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Hong Kong Protests Enter 11th Week With Large but Peaceful Rally

Sun, 08/18/2019 - 23:11

Protesters rallied in Hong Kong again on Sunday, as anti-government demonstrations, now in their 11th week, continue.  Mike O’Sullivan reports that the protests were first sparked by an extradition bill, but are now broadly aimed at maintaining Hong’s Kong’s special status within China.



Gibraltar Rejects US Pressure to Hold Iranian Oil Tanker

Sun, 08/18/2019 - 22:27

Authorities in Gibraltar on Sunday rejected the United States' latest request not to release a seized Iranian supertanker, clearing the way for the vessel to set sail after being detained last month for allegedly attempting to breach European Union sanctions on Syria.

The ship was expected to leave Sunday night, according to a statement on Twitter by Hamid Baeidinejad, Iran's ambassador to Britain.
The tanker's release comes amid a growing confrontation between Iran and the West after President Donald Trump pulled Washington out of Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers over a year ago.
Shortly after the tanker's detention in early July near Gibraltar — a British overseas territory  — Iran seized the British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero, which remains held by the Islamic Republic. Analysts had said the Iranian ship's release by Gibraltar could see the Stena Impero go free.
Gibraltar's government said Sunday it was allowing the Iranian tanker's release because "The EU sanctions regime against Iran  — which is applicable in Gibraltar  — is much narrower than that applicable in the US."

In a last-ditch effort to stop the release, the U.S. unsealed a warrant Friday to seize the vessel and its cargo of 2.1 million barrels of light crude oil, citing violations of U.S. sanctions as well as money laundering and terrorism statutes.
U.S. officials told reporters that the oil aboard the ship was worth some $130 million and that it was destined for a designated terror organization to conduct more terrorism.
The unsealed court documents argued that Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps are the ship's true owners through a network of front companies.
Authorities in Gibraltar said Sunday that, unlike in the U.S., the Iran's Revolutionary Guard is not designated a terrorist organization under EU, U.K. or Gibraltar law.
The Iranian ship was detained while sailing under a Panamanian flag with the name Grace 1. As of Sunday, it had been renamed the Adrian Darya 1 and had hoisted an Iranian flag. Workers were seen painting the new name on the side of the ship Saturday.
Iran has not disclosed the Adrian Darya 1's intended destination and has denied it was ever sailing for Syria.
The chief minister of Gibraltar, Fabian Picardo, said he had been assured in writing by the Iranian government that the tanker wouldn't unload its cargo in Syria.
Baeidinejad, Iran's ambassador to Britain, said in a series of tweets that "round-the-clock efforts to carry out port formalities and deploy the full crew onto the ship" had taken place since Gibraltar lifted the vessel's detention Thursday.
The Astralship shipping agency in Gibraltar, which has been hired to handle paperwork and arrange logistics for the Adrian Darya 1, had told The Associated Press that a new crew of Indian and Ukrainian nationals were replacing the sailors on board.
Astralship managing director Richard De la Rosa said his company had not been informed about the vessel's next destination.
Messages seeking comment from the Iranian Embassy in London were not immediately returned.

Restrictions Continue in Kashmir Despite Security Ease

Sun, 08/18/2019 - 22:22

Restrictions continued in much of Indian-administered Kashmir on Sunday, despite India's government saying it was gradually restoring phone lines and easing a security lockdown that's been in place for nearly two weeks.

Soldiers manned nearly deserted streets and limited the movement of the few pedestrians who came out of their homes in Srinagar, the region's main city.

The security crackdown and a news blackout were installed following an Aug. 5 decision by India's Hindu nationalist government to downgrade the Muslim-majority region's autonomy. Authorities started easing restrictions on Saturday.

But the Press Trust of India news agency said authorities re-imposed restrictions in parts of Srinagar after violence was reported on Saturday.

About 300 Kashmiris returned to Srinagar on Sunday from a Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia. Many of them became emotional while reuniting with their family members who met them at the city's airport. Due to the security and communications lockdown, many travelers were unable to contact anybody in the Kashmir region.

"Neither us nor our relatives here knew if we were dead or alive," Muhammad Ali said after returning from the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca.

Public transport buses started operating in some rural areas in Indian-controlled Kashmir on Saturday. Cellphone and internet services resumed in some districts, but news reports said that happened only in the Hindu-dominated Jammu region, which was not threatened by anti-India protests.

The New Delhi government's decision on Kashmir's status has touched off anger in the region and raised tensions with Pakistan. Kashmir is divided between Pakistan and India, but both claim the region in its entirety. The nuclear-armed archrivals have fought two wars over the territory.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan demanded that United Nations observers be deployed to the troubled region.

"This threatens 9 million Kashmiris under siege" in Kashmir, "which should have sent alarm bells ringing across the world with UN Observers being sent there," Khan said Sunday on Twitter.

Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh dismissed the idea, and said that if talks are held between New Delhi and Islamabad they would only be on Pakistani-administered Kashmir, not on India's part of the region.

An exchange of gun and mortar fire between Indian and Pakistani forces was reported on Saturday across the militarized Line of Control that divides Kashmir between the countries. India said one of its soldiers was killed in the exchange.

Meanwhile, ordinary people in the region continue to feel the impact of the restrictions.

Nazir Ahmad, a retired engineer who lives in Srinagar, said Saturday that residents were still facing difficulties in buying items such as vegetables, milk and medicine. He said his father is sick and needs a constant supply of medicine, which the family is finding difficult to procure.

"There is no internet, no telephone, no communication, no transportation," said Ahmad, describing the situation as living through a "siege."

"We are living like animals," he said. "So I request everybody, please come and solve this situation. Nobody is coming out" of their homes.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has defended the Kashmir changes as freeing the territory from separatism, and his supporters have welcomed the move. One of the constitutional revisions allows anyone to buy land in Indian-controlled Kashmir, which some Kashmiris fear could change the region's culture and demographics. Critics have likened it to Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories.


Tanzanian Governor's Plan for Married-Men Database Called 'Infringement'

Sun, 08/18/2019 - 21:03

 Jaffar Mjasiri contributed to this article.

A Tanzanian regional governor is calling for a nationwide public database listing married men as a means of protecting prospective brides from humiliation and heartbreak, he says.

Paul Makonda, the top official in the commercial capital of Dar es Salaam, announced his plan earlier this week. He proposed the database after saying women had complained to him of lovers who had pretended they were single and promised marriage but then deserted them, along with children they'd fathered. The women were left without financial or other support.

"We can see from our women, they are suffering a lot," Makonda told VOA in a phone call Wednesday. He said that at least one despondent woman had become suicidal "because somebody has been cheating [on] her. … We have to find a way to protect these women."

The official offered this rationale for the campaign: "If the family is not going well, don't expect the country to be in a good position. Everything starts from the family. … So it is our responsibility as a government to make sure that people are living in harmony."

Anna Henga, executive director of the independent Legal and Human Rights Center  in Tanzania, said she considers the proposed public database "an infringement on human rights and the right to privacy."

She pointed out that Tanzania has optional registration for marriage, whether civil or religious, monogamous or polygamous. The national Registration Insolvency and Trusteeship Agency notes only that if a couple does register to marry, the registrar must "cause the intention to be made known locally by such means as may be prescribed. …"

"A relationship is a private matter," Henga said. A searchable database is "not fair."

Familiar with controversy

Makonda, appointed to his post in March 2016 by President John Magufuli, has made headlines with other controversial campaigns.

In April 2018, he ignited a social media storm by announcing a house-to-house campaign to screen for prostate cancer. The Citizen of Kenya reported that doctors sounded opposition because of logistical and privacy challenges over digital rectal examination, commonly known as the "finger" method.

In late October, Makonda urged the public to provide the names of any suspected homosexuals in Dar es Salaam, so they could be tracked down and arrested.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet joined in the public outcry against the effort, saying Tanzania's government and all its citizens "should work to combat prejudice based on sexual orientation and gender identity." Tanzania's Ministry of Foreign Affairs stressed that Makonda's plan reflected his own opinion and said that the national government would "continue to respect all international agreements on human rights that have been signed and ratified."

Homosexuality is outlawed in much of Africa, including Tanzania. Makonda said he wanted to identify LGBTQ individuals so they could be provided counseling.

Kenyan campaign

Makonda's call for a searchable database of married individuals takes a slightly different tack from a name-and-shame campaign begun earlier this month by a governor in neighboring Kenya. In early August, Mike Sonko of Nairobi invited women there to expose politicians and other prominent individuals who had fathered children out of wedlock, Kenya news media reported.

Sonko's communications director reported the office within days had gotten complaints about at least 16 high-profile deadbeat dads 13 members of parliament and three governors the Kenyan diaspora news site Mwakilishi reported.


WFP Warns of 'Unprecedented' Food Emergency in Burkina Faso

Sun, 08/18/2019 - 20:14

The World Food Program warns that millions of people in Burkina Faso are facing what it calls an unprecedented humanitarian emergency because of growing hunger, instability and displacement.

Fighting in Burkina Faso has intensified over the past six months, raising intercommunal tensions. Attacks, killings and targeted kidnappings by different armed groups have increased.

The United Nations reports escalating fighting, some fueled by ethnic and religious beliefs, has forced more than 237,000 people to flee their homes. The insecurity and large-scale displacement, it says, has led to the closure of dozens of health centers and thousands of schools, depriving nearly 330,000 children of an education.

In addition, hundreds of thousands of people are facing severe food shortages. World Food Program spokesman, Herve Verhoosel, told VOA that hunger is particularly high during the so-called lean season. This, he explains, is the period between June and September when food stocks are particularly low before the next harvest.

"People have the problem to find food. Sometimes a problem of access. Then because of the security issues they cannot always access to markets or to go to work in the farms for example. That is why the combination of those two problems are giving the result that we have now. People are undernourished and we need support, and urgent support, in fact for food assistance," he said.

FILE - A newly displaced child from Dablo, sleeps inside a house in the city of Kaya, Burkina Faso, May 16, 2019.

Verhoosel said WFP plans to scale up its humanitarian operation to assist nearly 700,000 people. He said the beneficiaries include 220,000 internally displaced people, the same number of people in the host communities and a quarter million people affected by food shortages during the current lean season.

He said special attention will be paid to the nutritional needs of IDPs, children, pregnant and breastfeeding women. He said they will receive nutritious food to prevent malnutrition and to treat those already suffering from this condition.

WFP is urgently appealing for $35.3 million to cover needs until the end of the year.


Italy's Salvini Tells Ship with 107 Migrants to Go to Spain

Sun, 08/18/2019 - 19:42

Seeking to end a humanitarian crisis, Spain says a Spanish rescue boat with 107 migrants in the southern Mediterranean can sail to Spain and disembark its passengers in Algeciras.

Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini on Sunday told the Open Arms ship to leave Italian waters and go to Spain. Salvini contends that Open Arms is anchored off the southern island of Lampedusa "just to provoke me and Italy."

The boat's crew says conditions on the ship are "miserable" 17 days since it rescued people off Libya. Six EU countries say they'll take the migrants in, but Salvini hasn't let the ship dock.

The Open Arms didn't immediately say if would go to Spain, several days' sailing away. The group says Salvini is using the 107 migrants for "xenophobic and racist propaganda."


Rohingya Refugee Children Missing Out on Education and Viable Future

Sun, 08/18/2019 - 19:12

A study by the U.N. Children’s Fund finds more than half a million Rohingya refugee children in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar are not learning the life skills they need to prepare them for the future or to protect them from present-day abuse and exploitation.

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya children have been languishing in squalid, overcrowded refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar for two years — ever since a mass exodus of 745,000 refugees fleeing persecution and violence in Myanmar began.  

The U.N. Children’s Fund reports more than a quarter million children up to age 14 are receiving a non-formal education, while more than 25,000 others are receiving none.  

Author of the UNICEF report, Simon Ingram, said adolescents are most disadvantaged.

He said 97 percent of children aged 15 to 18 years are not attending any type of educational facility, putting them at particular risk.

“When you meet teenagers in the camps, they speak readily of the dangers they face, especially at night, when drug dealers operate, and gang fights are reported to be a regular occurrence," he said.  "Cases of trafficking are also being reported, although they are hard to quantify.  The camps can be especially hazardous for girls and women.”  

UNICEF and partners have provided learning to more than 190,000 Rohingya children in more than 2,000 centers.  These agencies are calling on the governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh to allow the use of their national educational resources to provide more structured learning for Rohingya children.

FILE - A Rohingya refugee girl sells vegetables in Kutupalong refugee camp, Bangladesh, Aug. 28, 2018.

Ingram told VOA that UNICEF is appealing to Myanmar authorities to provide education to the children in the refugee camps.  Until now, he said, the children have been taught in the Burmese language by volunteer teachers from the refugee population.

“And, with the best will in the world, that is not the same as having a properly trained teacher, someone who has experience of delivering the Myanmar government’s own curriculum.  So, that is really what we are looking for and those are the conversations that are now ongoing with the government in Myanmar and we hope that we will receive a positive response to that,” said Ingram.

Ingram said it is critical for refugee children to be taught in Burmese as that is the language they will need if and when they return back to Myanmar.  Unfortunately, he notes Rohingya adolescents will continue to live in limbo until it is safe for them to go home.  He acknowledged that going home does not appear to be a realistic possibility for the foreseeable future.


Hong Kong Protesters Continue Weekend Demonstrations

Sun, 08/18/2019 - 18:32

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets Sunday in rain-drenched Hong Kong for another anti-government rally.

This is the eleventh weekend in a row that protesters have turned out to voice their dismay.

The demonstrations began as peaceful protests to stop an extradition bill that would allow criminal suspects to face trial in mainland China's opaque legal system.  Since then the protests have evolved into a movement for democratic reforms.

The protests are generally peaceful, but activists have sometimes clashed with police.

"We hope that there will not  be any chaotic situations today," organizer Bonnie Leung told the Associated Press.

The extradition bill has been suspended, but the protests continue as Hong Kong residents worry about the erosion of freedoms guaranteed under the "one country, two systems" mandate that has been in place since the territory's return from British to Chinese rule in 1997.

China's paramilitary troops have been training in Shenzhen, which borders Hong Kong, causing concern that China is ready to send in the troops to suppress the protests. 

Hong Kong's police have insisted they are able to handle the demonstrators.

Demonstrations last weekend at Hong Kong Airport spilled over into the work week, crippling one of the world's busiest air hubs for several days and sparking clashes between demonstrators and riot police.

Warren, Sanders Get Personal with Young, Black Christians

Sun, 08/18/2019 - 17:06

Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren framed their Democratic presidential bids in personal, faith-based terms Saturday before black millennial Christians who could help determine which candidate becomes the leading progressive alternative to former Vice President Joe Biden.

Sanders, the Vermont senator whose struggles with black voters helped cost him the 2016 nomination, told the Young Leaders Conference that his family history shapes his approach to President Donald Trump's rhetoric and the rise of white nationalism in the United States.

"I'm Jewish. My family came from Poland. My father's whole family was wiped out by Hitler and his white nationalism,'' Sanders said at the forum led by the Black Church PAC, a political action committee formed by prominent black pastors.

"We will go to war against white nationalism and racism in every aspect of our lives,'' Sanders said, promising to use the "bully pulpit'' to unite instead of divide. 

Warren, a Massachusetts senator and United Methodist, quoted her favorite biblical passage, which features Jesus instructing his followers to provide for others, including the "least of these my brethren.''

"That's about two things,'' Warren said. "Every single one of us has the Lord within us. .... Secondly, the Lord does not call on us to sit back. The Lord does not just call on us to have a good heart. The Lord calls on us to act.''

Sanders and Warren are looking for ways to narrow the gap with Biden, who remains atop primary polls partly because of his standing with older black voters. Polls suggest that younger black voters, however, are far more divided in their support among the many Democratic candidates.

The senators, both of whom are white, connected their biblical interpretations to their ideas about everything from economic regulation and taxation to criminal justice and health care.

"This is a righteous fight,'' Warren said, who noted that she's taught "fifth-grade Sunday School.''

Sanders, while not quoting Scripture as did Warren, declared that "the Bible, if it is about anything, is about justice.'' His campaign, he said, is "not just defeating the most dangerous president in modern American history. We are about transforming this nation to make it work for all of us.''

Warren and Sanders received warm welcomes, with notable enthusiasm for their proposals to overhaul a criminal justice system both derided as institutionally racist and to eliminate student loan debt that disproportionately affects nonwhites. 

"They obviously tailored their message in a way that would resonate with this audience,'' said Chanelle Reynolds, a 29-year-old marketing specialist from Washington, D.C. ``But that means they spoke to issues and concerns that we care about.''

Reynolds described her generation of black voters - churchgoing or not - as more engaged than in the past, but cautious about choosing among candidates months before the voting begins. "I'm going to take my time,'' she said, adding that ``the last election, with Trump, shook us up, and we're not going to let this one go by.'' 

Indeed, the youngest generation of voters typically doesn't shape presidential primary politics, for Democrats or Republicans. 

Impact of black voters

Black voters collectively have driven the outcome of the past two competitive Democratic nominating fights. But Barack Obama in 2008 and Hillary Clinton in 2016 built their early delegate leads largely on the strength of older black voters in Southern states with significant African American populations. 

Those states again feature prominently in the opening months of Democrats' 2020 primary calendar, giving black millennials in metro areas such as Atlanta, along with Nashville, Tennessee, and Charlotte, North Carolina, a chance to wield their influence early in the process. 

Beyond the primaries, the eventual Democratic nominee will need younger black voters to flip critical states that helped elect Trump: Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin. 

"Anybody who's not talking to every community, particularly within the African American community, you're running a fool's race,'' said the Rev. Leah Daughtry, a pastor from Washington, D.C., and member of the Democratic National Committee, who co-moderated the Black Church PAC forum.

Three other 2020 candidates - Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, former Obama housing chief Julian Castro and Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana - attended the conference on Friday. Booker and California Sen. Kamala Harris are the most prominent black candidates in the 2020 race.

Mike McBride, a pastor who was Daughtry's fellow moderator, stressed that the black church and the black community as a whole are not monolithic. Democrats, he said, must reach beyond the traditional Sunday services in places such as South Carolina, the first primary state with a sizable black population. 

"We need candidates to show up on our turf, not always asking us to show up on their turf,'' McBride said in an interview. 

Daughtry said all Democratic candidates were invited, and she noted the absence of other leading candidates, including Biden, who is attending campaign fundraisers in the Northeast this weekend.

"He missed an opportunity,'' Daughtry said, to "make his case'' to younger voters "who don't know him like older folks do.''

No Major Incidents At Portland Right-Wing Rally

Sun, 08/18/2019 - 16:52

Police in Portland, Oregon, arrested at least 13 people Saturday, established concrete barriers, closed streets and bridges, and seized a multitude of weapons in an attempt to preempt violence between right-wing groups and anti-fascist counter-protesters.

Metal poles, bear spray, shields and other weapons were taken from protesters by the authorities Saturday as hundreds of far-right protesters and counter-demonstrators crowded the downtown area, but there were no major incidents between the two factions. 

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said at an evening news conference, however, that the event was connected with "a rising white nationalist movement" and a growing sense of fear in the U.S.  

Police officers detain a protester against right-wing demonstrators following an "End Domestic Terrorism" rally in Portland, Ore., on Saturday, Aug. 17, 2019.

The mayor said Joe Biggs, the organizer of the far-right demonstration, was not welcome in Portland. "We do not want him here in my city. Period." 

Biggs said Saturday was a success. "Go look at President Trump's Twitter," he told The Oregonian/OregonLive. "He talked about Portland, said he's watching antifa. That's all we wanted." 

U.S. President Donald Trump indicated Saturday morning that he could take action on Antifa. The president said in a tweet, "Major consideration is being given to naming ANTIFA an “ORGANIZATION OF TERROR.” Portland is being watched very closely. Hopefully the Mayor will be able to properly do his job!"  However, there is no federal criminal offense of 'domestic terrorism.'

Portland police used officers on bikes and in riot gear to keep black clad, helmet and mask-wearing anti-fascist protesters — known as Antifa — from following the right-wing groups. Hundreds of people remained on downtown streets.

Flag-waving members of the Proud Boys and Three Percenters militia group had gathered late in the morning, some also wearing body armor and helmets. Police said they had seized the weapons as the protesters assembled along the Willamette River that runs through the city.

A member of the Proud Boys, who declined to give his name, carries a flag before the start of a protest in Portland, Ore., on Saturday, Aug. 17, 2019.

Biggs, the organizer of the rally, is a member of the Proud Boys, which has been designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Joining them were the American Guard, Three Percenters, Oathkeepers and Daily Stormers.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the American Guard is a "white nationalist group," Three Percenters and Oathkeepers are "extremist," anti-government militias, and the Daily Stormers are "neo-Nazis."

Countering the right-wingers was Portland's Rose City Antifa, a local anti-fascist group that called on its members to take to the streets in an opposing rally. 

More than two dozen local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, were in the city for the right-wing rally that reportedly drew people from across the country. Portland Police said all of the city's 1,000 officers were on duty for the gathering that was publicized on social media and elsewhere for weeks. 

Antifa has grown more visible recently and experts say the groups are not centrally organized, and their members may espouse a number of different causes, from politics to race relations to gay rights. But the principle that binds them — along with an unofficial uniform of black clothing and face masks — is the willingness to use violence to fight white supremacists, which has opened them to criticism from both left and right.

3 Palestinians Killed By Israeli Forces At Gaza Border

Sun, 08/18/2019 - 15:24

Three Palestinian men were killed by Israeli forces, the Palestinian health ministry said Sunday, adding that another Palestinian man was wounded in the shooting. 

An Israeli military statement said a military "attack helicopter and tank" opened fire on a group of armed men spotted "adjacent to the security fence in the northern Gaza Strip" that separates Israel from Gaza.

The incident happened just hours after three rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel. 

There were no immediate reports of casualties in that incident.

Lower-Priced Colleges Offer Options to Student Debt

Sun, 08/18/2019 - 15:13

This story was first reported in VOA Learning English. 

As tuition and fees have increased sharply in the U.S. over the past 30 years, schools are looking for ways to make college and university more affordable. 

Between 1990 and 2012 while college enrollment increased 62 percent, the volume of borrowing for school increased 352 percent, according to the Heritage Foundation. By the end of 2017, according to the Federal Reserve Bank, national student loan debt in the United States was $1.48 trillion. 

One popular option is community college. These schools offer a two-year study program that awards an associate’s degree at a cost vastly less expensive than four-year schools. Those credits are typically transferrable to a four-year college or university where a student can achieve a bachelor’s degree. 

Some four-year colleges and universities, often public institutions, offer free tuition but ask students to pay for room and board, like housing and food. Books and other school supplies may also be the responsibility of the students, which may add up to an unaffordable package of schools costs from some students.

Some colleges exchange part-time work on campus for lowered tuition and fees.

Berea College in rural Kentucky, does not charge tuition. The school looks for students who would otherwise struggle to pay for college.

“You have to be economically disadvantaged to get in,” Richard Cahill told VOA. He is a history professor and Director of the Center for International Education at Berea.

“We try to take the brightest of economically disadvantaged students to give them a world-class education,” he said.

The college has a history of helping people who have less since 1855. It was started by the Rev. John G. Fee, who opposed slavery. From its beginning, black and white students, male and female, studied together. 

Now, there are 1,600 students, and more than 25 percent are black. 7 percent international students from over 70 countries. And "30 foreign students from 3,000 who begin their applications."

Now, there are 1,600 students. Forty percent of Berea College’s student body identifies as a person of color, according to its website and Cahill says nearly 25 percent are African-American, 10 percent are Hispanic and 7 percent international students, representing more than 70 countries.Cahill says every year the school accepts 30 of 3,000 foreign students who compete for admission online. Students work 10 to 20 hours a week on the Berea campus, to pay for room and board and books.

Other four-year colleges where international students can be part of a work program to cover all or part of their tuition include:  

· College of the Ozarks — also known as “Hard Work U.” This Christian school near Branson, Missouri, admits a small number of international students. Every student works 15 hours a week, and two 40-hour work weeks a year to cover the cost of tuition.

· Warren Wilson College is a small liberal arts college near Asheville, North Carolina, with just under 700 students. Students work on campus and earn over $2,000 toward tuition. Depending on financial needs, international students may get full-tuition paid by a program called Milepost One, or other scholarships. The campus includes a 300-acre farm where students work and grow food served on campus.

· Barclay College is a smaller school with a few foreign students in rural Haviland, Kansas, a Midwest state. It is a small Christian liberal arts school with only 170 students. Director of Admissions Justin Kendall told VOA they offer free tuition to boost enrollment, and students are responsible for about $16,000 a year for room and board. Donors help make up the difference at the school. Kendall said, “they love the college, and what we’re doing here.” He says foreign students do “really, really well” there because of the small size. “They get a lot of personal attention here.”

· Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia offers free tuition. The school “highly values a diverse international student body,” according to its website. Musicians from 20 countries make up nearly 40 percent of the students. The school requires an audition and admits very few students. 

Service academies

U.S. military academies –- also called service academies because graduates must serve in the Navy or Marines after graduation -- are technically free and even offer a stipend to students that increases as they rise in grade. The U.S. Military Academy at West Point is the oldest of the military colleges, dating back to 1802. The U.S. Naval Academy (USNA) was founded in 1845 and is known as Annapolis, in Maryland where it is located. The Coast Guard and Air Force academies are younger, established in 1930 in New London, Connecticut, and 1945 in Colorado, respectively. 

But admission rates are extremely low, meaning these service academies are highly selective, requiring applicants to show not only excellent grades and test scores, but exemplary community service and recommendations from elected lawmakers. 

The service academies offer slots to international students, but they are selected and sponsored by their home country governments, and be between the ages of 17 and 22 to be considered for admission. The countries are selected by the U.S. State Department and Department of Defense. West Point says American embassies ask each invited nation to nominate up to six candidates to compete for admission to the school.

West Point’s website says up to 60 international students may study at the academy at a time. The same is true for the U.S. Air Force Academy and U.S. Naval Academy. The U.S. Coast Guard Academy also admits international students. 

West Point spokesman Frank DeMaro Jr. told VOA that the most recent class has students from 14 countries, including Colombia, the Gambia, Jordan, Rwanda and Thailand. After graduation, he says, they return to their countries and serve as officers in their armed forces. Graduates of U.S. service academies are expected to serve in the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force or Coast Guard on active duty after graduation. 

New York Organizes Tandem Biking With The Visually Impaired

Sun, 08/18/2019 - 14:34

For many, blindness or poor vision can keep them from activities like cycling. But a NYC non-profit called InTandem works to make cycling accessible to everyone. The organization unites sighted New Yorkers with the visually impaired so that everyone can enjoy a ride. Anna Nelson has the story narrated by Anna Rice.

Intelligent Threat-Sensing Building on Horizon

Sun, 08/18/2019 - 14:09

Back-to-back mass shootings in the U.S. have re-ignited passionate debates about gun control in America. But there are other efforts underway to protect people from gun violence-- like the creation of an intelligent building designed to handle an active shooter situation. Engineers and computer scientists at the University of Southern California are using virtual reality to help them design buildings that can protect its occupants.  Elizabeth Lee has more from Los Angeles. But first a warning this story contains graphic video that some viewers may find disturbing.

Suicide Bombing of Wedding Party in Kabul Killed 63

Sun, 08/18/2019 - 13:24

Authorities in Afghanistan say the death toll has risen to more than 63 and injured to 183 in the overnight suicide bombing at a packed wedding hall in the capital, Kabul.

The victims were mostly members of the minority Shi’ite Hazara community. 

Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi confirmed the casualty toll in a statement issued early Sunday, saying women and children were among the victims.

There were no immediate claims of responsibility for the carnage, one of the worst attacks against Afghan civilians in recent years.

The Taliban denied its involvement and condemned the bombing. A spokesman for the insurgent group said “such barbaric deliberate attacks against civilians including women and children are forbidden and unjustifiable.”

Afghan police men stand guard outside the wedding hall after an explosion in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, Aug.18, 2019.

Almost all recent bombings in the city, particularly against the Hazara community, have been claimed by Islamic State’s Afghan branch, known as Khorasan Province. 

Rahimi in a statement he issued shortly after the attack said the blast occurred just before midnight on Saturday and police and ambulances quickly reached the site to transport victims to Kabul hospitals.

Civilians continue to bear the brunt of the conflict in Afghanistan, where more than 1,500 were killed or wounded in July alone, according to the United Nations.

The latest Afghan violence comes as peace talks between the United States and the Taliban have come close to reaching an agreement to end the 18-year-old war.  

Intelligent Threat-Sensing Building on Horizon

Sun, 08/18/2019 - 12:49

As back to back mass shootings in the U.S. prompt more difficult debates on gun laws, researchers at University of Southern California (USC) are working on a different, perhaps less controversial method of keeping people inside buildings safe and deterring people who want to commit acts of mass violence.  

Design and Behavior

Engineers and computer scientists are exploring building design and technology seeking ways to protect people. Recent innovations offer many possibilities, from placement of exits to the number of hiding spots and even walls that move.  But before designs can be put in place, researchers must first observe the behavior of the building's occupants.

How do the people inside a building respond when an active shooter is present? Will their behavior change if the building is designed in a different way? Virtual reality (VR) is the first step to answering these questions and helping engineers create a safer building according to USC assistant professor Gale Lucas, who conducts research in the USC Viterbi School of Engineering Computer Science Department and Institute for Creative Technologies.  

“We're interested in looking at how different building attributes affect responses to incidents of extreme violence, and that's something that we can't manipulate easily in the real world, but in virtual reality all of that is possible and it's possible safe and ethically,” Lucas said. 

Building design features that could make a building safer in mass shooting incidents include the number of exits and hiding places in a building or even whether glass windows are clear or frosted. Many of the features are based on recommendations from government agencies and security experts.

“There are so many recommendations out there and there's so much money being invested on these recommendations but they're not well tested in the real world in terms of how they play out,” said Burcin Becerik-Gerber, professor of civil and environmental engineering at USC. She and Lucas co-direct USC's CENTIENTS, the Center for Intelligent Environments.  

Virtual reality can safely and cheaply simulate real world situations.  Virtual building designs can also easily be changed and adapted for different types of buildings said Becerik-Gerber. 

Later this year, various building designs in a school and an office setting will be tested out in the virtual world with more than 200 real world teachers and office workers on treadmills, using VR so they can run away from the shooter in the virtual world.  

Building features however may not be one size fits all.  For example, frosted glass on doors to a room that may keep people safe in an active shooter situation may not be ideal during a normal school day when people want to be able to look inside a classroom to deter child predators. 

“I think the answer is having more dynamic kinetic elements instead of thinking building elements as static. We're talking about maybe frosted versus normal glass, but they can have the intelligence when the building senses the threat,” said Becerik-Gerber.

Intelligent Threat-Sensing Building

Instead of an either or, why not have a glass window that can do both said Becerik-Gerber.  Artificial intelligence and sensors in a building can allow it to frost a clear window when it senses a threat.   

“It could be the case where there are sensors when they pick up the noise levels. If there is a shooting, obviously there it will come with some increased noise levels and shouting and other clues. So the building can have for example, dynamic walls that lock up maybe the bad actors in the building,” suggested Becerik-Gerber. 

An intelligent building can also produce digital signage that points occupants to the safest exits, away from the violence.

Researchers said having intelligent buildings can be possible not too far in the future.  The technological elements needed to make a building sense danger and respond to keep its occupants safe are available.  There just has to be the willingness to incorporate the elements and implement them into buildings.  

Through their three-year project on building design and virtual reality, funded by the National Science Foundation, the researchers at USC aim to better understand how different design features influence people’s behavior.  Once they have the data, they can present their findings to security experts and other stakeholders so one day, in the near future, better buildings with intelligence incorporated into the building's DNA can be created to keep it's occupants safe from acts of mass violence. 

Times, Citing Official Documents: UK Faces Food, Fuel and Drugs Shortages in No-Deal Brexit

Sun, 08/18/2019 - 12:10

Britain will face shortages of fuel, food and medicine if it leaves the European Union without a transition deal, jamming ports and requiring a hard border in Ireland, official government documents leaked to the Sunday Times show.

The Times said the forecasts compiled by the Cabinet Office set out the most likely aftershocks of a no-deal Brexit rather than the worst case scenarios.

They said up to 85% of lorries using the main channel crossings "may not be ready" for French customs, meaning disruption at ports would potentially last up to three months before the flow of traffic improves.

The government believes a hard border between the British province of Northern Ireland and the Republic will be likely as current plans to avoid widespread checks will prove unsustainable, the Times said.

Mexico City Assesses Damage After Violent Feminist Protest

Sun, 08/18/2019 - 09:17

Workers erected a wooden wall around Mexico City's iconic Angel of Independence monument Saturday after feminists defaced it with graffiti during a raucous and violent protest over a string of alleged rapes by police.

The disorder Friday night erupted as part of protests that arose this week over a perception that city officials were not adequately investigating the rape accusations. Both victims were teenagers. The demonstrations have become known as the "glitter protests'' after marchers doused the city's police chief in pink glitter.

Hundreds of city workers spent the wee hours of the morning pressure-cleaning and painting over graffiti.

The deputy director of artistic patrimony at the National Fine Arts Institute, Dolores Martinez, said at the base of the statue that officials were assessing the damage to the Angel and other points in the capital that protesters attacked. 

At the same time, Martinez added, the fine arts institute "respects freedom of speech and offers support for actions to eradicate all forms of violence against women.''

Protesters wrote phrases like "They don't take care of us'' and "rape state'' in lime green, purple and black spray paint across the base of the Angel monument, which commemorates Mexico's independence from Spain and is often the site of celebrations by city residents. 

Demonstrators also painted the word "rapists'' on the wall of a nearby police station and trashed a major bus station. A male television reporter was assaulted while covering the protest.

Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum, the first woman to head the city's government, said via Twitter that the attorney general's office of the metropolis will investigate and bring charges against those who attacked journalists.

Grafitti covers Mexico City's iconic Angel of Independence, after protesters defaced it, in Mexico City, Saturday, Aug. 17, 2019. Protests erupted in the capital this week over a perception that city officials were not adequately investigating…

Violence against women is a serious problem in Mexico. 

Human Rights Watch says Mexican laws "do not adequately protect women and girls against domestic and sexual violence.'' It said in a 2019 report that provisions in Mexican law, including those that make the severity of punishments for sexual offenses contingent upon the supposed chastity of the victim, "contradict international standards.''

Mexico City's culture minister, Jose Alfonso Suarez del Real, expressed sadness over the vandalism at the Angel monument, saying it "belongs to the Mexican people, not to the state.''

The remains of 14 independence heroes rest within the monument, including those of a woman, Leona Vicario.

The monument on Reforma Avenue is a reunion point for protests as well as celebrations. Soccer fans regularly converge around the base to celebrate their teams' wins, while young girls marking their 15th birthdays - known as quinceaneras - pose for photos on the monument's base wearing outsized party dresses on weekends.

Spotting the graffiti as she passed in a stretch limo, a quinceanera celebrant in a powder blue taffeta dress gasped in horror. Another, in a voluminous burgundy gown, went ahead with her photo shoot on the grass lawn around the monument despite the wooden barricade in the background. 

Art historian Mara Fragoso came to assess the damage to the Angel with conflicted feelings. She said she understands and shares the protesters' rage over violence against women, but she feels monuments should not be violated.

The Angel in many ways is a monument to women, Fragoso said. In addition to the golden female figure of an angel at the top, stoic bronze female figures are stationed at the four corners of the base. 

Below the bronze figures are the words: War, Peace, Law and Justice.

"We're divided between the indignation that's evident, but also the indignation over the vandalism,'' Fragoso said. "Both things are valid.''

Los Alamos Lab Details $13B in Building Plans Over 10 Years

Sun, 08/18/2019 - 08:37

LOS ALAMOS, NEW MEXICO - Officials at Los Alamos National Laboratory have plans for $13 billion worth of construction projects over the next decade at the northern New Mexico complex as it prepares to ramp up production of plutonium cores for the nation's nuclear weapons arsenal. 
They outlined their plans at a recent meeting attended by hundreds of representatives of construction firms from around the country. 
Beyond the new infrastructure related to plutonium assignment, other work most likely will be aimed at serving a growing workforce — from planned housing projects and parking garages to a potential new highway that would reduce commute times from Albuquerque and Santa Fe for the 60% of employees who live outside Los Alamos County. 

2,600 jobs
Lab Director Thomas Mason told the Albuquerque Journal the lab has 1,400 openings and plans to add another 1,200 jobs to its workforce of 12,000 by 2026.  
``It's a busy time at the lab,'' he said. ``We're probably busier than we have been since the height of the Cold War.'' 
Mason said $3 billion in spending is planned for improvements to the lab's existing plutonium facility for the core work. An accelerator project and a new-generation supercomputer also will require major investments. 
Roadwork would be the responsibility of surrounding communities or the state, but he said the lab is stressing the importance of transportation infrastructure and needs to communicate to the region about the lab's growth projections. 
One piece of transportation infrastructure — Omega Bridge, which connects the town of Los Alamos with the lab site over Los Alamos Canyon — is owned by the federal government. One possibility is that it's converted to a ``greenway'' with a new bridge added nearby.  
Mason said the question of what to do with the bridge is a long-term issue. 

Watchdogs have questions
Some watchdog groups have been concerned about the federal government's plans to boost plutonium pit production at Los Alamos given the current infrastructure and the lab's track record of safety concerns. 
Greg Mello with the Albuquerque-based Los Alamos Study Group said ``everywhere pit production has been done, in every country, has been an environmental disaster.'' 
Pits were formerly made at Rocky Flats in Colorado, which was shut down in the early 1990s amid an environmental scandal. 
``We think it's the wrong direction for this region,'' Mello said. 
The National Nuclear Security Administration is under a mandate from Congress and the Department of Defense to make 80 pits a year by 2030 as part of a plan to modernize the nation's arsenal. 
Only a handful have been produced in recent decades, all of them at Los Alamos. NNSA's plan calls for making 30 pits a year at Los Alamos and 50 pits a year at the U.S. Energy Department's Savannah River Site in South Carolina. 
A recent congressionally funded study cast doubt on whether the pit production goals can be met and questioned the plan to ramp up production, which is estimated to cost $14 billion to $28 billion. The study stated that ``eventual success of the strategy to reconstitute plutonium pit production is far from certain.'' 

Argentina's Treasury Minister Resigns, Senior Official Says 

Sun, 08/18/2019 - 07:31

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Argentina's treasury minister, Nicolas Dujovne, resigned Saturday and will be replaced by the economy minister of the country's most populous state, a senior official in the presidential office said. 
The resignation came three days after President Mauricio Macri announced his conservative administration was temporarily increasing the minimum wage, reducing payroll taxes and implementing other steps to help Argentine workers as the country struggles to overcome sizzling inflation, high unemployment and other economic problems. 
Macri acted after a leftist presidential slate that includes his predecessor, Cristina Fernandez, turned in a powerful showing last Sunday in primary voting for candidates going into October general elections. Macri's slate did poorly, and the already weak Argentine peso slumped and stock prices fell sharply as investors worried about the vote results. 
In his resignation letter, Dujovne reportedly said the government needed to make ``a significant overhaul in the economic area.'' He said the administration had made strides in reducing the government's deficit and reducing taxes, but added that ``we undoubtedly made mistakes.'' 
The presidency official, who agreed to confirm the resignation only if not quoted by name, said Dujovne would be replaced by Hernan Lacunza, the economy minister for Buenos Aires province. Lacunza previously was general manager of the Central Bank.