work in occupations in which the technology could be applied and are more at risk of displacement than men. In March 2023, iconic denim brand Levi Strauss & Co. announced that it would be testing AI-generated models produced by Amsterdam-based company Lalaland.ai to add a wider range of body types and underrepresented demographics on its website. But after receiving widespread backlash, Levi clarified that it was not pulling back on its plans for live photo shoots, the use of live models or … “AI-generated fashion models could bring more diversity to industry — or leave it with less”

US judge tosses out lawsuits against Libyan commander accused of war crimes

Alexandria, Virginia — A U.S. judge has tossed out a series of civil lawsuits against a Libyan military commander who used to live in Virginia and was accused of killing innocent civilians in that country’s civil war. At a court hearing Friday, U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema said she had no jurisdiction to preside over a case alleging war crimes committed in Libya, even though the defendant, Khalifa Haftar, has U.S. citizenship and lived for more than 20 years in the northern Virginia suburbs of the nation’s capital as an exile from the regime of Moammar Gadhafi. The ruling was a significant reversal of fortune for Haftar. In 2022, Brinkema entered a default judgment against Haftar after he refused to sit for scheduled depositions about his role in the fighting that has plagued the country over the last decade. But Haftar retained new lawyers who persuaded the judge to reopen the case and made Haftar available to be deposed. He sat for two separate depositions in 2022 and 2023 and denied orchestrating attacks against civilians. Once a lieutenant to Gadhafi, Haftar defected to the U.S. during the 1980s. He is widely believed to have worked with the CIA during his time in exile. He returned to Libya in 2011 to support anti-Gadhafi forces that revolted against the dictator and killed him. During the country’s civil war, he led the self-styled Libyan National Army, which controlled much of the eastern half of Libya, with support from countries including Russia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. He continues to hold sway in the eastern half of the country. In the lawsuits, first filed in 2019, the plaintiffs say family members were killed by military bombardments conducted by Haftar’s army in civilian areas. The lawsuits also alleged that Haftar and his family owned a significant amount of property in Virginia, which could have been used to pay off any judgment that would have been entered against him. While the lawsuits were tossed out on technical issues over jurisdiction, one of Haftar’s lawyers, Paul Kamenar, said Haftar denied any role in the deaths of civilians. “He’s not this ruthless figure that everyone wants to portray him as,” Kamenar said in a phone interview Sunday. Faisal Gill, a lawyer for plaintiffs in one of the three lawsuits that Brinkema tossed out Friday, said he plans to appeal the dismissal. Mark Zaid, lawyer for another set of … “US judge tosses out lawsuits against Libyan commander accused of war crimes”

Polish abortion opponents march against steps to liberalize strict law  

WARSAW — Thousands of Polish opponents of abortion marched Sunday in Warsaw to protest recent steps by the new government to liberalize the predominantly Catholic nation’s strict laws and allow termination of pregnancy until the 12th week. Many participants in the downtown march were pushing prams with children, while others were carrying white-and-red national flags or posters representing a fetus in the womb. Poland’s Catholic Church has called for Sunday to be a day of prayer “in defense of conceived life” and has supported the march, organized by an anti-abortion movement. “In the face of promotion of abortion in recent months, the march will be a rare occasion to show our support for the protection of human life from conception to natural death,” a federation of anti-abortion movements said in a statement. They were referring to an ongoing public debate surrounding the steps that the 4-month-old government of Prime Minster Donald Tusk is taking to relax the strict law brought in by its conservative predecessor. Last week, Poland’s parliament, which is dominated by the liberal and pro-European Union ruling coalition voted to approve further detailed work on four proposals to lift the near ban on abortions. The procedure, which could take weeks or even months, is expected to be eventually rejected by conservative President Andrzej Duda, whose term runs for another year. Last month Duda vetoed a draft law that would have made the morning-after pill available over the counter from the age of 15. A nation of some 38 million, Poland is seeking ways to boost the birth rate, which is currently at 1.2 per woman — among the lowest in the European Union. Poland’s society is aging and shrinking, facts that the previous right-wing government used among its arguments for toughening the abortion law. Currently, abortions are only allowed in cases of rape or incest or if the woman’s life or health is at risk. According to the Health Ministry, 161 abortions were performed in Polish hospitals in 2022. However, abortion advocates estimate that some 120,000 women in Poland have abortions each year, mostly by secretly obtaining pills from abroad. Women attempting to abort themselves are not penalized, but anyone assisting them can face up to three years in prison. Reproductive rights advocates say the result is that doctors turn women away even in permitted cases for fear of legal consequences for themselves. One of the four proposals being … “Polish abortion opponents march against steps to liberalize strict law  “

Oregon city asks US Supreme Court: Can homeless people be fined for sleeping outside?

GRANTS PASS, Oregon — A pickleball game in this leafy Oregon community was suddenly interrupted one rainy weekend morning by the arrival of an ambulance. Paramedics rushed through the park toward a tent, one of dozens illegally erected by the town’s hundreds of homeless people, then play resumed as though nothing had happened. Mere feet away, volunteers helped dismantle tents to move an 80-year-old man and a woman blind in one eye, who risked being fined for staying too long. In the distance, a group of boys climbed on a jungle gym. The scenes were emblematic of the crisis gripping the small, Oregon mountain town of Grants Pass, where a fierce fight over park space has become a battleground for a much larger, national debate on homelessness that has reached the U.S. Supreme Court. The town’s case, set to be heard April 22, has broad implications for how not only Grants Pass, but communities nationwide address homelessness, including whether they can fine or jail people for camping in public. It has made the town of 40,000 the unlikely face of the nation’s homelessness crisis, and further fueled the debate over how to deal with it. “I certainly wish this wasn’t what my town was known for,” Mayor Sara Bristol told The Associated Press last month. “It’s not the reason why I became mayor. And yet it has dominated every single thing that I’ve done for the last 3 1/2 years.” Officials across the political spectrum — from Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom in California, which has nearly 30% of the nation’s homeless population, to a group of 22 conservative-led states — have filed briefs in the case, saying lower court rulings have hamstrung their ability to deal with encampments. Like many Western communities, Grants Pass has struggled for years with a burgeoning homeless population. A decade ago, City Council members discussed how to make it “uncomfortable enough … in our city so they will want to move on down the road.” From 2013 to 2018, the city said it issued 500 citations for camping or sleeping in public, including in vehicles, with fines that could reach hundreds of dollars. But a 2018 decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals changed the calculus. The court, whose jurisdiction includes nine Western states, held that while communities are allowed to prohibit tents in public spaces, it violated the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel … “Oregon city asks US Supreme Court: Can homeless people be fined for sleeping outside?”

Barges break loose on Ohio River in Pittsburgh, damaging marina, striking bridge

PITTSBURGH, USA — More than two dozen river barges broke loose from their moorings and floated down the Ohio River in Pittsburgh, striking one bridge that had already been preemptively closed and damaging a marina, officials said. The boats eventually were pinned to the riverbank or went over a dam downstream, officials said. Pittsburgh police, fire and emergency medical services responded around 11:25 p.m. Friday to reports of the barges “floating uncontrolled” down the river, Pittsburgh Public Safety said in a statement. The area had been hit by flooding after heavy rains Thursday. The Sewickley Bridge was struck by a barge a few minutes before 2 p.m. Saturday, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation said. It “was closed in advance of the strike and will remain closed until our crews complete an inspection,” spokesperson Steve Cowan said. Officials in Moon Township, which is connected by the bridge to the community of Sewickley, earlier said the span would be temporarily closed “due to unmanned barge passing through.” Eleven of the 26 barges that broke free were quickly contained to one side by another towing vessel just downstream, said Cmdr. Justin Jolley of the Coast Guard marine safety unit in Pittsburgh. Nine others were collected at the Emsworth lock and dam downstream. Five or six barges went through the dam. Four ended up just downstream at a lock and dam, while another ended up on the bank of the river and was stabilized. Marine safety units were searching for one barge unaccounted for, Jolley said. Pittsburgh public safety officials reported damage to Peggy’s Harbor, a marina on the river. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that the McKees Rocks Bridge was also closed as a precaution but later reopened following inspection. Twenty-three of the barges were carrying dry cargo, mostly coal, and at least one was loaded with fertilizer, according to the owner, Jolley said. Three were empty. There were no hazardous materials on any of the vessels, the city said. The Coast Guard put out a broadcast notice to mariners to inform them about the potential hazard, but high water was preventing traffic on the river, Jolley said. The barges were owned or operated by Campbell Transportation Co., the city’s statement said. Jolley said Coast Guard officials were working with the owner on a salvage plan. Pennsylvania State Police and other agencies were also alerted. The vulnerability of bridges to strikes from barges and ships … “Barges break loose on Ohio River in Pittsburgh, damaging marina, striking bridge”

Germany’s Scholz arrives in China on a visit marked by trade tensions, Ukraine conflict

BEIJING — German Chancellor Olaf Scholz arrived in China on Sunday on a visit focused on the increasingly tense economic relationship between the sides and differences over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Scholz’s first destination was the industrial hub of Chongqing, where he and his delegation of ministers and business leaders were to visit a partially German-funded company and other sites in the vast city, which is a production base for China’s auto and other industries. Scholz is also scheduled to visit the financial hub of Shanghai during his three-day visit, before traveling to the capital, Beijing, to meet with Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Premier Li Qiang. German companies such as BMW and Volkswagen are highly reliant on the Chinese market, even as Beijing’s support for Russia creates frictions with the West. Germany’s economy has benefited from China’s demand for investment and manufactured items from cars to chemicals, but those ties have frayed amid increasing competition from Chinese companies and tightened regulations. Political interference has also been blamed for a sharp drop in foreign investment. German companies have argued they face unfair market barriers in China and the government has pushed for a policy of “de-risking” to reduce reliance on the Chinese market and suppliers. Despite that, China remained Germany’s top trading partner for the eighth straight year in 2023, with 254.1 billion euros ($271 billion) in goods and services exchanged between the sides, slightly more than what Germany traded with the U.S. Chinese state broadcaster CCTV showed Scholz descending from his plane in Chonqing and leaving in a motorcade, but did not carry any comments made to the welcoming delegation. Prior to his arrival, Scholz posted on social platform X that he had discussed the “massive” Russian air attacks on civilian energy infrastructure with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Saturday and declared that Berlin will “stand unbreakably by Ukraine’s side.” China has refused to criticize Russian aggression. It has maintained trade relations with President Vladimir Putin’s government and aligned its foreign policy with Moscow in opposition to the U.S.-led liberal political order, while touting its authoritarian one-party system as a superior alternative. …

Archeologists find frescoes of Trojan War figures in Pompeii

rome, italy — Archaeologists excavating new sites in Pompeii have uncovered a sumptuous banquet hall decorated with intricately frescoed mythological characters inspired by the Trojan War, officials said Thursday.  The hall, which features a mosaic floor, was uncovered as part of a project to shore up the areas dividing the excavated and unexcavated parts of Pompeii, the ancient city near Naples that was destroyed in A.D. 79 when Mount Vesuvius erupted.  The banquet hall was used for refined entertaining and features black walls, a technique that prevented the smoke from oil lamps from being seen, said Gabriel Zuchtriegel, director of the Pompeii archaeological park.  The figures painted against that black backdrop include Helen of Troy and Apollo. Experts said the reference to mythological figures was designed to entertain guests and provide conversation starters.  The room, which is about 15 meters (16.4 yards) long and 6 meters (6.56 yards) wide, opens onto a courtyard near a staircase leading to the first floor of the home, the park said in a press release.  Excavations in Pompeii have recently focused on areas of the city where the middle classes and servants lived, while previous ones have concentrated on the elaborately frescoed villas of Pompeii’s upper classes.  The excavations that yielded the new banquet hall are designed to improve the hydrogeological structure of the entire park, to make it more sustainable as the region copes with climate extremes — heavy rainfall and intense heat — that are threatening the UNESCO World Heritage Site.  …

Germany making it easier for people to legally change their name, gender

BERLIN — German lawmakers on Friday approved legislation that will make it easier for transgender, intersex and nonbinary people to change their name and gender in official records. The “self-determination law,” one of several social reforms that Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s liberal-leaning coalition government pledged when it took office in late 2021, is set to take effect on November 1. Germany, the European Union’s most populous nation, follows several other countries in making the change. Parliament’s lower house, the Bundestag, approved it by 374 votes to 251 with 11 abstentions. The German legislation will allow adults to change their first name and legal gender at registry offices without further formalities. They will have to notify the office three months before making the change. The existing “transsexual law,” which dates back four decades, requires individuals who want to change gender on official documents to first obtain assessments from two experts “sufficiently familiar with the particular problems of transsexualism” and then a court decision. Since that law was drawn up, Germany’s top court has struck down other provisions that required transgender people to get divorced and sterilized, and to undergo gender-transition surgery. “For over 40 years, the ‘transsexual law’ has caused a lot of suffering … and only because people want to be recognized as they are,” Sven Lehmann, the government’s commissioner for queer issues, told lawmakers. “And today we are finally putting an end to this.” The new legislation focuses on individuals’ legal identities. It does not involve any revisions to Germany’s rules for gender-transition surgery. The new rules will allow minors 14 years and older to change their name and legal gender with approval from their parents or guardians; if they don’t agree, teenagers could ask a family court to overrule them. In the case of children younger than 14, parents or guardians would have to make registry office applications on their behalf. After a formal change of name and gender takes effect, no further changes would be allowed for a year. The new legislation provides for operators of, for example, gyms and changing rooms for women to continue to decide who has access. Nyke Slawik, a transgender woman elected to parliament in 2021 for the Greens, one of the governing parties, recounted her experience of going through the current system a decade ago. She said she had had enough of being asked “is that your brother’s ID?” when she had to … “Germany making it easier for people to legally change their name, gender”

Cyprus suspends processing of Syrian asylum applications

NICOSIA, Cyprus — Cyprus said Saturday it’s suspending processing all asylum applications by Syrian nationals because large numbers of refugees from the war-torn country continue to reach the island nation by boat, primarily from Lebanon. In a written statement, the Cypriot government said the suspension is also partly because of ongoing efforts to get the European Union to redesignate some areas of the war-torn country as safe zones to enable repatriations. The drastic step comes in the wake of Cypriot President Nicos Christodoulides’ visit to Lebanon earlier week to appeal to authorities there to stop departures of migrant-laden boats from their shores. The request comes in light of a 27-fold increase in migrant arrivals to Cyprus so far this year over the same period last year. According to Cyprus Interior Ministry statistics, some 2,140 people arrived by boat to EU-member Cyprus between Jan. 1 and April 4 of this year, the vast majority of them Syrian nationals departing from Lebanon. In contrast, only 78 people arrived by boat to the island nation in the corresponding period last year. On Monday, Christodoulides and Lebanese caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati called on the European Union to provide financial support to help cash-strapped Lebanon stop migrants from reaching Cyprus. Just days prior to his Lebanon trip, the Cypriot president said that he had personally asked EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen to intercede with Lebanese authorities to curb migrant boat departures. Although the EU should provide “substantial” EU support to Lebanon, Christodoulides said any financial help should be linked to how effectively Lebanese authorities monitor their coastline and prevent boat departures. Lebanon and Cyprus already have a bilateral deal where Cypriot authorities would return migrants attempting to reach the island from Lebanon. But Cypriot Interior Minister Constantinos Ioannou has said that Lebanon is refusing to hold up its end of the deal because of domestic pressures. Lebanon — which is coping with a crippling economic crisis since 2019 — hosts some 805,000 U.N.-registered Syrian refugees, of which 90% live in poverty, the U.N.’s refugee agency says. Lebanese officials estimate the actual number is far higher, ranging between 1.5 and 2 million. Many have escaped the civil war in their country which entered its 14th year. Ioannou this week visited Denmark, Czechia and Greece to drum up support for a push to get the EU to declare parts of Syria as safe. Doing so … “Cyprus suspends processing of Syrian asylum applications”

US, Beijing aim to boost number of American students in China

WASHINGTON — Stephen Garrett, a 27-year-old graduate student, always thought he would study in China, but the country’s restrictive COVID-19 policies made it nearly impossible and now he sees interest among fellow scholars wane even after China reopened. Common concerns, he said, include restrictions on academic freedom and the risk of being stranded in China. These days, only about 700 American students are studying at Chinese universities, down from a peak of close to 25,000 a decade ago, while there are nearly 300,000 Chinese students at U.S. schools. Some young Americans are discouraged from investing their time in China by what they see as diminishing economic opportunities and strained relations between Washington and Beijing. Whatever the reason for the imbalance, U.S. officials and scholars bemoan the lost opportunities for young people to experience life in China and gain insight into a formidable American adversary. And officials from both countries agree that more should be done to encourage the student exchanges, at a time when Beijing and Washington can hardly agree on anything else. “I do not believe the environment is as hospitable for educational exchange as it was in the past, and I think both sides are going to need to take steps,” said Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell. The U.S. has advised its. citizens to “reconsider travel” to China over concerns of arbitrary detentions and widened use of exit bans to bar Americans from leaving the country. Campbell said this has hindered the rebuilding of the exchanges and easing the advisory is now under “active consideration.” For its part, Beijing is rebuilding programs for international students that were shuttered during the pandemic, and Chinese President Xi Jinping has invited tens of thousands of U.S. high school students to visit. The situation was far different after President Barack Obama started the 100,000 Strong initiative in 2009 to drastically increase the number of U.S. students studying in China. By 2012, there were as many as 24,583 U.S. students in China, according to data by the Chinese education ministry. The Open Doors reports by the Institute of International Education, which only track students enrolled in U.S. schools and studying in China for credit, show the number peaked at 14,887 in the 2011-12 school year. But 10 years later, the number was down to only 211. In late 2023, the number of American students stood at 700, according to Nicholas Burns, the U.S. … “US, Beijing aim to boost number of American students in China”

Biden returns to White House after Iran aims armed drones at Israel

washington — President Joe Biden rushed back to Washington Saturday for an all-hands-on-deck meeting after Iran lobbed more than 100 armed drones at Israel, a fierce attack that the White House said in a statement was “likely to unfold over a number of hours.” Biden issued a photo of himself and Cabinet and intelligence officials early Saturday evening in the Situation Room. In the post, released on the X social media site, he said: “our commitment to Israel’s security against threats from Iran and its proxies is ironclad.” White House National Security spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in a mid-afternoon statement that Biden’s team “is in constant communication with Israeli officials as well as other partners and allies.” After returning to the White House, Biden went to the Situation Room for a briefing. Among those present, according to the White House, were Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Charles Q. Brown, Central Intelligence Agency Director Bill Burns, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines and national security adviser Jake Sullivan. Vice President Kamala Harris and Chief of Staff Jeff Zients dialed in on a secure video connection. Biden had told reporters Friday that he expected an Iranian attack on Israel “sooner rather than later.” Asked by a journalist what was his message for Iran, the president succinctly replied: “Don’t.” The U.S. military began moving extra troops and equipment to sites in the Middle East, defense officials confirmed Friday. It has about 40,000 troops in the region. Earlier in the day, Austin spoke with his Israeli counterpart, Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant, and “made clear that Israel could count on full U.S. support to defend Israel against any attacks by Iran and its regional proxies.” The U.S. Navy moved two guided-missile destroyers capable of intercepting drones and incoming missiles closer to Israel in anticipation of the Iranian attack, reported The Wall Street Journal. U.S. Navy forces in the Red Sea have previously intercepted long-range missiles launched toward Israel from Yemen by the Iranian-allied Houthi forces. The Biden administration’s response to the Iranian attack will be closely watched by his political opponents, coming less than seven months before a general election rematch between the Democratic Party incumbent and his Republican predecessor, Donald Trump. Even before the Iranian drones reached Israeli airspace, some Republican lawmakers began reacting. Representative Steve Scalise of the state of Louisiana … “Biden returns to White House after Iran aims armed drones at Israel”

Iran launches aerial attack on Israel, escalating conflict; US calls its support of Israel ‘ironclad’

washington — Iran has launched an aerial attack on Israel from Iranian territory, marking a major escalation in a long running conflict between the two rival regional powers.   Iranian state TV network IRINN reported at about midnight on Sunday that the Islamic republic’s forces had launched dozens of attack drones from Iranian territory toward Israel. It said the attack was in retaliation for what Iranian officials say was an Israeli strike that killed several senior Iranian military commanders in Damascus on April 1.   The Israeli military, which has neither confirmed nor denied responsibility for the April 1 strike, issued a statement saying its air and naval forces were monitoring the Iranian drone attack.   Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a televised message that Israel will defend itself “against any threat and will do so level-headedly and with determination.”   The Biden administration said the United States will “stand with the people of Israel and support their defense against these threats from Iran.”  White House National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson issued a statement saying: “This attack is likely to unfold over a number of hours. President Biden has been clear: our support for Israel’s security is ironclad.”   Netanyahu acknowledged that support in his own statement, saying: “We appreciate the U.S. standing alongside Israel, as well as the support of Britain, France and many other countries.”    …

Diplomat tapped as Latvia’s new FM as incumbent quits amid scandal

HELSINKI — The head of Latvia’s government tapped an experienced diplomat to become the Baltic nation’s new foreign minister after the incumbent stepped down earlier this week amid a criminal probe over alleged misuse of government funds.  The ruling center-right New Unity party decided to back the nomination of Baiba Braze, 57, who is currently the ambassador for special tasks at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, after Prime Minister Evika Silina’s endorsement, Latvian news agency LETA reported Saturday.  Latvian Television LTV said Braze’s candidacy will be officially announced Monday and lawmakers at the Saiema, Latvia’s 100-seat Parliament, are set to vote on a motion of confidence in her on Thursday.  Among other posts, Braze has previously served as Latvia’s ambassador to Britain and to The Netherlands and held the post of NATO’s deputy secretary general for public diplomacy in 2020-2023.  Krisjanis Karins, Latvia’s former top diplomat and an ex-prime minister, announced his intention to resign this month on March 28. His decision came in the wake of a criminal probe over the use of expensive private charter flights by Karins′ office during his time as prime minister between 2019-2023.  There are no indications that Karins himself faces charges as part of the probe into the scandal that erupted last year and caused public outrage among Latvians. Silina took Latvia’s top government job in September when Karins became foreign minister of the nation of 1.9 million, a European Union and NATO member state.  …

Vatican complains after French court rules in favor of dismissed nun

ROME — The Holy See has formally protested to France after a French court ruled that a former high-ranking Vatican official was liable for what the court determined to be the wrongful dismissal of a nun from a religious order. According to French media, the Lorient tribunal on April 3 ruled in favor of the nun, Sabine de la Valette, known at the time as Mother Marie Ferreol. She was forced to resign from her religious order, the Dominicans of the Holy Spirit, after a Vatican investigation. In a statement Saturday, the Vatican said that it had received no notification of any such verdict, but that the ruling nevertheless represented a “grave violation” of the right to religious freedom. The Vatican confirmed that Pope Francis had tasked Cardinal Marc Ouellet, at the time the head of the Vatican’s bishops’ office, with conducting an investigation that ended with the Holy See taking a series of canonical measures against Valette, including her expulsion after 34 years as a nun in the order. The statement also cited potential diplomatic issues, given Ouellet’s immunity as a cardinal and official of a foreign government. The Holy See is recognized internationally as a sovereign state. According to French Catholic daily La Croix, the Lorient court found the nun’s expulsion was without merit and ordered Ouellet, the religious order and other defendants to pay over 200,000 euros ($213,000) in material and moral damages, as well as fines. The defendants are appealing, La Croix said. The Vatican frequently conducts such internal investigations into religious orders or dioceses, which can be sparked by complaints of financial mismanagement, sexual or other types of abuses, or governance problems. It considers the measures it takes to be exclusively internal to the life of the Catholic Church. As a result, the Lorient court decision represented an unusual intrusion of secular justice in internal church matters, prompting the diplomatic complaint from the Holy See. The French justice system seems increasingly willing to take on even high-ranking church officials in court, much more so than in Italy, and especially concerning allegations related to clergy sexual misconduct and cover-up. In 2020, for example, a French appeals court threw out a lower court ruling that had convicted Cardinal Philippe Barbarin of covering up the sexual abuse of minors in his flock. That same year, a Paris court convicted a retired Vatican ambassador to France of sexually assaulting five … “Vatican complains after French court rules in favor of dismissed nun”

1 Dead, 10 injured in cable car accident in southern Turkey

ISTANBUL — One person died and 10 others injured Friday in the southern Turkish province of Antalya after a cable car cabin collided with a broken pole, the interior ministry said Saturday.  Twenty-four cabins were stranded in the air at 5:23 p.m. Friday. Sixteen hours later, more than 60 people were still stranded in the remaining nine cabins in the air, the ministry said; 112 people had been rescued.  None of the people waiting to be rescued had critical injuries or were in poor health, Disaster and Emergency Management Authority Chairman Okay Memis told reporters at the scene, adding that they aimed to complete rescue work before sunset.  In a statement on social media platform X, the interior ministry said seven helicopters and more than 500 rescue workers were carrying out rescue efforts.  A video released by the interior ministry showed rescue personnel tied to safety ropes climbing into cabins.  According to the information on its website, the cable car has 36 cabins with a capacity of six people each. It takes an average of nine minutes to go uphill to the Tunektepe facility, which has panoramic views of the city of Antalya. …

Biden, Trump differ on how to end war in Ukraine

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, divisions have arisen in Congress over sending military aid to Kyiv. VOA’s Senior Washington Correspondent Carolyn Presutti explains how the two presidential frontrunners differ on how to handle the war. VOA footage by Mary Cieslak and Adam Greenbaum. …

Police arrest international gang in $686 million medicinal cannabis scam

MADRID — Police led by Spain on Thursday arrested members of a gang that allegedly defrauded $686 million from victims in 35 countries in a scam centered around cannabis plants for medicinal use.  The gang mounted a marketing system and attended international cannabis fairs to persuade victims to invest in the system, the Spanish National Police said in a statement.  It led the operation with the help of Europol and police forces in five other countries.  Nine suspects, who have not been named, were detained on April 11 on suspicion of fraud in Spain, Britain, Germany, Latvia, Poland, Italy and the Dominican Republic.  “The business model offered by this organization consisted of using the capital transferred from investors to develop partnerships to finance the cultivation of cannabis plants,” said Silvia Garrido, a Spanish police spokeswoman.  “With this system, they promised victims profits of between 70% and 168% per year, depending on the species of cannabis in which they invested.”  The British National Crime Agency, which took part in the operation, said 180,000 people invested funds in “JuicyFields” which it called “a notorious and elaborate Ponzi fraud scheme.”  The NCA also said that a 42-year-old man appeared in a London court on April 11 for the start of extradition proceedings. Luxury cars, hotel parties and music videos were used in an advertising campaign to promote the scheme, police said, and victims were taken to legal cannabis plantations that were involved in the scam.  Police carried out raids in 2022 but did not say if any suspects have been charged with any offenses.  …