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Killing of UK Lawmaker Shocks Nation; Security Reviews Ordered

Britain’s interior minister has ordered an immediate review of the security arrangements for the country’s lawmakers following the slaying Friday of Conservative Member of Parliament David Amess, who was stabbed multiple times in a suspected Islamist terror attack while meeting with constituents east of London.

The 69-year-old Amess is the second British MP to have been killed in the past five years, and his death has prompted nationwide horror and outrage, with politicians across political divides praising him as a hard-working “gentleman MP,” one who eschewed a ministerial career in favor of focusing on the needs of his constituents.

Home Secretary Priti Patel, who chaired a meeting overnight of the country’s security and law-enforcement agencies, on Saturday ordered all police forces to review security arrangements for MPs, according to a spokesperson.

Speaker of the House of Commons Lindsay Hoyle has also said he wants to “examine” parliamentary safety measures for lawmakers following Amess’ killing inside a church hall in the town of Leigh-on-Sea, an hour’s drive east from the British capital.

Patel said questions are “rightly being asked about the safety of our country’s elected representatives.” She said the MP’s death was “a senseless attack on democracy itself.”

Friday’s stabbing attack by a lone assailant bore striking similarities to the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox in June 2016. Cox was about to hold meetings with constituents when she was shot and stabbed by a subsequently convicted far-right militant.  

Paramedics battled for nearly two hours to save Amess, one of the British parliament’s longest-serving lawmakers, a devout Catholic and father of five, as he lay on the floor of the hall of Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea, in the county of Essex.

Ben-Julian Harrington, chief constable of Essex police, said Amess had “suffered multiple injuries.” Local media reported Amess had been stabbed more than a dozen times and that a Roman Catholic priest who offered to administer the last rites was turned away by police because it might interrupt the work of the paramedics.

Police arrested a suspect, whom they identified as a 25-year-old British citizen of Somali descent, on suspicion of murder. The suspect is being questioned by counter-terrorism officers, who are examining possible ties to Islamist extremists.

In a statement, Britain’s Metropolitan Police said, “Senior national co-ordinator for counter-terrorism policing, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Dean Haydon, formally declared the incident as terrorism. The early investigation has revealed a potential motivation linked to Islamist extremism.”

The suspect’s computers and cellphone have been seized, and police have been searching two homes in London linked to the alleged attacker, officials said. 

A local Conservative party official, John Lamb, told reporters near where the attack occurred that constituents were “waiting to see him [Amess], and one of them literally got a knife out and just began stabbing him.” Lamb said Amess was accompanied by two female members of his staff.

“They are devastated. I’ve no idea of the motive. He had no known enemies. I’m told the man was waiting calmly to be seen. It’s horrendous. So awful,” Lamb told The Sun newspaper.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was clearly stunned by the attack, described Amess as “one of the kindest, nicest, most gentle people in politics” with an “outstanding record of passing laws to help the most vulnerable.” He declined to speculate about the motives of the assailant when asked by British broadcasters, saying, “I think what we need to do now is let the police get on with the investigation.”

Politicians, including all of Britain’s living former prime ministers, and the lawmaker’s constituents were quick to praise Amess, with the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby describing the murder as “a deep blow” to Britain and to democracy. 

Keir Starmer, the leader of the main opposition Labour Party said, “This is a dark and shocking day. The whole country will feel it acutely, perhaps the more so because we have, heartbreakingly, been here before.”

Johnson, Starmer and Hoyle were among lawmakers who traveled Saturday to the church in Leigh-on-Sea to pay tribute to Amess.

Local residents also laid floral tributes, with a note on one reading “David Amess. RIP. Such a Gentleman XXX.”

“He’s very well thought of in our area — he fights for good causes and sticks up for people around here,” electrician Anthony Finch told reporters.

Amess was first elected in 1983 and built a reputation as an independent-minded and sometimes quirky Conservative. He was a leading Brexiter and opposed same-sex marriage and abortion in most circumstances, placing him on the hard right of Britain’s ruling Conservatives.

But he was also a fervent campaigner for animal rights, an advocacy that didn’t please the fox hunters among his Conservative colleagues. He also co-sponsored energy conservation legislation.

Among his many campaigns, Amess advocated for years for a memorial to be erected in London to honor Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved tens of thousands of Jews in Nazi-occupied Hungary. The statue was eventually unveiled outside a synagogue in central London in 1997.

Amess’ slaying will revive a debate about the mounting dangers British lawmakers appear to be facing, not only when working in the British parliament, but also when going about their business in their constituencies and seeing voters. British politicians have long prided themselves on the accessibility offered to constituents.

After the killing of Labour MP Cox, there were security reviews and MPs were advised to take more precautions. The amount of money spent protecting lawmakers surged following her death.

Amess himself feared that in the aftermath of Cox’s killing the nature of the relationship between British lawmakers and constituents had altered. In an autobiography published last year, he wrote that MPs had been forced to add additional security precautions, like being “more careful when accepting appointments” and “to never see people alone.” He lamented tightened security had “rather spoilt the great British tradition of the people openly meeting their elected politicians.”

Former Conservative minister Tobias Ellwood on Saturday urged his fellow lawmakers to pause meeting voters in person and to use video conferencing instead. 

Ellwood, who tried to save the life of a police officer in the 2017 Westminster terror attack, said, “Until the Home Secretary’s review of MP security is complete, I would recommend a temporary pause in face-to-face meetings.”

But Speaker of the House of Commons Hoyle warned against any knee-jerk reactions. While promising a parliamentary security review, he told Sky News, “We’ve got to protect MPs and allow them to carry out their duties. The duties that the electorate put them there for — to speak, to meet and to make sure that their views are conveyed to parliament.”

“What we can’t do is give in to these people, people who don’t believe in our values, don’t believe in what we do,” Hoyle added.

 

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Court Upholds New One-Year Sentence for Iranian-British Woman

An Iranian appeals court has upheld a verdict sentencing an Iranian-British woman long held in Tehran to another year in prison, her lawyer said Saturday.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has already served a five-year prison sentence in the Islamic Republic. Her lawyer, Hojjat Kermani, told the Associated Press that the appeals court upheld a verdict issued earlier this year sentencing her to another year.

The verdict additionally includes a one-year travel ban abroad, meaning she cannot leave Iran to join her family for nearly two years.

In April, Zaghari-Ratcliffe was sentenced for allegedly spreading “propaganda against the system” when she participated in a protest in front of the Iranian Embassy in London in 2009.

Kermani said Zaghari-Ratcliffe was “concerned” when he informed her about the appeals court decision. He said his client is in touch with her family.

State media in Iran did not immediately acknowledge the ruling, apparently issued after a closed-door hearing.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe was sentenced to five years in prison after being convicted of plotting the overthrow of Iran’s government, a charge that she, her supporters and rights groups deny. While employed at the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of the news agency, she was taken into custody at the Tehran airport in April 2016 as she was returning home to Britain after visiting family.

Rights groups accuse Iran of holding dual-nationals as bargaining chips for money or influence in negotiations with the West, something Tehran denies. Iran does not recognize dual nationalities, so detainees like Zaghari-Ratcliffe cannot receive consular assistance.

Authorities furloughed Zaghari-Ratcliffe from prison because of the surging coronavirus pandemic and she has been restricted to her parents’ Tehran home since.

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#Metoo, 4 Years In: ‘I’d Like to Think Now, We Are Believed’

To Charlotte Bennett, the new book that arrived at her Manhattan apartment this week — Anita Hill’s “Believing” — was more than just a look at gender violence.

It was a dispatch from a fellow member of a very specific sisterhood — women who have come forward to describe misconduct they suffered at the hands of powerful men.

Bennett’s story of harassment by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo helped lead to his resignation after an investigation found he’d harassed at least 11 women. And 30 years ago this month, Hill testified before a skeptical Senate Judiciary Committee that Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her.

“I can’t imagine what it was like doing that in 1991,” said Bennett, 26. “I’ve thought about that a lot.”

Hill’s history obviously predates the #MeToo movement, the broad social reckoning against sexual misconduct that reaches its four-year mark this week. But Bennett’s moment is very much a part of it, and she believes #MeToo is largely responsible for a fundamental change in the landscape since 1991, when Hill came forward.

“I’d like to think that now, we are believed,” Bennett said in an interview. “That the difference is, we are not convincing our audience that something happened and trying to persuade them that it impacted us. I would really like to think we’re in a place now where it’s not about believability — and that we don’t have to apologize.”

But for Bennett, a former health policy aide in the Cuomo administration, what emboldened her to come forward — and bolster the claims of an earlier accuser — was also the feeling that she was part of a community of survivors who had each other’s back.

“I was really scared to come forward,” Bennett said. “But something that reassured me even in that moment of fear was that there were women before me … (it wasn’t) Charlotte versus the governor, but a movement, moving forward. And I am one small event and one small piece of reckoning with sexual misconduct, in workplaces and elsewhere.”

 

There’s evidence Bennett is not alone in feeling a shift. Four years after actor Alyssa Milano sent her viral tweet asking those who’d been harassed or assaulted to share stories or just reply “Me too,” following the stunning revelations about mogul Harvey Weinstein, most Americans think the movement has inspired more people to speak out about misconduct, according to a new poll.

About half of Americans — 54% — say they personally are more likely to speak out if they’re a victim of sexual misconduct, according to the poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. And slightly more, 58%, say they would speak out if they witnessed it.

 

Sixty-two percent of women said they are more likely to speak out if they are a victim of sexual misconduct as a result of recent attention to the issue, compared to 44% of men. Women also are more likely than men to say they would speak out if they are a witness, 63% vs 53%.

Sonia Montoya, 65, of Albuquerque, used to take the sexist chatter in stride at the truck repair shop where she’s worked as the office manager — the only woman — for 17 years. But as news broke in 2016 about the crude way presidential candidate Donald Trump spoke about women, she realized she’d had enough. She demanded respect, prompting changes from her colleagues that stuck as the #MeToo movement took hold.

“It used to be brutal, the way people talked (at work). It was raw,” said Montoya, a poll participant who describes herself as an independent voter and political moderate. “Ever since this movement and awareness has come out, the guys are a lot more respectful and they think twice before they say certain things.”

Justin Horton, a 20-year-old EMT in Colorado Springs who attends a local community college, said he saw attitudes start to change as the #MeToo movement exploded during his senior year of high school.

He thinks it’s now easier for men like him to treat women with respect, despite a culture that too often objectifies them. And he hopes people realize that men can be sexually harassed as well.

“I feel like it’s had a lasting impact,” he said. “I feel like people have been more self-aware.”

Close to half of Americans say the recent attention to sexual misconduct has had a positive impact on the country overall — roughly twice the number that say it’s been negative, 45% vs. 24%, the poll shows. As recently as January 2020, Americans were roughly split over the impact of the movement on the country.

Still, there are signs the impact has been unequal, with fewer Americans seeing positive change for women of color than for women in general. That dovetails with frequent criticism that the #MeToo movement has been less inclusive of women of color.

“We haven’t moved nearly enough” in that area, #MeToo founder Tarana Burke told The Associated Press in an interview last month.

The AP-NORC Poll also showed generational differences: More Americans under 30 said they’re more likely to speak out if they are a victim, compared with older adults, 63% vs. 51%. And 67% of adults under 30 said they were they are more likely to speak out if they witness sexual misconduct, compared with 56% of those older.

There is a price for speaking out. Bennett said Cuomo, despite having resigned, is still not taking true responsibility for his actions, and so her struggle goes on.

“He’s still willing to try and discredit us,” she said. “And I am at a point where I’m exhausted. This has been a horrible experience.”

Bennett has said the 63-year-old Cuomo, among other comments, asked if her experience with sexual assault in college had affected her sex life, asked about her sexual relationships, and said he was comfortable dating women in their 20s. Cuomo denies making sexual advances and says his questions were an attempt to be friendly and sympathetic to her background as a survivor. He’s denied other women’s allegations of inappropriate touching, including an aide who accused him of groping her breast.

How is Bennett doing, two months after the resignation? She replies haltingly: “I’m doing OK. Every day is hard. It’s sad. It takes a piece of you a little bit. But … I would make the same decision every single time. The reason I was in public service was to be a good citizen and give back and do the right thing and contribute. I didn’t see my role like this, but that’s what it turned into. And that’s OK. I’m proud of myself for coming forward, and I will get through it.”

She muses about where the country might be in three more decades.

“I think reflecting on Anita Hill’s experience is a great way to understand how long 30 years is,” she said.

“So what do I feel like the next big change will be? I think it’s just not apologizing for being inconvenient. I could sit here and apologize. But I want to get to a place … where we’re not apologizing, where it’s our job to come forward if we have the means and ability to do so.”

And the #MeToo movement, she said, should be not only a community, not only “a soft landing place” for women who come forward.

“It should it be where leaders come from,” Bennett said. “We know how institutions act. We know the underbelly of these institutions better than anyone. We have a lot of solutions to fix it and we should be at the table.

“It should be OUR table.”

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Puerto Rico Ponders Race Amid Surprising Census Results

The number of people in Puerto Rico who identified as “white” in the most recent census plummeted almost 80%, sparking a conversation about identity on an island breaking away from a past where race was not tracked and seldom debated in public.

The drastic drop surprised many, and theories abound as the U.S. territory’s 3.3 million people begin to reckon with racial identity.

“Puerto Ricans themselves are understanding their whiteness comes with an asterisk,” said Yarimar Bonilla, a political anthropologist and director of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College in New York. “They know they’re not white by U.S. standards, but they’re not Black by Puerto Rico standards.”

Nearly 50% of those represented in the 2020 census — 1.6 million of 3.29 million — identified with “two races or more,” a jump from 3% — or some 122,200 of 3.72 million — who chose that option in the 2000 census. Most of them selected “white and some other race.”

Meanwhile, more than 838,000 people identified as “some other race alone,” a nearly 190% jump compared with some 289,900 people a decade ago, although Bonilla said Census Bureau officials have yet to release what races they chose. Experts believe people likely wrote “Puerto Rican,” “Hispanic” or “Latino,” even though federal policy defines those categories as ethnicity, not race.

Among those who changed their response to race was 45-year-old Tamara Texidor, who selected “other” in 2010 and this time opted to identify herself as “Afrodescendent.” She said she made the decision after talking to her brother, who was a census worker and told her how people he encountered when he went house to house often had trouble with the question about race.

Texidor began reflecting about her ancestry and wanted to honor it since she descended from slaves on her father’s side.

“I’m not going to select ‘other,'” she recalled thinking when filling out the census. “I feel I am something.”

Experts are still debating what sparked the significant changes in the 2020 census. Some believe several factors are at play, including tweaks in wording and a change in how the Census Bureau processes and codes responses.

Bonilla also thinks a growing awareness of racial identity in Puerto Rico played a part, saying that “extra intense racialization” in the past decade might have contributed. She and other anthropologists argue that change stemmed from anger over what many consider a botched federal response to a U.S. territory struggling to recover from Hurricane Maria and a crippling economic crisis.

“They’ve finally understood that they’re treated like second-class citizens,” Bárbara Abadía-Rexach, a sociocultural anthropologist, said of Puerto Ricans.

Another critical change in the 2020 census was that only a little over 228,700 identified solely as Black or African American, a nearly 50% drop compared with more than 461,000 who did so a decade ago. The decline occurred even as grass-roots organizations in Puerto Rico launched campaigns to urge people to embrace their African heritage and raised awareness about racial disparities, although they said they were encouraged by the increase in the “two or more races” category.

Bonilla noted Puerto Rico currently has no reliable data to determine whether such disparities have occurred during the pandemic, noting that there is no racial data on coronavirus testing, hospitalizations or fatalities.

The island’s government also does not collect racial data on populations, including those who are homeless or incarcerated, Abadía-Rexach added.

“The denial of the existence of racism renders invisible, criminalizes and dehumanizes many Black people in Puerto Rico,” she said.

The lack of such data could be rooted in Puerto Rico’s history. From 1960 to 2000, the island conducted its own census and never asked about race.

“We were supposed to be all mixed and all equal, and race was supposed to be an American thing,” Bonilla said.

Some argued at the time that Puerto Rico should be tracking racial data while others viewed it as a divisive move that would impose or harden racial differences, a view largely embraced in France, which does not collect official data on race or ethnicity.

For Isar Godreau, an anthropologist and professor at the University of Puerto Rico, that type of data is crucial.

“Skin color is an important marker that makes people vulnerable to more or less racial discrimination,” she said.

The data helps people fight for racial justice and determines the allocation of resources, Godreau said.

The major shift in the 2020 census — especially how only 560,592 people identified as white versus more than 2.8 million in 2010 — comes amid a growing interest in racial identity in Puerto Rico, where even recent surveys about race prompted responses ranging from “members of the human race” to “normal” to “I get along with everyone.” Informally, people on the island use a wide range of words to describe someone’s skin color, including “coffee with milk.”

That interest is fueled largely by a younger generation: They have signed up for classes of bomba and plena — centuries-old, percussion-powered musical traditions — as well as workshops on how to make or wear headwraps.

More hair salons are specializing in curly hair, eschewing the blow-dried results that long dominated professional settings in the island. Some legislators have submitted a bill that cites the results of the 2020 census and that if approved would make it illegal to discriminate against someone based on their hair style. Several U.S. states already have similar laws.

As debate continues on what sparked so many changes in the 2020 census, Bonilla said an important question is what the 2030 census results will look like. “Will we see an intensification of this pattern, or will 2020 have been kind of a blip moment?”

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World Donors Seek Ways to Help Afghans, Not Taliban

At an emergency conference this week, the European Union pledged more than 1 billion dollars in humanitarian aid to Afghanistan and neighboring countries, as the United Nations warns millions of Afghans are facing famine. But the United States has been cautious, saying it is sending humanitarian aid, but cannot provide funds directly to the Taliban-led government until they start respecting human rights and women’s rights. VOA’s Senior Diplomatic Correspondent Cindy Saine reports.

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US Vows to Pay Relatives of Afghans Killed in Drone Strike

The U.S. Defense Department said Friday that it is committed to offering condolence payments to relatives of the 10 people who were killed in an errant U.S. drone strike in Kabul, Afghanistan, in August.

Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said in a statement that the Defense Department was also working with the State Department to help surviving family members relocate to the United States.

Kirby said the matter arose in a meeting Thursday between Dr. Colin Kahl, under secretary of defense for policy, and Dr. Steven Kwon, founder and president of the nonprofit group Nutrition & Education International.

“Dr. Kahl reiterated Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s commitment to the families, including offering ex gratia condolence payments,” Kirby said. He did not say how much money would be offered.

On Aug. 29, a U.S. Hellfire missile struck a car driven by Zemerai Ahmadi, who had just pulled into the driveway of the Ahmadi family compound. In all, 10 members of the family, including seven children, were killed in the strike.

Weeks later, Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, called the strike a “tragic mistake” and said innocent civilians were indeed killed in the attack.

During the meeting Thursday, Kwon told Kahl that Ahmadi had work with NEI for many years, “providing care and lifesaving assistance for people facing high mortality rates in Afghanistan,” according to Kirby.

The U.S. military initially defended the strike, saying it had targeted an Islamic State group’s “facilitator” and disrupted the militants’ ability to carry out attacks during the chaotic final stage of the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops from Afghanistan.

Discrepancies between the military’s portrayal of the strike and findings on the ground quickly emerged. The Associated Press and other news organizations reported that the driver of the targeted vehicle was a longtime employee at a U.S. humanitarian organization. There were no signs of a large secondary blast, despite the Pentagon’s assertion that the vehicle contained explosives.

The drone strike followed a devastating suicide bombing by an Islamic State offshoot that killed 169 Afghans and 13 U.S. military personnel at one of the gates to the Kabul airport in late August.

Last month, McKenzie said the United States was considering making reparation payments to the family of the drone strike victims. 

 

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US Health Panel Recommends Booster Shot for Johnson & Johnson Vaccine

A panel of U.S. health advisers has recommended the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorize a second shot of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine for anyone who has received the single-dose inoculation.

The panel expressed concerns Friday that Americans who received the shot are not as protected as those who were given a two-dose vaccination from drugmakers Pfizer or Moderna.

Last month, the FDA authorized a third booster shot for the Pfizer vaccine for seniors as well as adults who are at high risk for COVID-19. On Thursday, the FDA advisory panel recommended a similar course of action for Moderna boosters, except using lower doses.

Johnson & Johnson is the only COVID-19 vaccine approved in the United States that is only one dose. Initially, it was hailed for its ability to take effect quickly, but soon ran into concerns that it led to a rare blood clot disorder and a neurological disease called Guillain-Barre syndrome. It is now facing criticism that it is less effective than rival brands.

Only about 15 million Americans received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine out of 188 million Americans who are fully vaccinated.

In other developments Friday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it would accept mixed-dose coronavirus vaccines from international travelers. It has said it would allow travelers to have received any vaccine authorized for use by the FDA or the World Health Organization.

Earlier in the day, the White House said it would lift COVID-19 travel restrictions for international travelers who are fully vaccinated on Nov. 8.

In France, health officials ended a policy Friday of allowing free COVID-19 tests for everyone in an effort to persuade people to get vaccinated. Now, only those who have been vaccinated, who have a prescription from a doctor, or minors will be allowed to take free tests while others will have to pay.

Health ministry data Friday showed COVID-19 cases are on the rise in the country, with 6,099 new cases up from last Friday’s 4,470 cases.

South Africa said Friday it would start vaccinating children between the ages of 12 and 17 next week using the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. The government is trying to meet a goal of vaccinating 70% of the adult population by December.

Pfizer and its partner BioNTech said Friday they have submitted data to the European Union’s regulatory agency to approve their coronavirus vaccine for children ages 5-11. The companies have already taken a similar step with U.S. regulators.

In Italy, officials made health passes mandatory for all workers Friday. The passes must show proof of vaccination, a negative test or recent recovery from infection in order to work.

Scattered demonstrations were held across the country to protest the new rules, including 6,000 protesters in the northeastern port of Trieste.

And in Russia, the coronavirus task force said the daily number of new coronavirus infections and deaths surged to another record Friday. It reported 32,196 new confirmed coronavirus cases and 999 deaths in the previous 24 hours. 

 

 

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Stabbing Death of British MP Amess Called Terrorist Attack

A British member of Parliament died Friday after being stabbed several times at a church in what police said Saturday was a terrorist attack. 

David Amess, 69, was a member of the Conservative Party and represented Southend West in Essex, England. He was attacked Friday while visiting constituents in his home district in southeastern Britain, officials said.

In a statement Saturday, the Metropolitan Police said that while their investigation was in its early stages, it “has revealed a potential motivation linked to Islamist extremism.” 

Police have not identified a 25-year-old suspect, who is in custody. 

“All our hearts are full of shock and sadness today at the loss of Sir David Amess,” said British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who called Amess one of the “kindest, nicest and most gentle people in politics” and noted his efforts to end cruelty to animals. 

Amess, who had been a member of Parliament since 1983, was married and had five children.

Amess is the second member of Parliament to be killed in five years. Jo Cox was murdered by one of her constituents, a far-right extremist, five years ago.

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