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Updated: 50 min 57 sec ago

Students Dazzled by Rankings May Overlook Best Schools for Them

1 hour 53 min ago

Selecting a college or university from the thousands in the U.S. can be mind-boggling.

Many applicants turn to a web search to find rankings of the “best” colleges and will find U.S. News & World Report, Forbes, Princeton Review, and Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education ranking sites, to name a few. Are those rankings and lists accurate, though, and, more importantly, are those “top” schools the best for you?

U.S. News & World Report published its first “America’s Best Colleges” report in 1983, and many schools use those rankings to promote themselves. However, some educators have questioned the published rankings and how useful they are.

Experts rank college rankings

Ray Anderson is a former high school principal who works with AGM-College Advisors in Virginia. Anderson says that while he uses the rankings and talks with students about the results, what’s more important is knowing what the student wants, likes and is capable of doing.

“The focus is on who you are, and then what schools match you,” Anderson said, “not matching you to the school.”

Jeffrey Stahl, a Virginia high school counselor, agrees that rankings have limited value.

He said the rankings “can be helpful,” but that some students pay too much attention to the name of a school and its position in rankings.

“So much about the campus environment, students, professors, cannot be shown just by ranking,” Stahl said. He suggests that families use the ranking information as a starting point. Then, they should widen their search, make their own list, and go see the colleges for themselves.

David Hawkins, executive director for educational content and policy at the National Association for College Admission Counseling, is more critical of the way college rankings are used, saying rankings “are not mathematically proven to measure the quality of any single college, much less to provide comparisons between colleges.”

He said lower-ranked schools may have difficulty getting students interested in their programs.

“As such,” he said, “the rankings have been known to create ethical problems, as institutions misreport data or otherwise seek to manipulate their ranking.”

In July, U.S. News & World Report “de-ranked” five institutions from its list for misreporting information. Consequently, the magazine said, their ranking numbers were “higher than they otherwise would have been.”

Students must look past those ratings to a gain a broader opinion about the schools for themselves.

Hawkins noted that international applicants might think rankings come from the U.S. government, but that’s not true, he said.

“We try to emphasize that these are commercial publications, rather than official rankings of any sort,” he said.

Richard DeMillo, the executive director of the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Center for 21st Century Universities, which describes itself as a “living laboratory for fundamental change in higher education,” says, while the higher rank is “nice, it does not matter.”

DeMillo, whose school moved up 13 positions in Forbes’ latest list, said he believes that Forbes, U.S. News & World Report and other publications are providing a service, “if you ignore the ranking part of it.”

For example, he finds the information about all the study programs to be useful. The ratings sometimes list lesser-known schools that might be strong in a field of study that a student is interested in.

“There are so many hidden gems out there,” Stahl said. “Just because a college doesn’t make the list doesn’t mean it doesn’t have great programs and resources.”

Saudi Arabia: Drone Attacks Halted Half Its Oil Production

2 hours 58 min ago

Saudi Arabia’s energy minister said Saturday that drone attacks on two Aramco oil facilities by a Yemen Houthi militia group have cut the kingdom’s oil production in half.

Amateur video of the early morning attack in Abqaiq, in eastern Saudi Arabia, showed several blazes raging. By afternoon, video showed huge plumes of smoke rising into the sky. Saudi officials said no workers were killed or injured in the attacks.

A military spokesman for Yemen’s Houthi militia, Col. Yahya Saree, claimed responsibility Saturday for the drone attacks on Saudi oil facilities and vowed to increase them if Saudi-coalition forces continued their strikes on targets inside Yemen. It was not clear, however, if the drones originated in Yemen.

Smoke is seen following a fire at an Aramco factory in Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia, Sept. 14, 2019.

Saree said 10 (Houthi) drones hit the two oil facilities run by Saudi Aramco, the state-owned oil giant. He said the attacks are being dubbed “Operation Balance of Terror” and are a response to what he called the “ongoing crimes of blockade and aggression on Yemen” (since the Saudi-led coalition began battling the Houthis five years ago).

Saree claimed the attack was the “largest to date” and that it “required extensive intelligence preparations,” including information from sources inside Saudi Arabia.

Later Saturday, however, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed Iran for the attacks on the Saudi oil plants, and ruled out involvement by Yemen’s Houthis.

“Tehran is behind nearly 100 attacks on Saudi Arabia while Rouhani and Zarif pretend to engage in diplomacy,” Pompeo said on social media, referring to Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif.

Tehran is behind nearly 100 attacks on Saudi Arabia while Rouhani and Zarif pretend to engage in diplomacy. Amid all the calls for de-escalation, Iran has now launched an unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply. There is no evidence the attacks came from Yemen.

— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) September 14, 2019

“Amid all the calls for de-escalation, Iran has now launched an unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply. There is no evidence the attacks came from Yemen,” he said in a tweet.

The State Department declined to provide any evidence to bolster Pompeo’s claim, Reuters reported.

The attack on the oil processing sites in Saudi Arabia happened around 4 a.m. local time.

Residents of Abqaiq posted video of what appeared to be Saudi anti-aircraft guns firing into the air at the drones, as the attacks took place. Some Arab news channels claimed that Saudi air force early warning planes were dispatched to the country’s northern border, amid fears the drones were coming from Iraq. VOA could not independently confirm the allegations.

Khurais oil field and Buqyaq

U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia John Abizaid told Reuters news agency, “The U.S. strongly condemns today’s drone attacks against oil facilities in Abqaiq and Khurais. These attacks against critical infrastructure endanger civilians, are unacceptable, and sooner or later will result in innocent lives being lost.”

James Krane, a Middle East energy specialist at the Baker Institute at Rice University in Texas, told Reuters, “This is a pretty serious escalation of the proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia. With something like this, we might see the U.S. get dragged in. Iran is telling us, ‘You need to put us on the front burner.’

“They’re not going to be put out of the picture forever. With (former U.S. national security adviser John) Bolton out, who knows? It is hard to see that Bolton’s departure isn’t part of the calculus,” Krane added. “Iran is stepping up what they see is its defense and looking for us to make the next move, and we’ve just fired the hardest-line guy in the Cabinet.”

The attacks Saturday were the latest of many recent such assaults on the Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure, and they have been the most destructive.

Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said in a statement by the state-run Saudi Press Agency Saturday that the damage at the facilities led to “the temporary suspension of production operations,” affecting an estimated 5.7 million barrels of crude supplies at the Abqaiq site and the Khurais oil field.

Saudi Aramco said in the statement some of the shortage would be offset with stockpiled supplies and added it would provide additional information in the next 48 hours.

The drone assaults also led to concerns about the global oil supply and what will likely be an increase in tensions in the region.

Fires burn in the distance after a drone strike by Yemen's Iran-aligned Houthi group on Saudi company Aramco's oil processing facilities, in Buqayq, Saudi Arabia September 14, 2019 in this still image taken from a social media video obtained by…

Drones not likely launched in Yemen

Hilal Khashan, who teaches political science at the American University of Beirut, told VOA that he suspects the drones may not have been launched from inside Yemen because the Houthis don’t have drones capable of flying as far as Saudi Arabia’s eastern province. Khashan does believe, however, that forces inside the kingdom helped guide the attacks.

“There is no doubt that in order for the Houthis to land the drone on the target they need coordinates and they need someone on the ground to guide them in determining the coordinates. It sounds plausible to me that they have support on the ground in the Eastern Province,” Khashan said.

There has been some speculation that alleged Houthi drone attacks on the Saudi Yanbu pipeline last May were launched from Iraq, which is much closer to the target than Yemen. That attack damaged two oil pumping stations along the largest Saudi cross-country oil pipeline.

FILE - Saudi security guards the entrance of the oil processing plant of the Saudi state oil giant Aramco in Abqaiq in the oil-rich Eastern Province, Feb. 25, 2006.

Saturday’s attack comes as the Saudi oil giant Aramco prepares to publicly sell shares of the company, leading some analysts to speculate the attacks were meant to depress the value of the company when its shares go on the market.

Several analysts on Saudi-owned al-Arabiya TV accused Iran of perpetrating Saturday’s drone attacks from bases operated by its Revolutionary Guard and local Shiite proxies from inside Iraq. VOA could not confirm the claims.
 

Governments Increase Efforts Against Online Extremism, Raising Hopes

4 hours 34 min ago

Recent efforts by the governments of Australia and New Zealand to tackle online extremism has renewed the debate over the threat of radicalization on the internet, with some analysts seeing new opportunities for states and tech giants for a joint action.

Australian officials earlier this week enacted what they are calling the world’s first law to curb online extremism, as authorities ordered five websites to remove extremist content or face prosecution. The offending websites are all based outside Australia, the country’s eSafety commission told the Financial Times. The commission is charged with investigating and removing such content.

In neighboring New Zealand, a self-avowed white supremacist in March opened fire at two mosques and gunned down 51 people while livestreaming his actions on Facebook. On Monday, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey met with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in Wellington to discuss what his company can do to help eliminate violent extremist content on its platform.

FILE - People visit a memorial for victims of a shooting at the Masjid Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, March 18, 2019.

The meeting was a part of Ardern’s efforts through Christchurch Call, a pledge by 18 countries and eight technology companies in Paris on March 15 to collaborate to eradicate violent extremist content from the internet.

“It is in fact the prime minister of New Zealand and the Australian movement in the parliament who have stepped up to do something a little more sharp and more defined,” said Farah Pandith, former U.S. special representative to the Muslim communities.

Evolving threat

Pandith authored the recent book “How We Win: How Cutting-Edge Entrepreneurs, Political Visionaries, Enlightened Business Leaders and Social Media Mavens Can Defeat the Extremist Threat.”

“It is too early to tell whether or not those kinds of action are going to make a difference in the rate and the impact of spreading content that radicalizes. But it’s going to be a very important space to watch,” Pandith told VOA, adding that governments and tech companies have a long way to go in ending this evolving threat.

“As I look at where we are today, 18 years after September 11, and the morphing of the online threat and the more severe and dangerous threat landscape we are in,” she said, “it is critical that private sector companies, not just technology companies, look at what they need to do to help defeat the extremist ideology and the capacity for them to spread hate and extremism around the world.”

FILE - An Islamic State flag lies in an abandoned tent encampment near Baghuz, Syria, March 23, 2019.

Violent extremist content has become a major concern for governments in recent years as violent ideological groups try to use social media platforms to spread propaganda. That threat became more significant when Islamic State (IS), which emerged in mid-2014, began to use the internet to establish a “virtual caliphate” to lure thousands of supporters and inspire several deadly attacks around the world.

In the past, social media giants — particularly Facebook, Twitter and YouTube — have taken several measures to identify and remove millions of extremist propaganda material.

Facebook reported that it had removed more than 3 million pieces of IS and al-Qaida propaganda in the third quarter of 2018 alone.

Within the first 24 hours of the New Zealand shooting, Facebook said it removed more than 1.2 million videos of the attack at upload, and another 300,000 additional copies after they were posted.

But governments say the companies need to do more to crackdown on extremist content.

In a statement in June at the Group of 20 summit in Osaka, Japan, world leaders pressed social media companies to improve how they root out terrorism and violent content on the internet.

“The internet must not be a safe haven for terrorists to recruit, incite or prepare terrorist acts,” the world leaders wrote in their statement, pushing the tech companies to, among other measures, develop technologies that prevent extremist content online.

Cooperation

Some analysts charge that more cooperation between states and tech companies is crucial to combat violent extremist content, particularly as the threat crosses country borders.

Laura Pham, an expert with New York-based Counter Extremism Project, argued that countries in Europe have particularly made significant achievements through enacting transnational laws that target online extremist content.

The European Union in late 2015 established its Internet Forum (EUIF), which aims to bring together EU governments and other stakeholders, such as Europol, and technology companies to counter hate speech and terrorist content.

Twitter, YouTube and Facebook are showing progress in flagging and removing illegal hate speech online, according to an assessment in February but a European Union organization.

The EU in mid-2016 moved to establish a Code of Conduct on Countering Illegal Hate Speech Online, the original signatories to which were Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and YouTube. An assessment of the code by the organization in February showed that tech companies were assessing 89% of flagged content within 24 hours, with removal of 72% of the content deemed to be illegal hate speech, compared with rates of 40% and 28%, respectively, when the code was first launched in 2016.

“These efforts show that the EU as a whole in parliament will not stand for the continued proliferation and the spread of extremist and terrorist material online. We will probably see more action from member states and from individual states, but there is a clear public understanding of the potential public safety and security concerns that come with proliferating terrorist material online,” Pham told VOA.

Meanwhile, as countries continue their efforts with tech companies to address violent content online, potential risks to free speech and privacy will remain the core of the debate, said Maura Conway, a professor of international security at Dublin City University in Dublin, Ireland.

“The role of the internet and social media, in particular, in the case of violent extremism and terrorism was not something that internet companies wished to countenance early in their development, but is certainly an area that they now acknowledge is one in which workable solutions need to be found,” Conway told VOA.

Despite those concerns, Conway said a workable solution eventually will need to be found to prevent further exploitation of the internet by hate groups to spread their ideology.
 

Mines Shut Down, Bring New Worry to Top US Coal Region

4 hours 54 min ago

At two of the world’s biggest coal mines, the finances got so bad that their owner couldn’t even get toilet paper on credit.

Warehouse technician Melissa Worden divvied up what remained of the last case, giving four rolls to each mine and two to the mine supply facility where she worked.

Days later, things got worse.

Blackjewel worker Melissa Worden, poses for a photo in Gillette, Wyo., Sept. 5, 2019. When Blackjewel shut down Belle Ayr and Eagle Butte mines, July 1, 2019, people thought they would reopen. “I don’t think we’ll ever be that naive again," she said.

Mine owner Blackjewel LLC filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection July 1. Worden at first figured the accounts would get settled quickly and vendors of everything from copy paper to parts for house-sized dump trucks would soon be back to doing normal business with the mines.

“The consensus was: In 30 days, we’ll look back on this, and we made it through, and we’ll be up and running, and it’s a fresh start,” Worden said.

What happened instead has shaken the top coal-producing region in the United States like a charge of mining explosive. Blackjewel furloughed most of its Wyoming employees and shut down Eagle Butte and Belle Ayr mines, the first idled by hardship since coal mining in the Powder River Basin exploded in the 1970s.

It’s a big hit to the region straddling northeastern Wyoming and southeastern Montana, where coal has quietly supported the economies of both states for decades and fuels a shrinking number of power plants in 28 states.

Negotiations that could reopen the two Wyoming mines under new ownership — potentially previous owner Bristol, Tennessee-based Contura Energy — are stalled more than two months later. Some 600 employees remain off the job. They lost health insurance coverage in late August.

The entrance to the Blue Ayr Mine south of Gillett, Wyo., Sept. 5, 2019. The shutdowns of Blackjewel LLC's Belle Ayr and Eagle Butte mines in Wyoming since July 1, 2019, have added more uncertainty to the Powder River Basin's struggling coal economy.

And doubts are growing about the long-term viability of the region’s coal mines — particularly Eagle Butte and Belle Ayr, the fourth- and sixth-biggest in the U.S. by production, respectively.

“I don’t think we’ll ever be that naive again,” said Worden, 44.

Blackjewel, based in Milton, West Virginia, told its Wyoming employees this week that the mines might be up and running soon and to let the company know if they wanted their jobs back.

Worden said she felt little reassurance. On a break at a part-time electrical contracting job in North Dakota, she wondered if she should accept any offer of full-time work or hold out for her old job.

She’s not the only one questioning long-held assumptions about Powder River Basin coal mines, which produce cleaner-burning coal less expensively than mines in other parts of the U.S. and weren’t widely thought of being at risk despite a push for renewable energy to combat climate change.

But with coal in long-term decline, how the basin might eventually scale down production to a sustainable level has become a big question, said Rob Godby, director of the Center for Energy Economics and Public Policy at the University of Wyoming.

“The irony here — and it’s really a cruel irony — is everybody is focused on getting these miners back to work. But really the solution to creating a healthy industry is some mines close,” Godby said.

For now, little appears changed in Gillette, a city of 30,000 people at the heart of the basin of rolling grasslands midway between the Black Hills and snowcapped Bighorn Mountains. Tattoo shops are abundant, and big, late-model pickup trucks still cruise the main drag.

This year, however, has been especially tumultuous. Three of the Powder River Basin’s nine producers — Westmoreland Coal, Cloud Peak Energy and Blackjewel — have filed for bankruptcy since March. Two others, Arch Coal and Peabody, have announced they will merge assets in the region.

The turmoil comes as U.S. coal production is down more than 30% since peaking in 2008. Utilities are retiring aging coal-fired power plants and switching to solar, wind and cheaper and cleaner-burning natural gas to generate electricity despite President Donald Trump’s efforts to prop up the coal industry.

Blackjewel employee Rory Wallet poses for a photo in Gillette, Wyo., Sept. 5, 2019. The shutdown of Blackjewel LLC's Belle Ayr and Eagle Butte mines in Wyoming, July 1, 2019, left Wallet unemployed, but he's optimistic about coal's future.

A decade ago, about half of U.S. electricity came from coal-fired power. Now it’s less than 30%, a shift that heavy equipment operator Rory Wallet saw as utilities became less willing to lock in multiyear contracts for Belle Ayr mine’s coal.

“The market’s changed,” Wallet said. “The bankruptcies all tie into that.”

Wallet, 40, followed his father, an equipment mechanic, into the Belle Ayr mine in 2008. He said the recent mine closures and loss of his $80,000-a-year job took him by surprise.

He has four children, ages 11 to 16, and his wife’s job at the Ruby Tuesday’s restaurant in Gillette is their main income while they await news about the mines.

Blackjewel said Thursday that it was working on plans to restart the mines while pursuing their sale. There were no indications in federal bankruptcy court filings in West Virginia that the mines were set to reopen, however.

“This is a fast-moving and sometimes unpredictable process, and accordingly, we do not have answers to all of your questions at this time,” the company’s statement said.

Wallet is looking for a job and using his downtime to sell “We Will Rise Again” T-shirts to benefit families of out-of-work coal miners. He’s also lobbying Wyoming lawmakers to fight harder to force Washington state to approve a port facility expansion that would allow more coal exports to Asia.

He questions the outlook from Godby of the Center for Energy Economics and Public Policy that some mines must close.

“I think, with Rob, it’s the middle- to worst-case scenario,” Wallet said. “The ports are going to be a big deal. Asia is going to be a big deal.”

Wallet pointed out that the Powder River Basin still has a century or two of recoverable coal left. And just north of Gillette, the state has invested $15 million in a facility to study how to capture climate-changing carbon dioxide from a working power plant and profitably use it in products ranging from concrete to biofuels.

Wallet is optimistic that technology could save coal. But carbon capture, if it happens at all, could arrive too late to do the coal industry much good amid global concern about climate change, Godby said.

“We will not see widespread adoption of carbon capture and storage for at least a decade,” Godby said. “That’s just the reality.”

He also doubted that exports can save the region’s coal industry. There’s no direct rail line to the Pacific Northwest from most of the basin’s mines, and the amount of coal that the proposed export terminal could handle would offset only a small fraction of the amount that production has declined, Godby said.

FILE - A dump truck hauls coal, March 28, 2017, at Contura Energy's Eagle Butte Mine near Gillette, Wyo. President Donald Trump lifted a federal coal lease moratorium that will allow new coal leasing at the mine and others in the Powder River Basin.

Powder River Basin mines employ about 5,000 miners — 20% fewer than eight years ago. But the impact is even wider because an additional 8,000 jobs, from teachers to car mechanics, have indirect ties to the broader economy around the coal industry.

Local unemployment rose to 5.7% in July, compared with 4.1% a year earlier.

Trump got 88% of the vote in Campbell County, the heart of the basin. Locals cheered when he lifted a federal moratorium on coal leases that former President Barack Obama imposed, but Worden and Wallet disagree about whether changing environmental regulations will do much good in the long run. Wallet thinks improvement could be just around the corner.

Both say coal should continue to have a place in the economy alongside renewable energy.

“It needs to be a group effort, not green is on one side and black is on the other,” Worden said. “We don’t want this community to die.”
 

NATO Commander Expects Violence, to Work for Safe Afghan Elections

5 hours 21 min ago

It’s been a rocky week in Afghanistan peace talks, and NATO’s operational commander said allies “anticipate increased violence” on the ground as Afghan presidential elections inch closer.

U.S. Air Force Gen. Tod Wolters, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), told a small group of reporters that Afghan elections “probably won’t be perfect,” but the 29-member North Atlantic alliance will “plan and execute to the ends of the Earth” to try to make the September 28 vote as safe as possible.

“There has been a lot of drama associated with Afghanistan, and at this very moment the signal we send to our NATO partners is the U.S. is committed, NATO is committed, and the mission still remains,” Wolters said on the sidelines of the latest NATO Military Committee in Chiefs of Defense Session.

FILE - U.S. Air Forces in Europe Commander Tod D. Wolters speaks during NATO Baltic ceremony in Siauliai, Lithuania, Aug. 30, 2017.

British Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach, chairman of NATO’s military chiefs, added Saturday that there was “no division” on that commitment.

“We went into Afghanistan together, and any changes we will make together,” Peach said.

Peace talks between the U.S. and the Taliban collapsed late last week. President Donald Trump had planned talks with Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani and Taliban leaders at the presidential retreat in Camp David, Maryland, but then said that he decided to cancel them.

US-Taliban talks

U.S. and Taliban negotiators had recently appeared to be close to a deal to end America’s longest war and start talks between the insurgent group and the Afghan government. However, Trump declared U.S.-Afghan peace talks “dead” after a car bombing in Kabul killed dozens, including an American soldier.

The decision to end talks has increased concerns about escalating violence. Since then, the Taliban has threatened to disrupt the upcoming election, vowing that American troops “will suffer more than anyone else.”

Afghan President Ghani, who is running for re-election this month, appears emboldened by Trump’s cancellation of talks with the Taliban and has hardened his stance for engaging in future peace talks with them.

Ghani said this week that negotiations will be “impossible” until the Taliban declares a cease-fire.
 

Reports: Arrested Canadian Official Oversaw Russia Probe

5 hours 26 min ago

A senior Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) intelligence officer arrested this week for allegedly stealing sensitive documents oversaw an investigation into the laundering of stolen Russian funds, Canadian media reported Saturday.

The Globe and Mail said Cameron Ortis’ arrest was linked to a major corruption case that was first revealed by Sergei Magnitsky, who went public with details of a $230 million fraud scheme allegedly run by senior Russian interior ministry and tax officials.

Ortis was as recently as August said to be overseeing an inquiry into whether some of the money was funneled through Canada, the newspaper reported.

“Ortis, director-general of the RCMP’s National Intelligence Coordination Centre, was planning to meet for a second time with the legal team pursuing the matter alleging more than $14 million in Russian fraud proceeds were tied to Canada,” The Globe and Mail said, citing an unnamed source.

FILE - Sergei Magnitsky publicly disclosed a $230 million fraud scheme allegedly run by senior Russian officials. He died in 2009 after 11 months in prison.

Ortis’ involvement in the case came after William Browder, a British financier and former investor in Russia whom Magnitsky worked for, filed a complaint with the RCMP in 2016.

Magnitsky died in detention after spending 11 months in prisons in 2009.

Canada’s federal police agency hasn’t opened a formal investigation into the allegation, despite a 2017 meeting between Ortis and Browder, the newspaper said.

Ortis, who was arrested in the capital Ottawa on Thursday, was a top adviser to former RCMP commissioner Bob Paulson and had control over counter-intelligence operations, Canada’s Global News reported.

He faces five charges under the country’s criminal code and its Security of Information Act and will appear for a court hearing next Friday.

“The allegations are that he obtained, stored, processed sensitive information, we believe with the intent to communicate it to people that he shouldn’t be communicating it to,” prosecutor John MacFarlane told journalists after Ortis appeared in court last Friday.

The RCMP fears Ortis stole “large quantities of information, which could compromise an untold number of investigations,” according to Global News, which first reported the arrest.

Canada is a member of the “Five Eyes” intelligence alliance with Australia, New Zealand, Britain and the United States.
 

UK's Johnson, Likening Himself to Incredible Hulk, Vows Oct. 31 Brexit 

6 hours 25 min ago

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson likened himself to the unruly comic book character The Incredible Hulk late Saturday in a newspaper interview in which he stressed his determination to take Britain out of the European Union on Oct. 31. 

The Mail on Sunday reported that Johnson said he would find a way to circumvent a recent Parliament vote ordering him to delay Brexit rather than take Britain out of the EU without a transition deal to ease the economic shock. 

"The madder Hulk gets, the stronger Hulk gets," Johnson was quoted as saying. "Hulk always escaped, no matter how tightly bound in he seemed to be — and that is the case for this country. We will come out on October 31." 

Britain's Parliament has repeatedly rejected the exit deal Johnson's predecessor, Theresa May, negotiated with the EU, and this month rejected leaving without a deal — angering many Britons who voted to leave the bloc more than three years ago.  

No 'backstop'

Johnson has said he wants to negotiate a new deal that does not involve a "backstop," which would potentially tie Britain against its will to EU rules after it leaves in order to avoid checks on the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. 

The EU has so far insisted on the backstop, and Britain has not presented any detailed alternative. 

Nonetheless, Johnson said he was "very confident" ahead of a meeting with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Monday. 

"There's a very, very good conversation going on about how to address the issues of the Northern Irish border. A huge amount of progress is being made," Johnson told The Mail on Sunday, without giving details. 

Johnson drew parallels between Britain's situation in Brexit talks and the frustrations felt by fictional scientist Bruce Banner, who when enraged turned into The Incredible Hulk, frequently leaving behind a trail of destruction.  

"Banner might be bound in manacles, but when provoked he would explode out of them," he said. 

FILE - British politician Sam Gyimah speaks during a People's Vote press conference at the National Institute of Economic and Social Research in London, May 9, 2019.

Earlier on Saturday, former Conservative minister Sam Gyimah said he was switching to the pro-EU Liberal Democrat party in protest at Johnson's Brexit policies and political style. 

Opinion polls late Saturday painted a conflicting picture of the Conservative Party's political fortunes under Johnson, who wants to hold an early election to regain a working majority in Parliament. 

A poll conducted by Opinium for The Observer newspaper showed Conservative support rose to 37% from 35% over the past week, while Jeremy Corbyn's Labour held at 25% and Liberal Democrat support dropped to 16% from 17%. Support for Nigel Farage's Brexit Party remained at 13%. 

However, a separate poll by ComRes for The Sunday Express put Conservative support at just 28%, down from 30% and only a shade ahead of Labour at 27%. 

ComRes said just 12% of the more than 2,000 people it surveyed thought Parliament could be trusted to do the right thing for the country. 

Attacks on Saudi Oil Facilities Knock Out Half Kingdom's Supply

7 hours 5 min ago

RIYADH/DUBAI/LONDON - Yemen's Iran-aligned Houthi group said it attacked two plants at the heart of Saudi Arabia's oil industry on Saturday, knocking out more than half the kingdom's output, in a move expected to send oil prices soaring and increase tension in the Middle East. 

The attacks will cut the kingdom's output by 5.7 million barrels per day (bpd), according to a statement from state-run oil company Saudi Aramco, or more than 5% of global oil supply. 

The pre-dawn strikes followed earlier cross-border attacks on Saudi oil installations and on oil tankers in Persian Gulf waters, but these were the most brazen yet, temporarily crippling much of the nation's production capacity. Saudi Arabia is the world's biggest exporter, shipping more than 7 million barrels of oil to global destinations every day, and for years has served as the supplier of last resort to markets. 

While the Houthis claimed responsibility for the attack, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo put the blame squarely on Iran, writing on Twitter that there was "no evidence the attacks came from Yemen." 

"Amid all the calls for de-escalation, Iran has now launched an unprecedented attack on the world's energy supply," Pompeo said. 

FILE - U.S. President Donald Trump speaks with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during a photo session with other leaders and attendees at the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan, June 28, 2019.

Saudi de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told U.S. President Donald Trump by telephone that Riyadh had the will and capability "to confront and deal with this terrorist aggression," according to Saudi state news agency SPA. 

The United States condemned the attacks and Trump told the crown prince that Washington was ready to work with the kingdom to guarantee its security, according to the White House. The U.S. Department of Energy also said it was ready to release oil from its strategic petroleum reserve if necessary. Energy Secretary Rick Perry also said his department would work with the International Energy Agency, which coordinates energy policies of industrialized nations, if global action is needed. 

Saudi Arabia, leading a Sunni Muslim coalition that intervened in Yemen in 2015 against the Houthis, has blamed regional rival Shiite Iran for previous attacks, which Tehran denies. Riyadh accuses Iran of arming the Houthis, a charge denied by the group and Tehran. 

Coalition spokesman Col. Turki al-Malki said an investigation had been launched into who planned and executed the strikes. He said the Western-backed alliance would counter threats to global energy security and economic stability. 

Aramco Chief Executive Amin Nasser said there were no casualties from the attacks. 

Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said Aramco would have more information within 48 hours, and it would draw down oil in storage to compensate for the loss. Aramco is in the process of planning what is expected to be the world's largest initial public offering. 

Heart of oil market

"Abqaiq is perhaps the most critical facility in the world for oil supply," said Jason Bordoff, who runs the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University and served on the U.S. National Security Council during Barack Obama's presidency. "The risk of tit-for-tat regional escalation that pushes oil prices even higher has just gone up significantly." 

Smoke is seen following a fire at an Aramco facility in the eastern city of Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia, Sept. 14, 2019.

Abqaiq is 60 km (37 miles) southwest of Aramco's Dhahran headquarters. The oil processing plant handles crude from the world's largest conventional oilfield, the supergiant Ghawar, and for export to terminals Ras Tanura — the world's biggest offshore oil loading facility — and Juaymah. It also pumps westward across the kingdom to Red Sea export terminals. 

Two of the sources said Ghawar was flaring gas after the strikes disrupted gas processing facilities. Khurais, 190 km (118 miles) farther southwest, contains the country's second-largest oilfield. 

"These attacks against critical infrastructure endanger civilians, are unacceptable, and sooner or later will result in innocent lives being lost," the U.S. Embassy quoted Ambassador John Abizaid as saying in a Twitter post. 

Andrew Murrison, a British foreign affairs minister, called on the Houthis to stop threatening civilian areas and Saudi commercial infrastructure. 

It was the latest in a series of Houthi missile and drone strikes on Saudi cities that have largely been intercepted but have recently hit targets, including the Shaybah oilfield last month and oil pumping stations in May. Both those attacks caused fires but did not disrupt production. 

"This is a relatively new situation for the Saudis. For the longest time they have never had any real fears that their oil facilities would be struck from the air," Kamran Bokhari, founding director of the Washington-based Center for Global Policy, told Reuters. 

Aramco's CEO said in a statement that the situation had been brought under control. A Reuters witness said the fire in Abqaiq appeared to have been extinguished by early evening. 
 
Escalating tension

Regional tension has escalated after Washington quit an international nuclear deal and extended sanctions on Iran. 

FILE - Bodies lie on the ground after being recovered from under the rubble of a Houthi detention center destroyed by Saudi-led airstrikes, in Dhamar province, southwestern Yemen, Sept. 1, 2019.

The violence is complicating U.N.-led peace efforts to end the Yemen war, which has killed tens of thousands and pushed millions to the brink of famine. The conflict is widely seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. 

The coalition intervened in Yemen after the internationally recognized government was ousted from power in Sanaa by the Houthis, who say they are fighting a corrupt system. 

The coalition launched airstrikes on Yemen's northern Saada province, a Houthi stronghold, on Saturday, a Reuters witness said. Houthi-run al Masirah TV said a military camp was struck. 

The Houthis' military spokesman, without providing evidence, said drones hit refineries at both Saudi sites, which are more than 1,000 km (621 miles) from the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, and pledged a widening of assaults against Saudi Arabia. 

Afghan Government Says Elections First, Peace Deal Afterward

7 hours 44 min ago

The Afghan government will consider making a ``legitimate'' peace with insurgents only after national elections are held this month, an official told reporters Saturday, despite the atmosphere of political uncertainty following the sudden halt in U.S.-Taliban peace talks. 
 
President Donald Trump abruptly called off talks to end American's longest war last week. The Afghan government was largely shut out of the negotiations and was concerned that any finalized U.S.-Taliban deal would delay the elections while a national unity government was formed, forcing the exit of President Ashraf Ghani. 
 
``Nothing will impede the presidential election from happening,'' said the Afghan presidential spokesman, Sediq Seddiqi. 
 
He said that a peace deal with the Taliban could come only after holding the presidential election scheduled for Sept. 28. ``Legitimacy of peace cannot be achieved without elections,'' he said. 

Security concerns
 
Sediqqi also suggested that there will be a ``big change'' toward improving security across the country ahead of the voting. The Taliban, who consider the Afghan government a U.S. puppet, have warned Afghans not to vote and have said polling stations will be targets. 
 
Sediqqi pointed to a Taliban delegation's visit to Russia, just days after Trump called off talks, to say the insurgents are faced with a ``political failure'' of their own. He added that the Taliban should hold talks directly with the Afghan government — which they have refused to do — rather than foreign powers. 
 
On Friday, a Taliban negotiating team visited Russia, where they held consultations with Zamir Kabulov, President Vladimir Putin's envoy for Afghanistan. 
  
The Interfax news agency cited an unidentified Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying the meeting underlined the necessity of renewing talks between the U.S. and the Taliban, and that the Taliban confirmed their readiness to continue dialogue with Washington. 
  
It was the Taliban's first international visit following the collapse of talks with Washington. The team was led by Mullah Sher Mohammad Stanikzai. 
  
Trump tweeted Saturday that the Taliban was being hit hard militarily in the wake of the U.S. pulling out of negotiations following the death of a U.S. soldier. 
  
``The Taliban has never been hit harder than it is being hit right now,'' he said. ``Killing 12 people, including one great American soldier, was not a good idea. There are much better ways to set up a negotiation. The Taliban knows they made a big mistake, and they have no idea how to recover!'' 
 
Moscow has twice this year hosted meetings between the Taliban and prominent Afghan personalities. 
  
Sediqqi said that the Afghan government has suspended its own peace efforts for now. After the elections, the ``progress of the peace process'' will be a priority, he said. 

Bomb in Kapisa province
 
Separately in eastern Kapisa province, a bomb killed at least three civilians who had gathered to watch a volleyball game, said Nasrat Rahimi, spokesman for the Interior Ministry. 
 
Rahimi added that two other civilians were wounded when Friday's blast occurred in the Tagab district. No group immediately claimed responsibility. 
 
Also in southern Kandahar province, in an insider attack, two policemen turned on their colleagues and shot dead at least nine police officers at a checkpoint, according to a provincial official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters. 
 
The attack happened in the Shah Wali Kot district late on Friday night and both attackers fled the area, the official said. 
 
A Taliban spokesman, Qari Yusouf Ahmadi, claimed responsibility for the attack. 

'Bull' Wins Top Prize at Deauville 

8 hours 27 min ago

The American Film Festival in Deauville, France, awarded its top prize to Annie Silverstein's Bull, jury president Catherine Deneuve announced Saturday. 
 
Silverstein's first full-length feature, which was also selected for the Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes film festival in May, was awarded Deauville's Grand Prize, as well as the festival's Critics Award and the Louis Roederer Foundation Revelation Prize. 
 
The film "paints an extremely fair and disturbing picture of Donald Trump's America, America abandoned by its policies whether in school or in health," said actress Anna Mouglalis, head of the Revelation jury. 
 
Bull tells the story of 14-year-old Kris from Houston, Texas, who after trashing her neighbor's house in a fit of youthful defiance seems destined to follow in her mother's footsteps to the state penitentiary. 
 
To make amends, Kris is forced to help Abe Turner, an ex-bull rider scraping by on the Texas rodeo circuit, with errands at home and at his work. While traveling with Abe, she discovers a passion for bull riding. Yet, bad influences back home lure her back into delinquent ways. 
 
Gerard Lefort, head of the Critics Award jury, described the film as a "captivating story with a staggeringly mature performance by actress Amber Havard, despite her young age." 
 
In the 45th edition of the Deauville festival, a total of 14 films were in competition, including nine first films and six directed by women, Deneuve said. 
 
Two other films — Michael Angelo Covino's The Climb and Robert Eggers' The Lighthouse — were also awarded jury prizes. 

Tropical Storm Warning Discontinued in Bahamas 

8 hours 40 min ago

The Bahamian government has discontinued a tropical storm warning as Humberto moves away from the island nation struggling to recover from Hurricane Dorian. 
 
The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Tropical Storm Humberto was expected to become a hurricane by Sunday night or early Monday but wouldn’t threaten land by the time it intensified to that strength. 
 
Officials warned that the storm could still cause dangerous swells in the northwest Bahamas and along the coasts of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina later this weekend and early next week. 
  
At 5 p.m. EDT, the storm was located about 70 miles (113 kilometers) north of Great Abaco Island. Humberto was moving 7 mph (11 kph) north-northwest with maximum sustained winds of 50 mph (80 kph). 

Trump Floats Possible Defense Treaty Days Ahead of Israeli Elections 

9 hours 52 min ago

U.S. President Donald Trump said Saturday that he had spoken with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about a possible mutual defense treaty between the two nations, a move that could bolster Netanyahu's re-election bid just days before Israelis go to the polls. 

"I had a call today with Prime Minister Netanyahu to discuss the possibility of moving forward with a Mutual Defense Treaty, between the United States and Israel, that would further anchor the tremendous alliance between our two countries," Trump said on Twitter. 

He added that he looked forward to continuing those discussions later this month on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly session in New York. 

Netanyahu thanked Trump, saying in a tweet that Israel "has never had a greater friend in the White House," and adding that he looked forward to meeting at the U.N. "to advance a historic Defense Treaty between the United States and Israel." 

Close race seen

The timing of Trump's tweet, just days before Israel's election on Tuesday, appeared aimed at buttressing Netanyahu's bid to remain in power by showcasing his close ties to Trump. 

Opinion polls predict a close race, five months after an inconclusive election in which Netanyahu declared himself the winner but failed to put together a coalition government. 

FILE - Benny Gantz, the leader of Blue and White party, speaks at an event hosted by the Tel Aviv International Salon ahead of general elections, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Sept. 9, 2019.

Netanyahu's Likud party is running neck and neck with the  centrist Blue and White party led by former armed forces chief Benny Gantz, who has focused heavily on looming corruption charges Netanyahu faces. 

In a televised interview with Israel's Channel 12 later Saturday, Netanyahu made a direct appeal to voters based on the treaty. "I'm going to get us a defense pact that will provide us with security for centuries, but for that I need your votes," he said. 

Trump previously bolstered Netanyahu's candidacy when he recognized Israel's claim of sovereignty over the Golan Heights ahead of the elections earlier this year. 

Some Israeli officials have promoted the idea of building on Netanyahu's strong ties to the Trump administration by forging a new defense treaty with the United States, focused especially on guarantees of assistance in any conflict with Iran. 

Trump provided no details, but a mutual defense treaty could obligate the United States to come to Israel's defense if it is attacked. 

Nuclear threats, Iran

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz said earlier this month that a pact should apply to "defined issues — nuclear threats and the matter of long-range missiles aimed by Iran at Israel." 

FILE - Israel's acting foreign minister, Israel Katz, attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Feb. 24, 2019.

"We have means of offense and defense, but this would spare us the need to earmark enormous resources on a permanent basis and for the long term in the face of such threats," Katz told Israel's Ynet TV. 

Netanyahu's chief rival Gantz assailed the idea as a "grave mistake," arguing it would strip Israel of military autonomy. 

"This is not what we want," the centrist candidate told a conference in Jerusalem. "We have never asked anyone to get killed for us. We have never asked anyone to fight for us. And we have never asked anyone's permission to defend the State of Israel." 

Tunisians Head to Polls in Wide Open Election 

10 hours 37 min ago

Tunisians will choose Sunday from no fewer than 26 candidates in the country’s second democratic presidential elections — moved up several weeks by July's death of President Beji Caid Essebsi.  

But this first round, which precedes legislative elections and a likely runoff presidential vote, will take place against the backdrop of a stagnating economy and a sense that the country's 2011 "Jasmine" revolution has failed to deliver on its promise. 

The experience of final Friday night rallies in downtown Tunis was a bit like going candidate shopping. Crowds backing the moderate Islamist Ennahda Party packed one section of the iconic Habib Bourguiba Avenue, dancing and waving flags. 
 
Farther down were supporters of leftist candidates Hamam Hammami and Mongi Rahoui. 
 

Supporters of leftist candidate Mongi Rahoui dance at a final rally, in Tunis, Tunisia, Sept. 13, 2019.(L. Bryant/VOA)

And finally, fans of businessman Nabil Karoui, considered a strong contender despite — and maybe partly because of — his being detained on corruption charges. 
 
Posters lining the streets of the capital offered a dizzying choice, identifying candidates by number, 1 to 26, as well as by name.  University student Fellah Ferchichi, 25, couldn’t decide whom to vote for. 
 
"You have three or four people all the same, like [Prime Minister] Youssef Chahed is the top one now, and you have Kais Said,” Ferchichi said. “And especially you have a woman, like Selma Loumi [Rekik]." 

Businesswoman Mouna Belaid was voting for female candidate Abir Moussi, one of two female candidates and a supporter of ousted autocratic President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali. Belaid likes Moussi's platform — and the idea of having Tunisia's first female president. 

But there's another strong contender: disaffection. Tunisia's economy is struggling. Unemployment is soaring. Along some streets, uncollected garbage piles up on broken sidewalks. 
 
"I don't know whom to vote for — they're all the same," said Alia Sitou, 57. "All of them say they're going to create jobs and good things for youth. But there's nothing, and the cafes are full of young men with diplomas and no jobs. 
 
"This first round is very important for the future … not only the future of the race, but also the future of Tunisia," said Hamadi Redissi, head of the Tunisian Observatory for Democratic Transition outside Tunis. People are angry their lives haven't improved since the revolution, eight years ago, and “that's why the political elite and classic political parties are discredited, definitely discredited. Probably the Islamists will be discredited in these election." 
 

Ennahdha supporters are pictured at a rally, Sept. 13, 2019, in Tunis, Tunisia. (L. Bryant/VOA)

That means the main Islamist party, Ennahda, which has been in coalition governments since 2011. It's fielding Abdelfattah Mourou, 71, as its first presidential candidate. 
 
Deputy scientific research minister Khalil Amiri, part of the campaign team, said, “We are very conscious time is running out and patience is running out … and that's why our program … has focused primarily on questions of regional development, economic governance [and] providing opportunities for everyone.” 

Priorities are the same for other candidates. But some pooorer voters are especially connecting with business tycoon Nabil Karoui, whose charitable work is well covered by his Nessma TV station. Supporters like campaign team member Samy Achour say tax evasion and money laundering charges against Karoui are politically motivated. 
 

People show support for Nabil Karoui at a final rally in Tunis, Tunisia, Sept. 13, 2019. (L. Bryant/VOA)

"He has traveled all over the country for the past 3½ years, from north to south, east to west,” Achour said. “And he listened to the people and he understood their issues and he knows what it takes to make a difference." 
 
The one thing certain about Sunday's election is — it's wide open. 

Islamic Group to Discuss Netanyahu's West Bank Annexation Plans

11 hours 9 min ago

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation will hold an emergency meeting Sunday to discuss Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's intent to annex parts of the West Bank. 
 
The 57-member organization tweeted earlier this week that the meeting would be held "at the request of Saudi Arabia" in Jeddah.
 
On Saturday, Turkey's Foreign Ministry said the OIC would meet to discuss "Netanyahu's statements on the intention to annex Jordan Valley and the illegal settlements in the West Bank by Israel." 

Jordan Valley, northern Dead Sea
 
Netanyahu said Tuesday that he planned to annex part of the occupied West Bank if he won re-election next week, a move that could significantly alter the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 
 
Netanyahu said in a live televised address that he intended to "apply Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea," a strategically important area, if he won on Sept. 17. 
 
Palestinian Liberation Organization executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi tweeted that annexation would destroy any chance of reaching an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord: 
 
"Netanyahu's cheap pandering to his extremist racist base exposes his real political agenda of superimposing 'greater Israel' on all of historical Palestine & carrying out an ethnic cleansing agenda. All bets are off! Dangerous aggression. Perpetual conflict."  

FILE - Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh gestures as he speaks during a workshop on cooperation between Palestinians and East Asian countries, in Jericho in the Israeli-occupied West Bank July 3, 2019.

Anticipating Netanyahu's announcement shortly before it was made, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said the Israeli leader was "a prime destroyer of the peace process." 
 
Netanyahu's announcement reaffirmed his pledge to annex all Jewish settlements in the West Bank, but he has said he will not act before publication of a long-awaited U.S. peace proposal and consultations with President Donald Trump. 
 
There has been no comment from the White House, but the Trump administration has been receptive to Israel's annexation of at least portions of the West Bank. 
 
The Jordan Valley is a 2,400-square-kilometer (927-square-mile) area that accounts for nearly 30 percent of the territory in the West Bank, which Israel captured in a 1967 war. The Palestinians covet the valley for the eastern perimeter of a state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. 

Close race
 
Netanyahu is in the midst of a closely contested re-election bid. Voters will go to the polls Tuesday, five months after the country's parliament was dissolved in a vote in which Netanyahu failed to assemble a government. Polls show he is even or slightly behind Benny Gantz, a moderate former army chief of staff. 
 
The prime minister is also facing a series of corruption charges. 
 
More than 400,000 Israelis live in West Bank settlements considered illegal by international law. About 2.7 million Palestinians live in the territory. 

Zimbabwe's Mugabe Gets Tepid Turnout at Final Public Sendoff

13 hours 3 min ago

The flag-draped coffin had arrived, followed by black-clad family members, their heads bowed. Several dozen suited dignitaries marched in, chests puffed out. Military members stood rigid and proud. All of the pomp and circumstance one would expect at the memorial for a man hailed as an African icon was in place Saturday for the final public sendoff for Robert Mugabe.

But there was just one thing missing: A crowd.

Because, for the man known as the father of his nation, very few of Mugabe’s 16 million "children" showed up for his final public sendoff Saturday at Harare’s National Sports Stadium. The 60,000-capacity stadium was maybe one-third full. It was a poor showing compared to previous events, like the packed-to-the-rafters inauguration of the man who used the military to force Mugabe to resign two years ago.

Members of the public sit in the stands during the state funeral for former president Robert Mugabe, at the National Sports Stadium, in the capital Harare, Zimbabwe, Sept. 14, 2019.

Mugabe, the first president of independent Zimbabwe, died last week at the age of 95, after ruling for 37 years.

In attendance were a smattering of African heads of state and former heads of state - but no major leaders from outside the continent. Those who came included leaders like Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo - who has ruled Equatorial Guinea with an iron fist since 1979 - and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of independent Kenya’s first president. They praised Mugabe for fighting to liberate his country from the yoke of centuries of colonial rule.

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa pays his respects to former Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe, at the National Sports stadium during a funeral ceremony in Harare, Sept, 14, 2019.

But his own family described Mugabe, who was forced to resign in 2017, as a bitter man. His widow, Grace, draped head-to-toe in black lace, stood on the dais, her head down. The family’s spokesman, Walter Chidakwa, hailed the leader, but also offered some sharp words.

“Towards the end of his life,” he said, “he was a sad man. A sad, sad, sad man.”

So where was everyone on this sunny Saturday?

Many were in one of Harare’s hours-long petrol queues - a consequence of the shattered economy that many blame Mugabe for.

The coffin carrying the remains of former Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe arrives at the National Sports stadium during a funeral procession in Harare, Sept, 14, 2019.

 Teacher Betty Mukombani told VOA she had no interest in driving to the stadium to bid farewell. At the time, she was staring down a four-hour wait in a petrol queue just a five-minute drive from the stadium.

“He’s the one who ruined the economy of Zimbabwe, so I have no interest in burying such a criminal,” she said.
 
And others in the queue, like archeologist Happy Marufu, say they have real relatives they’d rather be with.

“I should be doing something else or sometimes even relaxing with my family,” he said.

Even those who turned out to see off the father of the nation couldn’t resist making a point about this country’s ruined economy.

They sang, hundreds of them: Before, bread cost $1. Now, it costs $10.

 

Congo: Confirmed Ebola Deaths Near 2,000, Cases Over 3,000

13 hours 23 min ago

Congo's National Ebola Response Committee says confirmed Ebola deaths in the east of the sprawling African nation are nearing 2,000 and confirmed cases of the virus have exceeded 3,000.

The committee released the latest numbers Friday after a discussion in Goma by the Catholic Church and the Anglican Church about efforts to help stem the spread of Ebola in communities. A mistrust of health workers and widespread security issues still threaten the fight against the second deadliest outbreak of Ebola in history in a region where armed groups have fought for decades over the mineral-rich land.

The committee reported 3,002 confirmed Ebola cases with 1,974 deaths.
 
The World Health Organization said Friday they recorded the lowest weekly incidence of Ebola since March 2019 with 40 new cases, but said it was unclear if this positive trend would continue.

 

US Hospital Ship Dispatched for Migrants in Trinidad and Tobago

Sat, 09/14/2019 - 22:34

While the political and economic crisis worsens in Venezuela, countries in the Western Hemisphere continue to be economically impacted by migrants seeking refuge and asylum. To help alleviate some of the burden, the United States Navy has deployed the Comfort hospital ship to assist countries like Colombia, Ecuador and Costa Rica. VOA’s Cristina Caicedo Smit visited the ship on one of its last stops, Trinidad and Tobago.

Trump Confirms Death of Al-Qaida Heir Hamza bin Laden

Sat, 09/14/2019 - 20:41

U.S. President Donald Trump on Saturday confirmed that Hamza bin Laden, the son and designated heir of Al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden, was killed in a counter-terrorism operation along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

"The loss of Hamza bin Laden not only deprives al-Qaida of important leadership skills and the symbolic connection to his father, but undermines important operational activities of the group," Trump said in a statement issued by the White House.

U.S. media reported in early August, citing intelligence officials, that the younger bin Laden had been killed sometime in the last two years in an operation that involved the United States.

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper confirmed the death later last month, saying it was "his understanding" that bin Laden was dead, but Trump and other senior officials had not publicly confirmed the news.

The 15th of Osama bin Laden's 20 children and a son of his third wife, Hamza, thought to be about 30 years old, was "emerging as a leader in the al-Qaida franchise," the State Department said in announcing a $1 million bounty on his head in February 2019 - perhaps after his actual demise.

As leader of al-Qaida, Osama bin Laden and others plotted the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. U.S. Navy SEALs killed him in a raid on a house in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in 2011.

With reporting from AP.

Charity: Italy Allows Rescue Ship to Disembark Migrants in Lampedusa

Sat, 09/14/2019 - 20:21

Italy has agreed to allow rescue ship Ocean Viking to disembark 82 migrants in the southern port of Lampedusa, the SOS Mediterranee charity which runs the vessel said Saturday.

"The Ocean Viking just received instructions from the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre of Rome to proceed to Lampedusa," SOS Mediterranee tweeted.

"An ad hoc European agreement between Italy, France, Germany, Portugal and Luxembourg has been reached to allow the landing," said French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner, referring to the division of the migrants between the five countries.

"We now need to agree on a genuine temporary European mechanism." Castaner added.

The Ocean Viking was on its second mission and was shuttling between Malta and Italy for nearly two weeks, seeking a port to land the migrants.

Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders), which runs the ship jointly with SOS Mediterranee, said the group comprised 58 men, six women and 18 children.

The Ocean Viking had rescued 356 migrants on its first mission.  

Italy is trying to set up an automatic system for distributing migrants rescued in the Mediterranean between European countries, diplomatic sources said recently.

Such a deal would put an end to the case-by-case negotiations over who will take in those saved during the perilous crossing from North Africa, which has seen vulnerable asylum seekers trapped in limbo at sea for lengthy periods.

France and Germany have given their green light to the new system, which could also involve Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal, Romania and Spain, Italy's Repubblica and Stampa dailies said.

 

IOM Repatriates More Than 100 Migrants Stranded in Libya

Sat, 09/14/2019 - 20:00

The International Organization for Migration reports it has repatriated 127 African and Asian migrants stranded in Libya under difficult, brutal conditions.

Tripoli’s Mitiga International airport was shut down last Sunday after being hit by missiles. For safety reasons, IOM’s chartered plane with 127 migrants aboard took off earlier this week from Misrata, about a two-hour drive east of the Libyan capital.

From there, the passengers, which included women and children, flew to Istanbul and then onwards to their home countries.  Missions from 15 countries in Africa and Asia, including Gambia, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Bangladesh and Egypt were involved in the complex, risky operation.

IOM spokeswoman, Safa Msehli told VOA stranded migrants is a reference to those those who either are held in Libyan detention centers or are living freely in urban areas across the country.

“In detention centers across Libya we have close to 5,000 migrants that are still detained.  In Libya alone, according to IOM Libya’s DTM (Displacement Tracking Matrix), there are over 600,000 migrants, a lot of whom - not only due to the current context of war - but a lot of whom have arrived in Libya and remain without a solution,” Msehli said.  

Libya’s detention centers are notorious as places where refugees and migrants are subject to horrific forms of abuse, including torture and rape, as well as the lack of sufficient food and medical care. Migrants and refugees in urban areas are vulnerable to exploitation, trafficking and kidnapping for ransom.

Despite all the difficulties, IOM has succeeded in returning more than 7,200 stranded migrants to their countries of origin this year.  

Upon their return, Msehli said the migrants receive a reintegration package that helps them resume their lives, continue their education or start a small business.

 

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