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Зеленський заявив про «красномовне мовчання» Amnesty International щодо ситуації на Запорізькій АЕС

«Дуже красномовне мовчання, яке ще раз вказує на маніпулятивну вибірковість цієї організації»

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Білий дім: у Байдена – негативний тест на COVID-19

79-річний Джо Байден вперше отримав позитивний результат тесту на COVID-19 21 липня, а через кілька днів – негативний. Він знову отримав позитивний результат 30 липня

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Президент: ЗСУ звільнили 1060 населених пунктів України

«Абсолютна більшість із них потребує значних відновлювальних робіт, розмінування, будівництва соціальних об’єктів»

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Huge Crowds Watch Amsterdam Pride’s Canal Parade Celebration

Hundreds of thousands of spectators lined Amsterdam’s historic canals Saturday to celebrate the Canal Parade, a Pride flotilla of 80 brightly decorated boats packed with people partying, singing and waving rainbow flags, balloons and umbrellas. 

The boats representing rights groups, bars, clothing brands and even the Dutch military made their way slowly through the waterways in a resumption of the hugely popular LGBTQ Pride event that had been canceled for two years amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“We are looking forward to a special edition where ‘being who you are and loving who you want’ is the norm and the struggle for equal rights is the message,” Amsterdam Pride director Lucien Spee de Castillo Ruiz said. 

Spectators were packed several people deep along the Dutch capital’s canals and bridges to watch the 25th version of the parade that was the highlight of the city’s nine-day Pride event. 

Earlier, Dutch police stopped a boat supporting farmers protesting government climate plans to cut nitrogen emissions from joining the parade. Only 80 boats were allowed to take part and they had to register ahead of time. 

The farmers’ boat was decorated with flags saying, “Proud of the Farmers” and “No farmer, no food.” On board was a person in a cow costume and others wearing pink clogs and pink cowboy hats. 

 

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Blinken: China Should Not Hold Global Concerns ‘Hostage’

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Saturday that China should not hold talks on important global matters such as the climate crisis “hostage,” after Beijing cut off contacts with Washington in retaliation for U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan earlier this week. 

Blinken spoke in an online news conference with his Philippines counterpart in Manila after meeting newly elected President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and other top officials, as relations between Washington and Beijing plummeted to their worst level in years. 

Pelosi’s trip to the self-governed island outraged China, which claims Taiwan as its own territory to be annexed by force if necessary. China on Thursday launched military exercises off Taiwan’s coasts and on Friday cut off contacts with the U.S. on vital issues, including military matters and crucial climate cooperation, as punishment for Pelosi’s visit. 

“We should not hold hostage cooperation on matters of global concern because of differences between our two countries,” Blinken said. “Others are rightly expecting us to continue to work on issues that matter to the lives and livelihood of their people as well as our own.” 

He cited cooperation on climate change as a key area where China shut down contact that “doesn’t punish the United States — it punishes the world.” 

“The world’s largest carbon emitter is now refusing to engage on combatting the climate crisis,” Blinken said, adding that China’s firing of ballistic missiles that landed in waters surrounding Taiwan was a dangerous and destabilizing action. 

“What happens to the Taiwan Strait affects the entire region. In many ways it affects the entire world because the Strait, like the South China Sea, is a critical waterway,” he said, noting that nearly half the global container fleet and nearly 90% of the world’s largest ships transit through the waterway. 

China stopped “military-to-military channels, which are vital for avoiding miscommunication and avoiding crisis, but also cooperation on transnational crimes and counter-narcotics, which help keep people in the United States, China and beyond, safe,” he said. 

Despite China’s actions, Blinken said he told his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, on Friday in Cambodia, where they attended an annual meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, that the U.S. did not want to escalate the situation. 

“We seek to de-escalate those tensions and we think dialogues are a very important element of that,” he said, adding the U.S. would “keep our channels of communication with China open with the intent of avoiding escalation to the misunderstanding or miscommunication.” 

Blinken is the highest-ranking American official to visit the Philippines since Marcos Jr. took office on June 30 following a landslide election victory. In his brief meeting with Blinken, Marcos Jr. mentioned he was surprised by the turn of events related to Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan this week. 

“It just demonstrated it — how the intensity of that conflict has been,” Marcos Jr. said based on a transcript released by the presidential palace. 

“This just demonstrates how volatile the international diplomatic scene is not only in the region,” he added. 

Marcos Jr. praised the vital relationship between Manila and Washington, which are treaty allies, and U.S. assistance to the Philippines over the years. 

Blinken reiterated Washington’s commitment to the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty with the Philippines and “to working with you on shared challenges.” 

Blinken told journalists he also discussed with Marcos Jr. strengthening democracy and U.S. commitment to work with the Philippines to defend the rule of law, protect human rights, freedom of expression and safeguard civil society groups, “which are critical to our alliance.” 

Describing the Philippines as “an irreplaceable friend,” he said he reiterated to the president that an armed attack on Filipino forces, public vessels or aircraft in the South China Sea “will invoke U.S. mutual defense commitments.” 

Blinken arrived Friday night in Manila after attending the ASEAN meetings in Cambodia, where he was joined by his Chinese and Russian counterparts. 

ASEAN foreign ministers called for “maximum restraint” as China mounted war drills around Taiwan and moved against the U.S., fearing the situation “could destabilize the region and eventually could lead to miscalculation, serious confrontation, open conflicts and unpredictable consequences among major powers.” 

In Manila, Blinken was also scheduled to visit a vaccination clinic and meet groups helping fight coronavirus outbreaks and then go to a clean energy fair and meet U.S. Embassy staff before flying out Saturday night. 

Shortly before Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, as speculation rose that her aircraft might stop over briefly at the former U.S. Clark Air Force Base north of Manila for refueling, Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian said in a TV interview he hoped “the Philippine side will strictly abide by the one-China principle and handle all Taiwan-related issues with prudence to ensure sound and steady development of China-Philippines relations.” 

Huang’s remarks drew a sharp rebuke from opposition Philippines Senator Risa Hontiveros, who said “the ambassador shouldn’t pontificate on such policies, especially considering that his country stubbornly and steadfastly refuses to recognize a decision rendered by an international arbitral court and ignores and flouts international law in the West Philippine Sea when it suits her interest.” 

Hontiveros was referring to a 2016 arbitration ruling on a Philippine complaint that invalidated China’s vast territorial claims in the disputed South China Sea. She used the Philippine name for the disputed waters. 

China has dismissed that ruling, which was welcomed by the U.S. and Western allies, as a sham and continues to defy it. 

 

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12 Poles Killed in Croatia Bus Crash

A bus with Polish license plates skidded off a highway in northern Croatia early Saturday, killing at least 12 people, according to authorities.  

Officials say at least 30 people were injured. 

The bus was filled with religious pilgrims traveling to a Catholic shrine in Medjugorje, a town in southern Bosnia. 

Reuters reports that all the victims are Polish citizens.  

 

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US Announces Another $150 Million for Africa Food Crisis

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield on Friday announced a $150 million package for Africa to help address food and humanitarian crises.

Speaking before a gathering of over 500 participants at the University of Ghana in Accra, Thomas-Greenfield said the world is facing unprecedented food crises, requiring what she termed an “unprecedented global response.” 

“For our part, the United States is committed to this work. … But more funding is needed to address food security and to address crises that compound food security, like refugees and internally displaced people,” she said. “I am proud to announce nearly $150 million in new, additional humanitarian funding and development assistance, pending Congressional approval, for Africa.” 

She said the new package, if approved by Congress, will increase U.S. humanitarian assistance to Africa to $6.6 billion since the beginning of this year. 

The ambassador says worldwide food prices are 23% higher than a year ago, partly a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – the two countries combined provide over 40% of Africa’s wheat supply. 

Thomas-Greenfield said the new U.S. funding will expand investments in fertilizer, grains and other crops in Africa to meet “the goal of increasing resilience to future shocks.”  

It includes $2.5 million in new development assistance for Ghana and $20 million for Uganda, where Thomas-Greenfield stopped before visiting the West African country. 

She said the new funding includes more than $127 million in additional humanitarian assistance for Africa to provide “lifesaving support to refugees, asylum-seekers, internally displaced persons, stateless persons and persecuted people across Africa.” 

Condemning the war in Ukraine, she said the U.N. Security Council must be proactive to prevent food from being used as a weapon of war. 

“The world needs to see how food insecurity increases the risk of conflict. And the Security Council needs to do a better job of stopping food from being used as a weapon of war,” she said. 

Thomas-Greenfield said Africa has the potential to become its own breadbasket and must take advantage of the current situation to forge partnerships with civil society and the private sector to build the food systems and structures of the future. 

 

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У Міноборони застерегли від коментарів «експертів», які шкодять роботі ЗСУ

Такі коментарі про дії ЗСУ в момент активної фази війни «вже час заносити у список 11-им гріхом», наголосила Ганна Маляр

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Соратники Путіна оминали санкції, використовуючи лазівку в британських законах – ЗМІ

Вони використали тип компанії, від якої закон не вимагає ідентифікувати її справжніх власників

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Ізраїль відновив обстріл Смуги Гази

Ізраїльські військові попередили, що повітряні операції проти палестинських бойовиків у Газі можуть тривати тиждень

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US Senate Preps for Landmark Climate Legislation

Congressional Democrats appear to be on the cusp of passing legislation that would dedicate $369 billion to combat climate change through a combination of grants, tax cuts, subsidies and other measures aimed at reducing carbon emissions.

In addition to its climate-related elements, the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (IRA) makes it possible for Medicare, the government-sponsored health insurance program for older Americans, to negotiate certain drug prices with the pharmaceuticals industry, a move expected to lower drug costs for all Americans. It also creates a minimum tax on large corporations, raises taxes on the wealthiest Americans, and will reduce the federal deficit by an estimated $300 billion over 10 years.

In a statement issued Thursday, President Joe Biden praised the legislation and called on lawmakers to pass it quickly.

The bill, Biden said, “makes the largest investment in history in combating climate change and increasing energy security, creating jobs here in the U.S. and saving people money on their energy costs. I look forward to the Senate taking up this legislation and passing it as soon as possible.”

Key provisions

A major element of the bill is a package of rebates, tax credits, and grants to help individual American families reduce their reliance on fossil fuels by subsidizing energy efficient home improvement projects and the purchase of electric vehicles.

The bill would dedicate $60 billion to helping establish clean energy production in the U.S. That includes tax credits to support $30 billion in spending on the domestic production of solar panels, wind turbines, batteries and other critical clean energy components as well as $20 billion in low-cost loans to support the manufacture of electric vehicles.

Other elements of the bill aim to support a broad range of decarbonization efforts across the economy, including $30 billion in grants and loans to states and electric utilities to “accelerate the transition to clean energy.”

The bill also earmarks tens of billions of dollars for “environmental justice” efforts meant to reduce the impact of climate change on disadvantaged communities and billions more toward increasing the climate resilience of farms and rural communities.

A catalyst for global action

“We could not be more excited about this huge breakthrough,” David Kieve, president of EDF Action, an arm of the Environmental Defense Fund, told VOA. “There’s been a shift in the attitudes of the American public in recent years towards an understanding that the jobs of the future are going to be in clean energy. And the only open question is, are they going to be here in the United States?”

Kieve said that in addition to creating those jobs in the U.S., he believes the investments in the bill will put the U.S. “on the fast track” to hitting the administration’s broader climate goals. He said he also expects it to catalyze action in other countries.

“What we’ve heard from other nations for quite some time, is that it’s nice that America has a president who’s saying the right thing about climate change, but do they really have the political will to execute on it?” he said. “When this bill is passed, and goes to President Biden’s desk, we will have answered that question definitively for the rest of the world and other nations will have no excuse but to get in line and follow our lead.”

Big promises

In an effort to push the bill across the finish line, Democrats in Congress have been touting its expected impact on the Biden administration’s pledge to reduce U.S. carbon emissions. While the $369 billion of climate-directed spending falls short of the $555 billion that the administration was seeking last year, many experts say that the IRA will have a major impact.

As negotiations were ongoing last week, Sen. Tom Carper, a Democrat from the state of Delaware who chairs the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works issued a statement that said, “In what would amount to the most ambitious climate bill ever enacted, this legislation would put our nation on track to nearly 40% emissions reduction by the end of the decade, unleash the potential of the American clean energy industry, and create good-paying jobs across the country.”

Experts and activists who have reviewed the legislation have broadly agreed that the bill lives up to the hype.

In a statement calling the legislation “transformative,” Sierra Club President Ramón Cruz said the bill “will be the single largest investment in our communities — including those that have long been disproportionately impacted by climate-fueled disasters — and a healthy and secure future for all of us.”

Energy Innovation: Policy and Technology, a non-partisan energy and climate policy think tank analyzed the legislation and issued a report that read, in part, “We find that the IRA is the most significant federal climate and clean energy legislation in U.S. history, and its provisions could cut greenhouse gas emissions 37-41% below 2005 levels.”

Criticism from the right

Not all analyses of the bill’s climate provisions were positive. The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, argued that the effort to move the country toward greater use of renewable energy is an infringement on Americans’ freedom.

“Energy impacts every aspect of our lives and every sector of the economy. By dictating how we produce and consume energy, this bill would dictate how we live our lives and limit the freedoms we enjoy,” the report argued. “It’s a pretext for control. And there is little to no regard for the high prices incurred by Americans and the costs that will arise for trying to achieve the left’s radical climate agenda. And what’s even worse, this is all pain for no gain.”

Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, who represents West Virginia, a state that relies heavily on fossil fuel for both jobs and energy, also criticized the bill.

“It will hurt our industries in West Virginia, our hard working men and women in the oil and gas business or in the coal business,” she said. “That will also, I think, hamper our energy security in this country.”

Former EPA officials in support

A bipartisan group of former Environmental Protection Administration leaders released a statement Friday in support of the bill’s climate components.

“The legislation meets the moment of urgency that the climate crisis demands, and will position the U.S. to meet President Biden’s climate goals of reducing emissions 50-52% by 2030, while making unprecedented investments in clean energy solutions that will save families hundreds of dollars a year and create new, good paying union jobs across the country,” the former administrators said.

The group included Carol Browner, who ran the EPA under President Barack Obama, and Christine Todd Whitman, who ran the agency under President George W. Bush.

Complicated process

The bill is the product of months of negotiations among Senate Democrats, who had to make a number of concessions to appease centrist members of their party. Keeping all Democrats on board was essential because the Senate is currently divided 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, with Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris able to cast deciding votes in the instance of a tie. Republicans appear united in opposition to the bill.

Democrats are moving to pass the bill through a process called “budget reconciliation” that makes legislation immune to the filibuster, a rule that allows a minority of senators to block a piece of legislation unless it receives 60 votes in the 100-member body. Under budget reconciliation, the Democrats’ 50 votes, plus Harris’s tie-breaker, would be sufficient to pass the Inflation Reduction Act even if Republicans unanimously oppose it.

If the Senate passes the bill, which could happen within days, it would then go to the House of Representatives, where it is expected to pass and to be sent to Biden for his signature.

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Blinken Touts ‘Extraordinary, Important’ Relationship with Philippines Amid Taiwan Tension

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken Saturday met with new Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to reaffirm ties with America’s oldest treaty ally in Asia amid rising tensions in the “volatile” region.

Blinken said America’s relationship with the Philippines is “extraordinary” and assured the Philippines of its readiness to work with Southeast Asian nation in areas of defense, climate change and controlling the COVID-19 pandemic.

Blinken, the highest U.S. official to visit the Philippines since Marcos clinched a landslide victory in May, reaffirmed America’s commitment to its 1951 defense pact with the Philippines.

“We’re committed to the Mutual Defense Treaty. We’re committed to working with you on shared challenges,” he told Marcos in brief remarks.

Welcoming Blinken at the presidential palace, Marcos said the top U.S. diplomat’s visit was timely, as he expressed concern over increasing tensions between China and Taiwan over the recent visit of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to the self-governing island.

“I did not think it raised the intensity; it just demonstrated how the intensity of the conflict has been,” Marcos told Blinken before their private meeting.

China launched retaliatory measures against Taiwan over Pelosi’s visit, conducting live-fire exercises. Taiwan is the Philippines’ closest neighbor and is a home to thousands of Philippine migrant workers.

At home, though, the Philippines is dealing with Beijing’s increasing militarization and encroachment in part of the South China Sea that is claimed by the Philippines, where Chinese coast guard and militia vessels constantly harass Philippine fishermen and shadow research boats.

“Our relationship is quite extraordinary because it is really founded in friendship, it’s forged as well in partnership, and it’s strengthened by the fact that it’s an alliance as well,” Blinken told Marcos.

Evolution of treaty

Marcos said the Philippines treaty alliance with the U.S. is a “constant evolution.”

“I hope that we will continue to evolve that relationship in the face of all the changes that we have been seeing and the changes that are between our bilateral relationship with the United States,” he said.

The Philippines is an important and strategic U.S. ally in Southeast Asia as it faces stiff competition with China’s power around the world.

Blinken’s visit is the latest U.S. effort to woo the Philippines after relations soured during the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, whose pivot to China led to empty promises of infrastructure and investment from Beijing.

In 2020, Duterte initially ordered the abrogation of the U.S.-Philippine Visiting Forces Agreement, an integral component of the treaty that allows U.S. soldiers on Philippine soil for routine visits. Duterte ordered its reinstatement a year later.

Dialogue with China

Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo, in a dialogue with Blinken, reiterated Philippines’ call on China and the U.S. to defuse the tension in the region.

“The Philippines continues, of course, to look at big powers, to help calm the waters and keep peace,” Manalo told Blinken in a separate virtual meeting.

“We can ill afford any further escalation of tensions in the region, because we are already facing a number of challenges getting our economy back to work, especially because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he added.

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У Костянтинівці під російський удар потрапила багатоповерхівка – влада показала наслідки (відео)

Через російський обстріл у п’ятиповерхівці обвалився один під’їзд

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Харків обстріляли ракетами С-300 – прокуратура

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Ukraine, Russia Trade Blame Over Damage to Nuclear Plant

Three more ships carrying thousands of tons of corn left Ukrainian ports Friday, part of a grain deal between Kyiv and Moscow, as the two countries accused each other of damaging a major Ukrainian nuclear power plant.

Ukraine’s state nuclear power company Energoatom said Russian shelling had hit the Zaporizhzhia power station, Europe’s largest nuclear power plant.

“Three strikes were recorded on the site of the plant, near one of the power blocks where the nuclear reactor is located,” Energoatom said in a statement.

It said there were no signs that the damage had caused a radioactive leak.

 

Three strikes

Russia’s Defense Ministry said Ukrainian forces were responsible for damaging the plant.

“Ukrainian armed units carried out three artillery strikes on the territory of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and the city of Enerhodar,” the ministry said in a statement.

“Fortunately, the Ukrainian shells did not hit the oil and fuel facility and the oxygen plant nearby, thus avoiding a larger fire and a possible radiation accident,” it said.

Russian troops have occupied the plant in southern Ukraine since March.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused Russia on Monday of using the plant as a shield for its forces.

An official with the Russian-backed administration in Enerhodar said earlier this week that Ukrainian forces had repeatedly attacked the plant, according to Reuters.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his daily video address on Friday that Russia was committing acts of “nuclear terrorism.”

“Russia must take responsibility for the very fact of creating a threat to a nuclear plant,” he said.

Corn shipments

Three more ships carrying thousands of metric tons of corn left Ukrainian ports Friday in a sign that a deal to allow exports of Ukrainian grain, held up since Russia’s invasion of its neighbor in February, is starting to work.

The ships departed for Ireland, the United Kingdom and Turkey. Another ship, the Razoni, left Ukraine on Monday for Lebanon, carrying the first grain shipment through the Black Sea since the start of the war.

In New York on Friday, U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said another ship was headed toward the Ukrainian port of Chornomorsk to pick up a grain shipment.

The U.N. and Turkey recently brokered a deal, the Black Sea Grain Initiative, aimed at enabling Ukraine to export about 22 million metric tons of grain currently stuck in silos and port storage facilities. The deal is meant to ease a global food crisis marked by soaring prices and food shortages in some regions.

Ukraine and Russia are key global suppliers of the wheat, corn, barley and sunflower oil that millions of people in Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia rely on for survival.

In another hopeful sign, Taras Vysotsky, Ukraine’s first deputy minister of agriculture, said the country could start exporting wheat from this year’s harvest through its seaports as early as next month. According to Reuters, Vysotsky said Ukraine hoped in several months to increase shipments of grain through the route from 1 million metric tons expected this month to between 3 million and 3.5 million metric tons per month.

The initiative will run for a 120 day-period that ends in late November.

A backlog of nearly 30 ships that have been stranded in Ukraine’s southern ports because of the war has entered its sixth month. The Joint Coordination Center, or JCC, a body set up under the Black Sea Grain Initiative, says the ships need to move out so other ships can enter the ports and collect food for transport to world markets.

The crews and cargo of the vessels that set sail Friday will undergo checks at the JCC inspection area in Turkey’s territorial waters before moving on toward their destinations.

The JCC says that based on its experience with the first ship that sailed Monday, it is now testing moving multiple ships in the safe corridor, both outbound and inbound.

 

Erdogan in Russia

Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Russia on Friday for talks with President Vladimir Putin that included the grain deal, prospects for talks on ending hostilities in Ukraine, and the situation in Syria.

In a statement issued at the conclusion of the talks in Sochi, which lasted four hours, Putin and Erdogan emphasized “the necessity of a complete fulfillment” of the grain deal.

They also said that “sincere, frank and trusting ties between Russia and Turkey” are important to global stability.

In other developments Friday, the Biden administration prepared its next security assistance package for Ukraine. Reuters reported that the package was expected to be worth $1 billion, one of the largest U.S. military aid packages to Ukraine to date.

On Thursday, Zelenskyy blasted human rights group Amnesty International for a report that said Ukrainian forces had put civilians in harm’s way by establishing bases and operating weapons systems in populated residential areas.

The report “unfortunately tries to amnesty the terrorist state and shift the responsibility from the aggressor to the victim,” Zelenskyy said. “There cannot be, even hypothetically, any condition under which any Russian attack on Ukraine becomes justified. Aggression against our state is unprovoked, invasive and openly terroristic.”

The head of Amnesty International’s Ukrainian office, Oksana Pokalchuk, also took issue with the report. In posts on Facebook on Thursday, she said the Ukrainian office “was not involved in the preparation or writing” of the report and tried to prevent the material from being published.

Pokalchuk on Friday announced her resignation from Amnesty International in a Facebook post.

Amnesty International said its researchers investigated Russian strikes in Ukraine between April and July in the Kharkiv, Donbas and Mykolaiv regions. The organization said its “researchers found evidence of Ukrainian forces launching strikes from within populated residential areas as well as basing themselves in civilian buildings in 19 towns and villages in the regions.”

Some information for this report came from Reuters and Agence France-Presse.

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In High-Level US Visit to Solomon Islands, China Looms Large

A high-ranking U.S. delegation lands in the Solomon Islands on Saturday, as Washington wrestles with Beijing for influence in the region months after the Pacific nation signed a secretive security pact with China.

China’s growing might in the Asia-Pacific will be on display this weekend as it continues to stage military drills encircling Taiwan in a show of force following U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the self-ruled island.

Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman heads the U.S. delegation visiting the Solomons for three days to mark the 80th anniversary of the World War II Battle of Guadalcanal.

Sherman’s father was a Marine who was seriously injured in the battle, a major offensive over six months in 1942 and 1943 that triggered a Japanese withdrawal and marked the start of major Allied operations in the Pacific.

The United States announced this year it plans to reestablish an embassy in the Solomons nearly 30 years after closing its last mission.

China, which has an embassy in the Solomons with close ties to its government, alarmed Western rivals by signing an undisclosed security pact with the island in April.

The deal, which critics fear could lead to China gaining a military foothold in the South Pacific, is likely high on the agenda for the U.S. visit.

‘Double-edged sword’

“It’s a difficult path for the U.S. to tread in a sense that, obviously, Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare really values his country’s relationship with China,” Mihai Sora, a research fellow in the Pacific Islands Program at the Sydney-based Lowy Institute, told AFP.

“The notion that he would have to pick between the U.S. and China would not be welcomed. He will be looking for a way to work with both the U.S. and China.”

But not everyone in the Solomons supports growing security ties with China, he added: “It’s a double-edged sword.”

The Solomons severed ties with Taiwan in September 2019 in favor of diplomatic relations with China, a switch that unlocked investment but stoked interisland rivalries.

Last November, protests against Sogavare’s rule escalated into riots in the capital Honiara, during which much of the city’s Chinatown was torched before Australia led an international peacekeeping mission to help restore calm.

On the home front, the Solomons prime minister is being accused by the opposition of undermining democracy.

Sogavare has reiterated his government’s intention to defer general elections from next April until after the Pacific Games, which the Solomons hosts in November 2023.

China is financing a national stadium complex reportedly worth $53 million to host the Games.

‘War on media freedom’

The Solomons leader has also drawn flak for attacking the public broadcaster, Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation.

This week, Sogavare’s office accused the broadcaster of propagating “lies and misinformation,” saying it had neglected its duty to “practice, fair, responsible and ethical journalism.”

The prime minister’s office said standards in local media had “decayed over the years to a point where pretty much anything gets published just to make a buck.”

In response, the International Federation of Journalists warned against “an assault on press freedom and an unacceptable development for … the democratic political process.”

The federation had already raised concerns when Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited the Solomon Islands in May.

The tour featured heavily restricted press conferences, with local journalists collectively confined to one question for Wang.

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Flash Floods Strand 1,000 People in Death Valley National Park

Flash flooding at Death Valley National Park triggered by heavy rainfall on Friday buried cars, forced officials to close all roads in and out the park and stranded about 1,000 people, officials said.

The park near the California-Nevada state line received at least 4.3 centimeters of rain at the Furnace Creek area, which park officials in a statement said represented “nearly an entire year’s worth of rain in one morning.” The park’s average annual rainfall is 4.8 centimeters.

About 60 vehicles were buried in debris, and about 500 visitors and 500 park workers were stranded, park officials said. There were no immediate reports of injuries, and the California Department of Transportation estimated it would take four to six hours to open a road that would allow park visitors to leave.

It was the second major flooding event at the park this week. Some roads were closed Monday after they were inundated with mud and debris from flash floods that also hit western Nevada and northern Arizona hard.

The rain started around 2 a.m., said John Sirlin, a photographer for an Arizona-based adventure company who witnessed the flooding as he perched on a hillside boulder where he was trying to take pictures of lightning as the storm approached.

“It was more extreme than anything I’ve seen there,” said Sirlin, who lives in Chandler, Arizona, and has been visiting the park since 2016. He is the lead guide for Incredible Weather Adventures and said he started chasing storms in Minnesota and the high plains in the 1990s.

“I’ve never seen it to the point where entire trees and boulders were washing down. The noise from some of the rocks coming down the mountain was just incredible,” he said in a phone interview Friday afternoon.

“A lot of washes were flowing several feet deep. There are rocks probably 3 or 4 feet (1-1.2 meters) covering the road,” he said.

Sirlin said it took him about six hours to drive about 56 kilometers out of the park from near the Inn at Death Valley.

“There were at least two dozen cars that got smashed and stuck in there,” he said, adding that he didn’t see anyone injured “or any high water rescues.”

During Friday’s rainstorms, the “flood waters pushed dumpster containers into parked cars, which caused cars to collide into one another. Additionally, many facilities are flooded including hotel rooms and business offices,” the park statement said.

A water system that provides it for park residents and offices also failed after a line broke that was being repaired, the statement said.

A flash flood warning for the park and surrounding area expired at 12:45 p.m., Friday but a flood advisory remained in effect into the evening, the National Weather Service said.

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Spain Leads Europe in Monkeypox, Struggles to Check Spread 

As a sex worker and adult film actor, Roc was relieved when he was among the first Spaniards to get a monkeypox vaccine. He knew of several cases among men who have sex with men, which is the leading demographic for the disease, and feared he could be next. 

“I went home and thought, ‘Phew, my God, I’m saved,’ ” the 29-year-old told The Associated Press. 

But it was already too late. Roc, the name he uses for work, had been infected by a client a few days before. He joined Spain’s steadily increasing count of monkeypox infections that has become the highest in Europe since the disease spread beyond Africa, where it has been endemic for years. 

He began showing symptoms: pustules, fever, conjunctivitis and tiredness. Roc was hospitalized for treatment before getting well enough to be released. 

Spanish health authorities and community groups are struggling to check an outbreak that has killed two young men. They reportedly died of encephalitis, or swelling of the brain, that can be caused by some viruses. Most monkeypox cases cause only mild symptoms. 

Spain has confirmed 4,942 cases in the three months since the start of the outbreak, which has been linked to two raves in Europe, where experts say the virus was likely spread through sex. 

The only country with more infections than Spain is the much larger United States, which has reported 7,100 cases. 

Global count

In all, the global monkeypox outbreak has seen more than 26,000 cases in nearly 90 countries since May. There have been 103 suspected deaths in Africa, mostly in Nigeria and Congo, where a more lethal form of monkeypox is spreading than in the West. 

Health experts stress that this is not technically a sexually transmitted disease, even though it has been mainly spreading via sex among gay and bisexual men, who account for 98% of cases beyond Africa. The virus can be spread to anyone who has close, physical contact with an infected person, their clothing or bed sheets. 

Part of the complexity of fighting monkeypox is striking a balance between not stigmatizing men who have sex with men, while also ensuring that both vaccines and pleas for greater caution reach those currently in the greatest danger. 

Spain has distributed 5,000 shots of the two-shot vaccine to health clinics and expects to receive 7,000 more from the European Union in the coming days, its health ministry said. The EU has bought 160,000 doses and is donating them to member states based on need. The bloc is expecting another 70,000 shots to be available next week. 

To ensure that those shots get administered wisely, community groups and sexual health associations are targeting gay men, bisexuals and transgender women. 

In Barcelona, BCN Checkpoint, which focuses on AIDS/HIV prevention in gay and trans communities, is now contacting at-risk people to offer them one of the precious vaccines. 

Pep Coll, medical director of BCN Checkpoint, said the vaccine rollout is focused on people who are already at risk of contracting HIV and are on preemptive treatment, men with a high number of sexual partners and those who participate in sex with the use of drugs, as well as people with suppressed immune responses. 

But there are many more people who fit those categories than doses, about 15,000 people just in Barcelona, Coll said. 

The lack of vaccines, which is far more severe in Africa than in Europe and the U.S., makes social public health policies key, experts say. 

Contact tracing more difficult

As with the coronavirus pandemic, contact tracing to identify people who could have been infected is critical. But, while COVID-19 could spread to anyone simply through the air, the close bodily contact that serves as the leading vehicle for monkeypox makes some people hesitant to share information. 

“We are having a steady stream of new cases, and it is possible that we will have more deaths. Why? Because contact tracing is very complicated because it can be a very sensitive issue for someone to identify their sexual partners,” said Amós García, epidemiologist and president of the Spanish Association of Vaccinology. 

Spain says that 80% of its cases are among men who have sex with men and only 1.5% are women. But García insisted that will change unless the entire public, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, grasps that having various sexual partners creates greater risk. 

Given the dearth of vaccines and the trouble with contact tracing, more pressure is being put on encouraging prevention. 

From the start, government officials ceded the leading role in the get-out-the-word campaign to community groups. 

Sebastian Meyer, president of the STOP SIDA association dedicated to AIDS/HIV care in Barcelona’s LGBTQ community, said the logic was that his group and others like it would be trusted message-bearers with person-by-person knowledge of how to drive the health warning home. 

Community associations that represent gay and bisexual men have bombarded social media, websites and blogs with information on monkeypox safety. Officials in Catalonia, the region including Barcelona that has over 1,500 cases, are pushing public service announcements on dating apps Tinder and Grindr warning about the disease. 

But Meyer believes fatigue from the COVID-19 pandemic has played a part. Doctors advise people with monkeypox lesions to isolate until they have fully healed, which can take up to three weeks. 

“When people read that they must self-isolate, they close the webpage and forget what they have read,” Meyer said. “We are just coming out of COVID, when you couldn’t do this or that, and now, here we go again. … People just hate it and put their heads in the sand.”

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US Official: Sub-Saharan Africa Food Security Hardest Hit by Russia’s War

A senior U.S. official said Friday that sub-Saharan Africa is the region hardest hit by disruptions to the global food supply due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

“Food prices worldwide are 23% higher than a year ago, but they hit the hardest in sub-Saharan Africa where food consumes 40% of household budgets,” Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield told an audience at the University of Ghana in Accra. “Regardless of how you feel about Russia, we all have a powerful common interest in mitigating the impact of the war on Ukraine on food security.” 

Thomas-Greenfield, who is the U.S. envoy to the United Nations and a member of President Joe Biden’s Cabinet, is on a four-day tour in Africa this week, making stops in Uganda, Ghana, and Cabo Verde focused on the impact of food insecurity on the continent. 

She emphasized that before Russia invaded Ukraine, which is a major global grain and vegetable oil producer, over 190 million people were food insecure worldwide, in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Well, since Russia’s unprovoked war, full-scale invasion into Ukraine, we estimate that number could rise to 230 million,” Thomas-Greenfield said. “That would mean that more than 40 million people will have become food insecure since President (Vladimir) Putin chose to invade his neighbor and steal their land. That’s more people than the entire population of Ghana.”  

While in Accra, she announced more than $127 million in new humanitarian assistance for Africa, focused on refugees and displaced persons. 

Stepped-up diplomacy 

 

Thomas-Greenfield is not the only U.S. official visiting the region. USAID Administrator Samantha Power was in the Horn of Africa recently, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken is headed to South Africa, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo starting Sunday. 

Russia has intensified its own efforts to strengthen ties with the continent since launching its war on Ukraine. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov made an official trip to four African countries earlier this month. 

Many African governments feel caught between superpowers in the conflict and have tried to remain neutral. Soon after Moscow’s February 24 invasion, the U.N. General Assembly demanded Russia end its military operations. Only one African state, Eritrea, voted against the resolution, while nearly half of the 54 others either abstained or did not vote. 

“I’ve also heard from some, that Africans don’t really want to be pressured to pick a side or take a certain position,” the U.S. ambassador acknowledged. “I understand that. None of us want to repeat the Cold War. And Africans have the right to decide their foreign policy positions, free of pressure and manipulation, free of threats.” 

She tried to dispel some Russian misinformation, particularly the Kremlin’s insistence that its food and fertilizer exports are being sanctioned by the United States and other western countries. 

“America’s sanctions do not, let me repeat, do not apply to food and fertilizer exports, period,” she said. 

Thomas-Greenfield said Moscow has disrupted its own exports, imposing quotas on nitrogen and complex fertilizers and imposing duties on its grain exports. She also laid out how Russian troops have set about sabotaging and destroying Ukraine’s agricultural sector by mining farmland, destroying equipment, and bombing grain silos. 

“The fact is, this hurts Africa,” she said. “Russia and Ukraine provide over 40% of Africa’s wheat supplies.” 

A recent deal among Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the United Nations will see Ukraine’s backlogged grain exports begin to leave through the Black Sea, while Moscow will get help in lessening the concerns global insurers and shippers have about dealing with Russian exports when they face sanctions in banking and other sectors. Wheat prices have already begun to ease in the two weeks since the deal was signed in Istanbul.  

Thomas-Greenfield urged Ghana and other African nations to improve their agriculture sectors so they can become more insulated from global shocks with more self-sufficiency, while also exploring the possibility of feeding global markets. Part of the aid package she announced includes $2.5 million for Ghana to improve its production and import of fertilizer for its farmers. 

“Now is the time, now is the time to feed the future, to transform Ghana and other African nations into breadbaskets of your own,” she urged. “The world is hungry, and your potential is unlimited. And there is not a moment to lose.”