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Workers From Factory Making Ivanka Trump Shoes Tell of Long Hours, Low Pay, Abuse

A worker with blood dripping from his head marked a low point in the tense, grinding life at a southeastern China factory used by Ivanka Trump and other fashion brands. An angry manager had hit him with the sharp end of a high-heeled shoe.

Workers from the factory, including one current and two former employees who spoke to The Associated Press, reported overtime that stretched past midnight, steep production quotas and crude verbal abuse at Ganzhou Huajian International Shoe City Co. They said beatings were not unheard of, but the shoe attack, which all three say they witnessed last year, was violent enough to stand out.

“He was bleeding right from the middle of the head,” the current worker said.

“There was a lot of blood. He went to the factory’s nurse station, passing by me,” said a second man, who said he quit his job at Huajian because of the long hours and low pay.

The three workers were the first people with direct knowledge of conditions at the Ganzhou factory to speak with reporters. All three spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity, for fear of retribution or arrest.

Last month, three men investigating conditions at the Huajian Group factory in Ganzhou were detained, accused of illegally using secret recording devices to steal commercial secrets. They, like one of the three men AP spoke with, worked with China Labor Watch, a New York group that has been investigating Ivanka Trump’s Chinese suppliers for more than a year. The group said the men were released on bail Wednesday, the final day of their legally mandated 30-day detention period limit.


Li Qiang, founder of China Labor Watch, describes Huajian’s Ganzhou factory as among the worst he has seen in nearly two decades investigating labor abuses. His group says pay can be as low as a dollar an hour, in violation of China’s labor laws. According to China Labor Watch investigators, until recently, workers might get only two days off — or less — per month.

Fake pay stubs

China Labor Watch said the company forced workers to sign fake pay stubs with inflated salary numbers and threatened to fire workers if they didn’t fill in questionnaires about working conditions with pre-approved answers.

Workers also said the company pressured people not to speak with outsiders about conditions at the factory.

In comments to the AP, the Huajian Group declined to respond to specific questions, but broadly denied all allegations, calling them “completely not true to the facts, taken out of context, exaggerated.” The company said it operates lawfully and that China Labor Watch “invented so-called ‘facts’ by illegal means of buying undercover work, which has already affected the enterprise’s normal business seriously and affected the survival and employment of tens of thousands of staff.”

The company noted its significant contribution to the economy and to society, particularly through its employment of disabled people.

Before taking on an official role as an adviser to her father, U.S. President Donald Trump, Ivanka Trump stepped back from day-to-day management of her brand, but she has retained her ownership interest.

In Washington on Tuesday, she spoke at a ceremony unveiling the annual U.S. Trafficking in Persons Report, in which China was demoted to the lowest ranking over its human trafficking record. She said the report was a “clarion call into action in defense of the vulnerable and the exploited.”

She has not commented, however, on the detentions or the reports of poor working conditions at one of her brand’s suppliers. Her spokeswoman declined to comment for this story.

Abigail Klem, president of the Ivanka Trump brand, said that “the integrity of our supply chain is a top priority and we take all allegations very seriously.” The company said its products had not been made in the factory since March, but China Labor Watch said it had an April production schedule indicating that nearly 1,000 pairs of Ivanka Trump shoes were due in May.

Efforts to improve

In the past, some brands have used China Labor Watch’s reports as a tool to help keep their supply chains clean. Walt Disney Co., for example, investigated and ultimately decided to sever its relationship with at least one supplier following reports of poor conditions, and sought to improve labor practices at others.

China Labor Watch outlined its findings in letters sent in June to Ivanka Trump at the White House and to other brands. So far, the group said, it has gotten no response.

The group said it also sent Ivanka Trump a video taken inside the factory in May. That video included a clip in which a manager threatened to rough up a worker who had apparently arranged shoes in the wrong order. The video has not been released to the public, but it was shown to AP at China Labor Watch’s office in New York.

The Marc Fisher footwear company, which has made shoes for Ivanka Trump and Easy Spirit at the Ganzhou factory, has said it would look into the allegations.

G-III Apparel Group, which produces shoes for Karl Lagerfeld, said it had not received a letter but “fully supports the independent monitoring of global supply chains.”

“When workplace safety and fairness issues are brought to our attention, we take them very seriously and work with our partners to resolve them,” G-III spokesman Chris Giglio said in an email.

Ann Taylor spokesman Shawn Buchanan also said that company takes the allegations “very seriously” and is “actively conducting an investigation to assess this facility’s compliance with our code of conduct and applicable laws and regulations.”

The Kendall & Kyle brand said its “footwear manufacturer works with many footwear production factories and all factories are required to operate within strict social compliance regulations.”

Other brands identified by China Labor Watch as customers of the Ganzhou factory include Nine West, Naturalizer and the Camuto Group, which makes shoes for BCBG Max Azria, Jessica Simpson and Tory Burch. None responded to requests for comment.

Some changes for workers

The current Huajian employee who spoke to the AP said life at the factory has changed since the arrests of the three investigators brought the glare of public attention.

Overtime was radically reduced this month, he said. Shifts used to run from 7:10 a.m. until after 9 p.m. or 10 p.m., and sometimes after midnight, with two daily breaks, he and a former employee both said. But for the last few weeks, workers have been released before 7 p.m.

They’re also starting to get every Sunday off, which is standard under Chinese labor law, said the current employee, who also moonlights for China Labor Watch.

City government officials turned up recently, he said, and the factory gave each worker an egg to eat in the middle of the afternoon shift.

Life inside Ganzhou Huajian is focused on a single number — the monthly quota of shoes that must be produced — according to China Labor Watch investigators and workers. A single production line of 50 workers may need to produce close to 30,000 pairs of shoes, depending on seasonal demand, the current employee and one former employee told AP.

Those who miss their targets do not collect their full salaries, said the current employee.

“It is impossible to meet the target, actually, because it just keeps on going up,” the former employee said.

The new, abbreviated working hours are a mixed blessing, the current employee said, because they haven’t been able to meet production targets.

Huajian, meanwhile, has been moving production to Ethiopia, where workers make around $100 a month, much less than what is paid in China, according to Song Yiping, a manager at Huajian’s Ethiopian factory, who spoke to the AP in January. He said he’d heard Trump talk about bringing jobs back to America, but he doubted that would happen with shoes. Even Chinese vocational school dropouts don’t want to work for Ethiopian wages.

“The American clients push down the price,” Song explained. “Consumers want to buy cheaper shoes.”

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У Білорусі звільнили 4 затриманих у справі «Білого легіону»

У Білорусі 28 червні звільнили з СІЗО чотирьох активістів, затриманих у справі «Білого легіону».

За повідомленням білоруської служби Радіо Свобода, серед звільнених Володимир Румянцев, Тимура Пашкевича, Олесь Явдаха і Віктор Данилов.

Ще трьох активістів арештованих за цією справою – Сергія Стрибульського, Олександра Зимнитського і Владимира Федорова – звільнили 27 червня.

У квітні у Білорусі висунули обвинувачення проти понад 20 громадян в організації незаконної збройної групи. У березні поліція Білорусі арештувала членів організацій «Білий легіон», «Патріот», а також опозиційного «Молодого фронту».

Арешти відбулися після того, як президент Білорусі Олександр Лукашенко оголосив, що «озброєні бойовики» були затримані за підозрою в плануванні «збройних провокацій» по всій країні.

Заява Лукашенка пролунала на тлі масових протестів у Білорусі проти так званого «податку для дармоїдів».

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US Lawmakers Ready North Korea Travel Ban

Both chambers of Congress are readying legislation to bar Americans from traveling to North Korea after the death of a U.S. citizen held by Pyongyang and amid the continued detention of three others.

“There’s no question we shouldn’t have people on a willy-nilly basis going to North Korea,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican, said Wednesday. “We should have a travel ban, and we’re working on legislation right now.”

“We need to protect Americans and I think we need to restrict access by Americans because we can’t protect them [in North Korea],” said the committee’s top Democrat, Ben Cardin of Maryland.

The perils of travel to North Korea were highlighted earlier this month by the death of 22-year-old American student Otto Warmbier, who was imprisoned in the country for allegedly stealing a poster, and then was returned to the United States in a coma with fatal brain damage.

Corker said the concern extends beyond the safety of individual American tourists who might be tempted to visit North Korea.

“We’ve got three Americans [detained] there now. It ends up affecting our own national security,” the chairman said. “We’ve seen it happen in Iran and other places. It ends up affecting negotiations, creates leverage [for an adversary]. Having a few Americans in prison someplace ends up having collateral effects on other things that matter greatly to the whole of American citizenry.”

The House Foreign Affairs Committee is expected to take up the North Korea Travel Control Act in a matter of days or weeks. The bill bars tourist travel and would require a special permit for other travel purposes to North Korea. A Senate version is said to be on a similar timetable.

Arguments for, against

In both chambers, restricting travel to North Korea has bipartisan support.

“It’s problematic that Americans travel there,” said Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Warmbier’s home state. “Now we’ve got to get the three Americans out and Americans shouldn’t be traveling there.”

Backing is not universal, however, with some lawmakers bristling at the idea of telling their constituents where they may travel.

“I’m not a fan of travel bans, with Cuba or anywhere,” said Arizona Republican Senator Jeff Flake.

Regardless of what Congress does, Democratic Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia offered some advice for Americans making travel plans.

“I don’t think any American should go to North Korea, whether we bar it or not. It is incredibly foolish to do it,” Kaine said.

Senators spoke after the Foreign Relations Committee received a classified briefing by the State Department’s top North Korea policy specialist. Corker declined to discuss the specifics of the briefing, but said he is less optimistic that a negotiated agreement on Pyongyang’s nuclear program can be reached.

“China is not doing what they said they would do [to pressure Pyongyang],” the chairman said. “Our interests and their interests just don’t align on this.”

VOA’s Katherine Gypson contributed to this report.

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Рада ЄС підтримала додаткові торговельні преференції для України

Рада ЄС 28 червня підтримала угоду про обсяги нових тимчасових торговельних преференцій для України.

«Ці заходи є жестом політичної й економічної підтримки України. Зважаючи на складну ситуацію в Україні, ми сподіваємось швидко почати виконання нових норм», – мовиться у заявіКрістіана Кардони, міністра економіки Мальти, яка зараз головує в Раді ЄС.

Заходи передбачають додаткові квоти за нульового тарифу на ввезення сільськогосподарської продукції. Серед них зокрема 625 тисяч тонн кукурудзи, 325 тисяч тонн ячменю, 65 тисяч тонн пшениці, 2,5 тисяч тонн меду. Також передбачене повне скасування імпортних мит на деякі категорії товарів: добрива, взуття, мідь, алюміній, звукозаписувальна апаратура і фарби.

У вересні 2016 року Єврокомісія схвалила рішення про збільшення торговельних преференцій для України. На початку травня комітет Європарламенту з міжнародної торгівлі схвалив розширення торговельних преференцій для України з деякими винятками для сільськогосподарської продукції. Члени Європарламенту, вносячи зміни в пропозицію Єврокомісії, запропонували виключити з переліку помідори, пшеницю та сировину для добрив.

20 червня комітет частково збільшив торговельні преференції для аграрної й харчової продукції з України.

Очікується, що після всіх формальностей угода набуде чинності до кінця вересня.

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Indian Citizens Protest Mob Attacks Targeting Muslims, Lower Castes

Holding placards that read “Not in My Name,” thousands of citizens demonstrated Wednesday in cities across India to protest recent attacks by mobs and cow vigilante groups on Muslims and lower caste Hindus.

The protests were held amid growing concerns over rising intolerance and criticism that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government is not doing enough to rein in the attacks, usually sparked by suspicion of cow smuggling or the eating of beef.

Wednesday’s citizens campaign to stop lynchings and mob violence was sparked by the killing of a Muslim teenager last week by about 20 men as he was returning home on a train with his brothers after shopping in New Delhi for the Eid festival.

Junaid Khan, 16, was stabbed after an altercation over the sharing of seats. But one of the men arrested said he attacked Khan and his brothers after he was told that they were beef eaters. One of the brothers, who sustained injuries, has said that the attackers “flung our skull caps, and taunted us about eating beef.”

Eating beef is taboo to many Hindus, who regard the cow as a holy animal.

Cow as polarizing

But worry is growing that the cow is becoming a polarizing animal as the Hindu nationalist government tightens laws to protect it.

Another mob attack was reported Wednesday from Jharkhand state, where a man was severely beaten by a mob when a dead cow was found outside his home.

In April, a dairy farmer was killed by a mob in Rajasthan as he carried away cows he had bought at a cattle fair.

Human Rights Watch said in a report in April that at least 10 Muslim men have been killed in vigilante incidents. “Self-appointed cow protectors driven by irresponsible populism are killing people and terrorizing minority communities,” the report said.

Documentary filmmaker Saba Dewan, whose online campaign sparked the protests, said the marches reflect the “anger and grief of the people” at the incidents. Protests were held in major cities such as New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bengaluru and Hyderabad.

On Wednesday, Information and Broadcasting Minister Venkaiah Naidu condemned last week’s attack on the Muslim teenager. “Any incident of such nature should be condemnable. It is brutal, atrocious.”

Government apathy blamed

Naidu’s comments came after opposition parties and critics slammed the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party for failing to speak up against the spate of mob attacks. Many protesters said they are worried the government’s apathy in the face of the assaults could encourage more violence.

Ajoy Bose, an independent political analyst in New Delhi, says while hate crimes are not new and the attacks are sporadic, “What really differentiates this situation is that no one in power has even reacted or responded, kept silent. This somehow gives the impression that there is a tacit approval of what is going on. That is what is worrying.”

Research scholar at a university in New Delhi, Lozaanba Khumbah, from the northeastern state of Manipur where beef is commonly consumed, said he joined the protest because people should not be targeted for their dietary preferences.

“We are a secular country, and it is important for us to discuss with each other when there are differences,” Khumbah said.

Muslim leaders say the mob attacks and lynchings are creating a sense of insecurity in the community, which makes up about 14 percent of India’s population.

“These attacks are creating a fear psychosis,” said Kamal Faruqui of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board.

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У ПАРЄ зібрали понад 100 підписів за відставку Аґрамунта – Ар’єв

У ПАРЄ забрали понад 100 підписів за ініціацію відставки президента Педро Аґрамунта, повідомляє голова української делегації у Парламентській асамблеї Ради Європи Володимир Ар’єв.

«На моїй пам’яті це рекордна кількість підписів, зібраних упродовж двох днів. І це, здається, ще не вечір», – написав Ар’єв 28 червня у Facebook. 

Раніше у середу Педро Аґрамунта виключили зі складу групи Європейської народної партії.

Критика з вимогою відставки Аґрамунта у ПАРЄ почала лунати після того, як у він відвідав Сирію разом з делегацією російських депутатів.

Після критики на свою адресу Аґрамунт вибачився за поїздку. За даними члена української делегації в ПАРЄ Ірини Геращенко, 28 квітня Аграмунт мав намір добровільно подати у відставку, однак він цього не зробив, а процедури відкликання президента в ПАРЄ немає.

У квітні бюро ПАРЄ більшістю голосів висловило недовіру Аґрамунту та відмовило в дозволі здійснювати візити, робити заяви і проводити іншу діяльність на посаді президента ПАРЄ.

На початку червня Володимир Ар’єв повідомляв, що регламентний комітет ПАРЄ ухвалив проект резолюції, яка передбачає можливість імпічменту президента і віце-президента асамблеї.

Водночас, за даними видання «Європейська правда», Парламентська асамблея Ради Європи не голосуватиме щодо відставки свого президента Педро Аґрамунта на поточному сесійному тижні, а відкладе розгляд питання до осені.

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У сімферопольському СІЗО затримані перебувають у нелюдських умовах – Кримська правозахисна група

У СІЗО Сімферополя затриманим не вистачає місця, а в приміщеннях спека і антисанітарія, повідомляє сайт Крим.Реалії із посиланням на Кримську правозахисну групу.

«У камері СІЗО, в якій утримують громадянина України Володимира Балуха, разом з ним перебувають 20 чоловік, але камера розрахована на 16 місць, і ліжок на всіх не вистачає. Розмір камери – 42 кв. метри. Норма санітарної площі в камері на одну особу, встановлена у розмірі 4 кв. м. На даний час на одного ув’язненого в камері припадає трохи більше 2 кв. метрів», – йдеться в повідомленні.

За інформацією правозахисників, людям в СІЗО не вистачає вільного і особистого простору, бо всі особисті речі, включаючи продукти харчування, господарські засоби та засоби гігієни, перебувають у камері і займають багато місця.

«Камери погано освітлені, в ув’язнених псується зір. У приміщеннях антисанітарія – таргани, мурахи та інші комахи. Арештантів кусають блохи і комарі. На прогулянку в’язнів виводять у напіввідкрите приміщення, яке за розміром менше самої камери», – зазначили родичі ув’язнених.

ФСБ Росії затримала Володимира Балуха 8 грудня 2016 року. За повідомленням його дружини, співробітники спецслужби з’явилися з обшуками до села Серебрянка Роздольненського району Криму. Обшуки відбулися в будинках Балуха і його матері. Співробітники ФСБ заявили, що на горищі будинку, де живе Володимир Балух, були виявлені 90 патронів і кілька тротилових шашок.

Як розповіли в Кримській правозахисній групі, на думку Володимира Балуха, увага до нього з боку поліції обумовлено його проукраїнської позицією, яка виражалася відкрито – на території його будинку на флагштоку весь цей час майорів державний прапор України.

Після анексії Криму стали відбуватися арешти та масові обшуки у незалежних журналістів, українських та кримськотатарських активістів і членів Меджлісу. 

Верховна Рада України офіційно оголосила початком тимчасової окупації Криму і Севастополя Росією 20 лютого 2014 року. 7 жовтня 2015 року президент України Петро Порошенко підписав відповідний закон. Міжнародні організації визнали окупацію та анексію Криму незаконними і засудили дії Росії.

Країни Заходу запровадили низку економічних санкцій. Росія заперечує окупацію півострова і називає це «відновленням історичної справедливості.

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Кібератака в Україні не завдала великої шкоди – представник РНБО

У РНБО вважають, що масована кібератака не завдала великої шкоди об’єктам, які потрапили під неї. Про в ефірі Радіо Свобода сказав керівник служби з питань інформаційної безпеки апарату РНБО Валентин Петров.

«Масоване ураження було, але особливої шкоди завдати зловмисникам не вдалося», – сказав він в ефірі Радіо Свобода.

За цими кібератаками, як і за тим, що відбувалися у грудні минулого року, стоїть Росія, заявляють в РНБО.

На запитання, чи є докази причетності російських хакерів, Валентин Петров відповів: «Злочини у сфері високих технологій мають достатньо складні криміналістичні особливості, які важко документувати. Проте процес йде. Якщо казати про грудневі атаки на фінансовий сектор, то у нас вже є конкретні прив’язки до конкретних джерел в Росії. Зараз йде аналогічна робота і по атаках, що відбувалися вчора. Я думаю, що найближчим часом ми вийдемо на конкретний результат, який можна буде представити суспільству. Попередня оцінка підтверджує, що це є російський слід».

Захищатися від кібератак Україні допомагають західні партнери. За словами Петрова, в рамках партнерства з НАТО Україна реалізовує проект з кібербезпеки.

«Закуплено спеціальне обладнання, яке передане правоохоронним органам, встановлений відповідний сенсор кібербезпеки. Ми активно працюємо з НАТО, з США, Великою Британією. Нам допомагають і вивчають наш довід, бо ми – цікавий полігон, на якому Росія використовує сучасну кіберзброю і всім цікаво подивитися, як воно працює, як можна протидіяти загрозам», – додав Валентин Петров.

Раніше секретар Ради національної безпеки й оборони України Олександр Турчинов заявляв, що до кібернападу може бути причетна Росія.

Департамент кіберполіції отримав за добу понад тисячу повідомлень щодо втручання у роботу комп’ютерних мереж, повідомив ​речник Національної поліції Ярослав Тракало. За його словами, серед цих звернень 43 надійшли від комерційних компаній, решта стосувалася консультацій, які поліцейські надавали цілодобово.

27 червня про масштабну хакерську атаку  на низку банківських установ повідомили в НБУ. Окрім того, про атаку вірусом, який назвали «Petya.A», повідомила «Нова пошта», також є інформація про кібератаки на Кабінет міністрів, «Укренерго», «Київенерго», «Запоріжжяобленерго», «Дніпроенерго», аеропорт «Бориспіль», кілька заводів та кілька редакцій великих медіахолдингів у Києві та Львові.

Про кібератаки повідомили і в інших країнах. Значної шкоди було завдано в Італії, країнах Центральної Європи та Ізраїлі. У Німеччині «вражена система центрального офісу компанії Nivea Beiersdorf у Гамбурзі», повідомляє телеканал ARD. У Росії під атакою опинилася державна корпорація «Роснєфть».

28 червня комп’ютерний вірус-вимагач Petya.А поширився на країни Азії. В Індії через кібератаки вийшла з ладу система управління вантажами найбільшого порту країни. Збої зафіксували і в Китаї, однак їхні масштаби не були настільки значними.

Вірус Petya.А шифрує дані на комп’ютері та вимагає викуп. Фахівці з комп’ютерної безпеки радять нічого не платити – жодних ключів після виплати грошей власники уражених комп’ютерів не отримують.

Схожим чином діяв вірус-вимагач WannaCry, від якого в травні 2017 року постраждали понад 300 тисяч комп’ютерів у 150 країнах. За даними Європолу, цього разу йдеться про модифікацію вірусу Petya, про який повідомляли ще у 2016-му, який схожий на WannaCry, але складніший. Точна кількість уражених новим вірусом користувачів невідома.

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Haley Tells Congress US Assuming More Assertive Role at UN

Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told a congressional panel Wednesday that the United States is now taking a more assertive role at the world body to hold North Korea, Syria, Venezuela and other authoritative regimes accountable.

“Our friends and our rivals know that America has once again found its voice at the United Nations,” Haley told the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “The international community is now very clear about what the U.S. is for and what the U.S. is against.”

Haley, a former South Carolina governor who has served in the U.N. post for five months, said she successfully pushed the U.N. Security Council to adopt additional measures against North Korea’s continued nuclear weapons development and missile tests, while drawing “a red line” against Syria’s use of chemical weapons that led President Donald Trump to launch a missile attack against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

“The more pressure we put on North Korea, the better,” Haley said. “You are dealing with a paranoid leader [Kim Jong Un] who thinks we are trying to assassinate him. Who thinks we are trying to do regime change. Who keeps his public in the dark, only hearing what he wants them to hear. And what we need to remember is that he is building a nuclear program.” 

On Syria, she said, “I think that by the president calling out Assad, I think by us continuing to remind Iran and Russia that while they choose to back Assad, that this was something we were not going to put up with.”

She said, “The U.S. mission now refuses to tolerate one of the U.N.’s most disreputable and dangerous habits: obsessive bashing of Israel.” She said the U.S. had “steered the Security Council’s monthly debate on the Middle East away from unfairly targeting Israel, and toward the true threats in the region, such as Iran and Hamas.”

Haley said she has “made the case that human rights violations and conflict are directly connected. History has played out that when governments don’t respect the rights and voices of the people, conflict will soon follow.”

Reaction from Democrats

The top Democrat on the panel, Congressman Eliot Engel of New York, praised Haley’s tenure, saying she had approached the job “with a zest and verve that is very refreshing.” But he criticized a call by Trump to cut U.S. funding of the United Nations operations.

“My job was to go in and see if I could find value in the U.N.,” Haley said about the prospective cut in U.S. funding. “That was the directive all of you gave me, that was the directive the president gave me. There are a lot of places that the U.N. is very effective. There’s a lot of fat around the edges, and some abuses that happen at the U.N., but I do think it is very important that we make the most of it.”

Another Democrat, New York’s Gregory Meeks, told Haley that it was “absolutely shocking to me” that Haley said she had not talked with Trump about Russian meddling in last year’s election, a key focus on the Washington political scene at the moment.

Haley responded that she has told Trump that she accepts the U.S. intelligence community’s finding that Russia interfered in the election. But she said the issue had not once come up in her dealings with the world’s diplomats at the U.N.

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Pro-democracy Protesters Arrested in Hong Kong

Hong Kong police have arrested about 30 pro-democracy protesters Wednesday, a day before Chinese President Xi Jinping is to make his first state visit to the city to celebrate the 20-year anniversary of the territory’s transfer from Britain to China.

The protesters huddled around the “Forever Blooming Golden Bauhinia” statue, a gift from China placed at the site of the 1997 handover ceremony. 

They demanded open democracy and the release of Nobel Prize-winning activist Liu Xiaobo. 

“Democracy now. Free Liu Xiaobo,” protesters shouted while draping a black banner that read “We do not want Xi Jinping. We want Liu Xiaobo” over top of the golden bauhinia statue.

According to the police, the protesters were arrested for causing a public nuisance.

Liu, a 61-year-old writer who was recently diagnosed with terminal liver cancer, was arrested on charges of “subversion” in 2009 for circulating a petition urging democratic reforms.

The demonstrators included Joshua Wong, 20, who helped lead the 2014 “Umbrella Movement” protests. As Wong was carried away from the statue and into a police van, he continued shouting.

“We want to tell Xi Jinping that Hong Kong’s prosperity is just a facade. When Democracy is not in sight, we need to take action to confront this system,” Wong hollered. “Hong Kong people, do not give up. Protest on July 1!”

‘One country, two systems’

Xi is to arrive Thursday in Hong Kong to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the city’s handover on July 1, 1997. A heavy police presence is expected for his visit. While Xi is in the city, tens of thousands are expected to participate in a pro-democracy demonstration.

After 156 years of British rule, Hong Kong was handed over to China with an understanding the former colony would be allowed certain freedoms not guaranteed in mainland China, like freedom of speech and an independent judiciary. According to some, this “one country, two systems” policy has been gradually eroded under Communist rule.

“The joint declaration has been breached [by China], I have no doubt,” the last British governor of Hong Kong Chris Patten recently told The Guardian. He pointed to the alleged abductions of Hong Kong residents who wrote books critical of Chinese political leaders.

The arrests came the same day the Chinese legislature approved a law to grant sweeping new surveillance powers to the government. Although the state news agency Xinhua said that the law is “needed to ensure the nation’s security interests are met,” Chinese activists fear the new powers will enable broader suppression of dissent.

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From Prague to Mongolia, Wild Horses Return to the Steppes

A quarter-century-old project to repopulate the steppes of Mongolia with wild horses was kept alive as four animals made the long trip back to their ancestral home from the Prague Zoo.

Driven to extinction in their homeland in the 1960s, the Przewalski’s horses survived in captivity before efforts began to re-introduce them to the arid desert and mountains along Mongolia’s border with China.

Zoos organized the first transport to Mongolia of the strong, stocky beasts in 1992.

For the past decade, Prague Zoo has been the only one continuing that tradition and it holds the studbook of a species whose ancestors – unlike other free-roaming horses such as the wild mustangs of the United States – were never domesticated.

The zoo completed its seventh transport last week, releasing four mares born in captivity in the Czech Republic, Germany and Denmark in the Gobi desert. They will spend the next year in an enclosed area to acclimatize before being freed.

“All the mares are looking very well, they are not hobbling, they are calm, eating hay and trying to test the taste of the new grass,” Prague Zoo veterinarian Roman Vodicka said after making observations a few days after the release.

Prague has released 27 horses in total and officials estimate around 190 are now back in the wild in the Gobi B park, where the most recent arrivals were sent.

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Senior-level North Korea Defector Ri Jong Ho Speaks to VOA

VOA’s Korean Service spoke with senior-level North Korean defector Ri Jong Ho in his first public interview since his defection in late 2014.

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Sanctions Pinching North Korea Regime, High-level Defector tells VOA

If continued, economic sanctions will erode Pyongyang’s grip on power and “that loosening of government control will strike at the very foundation of the [top-down] leader-based system,” senior-level North Korean defctor Ri Jong Ho told VOA Korean in his first public interview since 2014.

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US Sends Fresh Troops to Afghanistan as Policy Debate Continues

The Army is deploying about 1,500 soldiers to Afghanistan this week, but U.S. officials say the troop movement is not part of any increase in forces in the war zone.

Troops of the 82nd Airborne Division began leaving Fort Bragg, North Carolina, on Tuesday. A U.S. military official told VOA the troops will be assigned to duty in Kabul, Kandahar and Helmand provinces, in addition to areas in the east and north of Afghanistan.

General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, has been in Afghanistan this week for meetings with Afghan and American officials as well as coalition leaders and troops. The Marine general is said to be working on the final elements of a military strategy that will include expanding the U.S. commitment to Afghanistan by nearly 4,000 soldiers.

Joe Buccino, an Army spokesman for the 82nd Airborne Division, said the troops leaving Fort Bragg this week are replacing a unit of the 101st Airborne Division, a regular movement to keep fresh units in the field.

President Donald Trump’s administration has been considering how many additional troops to send to Afghanistan.

‘Not winning’ in Afghanistan

Defense Secretary James Mattis told Congress two weeks ago that the United States and its NATO allies “are not winning” the fight against extremist insurgents in Afghanistan, and that a new strategy is needed. U.S. forces are helping Afghan government forces resist incursions by the Taliban as well as the Islamic State group.

“We will correct this as soon as possible,” Mattis said, promising members of the Senate Armed Services Committee he would provide details of the new U.S. direction in Afghanistan by mid-July.

Mattis is off to Brussels on Thursday to consult with other members of the NATO alliance about troop contributions and other support in Afghanistan.

No matter what decision the Pentagon chief announces next month on how many more American troops to send to help defend the Kabul government, the strategy will still rely on Afghan forces taking the lead role in providing security around the country, analysts and U.S. officials have said.

Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution suggests the Trump administration’s strategy will not depart significantly from former President Barack Obama’s Afghanistan policy.

“Mattis and Trump are just repairing a mistake, in effect, that I think President Obama made,” O’Hanlon told VOA. And they are, he added, “more properly carrying out Obama’s own strategy than Obama did himself.”

The mistake Obama made, according to the veteran analyst, was in reducing U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan from about 100,000 in May 2011 to less than 10,000 over a four-year span.

“That was probably too fast and too low,” O’Hanlon told VOA. “So by restoring just a few thousand more [troops], I think we can get advisers out in the field with some of the key Afghan units and, hopefully, really stabilize the situation.”

VOA’s Pentagon Correspondent Carla Babb contributed to this report.