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Borghi: Italy's League Wants to Cut Taxes by Rising Deficit a Little Bit

Mon, 08/19/2019 - 14:47

Italy's ruling League party would seek tax cuts in the 2020 budget by rising the country's deficit a little bit, its economics spokesman said on Monday.

League chief Matteo Salvini pulled the plug last week on its coalition government with the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, starting a potential countdown to elections, which the country may need to tackle alongside preparing its budget in the fall.

"We need to pursue a tax cut and it is obvious that a small proportion will be funded with the deficit", League's economics chief Claudio Borghi said in an interview with state-owned television RAI.

Protesters Torch Parliament Building in Indonesia's Papua

Mon, 08/19/2019 - 14:38

Thousands of protesters in Indonesia's West Papua province have set fire to a local parliament building.

 Vice Gov. of West Papua province Mohammad Lakotani said Monday's demonstration was sparked by accusations that security forces arrested and insulted dozens of Papuan students in the East Java province cities of Surabaya and Malang on Sunday.He said an angered mob set fire to tires and twigs in Manokwari, the provincial capital. Television footage showed orange flames and gray smoke billowing from the burning parliament building.

Several thousand protesters also staged rallies in Jayapura, the capital city of the neighboring province of Papua, where an insurgency has simmered for decades. Many in the crowd wore headbands of a separatist flag.

Chinese K-Pop Stars Publicly Back Beijing on Hong Kong

Mon, 08/19/2019 - 14:32

At least eight K-pop stars from China and even one from Taiwan and one from Hong Kong are publicly stating their support for Beijing's one-China policy, eliciting a mixture of disappointment and understanding from fans. 

Many of the statements came after protesters opposed to Beijing's growing influence over semi-autonomous Hong Kong removed a Chinese flag and tossed it into Victoria Harbor earlier this month. 

Lay Zhang, Jackson Wang, Lai Kuan-lin and Victoria Song were among the K-pop singers who recently uploaded a Chinese flag and declared themselves as "one of 1.4 billion guardians of the Chinese flag'' on their official Weibo social media accounts. Wang is from Hong Kong and Lai is from Taiwan. 

Some see the public pronouncements as the latest examples of how celebrities and companies feel pressured to toe the line politically in the important Chinese market. Yet they also coincide with a surge in patriotism among young Chinese raised on a steady diet of pro-Communist Party messaging.

Song and Zhang, a member of popular group EXO, have shown their Chinese pride on Instagram, in Song's case uploading an image of the Chinese flag last week with the caption ``Hong Kong is part of China forever.'' Such posts would only be seen by their international fans because Instagram, like most Western social media sites, is blocked by the ruling Chinese Communist Party's censors.

K-pop fans reacted swiftly to the avowals of allegiance to China. Some called it shameful, while others were more understanding. 

Erika Ng, a 26-year-old Hong Kong fan of Jackson Wang, was not surprised by his statement. She said he "values the China market more than the Hong Kong market'' because of his large presence in the mainland.

Wang, a member of the group Got7, used to carry a Hong Kong flag and wear a hat with the city's symbol, a bauhinia flower. Lately, he has been carrying a Chinese flag on his concert tour and was wearing a China flag hoodie in his music video.

In this Jan. 14, 2019, file photo, singer Hong Kong singer Jackson Wang performs at the end of the Fendi men's Fall-Winter 2019-20 collection, that was presented in Milan, Italy.

Ellyn Bukvich, a 26-year-old American who has been an EXO fan for five years, said many young fans will probably support Zhang and his message because of his status as a K-pop idol. 

 "It's spreading propaganda and it's very effective,'' Bukvich said.

 The one-China policy maintains that there is only one Chinese government, and it is a key diplomatic point accepted by most nations in the world, including the U.S. It is mostly aimed at the democratic island of Taiwan, which Beijing sees as a breakaway province to be reunited with the mainland by force if necessary.

In the case of Hong Kong, a former British colony handed back to Chinese control in 1997, Beijing maintains a one country, two systems policy in which the city is guaranteed greater freedoms than those on the mainland until 2047.

China's government and entirely state-controlled media have consistently portrayed the Hong Kong protest movement as an effort by criminals trying to split the territory from China, backed by hostile foreigners.

International brands - from fashion companies to airlines - have in the past been compelled to make public apologies for perceived breaches of that policy, such as listing Taiwan and Hong Kong as separate countries on their websites or T-shirts. 

Zhang terminated his partnership with Samsung Electronics last week, accusing the South Korean mobile giant of damaging China's "sovereignty and territorial integrity.'' 

The statement in a Weibo post was prompted by Samsung having separate language options for users in Hong Kong, China and Taiwan on their global website. Both Hong Kong and Taiwan use traditional Chinese characters instead of the simplified ones used in mainland China, and Hong Kong also has English as an official languages. Samsung declined to comment on whether it will continue to provide different language options for Taiwan and Hong Kong.

It can be difficult to know whether loyalty vows to Beijing are heartfelt or for commercial reasons. The past is littered with examples of celebrities, both Chinese and foreign, who saw their business in China destroyed after the party objected to a statement or an action. 

In 2016, Taiwanese K-pop star Chou Tzu-yu made a public apology for waving the Taiwanese flag while appearing on a South Korean television show. A Chinese vilification campaign against her led to a backlash among some Taiwanese, who at the time were amid a presidential election eventually won by Tsai Ing-wen, who is despised by Beijing for her pro-independence stance.

Public support for Beijing hasn't been limited to pop stars.

Liu Yifei, the Chinese-born star of Disney's upcoming live-action version of the film "Mulan,'' weighed in on the situation in Hong Kong, where protesters have accused police of abuses. 

 "I support the Hong Kong police,'' she wrote on her Weibo account. "You can all attack me now. What a shame for Hong Kong.'' 

 Some questioned her motives, wondering if the post was calculated to ensure her film is released widely in China - the world's largest film market. Among Hong Kong protesters, there were swift calls for a boycott of the film when it is released next year.

A Digital Setting For A Classical Violin Concert

Mon, 08/19/2019 - 13:41

Imagine listening to a violin concert in one of New York City’s majestic cathedrals or in the National Arboretum, surrounded by blooming magnolias. Now anyone can experience this exquisite scene with the use of VR glasses. A team of researchers from the University of Maryland at College Park came up with new immersive technologies that allow people from all over the world to experience performing arts in a breathtakingly beautiful setting without getting up from their couch. Nastassia Jaumen has the story.

Startup Ideas, Courtesy of Government Labs: One Firm Connects Entrepreneurs With New Technology

Mon, 08/19/2019 - 13:39

Every day, cutting-edge research is being performed in government and university labs across the country. Tech transfer is the process of taking that research out of the lab and transforming it into a business. One company jump-starts the process by introducing entrepreneurs to that research. Tina Trinh explains.

Sudanese Celebrate Signing of Political Agreement After Months of Protests

Mon, 08/19/2019 - 13:36

Sudan’s Transitional Military Council and opposition parties formally signed a political agreement this weekend after months of protests. Though many protesters are wary of the compromises made in the deal, the signing was marked by celebrations across the capital. In Khartoum, Esha Sarai and Naba Mohiedeen have more.

Hong Kong Protests Spread Worldwide

Mon, 08/19/2019 - 13:34

Hong Kong pro-democracy protests that started in June have now spread around the world. Parallel demonstration took place in the United States, Canada, Australia, Britain, France and other countries on Sunday. But as, VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, demonstrators in some places were confronted by pro-Beijing rallies.

Apple CEO Warns Trump About China Tariffs, Samsung Competition

Mon, 08/19/2019 - 08:54

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Sunday that he has spoken with Apple Inc's Chief Executive Tim Cook about the impact of U.S. tariffs on Chinese imports as well as competition from South Korean company Samsung Electronics Co Ltd.

Trump said Cook "made a good case" that tariffs could hurt Apple given that Samsung's products would not be subject to those same tariffs. Tariffs on an additional $300 billion worth of Chinese goods, including consumer electronics, are scheduled to go into effect in two stages on Sept. 1 and Dec. 15.

"I thought he made a very compelling argument, so I'm thinking about it," Trump said.

Trump made the comments while speaking with reporters on the Tarmac at the Morristown, New Jersey, airport.

Apple was not immediately available for comment outside normal business hours.

 

Trump Says Will Likely Release Mideast Peace Plan After Israeli Elections

Mon, 08/19/2019 - 08:48

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Sunday he would likely wait until after Israel's Sept. 17 elections to release a peace plan for the region that was designed by White House senior adviser Jared Kushner.

Kushner, Trump's son-in-law, is the main architect of a proposed $50 billion economic development plan for the Palestinians, Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon that is designed to create peace in the region. 

Kushner Unveils $50 Billion ‘Peace to Prosperity’ Plan for MideastThe White House senior adviser lays out an economic plan, says political peace plan coming

Far-right, Antifa Face Off in Oregon City, Vow to Return

Mon, 08/19/2019 - 08:08

Violence was largely averted in Portland, Oregon, where police established concrete barriers, closed streets and bridges, and seized a multitude of weapons to preempt clashes between right-wing groups and anti-fascist counterprotesters. on Saturday. But at least 13 people were arrested and the protesters vowed to return to the West Coast city

UN Bans Sending Baby Elephants from Wild to Zoos and Circuses

Mon, 08/19/2019 - 07:39

Delegates at a U.N. wildlife conference in Geneva voted Sunday to ban the practice of taking baby elephants from their natural habitat and placing them in zoos and circuses.

Forty-six countries at the UN Convention ion International Trade in Endangered Species voted to outlaw the practice, white 18 voted against it, including the United States. Nineteen abstained.

The ban proclaims entertainment venues to be "unacceptable and inappropriate destinations" for elephants.

"This decision will save countless elephants from being ripped away from their families in the wild and forces to spend their lifetimes imprisoned in substandard conditions at zoos," the Humane Society International said Sunday. "The capture of baby elephants is horribly cruel and traumatic to both the mothers, their calves and the herds that are left behind."

Conference to Tackle Illegal Trade in Endangered SpeciesOne of the overarching problems threatening the survival of many wild animals and plants is that of illegal international trade in wildlife with the growing involvement of organized crime

Sunday’s decision specifically targets Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe.

CITES says Zimbabwe has sent more than 100 baby elephants to China since 2012, traumatizing the animals who it says are beaten, kicked, and treated cruelly by their handlers. Several have died.

 

 

US Talks Secretly to Venezuela Socialist Boss

Mon, 08/19/2019 - 06:50

The U.S. has opened up secret communications with Venezuela's socialist party boss as members of President Nicolas Maduro's inner circle seek guarantees they won't face retribution if they cede to growing demands to remove him, a senior administration official has told The Associated Press.
 
Diosdado Cabello, who is considered the most-powerful man in Venezuela after Maduro, met last month in Caracas with someone who is in close contact with the Trump administration, said the official. A second meeting is in the works but has not yet taken place.
 
The AP is withholding the intermediary's name and details of the encounter with Cabello out of concern the person could suffer reprisals. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because they aren't authorized to discuss the talks, which are still preliminary.
 

Trump Freezes Venezuelan Government Assets in US Toughest sanctions so far in effort to drive Nicolas Maduro from power

Cabello is a major power broker inside Venezuela, who has seen his influence in the government and security forces expand as Maduro's grip on power has weakened. But he's also been accused by U.S. officials of being behind massive corruption, drug trafficking and even death threats against a sitting U.S. senator.
 
The administration official said that under no circumstances is the U.S. looking to prop up Cabello or pave the way for him to substitute Maduro. Instead, the goal of the outreach is to ratchet up pressure on the regime by contributing to the knife fight the U.S. believes is taking place behind the scenes among competing circles of power within the ruling party.
 
Similar contacts exist with other top Venezuelan insiders, the official said, and the U.S. is in a listening mode to hear what it would take for them to betray Maduro and support a transition plan.
 
Cabello did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
 
But an aide said the U.S. has been increasingly knocking on his door, desperately looking to establish contact. The aide rejected the notion Cabello was somehow betraying Maduro, saying that Cabello would only meet with Americans with the president's permission and if it contributes to lifting sanctions he blames for crippling the oil-dependent economy. The aide spoke on the condition of anonymity because he isn't authorized to discuss political affairs publicly.
 

Bolton: New Sanctions Allow US to Target Supporters of Venezuelan Government US national security advisor says US is 'sending a signal to third parties that want to do business with the Maduro regime: proceed with extreme caution'

A person familiar with the July encounter said Cabello appeared savvy and arrived to the meeting with the U.S.-backed envoy well prepared, with a clear understanding of Venezuela's political problems. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because they aren't authorized to discuss the matter.
 
As Venezuela's crisis grinds on, a predictable pattern has emerged where Juan Guaido, who the U.S. and dozens of other countries recognize as Venezuela's rightful leader, has been unable to woo the military and take power but Maduro lacks enough strength to apprehend his rival or rescue the collapsed economy amid ever-tightening U.S. sanctions. This month, the U.S. slapped a new round of sanctions that seizes all of the Maduro government's assets in the U.S. and threatens to punish companies from third countries that continue to do business with him.
 
Talks sponsored by Norway between the opposition and government have been slow-going and were suspended this month by Maduro, who accused Guaido of celebrating the U.S.' "brutal blockade." Neither Cabello, the Venezuelan military or U.S. government are a party to those talks.
 
To break the stalemate, some conspirators are looking to the U.S. to devise a plan to protect government insiders who turn against Maduro from future prosecution. The U.S. has repeatedly said it would offer top socialists relief from sanctions if they take "concrete and meaningful actions" to end Maduro's rule. In May, it quickly lifted sanctions against Maduro's former spy chief, Gen. Manuel Cristopher Figuera, after he defected during a failed military uprising.
 

Guaido Warns Venezuela's Maduro Over Moves to Advance Legislative ElectionsElections to renew the National Assembly, the only branch of government under opposition control, are set for December 2020

As head of the constitutional assembly, Cabello has the power to remove Maduro, a position that could come in handy in any negotiated transition. But to date he's run the institution, which the U.S. considers illegitimate, as a rubber-stamping foil to the opposition-controlled congress, showing no signs of possible deception.  
 
It's not clear who initiated the contact with Cabello. But the U.S. official said Cabello was talking behind the back of the embattled socialist despite his almost daily displays of loyalty and frequent harangues against President Donald Trump.
 
An opposition politician briefed on the outreach said Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino and Interior Minister Nestor Reverol are among those in indirect contact with the Americans, underscoring the degree to which Maduro is surrounded by conspirators even after an opposition-led military uprising in April was easily quashed. The politician spoke on the condition of anonymity because they aren't authorized to discuss the talks. The AP was unable to verify the opposition politician's account.
 
Cabello, 56, has long been seen as a rival to Maduro, someone who has more pragmatic economic views and is less ideologically aligned with communist Cuba. He sat to the right of Hugo Chavez when the late socialist designated Maduro, to his left, to be his successor in his last public appearance before dying of cancer in 2013.
 
By all accounts Cabello was not among the high-placed officials who were in on a plot to remove Maduro in April, when Guaido and his mentor Leopoldo Lopez appeared on a bridge in eastern Caracas surrounded by a small contingent of armed troops. Since the uprising's failure, the retired army lieutenant has seen his influence in the government and security forces expand, with the appointment of a cousin to head the army and the placement of another ally atop the feared SEBIN intelligence police.
 
He also remains popular with the Chavista base, having crisscrossed the country the past five years with a much-watched program on state TV that is a vehicle for pounding the opposition and U.S.
 
"A fraternal salute, brother President," Cabello said in the most-recent program, where Maduro called in as a special guest. "We have no secrets, no lies here. Every time we do something we will inform the people, so that with a clear conscience they can take informed decisions and fix positions."
 
The U.S. has tried to negotiate with Cabello before. In 2015, Thomas Shannon, who was then counsellor to Secretary of State John Kerry, met with Cabello in Haiti to pave the way for legislative elections that the opposition won by a landslide.
 
But until now, the Trump administration has shown deep scorn for Cabello, hitting him with sanctions last year for allegedly organizing drug shipments and running a major graft network that embezzled state funds and invested the stolen proceeds in Florida real estate. The U.S. also believes he discussed a plot to kill Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who has called him ``Venezuela's Pablo Escobar.''
 
"Cabello is one of the worst of the worst inside of Venezuela," said Fernando Cutz, a former senior national security adviser on Latin America to both President Barack Obama and Trump. "If the strategy is to try to negotiate with the mafia boss, he's your guy. But that's a strategy that carries some heavy risks."

Iceland Bids Farewell to First Glacier Lost to Climate Change

Mon, 08/19/2019 - 05:38

Mourners in Iceland gathered Sunday to bid a final farewell to 700-year-old Okjokull, the first Icelandic glacier lost to climate change.

After about 100 people, including Iceland's Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir, Environment Minister Gudmundur Ingi Gudbrandsson, and former Irish President Mary Robinson, made a two-hour hike up the Ok volcano for the ceremony.

Children installed a memorial plaque to the glacier, now called just "Ok,'' its name missing "jokull", the Icelandic word for glacier.

People climb to the top of what once was the Okjokull glacier, in Iceland, Aug. 18, 2019.

The plaque bears the inscription "A letter to the future", and is intended to raise awareness about the decline of glaciers and the effects of climate change.

"In the next 200 years all our glaciers are expected to follow the same path. This monument is to acknowledge that we know what is happening and what needs to be done. Only you know if we did it," it reads.

The dedication, written by Icelandic author Andri Snaer Magnason, ends with the date of the ceremony and the concentration of carbon dioxide in the air globally - 415 parts per million (ppm).

"We see the consequences of the climate crisis,''Jakobsdottir said. "We have no time to lose.''
 

A girl holds a sign that reads 'pull the emergency brake' as she attends a ceremony in the area which once was the Okjokull glacier, in Iceland, Aug. 18, 2019.

Jakobsdottir said she plans to make climate change a priority when Nordic leaders and German Chancellor Angela Merkel meet in Reykjavik on Tuesday.

Okjokull was was officially declared dead in 2014 when it was no longer thick enough to move. but now all that's left of the glacier is a small patch of ice atop a volcano.

Glaciologist Oddur Sigurdsson of the Icelandic Meteorological Office was the first to declare Okjokull dead.

When enough ice builds up, the pressure forces the whole mass to move. "That's where the limit is between a glacier and not a glacier," Sigurdsson explains. "It needs to be 40 to 50 meters thick to reach that pressure limit."

Trump Administration Shrugs Off Economists' Warning of Possible Recession

Mon, 08/19/2019 - 05:06

Almost a year and a half ago, President Donald Trump famously tweeted that 'trade wars are good and easy to win.'  But shortly after he announced another ten-percent increase in tariffs on 300-billion-dollars’ worth of Chinese goods, global stock markets dropped and economists warned of a looming recession.  Trump’s top trade official and a Democratic presidential hopeful shared their views Sunday on ABC’s 'This Week.'  Arash Arabasadi has more.

Thousands left Homeless in Bangladesh Slum Fire

Mon, 08/19/2019 - 03:50

Thousands of people were left homeless when a fire raged through a slum in Bangladesh's capital city, Dhaka.

"According to our investigation committee 1,200 shanties were damaged and out of this 750 shanties burnt totally," said Enamur Rahman, junior minister for Disaster Management and Relief on Sunday.

The official count put the number rendered homeless at 3,000, but most media reports said at least 10,000 were left without shelter and some even put the count as high as 50,000.

Officials said four people were injured in the fire but luckily there were no fatalities since most people were away celebrating the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha.

As the government tries to find a more sustainable solution for those who lost their homes, it is also trying to address immediate needs.

"We are providing them with food, water, mobile toilets and electricity supply," municipal official Shafiul Azam told The Guardian.

Fires at factories, slums and markets are common in Bangladesh.

At least 25 people were killed in March this year when fire broke out in a 22-story commercial building in Dhaka's upscale area of Banani.

 

Leaked UK Memos Warn of Food, Drug Shortages in Brexit Chaos

Mon, 08/19/2019 - 03:37

Secret British government documents have warned of serious disruptions across the country in the event that the U.K. leaves the European Union without a trade deal on Oct. 31, according to a report.

The Sunday Times newspaper published what it said was what the British government expects in the case of a sudden, “no-deal” Brexit. Among the most serious: “significant” disruptions to the supply of drugs and medicine, a decrease in the availability of fresh food and even potential fresh water shortages due to possible interruptions of imported water treatment chemicals.

Merkel: We're prepared for Any Brexit OutcomeJohnson is seeking to persuade EU leaders to reopen Brexit talks or face the prospect of its second-largest member leaving abruptly on Oct. 31 with no deal in place to mitigate the economic shock

Although the grim scenarios reportedly outlined in the government documents have long been floated by academics and economists, they’ve been repeatedly dismissed as scaremongering by Brexit proponents.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he is ready to leave the EU regardless of whether he is able to renegotiate the Brexit deal struck with Brussels by his predecessor, Theresa May.

His own officials, however, have warned that with a no-deal Brexit, the sharing of law enforcement data and the health of Britain’s crucial financial services industry could be in jeopardy after Oct. 31.

The documents published by the Times also quote officials as warning that up to 85% of all trucks wouldn’t be ready for French customs at the critical English Channel crossing that day, causing lines that could stretch out for days. Some 75% of all drugs coming into Britain arrive via that crossing, the memos warned, “making them particularly vulnerable to severe delays.”

The officials foresee “critical elements” of the food supply chain being affected that would “reduce availability and choice and increase the price, which will affect vulnerable groups.”

Britain’s Cabinet Office didn’t return a message seeking comment on the documents, but Michael Gove, the British minister in charge of no-deal preparations, insisted that the files represented a “worst case scenario.”

Very “significant steps have been taken in the last 3 weeks to accelerate Brexit planning,” he said in a message posted to Twitter.

But the documents, which are titled “planning assumptions,” mention a “base scenario,” not a “worst case” one. The Times quoted an unnamed Cabinet Office source as saying the memos were simply realistic assessments of what was most likely to happen.

The opposition Labour Party, which is trying to delay Brexit and organize a government of national unity, held up the report as another sign that no-deal must be avoided.

“It seems to me is what we’ve seen is a hard-headed assessment of reality, that sets out in really stark terms what a calamitous outcome of no-deal Brexit would mean for the United Kingdom,” lawmaker Nick Thomas-Symonds told Sky News television. “The government is reckless in the way it’s been pushing forward with no-deal planning in this way.”

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel said the country is ready for Brexit, even without a deal to smooth the transition.

Merkel said Sunday during an open house at the chancellery in Berlin that she would “try everything in my power to find solutions” and that “I believe that it would be better to leave with an agreement than without one.”

But she added that “should it come to that we are prepared for this eventuality too.”

With Recent Terror Attacks, IS Expands Presence in Mozambique

Mon, 08/19/2019 - 03:23

Last week, militants affiliated with the Islamic State (IS) terror group stormed into a Christian village in northern Mozambique, burning houses and forcing residents to flee their homes, local reports said.

A few days before that, militants entered another village in the same province, torching houses throughout the region.

IS has claimed responsibility for both attacks via its social media outlets.

The recent attacks in the southeast African country signals a growing presence of IS militants who have carried out similar attacks against the military and local residents in the Muslim-majority northern part of Mozambique.

“We were no longer safe in the village,” said Mariamo Assy, a resident of Ntuleni village in Cabo Delgado, who was displaced due to last week’s violence.

She told VOA that they sought refuge in a nearby village to avoid getting caught up in the militants’ onslaught.

North Mozambique

Since 2017, such attacks in northern Mozambique have increased, killing more than 200 people and wounding hundreds more, local sources said. Militants also have burned or destroyed over 1,000 homes over the past two years.

Experts say that economic grievances, which have particularly increased in recent months following tropical cyclones that have struck Mozambique, have made many young Mozambicans more prone to terrorism and criminal activities.

The U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) says the situation in the northern part of the country, especially in the Cabo Delgado province, “has been deteriorating at a rapid pace.”

“Terrorist and organized crime groups are taking advantage of the precarious situation for their illicit trade or recruit locals who are desperate to compensate for their losses,” Cesar Guedes, the UNODC Representative in Mozambique, said in a statement in July.

Several radical militant groups have been active in Cabo Delgado in recent years. One of such group is Ansar al-Sunna, which has been responsible for dozens of terror attacks against civilians and government forces in northern Mozambique.

The group is known locally as al-Shabab and also goes by Ahlu al-Sunna and Swahili Sunna.

With suspected links to IS, little is known about Ansar al-Sunna and its political objectives.

“Usually groups such IS, Al Shabab [in Somalia] and others have a clear purpose, but in the case of Cabo Delgado, we don’t know what these militants are fighting for,” said Liazzat Bonate, a Mozambican lecturer at the University of the West Indies in Trinidad and Tobago.

However, she added that ill-treatment by local authorities in northern Mozambique has led many young Muslims to pick up arms against government forces.

There is a “narrative of suffering [from government policies] among the rural population there and some groups have resorted to armed violence as a response,” Bonate told VOA.

IS expansion

After losing all the territory it once held in Iraq and Syria, IS seems to be shifting its strategy and focusing on local militant groups in Africa and elsewhere that have pledged allegiance to the terror group.


IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi appeared in a video in April, encouraging his followers to wage attacks on behalf of IS throughout the world. He referenced IS affiliates that have been active in several African countries.


“There is absolutely a link between ISIS’s territorial defeat in Iraq and Syria and the rising threats in Mozambique and elsewhere,” said Colin Clarke, a senior research fellow at the Soufan Center in New York, using another acronym for IS.

IS “is expanding as a way of hedging its bets, seeking to build redundant and resilient networks in areas where the group previously did not maintain a presence. Mozambique is one example,” he told VOA.

Regional spillover

Violent attacks carried out by radical militant groups in Mozambique could have an impact on neighboring countries such as Kenya and Tanzania, which have their own struggles with terrorist groups in recent years, some experts warn.

“I’d be particularly concerned about IS in Mozambique making inroads or connections to jihadists in Kenya, especially as IS might look to poach fighters from al-Shabab,” said analyst Clarke.

And “if [what’s happening in northern Mozambique] is in fact jihadism, then it could take years to fight them, because these militants can get financial support from [jihadist networks] to continue the fight,” Bonate said.

U.S. stance

U.S. officials also have acknowledged that Mozambique has been facing challenges in dealing with violent extremism in the northern part of the country.

“The United States and other regional and international partners have been engaged in helping the government develop a holistic security, community engagement and communication approach,” Stephanie Amadeo, director of the Office of Southern African Affairs at the U.S. State Department, said in June during a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington.

“The goal for this approach is to address governance and development issues and provide increased training to build the capabilities of Mozambican security forces,” she added.

But analyst Clarke says “the U.S. seems to be reducing its military footprint in Africa even as [the U.S. military is] highlighting the threat to the continent posed by jihadist groups.”

“A pivot toward great power competition will inevitably mean that the U.S. will have fewer resources to dedicate to the counter-terrorism mission in Africa,” he said.

“This could lead to a resurgence of jihadist violence in sub-Saharan Africa which will have destabilizing effects in already weak states,” Clarke added.

Migrants Jump off Rescue Boat to Try to Reach Italian Island

Mon, 08/19/2019 - 02:58

Several migrants jumped into the sea from a Spanish rescue boat Sunday in a thwarted bid to reach shore in Italy, where the government’s hard-line interior minister, Matteo Salvini, has refused to let the 107 passengers disembark.

“We have been warning for days, desperation has its limits,” said Open Arms founder Oscar Camps, who released a video showing four migrants wearing orange life vests swimming toward Lampedusa island. Crew members from the humanitarian group’s ship swam quickly toward them so they could be brought back aboard.

In the evening, Open Arms urgently requested permission to enter Lampedusa’s port so the migrants, aboard for 17 days, could finally get off. It said their psychological and physical conditions are “at risk.”

“If the worst happens, Europe and Salvini will be responsible,” the charity said in a tweet.

Charity Rejects Spanish Offer to Take in African Migrants that Italy RejectedMore than 100 migrants remain stranded on ship off Italy's Lampedusa island

In its formal request made by the boat’s captain, Marc Reig Creus, Open Arms also offered an alternative solution: to transfer the 107 onto another, “adequate” ship that could swiftly reach the Spanish port of Algeciras, where Spain has said the migrants could disembark, given the dramatic situation of passengers and crew.

Open Arms told Italian authorities including prosecutors that the situation aboard “has become unmanageable,” adding that the migrants are “prey to frequent anxiety and panic attacks.”

Salvini has denied docking permission because he contends charity rescue boats essentially facilitate the smuggling of migrants from the traffickers’ base in Libya. Salvini’s resolve has seen previous similar standoffs end with disembarkation either ultimately taking place in Italy or elsewhere in Europe.

On Sunday, Spain offered one of its ports for the migrants to come ashore, but Open Arms said it would be absurd to undertake a journey, that could take perhaps a week, with the migrants.

For days, Open Arms has been anchored off Lampedusa, a fishing and vacation island between Sicily and northern Africa. The boat initially had 147 migrants aboard when it reached Italian waters. In the last few days, 40 migrants have transferred by Italian coast guard vessels to Lampedusa, including a few who were ailing and 27 believed to be minors.

After the migrants who had jumped from the ship were back aboard, several female migrants wailed or pressed their hands to their head as if in disbelief. A few of the male migrants could be seen gesturing and shouting angrily, while crew members tried to calm tempers.

With Salvini challenging the survival of Italy’s populist government in a push for an early election he hopes will give him the premiership, the minister is hardening his already-stiff resolve to keep humanitarian ships from bringing rescued migrants to Italy. His League’s party blames migrants for crime, and its popularity among voters has been soaring.

A Norwegian-flagged ship, Ocean Viking, operated by two French humanitarian groups, has been sailing for days with 356 rescued migrants aboard between Malta and Lampedusa and other tiny Italian island, Linosa, awaiting assignment of a safe port. Salvini vowed to block that ship, too.

“Whoever hangs tough wins,” Salvini said. “In Italy there’s no place for traffickers.”

Open Arms carried out its first rescue of this group 17 days earlier, plucking migrants to safety from smugglers’ unseaworthy dinghies off Libya.

Seeking to break the standoff, Spain on Sunday offered a far southern port, Algeciras, just west of Gibraltar, to Open Arms, even while acknowledging that the harbor is distant and unsuitable to disembark so many migrants.

The office of Spain’s caretaker prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, said the offer reflected the “emergency situation” on the boat and Salvini’s “unconceivable response” in refusing docking.

“But right now, Spain is the only country ready to receive (the boat),” Sanchez’ office said.

But a spokeswoman for the Spanish NGO, Laura Lanuza, said undertaking such a long voyage to Spain would be “crazy.”

“There is anxiety, bouts of violence, control is becoming increasingly difficult,” she said. “To embark on a six-day sailing with these people on board who are at the very limit of their possibilities would be crazy. We can’t put their health and lives at risk.”

Salvini earlier on Sunday told the ship to go to Spain, and, in a tweet, contended that Open Arms was staying anchored off Lampedusa “just to provoke me and Italy.”

Spain and five other countries have offered to take the migrants, dividing them among themselves, but that didn’t change Salvini’s mind against docking.

Open Arms contended that Salvini is using the 107 migrants for “xenophobic and racist propaganda.”

In a separate tweet, Camps blasted Salvini of exploiting the lives of migrants for political gain. “What more does @matteosalvinimi need for his political campaign? Deaths?”

On Tuesday, Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte addresses the Senate, where Salvini’s party has submitted a no-confidence vote against him, even though the League is the 14-month-old, government’s junior coalition partner. Conte could resign, possibly paving the way for an election in a couple of months just as Salvini’s popularity is soaring in opinion polls.

Trump Economic Adviser Dismisses Fears of Looming Recession

Mon, 08/19/2019 - 02:36

President Donald Trump’s top economic adviser is playing down fears of a looming recession after last week’s sharp drop in the financial markets and predicting the economy will perform well in the second half of 2019.

Larry Kudlow said in Sunday television interviews that consumers are seeing higher wages and are able to spend and save more.

“No, I don’t see a recession,” Kudlow said. “We’re doing pretty darn well in my judgment. Let’s not be afraid of optimism.”

A strong economy is key to Trump’s reelection prospects. Consumer confidence has dropped 6.4% since July. The president has spent most of the week at his golf club in New Jersey with much of his tweeting focused on talking up the economy.

Recession Fears Prompt Many to Rethink Global Economic Integration Downturn now could lead to major realignment of global trade 

Kudlow acknowledged a slowing energy sector, but said low interest rates will help housing, construction and auto sales.

Kudlow also defended the president’s use of tariffs on goods coming from China. Before he joined the administration, Kudlow was known for opposing tariffs and promoting free trade during his career as an economic analyst. Kudlow said Trump has taught him and others that the “China story has to be changed and reformed.”

“We cannot let China pursue these unfair and unreciprocal trading practices,” Kudlow said.

Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke said the U.S. needed to work with allies to hold China accountable on trade. He said he fears Trump is driving the global economy into a recession.

“This current trade war that the president has entered our country into is not working,” O’Rourke said. “It is hammering the hell out of farmers across this country.”

Explainer Recession video player. Embed" />CopyWhat is a recession?

Last month, the Federal Reserve reduced its benchmark rate — which affects many loans for households and businesses — by a quarter-point to a range of 2% to 2.25%. It’s the first rate cut since December 2008 during the depths of the Great Recession. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell stressed that the Fed was worried about the consequences of Trump’s trade war and sluggish economies overseas.

“Weak global growth and trade tensions are having an effect on the U.S. economy,” he said.

Breaking with historical norms, Trump has been highly critical of Powell as he places blame for any economic weakness on the nation’s central bank for raising interest rates too much over the past two years.

Peter Navarro, who advises Trump on trade policy, shared that sentiment.

“The Federal Reserve chairman should look in the mirror and say, ‘I raised rates too far, too fast, and I cost this economy a full percentage point of growth,’” Navarro said.

Navarro also said that U.S. consumers are not affected by the administration’s trade war with China, though tariffs are taxes paid by U.S. importers, not by China, and are often passed along to U.S. businesses and consumers through higher prices.

Kudlow himself told Fox in May that U.S. consumers and businesses ultimately end up paying the tariffs that the administration imposes on billions of dollars of Chinese goods.

Trump acknowledge at least a potential impact when he paused a planned 10 percent tariff hike for many items coming from China, such as cellphones, laptops, video game consoles, some toys, computer monitors, shoes and clothing.

“We’re doing (it) just for Christmas season, just in case some of the tariffs could have an impact,” the president told reporters in New Jersey.

Navarro would not go even that far, saying Sunday “there’s no evidence whatsoever that Americans consumers are bearing any of this.”

Kudlow was interviewed on NBC’s “Meet the Press” and “Fox News Sunday.” O’Rourke spoke on NBC, and Navarro appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union” and CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

Trump’s trade war with China has been a target of criticism by Democrats vying to challenge him in 2020.

“There is clearly no strategy for dealing with the trade war in a way that will actually lead to results for American farmers or American consumers,” said Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, a Democratic presidential candidate. He said on CNN that it was “a fool’s errand” to think tariff increases will compel China to change its economic approach.

Merkel: We're prepared for Any Brexit Outcome

Sun, 08/18/2019 - 23:56

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Sunday that she would meet British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday evening to discuss Britain's planned departure from the European Union, adding that Berlin was also prepared for a disorderly Brexit.

Johnson is seeking to persuade European Union leaders to
reopen Brexit talks or face the prospect of its second-largest
member leaving abruptly on Oct. 31 with no deal in place to
mitigate the economic shock — a move that businesses expect
would cause major disruption.

"We are glad of every visit, and you have to talk, and you
have to find good solutions," Merkel said during a panel
discussion at the Chancellery.

"We are prepared for any outcome, we can say that, even if
we do not get an agreement. But at all events I will make an
effort to find solutions — up until the last day of
negotiations," she added.

"I think it's always better to leave with an agreement than
without one. But if that's not possible, we'll be prepared for
the alternative as well."

The Sunday Telegraph newspaper reported that Johnson would
tell Merkel that the British parliament could not stop Brexit.

 

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