Greece: Dozens Still Missing After Migrant Boat Sinks 

Greek authorities say a search and rescue operation is ongoing for a second day for dozens of migrants missing after the boat they were on sank in rough seas off a southeastern Greek island. A Greek navy vessel and three nearby merchant ships were still searching Thursday for between around 30 to 50 people believed missing after the boat that had been carrying them from the Turkish coast of Antalya to Italy capsized in the early hours of Wednesday. No further survivors had been located since 29 men from Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq were rescued shortly after the boat sank about 33 nautical miles (38 miles; 61 kilometers) southeast of the island of Karpathos, the Greek coast guard said. The survivors had told authorities there had been a total of between 60 and 80 people on board the boat. Greek authorities said the capsizing occurred in international waters, but within Greece’s search and rescue responsibility area. Two of the survivors were plucked from the sea by an air force helicopter and flown to Karpathos, while the remaining 27 were picked up by a merchant vessel and transported to the island of Kos, where they arrived Wednesday afternoon. Video released by the coast guard showed the men being transferred from the merchant ship to a coast guard boat which then transported them to Kos. There, dressed in white coveralls and wearing masks, they disembarked, many of them limping but all walking unassisted, and headed to a waiting bus. It wasn’t immediately clear why the boat sank, but weather conditions in the area were rough, with strong winds and choppy seas, authorities said. The most common sea route for asylum-seekers from the Middle East, Asia and Africa has been from Turkey to the nearby Greek islands in the Aegean Sea. But with Greek authorities increasing patrols in the area and facing persistent reports of summarily deporting new arrivals to Turkey without allowing them to apply for asylum, many are now attempting the much longer, and more dangerous, route directly to Italy. Greek authorities deny they carry out illegal summary deportations of asylum-seekers. …

Blinken in Rwanda to Discuss Congo Tensions, Human Rights

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in Rwanda, the last stop on his three-nation tour of Africa where he has articulated Washington’s new strategy for engaging with sub-Saharan African nations as “equal partners.” Blinken comes to Rwanda at a particularly difficult time for Africa’s Great Lakes region, with the small central African nation at odds with vast neighbor Congo over allegations that both governments support rebels opposed to each other. In a meeting Thursday with Rwandan President Paul Kagame, Blinken is expected to discuss efforts to ease the tensions. Rwanda is rejecting a new report by United Nations experts saying they have “solid evidence” that members of Rwanda’s armed forces are conducting operations in eastern Congo in support of the M23 rebel group. Blinken has said reports of Rwanda’s support for M23 appeared “credible.” After meeting with authorities in Congo on Tuesday, he said the U.S. will support African-led efforts to end the fighting. Rwandan authorities in turn accuse Congo of giving refuge to ethnic Hutu fighters who played roles in Rwanda’s 1994 genocide that killed ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus. There have long been tensions between the countries. In the late 1990s, Rwanda twice sent its forces deep into Congo, joining forces with rebel leader Laurent Kabila to depose the country’s longtime dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. Both Rwanda and Congo deny the charges of backing rebel groups, and Rwandan authorities have rejected the latest report by U.N. experts as a move “to distract from real issues.” Rwanda also asserts that its security needs cannot be met while armed fugitives from the genocide continue to operate from inside Congolese territory. A meeting between Kagame and Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi in Angola on July 6 produced a statement calling for a return to normal diplomatic relations, a cessation of hostilities and the “immediate and unconditional withdrawal” of the M23 from its positions in eastern Congo. But M23, which comprises mostly ethnic Tutsis from Congo, continues to hold its positions near the border with Uganda, keeping the spotlight on Rwanda. The chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee in a letter to Blinken last month called for a comprehensive review of U.S. policy toward Rwanda and noted his concern that Washington’s support for Rwanda, widely described by human right groups as authoritarian and repressive, is not in line with U.S. values. The State Department said Blinken in Rwanda also will … Continue reading “Blinken in Rwanda to Discuss Congo Tensions, Human Rights”

Nebraska Woman Charged With Helping Daughter Have Abortion

A Nebraska woman has been charged with helping her teenage daughter end her pregnancy at about 24 weeks after investigators obtained Facebook messages in which the two discussed using medication to induce an abortion and plans to burn the fetus afterward. The prosecutor handling the case said it’s the first time he has charged anyone for illegally performing an abortion after 20 weeks, a restriction that was passed in 2010. Before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, states weren’t allowed to enforce abortion bans until the point at which a fetus is considered viable outside the womb, at roughly 24 weeks. In one of the Facebook messages, Jessica Burgess, 41, tells her then-17-year-old daughter that she has obtained abortion pills for her and gives her instructions on how to take them to end the pregnancy. The daughter, meanwhile, “talks about how she can’t wait to get the ‘thing’ out of her body,” a detective wrote in court documents. “I will finally be able to wear jeans,” she says in one of the messages. Law enforcement authorities obtained the messages with a search warrant, and detailed some of them in court documents. In early June, the mother and daughter were only charged with a single felony for removing, concealing or abandoning a body, and two misdemeanors: concealing the death of another person and false reporting. It wasn’t until about a month later, after investigators reviewed the private Facebook messages, that they added the felony abortion-related charges against the mother. The daughter, who is now 18, is being charged as an adult at prosecutors’ request. Burgess’ attorney didn’t immediately respond to a message Tuesday, and the public defender representing the daughter declined to comment. When first interviewed, the two told investigators that the teen had unexpectedly given birth to a stillborn baby in the shower in the early morning hours of April 22. They said they put the fetus in a bag, placed it in a box in the back of their van, and later drove several miles north of town, where they buried the body with the help of a 22-year-old man. The man, whom The Associated Press is not identifying because he has only been charged with a misdemeanor, has pleaded no contest to helping bury the fetus on rural land his parents own north of Norfolk in northeast Nebraska. He’s set to be sentenced later … Continue reading “Nebraska Woman Charged With Helping Daughter Have Abortion”

British IS ‘Beatle’ Suspect Arrested on Return to UK, Media Says

A British man accused of being part of an Islamic State (IS) kidnap-and-murder cell known as the “Beatles” was arrested Wednesday when he returned to the UK, media reports said. Aine Davis, 38, was arrested after landing at Luton airport on a flight from Turkey, where he had been serving a prison sentence for terrorism offenses, according to BBC News and other U.K. outlets. He is suspected to be a member of the IS cell, which held dozens of foreign hostages in Syria between 2012 and 2015 and was known to their captives as the “Beatles” because of their British accents. The Metropolitan Police, which leads anti-terror investigations in the U.K., said in a statement that officers had arrested a man at Luton airport. But the London force, which does not name suspects until they are charged with a crime, did not name the person being held. “The 38-year-old man was arrested this evening after he arrived into the UK on a flight from Turkey,” the statement said. The Met said the man was arrested under several different sections of British anti-terrorism laws and taken to a south London police station “where he currently remains in police custody.” The interior ministry said in a statement that a British national had been deported from Turkey to the U.K. “It would be inappropriate to comment further while police enquiries are ongoing,” it added. The four members of the “Beatles” are accused of abducting at least 27 journalists and relief workers from the United States, Britain, Europe, New Zealand, Russia and Japan. They were all allegedly involved in the murder of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, as well as aid workers Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller. The quartet allegedly tortured and killed the four American victims, including by beheading, and IS released videos of the murders for propaganda purposes. Alexanda Kotey, a 38-year-old former British national extradited from the U.K. to the U.S. in 2020 to face charges there, pleaded guilty to his role in the deaths last September and was sentenced to life in prison in April. El Shafee Elsheikh, 34, another former British national also extradited to the U.S. at the same time, was found guilty of all charges in April, and will be sentenced next week. The fourth “Beatle,” Mohamed Emwazi, was killed by a U.S. drone in Syria in 2015. Elsheikh and Kotey were captured in January … Continue reading “British IS ‘Beatle’ Suspect Arrested on Return to UK, Media Says”

Facebook Use Plunges Among US Teens, Survey Finds

U.S. teens have left Facebook in droves over the past seven years, preferring to spend time at video-sharing venues YouTube and TikTok, according to a Pew Research Center survey data out Wednesday. TikTok has “emerged as a top social media platform for U.S. teens” while Google-run YouTube “stands out as the most common platform used by teens,” the report’s authors wrote. Pew’s data comes as Facebook-owner Meta is in a battle with TikTok for social media primacy, trying to keep the maximum number of users as part of its multibillion-dollar, ad-driven business. The report said some 95% of the teens surveyed said they use YouTube, compared with 67% saying they are TikTok users. Just 32% of teens surveyed said they log on to Facebook — a big drop from the 71% who reported being users during a similar survey some seven years ago. Once the place to be online, Facebook has become seen as a venue for older folks with young drawn to social networks where people express themselves with pictures and video snippets. About 62% of the teens said they use Instagram, owned by Facebook-parent Meta, while 59% said they used Snapchat, researchers stated. “A quarter of teens who use Snapchat or TikTok say they use these apps almost constantly, and a fifth of teen YouTube users say the same,” the report said. In a bit of good news for Meta’s business, its photo and video sharing service Instagram was more popular with U.S. teens than it was in the 2014-2015 survey. Meanwhile, less than a quarter of the teens surveyed said they ever use Twitter, the report said. The study also confirmed what casual observers may have suspected: 95% of U.S. teens say they have smartphones, while nearly as many of them have desktop or laptop computers. And the share of teens who say they are online almost constantly has nearly doubled to 46 percent when compared with survey results from seven years ago, researchers noted. The report was based on a survey of 1,316 U.S. teens, ranging in age from 13 years old to 17 years old, conducted from mid-April to early May of this year, according to Pew. …

US Says Syrian Government Holding American Journalist Tice

President Joe Biden said Wednesday the U.S. is certain that the Syrian government is holding American journalist Austin Tice, who went missing in the war-torn country a decade ago. He urged Damascus to help bring Tice back home. Biden’s comments came in a statement released by the White House to mark the 10th anniversary of Tice’s abduction, which took place when he was in Syria covering its now-lengthy conflict. They were the clearest indication so far that the U.S. is certain Tice is being held by the government of President Bashar al-Assad. Tice went missing shortly after his 31st birthday on August 14, 2012, at a checkpoint in a contested area west of the capital, Damascus. A video released a month later showed him blindfolded and held by armed men, saying “Oh, Jesus.” He has not been heard from since. “We know with certainty that he has been held by the government of Syria,” Biden said in the statement, adding that “we have repeatedly asked the government of Syria to work with us so that we can bring Austin home.” “On the 10th anniversary of his abduction, I am calling on Syria to end this and help us bring him home,” Biden said. He added there “is no higher priority in my administration than the recovery and return of Americans held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad.” Four years ago, then-U.S. envoy to Syria James Jeffrey said Tice was believed to be alive and held hostage in Syria. He didn’t say why officials believed this or who might be holding him. In May, top Lebanese security official Major General Abbas Ibrahim met with U.S. officials in Washington as part of mediation efforts between the U.S. and Syria for Tice’s release. Ibrahim, the chief of Lebanon’s General Security Directorate, has mediated complicated hostage releases in the past. Tice is one of two Americans who went missing in Syria. The other is Majd Kamalmaz, a psychologist from Virginia, who vanished in Syria in 2017. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also said in a statement that “we will continue to pursue all available avenues to bring Austin home and work tirelessly until we succeed in doing so.” Blinken said Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens will continue to engage with the Syrian government in close coordination with the White House, the Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell and the State Department. In 2016, … Continue reading “US Says Syrian Government Holding American Journalist Tice”

In Scorched UK, Source of River Thames Dries Up

At the end of a dusty track in southwest England where the River Thames usually first emerges from the ground, there is scant sign of any moisture at all. The driest start to a year in decades has shifted the source of this emblematic English river several miles downstream, leaving scorched earth and the occasional puddle where water once flowed. It is a striking illustration of the parched conditions afflicting swaths of England, which have prompted a growing number of regional water restrictions and fears that an official drought will soon be declared. “We haven’t found the Thames yet,” said Michael Sanders, on holiday with his wife in the area known as the official source of the river. The couple were planning to walk some of the Thames Path that stretches along its entire winding course — once they can find the waterway’s new starting point. “It’s completely dried up,” the IT worker from northern England told AFP in the village of Ashton Keynes, a few miles from the source, noting it had been replaced by “the odd puddle, the odd muddy bit.” “So hopefully downstream we’ll find the Thames, but at the moment it’s gone,” he said. The river begins from an underground spring in this picturesque region at the foot of the Cotswolds hills, not far from Wales, before meandering for 350 kilometers (215 miles) to the North Sea. Along the way it helps supply fresh water to millions of homes, including those in the British capital, London. ‘So arid’ Following months of minimal rainfall, including the driest July in England since the 1930s, the country’s famously lush countryside has gone from shades of green to yellow. “It was like walking across the savanna in Africa, because it’s so arid and so dry,” David Gibbons said. The 60-year-old retiree has been walking the length of the Thames Path in the opposite direction from Sanders — from estuary to source — with his wife and friends. As the group members reached their destination, in a rural area of narrow country roads dotted with stone-built houses, Gibbons recounted the range of wildlife they had encountered on their journey. The Thames, which becomes a navigable, strategic and industrial artery as it passes through London and its immediate surroundings, is typically far more idyllic upstream and a haven for bird watching and boating. However, as they neared the source, things changed. “In … Continue reading “In Scorched UK, Source of River Thames Dries Up”

Wildfires Rage in France; Thousands Evacuated From Homes 

Wildfires tore through the Gironde region of southwestern France on Wednesday, destroying homes and forcing the evacuation of 10,000 residents, some of whom had clambered onto rooftops as the flames got closer.  Black-and-orange skies, darkened by the smoke billowing from forests and lit up by the flames, were seen across the area as the fires continued to burn out of control despite the efforts of firefighters backed by water-bombing aircraft.  Fires, which have razed about 6,200 hectares, have now crossed into the neighboring Landes region.  France, like the rest of Europe, has been struggling this summer with successive heat waves and its worst drought on record. Dozens of wildfires are ablaze across the country, including at least eight major ones.  “Prepare your papers, the animals you can take with you, some belongings,” the Gironde municipality of Belin-Beliet said on Facebook before evacuating parts of the town.  In the nearby village of Hostens, police had earlier been door to door telling residents to leave as the fire advanced. Camille Delay fled with her partner and her son, grabbing their two cats, chickens and house insurance papers.  “Everyone in the village climbed onto their rooftops to see what was happening. Within 10 minutes, a little twist of smoke became enormous,” Delay, 30, told Reuters by telephone.  Firefighters said more evacuations were likely. Even so, some Hostens residents were reluctant to abandon their homes.  “It’s complicated to go with the dogs, and we cannot leave them here,” said Allisson Horan, 18, who stayed behind with her father.  “I’m getting worried because the fire is in a plot of land behind ours, and the wind is starting to change direction.”  Numerous small roads and a highway were closed.  Heat waves  More than 57,200 hectares have gone up in flames so far in France this year, nearly six times the full-year average for 2006-2021, data from the European Forest Fire Information System show.  “The fire is creating its own wind,” senior local official Martin Guespereau told reporters, adding that efforts to fight it were made more difficult by how unpredictable it was.  Sweden and Italy are among countries preparing to send help to France, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said.  He repeated calls for everyone to be responsible — nine out of 10 fires are either voluntarily or involuntarily caused by people, he said.  The Gironde wildfire is one of many that have broken out across … Continue reading “Wildfires Rage in France; Thousands Evacuated From Homes “

Russians Buy Last Goods From H&M, IKEA as Stores Wind Down

Russians are snapping up Western fashion and furniture this week as H&M and IKEA sell off the last of their inventory in Russia, moving forward with their exit from the country after it sent troops into Ukraine. Sweden-based H&M and Netherlands-based IKEA had paused sales in Russia after the military operation began and are now looking to unload their stocks of clothing and furnishings as they wind down operations there, saying the future is unpredictable. IKEA’s sales are online only, while the H&M store at the Moscow shopping mall Aviapark saw a steady stream of young shoppers Tuesday. The racks and shelves were well stocked in the clothing retailer. Nearby shops were closed, including Zara, Oysho, Bershka, Pull&Bear and Uniqlo, while New Yorker, Finn Flare, Marks & Spencer and Mango were open. “I will start looking at Russian brands,” one H&M shopper, who gave only her first name, Anya, said after emerging from the store. Another shopper, who gave his name only as Leonid, said he was “very hurt” that H&M is closing down: “A good store is leaving.” Both companies are laying off staffers as they scale down business in Russia. H&M said Tuesday that 6,000 workers will be affected and that it was working on details of offering continued support in the coming months. IKEA said in June that many workers will lose their jobs and it has guaranteed six months of pay for them, as well as core benefits. It said this week that it has 15,000 workers in Russia and Belarus, but it did not immediately confirm how many would be laid off. “We are deeply saddened about the impact this will have on our colleagues and very grateful for all their hard work and dedication,” H&M Group CEO Helena Helmersson said last month. Many Western companies promised to leave Russia after it sent troops into Ukraine, taking months to wind down operations and often selling holdings to Russian firms. McDonald’s sold its 850 restaurants to a Russian franchisee owner, who is moving to reopen them under the name Vkusno-i Tochka. British energy giants Shell and BP are taking billions of dollars in charges to exit investments and holdings in Russia. Meanwhile, some Western companies have remained in Russia or are partially operating. French-owned home improvement retailer Leroy Merlin has kept open its 112 stores in Russia, for example, while PepsiCo, Nestle and drugmaker Johnson & … Continue reading “Russians Buy Last Goods From H&M, IKEA as Stores Wind Down”

House Speaker Pelosi: China Cannot Isolate Taiwan

China’s military drills, threats and cuts in some bilateral cooperation in reaction to U.S. lawmakers’ visit to Taiwan is an attempt to establish a “new normal” in the Taiwan Strait, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters on Wednesday. Pelosi said the delegation of congressional members that she led to Taiwan was intended as a salute to a thriving democracy, and China should not have taken offense. “We didn’t go there to talk about China. We went there to praise Taiwan. And we went there to show our friendship to say, ‘China cannot isolate Taiwan.’ ” Chinese President Xi Jinping’s attempt to drive a wedge between Taipei and Washington backfired, said House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gregory Meeks. He noted that instead, China’s provocations have resulted in a greater closeness between Taiwan and the United States. “The House of Representatives, led by the speaker of the House, gave Xi a message that he’s not going to dictate to us on what we do and what we don’t do,” Meeks said. Representative Raja Krishnamurti told reporters Beijing’s response was an attempt to distract from problems inside China, and he is now glad to see the Chinese live-fire military exercises subsiding. China’s Communist Party considers Taiwan a rogue province that must be reunited with the mainland. …

Suspect in Albuquerque Muslim Killings Denies Involvement

After he was detained by New Mexico police, the suspect in the killings of four Muslim men in Albuquerque denied any connection to the crimes that shook the city and its small Muslim community — and told authorities he was so unnerved by the violence that he was driving to Houston in search of a new home for his family, court documents said. The documents made public Tuesday night in a criminal complaint said Muhammad Syed, 51, had only clothing, shoes and a handgun in his car when he was arrested Monday during a traffic stop more than 160 kilometers (100 miles) from his Albuquerque home. But investigators determined that bullet casings found in Syed’s vehicle matched the caliber of the weapons believed to have been used in two of the killings and that casings found at those crime scenes were linked to a gun found at Syed’s home, the criminal complaint said. Syed, an Afghan immigrant, told detectives with assistance from a Pashto interpreter that he had been with the special forces in Afghanistan and fought against the Taliban, the complaint said. He also denied any involvement in the killings during the interview with detectives, according to the complaint. The ambush killings of the four Muslim men in different outside locations around Albuquerque sent fear rippling through the Muslim community of New Mexico’s largest city and generated tips that led to the arrest of Syed, who knew the victims, authorities said. He was scheduled to appear in court Wednesday afternoon. Prosecutors planned to ask that he be held without bail pending trial. Court documents did not list an attorney for Syed. ‘Sigh of relief’ Following the arrest, Albuquerque’s Muslim community breathed “an incredible sigh of relief,” said Ahmad Assed, president of the Islamic Center of New Mexico. “Lives have been turned upside down.” The first killing last November was followed by three more between July 26 and August 5. Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina said it was not clear yet whether the deaths should be classified as hate crimes or serial killings or both. Syed had lived in the United States for about five years, police said. “The offender knew the victims to some extent, and an interpersonal conflict may have led to the shootings,” a police statement said, although investigators were still working to identify how they had crossed paths. When asked specifically if Syed, a Sunni Muslim, was … Continue reading “Suspect in Albuquerque Muslim Killings Denies Involvement”

Trump Refuses to Testify in Probe Into His Business Operations

Former U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday refused to answer questions in a civil investigation of his family’s business practices, invoking his constitutional right against self-incrimination. Trump took a combative stance against the probe being conducted by New York State Attorney General Letitia James into whether he has inflated the value of his hotels, golf courses and other real estate to obtain favorable terms on loans, while understating the valuations to get tax breaks. “I declined to answer the questions under the rights and privileges afforded to every citizen under the United States Constitution,” Trump said in a statement in which he castigated James as “a renegade and out-of-control prosecutor” who was pursuing a vendetta against him. Trump, wearing a blue suit with an American flag pin on his lapel, raised his fist as he left Trump Tower on Wednesday morning and headed in a motorcade to James’s office. Children’s testimony Two of Trump’s adult children, Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump, who also play key roles at the family’s global Trump Organization real estate empire, fought to avoid testifying but lost. In recent days, they answered questions in the state attorney general’s investigation. Their brother, Eric, invoked the Constitution’s 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination more than 500 times in the same investigation in October 2020. James has said her investigation has uncovered significant evidence that the Trump Organization, which the former president oversees, has manipulated asset values. Trump in the past has derided people who invoked the 5th Amendment to avoid answering probing questions that might implicate them in wrongdoing. In 2016, he complained about aides to Hillary Clinton, whom he defeated in the presidential election six years ago, for invoking their rights during an investigation into her private email server while she was secretary of state. “You see, the mob takes the Fifth,” he told his political supporters. On Wednesday, however, Trump said in his statement, “I once asked, ‘If you’re innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?’ Now, I know the answer to that question. “When your family, your company, and all the people in your orbit have become the targets of an unfounded, politically motivated Witch Hunt supported by lawyers, prosecutors, and the Fake News Media, you have no choice,” he wrote in his statement. His appearance in the New York investigation came two days after FBI agents searched Mar-a-Lago, his Atlantic oceanside mansion in … Continue reading “Trump Refuses to Testify in Probe Into His Business Operations”

UN: Movement of Grain Ships from Ukraine ‘Encouraging’

A senior U.N. official said Wednesday that a deal to move stranded Ukrainian grain that had been blocked in silos and Black Sea ports is working well, with more than 370,000 tons of food stuffs moved in the first week. “Three hundred and seventy-thousand metric tons in the initial phase of this operation, I think is a very encouraging sign,” said Fred Kenney, the U.N. representative at the Istanbul-based Joint Coordination Centre, which oversees the deal. The JCC has representatives from Russia, Turkey, Ukraine and the United Nations. It was established under the July 22 Black Sea Grain Initiative, signed in Istanbul to monitor the safe movement of commercial ships to and from Ukraine’s southern ports for the purpose of exporting food items to international markets. More than two dozen ships have been stuck in Ukraine’s ports since Russia invaded on February 24. A dozen have been authorized to sail or left so far. “It is imperative upon us now, to get those ships out, so that we can bring ships in to load cargos that will be destined for ports that will contribute to reducing global food insecurity,” said Kenney, who is also the director of legal affairs for the International Maritime Organization, the U.N. agency responsible for regulating the global shipping industry. He told reporters in a video call from Istanbul that the JCC has seen a “tremendous willingness” from shippers to cross the Bosporus into the Black Sea to pick up grain cargo at the ports of Odesa, Chernomorsk and Pivdennyi (also known as Yuzhny) and that there are a number of empty grain vessels waiting in Turkish anchorages for contracts. Four ships have already been authorized to enter Ukraine’s ports. More than 20 million tons of grain await export to the world market. The U.N. says global grain prices have already started to drop since the initiative was signed nearly three weeks ago. The JCC’s role is to make sure ships transit safely along a demarcated humanitarian corridor as much of the Black Sea has been mined. “Thus far, we haven’t had any safety issues with any of the vessels that transited. None reported any floating hazards to navigation,” Kenney told reporters. The JCC also is tasked with looking for unauthorized personnel or cargo – be it food items not covered by the terms of the grain deal or illicit weapons. “We haven’t found anything that … Continue reading “UN: Movement of Grain Ships from Ukraine ‘Encouraging’”

US Urged to Prioritize Human Rights Ahead of Blinken’s Visit to Rwanda

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken headed for Rwanda Wednesday after meeting with Democratic Republic of Congo leaders to discuss tensions and human rights challenges in Africa’s Great Lakes region. Blinken was to arrive in Kigali on Wednesday evening for what the State Department said are continuing efforts to engage with African leaders on U.S. strategy for sub-Saharan Africa, with the aim of strengthening U.S.-Rwandan relations. Key issues to be addressed during Blinken’s visit are the tensions between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and other conflicts in the region. Human Rights Watch’s Central African Director Lewis Mudge said there is blatant disregard for human rights in the region and conflict continues to disrupt the lives of innocent civilians. He said Blinken must use this opportunity to reiterate the United States’ commitment to protecting the rights of people in the region. “He really should use this as an opportunity to reinforce to [presidents] Felix Tshisekedi and Paul Kagame in DRC Congo and in Rwanda, respectively, that the United States wants to continue to be a partner to Rwanda and Congo,” Mudge said, “but only in so much that steps are taken to respect human rights and principles.” Blinken and Rwanda officials will likely discuss fighting in Congo that involves rebel group M23. In 2013, the U.S. blocked military aid to Rwanda due to its alleged support for the group, which is believed to use child soldiers, according to the State Department. Another issue on the table is Rwanda’s imprisonment of U.S. permanent resident Paul Rusesabagina. According to Trial Watch, a legal organization monitoring trials globally, Rusesabagina’s trial in 2020 did not conform to international and regional standards. Rusesabagina’s actions arguably saved hundreds of lives during the 1994 genocide and inspired the movie “Hotel Rwanda.” Rwanda’s government has repeatedly refuted these claims, but officials said they are open to exchange views on human rights and governance during Blinken’s visit. Gatete Nyiringabo Ruhumuliza, a human rights lawyer in Rwanda, argues that the country has a commitment to human rights and is seeing benefits because of it. “For Rwandans, human rights is not a concept. For Rwandans, human right is an action,” Ruhumuliza said. “Human rights mean last week they [the government] increased salaries of teachers. This is what we consider human rights. Human rights is not two people, three people quarreling on television. Human rights for Rwandans after what happened … Continue reading “US Urged to Prioritize Human Rights Ahead of Blinken’s Visit to Rwanda”

Blinken, in Kinshasa, Expresses Concern at DRC’s Arrest of Opposition Leader  

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken encouraged the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to have “free, fair, and on-time elections” while expressing concern over the detention of a Congolese opposition leader arrested soon as Blinken arrived the country for a brief visit. “We’ve seen just in the last 24 hours a possible setback to the importance of having the right environment for elections and for the civic space with the detention of an opposition political leader,” said Blinken on Wednesday during an election transparency event in the capital, Kinshasa. “We’re trying to get more facts, we’ve raised this with our colleagues in the government here, we have full respect for the laws of the DRC,” he said. “But we are concerned about any steps taken that could actually reduce the political space, especially as the country heads into elections,” he said. On Tuesday, Jean-Marc Kabund, a former close political ally of DRC President Felix Tshisekedi but now an opposition leader, was arrested. His lawyers said Kabund was accused of contempt of the head of state. Kabund was once seen as a leading figure behind Tshisekedi’s rise to power. The two had a falling out earlier this year and Kabund started his own political party. Earlier on Wednesday, Blinken met with DRC’s Prime Minister Jean-Michel Sama Lukonde in Kinshasa where the two “discussed the importance of organizing and holding free and fair elections as scheduled in 2023,” according to the State Department. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) plans to provide an additional $10 million to promote peaceful political participation and transparency in DRC’s elections, bringing total U.S. support for the Congolese elections to $23.75 million. The central African country is scheduled to have its presidential, legislative and provincial assembly elections next year. Some information in this report comes from Reuters. …

Polio Spreading in London, Booster Campaign Launched for Kids Under 10

Britain is launching a polio vaccine booster campaign for children in London aged below 10, after confirming that the virus is spreading in the capital for the first time since the 1980s.  The UK Health Security Agency has identified 116 polioviruses from 19 sewage samples this year in London. It first raised the alert on finding the virus in sewage samples in June.   The levels of poliovirus found since and the genetic diversity indicated that transmission was taking place in a number of London boroughs, the agency said on Wednesday.  No cases have yet been identified but, in a bid to get ahead of a potential outbreak, GPs will now invite children aged 1-9 for booster vaccines, alongside a wider catch-up campaign already announced. Immunization rates across London vary, but are on average below the 95% coverage rate the World Health Organization suggests is needed to keep polio under control.  Polio, spread mainly through contamination by faecal matter, used to kill and paralyse thousands of children annually worldwide. There is no cure, but vaccination brought the world close to ending the wild, or naturally occurring, form of the disease. It paralyses less than 1% of children who are infected.  The virus found in London sewage is mainly the vaccine-like virus, which is found when children vaccinated with a particular kind of live vaccine — now only used overseas — shed the virus in their feces. This harmless virus can transmit between unvaccinated children, and while doing so, can mutate back into a more dangerous version of the virus, and cause illness.  Last month, the United States found a case of paralytic polio outside New York in an unvaccinated individual, its first for a decade. The UKHSA said the case was genetically linked to the virus seen in London.   Britain is also expanding surveillance for polio to other sites outside London to see if the virus has spread further. The risk to the wider population is assessed as low because most people are vaccinated even if rates are below the optimal levels to prevent spread.  …

Elon Musk Sells $7 Billion In Tesla Shares Ahead of Twitter Fight

Elon Musk has sold nearly $7 billion worth of shares in Tesla as the billionaire gets his finances in order ahead of his court battle with Twitter. Musk disclosed in series of regulatory filings that he unloaded about 8 million shares of his company Tesla Inc. in recent days. “In the (hopefully unlikely) event that Twitter forces this deal to close and some equity partners don’t come through, it is important to avoid an emergency sale of Tesla stock,” Musk tweeted late Tuesday. Musk is by far the largest individual shareholder in both Tesla and Twitter. Shares of Tesla rose almost 2% before the opening bell Wednesday. Shares of Twitter Inc., up 16% in the past month with most believing Musk faces long-shot odds of success in court, jumped another 3%. Musk countersued Twitter last week, accusing the company of fraud over his aborted $44 billion acquisition. He claimed that Twitter held back critical information and misled his team about the size of its user base. Musk alleges that Twitter committed fraud, breach of contract and violation of a securities law in Texas, where Musk lives. Musk offered to buy Twitter earlier this year, then tried to back out of the deal claiming the social platform was infested with a larger number of “spam bots” and fake accounts than Twitter had disclosed. Musk said in the spring that he planned no major sales of his stake in Tesla after lining up financing to acquire Twitter, but Dan Ives, an industry analyst with Wedbush, said Wednesday that “the situation has dramatically changed.” Wedbush raised its target price for shares of Twitter, “With the chances of a Twitter deal now more likely in our opinion and the Street seeing through this poker move by Musk,” Ives wrote to clients. “We can also see Musk trying to resolve this powder keg situation before the Twitter deal officially heads to court in October,” Ives wrote. “At a minimum, we see Twitter getting a massive settlement from Musk in the $5 billion to $10 billion range that is starting to be factored into the stock.” …

Stranded Whale Euthanized After Removal From French River 

A beluga whale that captured French hearts when it showed up in the Seine River had to be euthanized Wednesday after it was successfully removed from the French waterway, authorities said. A rescue team was preparing to transfer the whale to a saltwater pool in Normandy. The male marine mammal was first spotted in the Seine last week after having accidentally veered off its normal path to the Arctic. During the rescue operation, the dangerously thin animal began to have breathing difficulties, and so experts decided the most humane thing to do was to euthanize the creature. “During the journey, the veterinarians confirmed a worsening of its state, notably its respiratory activities, and at the same time noticed the animal was in pain, not breathing enough,” Florence Ollivet Courtois, a French wild animal expert, said. “The suffering was obvious for the animal, so it was important to release its tension, and so we had to proceed to euthanize it.” Conservation group Sea Shepherd France said veterinary exams after the beluga’s removal from the river showed it has no digestive activity. Members of the organization had tried unsuccessfully since Friday to feed fish to the whale. Courtois said the whale experienced distress after it was moved to a refrigerated truck and during the approximately 160-kilometer (99-mile) drive to the Normandy coast. The whale was expected to spend several days recuperating in the saltwater pool in the northeastern French port town of Ouistreham before being towed out to sea. The rescue team said ahead of time that the transfer carried a risk of the whale dying because of the stress involved in the process. However, the move was deemed necessary because the animal would not have been able to survive in much longer in the Seine’s fresh water. “The decision to euthanize the beluga was taken as it was too weakened to be put back into water,” Guillaume Lericolais, the subprefect of France’s Calvados region, said. …