Month: August 2019

Thousands Protest British PM’s Move to Suspend Parliament 

Thousands of people across Britain and Northern Ireland protested on Saturday against Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend Parliament for about a month before the deadline for the country to leave the European Union. 
Johnson has pledged to take Britain out of the EU on Oct. 31 with or without a deal on future relations with the bloc. The move to shut Parliament for around a month in the period before that will hinder efforts by his opponents to stop him. About 2,000 people gathered outside his office in Downing Street, chanting: “Liar Johnson, shame on you!” 
A sign read: “#StopTheCoup. Defend our Democracy. Save our future.” 

Nothing abnormal

The government says it is usual for Parliament to be suspended before a new prime minister outlines his policy program in a queen’s speech, now scheduled for Oct. 14. His supporters also say Parliament usually breaks in late September, when the main political parties hold their annual conferences. 
But his critics say the suspension, known as a prorogation, is unusually long and describe the move as a thinly veiled attempt to reduce the time that lawmakers will have to debate before Britain leaves the EU at the end of October. 
Opposition lawmakers want to prevent the shutdown of Parliament and pass legislation to avoid a no-deal Brexit when they return from summer recess on Tuesday. 
Protests were scheduled in other major cities in the four nations of the United Kingdom, comprising England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.  

A crowd gathers to protest against British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend Parliament, in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Aug. 31, 2019.

About 100 people protested outside the city hall in Belfast, the capital of the Northern Ireland, which has become a particular focus in the Brexit negotiations because it has the United Kingdom’s only land border with the European Union. 
The “backstop” insurance policy, part of the withdrawal agreement negotiated between the EU and Britain’s former prime minister and which aims to keep the border with Ireland open, has become the main sticking point in negotiations. 
Johnson wants the backstop removed, saying it could leave Northern Ireland operating under different regulatory rules than the rest of the United Kingdom. The EU and Ireland say Britain has yet to come up with acceptable alternatives. 

Court case

A court case being heard in Belfast next week aims to block Johnson’s suspension of Parliament on the ground that a no-deal Brexit would breach the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to the British-run province of Northern Ireland. 
Protesters said the government had failed to consider the importance of the border issue. 
“The thing that scares me most is they have no appreciation of what is important for Northern Ireland. We are not on their radar,” said Graham Glendinning, 49, a software worker. “The border means nothing to them and they don’t give two hoots about it.” 

Trump Tweets, Golfs Amid Hurricane Preparations

After canceling a trip to Poland to stay stateside to oversee the federal government’s response to an approaching hurricane, President Donald Trump took time out to golf and to send a thinly veiled warning to his ousted Oval Office gatekeeper.

The president, on Saturday morning, was flown on Marine One from Camp David in Maryland to his Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Virginia.
Camp David has a driving range and a single golf hole with multiple tees, but the president, keeping to his weekend routine when the weather is fair, chose to head to the nearest of his private 18-hole courses.

Before departing the presidential retreat, which he rarely has used, Trump dispatched a blizzard of tweets – at a rate of nearly one per minute over an hour – on his personal @realDonaldTrump account.

Some of his tweets referenced Hurricane Dorian, a Category 4 storm poised to damage the southeastern U.S. coast, with Trump noting it could pose more of a threat to South Carolina and Georgia than the original forecast of landfall in Florida.

Looking like our great South Carolina could get hit MUCH harder than first thought. Georgia and North Carolina also. It’s moving around and very hard to predict, except that it is one of the biggest and strongest (and really wide) that we have seen in decades. Be safe!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 31, 2019

“He’s being briefed every hour” about the hurricane, according to White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham.

Amid continuing questions about why Trump postponed his trip to Poland for a hurricane that is not expected to hit any of the United States until after the time the president would have returned from Europe, Grisham said, “Obviously, being here domestically is better. … We’re more nimble and all his agencies are here.” 

After time at his golf course, Trump was to receive another briefing, back at Camp David, about the hurricane.

On Sunday, Trump is scheduled to return to the White House and then visit the headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency in downtown Washington.

FILE – President Donald Trump’s personal secretary Madeleine Westerhout stands outside the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, April 2, 2018.

A pair of Saturday tweets by Trump focused on the abrupt departure of Oval Office gatekeeper Madeleine Westerhout, who had dished gossip to a group of reporters during an off-the-record dinner and drinking session about the president’s eating habits. She also disparaged daughter Tiffany Trump, claiming the president does not like being photographed with her because he thinks she is overweight.

Book publishers reportedly have been seeking to contact Westerhout after she was not permitted to return on Friday to her job as a personal assistant to the president.

Trump, on Twitter, said Westerhout had signed a confidentially agreement, but “I don’t think there would ever be reason to use it. She called me yesterday to apologize, had a bad night. I fully understood and forgave her! I love Tiffany, doing great!”

While Madeleine Westerhout has a fully enforceable confidentiality agreement, she is a very good person and I don’t think there would ever be reason to use it. She called me yesterday to apologize, had a bad night. I fully understood and forgave her! I love Tiffany, doing great!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 31, 2019

In a subsequent tweet, the president claimed he is “currently suing several people for violating their confidentiality agreements,” including former White House aide Omarosa Manigault Newman, who was fired after one year as the communications director in the White House Office of Public Liaison.

…Yes, I am currently suing various people for violating their confidentiality agreements. Disgusting and foul mouthed Omarosa is one. I gave her every break, despite the fact that she was despised by everyone, and she went for some cheap money from a book. Numerous others also!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 31, 2019

A number of former federal lawyers and private attorneys rebutted Trump on Twitter, asserting that the non-disclosure agreements are not legally enforceable unless classified information is revealed.

Trump himself is facing some criticism about revealing sensitive U.S. government information after he tweeted on Friday a detailed photograph of a launchpad explosion of an Iranian rocket that was set to put a satellite into space.  

Analysts say the public release of an image with such resolution is unprecedented and was probably taken by a KH-11 American spy satellite known as USA-224.

“We had a photo and I released it, which I have the absolute right to do,” Trump told reporters on Friday.

U.S. presidents are able to declassify information at their discretion – the most prominent example being John Kennedy’s decision in 1962 to make public pictures taken by a U-2 spy plane that revealed Soviets troops were placing missiles in Cuba aimed at the United States.


9 FARC Rebels Killed in Raid by Colombian Military

The Colombian military has killed nine rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces in Colombia (FARC), President Ivan Duque said.

A FARC commander and eight other guerrillas were killed in a bombing raid in southern Colombia on Friday, just days after the group announced it was taking up arms again to ensure their political rights under an historic peace agreement.

Duque said the attack occurred in the municipality of San Vicente del Caguan, located in the province of Caqueta, after he authorized a military operation in rural areas in the southern part of the country.

Duque said Friday’s bombing sends “a clear message” to FARC members to lay down their weapons.

Among those killed was a rebel known by his alias, Gildardo Cucho, a member of a group led by former FARC chief negotiator Luciano Marin, who was trying to recruit potential rebels for a new guerrilla movement.

On Thursday, former FARC commander Ivan Marquez announced in a video that a new offensive would be launched, three years after FARC signed a peace deal with the government, ending five decades of armed conflict in the South American country.

“This is the continuation of the rebel fight in answer to the betrayal of the state,” Marquez, in a 32-minute YouTube video. “We were never beaten or defeated ideologically, so the struggle continues.”

Marquez, a former chief rebel negotiator, appeared alongside some 20 heavily armed guerrillas when he made the announcement, which comes amid severe challenges to the complex peace agreement.

In response to the FARC announcement, Duque said “Colombia takes no threats. Not of any nature.”

Colombia’s peace tribunal also has issued arrest warrants for Marquez and the others who have pledged to take up the insurgency again.

President Duque is offering an $863,000 reward for information leading to the capture of anyone who appeared in the YouTube video, according to Reuters.

Hundreds of former rebels and human rights activists have been murdered since the accord was signed.  That, coupled with delays in funding for economic efforts by former rebels — has exacerbated deep political divisions within the country.

Marquez said the group’s objective is to ensure the installation of a government that will promote peace. Marquez said the group will fight corruption and fracking (the hydraulic fracturing crude oil extraction process) and demand payments from participants in illicit economies and from multinational corporations.

About 7,000 rebels surrendered their weapons to United Nations observers as part of the agreement that was negotiated with the support of the United States, Cuba and Norway. But smaller rebel groups and drug traffickers have filled the void, leaving many citizens frustrated with the slow pace of implementing the agreement.

Security sources estimate the force commanded by Marquez could number 2,200 fighters.


Many From Africa, Haiti Seek Asylum at US Southern Border

While most migrants who arrive at America’s southern border are from the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, the U.S. Border Patrol in Texas’ Del Rio Sector reports apprehending people from more than 50 countries in the last year. VOA’s Ramon Taylor and Victoria Macchi spoke with asylum-seeking families who have journeyed across the Atlantic and through the Americas en route to the US-Mexico border, desperate for a new beginning.

Is Russia Using Patriotism as a Political Tool?

In Russia, countrywide celebrations have been held to mark the 350th anniversary of the national flag. Yet, only 50 percent of respondents polled in a recent survey could correctly name the sequence of the colors on the flag. Russia recently saw a surge of patriotic celebrations orchestrated by local and federal authorities. Yulia Savchenko has more from Moscow on the state-promoted events.

Teenage Climate Star Greta Thunberg Takes Her Friday School Strike to UN

Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg took her Friday school strikes to the gates of the United Nations, surrounded by hundreds of other young activists, calling on adults to take action on climate change. Thunberg will speak at a climate change summit of world leaders next month at the U.N. General Assembly. VOA’s Diplomatic Correspondent Cindy Saine has more from Washington.

Valerie Harper, TV’s ‘Rhoda,’ Dies at 80

Valerie Harper, who scored guffaws and stole hearts as Rhoda Morgenstern on back-to-back hit sitcoms in the 1970s, has died. She was 80. 
Longtime family friend Dan Watt confirmed Harper died Friday, adding the family wasn’t immediately releasing any further details.  

Harper was a breakout star playing the lovable sidekick on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” then as the funny leading lady of the spinoff series “Rhoda.” 
In March 2013, she revealed that she had been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. She had battled lung cancer in 2009, and her husband-manager said recently that he’d been advised to place her in hospice. 
Harper appeared on Broadway and in feature films, including “Freebie and the Bean” and “Chapter Two.” 

Trial in 9/11 Case at Guantanamo to Start in Early 2021

A military judge set a date Friday in early 2021 for the start of the long-stalled war crimes trial of five men being held at the Guantanamo Bay prison on charges of planning and aiding the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Air Force Col. W. Shane Cohen set the start date in an order setting motion and evidentiary deadlines in a case that has been bogged down in pretrial litigation. The five defendants were arraigned in May 2012.

In setting the Jan. 11, 2021, start, Cohen noted that the trial at the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, “will face a host of administrative and logistics challenges.”

The U.S. has charged the five with war crimes that include terrorism, hijacking and nearly 3,000 counts of murder for their alleged roles planning and providing logistical support to the Sept. 11 plot. They could get the death penalty if convicted at the military commission, which combines elements of civilian and military law.

The five defendants include Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, a senior al-Qaida figure who has portrayed himself as the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks and other terrorist plots.

Mohammad and his four co-defendants have been held at Guantanamo since September 2006 after several years in clandestine CIA detention facilities following their capture.

Tanzanian Journalist’s Lawyer Presses for Trial, Medical Care

Peter Clottey of VOA’s English to Africa service contributed to this report.

A lawyer for Tanzanian investigative journalist Erick Kabendera on Friday asked that he get a speedy trial and medical attention after more than four weeks of incarceration.

Appearing with Kabendera at a hearing in magistrate’s court in Dar es Salaam, attorney Jebra Kambole asked that the journalist’s case be resolved quickly. It was adjourned for the third time until Sept. 12, according to Reuters news service, reportedly because the prosecution’s investigation is continuing.

Kabendera was arrested at his home July 29 over what authorities at the time said were problems with his citizenship. He subsequently was charged with involvement in organized crime, money laundering and tax evasion.

Kabendera is being held at Segerea prison on the city’s outskirts.

Kambole later told VOA, in a phone interview, that he had asked prison authorities to allow the journalist to be taken to a state hospital for treatment of respiratory and leg problems that have developed during his incarceration.

“The last time we sit and talk,” Kambole said, the journalist had experienced faintness and leg numbness. “He cannot walk properly.”

Kabendera has been critical of President John Magufuli’s administration and the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi party in stories for The Guardian, The East African and The Times of London.

On Thursday, ahead of the court hearing, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) called for authorities to drop all charges against Kandera.

In a statement, the IFJ cited its concern “that the journalist’s arrest and the confused prosecution based on spurious charges are an attempt to hide what merely is a ruthless retaliation against Kabendera for his reporting.”

After Kabendera’s arrest, the United States and Britain raised concerns about the “steady erosion of due process” in the east African country. Their governments put out a joint statement raising concern about “the irregular handling of the arrest, detention and indictment” of Kabendera.

Syrian Troops to Start Unilateral Cease-Fire in Idlib

The Russian military says Syrian government forces will begin a unilateral cease-fire in the northwestern province of Idlib in the coming hours.

The Russian military reconciliation center says the cease-fire will go into effect Saturday morning at 6 a.m. (0300 GMT).
 Friday’s report comes as government forces have intensified their offensive over the past weeks capturing rebel-held areas in Hama province and nearby Idlib, the last major rebel stronghold in the country.

 The Russian military called on the opposition to end “provocations” and engage in peaceful settlement.

Russia is a main backer of Syrian government forces.

The announcement came as hundreds of protesters in Idlib marched toward a border crossing with Turkey demanding that Ankara either open the border or demand an end to the government attack.

China Denies Visa, Expelling Wall Street Journal Reporter

Chinese authorities have declined to renew the press credentials of a Beijing-based Wall Street Journal reporter, effectively expelling a journalist who extensively covered President Xi Jinping and Communist Party politics.

The foreign ministry said Friday in response to a faxed question about Singaporean reporter Chun Han Wong’s visa that some foreign journalists with the “evil intention to smear and attack China” are “not welcome.”

The action comes one month after Wong co-wrote a story detailing an Australian investigation into alleged links between Xi’s cousin and money laundering and suspected organized crime.

A spokesperson for Dow Jones, the WSJ’s parent company, said in a statement that authorities declined to renew Wong’s press credentials. The spokesperson said the company is looking into the matter but did not elaborate.

Wong declined to comment.

Uganda: Traveling Girl from Congo Dies of Ebola

A 9-year-old Congolese girl who tested positive for Ebola in neighboring Uganda has died, officials said Friday, as the World Health Organization said that the outbreak has neared 3,000 cases.

The young girl’s body will be repatriated with her mother back to Congo for a funeral, according to Dr. Eddy Kasenda, Ebola representative in the Congolese border town of Kasindi.

“We are finalizing the administrative formalities so that the body is repatriated and buried here in Congo, her native country,” Kasenda said. “We are collaborating with the health services of neighboring Uganda and we will strengthen the sanitary measures here in Kasindi.”

A Ugandan official at the hospital where the girl had been in isolation confirmed her death overnight. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.

The girl, who was traveling with her mother, was identified at a border screening Wednesday as a possible Ebola patient and isolated.

Porous borders
Although cases of cross-border contamination have been rare, this case highlights the risk of Ebola spreading across the border into neighboring Uganda and Rwanda. Borders in the region are often porous, and many people traveling at night use bush paths to cross over.  

FILE – School-going pupils from the Democratic Republic of Congo cross the Mpondwe border point separating Uganda and the DRC, Aug. 14, 2019.

In June, a family of Congolese with some sick family members crossed into Uganda via a bush path. Two of them later died of Ebola, and the others were transferred back to Congo.

Uganda has had multiple outbreaks of Ebola and hemorrhagic fevers since 2000.

Because the 9-year-old Ebola victim passed through an official entry point this week, Ugandan health authorities believe she had no contact with any Ugandan.

Ebola has killed nearly 2,000 people in eastern Congo since August 2018. The disease is spread through contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person.

WHO said Friday that cases have reached 3,000 in Congo, with 1,893 confirmed deaths and some 900 survivors. An average of 80 people per week are sickened by the virus, which has infected most people in Congo’s North Kivu province. 
The Ebola outbreak in eastern Congo hasn’t shown signs of slowing down despite new treatments and vaccines given to more than 200,000 people in the region and the use of two therapeutic treatments being used as part of a clinical trial. 

Insecurity has been one factor in a region where rebel groups have fought for control of mineral-rich lands for decades. Ebola also has spread because of mistrust by communities who have also staged attacks against health workers. Many people in eastern Congo don’t trust doctors and other medics.

“Many people are afraid to seek treatment for illnesses, worried they will be sent to an Ebola Treatment Center where they fear they could contract the disease. As an actor within the response, we must assume our own responsibility,” said Bob Kitchen, Vice President of Emergencies at the International Rescue Committee. “One year into the response, the lack of community acceptance remains the single greatest obstacle to containing the outbreak. Building trust with the community doesn’t just mean dialogue with the affected population. It means working with the community to adapt the response and address the overall needs they are facing inside and outside of the Ebola outbreak.”

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus will travel this weekend to Congo with United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and senior officials, including Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.

On Friday, he called on partners to increase their presence in the field. 
“Our commitment to the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is that we will work alongside them to stop the Ebola outbreak,” Ghebreyesus said. “Our commitment also means strengthening the health systems to give them all the other things they need. Building strong systems is what will protect people, communities and the world.”

Ten Democrats Set to Debate Next Month in Houston

The lineup is now set for the next Democratic presidential debate in September. A total of 10 Democratic contenders qualified for the debate in Houston, Sept. 12, half the number of the previous two debates that were held over two nights. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more on who is in the next debate and what it means for the race to pick a Democratic presidential nominee.

Prospects Dim for Millions of Refugee Children Who Aren’t in School

A report by the U.N. refugee agency finds more than half of the world’s refugee children, about 3.7 million, do not go to school and will not gain the skills needed to build a productive future.

The statistics on education for refugee children worsen as the children grow older. The report finds 63% of refugee children go to primary school, compared to 91% globally. But that dwindles to only 24% of refugee adolescents getting a secondary education, compared to 84% globally.

Investing in the future

The U.N. refugee agency says lack of money is keeping refugee children out of school. The head of the Global Communications Service and UNHCR spokeswoman, Melissa Fleming, calls the failure to invest in refugee education shortsighted. She says this is not only sad, but also foolish.

“Not investing in refugees, people who have fled warzones, people who have fled countries where the world is interested in the future of peace is not investing—very simply—in the future of its people … who are interested in reconciliation and not revenge.”

The UNHCR is backing a new initiative aimed at kick-starting secondary education for refugees. The initiative will seek to construct and refurbish schools, train teachers and provide financial support to refugee families to cover the expenses of sending their children to school.

Secondary education

Mamadou Dian Balde is UNHCR deputy director of the Department of Resilience and Solutions. He tells VOA some pilot projects on secondary education for refugee adolescents will be conducted before the initiative gets fully underway.

“We are going to start in a very … in a very, I think, resolute manner in a given number of countries in the eastern Horn of Africa, in Asia and then move into a greater number of countries—also being aware of the scarcity of resources in such an initiative.”

The UNHCR says bringing this initiative to fruition will take vast sums of money. But an initial outlay of $250 million will get moving the process of improving refugee enrollment in secondary education.

In India’s Assam State, a Campaign against Illegal Immigrants Jeopardizes Millions

In India’s northeastern Assam state, anxiety and panic is mounting among nearly four million people who fear they may no longer count as Indian citizens although many have lived in the country for decades.

As part of a campaign to root out illegal immigrants, authorities will publish on Saturday a final list of the state’s bonafide citizens.

The hundreds of thousands whose names were excluded from a preliminary list last July have scrambled through a bureaucratic maze for the past year, trying to dig out documents from government offices or engaging lawyers they often cannot afford to fight for their inclusion in the citizens’ register.

Waiting to hear their fate, they fear being packed to detention camps or becoming “stateless” and stripped of benefits such as voting rights.

“People are going around with bundles of hope, wrapped in plastic, waiting for hearings, lining up to get on to the register,” says Sanjoy Hazarika, international director of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative and an Assamese scholar.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses a youth rally organized by the Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) ahead of Assam state elections in Gauhati, India, Jan. 19, 2016.

The process to identify illegal immigrants has the strong backing of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government, although it was mandated before they came to power by a Supreme Court order to update the state’s citizens’ list. Assam had been wracked by an “anti-foreigner movement” in the 1980’s as indigenous communities complained of being swamped by hundreds of thousands of mostly Muslim, illegal migrants from neighboring Bangladesh.

Tracing roots to before 1971

The state’s 33 million residents, many poor and illiterate, were called on to show documentation that they or their ancestors had lived in Assam before Bangladesh’s independence in March 1971. It turned out to be a veritable nightmare for many, say human rights activists.

“Can you imagine working class people like rickshaw pullers keeping with documents dating back 50 years? It’s an incredibly unfair and slanted process where the poor find themselves at the wrong end of the process,” says Colin Gonsalves, a senior lawyer and founder of Human Rights Law Network, who visited Assam to hear about the travails of people running from pillar to post to prove they are of Indian heritage.

Poor people such as daily wage workers in India often have no bank accounts or do not own property.

Critics also point out that the campaign is not targeting recent immigrants but those that may have migrated decades ago.

“Fifty years you have been here, you never thought you would be questioned. You have children, some of them have grandchildren and suddenly you are asked to prove you are Indian,” says Gonsalves. “It’s a thoroughly arbitrary and a biased system.”

Indian children stand by a fence on the India-Bangladesh border at Jhalchar, in the northeastern Indian state of Assam.

The arbitrariness was highlighted when a war veteran, Mohammed Sanaullah was identified as a “foreigner” in May and packed off to a detention camp – he was released days later by the state’s High Court on bail when the case made headlines.

Muslims especially worried

Worries run specially high among Muslims in a state where they make up one third of the population, far higher than in other parts of India. And as many Muslims complain of bias against them, critics have slammed the BJP for exposing communal fault lines and using them as a political target to build their support base in the state.

Among those who have scrambled to prove that they are Indians are 70 members of school principal Mansur Ahmed’s maternal family whose names never made it to the citizens’ list published last year. The problem: his grandfather’s name appeared with different spellings on land records that date back to the 1930’s — a common problem in India, where record keeping in the past was never accurate.

Ahmed says the family has appeared over 12 times before officials hearing appeals. “They are becoming tired, appearing in interviews again and again. Still they are in confusion whether their name will come or not,” he says.  “It is very distressing for all people, specially Muslims, they are in great fear,”

Selling assets to prove citizenship

The BJP has strongly countered charges of anti-Muslim prejudice and pointed out that the 4 million who were excluded from the citizens’ list includes hundreds of thousands of Hindus also.

Many of these poor people have pledged their land or sold their farm animals as they frantically try to raise funds to prove that they are of Indian heritage, according to Mubarak Ali, a retired army soldier who is now with the voluntary group Citizens for Peace and Justice.

“They have to bribe to get documents and sometimes travel as far away as 400 kilometers to appeal at the designated office. And they have to carry all members of the family with them,” he says. “Poor people don’t have so many funds.”

And as tens of thousands stare at uncertainty, Sanjoy Hazarika points out that authorities have not prepared a roadmap on how to deal with those whose names do not figure on the list.

“What happens afterwards? I don’t think governments have addressed that issue very clearly except speaking in rhetorical flourishes,” he says. “The whole thing is a mess.”

Widespread criticism

Deportations are not an option — Bangladesh has said the citizenship exercise is India’s internal matter. But many fear being sent off to detention camps — six in the state already have about 1000 inmates and 10 more are being set up. Or they could just be left in limbo, with no access to rights such as voting, healthcare and education.

The government has said that those excluded can appeal to foreigners tribunals, whose numbers are being expanded. It is also promising legal aid to the poor although it may be difficult for poor people to negotiate long legal battles.

Despite widespread criticism of the controversial exercise, the government is not backing off. In fact, Home Minister Amit Shah, a close aide of Prime Minister Modi, who during an election rally called illegal immigrants “termites,” has said the campaign to root them out will go nationwide. So far Assam is the only state in the country to have a citizens list.

The contentious issue of citizenship has been further muddied by a BJP-backed proposed law that would grant citizenship rights to non Muslims such as Hindus and Sikhs from neighboring countries, but exclude Muslims.

For the time being, all eyes will be on the numbers that do not make it to Assam’s citizen’s register on Saturday — human rights activists worry it could add up to the a massive stateless population.

Outgoing Italian PM Accepts Fresh Mandate to Form New Government

Outgoing prime minister Giuseppe Conte has accepted a fresh mandate from Italy’s head of state to form a new coalition government backed by the populist Five Star Movement and the center-left Democrats party. Markets reacted positively the end to the 3-week political crisis, which could have triggered a snap election. But many in Italy are wondering how long such an alliance will last.

Conte appears determined and convinced he will be capable of establishing a government backed by a new coalition made up of the Five Star Movement and the Democratic Left party. Although the two political groups have been past enemies, they have agreed to unite and work together.

The political crisis was caused by the League leader, Matteo Salvini, who announced three weeks ago he was no longer prepared to work with the Five Star Movement. 

League leader Matteo Salvini gestures as he speaks to the media after consultations with Italian President Sergio Mattarella in Rome, Italy, Aug. 28, 2019.

The decision by the Left Democrats to work with the 5SM stems not only from the desire to enter parliament but also from wanting to avoid a snap general election, which at this time would likely be won by Salvini’s League party.

Coming out of his talks with the Italian president, Conte made clear the new government would not be one “against,” but “for the good of citizens.” 

He added that he would create a government that will represent a “novelty.”

Conte also said Italy is undergoing a very delicate phase and must emerge from this political crisis as quickly as possible.

He sais “we must get down to work immediately, to draw up a budget to avert the VAT hike that will protect savers and offer solid prospects for economic growth and social development.”

The prime minister already has began to hold meetings to reach an agreement on policies and about how to divide the ministerial positions between the two parties, which will make up the new coalition government.

Conte said he expects to go back to the Italian president with a full list in approximately a week. Once the new government is sworn in, it has 10 days to win a no-confidence vote in parliament.

The new alliance and Conte’s good intentions in the name of political stability seem to have averted snap elections, for the time being, and markets reacted positively to the news. But Italians in the streets and political observers see it as an unlikely alliance and fear it is unlikely to last.

For the time being, League leader Salvini’s plans for an early poll may have been thwarted and his move certainly backfired as he now will be relegated to the opposition. But it remains to be seen whether the move will, in fact, further increase his already soaring popularity.

Nigerian Trafficking Survivors Lack Support, Report Shows

Nigerian trafficking survivors who escape a life as sex workers or slaves are not getting enough support from their government, Human Rights Watch says.

A 90-page report shows that women and girls are being held in slavery-like conditions inside Nigeria, and reveals accounts of unlawful detentions in shelters. However, officials from Nigeria’s anti-human trafficking agency condemn the report. 

Six years ago, a Nigerian woman named Adaura was lured to Libya to work as a domestic servant when she was 18 years old. Once there, she says she was forced into prostitution, then abducted by Islamic State terrorists and held captive for three years. 

“They took us to an underground prison,” Adaura said. 

With the help of Libyan soldiers and the International Organization for Migration, she escaped and returned to Nigeria. 

But in Nigeria, she faced another set of problems. 

Human Rights Watch says Adaura was detained by Nigeria’s National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons, or NAPTIP. The federal government agency is tasked with helping trafficked victims, but Adaura says she was not allowed to leave one of its shelters, and she struggled to fend off thoughts of killing herself.

Report’s findings

Like Adaura, thousands of Nigerian women and girls have been trafficked within Nigeria and to other countries in the past three decades.

Nigeria is routinely listed as one of the countries with large numbers of trafficking victims overseas, particularly in Europe, with victims identified in more than 34 countries in 2018, according to the U.S. State Department Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.

Adaura is one of the 76 trafficking survivors in Nigeria whom Human Rights Watch interviewed in a report released this week, called “‘You Pray for Death’: Trafficking of Women and Girls in Nigeria.” 

Girls as young as 8 years old are included. The report accuses Nigerian authorities of not doing enough to take care of repatriated women and girls, and claims they are kept in slavery-like conditions after they’ve escaped exploitation as sex workers or slaves. 

Human Rights Watch says the survivors struggle with issues like anxiety and depression, insomnia and flashbacks. 

Agnes Odhiambo, a senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, spoke at a press conference this week in Abuja.

“The national anti-trafficking agency is locking, detaining many of these survivors in its shelters,” she said, adding that the detained women were not allowed to communicate with their families for months on end.

Survivors’ interviews

A 24-year-old woman named Gladness, who is featured in the report, said she was kept in a NAPTIP shelter for about three weeks.

Gladness was quoted as saying she was not told when she would be going home.

Another woman, 18-year-old Ebunoluwa, said there were too many rules at the NAPTIP shelter and that her phone was confiscated.

“We are forced to wake up with a bell to pray. I have not been told when I will go home,” she said in the report.

Abdulganiyu Abubakar, director of the Save the Child Initiative in Nigeria, says NAPTIP should make sure that the shelters are comfortable and that people are not being held against their will. 

NAPTIP response

The director general of NAPTIP, Julie Okah-Donli, denied the accusations when speaking to journalists this week. 

“The entire report is a mere figment of the imagination of the writers, as the narratives fall below the standards of the operations of our shelters,” she said.

The shelters are supposed to be temporary spaces to help trafficking survivors with their basic and immediate needs like medical care, skills acquisition and financial assistance, all part of the NAPTIP’s victims’ support assistance program.

However, Human Rights Watch says NAPTIP relies too heavily on the shelters which, with their high walls and manned gates, trigger painful memories for some trafficking survivors. 

Today, Adaura is learning how to be a hairdresser, with NAPTIP paying for her training. The agency also helped her go to a hospital, where she was diagnosed with an ulcer. 

NAPTIP was set up in 2003 to address the scourge of human trafficking and help repatriated victims settle back in Nigeria.

Human Rights Watch is calling on Nigerian authorities to do more, like make it easier for survivors of trafficking to access community leaders, social workers, educators, health workers and religious leaders. It also encourages community-based rehabilitation and reintegration programs, as opposed to sub-standard shelters. 

Venezuela’s Maduro Says Settlement Talks Could Soon Resume

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro says his representatives could return to negotiations with the opposition in talks he abruptly halted earlier this month.

Maduro said in an interview released Thursday that “good news” could come in the next few days about settlement talks hosted by Norway. He’s under pressure to leave power from opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who has backing from the United States and more than 50 other nations.

“Contacts with Venezuelan opposition delegates have resumed,” Maduro said in an interview with the Chinese state-run Xinhua News Agency. “The next few days will bring good news about the dialogue.”

Maduro ended the talks this month when the Trump administration hit his government with a new round of punishing economic sanctions. The measures froze all Venezuela’s U.S. assets and blocks companies and individuals from doing business with Maduro’s government.

The socialist Maduro said in the interview that his representatives are in contact with the opposition as well as Norwegian officials who have overseen the talks held on the Caribbean island of Barbados.

Maduro, who often calls Guaidó a puppet of the U.S. capitalist empire, remains in power with backing from the Venezuelan military and international allies including Cuba, Russia, China and Turkey.

Venezuela’s opposition hasn’t commented, but Guaidó has said that he expected Maduro’s representatives to return to the talks because they have no other options.

The possibility of resumed dialogue comes amid a historic economic and political crisis in Venezuela that has driven more than 4 million people to flee the country in recent years.

Furry Hero: UK Honors Dog Who Stopped White House Intruder

A four-legged hero who saved then-President Barack Obama from a White House intruder is now an award-winner in Britain.

Hurricane, a former Secret Service dog, has earned the Order of Merit from British veterinary charity PDSA. He’s the first foreigner to win the honor, to be bestowed at a London ceremony in October.

The Belgian Malinois intercepted an intruder who scaled the White House fence in October 2014. The intruder swung Hurricane around, punching and kicking him, but the dog dragged him to the ground, allowing Secret Service agents to intercept him. Obama, home at the time, was not harmed. 

Handler Marshall Mirarchi described Hurricane as a “legend” within the service after the attack. Mirarchi said injuries suffered in the incident contributed to Hurricane’s 2016 retirement from the Secret Service.

Farmers’ Loyalty to Trump Tested Over New Corn-Ethanol Rules

When President Donald Trump levied tariffs on China that scrambled global markets, farmer Randy Miller was willing to absorb the financial hit. Even as the soybeans in his fields about an hour south of Des Moines became less valuable, Miller saw long-term promise in Trump’s efforts to rebalance America’s trade relationship with Beijing.

“The farmer plays the long game,” said Miller, who grows soybeans and corn and raises pigs in Lacona. “I look at my job through my son, my grandkids. So am I willing to suffer today to get this done to where I think it will be better for them? Yes.”

But the patience of Miller and many other Midwest farmers with a president they mostly supported in 2016 is being put sorely to the test.

The trigger wasn’t Trump’s China tariffs, but the waivers the administration granted this month to 31 oil refineries so they don’t have to blend ethanol into their gasoline. Since roughly 40% of the U.S. corn crop is turned into ethanol, it was a fresh blow to corn producers already struggling with five years of low commodity prices and the threat of mediocre harvests this fall after some of the worst weather in years.

“That flashpoint was reached and the frustration boiled over, and this was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” says Lynn Chrisp, who grows corn and soybeans near Hastings, Nebraska, and is president of the National Corn Growers Association.
“I’ve never seen farmers so tired, so frustrated, and they’re to the point of anger,” says Kelly Nieuwenhuis, a farmer from Primghar in northwest Iowa who said the waivers were a hot topic at a recent meeting of the Iowa Corn Growers Association. Nieuwenhuis said he voted for Trump in 2016, but now he’s not sure who he’ll support in 2020.

While Iowa farmer Miller saw Trump’s brinkmanship with China as a necessary gamble to help American workers, the ethanol waivers smacked to him of favoritism for a wealthy and powerful industry _ Big Oil.

“That’s our own country stabbing us in the back,” Miller said. “That’s the president going, the oil companies need to make more than the American farmer. … That was just, `I like the oil company better or I’m friends with the oil company more than I’m friends with the farmer.”

The Environmental Protection Agency last month kept its annual target for the level of corn ethanol that must be blended into the nation’s gasoline supply under the Renewable Fuel Standard at 15 billion gallons (56.78 billion liters) for 2020. That was a deep disappointment to an ethanol industry that wanted a higher target to offset exemptions granted to smaller refiners. Those waivers have cut demand by an estimated 2.6 billion gallons (9.84 billion liters) since Trump took office.

At least 15 ethanol plants already have been shut down or idled since the EPA increased waivers under Trump, and a 16th casualty came Wednesday at the Corn Plus ethanol plant in the south-central Minnesota town of Winnebago. The Renewable Fuels Association says the closures have affected more than 2,500 jobs.

The 31 new waivers issued this month came on top of 54 granted since early 2018, according to the association. While the waivers are intended to reduce hardships on small oil refiners, some beneficiaries include smaller refineries owned by big oil companies.

The administration knows it has a problem. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said at a farm policy summit in Decatur, Illinois, on Wednesday that Trump will take action to soften the effects. He would not say what the president might do or when, but said Trump believes the waivers by his EPA were “way overdone.”

Geoff Cooper, head of the Renewable Fuels Association, said the heads of the EPA and Agriculture Department and key White House officials have been discussing relief, and said his group has been talking with officials involved in those conversations. He said they’ve heard the plan may include reallocating the ethanol demand lost from the exempted smaller refiners to larger refiners that would pick up the slack, but many key details remain unclear, including whether the reallocation would apply in 2020 or be delayed until 2021.

“Anything short of that redistribution or reallocation is not going to be well received by farmers, I’ll tell you that,” Cooper said.

The White House referred questions to the EPA, where spokesman Michael Abboud said that the agency would “continue to consult” on the best path forward.

Meanwhile, the oil industry has spoken out against some of the steps Trump has taken to try to appease the farmers, including allowing year-round sales of gasoline with more ethanol mixed in.

“We hope the administration walks back from the brink of a disastrous political decision that punishes American drivers. Bad policy is bad politics,” Frank Macchiarola, a vice president for the American Petroleum Institute trade group, said in a statement.

Another example of the tensions came last week when the Agriculture Department pulled its staffers out of the ProFarmer Crop Tour, an annual assessment of Midwest crop yields, in response to an unspecified threat. The agency said it came from “someone not involved with the tour” and Federal Protective Services was investigating.

Despite farmers’ mounting frustrations, there’s little evidence so far that many farmers who backed Trump in 2016 will desert him in 2020. Many are still pleased with his rollbacks in other regulations. Cultural issues such as abortion or gun rights are important to many of them. And many are wary of a Democratic Party they see as growing more liberal.

Miller, too, says he’s still inclined to support Trump in the next election.

Though Trump has inserted new uncertainty into Miller’s own financial situation, he believes the president has been good for the economy as a whole. And as a staunch opponent of abortion, he sees no viable alternatives in the Democratic presidential field.

Chrisp, too, says he doesn’t see an acceptable Democratic alternative. Still, he cautioned Republicans against taking farmers for granted.

“We’re not a chip in the political game, though I’m certain there are folks who are political strategists who view us that way, but it’s not the case,” he said.

Brian Thalmann, who farms near Plato in south-central Minnesota and serves as president of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association, confronted Perdue at a trade show this month about Trump’s recent statements that farmers are starting to do well again.

“Things are going downhill and downhill very quickly,” Thalmann told Perdue.

Thalmann, who voted for Trump in 2016, said this week that he can’t support him at the moment. He said farmers have worked too hard to build up markets and the reputation of American farm products and “I can’t see agriculture getting dragged down the path it currently is.”


Trump Administration Tightens Citizenship Rules for Children of US Military Abroad

Children born to U.S. citizens stationed abroad as government employees or members of the U.S. military will no longer qualify for automatic American citizenship under a policy change unveiled on Wednesday by the Trump administration.

Effective Oct. 29, parents serving overseas in the U.S. armed forces or other agencies of the federal government would need to go through a formal application process seeking U.S. citizenship on their children’s behalf, the policy states.

Currently, children born to U.S. citizens stationed by their government in a foreign country are legally considered to be “residing in the United States,” allowing their parents to simply obtain a certificate showing the children acquired citizenship automatically.

But an 11-page “policy alert” issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) said the agency found the prevailing policy to be at odds with other parts of federal immigration law. Beyond that, the rationale for the policy change remained unclear.

“USCIS is updating its policy regarding children of U.S. government employees and U.S. armed forces members employed or stationed outside the United States to explain that they are not considered to be ‘residing in the United States’ for purposes of acquiring citizenship,” the memorandum said.

The number of government and military personnel affected by the change was not immediately known, but the revised policy sparked immediate consternation on the part of some organizations representing members of the armed forces.

“Military members already have enough to deal with, and the last thing that they should have to do when stationed overseas is go through hoops to ensure their children are U.S. citizens,” said Andy Blevins, executive director of the Modern Military Association of America.

He urged Congress to take action to address the situation to “ensure our military families don’t suffer the consequences of a reckless administration.”

CNN Apologizes for Misleading Hong Kong Headline  

CNN has apologized for a misleading headline that appeared on its website during its coverage Sunday of the Hong Kong riots.

At one point, a headline reading “Police Use Petrol Bombs and Water Cannons Against Hong Kong Protesters” flashed on the screen.

According to Hong Kong police, officers shot water cannons at barricades, not people, and it was the demonstrators who threw the gasoline bombs.

CNN’s Hong Kong bureau chief Roger Clark admitted in a letter to police that the headline was “erroneous.”

Clark said CNN is “working hard to ensure that reporting of the Hong Kong protests is fair and balanced at all times.”

Swedish Teen Climate Activist Sails Into New York for UN Summit 

Teenage environmental activist Greta Thunberg arrived in New York on Wednesday after crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a zero-emissions sailboat to attend a conference on global warming. 
The 16-year-old Swede set sail from Plymouth, England, on Aug. 14. At 4 a.m., she tweeted:

Land!! The lights of Long Island and New York City ahead.

— Greta Thunberg (@GretaThunberg) August 28, 2019

Thunberg came to the U.S. for the U.N. climate summit and chose to sail rather than fly to avoid the greenhouse gas emissions that come with commercial jet travel. 
Thunberg said she first learned about climate change when she was 8 years old and became very concerned about the future of humanity.  
A few years later, she was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, obsessive-compulsive disorder and selective mutism.  “That basically means I only speak when I think it’s necessary,” she told the audience at a TED Talk last year. “Now is one of those moments.” 
In August 2018, Thunberg stopped attending school on Fridays and took to protesting alone outside the Swedish parliament. She called it a strike intended to draw attention to climate change.  
Thousands of students have since taken up her cause around the world, staying out of school on Fridays and demanding adults do something about climate change. 

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg sails into New York harbor aboard the Malizia II, a zero-emissions yacht, Aug. 28, 2019.

The boat carrying Thunberg, the Malizia II, has the hashtag #FridaysForFuture under “UNITE BEHIND THE SCIENCE” inscribed on the sails.  
The sailboat’s onboard electronics are powered by solar panels and underwater turbines. It has no toilet or fixed shower aboard, no windows below deck and only a small gas cooker to heat up freeze-dried food. 

Thunberg’s boat was greeted by a flotilla of 17 sailboats representing each of the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals on their sails.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed Thunberg on Twitter: 

Welcome to New York, @gretathunberg!

The determination and perseverance shown during your journey should embolden all of us taking part in next month’s #ClimateAction Summit.

We must deliver on the demands of people around the world and address the global climate crisis.

— António Guterres (@antonioguterres) August 28, 2019

Thunberg will speak at the U.N. Climate Action Summit next month and then attend a climate summit in Chile in December. She is taking a year off from school to pursue her activism.  

O’Rourke Campaign Ejects Breitbart Reporter From Event

Beto O’Rourke’s campaign says it ejected a Breitbart News reporter from an event at a South Carolina college because it wanted to ensure that students felt “comfortable and safe.”

Joel Pollak, the conservative web site’s senior editor-at-large, said a Benedict College campus police officer asked him to leave the site of a speech Tuesday by the Democratic presidential candidate. Pollak wrote on Breitbart that a campaign staff member told him he was being ejected because he’d been disruptive at past events.

O’Rourke spokeswoman Aleigha Cavalier on Wednesday said Breitbart walks the line between being news and a perpetrator of hate speech.

She said given Pollak’s “previous hateful reporting” and the sensitivity of the topics being discussed with black students, the campaign asked him to leave.