Putin’s Lightning Visit to Arab States Highlights Bid to End Isolation

Russian President Vladimir Putin traveled to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia Wednesday on a quick tour in what observers say is a show of defiance against Western efforts to isolate him through sanctions and an International Criminal Court arrest warrant. Elizabeth Cherneff narrates this report from the VOA Moscow bureau. …

Europe Fears Surge in African Migration as Niger Repeals Trafficking Law

The European Union has voiced concerns of a surge in migrants from Africa, after the ruling military junta in Niger repealed a law that had previously criminalized the transport of migrants in the country. Known as Law 2015-36, the legislation was drafted in 2015 in coordination with the EU and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. At the time, Europe was facing a migrant crisis, as more than a million people entered the continent from Turkey and North Africa. The law was implemented the following year. As part of the 2015 deal, the European Union pledged over $5 billion in aid to stabilize economies and governments in the Sahel region to stem the flow of migrants. “These projects had a number of objectives, including combating illegal migration, improving public infrastructure, improving border capacity — but also assisting displaced populations,” explained Alia Fakhry, an expert on EU-Africa migration policy at the German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin. “One of these projects was the project that supported the Niger state to build its border capacity and to draft this new law that would criminalize irregular migration and its facilitation — the work of smugglers, basically. And it’s this law that’s now been revoked by the military junta,” Fakhry told VOA. The EU said in September that 876 suspected people traffickers were prosecuted under the law from 2017 to 2023. However, on July 26, Niger’s military ousted democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum in a coup. Junta leader General Abdourahamane Tchiani announced in November that the government was repealing the 2015 migrant law and said that all convictions under the legislation would be quashed. Tchiani did not give a reason for the move, although observers say he is likely seeking to gain local support and retaliate against the EU’s decision to suspend aid payments following the coup. Speaking to reporters in Brussels on November 28, Ylva Johansson, European commissioner for home affairs, voiced fears of a new influx of migrants. “There is a huge risk that this will cause new deaths in the desert. That’s the most concerning thing, but it would also probably mean more people coming to Libya, for example, and then maybe also trying to cross the Mediterranean today to the EU,” she said. In a discussion paper published in September, the Council of the European Union had already expressed concerns over cooperation with the Nigerien military junta … “Europe Fears Surge in African Migration as Niger Repeals Trafficking Law”

US House Votes to Censure Democratic Member for Pulling Fire Alarm in Capitol Office Building

House members voted again Thursday to punish one of their own, targeting Democratic Rep. Jamaal Bowman for triggering a fire alarm in a U.S. Capitol office building when the chamber was in session. The Republican censure resolution passed with a few Democratic votes, but most of the party stood by Bowman in opposition of an effort they said lacked credibility and integrity. The prominent progressive now becomes the third Democratic House member to be admonished this year through the censure process, which is a punishment one step below expulsion from the House. “It’s painfully obvious to myself, my colleagues and the American people that the Republican Party is deeply unserious and unable to legislate,” Bowman said Wednesday as he defended himself during floor debate. “Their censure resolution against me today continues to demonstrate their inability to govern and serve the American people.” The 214-191 vote to censure Bowman caps nearly a year of chaos and retribution in the House of Representatives. Since January, the chamber has seen the removal of a member from a committee assignment, the first ouster of a speaker in history and, just last week, the expulsion of a lawmaker for only the third time since the Civil War. Rep. Lisa McClain, a Republican from Michigan, who introduced the censure resolution, defended it, claiming Bowman pulled the alarm in September to “cause chaos and the stop the House from doing its business” as lawmakers scrambled to pass a bill to fund the government before a shutdown deadline. “It is reprehensible that a Member of Congress would go to such lengths to prevent House Republicans from bringing forth a vote to keep the government operating and Americans receiving their paychecks,” McClain said in a statement. Bowman pleaded guilty in October to a misdemeanor count for the incident, which took place in the Cannon House Office Building. He agreed to pay a $1,000 fine and serve three months of probation, after which the false fire alarm charge is expected to be dismissed from his record under an agreement with prosecutors. The fire alarm prompted a buildingwide evacuation when the House was in session and staffers were working in the building. The building was reopened an hour later after Capitol police determined there was no threat. Bowman apologized and said that at the time he was trying to get through a door that was usually open but was closed that … “US House Votes to Censure Democratic Member for Pulling Fire Alarm in Capitol Office Building”

US Sanctions Money Lending Network to Houthi Rebels in Yemen

Responding to increased attacks on ships in the southern Red Sea by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, the U.S. announced sanctions against 13 people and firms alleged to be providing tens of millions of dollars from the sale and shipment of Iranian commodities to the Houthis in Yemen.  Treasury says that previously sanctioned Houthi and Iranian financial facilitator Sa’id al-Jamal uses a network of exchange houses and firms to help Iranian money reach the country’s militant partners in Yemen.  The sanctions block access to U.S. property and bank accounts and prevent the targeted people and companies from doing business with Americans.  Money lenders in Lebanon, Turkey and Dubai are listed for assisting al-Jamal, along with shipping firms from Russia to St. Kitts and Nevis, which allegedly move al-Jamal’s Iranian commodity shipments. All people and firms were hit with sanctions Thursday.  Brian Nelson, Treasury’s under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said the Houthis “continue to receive funding and support from Iran, and the result is unsurprising: unprovoked attacks on civilian infrastructure and commercial shipping, disrupting maritime security and threatening international commercial trade.”  “Treasury will continue to disrupt the financial facilitation and procurement networks that enable these destabilizing activities.”  Since October, the Houthis have launched missile and drone attacks over commercial shipping operations in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.  The Houthis have sporadically targeted ships in the region over time, but the attacks have increased since the start of the war between Israel and Hamas, spiking after an October 17 explosion at a hospital in Gaza killed and injured many. Houthi leaders have insisted Israel is their target.  …

Texas Judge Grants Pregnant Woman Permission To Get An Abortion Despite State’s Ban

A Texas judge on Thursday granted a pregnant woman permission to obtain an abortion in an unprecedented challenge to the state’s ban that took effect after Roe v. Wade was overturned last year. It was unclear how quickly or whether Kate Cox, a 31-year-old mother of two from the Dallas area, will be able to obtain an abortion. State District Judge Maya Guerra Gamble, an elected Democrat, said she would grant a temporary restraining order that would allow Cox to have an abortion under what are narrow exceptions to the state’s ban. That decision is likely to be appealed by the state. Cox is 20 weeks pregnant and doctors say her fetus has a fatal diagnosis. In a brief emergency hearing Thursday, her attorneys told Gamble that Cox went to an emergency room this week for a fourth time since her pregnancy. Cox and her husband both attended the hearing via Zoom but did not address the court. Doctors have told Cox that if the baby’s heartbeat were to stop, inducing labor would carry a risk of a uterine rupture because of her prior cesarean sections, and that another C-section at full term would endanger her ability to carry another child. “This law might actually cause her to lose that ability is shocking and would be a genuine miscarriage of justice,” Gamble said. The lawsuit is believed to be the first of its kind in the nation since the U.S. Supreme Court last year overturned Roe v. Wade, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is representing Cox. Since that landmark ruling, Texas and 12 other states rushed to ban abortion at nearly all stages of pregnancy. Opponents have sought to weaken those bans — including an ongoing Texas challenge over whether the state’s law is too restrictive for women with pregnancy complications — but until now, a woman has not gone to court seeking approval for an immediate abortion. “I do not want to continue the pain and suffering that has plagued this pregnancy or continue to put my body or my mental health through the risks of continuing this pregnancy,” Cox wrote in an editorial published in The Dallas Morning News. “I do not want my baby to arrive in this world only to watch her suffer.” Although Texas allows exceptions under the ban, doctors and women have argued that the requirements are so vaguely worded that … “Texas Judge Grants Pregnant Woman Permission To Get An Abortion Despite State’s Ban”

Denmark Passes Bill to Stop Quran Burnings

Denmark’s parliament passed a bill on Thursday that makes it illegal to burn copies of the Quran in public places, after protests in Muslim nations over the desecration of Islam’s holy book raised Danish security concerns. Denmark and Sweden experienced a series of public protests this year where anti-Islam activists burned or otherwise damaged copies of the Quran, sparking tensions with Muslims and triggering demands that the Nordic governments ban the practice. Denmark sought to strike a balance between constitutionally protected freedom of speech, including the right to criticize religion, and national security amid fears that Quran burnings would trigger attacks by Islamists. Domestic critics in Sweden and Denmark have argued that any limitations on criticizing religion, including by burning Quran, undermine hard-fought liberal freedoms in the region. “History will judge us harshly for this, and with good reason… What it all comes down to is whether a restriction on freedom of speech is determined by us, or whether it is dictated from the outside,” said Inger Stojberg, leader of the anti-immigration Denmark Democrats party, who opposed the ban. Denmark’s centrist coalition government has argued that the new rules will have only a marginal impact on free speech and that criticizing religion in other ways remains legal. Breaking the new law would be punishable by fines or up to two years in prison, the government has said. Sweden, too, is considering ways to legally limit Quran desecrations but is taking a different approach than Denmark. It is looking into whether police should factor in national security when deciding on applications for public protests. …

Trump Back at New York Fraud Trial As Testimony Nears an End

Former President Donald Trump returned to his civil business fraud trial as a spectator Thursday, after a month of assailing the proceedings from afar.  With testimony winding down after more than two months, the Republican 2024 presidential front-runner showed up to watch an accounting professor testify about financial topics important to the case.  Trump himself is scheduled to take the stand Monday, for a second time.  Even while campaigning to reclaim the presidency and fighting four criminal cases, Trump is devoting a lot of attention to the New York lawsuit. He’s been a frustrated onlooker, a confrontational witness and a heated commentator outside the courtroom door.  “This is a witch hunt, and it’s a very corrupt trial,” Trump said on his way into court Thursday.  The case is putting his net worth on trial, scrutinizing the real estate empire that first built his reputation, and threatening to block him from doing business in his native state.  New York Attorney General Letitia James’ suit accuses Trump, his company and some executives of misleading banks and insurers by giving them financial statements full of inflated values for such signature assets as his Trump Tower penthouse and Mar-a-Lago, the Florida club where he now lives. The statements were provided to help secure deals — including loans at attractive interest rates available to hyperwealthy people — and some loans required updated statements each year.  Trump denies any wrongdoing, and he posits that the statements’ numbers actually fell short of his wealth. He also has downplayed the documents’ importance in getting deals, saying it was clear that lenders and others should do their own analyses. And he claims the case is a partisan abuse of power by James and Judge Arthur Engoron, both Democrats.  The former president has regularly railed about the case on his Truth Social platform.  Going to court in person affords him a microphone — in fact, many of them, on the news cameras positioned in the hallway. He often stops on his way into and out of the proceedings, which cameras can’t record, to expostulate and to cast various developments as victories.  His out-of-court remarks got him fined $10,000 Oct. 26, when Engoron decided Trump had violated a gag order that prohibits participants in the trial from commenting publicly on court staffers. Trump’s lawyers are appealing the gag order.  James hasn’t let Trump go unanswered, often — but not Thursday — … “Trump Back at New York Fraud Trial As Testimony Nears an End”

Azerbaijan Leader Calls Snap Presidential Vote For Feb. 7

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev on Thursday called snap presidential elections in February, in a move expected to extend the decades-long authoritarian rule of his family. Aliyev’s popularity is soaring after his military recaptured the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region from Armenian separatists in a lightning offensive in September. A decree published by the presidency ordered officials to hold a “snap election” on Feb. 7 next year. Elections had previously been scheduled for 2025. A state-run pollster recently said 75% of the population approve of Aliyev’s handling of the Karabakh conflict, which saw the mass exodus of ethnic Armenians living in the long-disputed mountainous territory. “Aliyev’s approval ratings had always been high, and they skyrocketed after the victorious military operation in Karabakh in September,” independent political analyst Farhad Mamedov told AFP. “He is at the peak of his popularity.” Aliyev sent troops to Karabakh on Sept. 19 and after just one day of fighting, Armenian separatist forces that had controlled the disputed region for three decades laid down arms and agreed to reintegrate with Baku. Azerbaijan’s victory marked the end of the territorial dispute, which saw Azerbaijan and Armenia fight two wars — in 2020 and the 1990s — that have claimed tens of thousands of lives from both sides. It also sparked fears — particularly among Armenians — of a broader conflict in the region in which Azerbaijan could aim to create a land corridor to its Nakhchivan exclave through Armenian territory. Aliyev insists Baku has no territorial claims to Armenia and rules out a fresh conflict. The arch-foe countries are now negotiating a comprehensive peace treaty, but the Western-mediated talks have so far failed to produce a breakthrough. ‘Unchallenged dynasty’ Aliyev, 61, has ruled the energy-rich country with an iron fist since 2003, when he succeeded his father, Heydar, a former KGB officer and Communist-era boss. He was last re-elected with 86% of votes in a snap election in April 2018. All leadership polls held in Azerbaijan under Aliyevs’ rule were denounced by opposition parties as fraudulent. Supporters have praised the Aliyevs for turning a republic once thought of as a Soviet backwater into a flourishing energy supplier to Europe. But critics argue they have crushed the opposition, stifled media, and used their power to amass a fortune that funds a lavish lifestyle for the president and his family. Rights activists have recently decried the arrest of several high-profile journalists known … “Azerbaijan Leader Calls Snap Presidential Vote For Feb. 7”

Generative AI May Need News Organizations, Journalism to Succeed

In the year since Open AI introduced ChatGPT to the world, almost 600 media organizations have blocked the technology from scraping their content.  Two other AI chat bots — Google AI’s Bard and Common Crawl’s CCBot — are also blocked by some or most of those same news organizations. The list grows longer each day, according to Ben Welsh, a news applications editor for Reuters, who compiled a survey of news organizations for his media blog.  “What we are seeing here is that news publishers, at least half of them in my survey, want to put the brakes on this a little bit and not just allow themselves to be included in this without some sort of conversation or negotiation with the Open AI company,” Welsh said.  Open AI, the creator of ChatGPT, offered 1,153 news organizations the option to block its chat bot in August 2023. As of Wednesday, nearly half have taken up that offer.    While most are U.S. organizations, including The New York Times and CNN, the list also includes international media groups, including Australia’s ABC News, The Times of India, and The South African.    Welsh’s survey didn’t dig deeply into the reasons for blocking ChatGPT, but he said that commercial media tend to be among the groups that stop ChatGPT whereas nonprofits are more likely to share content.   VOA’s attempts to contact ChatGPT via LinkedIn, email and at its offices in San Francisco were unsuccessful. Seen as threat   Many media analysts and press freedom groups see AI as a threat to publishers and broadcasters, as well as a threat to ethical journalism.  Among the chief concerns are the use of artificial intelligence to create false narratives and fake visuals and to amplify misinformation and disinformation.  “It is clearly possible that some groups or organizations use and fine-tune models to create tailored disinformation that suits their projects or their purpose,” said Vincent Berthier, who manages the technology desk at Reporters Without Borders, or RSF. “But right now, today, the higher risk of disinformation comes from generative AI from pictures and deep fakes.”  RSF organized a commission made up of 32 journalism and AI experts, led by Nobel laureate and disinformation expert Maria Ressa, to regulate how media use the technology.   The resulting Paris Charter on AI and Journalism, released in November, sets parameters for the use of AI for news organizations and makes … “Generative AI May Need News Organizations, Journalism to Succeed”

Australian Laser Technology to Help Future NASA Missions to Mars

A new optical ground station has been built by the Australian National University to help the U.S. space agency, NASA, and others explore space and safely reach Mars. The Australian team has developed a new type of space communication using lasers. Researchers say the system will allow them to connect with satellites and NASA-crewed missions beyond low-Earth orbit. The project is supported by the Australian Space Agency’s Moon to Mars initiative. The Australian National University Quantum Optical Ground Station is based at the Mount Stromlo Observatory, near Canberra. It is a powerful telescope that will support high-speed advanced communications with satellites orbiting at distances from low-Earth orbit to the moon. Kate Ferguson, associate director for strategic projects at the Australian National University Institute for Space, told VOA current communication systems relying on radio frequencies can be slow and cumbersome. “I am sure some of us remember the grainy pictures that we got of the moon landing that came from the Apollo era,” Ferguson said. “So, again the current radio frequency systems, they have these much slower data rates and especially over really long distances.  For space exploration those become very slow but with optical communications we will be able to increase the rate of that communication.” She said the new system, based on powerful lasers that are invisible to the naked eye, will transform communications in space. “What we are aiming to do is to be able to receive high-definition video from future crewed missions. Not only will that be great for us here on Earth, seeing what is happening with the astronauts on these types of missions, but it will improve the connectivity between those missions,” she said. “And what we are doing here is optical communication, which uses laser beams to communicate and these offer much higher speeds and increased security over the current systems and this is really important for us to be getting that data down and being able to use it here on Earth.” Scientists say the Australian-developed systems will be compatible with NASA missions. They say the laser-based technology will improve astronauts’ ability to connect with Earth from the moon and also allow high-definition video to be sent from the moon and Mars. NASA has said previously that astronauts could be sent on a mission to the red planet by the mid-to-late 2030s.   …

 Ukraine Says Russian Drone Attack Hits Odesa Port

A Russian drone attack killed one person and damaged port infrastructure in Ukraine’s Odesa region, the regional governor said Thursday. Oleh Kiper said Odesa was under attack for two hours, and that while air defenses shot down most of the Russian drones involved, some of them made it through. He identified the victim as a truck driver, and said the drone attack damaged a warehouse, elevator and trucks near the Danube River. Ukraine’s military said Russia’s aerial attack involved a total of 18 drones targeting Odesa in southern Ukraine and the Khmelnytskyi region in the western part of the country. Ukrainian air defenses shot down 15 of the 18 drones, the military said. U.S. aid Republican lawmakers in the U.S. Senate on Wednesday blocked $110 billion in aid for Ukraine and Israel, as well as some security measures for the U.S. southern border.  U.S. President Joe Biden had asked Congress for almost $106 billion to fund the wars and border needs. The vote Wednesday was 49 votes in favor and 51 against, leaving the measure short of the 60 votes needed in order to proceed. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who supports Ukraine aid, told his party members to reject the aid package because it did not include policy changes, something lawmakers have fought over for years.  Earlier Wednesday, Biden implored Congress to approve more arms aid for Ukraine, saying that failing to pass the assistance would be the “greatest gift” the United States could hand Russian President Vladimir Putin in Putin’s nearly two-year war against the neighboring country.  At the same time, the U.S. Defense Department announced new security assistance for Ukraine that is the Biden administration’s 52nd allotment of equipment for Ukraine since August 2021. It contains air defense capabilities, artillery ammunition, anti-tank weapons and other equipment.  The $175 million military aid package includes guided missiles for the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, anti-armor systems, and high-speed anti-radiation missiles, according to the Pentagon and State Department.  Speaking briefly at the White House, the U.S. leader said that if Putin defeats Ukraine, “it won’t stop there,” and Moscow would invade neighboring NATO countries the U.S. is legally bound to defend.   “If NATO is attacked,” Biden said, “We’ll have American troops fighting Russian troops. We can’t let Putin win.”   With the new tranche of aid, Biden emphasized in a statement that “security assistance for Ukraine is … “ Ukraine Says Russian Drone Attack Hits Odesa Port”

Turkey’s Erdogan In Athens In ‘New Chapter’ Bid

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan travels to Athens on Thursday in a keenly watched visit billed as an attempted “new chapter” between the NATO allies and historic rivals after years of tension. In meetings with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and President Katerina Sakellaropoulou, the fiery Turkish leader is expected to discuss trade, regional issues and the perennially thorny issue of migration. In an interview with Greek daily Kathimerini a day before his five-hour visit on Thursday, Erdogan said he was seeking a “new chapter” in relations on the basis of “win-win” principles. Ankara has served as a migration bulwark since a 2016 deal with the European Union, which Mitsotakis and fellow EU leaders hope to update. A retinue of diplomats accompanying Erdogan are also broaching with Greek counterparts the longstanding issue of Greek-Turkish territorial disputes in the Aegean Sea. Erdogan has questioned century-old treaties that set out Aegean sovereignty, and Turkish and Greek warplanes regularly engage in mock dogfights in disputed airspace. The discovery of hydrocarbon resources in the eastern Mediterranean has further complicated ties, with Ankara angering Athens in 2019 by signing a controversial maritime zone deal with Libya. Relations further cratered in the next two years, prompting Mitsotakis to announce a military buildup in naval and air force equipment, and sign defensive agreements with France and the United States. In 2020, Erdogan was seen in Athens to have encouraged thousands of migrants to attempt to cross the frontier into Greece, causing days of clashes with border guards. At the time, the move was interpreted as a Turkish attempt to draw EU attention to the millions of asylum seekers in Turkey. Erdogan also used increasingly inflammatory rhetoric towards Greece, often in conjunction with his electoral campaigns. Last year, he accused Greece of “occupying” Aegean islands and threatened: “As we say, we may come suddenly one night.” But relations have improved since February, when Greece sent rescuers and aid to Turkey after a massive earthquake killed at least 50,000 people. ‘We don’t threaten you’ Speaking to Kathimerini on Wednesday, the Turkish leader said communication channels with Greece had been “revived” and that he looked forward to signing a declaration of bilateral friendship with Greece on Thursday. “Kyriakos my friend, we do not threaten you if you do not threaten us,” Erdogan said. “If differences are addressed through dialogue and common ground is found, this is to the benefit of … “Turkey’s Erdogan In Athens In ‘New Chapter’ Bid”

   EU, Chinese Leaders Meet in Beijing

European Union leaders are in Beijing Thursday for a summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping and other Chinese leaders. Ahead of the meetings, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the two sides would discuss “how to rebalance our economic relationship,” highlighting China’s position as the EU’s “most important trading partner,” and stressing the need to address the trade imbalance between them. Von der Leyen said the meetings would also include discussion of cooperation on climate change and on rules for artificial intelligence. She also highlighted a need for the EU and China to use their roles as major world powers to respond to the war in Ukraine and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “We have a shared interest in peace and security and the effective functioning of the rules-based international order and to find solutions to global challenges,” Von der Leyen said.  “This is why it is essential to put an end to the Russian aggression against Ukraine and establish a just and lasting peace consistent with the U.N. charter and in the same vein to do everything possible to work for a two-state solution in the Middle East.” Xi said in his opening remarks that China and the European Union must “work together to promote world stability and prosperity.” “China and the EU should be partners in mutually beneficial cooperation and continuously enhance political mutual trust,” Xi said. Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.   …

Biden Clears Path for Tribal Nations to Access Federal Funds

U.S. President Joe Biden said Wednesday that his administration is committed to writing “a new and better chapter of history” for more than 570 native communities in the U.S. by — among other things — making it easier for them to access federal funding. A leader of one of the largest communities speaks to VOA about those efforts and how some of the themes of native history continue to play out halfway across the planet. VOA White House correspondent Anita Powell reports from the Department of the Interior. …

Biden Clears Path for Tribal Nations to Access Federal Funds

U.S. President Joe Biden said Wednesday that his administration is committed to writing “a new and better chapter of history” for its more than 570 native communities by, among other things, making it easier for them to access federal funding. “It’s hard work to heal the wrongs of the past and change the course and move forward,” Biden said. “But the actions we’re taking today are key steps into that new era of tribal sovereignty and self-determination. A new era grounded in dignity and respect, that recognizes your fundamental rights to govern and grow on your own terms. That’s what this summit is all about.” Biden, speaking at the U.S. Department of the Interior, which sits on the ancestral land of the Nacotchtank people, announced more than 190 agreements during a two-day summit of some 300 tribal leaders. They include an executive order that will make it easier to access federal funding, plus efforts to clean up nuclear sites, support clean energy transitions and work toward the repatriation of native remains and sacred objects. The administration will also release a progress report on its efforts to date. Hope for more The leader of one of the largest groups told VOA that the government’s efforts have been “very, very positive” and said he hoped to see more. “The most important thing for the Cherokee Nation, I think — and all tribes — is the efficient deployment of resources, and then allowing tribes to decide how to use those resources,” said Chuck Hoskin Jr., principal chief of the Cherokee Nation. But, he said, as his people know too well, land dispossession and conflict is not ancient history. Here’s his advice to Biden and Middle Eastern leaders as war rages in Gaza after the October 7 attack by Hamas militants: “We have a history of being dispossessed from our land,” he said. “And so, I would just say, remind people that there’s a way to balance rights. I think we’re trying to do that in the United States in terms of Indian Country versus the rest of the country. “We haven’t perfected it, but I think we’re making some progress,” Hoskin said. “So, all I would say is the respect and dignity that every human being deserves ought to be on display.” Youth see potential Younger tribal citizens say they have high expectations. Sareya Taylor, the inaugural Youth Poet Laureate of Phoenix, is … “Biden Clears Path for Tribal Nations to Access Federal Funds”

Debate Stage Condensed to Four Presidential Candidates

Four Republican candidates sparred for two hours Wednesday — at times attacking and yelling over each other — in the final presidential debate of the year. Republican frontrunner Donald Trump was absent, as he has been for the three previous debates.   That did not stop former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie from criticizing the former President and accusing the others of being too afraid to criticize him. Trump, despite facing 91 felony counts and a civil lawsuit, remains substantially ahead of his rivals. Israel/Hamas Two months after Hamas terrorists attacked Israel, the Republican candidates agreed Israel should be allowed to conduct its own war without interference from the United States.   Florida Governor Ron DeSantis asserted “This administration is trying to hobble Israel from being able to defend itself,” calling out Hamas for wanting “a second holocaust.”   The governor also suggested cutting off oil revenue to Iran, saying they “send it to Hamas… to Hezbollah, and they ferment Jihad throughout the Middle East.”   Former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley says Russian President Vladimir Putin is thrilled that America has redirected its attention from Ukraine to Israel, saying “There is a reason that Taiwanese want to help Ukrainians because they know if Ukraine wins, China won’t invade Taiwan.” She made the same comparison with Ukrainians who want to help the Israelis, “because they know that if Iran wins, Russia wins…but what wins all of that is a strong America, not a weak America. And that’s what Joe Biden has given us.”  Christie, asked in the NewsNation debate if he would send in U.S. troops to free the American hostages held by Hamas and other militants, said, “You’re damn right I would send the American army in there to get them out safely.” Southern border and fentanyl On fentanyl entering the US through the southern border, Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy says he would have had a different conversation with China’s leader than President Biden and would “tell Xi Jinping you will not only not buy land in this country or donate to universities,” but also say, “U.S. businesses won’t expand into the Chinese market” until China stops manufacturing fentanyl for the Mexican cartels. Governor DeSantis wants cartels categorized as “foreign terrorist organizations” and says he will build a wall at the border to discourage entry, but unlike former President Trump, would get Mexico to pay for it.  Haley would “end all … “Debate Stage Condensed to Four Presidential Candidates”

Meta Sued for Allegedly Failing to Shield Children From Predators

Facebook and Instagram fail to protect underage users from exposure to child sexual abuse material and let adults solicit pornographic imagery from them, New Mexico’s attorney general alleges in a lawsuit that follows an undercover online investigation. “Our investigation into Meta’s social media platforms demonstrates that they are not safe spaces for children but rather prime locations for predators to trade child pornography and solicit minors for sex,” Attorney General Raul Torrez said in a statement Wednesday. The civil lawsuit filed late Tuesday against Meta Platforms Inc. in state court also names its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, as a defendant. In addition, the suit claims Meta “harms children and teenagers through the addictive design of its platform, degrading users’ mental health, their sense of self-worth and their physical safety,” Torrez’s office said in a statement. Those claims echo others in a lawsuit filed in late October by the attorneys general of 33 states, including California and New York, against Meta that alleges Instagram and Facebook include features deliberately designed to hook children, contributing to the youth mental health crisis and leading to depression, anxiety and eating disorders. New Mexico was not a party to that lawsuit. Investigators in New Mexico created decoy accounts of children 14 years and younger that Torrez’s office said were served sexually explicit images even when the child expressed no interest in them. State prosecutors claim that Meta let dozens of adults find, contact and encourage children to provide sexually explicit and pornographic images. The accounts also received recommendations to join unmoderated Facebook groups devoted to facilitating commercial sex, investigators said, adding that Meta also let its users find, share and sell “an enormous volume of child pornography.” “Mr. Zuckerberg and other Meta executives are aware of the serious harm their products can pose to young users, and yet they have failed to make sufficient changes to their platforms that would prevent the sexual exploitation of children,” Torrez said, accusing Meta’s executives of prioritizing “engagement and ad revenue over the safety of the most vulnerable members of our society.” Meta, based in Menlo Park, California, did not directly respond to the New Mexico lawsuit’s allegations, but said it works hard to protect young users with a serious commitment of resources. “We use sophisticated technology, hire child safety experts, report content to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and share information and tools with other companies … “Meta Sued for Allegedly Failing to Shield Children From Predators”

US Military Grounds Entire Osprey Fleet Following Deadly Crash off Coast of Japan

The military announced late Wednesday that it was grounding all of its Osprey V-22 helicopters, one week after eight Air Force Special Operations Command service members died in a crash off the coast of Japan. The Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps took the extraordinary step of grounding hundreds of aircraft after a preliminary investigation of last week’s crash indicated that a material failure — something went wrong with the aircraft — and not a mistake by the crew led to the deaths. The crash raised new questions about the safety of the Osprey, which has been involved in multiple fatal accidents over its relatively short time in service. Japan grounded its fleet of 14 Ospreys after the crash. Lieutenant General Tony Bauernfeind, head of Air Force Special Operations Command, directed the stand-down “to mitigate risk while the investigation continues,” the command said in a statement. “Preliminary investigation information indicates a potential materiel failure caused the mishap, but the underlying cause of the failure is unknown at this time.” In a separate notice, Naval Air Systems Command said it was grounding all Ospreys. The command is responsible for the Marine Corps and Navy variants of the aircraft. The Air Force said it was unknown how long the aircraft would be grounded. It said the stand-down was expected to remain in place until the investigation has determined the cause of the Japan crash and made recommendations to allow the fleet to return to operations. The U.S.-made Osprey is a hybrid aircraft that takes off and lands like a helicopter but can rotate its propellers forward and cruise much faster, like an airplane, during flight. Air Force Special Operations Command has 51 Ospreys, the U.S. Marine Corps flies more than 400, and the U.S. Navy operates 27. The Osprey is still a relatively young plane in the military’s fleet — the first Ospreys became operational in 2007 after decades of testing. But more than 50 troops have died either in testing the Osprey or conducting training flights in the aircraft, including 20 deaths in four crashes over the past 20 months. An Osprey accident in August in Australia killed three Marines. That accident also is still under investigation. …

Zelenskyy Aide Wants Hungarian, Ukrainian Leaders to Discuss EU Bid 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s chief of staff on Wednesday said he wanted to arrange a meeting between the Ukrainian and Hungarian leaders amid Budapest’s opposition to a proposal to start talks on European Union membership for Kyiv.  Andriy Yermak said he had spoken to Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto about a possible meeting between Zelenskyy and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban – after Orban and his party publicly opposed starting membership talks.  Yermak, writing on Telegram, said the two had agreed “to work on setting a suitable date for such a meeting.”  Unanimous approval at an EU summit next week is needed to proceed with membership talks for Ukraine and Moldova, a former Soviet republic, as recommended by the European Commission. Kyiv sees EU membership as a key step, 21 months into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, of moving closer to the West.  Yermak, currently in Washington with a Ukrainian delegation discussing U.S. aid to Kyiv, said Ukraine “was counting on a positive decision” from the EU meeting.  He said lawmakers in Kyiv would consider in the coming days legislation critical to Ukraine’s membership bid. “We are fulfilling our obligations in full,” Yermak wrote.  Orban has warned that EU leaders could fail to reach a consensus on starting membership talks with Ukraine and said the issue should not be put on the summit’s agenda.  Distrust of Orban is high in Brussels after run-ins during his 13 years in power over the rights of gay people and migrants and tighter state controls over academics, the courts and media. Billions of euros of EU funds for Hungary have been frozen.  A parliamentary resolution from his ruling Fidesz party on Monday said EU expansion “should remain an objective process based on rules and performance.  “The start of membership talks with Ukraine should be based on a consensus among European Union member states… The conditions for this are not present today.”  Fidesz said EU leaders should thoroughly assess how Ukraine’s possible membership would affect cohesion and agricultural policies within the bloc, of which the EU’s poorer members, including Hungary, are among the main beneficiaries.  An inflow of Ukrainian grains into the EU triggered protests from farmers in Eastern Europe last year, while Polish truckers have blockaded border crossings with Ukraine, calling on the EU to restore permits limiting transit for Ukrainian competitors.  Orban will meet French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris on Thursday, ahead of … “Zelenskyy Aide Wants Hungarian, Ukrainian Leaders to Discuss EU Bid “

Fake Trump Electors Settle Lawsuit in Wisconsin, Agree Biden Won

Ten Republicans who posed as fake electors for former U.S. President Donald Trump in Wisconsin and filed paperwork falsely saying he had won the battleground state have settled a civil lawsuit and admitted their actions were part of an effort to overturn President Joe Biden’s victory, attorneys who filed the case announced Wednesday.  Under the agreement, the fake electors acknowledged that Biden won the state, withdrew their filings, and agreed not to serve as presidential electors in 2024 or any other election where Trump is on the ballot.  The 10 fake electors agreed to send a statement to the government offices that received the Electoral College votes saying that their actions were “part of an attempt to improperly overturn the 2020 presidential election results.”  The settlement marks the first time that any Trump electors have revoked their filings sent to Congress purporting that Trump had won in seven battleground states. Nevada on Wednesday became the third state to criminally charge fake electors, following Georgia and Michigan. Trump faces charges in Georgia and in a federal investigation of his conduct related to the January 6, 2021, Capitol riot.  The settlement was announced by Law Forward, Georgetown University Law Center’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection and the Madison-based Stafford Rosenbaum law firm.  “Americans believe in democracy and the idea that the people choose their leaders through elections,” said Jeff Mandell, one of the attorneys who brought the case on behalf of Democratic voters, including two who served as Biden electors. “The defendants’ actions violated those bedrock principles. We brought this case to ensure that they are held accountable.”  There is no known criminal investigation ongoing in Wisconsin. Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul has signaled he is relying on federal investigators to look into what happened in Wisconsin, while also not ruling out a state probe.  Lawsuit sought $2.4 million Democrats brought the lawsuit last year seeking $2.4 million in damages from 10 Republicans who submitted a document to Congress falsely declaring Trump as the 2020 election winner in Wisconsin. They also sued two of Trump’s attorneys, including one who has already pleaded guilty to other charges stemming from the 2020 election in Georgia.  The case was scheduled to go to a trial by jury in September 2024, two months before the presidential election.  Under the deal, the fake electors don’t pay any damages or attorneys’ fees, and there is no admission … “Fake Trump Electors Settle Lawsuit in Wisconsin, Agree Biden Won”

Ukraine’s Zelenskyy Meets Virtually With G7 Leaders

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Wednesday met virtually with leaders from the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations, telling them that Moscow is counting on Western unity to “collapse” next year. Attendees, including Kyiv’s key allies such as U.S. President Joe Biden and U.K. leader Rishi Sunak, said they remained committed to supporting Ukraine. Their comments came amid fears that Western support for Ukraine could wane as Kyiv makes limited progress on the battlefield. “We are determined to support an independent, democratic Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders,” leaders of the G7 said in a statement after the meeting. The leaders announced actions to be taken against Russia, including banning imports of nonindustrial diamonds from Russia by January, and Russian diamonds processed by third countries by March, in an effort to decrease Russian revenue. The G7 announced additional measures, including increased enforcement of a price cap on Russian oil, and called on all third parties to immediately stop providing Russia with military materials or face a “severe cost.” The leaders also committed to increasing humanitarian efforts for Ukraine as winter approaches, calling on Russia to end its aggression and pay for the damage it has already done. As Zelenskyy met with G7 leaders, Russian President Vladimir Putin took a rare trip abroad — a one-day visit to the Middle East with stops in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia — to try to increase Russia’s standing in the region. The UAE, host country of COP28, the U.N. climate summit, is a U.S. ally with close ties to Russia. UAE officials greeted Putin warmly in Abu Dhabi. Putin also met with UAE President Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, discussing many topics, including what he called the “Ukrainian crisis,” before continuing on to talks with Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Those talks were also expected to include Ukraine. Ukrainians in the UAE for COP28 condemned Putin’s visit to the region, citing environmental crimes Russia has committed in their country. “It is extremely upsetting to see how the world treats war criminals, because that’s what he is, in my opinion,” said Marharyta Bohdanova, a worker at the Ukrainian pavilion at the COP28 climate summit. “Seeing how people let people like him in the big events … treating him like a dear guest, is just so hypocritical, in my opinion.” Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters. … “Ukraine’s Zelenskyy Meets Virtually With G7 Leaders”

Journalists in Azerbaijan Targeted in Wave of Arrests

When police arrived at the home of Aziz Orujov, the Azerbaijani journalist’s 3-year-old daughter tried to stand between her father and the masked officials there to arrest him. Video shows the girl, her hair in pigtails and barely measuring up to her father’s waist, wrap her arms around Orujov as masked men stand in the corner. “She’s trying to keep Aziz from the police and tries not to let him go with them,” Orujov’s brother Anar Orujov told VOA. Arrested in late November on illegal construction charges that media advocates view as retaliatory, Aziz Orujov will be held in pre-trial detention for three months. If convicted, the director of the independent channel Kanal 13 faces up to three years in prison. Orujov is one of six independent journalists detained in Azerbaijan over the past two weeks. Press freedom experts say the move is politically motivated and underscores the lack of civil liberties for the media and Azeri society. “It’s shocking and outrageous to see this high number of journalists being arrested in such a short time frame,” said Karol Luczka, who works on Azerbaijan at the Vienna-based International Press Institute. “I haven’t seen anything like this in the region.” Journalists consider arrests retaliatory The first journalist detained was Ulvi Hasanli, the director of the independent outlet Abzas Media. Police arrested Hasanli early on November 20 on suspicion of illegally bringing money into the country. Police later raided his apartment and searched Abzas Media’s offices. In a statement posted on Facebook, Abzas Media said Hasanli’s arrest and the raid were part of President Ilham Aliyev’s pressure on the outlet for “a series of investigations into the corruption crimes of the president and officials appointed by him.” In the days that followed, authorities arrested Sevinj Vagifgizi, the outlet’s editor in chief; Mahammad Kekalov, the deputy director; and Nargiz Absalamova, a journalist. All are in pretrial detention for terms of between three and four months and stand accused of illegally bringing money into the country. Azerbaijan’s Washington embassy did not reply to VOA’s email requesting comment. International groups condemn arrests One of the few remaining independent outlets in Azerbaijan, Abzas Media is known for its coverage of corruption, including allegations that touch on the ruling family. “[Abzas Media] is for ordinary people, ordinary people in Azerbaijan, ordinary readers who should know what happens in their own country. So that’s why they were so … “Journalists in Azerbaijan Targeted in Wave of Arrests”

Police Report of Multiple Victims in Shooting at University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Police officers were responding Wednesday to a “confirmed active shooter” in a building at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, the university announced in a post on the social media platform X.  “This is not a test,” the university wrote. “RUN-HIDE-FIGHT.”  Las Vegas police said in a separate post on X that there appeared to be multiple victims.  The university said the shooter was at the Beam Hall, Frank and Estella Building, home of UNLV’s Lee Business School, which sits near the student union.  …

Former US House Speaker McCarthy Announces Resignation

Two months after his historic ouster as leader of the U.S. House of Representatives, Republican Kevin McCarthy of California announced Wednesday that he will resign from his congressional seat by the end of the year. His announcement capped a stunning end for the one-time deli owner from Bakersfield, who ascended through state and national politics to become second in line to the presidency before a contingent of hard-right conservatives engineered his removal in October. McCarthy is the only House speaker in history to be voted out of the job. “No matter the odds, or personal cost, we did the right thing,” McCarthy wrote in The Wall Street Journal, announcing his decision. “It is in this spirit that I have decided to depart the House at the end of this year to serve America in new ways,” he wrote. An announcement on McCarthy’s future had been expected, with the filing deadline to seek reelection only days away. But his decision ricocheted across Capitol Hill, where his departure will leave the already paper-thin House GOP majority even tighter, with just a few seats to spare. It comes during a wave of retirements in the House, which has been riven by Republican infighting and the rare expulsion last week of indicted Republican Representative George Santos of New York, dashing hopes for major accomplishments and leaving the majority straining to conduct the basic business of governing. McCarthy had brought the Republicans into the majority but found it was much more difficult to lead the GOP’s hard-edged factions. His toppling from the chamber’s top post was fueled by grievances from his party’s hard-right flank, including over his decision to work with Democrats to keep the federal government open rather than risk a shutdown. McCarthy, 58, arrived in the House in January 2007 after a stint in the California Assembly, where he served as minority leader. In Congress, he maneuvered through his party’s hierarchy — serving as majority whip and Republican leader along the way — before being elected speaker in January 2023. The dayslong floor fight that preceded his elevation to the House’s top job foreshadowed a stormy tenure, at a time when former President Donald Trump remained the de facto leader of the party and deep divisions within the GOP raised serious questions about the party’s ability to govern. It took a record 15 votes over four days for McCarthy to line up the … “Former US House Speaker McCarthy Announces Resignation”