Ian Becomes a Major Hurricane as it Nears Landfall Over Western Cuba

Hurricane Ian has evolved into a major hurricane as it nears landfall over western Cuba on its way to the southern U.S. state of Florida. Forecasters at the Miami-based National Hurricane Center say Ian is moving over the Caribbean Sea carrying maximum sustained winds of 185 kilometers an hour, making it a Category 3 storm on the center’s five-level scale that measures a storm’s maximum sustained wind speed and destructive potential. Ian was last spotted 135 kilometers east of the western tip of Cuba, and 55 kilometers from the city of Pinar Del Rio, traveling at a speed of 20 kilometers an hour. The NHC says the storm will remain a major hurricane as it travels over the Gulf of Mexico on Wednesday. If the storm continues on its current track, it is expected to reach the cities of Tampa and St. Petersburg on Florida’s western Gulf Coast as early as Wednesday. The area has not sustained a direct hit by a major hurricane since 1921. Forecasters have issued hurricane, tropical storm and storm surge warnings and watches for parts of western Cuba and Florida that are in the current path of Hurricane Ian. Hurricane Ian is expected to produce between 15 to 25 centimeters of rainfall in western Cuba, with the Florida Keys expected to receive 10 to 15 centimeters and central west Florida to get between 15 to 30 centimeters of rainfall. U.S. President Joe Biden has issued an emergency declaration for Florida, authorizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster-relief efforts and provide more federal funding. Authorities have issued evacuation orders for hundreds of thousands of residents along Florida’s Gulf Coast. The potential devastation from Ian has even prompted officials at the U.S. space agency NASA to roll its massive Artemis 1 moon rocket and space capsule from its launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center — located on Florida’s eastern coast — back to the Vehicle Assembly Building, further delaying its planned test flight. Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters. …

Female Fighters Detail Russian Atrocities in Ukraine

Ukrainian female fighters who recently met with U.S. State Department officials and members of Congress said they witnessed war crimes committed by Russia during its war on Ukraine. During an interview with VOA, two Ukrainian warriors detailed personal stories and firsthand information on atrocities committed by Russian troops. United Nations investigators have said there is evidence that Russian forces who invaded Ukraine in February 2022 committed war crimes. The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine presented its findings on Friday, September 23, to the U.N. Human Rights Council. “They [Russian troops] use forbidden ammunitions like cluster munitions and phosphorus bombs that burn everything to the ground. It’s prohibited by all the civilized world,” Daria Zubenko, a senior sergeant in the Ukrainian armed forces, told VOA State Department Bureau Chief Nike Ching on Friday. “We know the facts of women being raped and even children.” Russia has repeatedly dismissed accusations of abuses during its war on Ukraine. Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a partial military mobilization to boost troop levels, recruiting civilians of fighting age into the military at a time when Russian armed forces are suffering significant losses. Despite the buildup, “we don’t fear,” Yaryna Chornoguz, a Ukrainian combat medic and drone operator, told VOA. She added that Ukraine’s counteroffensive, with the new security assistance from the United States, has been making progress. “We believe we win them because of our new weaponry.” Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced an additional $457.5 million in civilian security assistance to boost capacity of Ukrainian law enforcement and criminal justice agencies. A portion of this new assistance will continue U.S. support for the Ukrainian government’s efforts to “document, investigate and prosecute atrocities perpetrated by Russia’s forces,” according to the State Department. The following includes excerpts from the interviews, which have been edited for brevity and clarity. Interview with Daria Zubenko VOA: Can you please tell our audience your name? Daria Zubenko: My name is Daria Zubenko. I’m a a senior sergeant of Ukrainian armed forces. VOA: Which area in Ukraine are you from? Zubenko: I was born in Chernihiv. It’s the north part of Ukraine. Mostly I lived in Kyiv, studied there and worked there. VOA: What have you seen during the war? Zubenko: I was in the armed forces officially since 2018. Before, I was a volunteer paramedic in 2015. I spent some time on the front … Continue reading “Female Fighters Detail Russian Atrocities in Ukraine”

NASA Spacecraft Crashes Into Asteroid in Defense Test

A NASA spacecraft rammed an asteroid at blistering speed Monday in an unprecedented dress rehearsal for the day a killer rock menaces Earth. The galactic slam occurred at a harmless asteroid 9.6 million kilometers away, with the spacecraft named Dart plowing into the space rock at 22,500 kph. Scientists expected the impact to carve out a crater, hurl streams of rocks and dirt into space and, most importantly, alter the asteroid’s orbit. “We have impact!” Mission Control’s Elena Adams announced, jumping up and down and thrusting her arms skyward. Telescopes around the world and in space aimed at the same point in the sky to capture the spectacle. Though the impact was immediately obvious — Dart’s radio signal abruptly ceased — it will take days or even weeks to determine how much the asteroid’s path has changed. The $325 million mission was the first attempt to shift the position of an asteroid or any other natural object in space. “We’re embarking on a new era of humankind,” said NASA’s Lori Glaze, planetary science division director. Earlier in the day, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson reminded people via Twitter that, “No, this is not a movie plot.” He added in a prerecorded video: “We’ve all seen it on movies like ‘Armageddon,’ but the real-life stakes are high.” Monday’s target: a 160-meter asteroid named Dimorphos. It’s actually a moonlet of Didymos, Greek for twin, a fast-spinning asteroid five times bigger that flung off the material that formed the junior partner. The pair have been orbiting the sun for eons without threatening Earth, making them ideal save-the-world test candidates. Launched last November, the vending machine-size Dart — short for Double Asteroid Redirection Test — navigated to its target using new technology developed by Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory, the spacecraft builder and mission manager. Dart’s onboard camera, a key part of this smart navigation system, caught sight of Dimorphos barely an hour before impact. “Woo-hoo!” exclaimed Adams, a mission systems engineer at Johns Hopkins. “We’re seeing Dimorphos, so wonderful, wonderful.” With an image beaming back to Earth every second, Adams and other ground controllers in Laurel, Maryland, watched with growing excitement as Dimorphos loomed larger and larger in the field of view alongside its bigger companion. Within minutes, Dimorphos was alone in the pictures; it looked like a giant gray lemon with boulders and rubble on the surface. The last image froze on … Continue reading “NASA Spacecraft Crashes Into Asteroid in Defense Test”

US Does Not Take a Position on Taiwan’s Sovereignty, State Department Says

The United States does not take a position on Taiwan’s sovereignty under Washington’s “One China” policy, the State Department said Monday. The remarks came days after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in New York on the sidelines of United Nations General Assembly where Blinken told Wang Washington’s “One China” policy has not changed. While Washington has not agreed to take any position regarding sovereignty over Taiwan, Monday’s statement from the State Department is a rare public comment. “We don’t take a position on sovereignty, but the policy that has been at the crux of our approach to Taiwan since 1979 remains in effect today,” said State Department spokesperson Ned Price during Monday’s briefing. He was asked if Taiwan is part of China under Washington’s “One China” policy. “What we want to see preserved is the status quo, precisely because the status quo since 1979, more than 40 years now, has undergirded peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. We want to see that continue. Unfortunately, I don’t believe the same could be said of the PRC, which has become only more coercive and intimidating in its actions and its maneuvers across the Taiwan Strait,” said Price. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) claims sovereignty over Taiwan. The U.S. “acknowledges” but does not “endorse” PRC’s position. “Both sides of the Taiwan Strait belong to one & the same China. Taiwan is part of China’s territory. China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity has never been split. This is the status quo in the Taiwan Strait and one China is at the heart of this status quo,” a spokesperson from China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs wrote in a tweet. For decades, the U.S. has been clear that its decision to establish diplomatic relations with the PRC in 1979 rested on the expectation that “the future of Taiwan will be determined by peaceful means,” as stipulated in the Taiwan Relations Act. The U.S. also does not support Taiwan independence. Senior American officials have said Washington’s “One China” policy is “distinct” from Beijing’s “One China” principle. The U.S. said it remains committed to its long-standing, bipartisan “One China” policy, guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, the Three Joint Communiques and the Six Assurances. Chinese officials have rejected the Taiwan Relations Act, calling the U.S. law governing its relations with Taiwan “illegal and invalid.” On August 31, 2020, then-Assistant … Continue reading “US Does Not Take a Position on Taiwan’s Sovereignty, State Department Says”

US Sanctions Iranian Cargo Plane for Export Violation

The U.S. Department of Commerce Monday cited a fourth Iranian cargo plane for flying into Russia, adding it to a list of planes believed to be in violation of U.S. sanctions against Russia. The U.S. Department of Commerce said in a statement that the cargo plane belongs to Saha Airlines, which is owned by the Iranian Air Force. On Sept. 19, the department added three other Iranian cargo planes to a list of those in apparent violation of U.S. export controls, Reuters reported.    The fourth cargo plane flew to Russia without permission from the Department of Commerce, its statement said.  “Last Monday, we announced that three Iranian cargo planes have been backfilling items to Russia in an attempt to circumvent our hard-hitting export controls,” Matthew Axelrod, assistant secretary of commerce for export enforcement, said in a statement. “Today, we’ve identified a fourth Iranian cargo plane that has flown to Russia in violation of our controls, this one under the control of the Iranian Air Force. Given Iran’s support for Russia’s war machine, including the recent provisioning of unmanned aerial vehicles, we are alerting the global aviation community that support for such aircraft violates our controls and is subject to enforcement action.” According to reports, Iran has sent hundreds of drones to help Russia in its war with Ukraine. Iranian authorities have officially denied these reports.  But the Kayhan newspaper, which is close to the leader of the Islamic Republic, confirmed Saturday that “hundreds of Iranian combat drones” have been exported to Russia.  Some information for this article came from Reuters.  …

France’s Macron Lands First State Visit of Biden’s Presidency

French President Emmanuel Macron will travel to Washington in early December for the first state visit of President Joe Biden’s tenure, an occasion marked by pomp and pageantry that is designed to celebrate relations between the United States and its closest allies. The December 1 visit, following the U.S. midterm elections and the Thanksgiving holiday, will be the second state visit for Macron, who was first elected to lead his country in May 2017 and won a second term earlier this year. Macron also had a state visit during the Trump years. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre announced the visit Monday, saying it will “underscore the deep and enduring relationship with France, our oldest ally.” It will be the first time the White House has hosted a world leader for a state visit since the coronavirus outbreak. The invitation comes as a sign that relations between Biden and Macron have come full circle. The relationship tanked last year after the United States announced a deal to sell nuclear submarines to Australia. The decision by the U.S. undermined a deal that had been in place for France to sell diesel-powered submarines to Australia. After the announcement of the deal, which was born out of a new security agreement between the U.S., Australia and Britain, France briefly recalled its ambassador to Washington, Philippe Etienne, to Paris. Biden also sought to patch thing up with France by eventually acknowledging to Macron that his administration had been “clumsy” in how it handled the issue. The Biden administration since has heaped praise on Macron for being among the most vociferous Western allies in condemning Russia’s 7-month-old war in Ukraine and pressing broad sanctions on the Russian economy and officials close to President Vladimir Putin. Central to Biden’s pitch for the presidency was a vow to restore America’s global leadership after four years of Donald Trump’s “America First” worldview. But Biden has acknowledged that Macron and other allies remain skeptical about whether he can make good on robust U.S. leadership worldwide. Biden is fond of telling the story of how, at a world leader meeting he attended soon after taking office, he declared that “America is back.” He says his counterparts, starting with Macron, countered by asking, “For how long?” Macron also was the first world leader to earn a state visit under Trump, though their relationship later became fractious. The French leader had sought … Continue reading “France’s Macron Lands First State Visit of Biden’s Presidency”

Denmark Reports Leak in Gas Pipeline in Baltic Sea 

Denmark’s maritime authority said Monday that a gas leak had been observed in a pipeline leading from Russia to Europe underneath the Baltic Sea and that there is a danger to ship traffic. The operator of Nord Stream 2 confirmed that a leak in the pipeline had been detected southeast of the Danish island Bornholm in the Baltic Sea. The pipeline runs 1,230 kilometers (764 miles) from Russia through the Baltic Sea to Germany. It is completed and filled with gas, but gas has never been imported through it, dpa reported. The cause of the detected leak wasn’t immediately clear. The Danish energy agency said in a statement that the country’s maritime authority has issued a navigation warning and established a five-nautical mile prohibition zone around the pipeline “as it is dangerous for ship traffic.” The relevant authorities are currently coordinating the effort, and the Danish energy agency added that “outside the exclusion zone, there are no security risks associated with the leak.” The incident is not expected to have consequences for the security of the supply of Danish gas, the country’s energy agency said. A spokesman for the operator of Nord Stream 2 said a loss of pressure was detected in a tube early Monday, and the responsible marine authorities in Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Russia were immediately informed, dpa reported. While the pressure inside the pipeline is normally 105 bar, it is now only 7 bar on the German side, spokesman Ulrich Lissek said. He fears that the pipeline, filled with 177 million cubic meters of gas, could run dry in the coming days, dpa reported. It wasn’t immediately clear what consequences would follow from that, but a German environmental group said that the leaking gas isn’t toxic. Deutsche Umwelthilfe pointed out that natural gas is methane, which partially dissolves in water and is not toxic. The deeper the gas is released in the sea, the higher the proportion that dissolves in the water, the group said, according to dpa. Even in the event of an underwater explosion, there would only be local effects, Deutsche Umwelthilfe said. The German economy ministry said it had been informed about the suspected site in Danish territorial waters and was in touch with the authorities in Germany and Denmark. The pipeline was already complete when German Chancellor Olaf Scholz suspended the certification of Nord Stream 2 on the eve of Russia’s … Continue reading “Denmark Reports Leak in Gas Pipeline in Baltic Sea “

Putin Grants Russian Citizenship to Edward Snowden

President Vladimir Putin has granted Russian citizenship to former U.S. security contractor Edward Snowden, according to a decree signed by the Russian leader on Monday.  Snowden is one of 75 foreign nationals listed by the decree as being granted Russian citizenship. The decree was published on an official government website.  Snowden, a former contractor with the U.S. National Security Agency, has been living in Russia since 2013 to escape prosecution in the U.S. after leaking classified documents detailing government surveillance programs.  He was granted permanent residency in 2020 and said at the time that he planned to apply for Russian citizenship, without renouncing his U.S. citizenship.    …

US Commits More Civilian Security Aid to Ukraine

The U.S. is committing another $457.5 million in law enforcement and civilian security assistance to Ukraine, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Monday.  The top U.S. diplomat said Washington expects the aid, along with $187 million sent to Kyiv earlier, will continue to help Ukraine fend off Russia’s seven-month invasion and sends money directly to the National Police of Ukraine and the State Border Guard Service.  “Our provision of personal protective equipment, medical supplies, and armored vehicles has significantly reduced casualties for Ukrainian civilians and their defenders,” Blinken said.  Some of the new money, he said, would help Ukraine to continue to investigate and prosecute Russian troops who have committed atrocities against Ukrainian forces and civilians, thousands of whom have been killed in the warfare.  “The United States stands side-by-side with the Ukrainian people and remains committed to supporting a democratic, independent and sovereign Ukraine,” Blinken said in announcing the aid package.  …

US Warns Russia of ‘Horrific’ Consequences of Any Nuclear Attack in Ukraine   

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States has made it clear publicly and privately to Russia to “stop the loose talk about nuclear weapons” in the Ukraine conflict following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s statement that he would use any means to defend Russia.   “It’s very important that Moscow hear from us and know from us that the consequences would be horrific, and we’ve made that very clear,” Blinken told CBS News’s “60 Minutes” show in an interview broadcast late Sunday.   Blinken said using nuclear weapons “would have catastrophic effects for, of course, the country using them, but for many others as well.”   The U.S. response came after Putin signaled the possibility of a nuclear attack last week as he called up 300,000 military reservists to help Russia fight in its seven-month invasion of Ukraine. The troop augmentation came after Russian battlefield setbacks, with Kyiv’s forces recapturing large swaths of territory in northeast Ukraine that Russia had seized in the early weeks of the war.   Britain’s defense ministry said Monday that the first of the call-ups had started to arrive at military bases, but that Russia faces administrative and logistical challenges in training those troops.     “Many of the drafted troops will not have had any military experience for some years,” the ministry said. “The lack of military trainers, and the haste with which Russia has started the mobilization, suggests that many of the drafted troops will deploy to the front line with minimal relevant preparation. They are likely to suffer a high attrition rate.”       Protests against call-up Widespread protests against Putin’s troop call-up have erupted in Russia, with police arresting hundreds of demonstrators participating in street protests in Moscow and elsewhere.     In Russia’s Siberia region Monday, a 25-year-old man shot a military commandant at an enlistment center, the local governor said.      Many men opposed to Putin’s war or fearful of being killed in the battlefront have abruptly fled Russia on flights to other countries, while others have joined long queues of cars on land routes headed to the Russian borders with Finland, Georgia and other countries.         Russia is in the midst of staging five days of disputed referenda in four regions of Ukraine it either fully or partially controls, votes where it assumes the local residents will support Russian annexation, which would give Moscow a pretext to defend the newly claimed territory. In some instances, Russian soldiers have … Continue reading “US Warns Russia of ‘Horrific’ Consequences of Any Nuclear Attack in Ukraine   ”

Ian Strengthens into Hurricane, Heads Toward Cuba, Florida

Forecasters say Tropical Storm Ian has strengthened into a hurricane as it moves closer to Cuba on a track expected to take it to Florida in the coming days. Ian was forecast to intensify rapidly and become a major hurricane as soon as late Monday. Authorities in Cuba suspended classes in Pinar del Rio province and said they will begin evacuations Monday as Ian was forecast to strengthen before reaching the western part of the island on its way to Florida. A hurricane warning was in effect for Grand Cayman and the Cuban provinces of Isla de Juventud, Pinar del Rio and Artemisa. The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Ian should reach the far-western part of Cuba late Monday or early Tuesday, hitting near the country’s most famed tobacco fields. It could become a major hurricane before a likely landfall in Florida around the middle of the week, possibly the state’s western coast or Panhandle Cuba state media outlet Granma said authorities would begin evacuating people from vulnerable areas early Monday in the far-western province of Pinar del Rio. At 5 a.m. EDT on Monday, Ian was moving northwest at 13 mph (20 kph), about 150 kilometers southwest of Grand Cayman, according to the center. It had maximum sustained winds of 120 kph. Meanwhile, residents in Florida were keeping a cautious eye on Ian as it rumbled ominously through the Caribbean on a path toward the state. Gov. Ron DeSantis has declared a state of emergency throughout Florida and urged residents to prepare for the storm to lash large swaths of the state with heavy rains, high winds and rising seas. “We’re going to keep monitoring the track of this storm. But it really is important to stress the degree of uncertainty that still exists,” DeSantis said at a news conference Sunday, cautioning that “even if you’re not necessarily right in the eye of the path of the storm, there’s going to be pretty broad impacts throughout the state.” Flash and urban flooding is possible in the Florida Keys and Florida peninsula through midweek, and then heavy rainfall was possible for north Florida, the Florida panhandle and the southeast United States later this week. The agency placed a tropical storm watch over the lower Florida Keys on Sunday evening and has advised Floridians to have hurricane plans in place and monitor updates of the storm’s evolving path. President Joe Biden … Continue reading “Ian Strengthens into Hurricane, Heads Toward Cuba, Florida”

NASA’s Asteroid-Deflecting DART Spacecraft Nears Planned Impact With Target 

Ten months after launch, NASA’s asteroid-deflecting DART spacecraft neared a planned impact with its target on Monday in a test of the world’s first planetary defense system, designed to prevent a doomsday collision with Earth. The cube-shaped “impactor” vehicle, roughly the size of a vending machine with two rectangular solar arrays, was on course to fly into the asteroid Dimorphos, about as large as a football stadium, and self-destruct around 7 p.m. EDT (2300 GMT) some 11 million kilometers from Earth. The mission’s finale will test the ability of a spacecraft to alter an asteroid’s trajectory with sheer kinetic force, plowing into the object at high speed to nudge it astray just enough to keep our planet out of harm’s way. It marks the world’s first attempt to change the motion of an asteroid, or any celestial body. DART, launched by a SpaceX rocket in November 2021, has made most of its voyage under the guidance of NASA’s flight directors, with control to be handed over to an autonomous on-board navigation system in the final hours of the journey. Monday evening’s planned impact is to be monitored in real time from the mission operations center at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland. DART’s celestial target is an asteroid “moonlet” about 170 meters in diameter that orbits a parent asteroid five times larger called Didymos as part of a binary pair with the same name, the Greek word for twin. Neither object presents any actual threat to Earth, and NASA scientists said their DART test cannot create a new existential hazard by mistake. Dimorphos and Didymos are both tiny compared with the cataclysmic Chicxulub asteroid that struck Earth some 66 million years ago, wiping out about three-quarters of the world’s plant and animal species including the dinosaurs. Smaller asteroids are far more common and pose a greater theoretical concern in the near term, making the Didymos pair suitable test subjects for their size, according to NASA scientists and planetary defense experts. Also, their relative proximity to Earth and dual-asteroid configuration make them ideal for the first proof-of-concept mission of DART, short for Double Asteroid Redirection Test. Robotic suicide mission The mission represents a rare instance in which a NASA spacecraft must ultimately crash to succeed. The plan is for DART to fly directly into Dimorphos at 24,000 kilometers per hour, bumping it hard enough to shift … Continue reading “NASA’s Asteroid-Deflecting DART Spacecraft Nears Planned Impact With Target “

Russia’s Prigozhin Admits Link to Wagner Mercenaries for First Time 

Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin said on Monday that he had founded the Wagner Group private military company in 2014, the first public confirmation of a link he has previously denied and sued journalists for reporting. The Wagner Group, staffed by veterans of the Russian armed forces, has fought in Libya, Syria, the Central African Republic and Mali, among other countries. The press service of Prigozhin’s Concord catering firm posted his comments on the social network VKontakte in response to a request for comment from a Russian news site on why he had stopped denying his links to Wagner. “I cleaned the old weapons myself, sorted out the bulletproof vests myself and found specialists who could help me with this. From that moment, on May 1, 2014, a group of patriots was born, which later came to be called the Wagner Battalion,” Prigozhin said. “I am proud that I was able to defend their right to protect the interests of their country,” he said in the statement. Prigozhin’s Concord catering firm confirmed to Reuters that the statement was genuine. Prigozhin, known as “Putin’s chef” due to his company’s Kremlin catering contracts, has been sanctioned by the United States and European Union for his role in Wagner. They also accuse him of funding a troll farm known as the Internet Research Agency that Washington says tried to influence U.S. elections. Prigozhin has previously sued outlets including investigative website Bellingcat, Russian news site Meduza and now-shuttered radio station Echo of Moscow for reporting his links to Wagner. Wagner was founded in 2014 after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula and started providing support to pro-Russia separatists in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region. …

Tax Cut Plans Pull British Pound to 4 Decade Lows 

The British pound has resumed a slide against the U.S. dollar that picked up pace last week after the U.K.’s new government outlined plans to cut taxes and boost spending. The pound dipped as low as $1.0349 per U.S. dollar early Monday but then rebounded to $1.0671, down 2.3%. The tax-cut plan has sparked concerns that increased public borrowing will worsen the nation’s cost-of-living crisis. The British currency plunged over 3% on Friday. It’s trading at levels last seen in the early 1980s. Other currencies have also weakened against the dollar as the Federal Reserve has hiked interest rates to combat inflation. Japan’s central bank intervened last week to support the yen, slowing its decline against the dollar. Treasury chief Kwasi Kwarteng announced the sweeping tax cuts that he said would boost economic growth and generate increased revenue without introducing corresponding spending reductions. He also said previously announced plans to cap soaring energy bills for homes and businesses would be financed through borrowing. Kwarteng offered few details on the costs of the program or its impact on the government’s own targets for reducing deficits and borrowing, but one independent analysis expected it to cost taxpayers 190 billion pounds ($207 billion) this fiscal year. The news triggered the pound’s biggest drop against the U.S. dollar since March 18, 2020, when then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the first nationwide lockdown to control the spread of COVID-19. The British currency closed at $1.0822 in London on Friday, from $1.1255 on Thursday. Prime Minister Liz Truss, who took office less than three weeks ago, is racing to combat inflation at a nearly 40-year high of 9.9% and head off a prolonged recession. Facing a general election in two years, she needs to deliver results quickly. …

Italy Voters Shift Sharply, Reward Meloni’s Far-Right Party

 Italian voters rewarded Giorgia Meloni’s euroskeptic party with neo-fascist roots, propelling the country toward what likely would be its first far-right-led government since World War II, based on partial results Monday from the election for Parliament.  In a victory speech, far-right Italian leader Giorgia Meloni struck a moderate tone after projections based on votes counted from some two-thirds of polling stations showed her Brothers of Italy party ahead of other contenders in Sunday’s balloting.  “If we are called to govern this nation, we will do it for everyone, we will do it for all Italians and we will do it with the aim of uniting the people (of this country),” Meloni said at her party’s Rome headquarters.  “Italy chose us,” she said. “We will not betray (the country) as we never have.”  Meloni on track to be a first The formation of a ruling coalition, with the help of Meloni’s right-wing and center-right allies, could take weeks. If Meloni, 45, succeeds, she would be the first woman to hold the country’s premiership.  The mandate to try to form a government is given by Italy’s president after consultations with party leaders.  Meanwhile, former European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi, whose government collapsed two months ago, stays on in a caretaker role.  Differences among Meloni’s potential coalition partners could loom.  She has solidly backed the supplying of Ukraine with arms to defend itself against Russia’s invasion. In contrast, right-wing League leader Matteo Salvini, who before the war was a staunch admirer of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has voiced concern that Western sanctions could end up hurting Italy’s economic interests more than punishing Russia’s.  Former Premier Silvio Berlusconi, another long-time Putin admirer, has said that his inclusion in a center-right bloc’s coalition would guarantee that Italy stays firmly anchored in the European Union and one of its most reliable members.  With Italy’s households and businesses struggling with staggeringly high energy bills as winter approaches, Meloni has demurred from Salvini’s push to swell already-debt-laden Italy by tens of billions of euros for energy relief.  What kind of government the eurozone’s third-largest economy might be getting was being closely watched in Europe, given Meloni’s criticism of “Brussels bureaucrats” and her ties to other right-wing leaders. She recently defended Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban after the European Commission recommended suspending billions of euros in funding to Hungary over concerns about democratic backsliding and the possible mismanagement … Continue reading “Italy Voters Shift Sharply, Reward Meloni’s Far-Right Party”

HOLD FOR PHOTO| US Welcomes Belarus Release of Journalist, Urges More

The United States on Sunday welcomed the release in Belarus of a journalist for a U.S.-backed outlet but urged freedom for hundreds of other prisoners rounded up in a crackdown on dissent. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty had said days earlier that one of its reporters, Aleh Hruzdzilovich, was freed after nine months in prison. State Department spokesman Ned Price said the United States “welcomes” the release of Hruzdzilovich and several others. “While the release of these political prisoners is a step in the right direction, too many political prisoners remain behind bars in Belarus,” Price said in a statement. “We call for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners.” The U.N. office on human rights on Friday said that nearly 1,300 people are in detention in Belarus on political grounds. Veteran strongman Alexander Lukashenko has tried to crush mass protests that erupted in 2020 after he was said to secure a sixth presidential term. Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said she won the election and has fled Belarus for exile in neighboring Lithuania, from which she heads the opposition. Hruzdzilovich, 63, was arrested for allegedly taking part in the protests. He denies the charges and says he was there as a reporter. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which receives funding from the U.S. Congress but is editorially independent, said that two more of its journalists, Ihar Losik and Andrey Kuznechyk, remain imprisoned in Belarus. In a July interview with AFP, Lukashenko did not deny being “authoritarian” and accused protesters of acting “against the state and their own nation.” RFE/RL is a sister network of Voice of America. …

US Spy Satellite Launched into Orbit from California

A classified satellite for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office launched into orbit aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy rocket Saturday. The NROL-91 spy satellite lifted off at 3:25 p.m. from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California’s Santa Barbara County. It was the last launch of a Delta 4 from the West Coast. Additional launches are planned from Florida before the Deltas are replaced by ULA’s next-generation Vulcan Centaur rockets. The Delta IV Heavy configuration first launched in December 2004. This was the 387th flight of a Delta rocket since 1960 and the 95th and final launch from Vandenberg. The National Reconnaissance Office is the government agency in charge of developing, building, launching and maintaining U.S. spy satellites that provide intelligence data to policymakers, the intelligence community and Defense Department. …

Fire Breaks Out at World’s Biggest Produce Market in Paris

A billowing column of dark smoke towered over Paris Sunday from a warehouse blaze at a massive produce market that supplies the French capital and surrounding region with much of its fresh food and bills itself as the largest of its kind in the world. Firefighters urged people to stay away from the area in Paris’ southern suburbs, as 100 officers and 30 fire engines battled the blaze at the Rungis International Market. Capt. Marc Le Moine, a representative for the Paris fire service, said no one was injured. The fire was brought under control and there was no risk of it spreading from the soccer field-sized warehouse, covering an area of 7,000 square meters (1.7 acres), he said. The cause of the blaze was unknown but will be investigated, he added. The sprawling wholesale market is a veritable town unto itself, with more than 12,000 people working there and warehouses filled with fruit and vegetables, seafood, meats, dairy products and flowers from across France and around the world. …