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Updated: 38 min 51 sec ago

Somalia Struggles After Worst Flooding in Recent History

1 hour 8 min ago

Ahmed Sabrie woke up to find his house half-submerged in fast-rising flood waters.

Frightened and confused, he herded sleepy family members onto the roof of their home in central Somalia as scores of thousands of people in the town, Beledweyne, scrambled for their lives. Clinging to an electric power pylon by the edge of the roof, the family watched as their possessions were washed away.

“I could hear people, perhaps my neighbors, screaming for help but I could only fight for the survival of my family,” the 38-year-old Sabrie, the father of four, recalled. As one of his children wailed, the family waited for more than 10 hours before a passing rescue boat spotted them.

An aerial view of the flooded Hiran region of central Somalia, Nov. 12, 2019. Somalia's recent flooding is the latest reminder that the nation must prepare for extremes predicted to come with climate change.

Death toll unknown

Authorities have not yet said how many people died in the flooding last month, Somalia’s worst in recent history and the latest reminder that the Horn of Africa nation must prepare for the extremes expected to come with a changing climate.

At least 10 people went missing when their boat capsized after the Shabelle river burst its banks. Local officials have said at least 22 people in all are presumed dead and the toll could rise.

“This is a catastrophic situation,” Mayor Safiyo Sheikh Ali said. President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, who visited the town and waded through submerged areas, called the devastation “beyond our capacity” and pleaded for more help from aid groups.

With no proper emergency response plan for natural disasters, local rescuers used rickety wooden dhows to reach trapped people while helicopters provided by the United Nations plucked people from rooftops. African Union and Somali forces have joined the rescue operations and the Somali government airlifted food.

“Many people are still trapped in their submerged houses and we have no capacity and enough equipment to cover all areas,” said Abdirashakur Ahmed, a local official helping to coordinate rescue operations. Hundreds are thought to still be stuck.

Children displaced by recent floods reach the outskirts of the town of Beledweyne in central Somalia, Nov. 4, 2019.

More rain, flooding

With more heavy rains and flash flooding expected, officials warned thousands of displaced people against returning too quickly to their homes.

More than 250,000 people across Somalia were displaced by the recent severe flooding, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council.

Beledweyne town was the worst affected. Several thousand people were sheltering under trees or in tents.

“Floods have destroyed more than three-quarters of Beledweyne and submerged many surrounding villages,” said Victor Moses, the NRC’s country director.

Aid groups said farms, infrastructure and roads in some areas were destroyed. The destruction of farmland near rivers is expected to contribute to a hunger crisis.

To better prepare for “major climate-induced shocks” such as flooding and drought that Somalia already faces every two to five years, the country and the U.N. Development Program this week launched a $10 million project to expand weather monitoring resources and train a largely rural population in water conservation and flood management.

The possibility of further damage from heavy rains in the coming days remains a concern, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Parts of the Lower Juba, Gedo and Bay regions, where IOM has supported displaced populations for years, have been affected. Many displaced people were stranded without food, latrines or shelter.

“In Baidoa, people have moved to high ground where they are in immediate need of support,” said Nasir Arush, the minister for humanitarian and disaster management for South West State.

Survivors like Sabrie now must struggle to rebuild their lives.

“We’re alive, which I am thankful to Allah for, but this flood disaster wreaked havoc on both our livelihoods and households so I see a tough road ahead of us,” he said from a makeshift shelter built on higher ground outside town.

Two Killed, 35 Wounded in Baghdad Protests, Police, Medics Say

2 hours 45 sec ago

Security forces killed two protesters and wounded 35 others in Baghdad Thursday, police and medical sources said, as thousands of Iraqis continued a wave of anti-government protests.

One protester died immediately after a tear gas canister hit his head and another died in a hospital from wounds from a stun bomb fired by security forces, the sources said.

Security forces used live fire, rubber bullets and shot tear gas canisters in a bid to disperse hundreds of protesters gathered near Tahrir Square, a Reuters cameraman said.

Most of those hurt had choked on tear gas or had been hit by rubber bullets and were taken to hospital, medical sources said.

Protesters said the security forces had stepped up their firing of tear gas canisters and rubber bullets early Thursday morning.

More than 300 people have been killed since Oct. 1, as security forces have fired tear gas canisters and rubber bullets at crowds of protesters.

A woman holds a sign Arabic that reads "Since death is inevitable, do not live your life as a coward," while protesters run for cover and riot police fire tear gas during clashes between Iraqi security forces and anti-government protesters, Nov. 13, 2019.

Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi's government has taken some measures to try to quell the unrest, including handouts to the poor and creating more job opportunities for college graduates.

But it has failed to keep up with the growing demands of demonstrators who are now calling for an overhaul of Iraq's sectarian political system and the departure of its entire ruling elite.

The unrest is among the biggest and most complex challenges to the current ruling elite since it took power after the U.S. invasion and the toppling of dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003.

China Tests Mars Lander in Push for International Cooperation

2 hours 25 min ago

China invited observers to a successful test Thursday of its Mars lander as the country pushes for inclusion in more global space projects.

The demonstration of hovering, obstacle avoidance and deceleration capabilities was conducted at a site outside Beijing simulating conditions on the Red Planet, where the pull of gravity is about one-third that of Earth.

China plans to launch a lander and rover to Mars next year to explore parts of the planet in detail.

A lander is lifted during a test of hovering, obstacle avoidance and deceleration capabilities at a facility in Huailai in China's Hebei province, Nov. 14, 2019.

Growing space program

China’s burgeoning space program achieved a lunar milestone earlier this year by landing a probe on the mysterious far side of the moon.

It has developed rapidly, especially since it conducted its first crewed mission in 2003 and has sought cooperation with space agencies from Europe and elsewhere.

The U.S., however, has banned most space cooperation with China out of national security concerns, keeping China from participating in the International Space Station.

Despite that, China’s ambitions continue to grow as it seeks to rival the U.S., Russia and Europe in space and cement its position as a regional and global power. It is gradually constructing its own larger, more permanent space station in which it has invited foreign participation.

The lander on Thursday successfully avoided ground obstacles during a simulated low-gravity descent, according to the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, the Chinese space program’s main contractor.

The refrigerator-sized craft was lowered gently on 36 cables through the air for about a minute and used onboard jets spraying rust-colored fumes to alter its downward course.

“After the probe is launched, it will take about seven months to reach Mars, and the final procedure of landing will only last about seven minutes, which is the most difficult and the most risky part of the whole mission,” said the Mars mission’s chief designer, Zhang Rongqiao, standing before the 140-meter-(460-foot-) tall testing facility.

Recent rover crashes on the moon by Israel and India highlight the difficulties of safe landings from space.

The remote Comprehensive Testing Ground for Landing on Extraterrestrial Bodies run by CASC lies an hour north of the Great Wall from Beijing.

Guests at Thursday’s event came from 19 countries and included the ambassadors of Brazil, France and Italy.

“This event is the first public appearance of China’s Mars exploration mission, also an important measure for China to pragmatically carry out space international exchanges and cooperation,” the China National Space Administration said in a news release.

Two US Diplomats: Trump Wanted Ukraine Probes to Help Him Politically

3 hours 17 min ago

U.S. President Donald Trump became the third president in modern U.S. history to face open impeachment hearings Wednesday. Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives called two key State Department witnesses to begin making the case that Trump abused the power of his office by allegedly pressing Ukraine for information that would help him in the 2020 election.  VOA's Congressional correspondent Katherine Gypson has more on the first day of hearings and Republican response from Capitol Hill.

Political Crisis Continues in Bolivia After an Interim President Takes Over

3 hours 40 min ago

Fresh protests erupted Wednesday in Bolivia just hours after opposition Sen. Jeanine Áñez was sworn in as interim president. The United States recognized Áñez as Bolivia's temporary president. The country's longtime leader, Evo Morales, said he was removed by a coup and that he would continue to fight. He spoke from Mexico where he was granted asylum. The leftist leader resigned  Sunday after weeks of protests over a disputed presidential election result. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports Morales still has supporters in his country, especially among indigenous Bolivians.

Trump, Erdogan Meet Amid Cold Bilateral Relations

4 hours 1 min ago

U.S. President Donald Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met at the White House Wednesday but did not reach resolutions on major irritants to bilateral relations including Turkey's recent incursion into northern Syria and its purchase of Russian military hardware. White House Correspondent Patsy Widakuswara has this report.

Cambodia to Free More Than 70 Opposition Activists on Bail

4 hours 52 min ago

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has ordered the release on bail of more than 70 opposition activists arrested in recent weeks and accused of plotting to overthrow the government, he said Thursday.

Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia for more than 34 years, has been under increasing international pressure to improve his human rights record, with the European Union threatening the withdrawal of important trade benefits.

"There are over 70 people, please hurry up work on this case so that these brothers can be released on bail," Hun Sen said in a speech at a new cement factory in the southern province of Kampot, in comments directed at judicial authorities.

Self-exiled Cambodian opposition party founder Sam Rainsy speaks during an interview with Reuters at a hotel in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Nov. 10, 2019.

Cambodia arrested dozens of people in the run-up to last Saturday, when veteran opposition figure Sam Rainsy had said he would return from self-imposed exile to rally opposition to authoritarian ruler Hun Sen.

But Sam Rainsy did not return to Cambodia, saying he had been stopped in Paris from boarding a flight to neighboring Thailand. He instead flew to Malaysia before arriving in Indonesia on Thursday.

Leader of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) Kem Sokha shakes hands with British Ambassador to Cambodia Tina Redshaw at his home in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Nov. 14, 2019.

On Saturday, Cambodia also relaxed the house arrest conditions on opposition leader Kem Sokha, who was arrested on treason charges more than two years ago. He says the charges are ridiculous and has called for them to be dropped.

Kem Sokha and Sam Rainsy co-founded the Cambodia National Rescue Party, which was banned in 2017. By then, Sam Rainsy had flown into self-exile in France after a defamation conviction and other charges he says are political.

On Tuesday, the European Union voiced concern at human rights in Cambodia as it gave a one-month deadline to authorities to respond to a report on its investigation before deciding whether to suspend trade benefits.

Hun Sen said that in addition to ordering the release of the opposition activists, he had ordered the Justice Ministry to withdraw arrest warrants for other opposition activists who had fled to Thailand or were in hiding in Cambodia.

Diplomat: Afghan Prisoner Swap for American, Australian Did Not Occur

4 hours 58 min ago

The planned exchange of two senior Taliban commanders and a leader of the Haqqani militant group for an American and an Australian kidnapped in Afghanistan in 2016 has not taken place, a diplomat and a former Afghan official said on Wednesday.

The diplomat, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity, declined to provide any details about why the planned exchange, which Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announced on Tuesday, did not occur.

The U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment, nor did the Afghan embassy in Washington. "We hope the Taliban immediately releases the hostages," a spokesman for the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said.

He said Australia appreciated Ghani's concern for the hostages - Australian citizen Timothy Weeks and U.S. citizen Kevin King, professors kidnapped by the Taliban in August 2016 from the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul.

The Afghan government's decision to free Anas Haqqani and two other Taliban commanders, Haji Mali Khan and Hafiz Rashid, was taken in the hope of securing direct talks with the Taliban, which has refused to engage with what it calls an illegitimate "puppet" regime in Kabul. All three were captured in 2014. In return, King and Weeks were to be freed.

Islamic Jihad: Egypt Brokers Cease-fire in Gaza Fighting

6 hours 22 min ago

The Islamic Jihad militant group early Thursday announced a cease-fire with Israel, ending two days of heavy fighting that left at least 32 Palestinians dead.

Spokesman Musab al-Berim said the Egyptian-brokered deal went into effect at 5:30 a.m. (0330 GMT). There was no immediate confirmation from Israel.

Al-Berim said the cease-fire was based on a list of demands presented by his group late Wednesday, including a halt to Israeli targeted killings of the group’s leaders and an easing of Israel’s 12-year blockade of Gaza.

The fighting broke out early Tuesday after Israel killed a senior commander of the militant group.

The rare targeted killing by Israel sparked the heaviest fighting with Gaza militants since May. Islamic Jihad fired some 400 rockets toward Israel, while Israel responded with scores of airstrikes.

However, Gaza’s ruling Hamas militant group, which is much larger and more powerful than Islamic Jihad, stayed out of the fighting, indicating it would be brief.

Palestinian officials reported 32 deaths, including a 7-year-old boy and six members of a single family.

The rocket fire crippled life across southern Israel, as nonstop air-raid sirens canceled schools and forced people to remain indoors. Much of Gaza resembled a ghost-town, with almost no vehicles on the roads except for ambulances evacuating wounded.

Israel rarely acknowledges deals with Gaza militant groups.

U.N. and Islamic Jihad officials were in touch Wednesday with Egyptian mediators, who typically broker deals to end fighting in Gaza, and Israel did not respond to the single rocket launch after the cease-fire announcement.

Facebook Removes Millions of Posts and Billions of Fake Accounts

6 hours 32 min ago

Facebook released its Community Standards Enforcement Report on Wednesday, detailing its work in regulating its main app and Instagram from terrorist groups to child porn.

The company said it removed more than 3.2 billion fake accounts between April and September, compared with more than 1.5 billion during the same period last year. The company also said it removed 11.4 million pieces of hate speech, compared to 5.4 million in the same six-month period in 2018.


For the first time, Facebook included Instagram in the report. The company said it made progress in detecting child nudity and sexual exploitation, removing more than 1.2 million pieces of content between April and September.

Instagram spokesperson Stephanie Otway told VOA that Instagram previously had different ways of measuring enforcement on their community standards policies.

"We brought our methodology in line with Facebook and that alignment meant we were able to share metrics for the first time today," Otway said.

Facebook said it had proactively deleted up to 98% of posts that it recognized as terrorist propaganda in the past two quarters. This included major organizations like Islamic State and al-Qaida and smaller, regional terrorist groups.

Messaging services

Law enforcement officials are concerned that Facebook's plans to provide greater privacy to users by encrypting the company's messaging services (including Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp) will obstruct efforts to fight child abuse.

Last month, FBI Director Christopher Wray said the changes would turn the platforms into a "dream come true for predators and child pornographers."

Facebook said its official policy on child pornography is to remove the content "regardless of the context or the person's motivation for sharing it."

Posts that violated Facebook's policies were deleted before many people were able to view them. Facebook estimated that for every 10,000 views on Facebook and Instagram, only four views contained content that violated their policy.

Proactive detection of violating content was lower across all categories on Instagram than on Facebook's main app.

Facebook's apps have a combined total of billions of users across the world that use the apps at least once a day.  

China’s Economy Slows as October Indicators Miss Forecasts

6 hours 45 min ago

China’s industrial output grew significantly slower than expected in October, as weakness in global and domestic demand and the drawn-out Sino-U.S. trade war weighed on activity in the world’s second-largest economy.

Industrial production rose 4.7% year-on-year in October, data from the National Bureau of Statistics released Thursday showed, below the median forecast of 5.4% growth in a Reuters poll.

Indicators showed other sectors also slowing significantly and missing forecasts with retail sales growth back near a 16-year trough and fixed asset investment growth the weakest on record.

An employee works at a manufacturing plant of Sany Heavy Industry Co. during a government-organized tour of manufacturers based in Changsha, Hunan province, China, Oct. 19, 2019.

Disappointing data

The disappointing economic data adds to the case for Beijing to roll out fresh support for the economy after China’s economic growth slowed to its weakest pace in almost three decades in the third quarter as the bruising U.S. trade war hit factory production.

Broad activity in China’s manufacturing sector remains weak with data over the weekend showing factory gate prices falling at their fastest pace in more than three years in October.

China’s official Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) also showed activity in the factory sector remained in contraction for a sixth straight month.

“Admittedly, optimism surrounding a phase-one U.S.-China trade deal could provide a boost to corporate investment in the near term,” Capital Economics China Economist Martin Lynge Rasmussen said.

“But even if a minor deal is agreed upon in the coming months, this would merely allow the focus to shift to the more intractable issues that we think will eventually lead the trade talks to break down. The case for further monetary easing remains intact,” he added.

Other data Thursday showed China’s property investment growth in the first 10 months of the 2019 slowing year-on-year.

Trade war hits global demand

The tariff war between China and the United States has hit global demand, disrupted supply chains and upended financial markets.

While some signs of recent progress in trade negotiations between the superpowers have cheered investors, officials from both sides have so far avoided any firm commitments to end their dispute.

That uncertainty has continued to weigh on manufacturers and their order books.

Thursday’s data also showed fixed asset investment, a key driver of economic growth, grew 5.2% from January-October, against expected growth of 5.4%. The January-October growth was the lowest since Reuters record began in 1996.

Private sector fixed-asset investment, which accounts for 60% of the country’s total investment, grew 4.4% in January-October.

On Wednesday, China’s State Council said Beijing would lower the minimum capital ratio requirement for some infrastructure investment projects.

Retail sales rose 7.2% year-on-year in October, missing expected growth of 7.9% and matching the more than 16 year low hit in April.

Consumers have been hit with higher food prices over the past few months, as pork and other meat prices soared.

At the same time, consumers have been reluctant to make big purchases with auto sales falling for the 16th straight month in October, data showed Monday.

Another Day of Chaos for Hong Kong Amid Relentless Citywide Protests

7 hours 58 min ago

Anti-government protesters paralyzed parts of Hong Kong for a fourth day Thursday, forcing school closures and blocking highways and other transportation links to disrupt the financial hub amid a marked escalation of violence.

Protesters have torched vehicles and buildings, hurled petrol bombs at police stations and trains and vandalized prime shopping malls over the past week in some of the worst violence seen in more than five months of unrest.

Black-clad protesters and university students maintained their blockades of major roads, including the entrance to the Cross-Harbour Tunnel that links Hong Kong island to the Kowloon area, and a major highway artery between Kowloon and the rural New Territories.

Police fired tear gas near the tunnel early Thursday to try to clear the protesters.

Thousands of students barricaded themselves inside campuses with makeshift fortifications at several universities, blocking entrances and occupying nearby roads, preparing stockpiles of food, bricks, petrol bombs and other makeshift weapons as they hunkered down for possible clashes with police.

Pro-democracy protesters gather at the barricades on a road scattered with bricks outside the campus of the Hong Kong Baptist University in Hong Kong, Nov. 13, 2019. University students from mainland China and Taiwan are fleeing the city…

Commuters queued at metro stations across the city after some rail services were suspended and roads closed. Some citizens, dressed in office wear, shouted at riot police who were deployed on station platforms.

Demonstrators are angry about what they see as police brutality and meddling by Beijing in the freedoms guaranteed under the “one country, two systems” formula put in place when the territory returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

China denies interfering and has blamed Western countries, including Britain and the United States, for stirring up trouble.

Police said on Wednesday that violence in the Chinese territory had reached a “very dangerous and even deadly level.”

Riot police officers use pepper spray as they detain a protester during a demonstration at the Central District in Hong Kong, Nov. 13, 2019.

Authorities said Thursday 64 people were injured during Wednesday’s clashes, which left two men in critical condition. There were no further details about the injuries they sustained.

Police said in a statement a man had died after falling from an unspecified height Wednesday but gave no further details.

One woman, a 24-year-old worker caught in the traffic gridlock who gave her name as Kristy, said: “The government and the police have escalated the violence.”

“If the government wants the violence to stop they need to listen to our demands,” she said.

Hong Kong’s embattled leader, Carrie Lam, met senior officials late Wednesday, media reported, amid speculation of fresh emergency measures to deal with the crisis.

Pro-democracy protesters nap while charging their devices inside the campus of the Hong Kong Baptist University in Hong Kong, Nov. 13, 2019.

The city’s Education Bureau announced that all schools would be closed Thursday because of safety concerns, a decision that typically only happens during severe typhoons or natural disasters.

Several universities also announced there would be no classes on campuses for the rest of the year from Thursday, meaning they would rely on online learning and other assessment methods for the remaining weeks of the term.

A number of major shopping malls also announced they would close Thursday over safety concerns as protesters planned further demonstrations throughout the day.

Lam said this week protesters paralyzing the city were “selfish” and were now the people’s enemy.

Russia Reacts to Bolivia’s Political Turmoil

8 hours 2 min ago

The political crisis in Bolivia — where roiling street protests amid accusations of election fraud forced the resignation of longtime President Evo Morales this week — is exposing long-held differences within Russia’s own political system, with pro-Kremlin and opposition voices splitting along familiar dividing lines.

As the events in La Paz unfolded, Russia’s Foreign Ministry was quick to express support for Morales, a Kremlin ally who has paid repeated visits to Moscow, most recently in July to expand economic ties.

In a statement posted to its website, the ministry condemned violence “unleashed by the opposition” and blamed it for preventing Morales from “completing his tenure” amid “developments typical of a well-orchestrated coup d’etat.” 

“It would be foolish to expect another reaction — it’s absolutely the consolidated position from the Russian side,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, when asked by journalists about the Foreign Ministry’s assessment.

“Of course, we hope that Bolivians themselves will determine their fate without the interference of any third countries,” he said.

Opponents of Bolivia's President Evo Morales celebrate after he announced his resignation in La Paz, Bolivia, Nov. 10, 2019.

Pro-Kremlin media outlets quickly picked up on the hint, noting that the United States included Bolivia, along with Venezuela and Cuba, as Latin American dictatorships.

“The most logical version — a virtuosically prepared and executed coup by the United States, which is traditionally masked by slogans about democracy and human rights,” wrote Igor Pshenichnikov in a column explaining the events in Bolivia in the weekly Izvestia.

“And now the time has come for the president and his country to experience for itself the might of American democracy,” he said.

Collectively, the arguments were reminiscent of Russia’s position relative to neighboring Ukraine, where Moscow has long maintained that a 2014 pro-Western street revolution that drove another Kremlin ally — then-President Viktor Yanukovich — from power also was the work of the United States.

As if to emphasize the Ukraine comparisons, pro-Russian separatists in east Ukraine’s official Twitter account condemned the events in La Paz as a “fascist junta.” It’s another talking point widely used by Kremlin state media beginning in 2014 to denigrate Ukraine’s so-called “Maidan Revolution.”

FILE - Police officers detain opposition supporters during a protest in Moscow, May 5, 2018. The posters read "I am against corruption."

Other views

Russian opposition voices saw the events in La Paz, however, in an entirely different light — underlining Russia’s own fractured political environment.

Proekt, an online investigative outlet funded by Kremlin foe and businessman Mikhail Khodorkvosky, issued a story reporting it was in fact Russia — driven by economic interests of its oil, gas and energy industries — that had played a key role in Morales’ reelection campaign.

In turn, opposition figures were quick to note Russian President Vladimir Putin, like the now former Bolivian leader, also has stretched constitutional norms by serving an unprecedented fourth term in office and soon will face similar questions of if and whether to remain in power.

“A corrupt president, unlawfully holding on to power at the expense of lies and falsification, has run from his country,” wrote Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny in posting a picture of Morales and Putin together on Twitter.

Коррумпированный президент, незаконно удерживавший власть за счёт лжи и фальсификаций, сбежал из страны. Пока речь идёт о том, что слева. pic.twitter.com/1Wmr38cu5t

— Alexey Navalny (@navalny) November 10, 2019

“For now, that means only the guy on the left,” Navalny said, in referring to Morales.

“Oh, what’s this?” chimed in Navalny’s key strategist, Leonid Volkov, in a similarly themed post.

Ой что это?
После фальсифицированных выборов люди вышли на улицу и полоумный престарелый диктатор, нарушивший конституционные ограничения на количество сроков, вынужден был уйти в отставку.
Ух как хочется, как в Боливии! pic.twitter.com/J79tXbpyyG

— Leonid Volkov (@leonidvolkov) November 10, 2019

“After falsified elections, people went out on the streets and a crackpot old dictator, having broken the constitutional limit on number of terms, was forced to resign,” Volkov wrote. “Oh, how I would love for us to be like Bolivia!”

In a column in business daily Vedomosti, however, political analyst Fyodor Krasheninnikov warned that events in faraway Bolivia could negatively affect politics at home — particularly in the wake of a summer of rolling protests in Moscow and other cities over the banning of opposition candidates from elections.

“After Bolivia, all talk about how Russia could have some competitive elections and some softening of the regime amid a future transfer of power should be taken with even more skepticism,” Krasheninnikov wrote. 

His point? As with Ukraine in 2014, the events in Bolivia have made an impression in Moscow. Perhaps too big of one.

The Kremlin has taken note.

Florida Students Move to Impeach Their Student President

8 hours 10 min ago

The student body president at the University of Florida has something in common with U.S. President Donald Trump: His  senators are calling for his impeachment after he spent $50,000 of student fees to pay Donald Trump Jr. and his girlfriend to speak on campus last month.

The student senate says student body president, Michael Murphy of Fairfax, Va., spent $50,000 of student fees independently and arbitrarily to pay Trump Jr. and girlfriend Kimberly Guilfoyle to speak on campus Oct. 10.

"In his position of trust as president of the student body … he not only endangered students marginalized by the speakers' white nationalist supporters, but also abused his power to advance a particular political party at the expense of the students he should represent," stated the impeachment resolution

Hundreds of students protested the event outside the campus auditorium.

"As a former ACCENT vice chair, I am extremely disappointed in the decision to invite Donald Trump Jr. to speak. What value does his presence bring to the student body?" said Abby Solomon on Facebook where she received 228 positive reactions. "This man does not need our money or our microphone."

Student money and politics

Student body statutes forbid student money from being spent in support of or against a political party, according to the impeachment resolution. The action comes at the same time as impeachment hearings began against Trump on Capitol Hill.

The student government accuses Murphy of "malfeasance," "abuse of power," and "collusion."

An email exchange obtained by the student newspaper, the Independent Florida Alligator, shows messages linking Murphy to a Trump campaign official. 

Murphy's supporters say they do not find the expenditure to be sufficient evidence to impeach.

"As someone who has attended actual Trump campaign rallies and the speech in question, I can assure you that the speech did not fit the bill as a Trump campaign rally," Jarrod Rodriguez, treasurer of the university's CollegeRepublicans tasked with responding to media requests, texted to VOA.

"Obviously, the president was brought up at times during the speech, but only when the speakers praised the positive changes that have been made to benefit Americans and the country as a whole. At no point did Don Jr. ever explicitly advocate for the audience to vote for the president," he wrote.

Murphy maintains that the speakers were not campaigning, and, thus, did not violate any rules, according to the Alligator. Murphy did not return interview requests from VOA.

Student Henry Fair, who oversees the ACCENT's Speakers Bureau, an arm of UF student government, said last month that "this event is a campus speaking engagement, not a campaign event," as reported to The Washington Post.

Email signature

However, email correspondence obtained by the Alligator between Murphy and Caroline Wren, a national finance consultant for Trump Victory,  was signed with a Trump Victory signature. The student senators point to that connection as proof of misconduct in their impeachment resolution, according to their resolution.

Wren said she followed up with Murphy "via my private email in my personal capacity and mistakenly forgot to remove my Trump Victory signature," the Alligator reported.

"We met at my house on the 4th of July. I wanted to follow up with you regarding a speaking engagement at the University of Florida for Donald Trump Jr," Wren wrote Sept. 10. Murphy replied the following day that he would "love to hop on a phone call."

Trump Jr. and Guilfoyle spoke Oct. 10 at the university's auditorium for a $50,000 joint payment to an audience of more than 800. 

"As a young conservative, I view the efforts to impeach Michael Murphy for simply responding to an email from Caroline Wren as disingenuous attempt on the part of vindictive political partisans to remove a duly elected president from office," Rodriguez texted VOA. "It is almost identical to the charade the Democrats in Congress are putting on scene for the entire nation. The email response to Caroline Wren is wholly insufficient in meeting the legitimate grounds for impeachment."

The Alligator reported that Murphy wanted to invite both Senator Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump Jr., but Sanders' campaign declined the invitation citing scheduling issues.

"The only difference was Senator Sanders' non-campaign staff declined our invitation to speak in his official capacity. Any attempt to try and separate one from the other with allegations of impropriety is deceptive and inflammatory," Murphy told The Alligator in an email.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

NGOs: Venezuelan Migrants Need $1.35B in 2020 for Basic Services

8 hours 54 min ago

Funding of $1.35 billion will be needed to provide health care, education, nutrition and other services to Venezuelan migrants and to help their hosts in 2020, nongovernmental organizations said Wednesday. 
The request for increased donations from countries around the world was the most recent of repeated appeals for help for the 4.6 million Venezuelans who have fled shortages of food and medicine in their homeland in recent years. 
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration said they would start a fundraising effort for next year for projects aimed at migrants and host communities in 17 countries. 

Syrian crisis 'much closer'
For European donors, the needs of Venezuelans seem very far away, Eduardo Stein, joint special representative of the UNHCR and IOM for Venezuelan refugees and migrants, told Reuters. 
"The Syrian crisis is much more immediate for Europe. It is much closer than the Venezuelan crisis for them," Stein said. 
Aid needs are growing not just because there are increasing numbers of migrants, he added, but because conditions in Venezuela continue to worsen. 
In a statement earlier Wednesday Stein said international contributions needed to be doubled. 
Colombia has borne the brunt of the exodus. It is now home to more than 1.4 million Venezuelans, many of whom arrived with little money and in desperate need of basic services. 

Sharp increase expected
The number of Venezuelan migrants in Colombia is going to sharply increase next year, the organizations said, to 2.4 million, in tandem with a possible increase of total Venezuelan migrants to 6.5 million by the end of 2020. 
Colombia has repeatedly lamented a lack of funding for Venezuelans, saying other humanitarian crises in Syria, South Sudan and Myanmar have received many times more in donations. 
Care for migrants costs Colombia around half a percentage point of its gross domestic product, or about $1.5 billion, annually. The United Nations had called for global donations of $315 million in 2019 to help Colombia cope with the influx, but donations have fallen far short of the target. 
Unlike its neighbors, Colombia has not imposed stringent immigration requirements on Venezuelans, instead encouraging migrants who entered the country informally to register with authorities so they can have access to social services. 
Colombia has also said it will give citizenship to more than 24,000 children born to Venezuelan parents to prevent them from being stateless. 

Appeals Court Again Backs House Request for Trump Tax Documents

8 hours 57 min ago

A U.S. appeals court said on Wednesday it would not revisit an October decision backing a U.S. House of Representatives subpoena issued to President Donald Trump's accounting firm for his financial records.

The 8-3 vote by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, declining the Republican president's request to rehear arguments that the subpoena to Mazars LLP was illegitimate, brings Democrats closer to shedding light on his business interests and how he built his fortune.

In a statement, Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow said the president would appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The House Oversight Committee subpoenaed Mazars this year, saying it needed the records to determine if Trump complied with laws requiring disclosure of his assets, and to assess whether those laws needed to be changed.

While campaigning for the presidency in 2016, Trump broke with a decades-old convention of candidates releasing their tax returns publicly.

Trump sued the House panel in April, arguing that its subpoena exceeded limits on Congress's investigative power.

He said the true motive for the subpoena was to expose private financial information "with the hope that it will turn up something that Democrats can use as a political tool against the President."

A lower court judge ruled against Trump in May, saying the documents might assist Congress in passing laws and performing other core functions.

The May decision was the first time a federal court waded into the tussle about how far Congress can go in investigating Trump and his business affairs, and marked an important victory for House Democrats.

A three-judge panel of D.C. circuit judges, in a 2-1 ruling, upheld the lower court judge in October.

"Contrary to the president’s arguments, the committee possesses authority under both the house rules and the constitution to issue the subpoena, and Mazars must comply, Judge David Tatel wrote on behalf of the majority.

Judge Neomi Rao, who was appointed by Trump to the D.C. appeals court, dissented from the October decision.

Rao and another Trump appointee to the court, Gregory Katsas, voted to rehear the case, Wednesday's order showed. They were joined by Karen Henderson, an appointee of former President George H.W. Bush.   

$134 Billion Deficit in October for US Government

9 hours 25 min ago

The U.S. government recorded a $134 billion budget deficit in October, the first month of the new fiscal year, the Treasury Department said Wednesday.

That compared to a budget deficit of $100 billion in the same month last year, according to the Treasury's monthly budget statement.

Analysts polled by Reuters had forecast a $133 billion deficit for the month.

Unadjusted receipts last month totaled $246 billion, down 3% from October 2018, while unadjusted outlays were $380 billion, a rise of 8% from the same month a year earlier.

The U.S. government's fiscal year ends in September each year. Fiscal 2019 saw a widening in the deficit to $984 billion, the largest budget deficit in seven years, a result of the Trump administration's decision to cut taxes and increase government spending.

Those figures reflected the second full budget year under U.S. President Donald Trump, a Republican, and a time when the country had an expanding tax base with moderate economic growth and an unemployment rate near a 50-year low.

When adjusted for calendar effects, the deficit for October remained at $134 billion compared with an adjusted deficit of $113 billion in October 2018.

Poll Gives UK PM Johnson's Conservatives 10-point Lead in Election

9 hours 32 min ago

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Conservatives have a healthy 10-point lead ahead of an election on Dec. 12, a poll by Savanta ComRes showed on Wednesday, extending their advantage over Labour after the Brexit Party stood down candidates.

The poll, carried out for the Daily Telegraph newspaper, showed the Conservative Party with 40%, up 3 points from a poll last week, ahead of Labour on 30%, up 1 point.

The poll was conducted after Nigel Farage said his Brexit Party would not put candidates up in Conservative-held seats, a major boost to Johnson. The Brexit Party will still stand candidates in Labour-held seats.

"The Brexit Party’s decision not to stand in Conservativeseats is likely to have an obvious positive impact on the overall Conservative vote share," said Chris Hopkins, Head of Politics at ComRes.

 "But it's those Labour-held seats that the Conservatives need to win for a majority, and the Brexit Party could still scupper those best-laid plans."

The poll showed the Liberal Democrats on 16% and the Brexit Party on 7%. Voting analysis website Electoral Calculus said the vote shares implied a Conservative majority of 110 seats. The online poll of 2,022 adults was carried out on Nov. 11-12.

Making the Digital More Tangible: Microsoft's HoloLens 2 Brings Holograms to Work

10 hours 18 min ago

Microsoft is bringing holograms to the office. The company recently started shipping its 2nd version of HoloLens, a headset that allows users to touch and interact with 3D holograms in everyday settings. Various industries have begun experimenting with the new computing device and VOA's Tina Trinh had a chance to check it out.

Naturalizations Hit 11-Year High as Election Year Approaches

10 hours 21 min ago

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services naturalized 833,000 people — an 11-year high in new oaths of citizenship — in fiscal 2019, which ended Sept. 30. This fiscal year, USCIS administered the Oath of Allegiance to 60 of America's newest citizens, from 51 countries, during a special naturalizing ceremony Tuesday at Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian. Saqib Ul Islam talked to some of the new citizens about how they feel and what they are looking forward to as a U.S. citizen.