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Armenia, Azerbaijan Accuse Each Other of Violating Cease-Fire

Armenia and Azerbaijan accused each other on Wednesday of violating a cease-fire agreement that ended two days of warfare this month – the second such violation in five days.

Azerbaijan’s defense ministry said that at about 6 p.m. (1400 GMT), Armenian units had started firing at Azerbaijani positions in the Kalbajar region, wounding one serviceman, and that Azerbaijani forces had taken “retaliatory measures.”

The Armenian defense ministry gave an opposite account, tweeting that Azerbaijani forces had fired towards Armenian positions near the common border using mortars and large-caliber weapons, and that the Armenian side had retaliated.

After border clashes two weeks ago that killed almost 200 soldiers, the worst bout of fighting since a six-week war between the two ex-Soviet countries in late 2020, the two sides agreed to a cease-fire deal brokered by Russia.

Armenia said then that Azerbaijan had attacked its territory and seized settlements inside its borders; Azerbaijan said it was responding to “provocations” from the Armenian side.

Last Friday, both sides accused each other of breaching the truce by firing across the border.

The fighting is linked to decades-old hostilities over control of the mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh region, internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan but until 2020 largely controlled by the majority ethnic Armenian population.

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Homeless Shelter Makes Room for Canine Companions

Dogs are companions to many people without homes, but canines are often not allowed to stay with their owners in homeless shelters. Mike O’Sullivan reports on a Los Angeles nonprofit that instead encourages the bond between humans and their animals, letting them live together. Camera: Roy Kim, Mike O’Sullivan

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Private American Pilots Help Deliver Aid to Ukraine

Private American pilots with a group called “Ukraine Air Rescue” are working to get supplies into Ukraine. VOA Russian met some of them and has the story. VOA footage by David Gogokhia.

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‘Extremely Dangerous’ Hurricane Ian Grows Stronger as It Nears Florida 

The Miami-based National Hurricane Center says the extremely dangerous hurricane named Ian is gaining strength as it moves close to the southeastern U.S. state of Florida.

Forecasters say Ian is off Florida’s Gulf of Mexico coast with maximum sustained winds of 250 kilometers an hour, near the threshold of becoming a Category 5 storm on the center’s five-level scale that measures a storm’s maximum sustained wind speed and destructive potential. Ian is moving north at a speed of 17 kilometers an hour, with hurricane force winds extending outward about 65 kilometers from the center and tropical force winds extending outward up to 280 kilometers.

The storm was located 105 kilometers west-southwest of the city of Naples, Florida after brushing the Florida Keys, an archipelago at the tip of the state’s southern peninsula, early Wednesday morning. The center of Hurricane Ian is expected to make landfall along Florida’s western Gulf Coast region Wednesday between the cities of Fort Myers and Sarasota.

More than 2 million residents on Florida’s west coast have been ordered to evacuate their homes, while Governor Ron DeSantis has activated thousands of National Guard troops as part of the state’s response. Disney World, Universal Studios and SeaWorld are among tourist attractions shutting down their popular theme parks and resorts. The U.S. space agency NASA has closed the visitor’s center at its Kennedy Space Center on Florida’s eastern coast, and has rolled its massive Artemis 1 moon rocket and Orion space capsule from its launch pad back to the Vehicle Assembly Building, further delaying its much anticipated test flight by several more weeks.

Thousands of flights have been canceled after several major airports in the expected path of the storm, including Tampa and St. Petersburg, shut down operations.

Forecasters say Hurricane Ian is expected to cause life-threatening storm surges, catastrophic winds and flooding in the Florida peninsula, as well as considerable flash, urban and river flooding as it crosses central Florida Wednesday night and Thursday before reemerging over the western Atlantic Ocean. Ian is also expected to produce as much as 60 centimeters of rain from the Florida Keys and South Florida into the neighboring states of Georgia and South Carolina.

White House press secretary Karrine Jean-Pierre said Tuesday on Twitter that President Joe Biden had spoken to Governor DeSantis “to discuss the steps the federal government is taking to help Florida prepare for Hurricane Ian.” President Biden has issued an emergency declaration for Florida, authorizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster-relief efforts and provide more federal funding.

The hurricane is heading toward Florida after making landfall Tuesday on western Cuba as a Category 3 storm. The storm killed two people and left the entire island without power after its aging electrical grid, which has been struggling to remain operational amid a dire economic crisis, collapsed late Tuesday.

Ian left behind a trail of destruction across Pinar del Rio province, Cuba’s main tobacco growing region, ripping the roofs off homes and buildings and making streets impassable from downed trees and power lines and flooding. Authorities evacuated as many as 40,000 people from low-lying areas of Pinar del Rio.

Some information in this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.


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Vultures, Nature’s Cleanup Crew, Get New Lease on Life in Cyprus

Cyprus released griffon vultures into the wild on Wednesday in the latest attempt to boost a once thriving population now critically endangered by poisoning. 

The island’s largest bird of prey has seen its population fall dramatically to the smallest in Europe in recent decades, either from accidental poisoning or changing farming techniques leaving them short of food. 

Earlier this year, the population suffered a massive loss from poisoning, reducing numbers to just 8, conservationists say. 

They will be joined by eight vultures from Spain, home to Europe’s largest population of griffon vultures, which were released on Wednesday in the mountains north of the coastal city of Limassol. They form a group of 15 brought to the island last year, with seven released in mid-September. 

Another 15 are expected from Spain in November. In the past decade, Cyprus had also brought griffon vultures from Crete. 

“We were only left with eight birds because of the poison baits placed in the countryside mainly to kill foxes and dogs,” said Melpo Apostolidou, project coodinator at BirdLife Cyprus, one of the partners in the part EU-funded Life with Vultures project. 

The birds with names like “Pablo” and “Zenonas” have been fitted with satellite trackers to monitor their movements. 

Big, gangly and smelly, griffon vultures play a vital role as nature’s cleanup crew, feeding off dead carcass and reducing the spread of disease. But the use of banned poisons to kill perceived pests which the scavenging bird will then feed on has a knock-on effect. 

Nicos Kassinis, a senior officer with Cyprus’s Game and Fauna Service, said authorities were operating several feeding stations and had set up dog units trained to detect poison bait. “It is a serious problem,” he said. 

Conservationists say only when the use of poison is effectively addressed can the bird start to thrive again. “Even if we continue to bring vultures from elsewhere, we are just delaying their extinction if we don’t do anything to reduce the frequency of poisoning incidents,” Apostolidou said. 


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In St. Petersburg, Russia’s Anti-War Movement Gains Its Voice

As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine stalls, tensions have been unleashed throughout Russian society. Voices of protest are emerging, despite the government crackdown on dissent. The city of St. Petersburg, a center of opposition to the war, is again at the forefront of citizen unrest. Henry Ridgwell narrates this report by VOA’s Moscow bureau.

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US Urges Americans to Leave Russia Quickly 

The U.S. State Department expressed concern Wednesday that Americans with dual citizenship with Russia could be conscripted by Moscow to help fight its war against Ukraine.

“Russia may refuse to acknowledge dual nationals’ U.S. citizenship, deny their access to U.S. consular assistance, prevent their departure from Russia, and conscript dual nationals for military service,” the State Department said in a statement.

It said more broadly that U.S. citizens should not travel to Russia and that anyone there now “should depart Russia immediately while limited commercial travel options remain.”

The State Department said flights out of Russia “are extremely limited at present and are often unavailable on short notice. Overland routes by car and bus are still open.”

But it said U.S. travelers in Russia or Americans living there who are planning to leave “should make independent arrangements as soon as possible. The U.S. Embassy has severe limitations on its ability to assist U.S. citizens, and conditions, including transportation options, may suddenly become even more limited.”

In addition, the State Department warned Americans “that the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression are not guaranteed in Russia. Avoid all political or social protests and do not photograph security personnel at these events. Russian authorities have arrested U.S. citizens who have participated in demonstrations.”

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Ukraine Calls for Isolation of Russia, More Military Aid for Ukrainian Forces  

Ukraine urged its backers Wednesday to make clear to Russia that “its attempts of annexation, blackmail and ultimatums” will only bring more support to the Ukrainian side in the conflict that began with the February invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces.    

“Ukraine calls on the EU, NATO and the Group of Seven to immediately and significantly increase pressure on Russia, including by imposing new tough sanctions, and significantly increase their military aid to Ukraine, including by providing us with tanks, combat aircraft, armored vehicles, long-range artillery, anti-aircraft and missile defense equipment,” the Ukrainian foreign ministry said in a statement.  

The appeal came as the Russia-installed leaders in Luhansk and Kherson appealed Wednesday to Russian President Vladimir Putin to annex those territories based on what they said was the support of residents. 

Russia-installed officials said 93% of ballots cast during the five days of voting in Zaporizhzhia supported annexation, along with with 87% in Kherson, 98% in Luhansk and 99% in Donetsk. Together, the regions make up about 15% of Ukraine’s territory.    

Ukraine, the United States and other Western countries have denounced the referendums as illegal. International recognition is highly unlikely. 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday that Russia must be isolated internationally for its sham referendums in his country.         

“There is only one way to stop this all,” he said by video. “First, it is the complete isolation of Russia in response to everything it does.”        

More sanctions should be imposed on Moscow, he said, and it should be deprived of its veto at the U.N. Security Council and suspended from all international institutions.  

“The annexation of the captured territories … is the most brutal violation of the U.N. Charter,” the Ukrainian president said. “This is an attempt to steal the territory of another state. This is an attempt to erase the norms of international law.”       

If Moscow annexes these territories, Zelenskyy said, it “will mean that there is nothing to talk about with the president of Russia.”    

U.N. political chief Rosemary DiCarlo told council members that the referendums are not a “genuine expression of the popular will.”       

“Unilateral actions aimed to provide a veneer of legitimacy to the attempted acquisition by force by one state of another state’s territory, while claiming to represent the will of the people, cannot be regarded as legal under international law,” she said.       

“Now, Kyiv is being rejected not only by the people of Crimea and Donbas, but Kherson and Zaporoizhzhia regions,” Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told council members. “This process is going to continue if Kyiv does not recognize its mistake and its strategic errors and doesn’t start to be guided by the interests of its own people, and not blindly carry out the will of those people who are playing them.”        

There are concerns in Ukraine and the West that should the territories be annexed, Russian President Vladimir Putin would claim any attempt by Ukrainian military forces to recapture the land as an attack on Russia itself.        

Diplomatic action    

The United States and Albania have circulated a draft resolution to Security Council members condemning the referendums, calling on countries not to recognize any altered status of Ukraine and compelling Russia to withdraw its troops from the country.      

“If Russia chooses to shield itself from accountability here in the council, we will then look to the U.N. General Assembly to send an unmistakable message to Moscow,” U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said. “The world must stand together and defend the Charter of the United Nations.”      

She told reporters after the meeting that she hopes to seek a vote in the Security Council either late this week or early next week.      

“We call on all U.N. members — everyone for whom the principles of sovereignty, territorial integrity and the inviolability of borders have meaning — to oppose Russia’s actions, condemn the referendums and their anticipated results, and never recognize any attempt to steal Ukrainian land through violence and terror,” Albanian Ambassador Ferit Hoxha said.       

Some information for this story came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters. 

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Pipeline Leaks Appear to Be Result of Deliberate Act      

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Wednesday that all indications are that leaks from two Nord Stream natural gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea “are the result of a deliberate act.” 

“We will support any investigation aimed at getting full clarity on what happened and why, and will take further steps to increase our resilience in energy security,” Borrell said in a statement. “Any deliberate disruption of European energy infrastructure is utterly unacceptable and will be met with a robust and united response.” 

The U.S. State Department said late Tuesday that Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed the situation with Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod and that the United States “remains united with our allies and partners in our commitment to promoting European energy security.”  

U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan tweeted that the U.S. is supporting efforts to investigate the apparent sabotage.

Denmark’s defense minister Morten Bodskov is due to discuss the matter with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels on Wednesday.

“I’m not going to speculate on the cause” of the leaks, replied White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre to questions about the incident Tuesday, adding that she had nothing to report on whether the United States had been requested by European officials to help determine the cause of the ruptures.

“An act of sabotage”

The 1,222-kilometer-long Nord Stream 1 pipeline has been, until recently, a major source of gas for Germany. Nord Stream 2, which is 1,234 kilometers in length, has yet to go into commercial operation.

“We have established a report and the crime classification is gross sabotage,” the Swedish national police said Tuesday, announcing a preliminary investigation into possible sabotage of Nord Stream 1.

“There are three leaks, and therefore it is difficult to imagine that it could be accidental,” said Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen Tuesday.

“We see clearly that this is an act of sabotage – an act which likely means a further step of escalation of the situation in Ukraine,” concurred Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.

Frederkisen and Morawiecki spoke in Gloeniow in Poland at the opening ceremony for Baltic Pipe, part of a Polish plan to reduce its energy dependence on Russia. The line will connect Poland to Norwegian gas fields through Denmark.

“No option can be ruled out right now,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, regarding the possibility of sabotage, adding that the leaks are a cause for concern.

Russia closed Nord Stream 1 earlier this month, ostensibly for maintenance work.

The majority owner of the network’s operator, Nord Stream AG, is Gazprom, a Russian state-owned energy company.

“The destruction that occurred on the same day simultaneously on three strings of the offshore gas pipelines of the Nord Stream system is unprecedented,” said NordStream AG in a statement. “It is not yet possible to estimate the timing of the restoration of the gas transport infrastructure.”

“The biggest leak is spreading bubbles a good kilometer in diameter. The smallest is creating a circle about 200 meters” in diameter, according to a statement from the Danish armed services, which included photographs of the leaks off the island of Bornholm.

Powerful blasts recorded Monday

Scientists in Europe say seismographs on Monday recorded powerful blasts in the Baltic Sea, the same day the two gas pipelines dropped pressure.

“There was a spike and then regular noise,” said Josef Zens, a spokesman for the German geological research center GFZ. “We cannot say if that could be gas streaming out.”

“Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it’s enemy action,” wrote Bloomberg Opinion columnist Javier Blas, quoting the late British author Ian Fleming.

“The leaks are more likely a message: Russia is opening a new front on its energy war against Europe. First, it weaponized gas supply, halting shipments, including via the Nord Stream pipeline. Now, it may be attacking the energy infrastructure it once used to ship its energy,” said Blas, author of The World for Sale: Money, Power and the Traders Who Barter the Earth’s Resources.

Amid much speculation on social media about who might have sabotaged Nord Stream there is no credible evidence of a likely culprit or motive. Analysts and amateurs on Twitter contend the Russians may have deployed divers or unmanned submersible vehicles to poke holes in the pipelines.

The leaks are a result of a “terrorist attack” and “an act of aggression” against the European Union, declared Mykhailo Podolyak, an advisor to the Ukrainian presidential office.

Some anonymous accounts on Twitter, parroting Russian state media, sought to blame Washington and Kyiv. On social media on Tuesday, a video clip from early February recirculated of Joe Biden vowing to “bring an end” to the Nord Stream 2 project if Russia invaded Ukraine.

The Kremlin has stated that if Western Europe wants Russian gas, it should end sanctions against Moscow imposed following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine seven months ago.

“My understanding is the leaks will not have a significant impact on Europe’s energy resilience,” Secretary Blinken said in Washington.

“This just drives home the importance of our efforts to work together to get alternative gas supplies to Europe and to support efforts to reduce gas consumption and accelerate true energy independence by moving to a clean energy economy,” a White House National Security Council spokesperson told VOA.

While the impact to Europe ahead of the winter as a result of the loss of the pipelines remains to be seen, the trio of leaks poses an immediate hazard to wildlife and maritime navigation.

The gas could suffocate animals and is an explosion threat to passing ships, according to environmental groups.

Contributors include Patsy Widakuswara at the White House; Nike Ching at the State Department, and Chris Hannas in Washington. Some information in this report came from Reuters.

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Biden Keeps US Target for Refugee Admissions at 125,000

President Joe Biden on Wednesday formally kept the nation’s cap on refugee admissions at 125,000 for the 2023 budget year, despite pressure from refugee advocates to raise it even higher to meet the need after falling far short of that target this year. 

Advocates for refugees had been pushing the Biden administration to do more to restore the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. It had suffered deep cuts under the Trump administration and had admitted fewer than 20,000 refugees so far this year, or only about 20% of the 125,000 target for 2022, according to the latest count in August. 

The budget year ends Friday. 

A White House memorandum issued Tuesday provided a geographical breakdown of admissions, allocating 40,000 for Africa, 35,000 for Near East/South Asia, 15,000 for East Asia, 15,000 for Europe and Central Asia, and 15,000 for Latin America. Five thousand are listed as unallocated and held in reserve. 

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Russia: Ukrainians Widely Support Annexation in Four Regions; West Calls Vote ‘Sham’    

Russia claimed Tuesday that early vote counting in what Western allies say are sham referendums showed Ukrainians in four regions overwhelmingly supporting joining Russia. 

State news agency RIA Novosti said that with about a fifth of the vote counted from the five days of balloting in Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson, more than 97% of the voters in all four regions favored annexation. Together, the regions comprise about 15% of Ukraine’s territory. 

The referendums have been widely denounced by Ukraine, the U.S. and other Western countries as an illegal exercise. No matter the outcome announced by Moscow, it is not expected to be accepted globally. 

But the balloting, and the widely expected outcome purportedly favoring annexation, would give Russian President Vladimir Putin a pretext to unilaterally change the Russian-Ukraine border and annex the four regions. That, in turn, could portray any attack on them by Kyiv’s forces as an attack on Russia itself. 

He said last week that he was willing to use nuclear weapons to defend the “territorial integrity” of Russia, a threat widely denounced by Ukraine, the U.S. and other Western countries that have sent billions of dollars to the Kyiv government to fend off Russia’s seven-month invasion. 

Ukraine has also repeatedly warned that Russian annexation of additional land would destroy any chance of peace talks. 

Some Ukrainians reported they were forced at gunpoint by Russian fighters to leave their homes to vote. Voting is ending Tuesday, with the U.S. saying in advance it will not recognize any outcome that Russia announces. 

“We stand with our partners around the world in rejecting whatever fabricated outcomes Russia announces,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Monday.   

“As far as what we are doing, we are prepared to impose additional swift and severe economic costs on Russia, along with our allies and partners, in response to these actions that we’re seeing currently if they move forward with annexation,” Jean-Pierre said. “We’ve been very clear about that.”   

The voting began Friday in the Russian-controlled Luhansk and Kherson regions, and in occupied areas of the Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia regions.       

Nuclear saber-rattling    

Dmitry Medvedev, deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council and the country’s former president, said Tuesday that if Russia is threatened beyond a certain limit, it has the right to respond “without asking anyone’s consent and holding long consultations.” 

“Let’s imagine that Russia is forced to use the most powerful weapon against the Ukrainian regime that has committed a large-scale act of aggression, which is dangerous for the very existence of our state,” Medvedev wrote on his messaging app channel. “I believe that NATO will steer clear from direct meddling in the conflict in that case.”  

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told CBS News’s “60 Minutes” show in an interview broadcast late Sunday that the United States has made it clear publicly and privately to Russia to “stop the loose talk about nuclear weapons.”  

“It’s very important that Moscow hear from us and know from us that the consequences would be horrific, and we’ve made that very clear,” Blinken said.  

A U.S. State Department official said Putin gave the United States and its allies a gift last week by engaging in nuclear saber-rattling, calling for the troop mobilization and announcing the referenda while the U.S. was at the United Nations “talking about sovereignty and international peace and security.” The official said Russia “couldn’t have timed it better to put a spotlight on the grave offenses that Russia is committing to Ukraine and the international order.”    

Protests against mobilization  

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy reported heavy fighting in several areas of Ukraine as he gave his nightly address Monday.   

“The situation is particularly intense in the Donetsk region,” he said. “We are doing everything to curb the enemy activity. That is where our number one goal is right now, as Donbas is still the number one goal for the occupiers.”   

Zelenskyy called Russia’s mobilization of 300,000 reservists “a sincere attempt to give commanders on the ground a constant stream of cannon fodder.”    

Widespread protests against Putin’s troop call-up have erupted in Russia, with police arresting hundreds of demonstrators participating in street protests in Moscow and elsewhere.     

In Russia’s Siberia region Monday, a 25-year-old man shot a military commandant at an enlistment center, the local governor said.    

Many men opposed to Putin’s war or fearful of being killed on the battlefield have abruptly fled Russia on flights to other countries, while others have joined long lines of cars on land routes headed to the Russian borders with Finland, Georgia and other countries.   

Some information for this story came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters. 


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Uyghur Rights Groups Support Request to Debate China’s Xinjiang Record

Rights groups urge other countries to follow the lead of the U.S. and several other Western countries that are asking the United Nations Human Rights Council to hold a debate in its next session in 2023 on China’s human rights record in the Xinjiang region.

“The international community must remember its obligation to end atrocity crimes like genocide and crimes against humanity,” said Dolkun Isa, president of the World Uyghur Congress.

The draft resolution presented Monday included the backing of Britain, Canada, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Norway.

More than 60 Uyghur organizations from 20 countries welcomed the draft resolution. In a joint statement, the groups said they will continue to push for further action following last month’s U.N. assessment on China’s treatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang. The report concluded that Beijing may have committed “crimes against humanity” against Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslim populations.

“Governments must seize this opportunity to finally respond to the abuses,” said Omer Kanat, executive director of the Washington-based Uyghur Human Rights Project.

While Uyghur rights groups are encouraged by some of the Western governments’ action, “the response from governments needs to be commensurate with the gravity of the abuses Uyghurs have faced, and are still facing, on the ground,” Peter Irwin, senior program officer at the Uyghur Human Rights Project, told VOA.

“When negotiations get underway, governments need to keep in mind the legitimacy of the U.N. human rights system itself — a system they may need to rely on one day for support,” Irwin said.

Beijing’s response

On Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told the press in Beijing that the Western countries that signed the draft resolution are using the U.N. Human Rights Council to interfere with Beijing’s domestic affairs. He added that some countries are trying to discredit and contain China’s development.

“They blatantly apply double standard and have gone so far as to name and shame some developing countries and openly pressure them. This has poisoned the atmosphere and led to aggravated confrontation at the Human Rights Council, which is detrimental to international human rights cooperation. The international community firmly rejects such practice,” Wang said.

Chinese officials have repeatedly said accusations of human rights abuses in Xinjiang are lies and that Beijing’s policies are aimed at fighting terrorism, separatism, radicalization and violence.

The Chinese embassy’s spokesperson, Liu Pengyu, told VOA that Beijing has addressed “both the symptoms and root causes” of terrorism and has made it safe for the residents of Xinjiang.

“We hope that the United States and the West will stop using the Human Rights Council as a tool for political manipulation, view Xinjiang’s anti-terrorism and radicalization efforts in a fair, objective and responsible manner,” Liu wrote in an email response to VOA.

Last week, 27 nations supported Beijing on this issue in a statement to the council.

UN Xinjiang assessment

Just before Michelle Bachelet’s term ended as U.N. high commissioner for human rights, she released a much-anticipated report on China’s human rights violations in Xinjiang, including arbitrary detention of Muslim groups including Uyghurs in so-called vocational education training centers, forced sterilization, coerced labor, family separation and religious repression.

The recommendations in the assessment included asking for the Chinese government to release individuals who have been arbitrarily detained in Xinjiang and conduct “a full review of the legal framework governing national security, counterterrorism and minority rights” in the Xinjiang region.

Commission of inquiry

The U.N. General Assembly has become a platform for rights organizations to ask the international community to take further action toward China following the U.N. assessment.

On the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York last week, some rights groups and diplomats met and pushed for a U.N. investigative and accountability tool called a commission of inquiry, which would further look into allegations of China’s human rights violations.

Survivors of China’s so-called reeducation camps went on a hunger strike last week outside the White House and accused Beijing of causing “ongoing forced starvation” of Uyghurs and other minorities under COVID-19 lockdown measures in Xinjiang.

Two U.S. lawmakers, Republican Congressman Chris Smith and Democratic Congressman Tom Suozzi, introduced legislation Friday urging the U.S. government to sponsor a resolution that would establish a U.N. commission to investigate the rights violations in Xinjiang.

“The first concrete step done immediately is to file a resolution. We have only a few days to get that done at the U.N.,” Smith told VOA. “And even that’s not enough.”

On Saturday, dozens of Uyghurs protested outside the U.N. building in New York, calling for an investigation into the alleged abuses in Xinjiang.

This week’s draft resolution presented to the U.N. generated more response from rights organizations.

“A modest — and yet unprecedented — step at the UN Human Rights Council’s 51st session towards accountability for Chinese government,” tweeted Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch.

The 51st session of the U.N. Human Rights Council convened September 12 and ends October 7.

The council is expected to vote on the draft resolution next week. It is the first time a draft resolution to the council is focused on China.

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Capitol Rioter, a ‘One-Man Wrecking Ball,’ Gets 7-Year Term

A judge sentenced a Capitol rioter to seven years in prison Tuesday, calling the Iowa man a “one man wrecking ball” who helped in a sustained assault on a police officer. 

Judge Amy Berman Jackson sentenced Kyle Young in U.S. District Court in Washington to the long term, noting he had admitted to helping in the assault of a police officer during the January 6, 2021, riot. She gave him credit for the 17 months he’s been held since his arrest, meaning he likely will serve nearly six years in prison. 

“You were a one-man wrecking ball that day,” Berman Jackson told Young. 

The sentence is among the longest handed down so far in the riot, which halted the certification of President Joe Biden’s electoral victory and sent lawmakers running for their lives. The harshest sentence of 10 years behind bars was given to a former New York City police officer who assaulted an officer at the Capitol with a metal flagpole. About 900 people have been charged in the Capitol attack and more than 400 have pleaded guilty or been convicted at trial. 

Young cried as he apologized to former D.C. Metropolitan Police Officer Michael Fanone and said he wished he could take back his actions of that day. 

“I hope someday you forgive me,” he said. 

Fanone told the court of the near-death experience he endured at the hands of the rioters in which he was beaten and repeatedly shocked with a stun gun. Young admitted to handing a stun gun to another rioter who used it on Fanone, and of grabbing the officer’s hand as he struggled to protect himself from the attacking mob. 

Fanone said the attack ended his career as an officer. 

He told Jackson that Young should get 10 years in prison. 

“What I hope you do with that time is, I hope you suffer,” Fanone told Young during his own emotional recount of the day’s events. 

Fanone embraced a fellow officer outside the courthouse after the sentencing. He did not speak with media when asked for his reaction to the sentence. 

Fanone was among the officers who testified before the U.S. House Committee that’s investigating the insurrection about the violence experienced that day. Fanone told House investigators that he was “grabbed, beaten, tased, all while being called a traitor to my country.” That assault on him, which stopped only when he said he had children, caused him to have a heart attack. 

Young, 38, of Redfield, Iowa, originally faced more than a dozen charges but entered a plea to the single charge of assault of an officer. 

He went to the Capitol with his 16-year-old son, and video played by federal prosecutors indicated Young took part during fighting on the Capitol’s lower west terrace, including at one point throwing a heavy speaker that hit another rioter, drawing blood. He used a strobe light to blind fighting officers and at one point gave it to his son, allowing him to directly participate in the fighting, a point the judge used to illustrate her disgust at his actions that day. 

Young’s attorney Samuel Moore argued his engagement with the officer was two to three seconds of holding Fanone’s wrist. He tried to convince the judge that the government’s request of seven years was excessive and “outside his specific criminal conduct. 

Young also will serve three years under supervision once released. A hearing will be held later to determine his restitution. He also was ordered to complete 100 hours of community service. 

“You are one of the most serious January 6 offenders in my caseload and you were personally involved in and instrumental to one of the most horrific attacks on officers encased in this building,” the judge told Young. “I have seldom in my years on the bench been presented with anything like this.” 


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Horses Helping Wounded Ukranian War Vets Heal

Ukrainian war veterans who lost limbs in the war are undergoing a unique form of therapy that involves help from some four-legged friends. Omelyan Oshchudlyak has the story. Camera: Yuriy Dankevych

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Spanish Court Formally Sends Shakira to Trial for Tax Fraud

A Spanish court on Tuesday formally ordered Colombian superstar Shakira to stand trial on accusations that she failed to pay $14.31 million in income taxes, a court document released on Tuesday showed.

The ‘Hips Don’t Lie’ singer, 45, whose full name is Shakira Isabel Mebarak Ripoll, rejected in July a deal to settle the case, which meant she would have to stand trial in a case that could see her sent to prison for eight years.

The Esplugues de Llobregat court on Tuesday confirmed the trial will go ahead on a date still to be announced.

The prosecutor is seeking an eight-year prison term for the singer, who is accused of failing to pay taxes between 2012 and 2014, a period in which she said she was leading a “nomadic life” because of her work.

“The order to send Shakira to trial is just another step in any proceedings of this kind. The situation has not changed and everything continues as normal. Shakira’s legal defense will do its job by presenting its written arguments at the appropriate time,” a statement from her lawyers said.

Shakira vowed last week to fight what she claimed were “false” accusations by Spanish authorities and added that she had already paid what the Spanish tax office said she owed before they filed a lawsuit. 

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US Vice President Harris to Visit DMZ During Visit to South Korea

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris will visit the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that serves as a buffer between North and South Korea on Thursday.

South Korean Prime Minister Han Duck-soo announced Harris’ visit to the 250 kilometer long zone Tuesday in Tokyo during one-on-one talks before they attended the funeral of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Prime Minister Han said the U.S. vice president’s visit “will be very symbolic demonstrations” of Washington’s “strong commitments to the security and peace on the Korean Peninsula.”

A U.S. official told reporters Harris “will reflect on the shared sacrifice of tens of thousands of American and Korean soldiers who fought and died together” during the 1950-53 conflict that pitted communist North Korea against the U.S.-backed South. The official said her visit “will reaffirm” that the U.S. commitment to South Korea’s defense is “ironclad.”

Harris’ visit comes just days after North Korea staged another ballistic missile launch. The White House issued a separate statement Tuesday saying Harris told Han the alliance between the United States and South Korea “remains the linchpin of peace, stability, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific and around the world.”

The U.S. military has about 28,000 troops in South Korea, a remnant of the 1950s Korean War, which ended in an armistice, not a formal peace treaty.

Some information for this report came from Reuters.

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Officials Say 98,000 Russians Enter Kazakhstan After Reservists Call-up

About 98,000 Russians have crossed into Kazakhstan in the week since President Vladimir Putin announced a partial mobilization of reservists to fight in Ukraine, Kazakh officials said Tuesday, as men seeking to avoid the call-up continued to flee by land and air into neighboring countries.

Kazakhstan and Georgia, both part of the former Soviet Union, appeared to be the most popular destinations for those crossing by car, bicycle or on foot.

Those with visas for Finland or Norway also have been coming in by land. Plane tickets abroad had sold out quickly despite steep prices.

Russia’s Defense Ministry has said that only about 300,000 people with prior combat or other military service would be called up, but reports have emerged from various Russian regions that recruiters were rounding up men outside that description. That fueled fears of a much broader call-up, sending droves of men of all ages and backgrounds to airports and border crossings.

In announcing the number of Russians crossing the border, Kazakhstan Interior Minister Marat Akhmetzhanov said authorities will not send those who are avoiding the call-up back home, unless they are on an international wanted list for criminal charges.

Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev ordered his government to assist Russians entering his country “because of the current hopeless situation.”

“We must take care of them and ensure their safety. It is a political and a humanitarian issue. I tasked the government to take the necessary measures,” Tokayev said, adding that Kazakhstan will hold talks with Russia on the situation.

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Suspect Detained in Poland in Dutch Reporter’s Slaying

Dutch prosecutors said Monday that a 30-year-old man suspected of involvement in the slaying of crime reporter Peter R. De Vries has been arrested by authorities in Poland.

De Vries, one of the Netherlands’ best-known journalists who also campaigned to solve cold cases, was gunned down in Amsterdam on July 6 last year. He died nine days later of his injuries at age 64.

Prosecutors said the Polish man was arrested on suspicion of helping prepare the attack and that he is believed to have lived in the Dutch port city of Rotterdam at the time of the shooting.

His identity wasn’t released in line with privacy regulations. Dutch authorities have requested his transfer to the Netherlands.

Two men were arrested near The Hague soon after De Vries were shot and are on trial for his murder. Prosecutors have sought life sentences for both. One of them is a Polish national, Kamil E., who was the alleged getaway driver.

Another Polish national was arrested in July on suspicion of instructing the two men who carried out the hit. Two other suspects were arrested in Spain and Curacao on the same day.

Before his shooting, De Vries acted as an adviser and confidant for a witness in the trial of the alleged leader and other members of a crime gang that police described as an “oiled killing machine.” The witness’ brother and his lawyer both were murdered.

The suspected gangland leader, Ridouan Taghi, was extradited to the Netherlands from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, in 2019 and is currently awaiting verdicts in his trial. Prosecutors have sought a life sentence for his alleged involvement in a string of murders. He hasn’t been charged in De Vries’ killing.

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Kurdish Militants Attack Turkish Police, Kill Themselves

Two suspected Kurdish militants opened fire on police in southern Turkey and later killed themselves by detonating suicide bombs, Turkey’s interior minister said. One police officer was killed in the attack while a second officer and a civilian were wounded.

The attack was carried out late on Monday in the Mezitli district in the Mediterranean coastal province of Mersin, by two women affiliated with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu told reporters.

They fired on police guarding a hotel for security officers, touching off clashes between them and police and a group of night guards who rushed to the scene, Soylu said.

“The women terrorists were wounded during these clashes. As the clashes continued, two separate explosions were heard,” the minister said. “Because they were wounded, they understood they would not be able to escape and they (killed) themselves.”

Soylu said a woman who was sitting on a balcony near the scene was hit by a stray bullet during the clashes. Neither she nor the second police officer was seriously hurt, he said.

There was no immediate comment from the militant group.

The PKK is considered a terrorist organization in Turkey, Europe and the United States. It has led an armed insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984 and the conflict has killed tens of thousands of people since then.

A fragile cease-fire and peace talks between the state and the PKK collapsed in the summer of 2015.

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Category 3 Hurricane Ian Makes Landfall Over Western Cuba 

Hurricane Ian has made landfall over western Cuba just hours after evolving as a major hurricane.   

Forecasters at the Miami-based National Hurricane Center say Ian is carrying maximum sustained winds of 205 kilometers an hour, making it a Category 3 storm on the center’s five-level scale that measures a storm’s maximum sustained wind speed and destructive potential. 

The storm is just 10 kilometers south of the province of Pinar del Rio, traveling at a speed of 19 kilometers an hour. Officials in Pinar del Rio evacuated tens of thousands of residents ahead of Ian’s arrival and took steps to protect its vital tobacco crops and its related infrastructure.  

The NHC says Ian will remain a major hurricane as it travels over the Gulf of Mexico on Wednesday. It is expected to reach the western Gulf Coast of the southern U.S. state of Florida as early as Wednesday and take a direct path towards the cities of Tampa and St. Petersburg.  The area has not sustained a direct hit by a major hurricane since 1921. 

Forecasters have issued hurricane, tropical storm and storm surge warnings and watches for parts of western Cuba and Florida that are in the current path of Hurricane Ian. The storm is expected to produce between 15 to 25 centimeters of rainfall in western Cuba, with the Florida Keys expected to receive 10 to 15 centimeters and central west Florida to get between 15 to 30 centimeters of rainfall. 

Parts of western Cuba are also expected to experience life-threatening storm surges, flash flooding and possible mudslides Tuesday, as well as devastating wind damage.  The NHC says parts of Florida’s western coast could see storm surges between 60 to 304 centimeters thanks to Hurricane Ian.   

U.S. President Joe Biden has issued an emergency declaration for Florida, authorizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster-relief efforts and provide more federal funding. Authorities have issued evacuation orders for hundreds of thousands of residents along Florida’s Gulf Coast. The potential devastation from Ian has even prompted officials with the U.S. space agency NASA to roll its massive Artemis 1 moon rocket and Orion space capsule from its launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center — located on Florida’s eastern coast — back to the Vehicle Assembly Building, further delaying its planned test flight.   

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.