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Updated: 53 min 45 sec ago

US Park Police to Investigate Alleged Assault on News Crew

1 hour 19 min ago

The U.S. Park Police have announced that two officers will be placed on administrative leave after video showed them allegedly attacking an Australian press crew.

The move came Wednesday, the same day that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said it had filed a class-action lawsuit over treatment of the press in Minneapolis.

Journalists have been attacked, detained and harassed while covering the nationwide protests after the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis.

As of Thursday, the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker had investigated around 280 incidents, with about 20 of those in Washington, D.C.

VOA Journalist Says Police Fired Toward Press, Protesters in DCJason Patinkin was struck when police fired a projectile during George Floyd protests near the White House

In the case of the Australian crew, footage recorded by WJLA-TV news showed Park Police appearing to shove camera operator Tim Myers and use a baton to strike reporter Amanda Brace from Australia’s Channel 7 on Monday.

The incident took place as law enforcement attempted to clear an area for President Donald Trump to walk to a church damaged during protests in Washington.

The incident is being investigated, acting Chief Gregory Monahan said Wednesday in a statement.

“We take mistreatment of journalists seriously, as do all who take democracy seriously,” U.S. Ambassador to Australia Arthur Culvahouse Jr. said in a statement Tuesday. “We remain steadfast in our commitment to protecting journalists and guaranteeing equal justice under law for all.”

ACLU lawsuit

In response to attacks against journalists in Minneapolis, the ACLU of Minnesota filed a class-action lawsuit against the city of Minneapolis, the Minnesota State Patrol and the Minneapolis Police Department. The Press Freedom Tracker is investigating over 50 incidents in the city.

One plaintiff, Jared Goyette — a freelance journalist who said he was shot in the face by a rubber bullet in Minneapolis — wrote that the “press is under assault in our city.”

“This pattern and practice of conduct by law enforcement tramples on the Constitution,” Goyette wrote in the complaint. “It violates the sacrosanct right to freedom of speech and freedom of the press that form the linchpin of a free society.”

The lawsuit seeks an order that would declare the police officers’ actions unconstitutional and prohibit law enforcement from targeting and attacking journalists, and it also seeks damages, according to an ACLU statement released Wednesday.

“The power of the people is rooted in the ability of the free press to investigate and report news, especially at a time like this,” ACLU-MN legal director Teresa Nelson said in the statement. “Police are using violence and threats to undermine that power, and we cannot let that happen. Public transparency is absolutely necessary for police accountability.”

Rights groups have condemned harassment and attacks on journalists in other cities, including Atlanta, where two journalists were briefly detained. The journalists, Haisten Willis and Alyssa Pointer, had identified themselves as press, the Associated Press reported.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution staff photojournalist Alyssa Pointer, kneeling, works during a news conference, June 2, 2020, in Atlanta. Pointer was detained by Georgia Department of Natural Resources officers during a protest downtown.

'No need' for handcuffs

“In today’s digital age and with more journalists than ever working as remote freelancers, digital credentials are a commonly used and accepted form of identification,” Willis, who was working as a freelancer for The Washington Post, said in a joint statement with the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Georgia. “There was no need for handcuffs or confiscation.”

At a Tuesday news conference, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp said he had asked the commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources to “look into” the incident involving Pointer, the AP reported. Atlanta police declined to comment to the AP.

The SPJ Georgia, the Atlanta Association of Black Journalists and other groups called on news organizations to provide freelancers with proper credentials and protective equipment, such as masks and first-aid kits.

“It is vital that members of law enforcement, who have sworn to serve and protect their citizens, do so without endangering journalists’ safety, press freedom and civil rights,” the Monday statement read. “Law enforcement must respect journalists’ role in covering events of civil unrest.”

Brooklyn Rally: Thousands Call for Change in George Floyd's Name

1 hour 57 min ago

They were of all races and faiths, young and old, from nearby neighborhoods and neighboring states. They numbered around 5,000 — clergy, families, individuals, groups of friends. They came on foot, by subway, on bikes, walking their dogs. They all had one goal: change.

“The violence has to stop,” said Daniel Spruill, a 23-year-old black man at the memorial held Thursday afternoon for George Floyd in Brooklyn, New York. “The more people they see out here supporting it, the more likely Congress will get something done.”

Kallai Brooks, 36, an African American man from Brooklyn, came to the memorial with his wife and two sons, ages 3 and 8. He said violence against men like him is very much in the front of his mind, especially as a father.

“I don’t want it to happen me, and I definitely don’t want it to happen to me in front of them,” he said referring to his sons. But he is hopeful the current momentum will bring tangible change.

“It’s a different uprising,” Brooks said. “This is everybody being quiet about it, so imagine if they start getting loud.”

University student Rosella Frein-Niles, 21, welcomed the diverse turnout.

A protester waves an American flag with a message that reads "CAN'T BREATHE" during a memorial for George Floyd at Cadman Plaza Park in the Brooklyn borough of New York, on June 4, 2020.

“I think everyone — white people, black people, any people in America — can realize that what’s happening is unjust, and it’s our responsibility to show up and stand together in solidarity and unity,” she said. “That’s the only way we can get things done. The officers got arrested for George Floyd. It shows that activism is what changes things.”

Floyd, 46, died in police custody on May 25 in the U.S. city of Minneapolis after an officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. Three other officers did not stop him. All four have been charged in his death.

Floyd’s younger brother Terrence lives in Brooklyn, New York. He, along with his family, have been calling for peace and an end to the looting that several cities, including New York, have experienced during more than a week of demonstrations.

“I’m proud of the protests, but I’m not proud of the destruction,” Terrence Floyd twice told the crowd.

In brief remarks to enthusiastic applause, Terrence Floyd said all people need power.

“Power to the people! Power to the people!” he said. “Not just my people, not just your people, not just the people that think they are important. I’m talking about power of the people — all of us!”

Protesters take a knee before continuing their march on the Brooklyn Bridge after attending a memorial service for George Floyd on June 4, 2020, in the Brooklyn borough of New York.

“George Floyd represented peace,” the Rev. Kevin McCall told the crowd. “He was a godly man. A gentle giant. We must keep his memory as such.”

New York State Attorney General Letitia James told the crowd that change in this country has always come from the young people, not the politicians.

“To my young warriors and to the families, march until the stagnant and intractable walls of racism come down!” she urged.

Protesters held up signs and repeatedly chanted Floyd’s name, demanding peace and justice. There was music, speeches by politicians — including Mayor Bill de Blasio, who was loudly booed — and police, who stayed at a respectful distance on the periphery of the park. At the entrance, they handed out face masks, since New York is only beginning its fragile recovery from a brutal outbreak of COVID-19.

The mayor promised the city would do more to end racism.

“It will not be about words in this city, it will be about change — change in the NYPD (New York Police Department),” de Blasio said. “It will be about change that you can see and believe, because you will see it with your own eyes.”

Following the memorial, hundreds of people peacefully marched across the nearby Brooklyn Bridge to Foley Square in lower Manhattan, the site of daily demonstrations.  

US Ban on Chinese Students With Military Links Divides Experts on Impact

2 hours 58 sec ago

A new U.S. ban on Chinese graduate students with military ties went into effect this week, and universities are still grappling over its expected impact on American universities and several thousand Chinese students.  

President Donald Trump signed a proclamation on May 29, barring Chinese graduate students and researchers who have ties with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) from entering the United States, part of a new U.S. effort to stop China from using graduate students to steal intellectual property and technology from America.

People who oppose the new ban said the policy would undercut the ability of American universities to conduct cutting-edge research, since graduate research assistants are disproportionately international students, many from China. The measure also could hurt American universities’ finances as well as U.S. competitiveness in scientific innovation.  

'Seven Sons of National Defense'  

The executive order gives the U.S. secretary of state discretion to determine which students are banned under the new measure, but the order does not specify which students are affected.  

Citing anonymous U.S. officials, news media reports said the ban targets seven military-affiliated universities in China, including Northwestern Polytechnical University, Harbin Engineering University, Harbin Institute of Technology,  Beihang University (formerly known as Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics), University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Beijing Institute of Technology, Nanjing University of Science and Technology and Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

All seven are directed by China’s Ministry of Industry and information Technology and are referred to as the “Seven Sons of National Defense.” 

“The new policy will impact about 3,000 to 4,000 Chinese international students,” said Robert Daly, the Director of the Wilson Center's Kissinger Institute on China and the United States.  

That’s a small fraction of an estimated 350,000 or more Chinese students studying at American universities, but the ban could lead to fewer overall enrollments from Chinese students.  

FILE - Ailu Xu, a graduate student from China, posts a sign directing Chinese students to new student orientation at the University of Texas at Dallas in Richardson, Texas, Aug. 22, 2015.

Supporters of Trump’s new immigration policy told VOA Mandarin that the administration’s decision to limit students from military-affiliated universities is carefully considered and measured. They said China now threatens to use its military to coerce and settle differences by force, which undermines global security and stability.   

“No country should be helping the Chinese military increase its capabilities while it threatens its neighbors,” said Drew Thompson, a former U.S. Defense Department official who helped manage bilateral relations with China, Taiwan and Mongolia. 

He added that until China renounces the use of force against Taiwan and countries that it has territorial disputes with, countries in Europe and Asia should also limit technology transfer to Chinese military organizations, including its universities.  

Yet other experts argue that international students, especially Chinese students, play a key role in science research in America universities.  

Elizabeth Bowditch used to teach cultural awareness at Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California. She said that in limiting visas to Chinese graduate students, the administration is undercutting the ability of American universities to conduct cutting-edge research.  

“Graduate research assistants are disproportionately international students, many of whom are from China,” she said, “The upshot is that the U.S. will no longer be able to benefit from the contributions Chinese students make at American universities and that will be a huge loss to scientific and innovation and research.”  

Yet Thompson argued that the policy would not negatively impact U.S. universities, since “the total number of affected students is very small compared to the overall numbers of Chinese students still eligible to study in the United States.” 

A top Chinese scientist shared his opinion with VOA Mandarin on the condition of anonymity. He said that he has benefited from academic exchanges with U.S. colleagues. “America and the world also benefited greatly from free academic exchange among scientists,” he said. “Don’t forget that scientists [who] immigrated from Britain, Germany and then Soviet Union after WWII also contributed greatly to America’s leading position in technology today.” 

Secure Campus Act   

While the current ban appears limited in scope because it targets only graduate students with direct ties to specific schools, American lawmakers are considering much broader bans.  

Two days before Trump announced the proclamation, Republican Senators Tom Cotton and Marsha Blackburn, from Arkansas and Tennessee respectively, introduced the Secure Campus Act, which would ban visas to all Chinese nationals seeking STEM studies in the United States.

The Wilson Center’s Daly said the proposed bill is too biased and harmful to the United Sates.  

“We must distinguish which suspicions are based on reasoning,” he told VOA Mandarin. “We can’t just say they are all spies. The senators provided the bill, but they didn’t provide the evidence.” 

Berlin Fang is the director of instructional design at Abilene Christian University in Texas. He told VOA Mandarin that from the American perspective, the proposed bill, if passed, would hurt the U.S. as well, “because some students would choose to stay and work in the U.S., contributing to the competitiveness of the country. Many U.S. companies, especially high-tech companies, would probably protest it,” he said.  

According to data from National Science Foundation, 72% of foreign students who graduate with STEM doctorates were still in America 10 years after receiving their degrees. Among Chinese students, that percentage went up to 90%.  

Fang added that the bill has sent a signal to international students so that even if it does not become law, it will reduce the number of Chinese students applying to US graduate schools in the future.  

“I feel bad for students who have not done anything to become victims in the crossfire between two countries as [the relationship] turns sour,” he said.  

 

Journalists, NGOs Urge Tajik Government to Probe Journalist's Beatings

2 hours 2 min ago

Fifteen nongovernmental organizations in Tajikistan, along with several noted journalists, have urged officials to "thoroughly" investigate the recent beatings of a journalist working for independent Asia Plus news agency.

In their open letter made public Wednesday and addressed to the presidential administration, the prosecutor-general's office and the country's ombudsman, the group — including well-known Tajik organizations defending civil rights, such as Apeiron, Nota Bene, The World of Law and the Independent Human Rights Center — called for the attackers of Abdulloh Ghurbati to be "adequately" punished.

The authors of the statement also called on Tajik authorities to comply with national and international standards recognized by Tajikistan and to abandon the practice of harassing journalists and putting pressure on their professional activities.

“The humiliation of journalists because of their professional activities, as well as the failure to properly respond and investigate such attacks on journalists and media representatives, can lead to a significant deterioration with the freedom of expression in Tajikistan, as impunity contributes to an atmosphere of fear, self-censorship, and a decrease in the activities of journalists and media outlets in the country," the letter said.

Ghurbati was attacked twice last month — on May 11 in Dushanbe near his home and on May 29 in the southern Khatlon region when he was working on a report about the aftermath of a recent landslide that killed two men.

Accusation of provocation

The assailants in the first attack have not yet been found, while in the second case, police tried to accuse Ghurbati of provoking the attack by entering — without permission — tents used by some local residents as temporary shelters after their houses were destroyed by the landslide.

Ghurbati rejected the claims, saying that he didn't even have a chance to enter any of the tents and that he was attacked far away from where they were located.

In the end, police identified the attackers as three local residents, who were found guilty of petty hooliganism and fined 580 somonis ($56) each.

The NGOs and journalists, meanwhile, stressed in their letter that the three attackers should have been charged with obstruction of the legitimate professional activities of a journalist, a more serious felony.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has condemned the attacks and has urged Tajik authorities to thoroughly investigate them.

In April, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranked Tajikistan 161st out of 180 countries for press freedom.

According to RSF, conditions for independent media working in Tajikistan have dramatically worsened in the last two years.

Why Is Turkey Involved in Libyan Conflict? 

2 hours 5 min ago

Turkey and Libya further strengthened their bilateral ties on Thursday in a meeting between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Tripoli-based Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj. 

During a press conference with al-Sarraj in Ankara, Erdogan said Turkey and Libya have agreed on expanding their ties, including in the Eastern Mediterranean region.   

FILE - Khalifa Haftar, the military commander who dominates eastern Libya, arrives to attend an international conference on Libya at the Elysee Palace in Paris on May 29, 2018.

In late May, forces of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), backed by Turkey, made several advances in Libya against rival forces led by Khalifa Haftar before both sides agreed this week to return to cease-fire talks. 

“History will judge those who cause bloodshed and tears in Libya by supporting putschist Haftar,” Erdoğan told reporters at the press conference. 

For his part, al-Sarraj declared a final victory over Haftar forces, saying “you have been defeated in Tripoli; just accept it.” 

Some experts call the series of GNA victories a turning point in Libya’s six years of civil war, with Ankara emerging as the potential dominant external player in the north African country. 

Experts say Erdogan hopes to shape a Libya that can preserve Turkey’s political and economic dominance in the region.   

“Turkey’s main motivation has been to prevent Libya from falling under the sway of Egypt and (the) UAE, which would have been a blow to Ankara’s geostrategic and economic interests not only in Libya itself but also in the East Mediterranean,” Nigar Goksel, Turkey director at the International Crisis Group, told VOA.

Since officially joining the war in January, Turkey has deployed its military forces and allegedly Syrian militias to Libya. Despite an arms embargo on Libya by the United Nations, Ankara has also supplied drones and air defense to the U.N.-recognized GNA.  

Their involvement has been strongly condemned by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Greece, Cyprus and France. In a joint statement in May, the five countries asked Turkey “to fully respect the U.N. arms embargo, and to stop the influx of foreign fighters from Syria to Libya.”  

Haftar has vowed to launch the “largest aerial campaign in Libyan history” against Turkish targets in the country. In response, Ankara has threatened “serious repercussions.”  

“The rise of Ankara’s sense of urgency to secure a maritime boundary delimitation agreement with Libya coincided with the peak of Tripoli’s dire need to stave off Haftar’s forces,” said Goksel, adding that Ankara sees Libya as a gateway for influence over the Mediterranean Sea.  

FILE - Turkey's new oil and gas drillship "Conquerer" is seen off the coast of Antalya, southern Turkey, Oct. 30, 2018.

Geostrategic reasons   

In November, Turkey signed a deal on the delimitation of the maritime jurisdiction areas in the Mediterranean with the GNA. The deal has further added to the frustration of its neighbors, primarily Greece and Cyprus, that contest Turkey’s drilling rights in the waters. 

Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Çavuşoğlu in an interview with local broadcaster 24 TV on Wednesday said the deal provides Ankara with two objectives: “Firstly, to preserve the rights of Turkish Cypriots and, secondly, to protect our interests in our continental shelf.”  

Under the deal, Turkish energy minister Fatih Dönmez announced last week, Turkey may start oil exploration in the eastern Mediterranean within three or four months. 

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the eastern Mediterranean contains natural gas worth approximately $700 billion. Of that reserve, Turkey — despite protest from Europe — has been drilling for natural gas off the northern coast of the divided island of Cyprus.    

FILE - Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pose for a photo before signing a deal to build a gas pipeline, in Athens, Jan. 2, 2020.

Meanwhile, Cyprus, Greece, and Israel are working to develop a pipeline at an estimated $7-$9 billion to transport the eastern Mediterranean gas into Europe. Turkey’s deal with Tripoli, some experts say, could obstruct the plan since the pipeline would have to cross the Turkey-Libya jurisdiction.  

“The conduct of a memorandum of understanding between the GNA and Turkey recognizing the Turkish interpretation has raised ire and is a factor in the Turkish decision to provide military support for the GNA,” Tim Eaton, a senior research fellow with Chatham House, told VOA.   

Turkish construction in Libya 

Securing opportunities for Turkish companies in the Libyan market is yet another motive behind Ankara’s intervention in Libya, some experts charge. 

Turkish businesses for decades have been involved in Libya, particularly in the construction sector, according to Kadir Ustun, the executive director of the SETA Foundation, a pro-government think-tank based in Washington.  

“Turkey tried to broker a solution in the wake of the Arab Spring with the then leader of the country, Moammar Ghadafi, to secure its commercial interests as well as the safety of its more than 20,000 citizens living in Libya at the time,” Ustun told VOA.   

Before Ghadafi’s fall, about a hundred Turkish construction companies reportedly signed contracts in Libya. However, due to the 2011 Arab Spring conflict, they had to leave their projects incomplete at a loss of $19 billion.

Economic and geostrategic interests are not solely to be accounted for in understanding Turkey’s extended support to GNA, however.  

According to some experts, officials in Ankara hope the triumph of GNA over Haftar could establish a government in Tripoli that is ideologically conservative and in line with Ankara’s ruling Justice and Development Party. 

Ideological reasons   

Turkey in the past has reportedly supported the Justice and Construction Party, a Libyan Islamist group with close ties to Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, to gain a foothold in the GNA.  

The ideological ambition, those experts say, has put Erdogan’s government at odds with the rulers of the Arab countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) who see the emergence of Islamist parties a threat to their power.   

“The GNA aligned forces contain some Islamist elements committed to defeating Haftar,” said Eaton of Chatham House.   

Karim Mezran, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, emphasized that the ideological differences between Turkey and several Arab countries have for years triggered a foreign policy battle not only in Libya but also in other countries such as Egypt and Qatar.   

By challenging Turkey’s ideological vision, Mezran said, the Arab countries hope to prevent the establishment of Islamist regimes friendly with Ankara. 

  “It has been going on since 2011 when they understood that the Arab Spring may alter the political equilibrium in the region, and they decided to intervene first-hand to prevent Islamist regimes in these countries,” he told VOA. 

Google: Chinese, Iranian Hackers Targeted Biden, Trump Campaigns

2 hours 25 min ago

State-backed hackers from China have targeted staffers working on the U.S. presidential campaign of Democrat Joe Biden, a senior Google security official said Thursday. The same official said Iranian hackers had recently targeted email accounts belonging to Republican President Donald Trump's campaign staff. 

The announcement, made on Twitter by the head of Google's Threat Analysis Group, Shane Huntley, is the latest indication of the digital spying routinely aimed at top politicians. 

Huntley said there was "no sign of compromise" of either campaign. 

Iranian attempts to break into Trump campaign officials' emails have been documented before. Last year, Microsoft Corp announced that a group often nicknamed Charming Kitten had tried to break into email accounts belonging to an unnamed U.S. presidential campaign, which sources identified as Trump's. 

Earlier this year, the threat intelligence company Area 1 Security said Russian hackers had targeted companies tied to a Ukrainian gas firm where Biden's son once served on the board. 

No details

Google declined to offer details beyond Huntley's tweets, but the unusually public attribution is a sign of how sensitive Americans have become to digital espionage efforts aimed at political campaigns. 

"We sent the targeted users our standard government-backed attack warning and we referred this information to federal law enforcement," a Google representative said. 

Hacking to interfere in elections has become a concern for governments, especially since U.S intelligence agencies concluded that Russia ran a hacking and propaganda operation to disrupt the American democratic process in 2016 to help then-candidate Trump become president. Among the targets was digital infrastructure used by 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's campaign

Moscow has denied any meddling. 

Commonplace attacks

Attempts by foreign adversaries to break into presidential campaigns are commonplace. 

"We are aware of reports from Google that a foreign actor has made unsuccessful attempts to access the personal email accounts of campaign staff," a Biden campaign spokesman said. "We have known from the beginning of our campaign that we would be subject to such attacks and we are prepared for them." 

The Trump campaign, the Chinese Embassy in Washington and the Iranian mission to the United Nations in New York did not immediately respond to requests for comment. 

Charming Kitten, the group identified by Google as being responsible for the targeting of the Trump campaign, has also recently been in the headlines over other exploits, including the targeting of the pharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences Inc . 

Earlier this year, Reuters tied the group to attempts to impersonate high-profile media figures and journalists. 

John Hultquist, senior director of intelligence analysis with U.S. cybersecurity firm FireEye Inc, described the two hacking groups as "espionage actors" and said they were likely attempting to collect intelligence rather than steal material to leak online. 

The FBI and Office of the Director of National Intelligence both declined to comment.

Confusion, Frustration Reign as Uganda’s Public Transport Resumes Operation

2 hours 41 min ago

Public transport and taxi service resumed Thursday in Uganda, nearly three months after they were halted to control the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. New restrictions and regulations, mainly on taxis, however, have left many Kampala residents without a ride.

Tempers grew short Thursday at a Kampala taxi park as drivers, passengers and security personnel dealt with the new restrictions.

The park, which normally has more than 300 vehicles, had just 15, leaving hundreds of people unable to get to where they wanted to go.

Kampala traffic police commander Norman Musinga was checking on whether the few drivers present were freshly registered with the City Council and had their driving permits in order, a requirement for getting back on the road.

“Where is the manager?" he asked. "Sir, drive your car and leave the stage and go to Natete," he told one driver. "Have you heard? Don’t load from here anymore. You have the right documents, but you’ve parked at the wrong place.”  

The registration requirement has angered taxi drivers, who say they were not given enough time to register or adequate instructions on how to do so. Others say they are not familiar with new traffic routes for public transport out of the city center.

Also, every vehicle is allowed to have only seven passengers, including the driver and conductor.

Drivers feel stuck

Kasirye Muhammed, who said he has been driving taxis for 16 years, said the new regulations were unfair and oppressive. But taxi drivers have to comply with them, because this is their only means of income.

A woman and a child wait for a taxi at the old taxi park in Kampala, Uganda, on June 4, 2020, the first day of the reopening of public transport.

He said, “The president told us to get back on the road and work; we haven’t come in bad faith. Look around — people are traveling to Kamuli, others are going to Jinja and others to Masaka. What will they do at curfew time? So many people who have been in difficult situations at home, with no food and money, have an opportunity to return where they belong and take care of their families. They are here stranded in the park, like useless people.”

The Kampala Capital City Authority said it used the lockdown period to improve the city infrastructure and all drivers must adhere to the new regulations.

Peter Kaujju, the KCCA spokesperson, said the city was taking steps to make taxis easier to use and, above all, safer.

“We are saying they should return better organized, better coordinated and well-regulated," he said. "So we are now issuing route numbers for every passenger service vehicle in the city. So we have had to register them. But also, safety. We are doing all this to ensure that the lives of the traveling public are not at a risk anymore, especially of accidents.”

Kaujju said the city was registering thousands of taxi drivers who would soon be on the road.

Passengers stranded

But the shortage Thursday left hundreds of passengers stranded. Mbabazi Joselyn arrived at the taxi park early in the morning, intending to travel to Masindi in southwestern Uganda. She quickly noticed that prices had doubled, and she was still waiting at lunchtime for a vehicle.

“The transport costs have gone so high," she said. "They charged us 15,000 shillings [$4] from Mityana. Yet previously we would pay either 7,000 [$2] or 5,000 shillings [$1.30]. Yet we are here and don’t know whether we shall go or not.”

The Kampala Capital City Authority maintains that only registered drivers will be allowed back on the road. If the city has its way, both drivers and passengers will have to adjust to the new normal.

George Floyd Remembered as Good Father and Family Man

2 hours 52 min ago

George Floyd was remembered Thursday as a devoted father and family man who did not deserve to die while in Minneapolis police custody.  

Civil rights leader the Reverend Al Sharpton led the first of six scheduled memorial services for the 46-year-old African American man whose death last week sparked violent protests across the country and again put a spotlight on accusations of police brutality against black men.  

Thursday’s service in Minneapolis included the Reverend Jesse Jackson, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, several members of Congress, and celebrities, including Ludacris, Kevin Hart, Tiffany Haddish, and T.I. 

At one point, the audience at the sanctuary at North Central University stood in silence for eight minutes and 46 seconds — the length of time white police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck May 25, after which Floyd died.    

“George Floyd’s story has been the story of black folks. Because ever since 401 years ago, the reason we could never be who we wanted and dreamed to be is you kept your knee on our neck,” Sharpton said in his eulogy. “It’s time for us to stand up in George’s name and say, ‘Get your knee off our necks!’” 

He said it is time for those in the U.S. justice system to stop “making excuses and empty promises.” 

Philonise Lloyd, one of George Lloyd’s brothers, recounted their childhood games and said he was amazed at the number of people who came to memorialize George. 

People hold up a likeness of George Floyd at a public memorial after his death in Minneapolis police custody, in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, New York, June 4, 2020.

Thursday's memorial services in Minneapolis and Brooklyn, New York, which was attended by another brother, Terrence Floyd, were the first of six private and public services for Floyd over the next five days, including in his birthplace of Raeford, North Carolina, and in Houston, where he grew up.  

Also Thursday, members of the Senate Democratic Caucus held their own 8-minute, 46-second moment of silence for Floyd in the Capitol’s Emancipation Hall.  

The Associated Press reported that more than 10,000 people have been arrested since last week on accusations of looting and other acts of violence in the coast-to-coast protests set off by Floyd’s death.  

Thousands of demonstrators have also turned out in Paris, London, Sydney and Rio de Janeiro.  

The mayors of several big U.S. cities, including Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle, have lifted nightly curfews.  

Curfews remain in effect, and police and National Guard remain on alert, in several other places where violence has eased but remains a threat.   

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announced Wednesday second-degree murder charges against Chauvin. The former officer was originally charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter after his arrest last week.  

Ellison also announced charges of aiding and abetting second-degree murder against the other three officers at the scene — J.A. Keung, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao.  All four officers are in custody and have been fired from the police department.  

“I strongly believe that these developments are in the interest of justice for Mr. Floyd, his family, our community and our state,” Ellison said. “We’re working together on this case with only one goal — justice for George Floyd.”   

A Floyd family attorney said the additional charges are “a bittersweet moment.”

The fiancé of George Floyd, left, holds hands with a supporter at North Central University after a memorial service for Floyd, June 4, 2020, in Minneapolis.

A Hennepin County, Minnesota, judge on Thursday set bail at $750,000 each for Keung, Lane and Thao.  

An attorney for Lane appealed for a lower bail, telling the court his client expressed some concern when Floyd was on the ground and performed CPR on the unconscious Floyd in the ambulance.  

Attorney Earl Gray, representing Lane, told the court that Chauvin was the senior officer on the scene, and when Floyd died, Lane was on only his fourth day on the job. 

“What was my client supposed to do but follow what his training officer said? Is that aiding and abetting a crime?” Gray asked. 

Officers arrested Floyd after he was suspected of trying to spend a counterfeit $20 bill in a Minneapolis food store.  

The police had said Floyd was resisting arrest. In cellphone video seen around the world, Floyd can be heard saying, “I can’t breathe,” while bystanders yelled at the officers to ease up. 

A medical examiner’s autopsy said Floyd’s death was the result of a homicide under police restraint but said he had “significant” health conditions, including heart disease and recent drug use. 

A separate autopsy commissioned by Floyd’s family also concluded that he was the victim of a homicide but denied any other major health issues. 

Two members of Congress — Libertarian Justin Amash and Democrat Ayanna Pressley — are co-sponsoring a bill limiting what is known as “qualified immunity,” so victims of civil rights abuses will have an easier time suing officers in court.  

“Qualified immunity shields police from accountability, impedes true justice and undermines the constitutional rights of every person in this country,” Pressley said. 

 

Washington Protesters Show Determination, Resilience

2 hours 59 min ago

Washington's sixth night of protests in the wake of George Floyd's death was overwhelmingly peaceful, but the anger that sparked demonstrations here and across the nation has remained palpable.

“His dream was to go to Vegas, to take his family to Vegas to live there," one protester said Wednesday night, referring to his brother. "So, he did just that, as a man. And when he got to Vegas, guess what Vegas police did? Shoot him in his face in his home in front of his kids. He can’t be just another hashtag, bro.”

For him and other protesters, the demonstrations are necessary — and they're personal.

Dominique Bryant, 23, left, and Nastajia Walker, 21, right join demonstrators as they gather to protest the death of George Floyd, June 3, 2020, outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington.

One day a couple of years ago, said demonstrator Mouhamed Ndoye, "I was riding my BMW. They stop me, asking me, ‘Whose car is this?’  I was getting [on] to a plane in first class. They tell me, ‘You are in the wrong side.’ Why? Because of my color. I get stopped also getting to first class, asking me, ‘Where you going?’ I was the first one they called, you know, to go in. And I see two police officers come inside, look [at me] like I am a bad person. And they were letting white folks go in."

Floyd died in police custody on May 25, and some protesters, like Yaye Sy, say his death was the tipping point that forced them into the streets. But they also say they are protesting for other black people who have died after encounters with police.

“It just becomes too many times, and it just hits a certain point and I feel like everyone is fed up," Sy said. "It started this year with Ahmaud Arbery, a black young man just jogging. I’m a track runner — that hit very close to home. Because how am I supposed to go on jogs, having to worry about my life?”

Soldiers with the District of Columbia National Guard load buses to leave as demonstrators gather to protest the death of George Floyd, June 3, 2020, in Washington.

Protester Marjan Naderi was part of a team that brought water, masks, refreshments and a solution to treat tear gas exposure for other protesters.  She said it was important for her to do what she could to support fellow demonstrators.

"As human beings, we have an innate sense to seek justice and bring justice to the ground," she said. "And because it’s such a powerful feeling, we initially forget to care for ourselves as humans." She said it becomes necessary "to step back and say, ‘OK, in order to continuously protest, we have to keep the momentum and give energy and give food and care for our people as one,’ regardless of where it comes from."

Crowds remained in front of the White House well after the curfew both Tuesday and Wednesday nights, as protesters actively worked to keep the peace as they raised their voices.

Lancet Retracts Study on Safety of Malaria Drugs for Coronavirus 

3 hours 1 min ago

Several authors of a large study that raised safety concerns about malaria drugs for coronavirus patients have retracted the report, saying independent reviewers were not able to verify information that's been widely questioned by other scientists. 

Thursday's retraction in the journal Lancet involved a May 22 report on hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, drugs long used for preventing or treating malaria but whose safety and effectiveness for COVID-19 are unknown. 

The study leaders also retracted an earlier report that used the same company's database on blood pressure drugs published by the New England Journal of Medicine. That study suggested that widely used blood pressure medicines were safe for coronavirus patients, a conclusion some other studies and heart doctor groups also have reached. 

Even though the Lancet report was not a rigorous test, the observational study had huge impact because of its size, reportedly involving more than 96,000 patients and 671 hospitals on six continents.  

President Donald Trump tells reporters that he is taking zinc and hydroxychloroquine during a meeting with restaurant industry executives about the coronavirus response, in the State Dining Room of the White House, May 18, 2020.

Its conclusion that the drugs were tied to a higher risk of death and heart problems in people hospitalized with COVID-19 led the World Health Organization to temporarily stop use of hydroxychloroquine in a study it is leading, and for French officials to stop allowing its use in hospitals there. Earlier this week, WHO said experts who reviewed safety information decided that its study could resume. 

"Not only is there no benefit, but we saw a very consistent signal of harm," study leader Dr. Mandeep Mehra of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston told The Associated Press when the work was published. 

The drugs have been controversial because President Donald Trump repeatedly promoted their use and took hydroxychloroquine himself to try to prevent infection after some White House staffers tested positive for the virus. The drugs are known to have potential side effects, especially heart rhythm problems. 

Data questioned

The Lancet study relied on a database from a Chicago company, Surgisphere. Its founder, Dr. Sapan Desai, is one of the authors.  

Dozens of scientists questioned irregularities and improbable findings in the numbers, and the other authors besides Desai said earlier this week that an independent audit would be done. In the retraction notice, those authors say Surgisphere would not give the reviewers the full data, citing confidentiality and client agreements. 

"Based on this development, we can no longer vouch for the veracity of the primary data sources" and must retract the report, they wrote.  

"I no longer have confidence in the origination and veracity of the data, nor the findings they have led to," Mehra said in a separate statement Thursday.  

The Lancet's notice said "there are many outstanding questions about Surgisphere and the data that were allegedly included in this study," and "institutional reviews of Surgisphere's research collaborations are urgently needed." 

Desai and Surgisphere did not immediately respond to requests for comments sent to phone numbers and email address listed on the company's materials. 

Good answers needed

All the authors of the study should have had access to the data, said Dr. Steve Nissen of the Cleveland Clinic. 

"You really don't know what a study showed unless you have the actual data," Nissen said. "This is unfortunate. Clearly this is a very important topic and we need good answers." 

The retraction shows "the system works," said Dr. Ashish Jha, director of Harvard's Global Health Institute. The pace of publishing scientific research has sped up in reaction to the pandemic, Jha said, leading to errors. 

As long as errors are acknowledged, the pace seems justifiable because waiting a year or two for results to be published "is way too slow for this pandemic." 

"Part of the problem is people are so anxious. They want a definite answer yes or no," Jha said. "We're moving as fast as we can in science, but we can't overreact to any single study." 

US Warns No End to Fight Against Islamic State

3 hours 15 min ago

More than a year after the U.S.-led coalition declared victory over the Islamic State's self-declared caliphate in Iraq and Syria, a top U.S. official admits the fight against the terror group is not close to over.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered the blunt assessment Thursday to representatives of 31 countries and partners during a virtual meeting of the coalition, urging allies not to be complacent.

“Our fight against ISIS continues, and it will be here for the foreseeable future. We cannot rest,” Pompeo said, using an acronym for the terror group. “We must continue to root out ISIS cells and networks and provide stabilization assistance to liberated areas in Iraq and Syria.”

The latest meeting of coalition partners, being held virtually because of concerns about the coronavirus pandemic, came at a critical time in the fight against Islamic State, also referred to as IS or by its Arabic acronym, Daesh.

While the U.S.-led coalition and independent monitoring groups point to a decreased number of IS attacks compared with figures from years past, U.S. counterterrorism officials warn the terror group has made significant progress as it tries to rebuild.

“They’ve made incremental, localized improvements to their operating capacity,” a counterterrorism official told VOA last month, adding that IS cells in eastern Syria have become increasingly bold.

Resurgence in Syria, Iraq

Sources close to U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in Syria likewise warn that IS fighters have “spread like cancer,” using increasingly sophisticated tactics to expand their reach.

And last month. Jordan’s King Abdullah II warned that IS activity in Iraq was “threatening to undo years of global efforts.”

Data on Islamic State Attacks Could be Masking Growing Problem, Some FearOfficials with US-partner forces in Iraq and Syria worry that the Islamic State is growing more powerful even as it carries out fewer attacks than in years past

There have also been concerns that U.S. President Donald Trump might order a further drawdown of forces in Iraq and Syria, after the U.S. pulled out of a series of bases in Iraq in March, handing them over to the Iraqi military.

NEW: US transfers another key base to #Iraq's military@CJTFOIR confirmed the transfer of #Qayyarah Airfield West, aka #QWest, Thursday

Base "served as a strategic launching point for the ISF and Coalition during the Battle of Mosul" per CJTFOIR BrigGen Vincent Barker https://t.co/L5hGt7BJet

— Jeff Seldin (@jseldin) March 26, 2020

Coalition partners have responded with a series of raids and other operations targeting senior IS officials and IS cells across the region. And this week, Iraq announced a new military campaign focusing on IS cells active in Kirkuk and Salah ad Din provinces.

Pompeo on Thursday assured coalition members that the U.S. would remain the “military backbone” of anti-IS efforts in the region.

“Each of us needs to keep fighting, all of us together,” Pompeo said.

But at the same time, the secretary of state called on allies to do more, asking for additional financial contributions, in part to address the 10,000 IS fighters, including 2,000 foreign fighters, still in the custody of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

“We are counting on this coalition to fund the secure and humane detention of the thousands of foreign terrorist fighters in custody in Syria and Iraq,” he said.

IS foreign fighters

For more than a year, both U.S. and SDF officials have raised concerns about the captured IS fighters languishing in hastily constructed prisons, many now over capacity.

It is a situation that officials say has become even more critical in light of the coronavirus pandemic, which has already sparked a number of riots at some larger prisons.

US Moves to Bolster Prisons Holding Captured Islamic State Fighters Delivery of aid comes less than a week after a prison riot allowed some IS fighters to break free and as overcrowded conditions have many worried about a coronavirus outbreak


 

#SDF says prison in #Hasakah#Syria under control following a day-long riot by #ISIS prisoners "which required the intervention of special forces and anti-terrorist forces" and also negotiations w/the ISIS prisoners, per @SdfSpokespersonhttps://t.co/ZQDRdV4opL

— Jeff Seldin (@jseldin) May 4, 2020

The U.S. delivered aid and supplies in April, but SDF officials have said that is not enough and have continued to seek support to put foreign IS fighters before some sort of tribunal, though questions about what to do with convicted IS fighters have yet to be answered.

Support Crumbling for Plan to Try IS Foreign Fighters in Syria Syrian Kurdish officials, burdened with guarding thousands of IS fighters and their families, say trials will begin next month, but talk of assistance appears to have been overblown

While some countries, like Italy and Germany, have earned praise from the U.S. for repatriating a greater number of foreign fighters, many countries continue to refuse.

Former U.S. military and counterterrorism officials, as well as humanitarian groups, have also raised concerns about the futures of an estimated 10,000 IS family members, mostly women and children, held in displacement camps, like al-Hol, in Syria.

According to a recent report by the U.S. Defense Department inspector general, two-thirds of the detained IS family members are children under age 12.

Some counterterrorism officials and experts have likened the population to a ticking time bomb, and something that could help IS re-emerge.

“States must get on the front foot and get their nationals back and not leave them in a limbo,” U.N. coordinator Edmund Fitton-Brown, said earlier this year. “They're going to become increasingly desperate and possibly increasingly radicalized.”

Barr Defends Decision To Remove Protesters Near White House

3 hours 18 min ago

U.S. Attorney General William Barr on Thursday defended his decision to order the removal earlier this week of demonstrators near the White House, saying the move was necessary to protect the building and federal personnel against increasingly belligerent protesters. 

But Barr, who is directing the federal response to the protests over African American George Floyd’s death, denied his directive to disperse the crowd on Monday afternoon was tied to President Donald Trump’s controversial visit for a photo op to a church across the street from the White House, saying he acted before learning about Trump’s plan that day.  

The move led law enforcement officers protecting the White House to use pepper balls, smoke canisters, riot shields and batons to push back a crowd of several hundred protesters, sparking a national outcry over excessive use of force against largely peaceful demonstrators. 

With the crowd cleared, Trump, accompanied by Barr, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and several other senior administration officials, crossed the street to the historic St. John’s Church where the president posed for a photograph holding up a Bible.   

The highly unusual visit came several days after Trump was reportedly taken to the White House underground bunker as the protests outside the White House intensified.

Trump has said he went to the bunker only to inspect it. Critics say the Monday afternoon photo op was designed to show a president taking bold action to counter the image of Trump seeking shelter in the bunker. 

The attorney general's prominent role in directing law enforcement personnel from agencies outside the Justice Department – such as the Secret Service, which operates under the Department of Homeland Security – is unprecedented in recent memory.  Asked about his expanded authority, Barr said he was asked by Trump on Monday to "coordinate" the various federal agencies' response to the protests.  

FILE - Tear gas floats in the air as a line of police move demonstrators away from St. John's Church across Lafayette Park from the White House, as they gather to protest the death of George Floyd, June 1, 2020, in Washington.

But Barr insisted that there was no “correlation” between his directive to remove the protesters and Trump’s subsequent visit to the church, which had suffered some fire damage in the basement the night before. Instead, he said, the move was designed to create a "buffer" to protect the White House and Secret Service agents who could be targeted by projectiles thrown by protesters.    

“I made the decision that we’d try to move our perimeter northward by a block to provide this additional protection,” he said. 

In doing so, Barr deployed secret service agents, park police, guards brought in from the Federal Bureau of Prisons, helicopter flyovers and other tactical personnel. One Justice Department official told The Washington Post that Barr’s strategy was to “flood the zone” by putting “the maximum amount of law enforcement out on the street.” 

The forcible removal of peaceful protesters so Trump could have a photo op was widely condemned. Trump’s former defense secretary, Jim Mattis, issued a rare statement on Wednesday denouncing the action and accusing Trump of dividing the nation. 

While Esper has sought to distance himself from the episode, Barr said it was “appropriate” for him and other officials to follow Trump to the church.   

Protests and violent demonstrations broke out in Washington and across the country after Floyd died while in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25, after one of the police officers pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes. On Wednesday, Minnesota prosecutors charged one police officer with second-degree murder in connection with Floyd’s death and three others with aiding and abetting. 

With Washington police overwhelmed by demonstrators, several thousand National Guard troops have moved into the nation’s capital to patrol the streets. To restore order in Washington, Barr said he directed the deployment of personnel from all components of the Justice Department – from the Bureau of Prisons to the Drug Enforcement Agency to the Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agency. 

Barr’s outsized role in directing law enforcement personnel against protesters has drawn criticism from Democrats as well as some veterans of the Justice Department. 

FILE - Police chase a man as they rush protesters to clear Lafayette Park and the area around it across from the White House for President Donald Trump to walk through for a photo opportunity in front of St. John's Episcopal Church, June 1, 2020.

“No lawyer should ever have operational responsibility for law enforcement,” said Paul Rosenzweig, a former Justice Department official now with the libertarian R Street Institute in Washington. 

The muscular show of military and law enforcement force also has caused tensions between the federal government and the city of Washington where officials have pushed back against efforts to dispatch active military personnel to the city and to take over the city police force during the unrest. 

But Barr defended the federal government’s response, saying the demonstrators had grown increasingly belligerent in the lead-up to the events Monday, threatening federal property and personnel.  

A Treasury Department annex was broken into, a federal building near the White House was burned down, and a fire was started at St. John’s Church across the street from the White House, he said. Between Saturday and Thursday, he said, 114 law enforcement officers sustained injuries during the protests in Washington, with at least 22 hospitalized with serious head injuries. 

“It was very serious rioting,” he said.   

But Barr, who has been making nightly rounds of checkpoints around the city, said violence has dropped substantially since Monday and that the lasts two nights have been "peaceful." 

“After assessing the situation last night … I felt that we could afford to take a collapse our perimeter and eliminate some of the checkpoints and so forth and take a little bit of a low profile footprint,” Barr said.  

That is in line with the assessment of Washington police. Washington officials announced Thursday that they’ll lift a nightly curfew after Wednesday's gathering of more than 5,000 protesters, the largest in recent days, resulted in no arrests.  

The Justice Department's response to the protests has not been limited to Washington.

Accusing extremist groups of all stripes of seeking to exploit the protests and fomenting violence, federal authorities have stepped up arresting and charging individuals accused of rioting.   

Barr said 51 people have been arrested in recent days for federal crimes in connection with rioting, adding that the department has evidence that the anti-fascist movement known as antifa and extremist groups have sought to exploit the protests for political ends.  

On Wednesday, federal prosecutors in Nevada charged three alleged members of the extremist Boogaloo movement with conspiracy to cause destruction during protests in Las Vegas and possession of a Molotov cocktail.  
 

Republican Murkowski Says She’s Struggling With Supporting Trump

3 hours 24 min ago

Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski says she's “struggling” over whether she can support President Donald Trump given his handling of the virus and race crises roiling the U.S.

Murkowski said Thursday that she was “thankful” for retired Gen. James Mattis' extraordinary rebuke of Trump for politicizing the military. Asked about her support of president, Murkowski replied, “I have struggled with it for a long time.” 

Murkowski retracted her endorsement of Trump in 2016 after the “Access Hollywood” tape revealed he had bragged about sexually assaulting women. She voted to acquit Trump of House impeachment charges earlier this year. She spoke Thursday to reporters at the Capitol. 
 
“Perhaps we're getting to the point where we can be more honest with the concerns that we might hold internally, and have the courage of our own convictions to speak up,” Murkowski said. Asked whether she can still support Trump, she replied, “I am struggling with it. I have struggled with it for a long time.” But she said she'd continue to try to work with his administration. 
 
Murkowski's remarks were an acknowledgment of the ongoing choice Republicans are forced to make about whether, and for how long, to support Trump when his words and actions so often conflict with their values and goals. Trump has responded to the police killing of George Floyd by calling for more “law and order,” rather than addressing at any length the racial injustice that lies at the heart of the unrest.  
 
The nation is on edge, and Election Day looms, with the presidency and control of the House and Senate at stake. Trump has made clear that consequences for what he considers disloyalty can be steep.  

President Donald Trump stands outside St. John's Church, June 1, 2020, in Washington. Standing with Trump are Mark Esper, from left, William Barr, Robert O'Brien, Kayleigh McEnany and Mark Meadows.

For Republicans, the challenge peaked this week when federal forces abruptly cleared peaceful protesters from Lafayette Park near the White House so that Trump could stage a photo op in front of St. John's, the “church of presidents,” holding up a Bible. 
 
Saying little or nothing, a phenomenon that began before Trump was president, remained a popular choice for Republican members of Congress — even when asked one after the other whether it had been right for the administration to use the military to suppress peaceful protests.  
 
“I’m late for lunch,” Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, told reporters Tuesday when asked whether Trump's use of force against peaceful protesters was the right thing to do. 

“Didn't really see it,” said staunch Trump ally Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis. 
 
Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., who is retiring, said, “I don't have any comment on that.”  
 
Even now, most Republicans aren't breaking with Trump. Murkowski, who has her own complicated relationship with Trump, suggested that's because those in the president's mostly-white party are looking for the right words and tone. Statements by former President George W. Bush and now Mattis, she said, help point the way. 
 
“I think right now … questions about who I'm going to vote for, who I'm not going to vote for, I think, are distracting to the moment,” said Murkowski, who said she'd continue to try to work with the Trump administration. “I know people might think that's a dodge,” she added, “but I think there are important conversations that we need to have as an American people amongst ourselves about where we are right now.” 
 
Murkowski retracted her endorsement of Trump during the 2016 election when he could be heard on the “Access Hollywood” tape bragging about assaulting women. She also voted to acquit him of House abuse and obstruction charges earlier this year after Trump's impeachment trial. 
 
Other Republicans this week needed no help finding the words.  
 
“There is no right to riot, no right to destroy others' property, and no right to throw rocks at police,” said Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., a frequent Trump critic who is up for reelection. “But there is a fundamental — a constitutional — right to protest, and I'm against clearing out a peaceful protest for a photo op that treats the word of God as a political prop.”

Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, one of the most vulnerable Senate Republicans seeking reelection, said it was “painful to watch peaceful protesters to be subjected to tear gas in order for the president to go across the street to a church that I believe he's attended only once.” 
 
“President Trump's walk to St. John's was confrontational, at the wrong time of day, and it distracted from his important message in the Rose Garden about our national grief, racism, peaceful protests, and lawful assembly,” added Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., who is not on the ballot this year. “The President's important message was drowned out by an awkward photo op.” 
 
The president noticed, and name-checked the trio.

“You got it wrong! If the protesters were so peaceful, why did they light the Church on fire the night before? People liked my walk to this historic place of worship!” he tweeted Wednesday, suggesting that “Sen. Susan Collins, Sen. James Lankford, Sen. Ben Sasse” read a specific article. 
 
He took no such aim at Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., the only black Republican in the Senate. 
 
“If your question is, should you use tear gas to clear a path so the president can go have a photo op, the answer is no,” Scott told Politico. 

 

US Accuses China of Breaking Democracy Pledge for Hong Kong 

3 hours 50 min ago

The United States accused China on Thursday of breaking its commitment for democracy in Hong Kong, hours after the city’s legislature passed a law making it a crime to disrespect China’s national anthem. 

“Unfortunately, we have seen over the past several weeks, action after action ... where China is once again showing the world that they break their promises, that they have empty commitments and they never, never intend to keep their word,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus told VOA. “So, we remain very concerned at the State Department. 

U.S. State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus attends a press briefing by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the State Department in Washington, Dec. 11, 2019.

“We just hope that the world now sees Chairman Xi (Jinping) for who he is and now sees the Chinese Communist Party for who they are," she said. 

Hong Kong’s mostly pro-Beijing legislature overwhelmingly voted to pass the anthem law. It carries a penalty of up to three years in prison and a maximum fine of $6,450 for those who insult the anthem — “March of the Volunteers” — in public or playing and singing it in a distorted or disrespectful way. 

Ortagus noted that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently was unable to certify to the U.S. Congress that Hong Kong is autonomous from China after China announced its intention to impose national security controls over the territory, which she called “a tragedy for the people of Hong Kong.” 

The new U.S. rebuke of China came as thousands of people gathered Thursday night in Hong Kong in defiance of a police ban on such crowds to remember the victims of the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. 

The crowd cheered as speakers denounced the Chinese decision to impose the national security laws on the city. They also observed a minute of silence for the Tiananmen victims, ending it with loud chants of “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our time.” 

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Wang Dan, Su Xiaokang, Liane Lee, Henry Li and other student leaders and survivors of the Tiananmen Square protests, June 2, 2020. (Mike Pompeo, Twitter)

Ortagus said that earlier this week, Pompeo met with Tiananmen survivors, the first time a sitting U.S. secretary of state had done so. 

“I think that that action speaks very, very loudly to the entire world,” she said. “Secretary Pompeo and I were hosting these Tiananmen survivors. And the pictures, the stories were harrowing. And we promise to continue to tell their story to the world. It won't be forgotten. We remember Tiananmen.” 

She also accused Beijing of trying to foment discord in the U.S. over the nights of protests against the death of George Floyd, a black man who died last week while in police custody in Minneapolis, Minnesota. 

“We know that they are trying to take this opportunity to make comparisons to try to sow discord in the U.S.,” Ortagus said. 

“But you know there's a major difference,” she said. “Obviously, we have freedom of the press here. Obviously, we have freedom to assemble. And the United States will continue those fundamental rights, which Chinese citizens, if they tried to enjoy the same rights, they would be cracked down on, the way they have in Hong Kong, and the way they were in Tiananmen Square.” 

 

Russia Gets More US Ventilators as Coronavirus Cases Climb 

4 hours 6 min ago

A planeload of 150 ventilators arrived in Russia from the United States on Thursday, Washington's embassy in Moscow said, to help fight the novel coronavirus in further medical aid collaboration between the two politically-estranged nations.

Russia's case tally, the world's third highest, rose to 441,108 on Thursday after 8,831 new infections were reported, and 169 more people died in the previous 24 hours. 

At 5,384, Russia's death toll is lower than many other countries, sparking debate over the way it counts fatalities. 

Russia cites a huge testing program — it says more than 11.7 million tests have been conducted — as the reason for its large number of reported cases, and says many positive cases involve Russians without symptoms of the virus. 

On Wednesday, official data showed Russia's second biggest city of St. Petersburg recorded a death rate last month 32% higher than the previous year, suggesting more people could be dying of COVID-19 than are being reported. 

Thursday's aid from the United States, which has fractious geopolitical relations with Russia on a wide range of issues, came after a U.S. Air Force plane delivered a first batch of medical supplies including 50 ventilators on May 21. 

U.S. Embassy Spokeswoman Rebecca Ross described the latest assistance as a "humanitarian aid delivery from the American people to the people of Russia.”

The 200 ventilators delivered in total were part of a donation worth $5.6 million, she said.

"These U.S.-made ventilators are the highest quality in the world, manufactured to meet local technical specifications, complete with Russian language instructions and ready to use," Ross wrote on Twitter. 

Displaced Yazidi Woman Paints Life After IS Genocide

4 hours 34 min ago

Hayat Dakhil Murad — a young Yazidi woman who fled the Islamic State (IS) attack on Sinjar in 2014 to the Sharya Refugee Camp in the Kurdistan Region's Dohuk province — has found solace in painting the realities of her people's ordeal in Iraq. VOA's Salam Balay filed this report from the Sharya Refugee Camp in Duhok, Kurdistan Region, Iraq.

Camera: Salam Balay  Produced by: Nawid Orokzai 
 

Pandemic, Racial Unrest Test Black Clergy on Dual Fronts

5 hours 58 min ago

For black clergy across the United States, the past 10 days have been a tumultuous test of their stamina and skills.

For weeks, they had been striving to comfort their congregations amid a pandemic taking a disproportionately heavy toll on African Americans. Then came a coast-to-coast surge of racial tension and unrest sparked by the death of George Floyd, the Minneapolis black man who died after a white police officer pressed his knee into his neck as he pleaded for air.

"We've got a coronavirus and a racism virus," said the Reverend Dwight McKissic, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas.

Here's a look at what McKissic and three other black clergymen have been doing and how they've been coping: 

Texas

Even without the flare-up of racial unrest, this week would have been challenging for McKissic. After weeks without in-person services because of the pandemic, he's expecting up to 400 worshippers at a Sunday evening service to start what he calls "The Comeback."

FILE - The Rev. Dwight McKissic poses for a portrait in the sanctuary of the Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, Oct. 4, 2006.

His staff has been brushing up on disinfecting techniques and ordering face masks by the hundreds. Worshippers will be required to wear masks and will be seated in accordance with social distancing guidelines in a venue that can hold 1,800 people.

"Just trying to pastor effectively in a pandemic world — that alone has been a full challenge," McKissic said. "Then all these race riots break out, all over the country and right next door to me."

Last weekend, he recorded a fiery four-minute statement that he aired on social media, denouncing the police actions that have cost blacks their lives.

"America now has seen exactly what black America has been knowing for a couple of hundred years," he said. "No one can now say that racism is a myth."

He plans to expand on that theme in the sermon he's preparing for Sunday. He's also been conferring with fellow pastors, liaising with local political leaders, and comforting his older congregants.

"This reminds them of the '60s," he said. "They had hoped we were past this kind of incident." 

South Carolina

When news of Floyd's death reached Charleston, South Carolina, there was a visceral reaction among congregation members at Emanuel AME Church. That's where avowed white supremacist Dylan Roof killed the pastor and eight worshippers, all of them black, at a Bible study in 2015.

"We are familiar with pain. We are familiar with murder," said the Reverend Eric Manning, the church's pastor since June 2016.

FILE - Men of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc. lead people in prayer outside the Emanuel AME Church, after a memorial service for nine people killed by Dylann Roof in Charleston, S.C., June 19, 2015.

Last Friday, Manning's daily Bible study — being conducted via conference call during the pandemic — was devoted to the fallout from Floyd's death.

"The whole study was talking about how we are feeling as a race," Manning said. "It's a painful reminder there is so much work still to be done when it comes to race relations."

On Saturday night, Manning and his son headed toward downtown, hearing there was trouble brewing at a protest march. Manning said he got a whiff of tear gas as he tried to reduce tensions between police and youthful black protesters.

Afterward, he updated his Sunday sermon so it would reflect "the reality of the social unrest."

"The things we are seeing are not OK," he said. "It's not OK to see a law enforcement officer lean his knee on the neck of an African American."

The sermon was delivered online. There's still no timetable for Manning's church to resume in-person services. The denomination's regional leaders are weighing options.

"Every day there's something different," Manning said. "How do you minister to a community in so much need?" 

Minnesota

At a recent Minnesota rally, Imam Makram El-Amin joined thousands in chanting George Floyd's name. At another gathering, at Floyd's memorial site, El-Amin addressed a crowd, encouraging them "to use their voice," be peaceful and organize for change.

Over the phone, the imam of Masjid An-Nur in Minneapolis prayed with members of the mosque's congregation.

One such call, he said, was with Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, who has been given the lead in prosecutions related to Floyd's death.

"He has a specific burden that he is carrying right now because of the weight of this case," said El-Amin, who has been offering spiritual advice to Ellison.

With the coronavirus outbreak, El-Amin's days already had been hectic as demand for food and other needs increased at Al-Maa'uun, a faith-based nonprofit of which he's the executive director. Then, came Floyd's death and the protests.

"People want justice. People are at their wits' end and the emotions are raw," said El-Amin. "This is something that has been brewing for a long, long time."

At such times, faith leaders need to be "a voice of calm" and justice, he said. "We need to be comforting the afflicted in this moment and also afflicting the comfortable."

He has been talking to law enforcement and elected officials, business owners and other community members, including some "very distraught" young men.

"They were angry," he said. "They have a lot of anxiety, but most and foremost, I registered their fear." 

Michigan

In March, the Reverend Horace Sheffield III, one of Detroit's most prominent pastors, was stricken by COVID-19, along with his wife. They've both recovered; Sheffield rates his current health at "90 percent" and tries to take a brisk 30-minute walk every day.

Rev. Horace Sheffield III preaches at New Destiny Christian Fellowship in Detroit, Nov. 6, 2016.

His workload, as pastor of New Destiny Christian Fellowship Church, requires energy and multitasking skills.

The church operates a large food distribution program and offers testing for the coronavirus. It is tentatively scheduled to resume in-person services on June 14.

Sheffield also has a weekly radio show, which he used last weekend to discuss the wave of unrest in Detroit and elsewhere sparked by Floyd's death. He's been on the phone conferring with fellow pastors and with his daughter, Mary Sheffield, who is president pro tem of the Detroit City Council.

Sheffield, 65, said he and one of his best friends shared memories last weekend of the turbulent '60s, including anti-war protests and the struggle for civil rights.

"We witnessed that whole whirlwind of upheaval," Sheffield said. "We were both wondering if we're on the edge of another seething cauldron."
 

Norway Landslide Takes Homes Into Sea

6 hours 44 min ago

Officials in Norway say eight structures were swept into the sea by a landslide near the Norwegian Arctic town of Alta.

A local resident, Jan Egil Bakkedal, captured the event on video Wednesday in the village of Kraakneset. He told the Associated Press he ran for his life when he realized what was happening. Among houses that were lost was his own.

Police estimate the landslide was between 650 meters and 800 meters wide and up to 40 meters high. Officials did not know what caused the slide.

Several minor landslides followed, and nearby houses were temporarily evacuated as a precaution.

No injuries were reported. A dog that was washed into the sea was able to swim back to land. 
 

Efforts Launched to Help Immigrants Ineligible for US Federal COVID-19 Assistance

6 hours 58 min ago

Programs have been launched in two of the largest U.S. states to provide economic assistance to undocumented immigrants who have been ineligible for benefits under massive federal stimulus packages enacted to combat financial fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Immigrant relief funds have been set up in California and Pennsylvania. A similar initiative was launched in Baltimore, Maryland.
 
Immigrant advocates say that at a time when much of the U.S. workforce has been idled to slow the spread of the coronavirus, it is counterproductive to exclude those lacking legal status from assistance that has made it easier for people to stay at home.
 
“Immigrant rights organizations recognized immediately that this was going to exacerbate our public health crisis,” Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizen Coalition executive director Sundrop Carter told VOA.
 
Enacted in March, the CARES Act provided stimulus checks of up to $1,200 to low and middle-income individuals. Families were also eligible for $500 per child under the age of 17.
 
Passed by a Democratic-led House and a Republican-led Senate, the bill provided benefits to U.S. citizens and permanent residents but excluded undocumented immigrants and individuals in mixed-status families.
 
Some Democratic lawmakers criticized the exclusions as unjust, noting that many workers lacking legal status pay federal taxes.  
 
“COVID-19 does not care about your immigration status, so neither should our response," Arizona Democratic Congressman Raul Grijalva said in an April statement.
 
President Donald Trump’s Republican allies on Capitol Hill were unmoved.

Earlier this month, Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas introduced the “No Bailouts for Illegal Aliens Act.” Congressman Ken Buck of Colorado introduced a companion legislation in the House. Their goal is to block funds being sent to U.S. states giving coronavirus-related stimulus checks or other cash payments to unauthorized workers.

“The federal government shouldn't be subsidizing states' efforts to send cash to illegal aliens," Cotton said in a statement last month.
 
With federal aid restricted, California stepped in with its own initiative. America’s most populous state set up a $125 million fund that is providing a maximum of $1,000 per undocumented household.

In Pennsylvania, more than 40 nonprofit groups have joined with a charitable foundation to launch the PA Immigrant Relief Fund. The program, which several cities are promoting but receives no state money, has provided financial aid to hundreds of families in its first days of operation, and organizers hope to help thousands more in the weeks and months to come.
 
“So many organizations really wanted to match the federal stimulus of $1,200 dollars, but we ended up on $800 (per undocumented household in Pennsylvania),” Carter said, adding that the initiative aims “to reach as many people as possible” with funds she describes as “a drop in the bucket.”
 
Some local governments are stepping in, as well. In Baltimore, Maryland, a mayoral office for immigrant affairs established an emergency fund to “help families achieve economic stability by using funds towards rent, utilities and/or other basic needs.”
 
The key requirement for federal stimulus money is a social security number given to U.S. citizens and permanent legal residents. The stipulation has served to deny benefits to mixed status families in which a citizen or resident is married to an undocumented immigrant who files taxes using an alternative to the social security number.
 
Multiple lawsuits are underway challenging the withholding of stimulus money to mixed-status families, as well as undocumented immigrants with children who are U.S. citizens.
 

US Senate Approves Trump Nominee to Head US Broadcasting

7 hours 19 min ago

The U.S. Senate Thursday approved President Donald Trump’s nominee for the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), the federal agency that oversees Voice of America and other international broadcasting entities.    

On a 53-38 party-line vote, the Republican-controlled Senate approved conservative documentary filmmaker Michael Pack to head USAGM for a three-year term. Pack’s nomination has been under consideration for two years, held up in part because of Democratic concerns about alleged financial self-dealing in his businesses.   

Through his company Manifold Productions, Inc., Pack has written, directed and produced numerous documentaries, many of which have aired on PBS. He has served as CEO of the conservative Claremont Institute and held positions on the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. He has also worked on film projects with former Trump chief strategist and co-founder of Breitbart News, Stephen Bannon.

Pack has previous experience with U.S. broadcasting, having served as director of WORLDNET, the global satellite network of the U.S. Information Agency that became the TV unit of Voice of America.

"This man is uniquely qualified to hold this position," Senate Foreign Relations Chairman James Risch said Thursday. "He's done an outstanding job - everyone should look at the most recent documentary he did on the Supreme Court - it was just outstanding. There's been a political battle fight over him for two years and one day - today is the moment of truth."

In his confirmation hearing last September, Pack addressed concerns he would attempt to impose a political bias on USAGM agencies, including VOA, which is mandated by U.S. law to be objective and balanced in its reporting.    

"The whole agency rests on the belief the reporters are independent, that no political influence is telling them how to report the news and what to say. Without that trust, I think, the agency is completely undermined," Pack told the committee.   

With Pack’s nomination seemingly stalled in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, President Trump last month expressed frustration about the wait, saying it was due to Democratic obstruction. The president previously threatened to adjourn Congress to push the nomination through.  

Despite reports that Pack’s business dealings were the subject of an investigation by the District of Columbia’s attorney general, the Foreign Relations Committee approved Pack’s nomination May 20, on a strict 12-10 party-line vote, and then sent it to the Senate floor for final approval.  

At the time, Senator Risch said the committee was prepared to stand down on the nomination “if the United States attorney general department, Department of Justice asks to stand down; [we] will do so. That has not happened here.”  

Democrats say nomination sets bad precedent

FILE - Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez speaks with the media on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 5, 2019.

Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey, the ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said the final vote on the Pack nomination endangered the Senate’s historic advise and consent role on presidential nominees in light of the way it was pushed through without a full airing of Pack’s business dealings.  

The D.C. attorney general’s office said it has opened an investigation into whether Pack unlawfully used funds from his nonprofit, Public Media Lab, to benefit himself.

“I know that the president has spoken both publicly and privately of his intense desire to confirm Mr. Pack, come what may,” Menendez said Thursday. “The objections that I have raised today and have been raising for months are not political or partisan in nature. They go to the most basic and critical question - is Michael Pack fit to serve? Should he be confirmed while he is under investigation and after having been dishonest with the Senate and the IRS?”

Menendez detailed committee Democrats’ unanswered questions, alleging that Pack had “misrepresented the relationship between his nonprofit organization and his for-profit company to the IRS.   

The White House dismissed Democratic concerns, stating that, “The President stands behind Michael Pack and is disappointed, but not surprised, that Do-Nothing-Democrats have once again decided to throw political mud on a public servant’s clean record.”   

Pack’s film company, Manifold Productions, Inc., received millions in grants from his non-profit, Menendez said. Yet he repeatedly told the IRS that there was no relationship between the two when in fact he ran both of them. Menendez said that Pack has yet to correct misinformation provided to the IRS and to the committee regarding the status of his tax returns.

Menendez said Pack had not provided the committee with requested documents detailing the relationship between his nonprofit and his business, claiming sensitive business information.   

“Business interests are so sensitive that the United States senators cleared to review the most sensitive classified information cannot see them,” Menendez said.   

VOA did not receive a response to a request for comment from Pack’s spokesperson.  

US Broadcasting editorial stance

In recent weeks, Trump has criticized VOA for its news coverage of China during the coronavirus crisis. When asked about the Pack nomination on May 15th, Trump said, “Voice of America is run in a terrible manner. They’re not the Voice of America. They’re the opposite of the Voice of America.”   

VOA Director Amanda Bennett defended the U.S.-funded news agency’s mission and reporting in a statement last month.     

“We export the First Amendment to people around the world who have no other access to factual, truthful, believable information,” she said.        

“That’s why more than 80% of our 280 million audience in 47 languages in more than 60 countries say they find our work credible,” she added.      

Senator Menendez said on the Senate floor ahead of the final vote Thursday that the connection with foreign audiences depends on the agency’s protections from political interference.

“People around the world have come to view the products from all of the networks and grantees as reliable and trustworthy news sources as this pandemic has highlighted,” he said.

“It is absolutely critical that any person in this position maintain a strong firewall between the work of its networks and grantees and political interference or influence from the White House or any others."

The USAGM oversees five U.S. civilian broadcast networks, which include VOA, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB), Radio Free Asia (RFA), and the Arabic-language stations Alhurra Television and Radio Sawa of the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN).    

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