Posted by Worldkrap on

Finland Closes Russian Border Over Migrant Influx, Estonia Could Follow 

Finland closed its entire 1,340-kilometer-long border with Russia this week, accusing Moscow of sending asylum-seekers across the frontier in a hybrid attack in retaliation for its decision to join NATO. Russia denies the accusation. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell has more.

Posted by Worldkrap on

US Closing Remote Arizona Border Crossing, Citing Overwhelming Migrant Arrivals

So many migrants are crossing from Mexico into the United States around remote Lukeville, Arizona, that U.S. officials say they will close the port of entry there so that the operations officials who watch over vehicle and pedestrian traffic going both ways can help Border Patrol agents arrest and process the new arrivals.

Customs and Border Protection announced Friday that the temporary closure of the crossing will start Monday as officials grapple with changing migration routes that have overwhelmed Border Patrol agents stationed there. Arizona’s U.S. senators and governor called planned closure “unacceptable.”

Customs and Border Protection said it is “surging all available resources to expeditiously and safely process migrants” and will “continue to prioritize our border security mission as necessary in response to this evolving situation.”

The area around the desert crossing has become a major migration route in recent months, with smugglers dropping off people from countries as diverse as Senegal, India and China. Most of them are walking into the U.S. west of Lukeville through gaps in the wall, then head east toward the official border crossing to surrender to the first agents they see in hopes for a chance at asylum.

The Border Patrol made 17,500 arrests for illegal crossings during the past week in the agency’s Tucson sector, John Modlin, the sector chief, said Friday, That translates to a daily average of 2,500, well above its daily average of 1,700 in September, when Tucson was already the busiest corridor for illegal crossings by far along U.S.-Mexico border.

Customs and Border Protection blamed the hundreds of people arriving daily around Lukeville on “smugglers peddling disinformation to prey on vulnerable individuals.”

It was unclear how long the crossing would be shut.

Although it is remote, the Lukeville border crossing is the one regularly used to travel from Arizona to Puerto Peñasco, or Rocky Point, a resort area in the Mexican state of Sonora on the Sea of Cortez. Americans also drive through the crossing to visit the border community of Sonoyta for a meal, shop or to get less expensive dental and medical care.

Some Mexican children ride a northbound bus across the border every day to go to school.

Arizona Senators Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema, along with Gov. Katie Hobbs, blasted the planned closure and demanded better solutions from President Joe Biden’s administration.

“This is an an unacceptable outcome that further destabilizes our border, risks the safety of our communities, and damages our economy by disrupting trade and tourism,” they said in a joint statement. “The federal government must act swiftly to maintain port of entry operations, get the border under control, keep Arizona communities safe, and ensure the humane treatment of migrants.”

Kelly and Hobbs, both Democrats, and Sinema, an independent who was elected as a Democrat, also criticized “partisan politicians who parrot talking points while watching the border further deteriorate.”

They said those politicians should instead “reject the echo chamber and work with us to get something done and keep our communities safe.”

An average of 3,140 people in vehicles and 184 pedestrians entered the U.S. daily in Lukeville during October, according to the U.S. Transportation Department’s latest figures.

Travelers will still be able to cross into or out of the United States through Nogales, Arizona, a three-hour drive to the east, or San Luis, Arizona, a two-hour drive to the west.

Customs and Border Protection earlier this week began limiting traffic at the Lukeville port. The agency on Monday also closed one of two bridges to vehicles in Eagle Pass, Texas, a town of about 30,000 people that, for a while last year, was the busiest corridor for illegal crossings. 

Posted by Worldkrap on

Pentagon’s New High-Tech Deal with Australia, Britain, Aims to Counter China

From underwater drones to electronic warfare, the U.S. is expanding its high-tech military cooperation with Australia and the United Kingdom as part of a broader effort to counter China’s rapidly growing influence in the Indo-Pacific.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met with defense chiefs from Australia and the United Kingdom at the U.S. military’s defense technology hub in Silicon Valley on Friday to forge a new agreement to increase technology cooperation and information sharing. The goal, according to a joint statement, is to be able to better address global security challenges, ensure each can defend against rapidly evolving threats and to “contribute to stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond.”

Austin met with Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles and Grant Shapps, the British secretary of state for defense, at the Defense Innovation Unit headquarters.

Speaking at a news conference after the meeting, Austin said the effort will, for example, rapidly accelerate the sophistication of the drone systems, and prove that “we are stronger together.”

The new technology agreement is the next step in a widening military cooperation with Australia that was first announced in 2021. The three nations have laid out plans for the so-called AUKUS partnership to help equip Australia with a fleet of eight nuclear-powered submarines. AUKUS is an acronym for Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Under the deal, Australia will buy three Virginia-class submarines from the United States and build five of a new AUKUS-class submarine in cooperation with Britain. The subs, powered by U.S. nuclear technology, would not carry nuclear weapons and would be built in Adelaide, Australia with the first one finished around 2040.

Marles said there has been an enormous amount of progress in the submarine program. He added that as an island nation, Australia has a need for improved maritime drones and precision strike capabilities.

And Shapps said that with China “undermining the freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific, we’ve never had a greater need for more innovation.” He said that open navigation of the seas, including in the Pacific and the South China Sea is critical.

According to officials, Australian Navy officers have already started to go through nuclear power training at U.S. military schools.

Also, earlier this year the U.S. announced it would expand its military industrial base by helping Australia manufacture guided missiles and rockets for both countries within two years. Under that agreement, they would cooperate on Australia’s production of Guided Multiple Launch Rocket Systems by 2025.

The enhanced cooperation between the nations has been driven by growing concerns about China’s burgeoning defense spending and rapidly expanding military presence in the region. Last year Beijing signed a security pact with Solomon Islands and raised the prospect of a Chinese naval base being established there.

The U.S. has increased U.S. troop presence, military exercises and other activities in the region. U.S. relations with China have been strained in recent years, over trade, U.S. support for self-governing Taiwan, Beijing’s military buildup on a series of manmade islands, and a numbers of aggressive aircraft and ship encounters.

High-tech demonstrations were set up across a large parking area at DIU and inside the headquarters, allowing Austin to take a few minutes before the start of the meeting to see a number of projects being developed, including a virtual training device that will help Ukrainian pilots learn to fly F-16 fighter jets and swarming drones being developed for warfighters. The projects aren’t tied to the Australian agreement, but reflect the ongoing effort by the three nations to improve technology — an area where China often has the lead.

As Austin walked through the exhibits, he was able to watch a swarm of five drones lift off from the pavement and hover over the onlookers — all controlled by a single worker with a small handheld module. The short range reconnaissance drones — called the Skydio X2D — are already in use in combat, but the swarming technology and ability to control them all from a single device is still in development, said Skydio CEO Adam Bry.

Inside the DIU offices, Air Force Maj. Alex Horn demonstrated a new portable, pilot training module that will allow instructors in the United States to remotely coach trainees overseas using a virtual reality headset. Four of the so-called “Immersive Training Devices” will be delivered to Morris Air National Guard Base in Arizona next month and will be used to train Ukrainian pilots to fly F-16s.

Horn said the devices, which are cheaper than other systems, will help accelerate the training for Ukrainian pilots who are used to flying Soviet aircraft and need schooling on F-16 basics before moving to cockpit training.

Posted by Worldkrap on

Finland Closes Russian Border Over Migrant Influx; Estonia May Follow

Finland has closed its entire 1,340 kilometer-long border with Russia after accusing Moscow of “instrumentalizing” asylum-seekers by sending them across the frontier in a hybrid attack, in retaliation for Finland’s joining of NATO. Russia denied the accusation and warned that the deployment of any military units at the border would be seen as a threat by Moscow.

The Finnish Border Guard said more than 900 asylum-seekers from countries including Kenya, Morocco, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria and Yemen entered Finland from Russia in the month of November. Previously, the rate was less than one per day.

The Finnish government responded by closing all but one of the official border crossings in mid-November. On Thursday, Finland closed the last remaining crossing, at Raja-Jooseppi, inside the Arctic Circle, sealing off the entire frontier for at least the next two weeks.

Finnish Prime Minister Petteri Orpo said his country would not accept Russian interference.

“Instrumentalized migration from Russia has continued. I would like to stress that it is not just the number of arrivals that is at issue, but the phenomenon itself,” Orpo said at a news conference Thursday.

“In recent days, there has been a growing understanding that this is an organized activity, not a genuine emergency. … We don’t accept any attempt to undermine our national security.”

Russia is clearly trying to weaponize migration, said analyst Charly Salonius-Pasternak of the Finnish Institute of International Affairs.

“There are interviews [with migrants] saying that some of these people have been given an option: Either go to the front in Ukraine, or then jump in a bus or military truck, be driven up to the Arctic Circle or further north, and then be forced to buy a bicycle and try to get across,” he told VOA. “So, it’s very structured how the Russian authorities have done this.”

Russia’s actions are seen as retaliation for Finland’s joining of NATO in April following Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Its membership of the alliance ended decades of nonalignment.

“Finland is considered by Russia to be a hostile state,” Salonius-Pasternak said. “And as we’re seeing through this weaponization of people and flows, it is actively trying to destabilize Finland and maybe cause other kinds of havoc. It hasn’t succeeded yet, but clearly there’s some intent here.”

The head of the Polish National Security Bureau, Jacek Siewiera, wrote on the social media site X on Tuesday that his country would send military advisers to Finland in response to “an official request for allied support in the face of a hybrid attack on the Finnish border.” Finland said it had no knowledge of the offer.

Poland accused Belarus of sending tens of thousands of asylum-seekers to their shared border in 2021, creating a humanitarian crisis. Belarus is a close ally of Moscow.

Russia denies accusations that it is driving the migrant flows to the Finnish border.

“There is no threat there, in reality there is no tension,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told Reuters Thursday. “Tension may actually arise during the concentration of additional units on our border, because the Finns must be clearly aware that this will pose a threat to us.”

There are concerns in Finland that some migrants may try to cross the border illegally, risking their lives. Dozens of migrants died on the Belarus-Poland border in 2021, prompting accusations that Europe was turning a blind eye to human rights abuses.

“It’s been down to minus-25 [degrees Celsius]. It will go there again. It’s supremely inhospitable to anyone seeking to cross the border,” said analyst Salonius-Pasternak. “So there is this fear — will we start seeing video or pictures of people just having frozen in the wilderness?”

Estonia said Thursday it was also ready to close its border with Russia if there is a big influx of migrants. The government warned its citizens against traveling to Russia in case they are unable to return.

Posted by Worldkrap on

Spanish Police Arrest Man Wanted by US in North Korean Crypto Case 

Spanish police said Friday that they had arrested a Spaniard wanted by U.S. officials for working with an American to provide cryptocurrency and blockchain technology services to North Korea in violation of U.S. sanctions against the rogue state.

In a statement, Spanish police said they had arrested Alejandro Cao de Benos, 48, in Madrid on Thursday as he got off a train from Barcelona. He appeared before a judge Friday and was then released, pending the formal extradition process.

The U.S. Justice Department, in April of last year, indicted Cao de Benos along with British citizen Christopher Emms, then 30, accusing them of conspiring with a third man, U.S. cryptocurrency expert Virgil Griffith, to provide North Korea with training in the technology — in violation of U.S. sanctions.

Griffith was arrested and pleaded guilty to the charges. He was sentenced to 63 months in prison in April 2022. Emms remains at large.

According to a Justice Department statement following the indictments, Emms allegedly told North Korean officials the cryptocurrency technology they were offering to advise them on would have “made it ‘possible to transfer money across any country in the world, regardless of what sanctions or any penalties’ ” might be in place. In effect, they could evade U.S. sanctions.

If tried and convicted, Cao de Benos could face 20 years in prison. The extradition process, which the Justice Department must initiate and Spanish courts and officials must approve, could take months to complete.

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

Posted by Worldkrap on

Chad’s Opposition, Civil Society Ask French Troops to Leave

Chad’s opposition and civil society groups are asking France to immediately withdraw troops who arrived in Chad after being ordered to depart neighboring Niger by that country’s military junta.

Ordjei Abderahim Chaha, president of the opposition party Rally for Justice and Equality, said Thursday that military ruler Mahamat Idriss Deby has failed to heed calls to ask French troops to leave.

Speaking at a news conference in the capital, N’Djamena, Chaha said he believes Deby wants French troops to keep Chad’s military junta in power by intimidating or cracking down on civilians who are ready to protest should Deby fail to hand power to civilian rule by November 2024 as agreed.

Opposition and civil society groups have asked Deby to ensure some 1,000 French troops already stationed in Chad — plus those who have arrived from Niger — leave the central African state no later than December 28, Chaha said.

All colonial-era agreements and newly negotiated deals between France and Chad should be canceled, he said, adding that citizens are fed up with France’s overbearing influence in many African nations.

Deby, a general in Chad’s army, was proclaimed head of an 18-month transitional council on April 21 to replace his late father, Idriss Deby Itno, who had run Chad as a dictator for 30 years.

Opposition and civil society groups say Deby cannot be trusted because he failed to hand power to a civilian government in October 2022 as agreed and instead extended the transition period by two years.

Deby insists he will hand power to civilian rule.

The Chadian government says there have been at least six protests against French military presence in Chad this year. In February, there were widespread protests against French troops after civilians accused the foreign military of brutality against civilians.

In early September, a French military medic opened fire and killed a Chadian soldier who reportedly attacked him with a scalpel as he received care in a military base. Anti-French protests then erupted in Faya-Largeau, a northern town, and Chad’s military used live ammunition and injured several people as it struggled to disperse protesters, according to civil society groups.

Koursami Albert, an international affairs lecturer in Chad’s University of N’Djamena, told VOA via a messaging app that civilians are unhappy because French troops restrict or arrest people who come close to their bases — an indication, he said, that the French do not want anyone to know their activities.

He said even Chadian troops are restricted from going near French military bases.

France has always claimed that its troops are in Africa to ensure peace and stability in friendly countries, especially where it was the former colonial power, but people struggle to see what services their troops render, Koursami said.

French troops have not intervened in the communal violence and armed conflicts Chad faces, observers say.

On October 19, Colonel Pierre Gaudillière, spokesperson for the French military, announced that the first convoy of French troops that left Niger by land had arrived in N’Djamena.

France did not disclose the final destination of their forces leaving Niger. Chad said the troops were to leave for Paris via N’Djamena International airport, while their equipment was to transit through the Douala Seaport in neighboring Cameroon.

French President Emmanuel Macron in September promised to pull all 1,500 French troops from Niger and end military cooperation with the landlocked western African country.

Nigerien military leader General Abdourahamane Omar Tchiani and junta supporters accused France of failing to resolve the security crisis that has killed thousands and displaced millions across Niger.

Posted by Worldkrap on

Virtual Reality Holograms Could Transform Learning, Arts

Developers at the University of Maryland are using a holographic camera to capture people’s movements in three dimensions for what could be high-impact training, education and entertainment. It is technology with the power to transform how we learn and entertain ourselves. VOA’s Julie Taboh has more. VOA footage by Adam Greenbaum.

Posted by Worldkrap on

US Lawmakers Say Chinese Disinformation Operations a Growing Threat

US lawmakers warned Thursday that the Chinese Communist Party’s efforts to spread disinformation will only increase ahead of the 2024 elections in the United States. As VOA’s Congressional Correspondent Katherine Gypson reports, social media giant TikTok is lawmakers’ top concern.
Camera: Saqib Ui Islam

Posted by Worldkrap on

Japan Concerned About US Osprey Aircraft Continuing to Fly

Japan’s top government spokesperson expressed concern on Friday that the U.S. military is continuing to fly Osprey aircraft in the country without providing adequate information about a fatal crash this week in southwestern Japan despite repeated requests that it do so.

One crew member was killed and seven others are missing, along with the aircraft. The cause of Wednesday’s crash, which occurred during a training mission, is still under investigation. Search operations widened Friday with additional U.S. military personnel joining the effort, while Japanese coast guard and military ships focused on an undersea search using sonar.

The Pentagon said Thursday that U.S. Ospreys continue to operate in Japan, and Deputy Press Secretary Sabrina Singh said she was not aware of an official request from Japan to ground them.

“We are concerned about the continuing Osprey flights despite our repeated requests and the absence of a sufficient explanation about their safety” from the U.S. military, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said Friday.

The U.S.-made Osprey is a hybrid aircraft that takes off and lands like a helicopter but can rotate its propellers forward and cruise much faster, like an airplane, during flight.

Ospreys have had a number of crashes, including in Japan, where they are used at U.S. and Japanese military bases, and the latest crash rekindled safety concerns.

Japanese officials say they asked the U.S. military to halt Osprey flights in Japan except for those involved in the search operations.

Defense Minister Minoru Kihara said he met with the commander of U.S. Forces Japan, Lt. Gen. Ricky Rupp, on Thursday afternoon and repeated his request that flights be allowed only after the aircraft’s safety is confirmed. He acknowledged that he did not specifically use the words “grounding” or “suspension.”

Kihara said he asked Rupp to explain what measures are being taken for Osprey flights in Japan in response to the crash.

On Thursday, Japanese Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa met with U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel and asked the United States “to promptly provide information to the Japanese side.”

U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command said the CV-22B Osprey that crashed was one of six deployed at Yokota Air Base, home to U.S. Forces Japan and the Fifth Air Force, and was assigned to the 353rd Special Operations Wing.

The aircraft had departed from the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Yamaguchi prefecture and crashed on its way to Kadena Air Base on Okinawa, Japanese officials said.

A total of 44 Ospreys have been deployed at U.S. and Japanese military bases in Japan. In Okinawa, where about half of the 50,000 American troops in Japan are based, Gov. Denny Tamaki called on Japan’s defense and foreign ministries to request the U.S. military to suspend all Osprey flights in Japan, including in search operations.

“It is extremely regrettable that Ospreys are still flying in Okinawa,” Tamaki said in a statement Thursday. “I have serious doubts about Osprey safety even for their search and rescue operations.”

Posted by Worldkrap on

About Half of Nicaragua’s Population Wants to Emigrate, Study Says

Lawyer Isabel Lazo’s jobs are being systematically canceled by Nicaragua’s increasingly repressive government.

Lazo worked at a university before the government of President Daniel Ortega closed it. She now is employed at a nongovernmental organization that she fears will soon be shuttered too.

Nicaragua’s poisonous mix of economic decline and repression has led to about half of the country’s population of 6.2 million saying they want to leave their homeland, according to a new study, and 23% saying they had contemplated the possibility deeply enough to consider themselves “very prepared” to emigrate.

“A large proportion of them have already taken concrete steps to try to get out,” said Elizabeth Zechmeister, the director of the AmericasBarometer study “The Pulse of Democracy in the Americas.”

The study, which was released on Wednesday, shows that the number of Nicaraguans wanting to leave rose from 35% five years ago to almost half today, and that about 32% of people in 26 Latin American countries surveyed say they want to migrate.

Lazo, 42, and her husband Guillermo Lazo, 52, a systems engineer, both taught at the University of Northern Nicaragua until the Ortega government shut it down in April. It was one of 26 universities that closed because Ortega accused them of being centers of revolt, or failing to register or pay special taxes to the government, which has feuded with the Roman Catholic church, as well.

The couple lives in the northern city of Somoto, where Isabel Lazo now works for a European-backed NGO. Ortega’s government has outlawed or closed more than 3,000 civic groups and NGOs.

In May, the government ordered the Nicaraguan Red Cross shut down, accusing it of “attacks on peace and stability” during anti-government demonstrations in 2018. The local Red Cross says it just helped treat injured protesters.

Lazo said Thursday she is worried that it’s only a matter of time for the group where she now works.

“This will be ending soon,” she said dispiritedly, The couple is now awaiting a decision on a U.S. application for “humanitarian parole,” a program under which up to 30,000 people are being allowed each month to enter the U.S. from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela.

Until then, there are few prospects for them, even though they are among Nicaragua’s educated elite.

“We were left without jobs from one day to the next,” Lazo said. “And even though we have graduate degrees and master’s degrees, we haven’t found decent jobs. You can kill yourself studying here and it’s worth nothing.”

Thousands have already fled into exile since Nicaraguan security forces violently put down mass anti-government protests in 2018. Ortega says the protests were an attempted coup with foreign backing, aiming for his overthrow.

Rosemary Miranda is another educated Nicaraguan who wants to leave. A psychologist, she graduated from the Jesuit-run University of Central America, also closed and confiscated by the government.

Miranda, 24, works for a microfinancing firm at an office in Managua, the capital, but the $402 per month she earns there doesn’t even cover the cost of commuting, meals and clothing.

“In this country, the majority of people work just to eat. They can’t buy clothing or shoes without waiting a month between purchases,” Miranda said.

She has wanted to emigrate for some time, but she helps her family by giving them some of what little money she earns. With the purchasing power of wages falling, she is now rethinking her decision to stay.

“The situation here is very difficult. Every month the price of food, electricity, water and transportation rises,” she said. “What have I gotten in return for studying so much and graduating?”

Posted by Worldkrap on

House Passes Resolution to Block Iran’s Access to $6 Billion From Prisoner Swap 

The House passed a bipartisan measure Thursday that would block Iran from accessing the $6 billion transferred by the U.S. in a prisoner swap, a step Republicans pushed in response to the nation’s alleged role in the deadly attacks last month by Hamas on Israel. 

The measure — titled the No Funds for Iranian Terrorism Act — passed 307-119 as Republicans sought to hold the Biden administration accountable for what they call its complicity in funding Iranian-backed terrorism in the Middle East. 

“With such instability in the region, the last thing we need to do is to give access to $6 billion to be diverted to more Iranian-sponsored terrorism,” Representative Michael McCaul, the Republican chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said during a debate. 

Administration officials have rebuffed this criticism, noting that none of the funds has been made available to Iran and insisting that when it is, it can be used only for humanitarian needs. 

Republican critics like McCaul say that despite the money being restricted to aid, it is fungible and could free up other funds for Tehran to provide support to Hamas. 

The U.S. and Iran reached the tentative agreement in August that eventually saw the release of five detained Americans in Tehran and an unknown number of Iranians imprisoned in the U.S. after billions of dollars in frozen Iranian assets were transferred from banks in South Korea to Qatar. But days after the October 7 attack by Hamas, the U.S. and Qatar agreed that Iran would not be able to access the money in the meantime, with officials stopping short of a full refreezing of the funds. 

The GOP-backed resolution, which now goes to the Senate where it is unlikely to be supported by the Democratic majority, would impose new sanctions on the funds to prevent the transfer of any monies to Iran. It also threatens to sanction any government or individual involved in processing the transfer of the funds. 

Several Democrats who opposed the measure defended the Biden administration’s decision to transfer the money in exchange for American hostages, especially in light of the American hostages now being kept by Hamas in Gaza. 

“Iran, of course, as Hamas, is a murderous and corrupt regime. They’re not pleasant. And this isn’t easy,” Representative Gregory Meeks, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said during the floor debate. “But thanks to this agreement, five American families are now home again.” 

He added, “And Iran has lost the leverage of holding these American hostages.” 

High-ranking U.S. officials have sought to defend the decision to negotiate with Iran despite its track record of supporting terrorism against the U.S. and its allies. But officials have also conceded that Iran’s influence over the various militant groups is undeniable.

Posted by Worldkrap on

British Documentary Alleges China Influences Universities, Spies on Hong Kongers in UK

A BBC Channel 4 documentary, “Secrets and Power: China in the UK,” claims the Chinese government is interfering with academic freedom and spying on Hong Kong activists in the United Kingdom.

The 49-minute film released Wednesday alleges that the University of Nottingham used a Beijing-approved curriculum in classes taught on a satellite campus in Ningbo and closed its School of Contemporary Chinese Studies under pressure from Beijing. 

The program also claims a professor at the Imperial College London collaborated with researchers at a Chinese university on the use of artificial intelligence weaponry that could be used to benefit the Chinese military. Both institutions deny the allegations. 

The film also alleges that Chinese government agents pretending to be journalists used fake profiles and avatars to target Hong Kong activists now living in the U.K. 

VOA Mandarin sent an email to the Chinese Embassy in the United Kingdom seeking comments on the claims in the documentary but has not received a response.  

Nations track China’s influence

The documentary comes as other nations, including the U.S., are monitoring China’s influence on campuses (( )) and its so-called “overseas police centers,” purportedly intended to help Chinese diaspora and tourists with everyday problems. 

VOA has previously quoted human rights groups saying the outposts are in fact part of a complex global surveillance and control web that gives Beijing reach far beyond China’s borders. 

The University of Nottingham was approved by the Chinese Ministry of Education to open a campus in Ningbo, China, in 2004. On the China campus, all courses are taught in English and students are awarded the same degrees as on the U.K. campus.  

Professor Stephen Morgan, the former vice provost for planning at the Ningbo campus, said in the documentary that books and articles on campus are censored by local Communist Party officials.  

According to Morgan, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) also encouraged students to spy on their teachers. He said he was forced to resign from his management position after writing a blog criticizing constitutional changes that enabled President Xi Jinping to serve a third term. The CCP secretary at the Ningbo campus deemed the blog “totally unacceptable,” he said. 

Steve Tsang is director of the China Institute at SOAS London and a former director of the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Nottingham, which closed in 2016. 

Tsang, an outspoken critic of the CCP, said in the documentary that University of Nottingham administrators told him not to speak with media when Xi visited the U.K. in 2015. Tsang also said the university did not allow him to host a senior Taiwanese politician who planned to deliver a speech in 2014.  

School denies taking political action

The University of Nottingham has denied that the closure of its Institute of Contemporary China was for political reasons and denied Channel 4’s allegations about Nottingham’s Ningbo campus. 

“We do not recognize the description of the University of Nottingham’s Ningbo campus. Any U.K. organization operating overseas … must comply with the laws and customs of the host country.”  

The documentary alleges that Imperial College London’s collaboration with researchers from Shanghai University included the publication of several papers on the military applications of artificial intelligence. The work was overseen by Guo Yike, director of Imperial College’s Institute of Data Science. 

According to a report in the English newspaper The Telegraph, Imperial College said staff have a “clear code of research” and insisted that due diligence and regular reviews of partners have been done. 

The Chinese Embassy in London also denied to The Telegraph in the same article that it had interfered in the running of British universities, saying the allegation was “aimed at discrediting and smearing China.”  

Film alleges China targets activists

A study prepared by the British think tank Civitas and released this month in parliament found that a number of British universities have received significant funding from organizations linked to the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) over the past five years. 

The documentary alleges Hong Kong activists who have taken refuge in Britain appear to be the targets of sophisticated Chinese government espionage. 

It follows the case of Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Finn Lau, who said he had been repeatedly approached by fake journalists and feared being followed. In July, Hong Kong offered a bounty equal to $128,000 for Lau’s arrest. Seven others were also targeted.

According to the documentary, an American man who taught English in Shanghai pretended to be a journalist working for a Canadian media outlet and used a false avatar and profile to ask Lau for information about pro-democracy activities. When the American was asked by a Channel 4 reporter for his real name and those of his superiors, he hung up the video call.  

Posted by Worldkrap on

Rocket Launched at US Forces in Syria; No Injuries

Iranian-backed proxies launched a rocket assault against U.S. forces in the Middle East, bringing the total number of attacks on U.S. and coalition troops in Iraq and Syria to 74 since October 17.

A U.S. defense official told VOA a single rocket was launched overnight against Mission Support Site Euphrates in eastern Syria, causing no casualties or damage.

U.S. naval forces in the Middle East continue to counter threats at sea as well. On Wednesday, while in the southern Red Sea, the USS Carney missile destroyer shot down an Iranian-produced drone launched from areas of Yemen controlled by Iranian-backed Houthi militants.

“Although its intentions are not known, the UAV [drone] was heading toward the warship. At the time of the shootdown, the USS Carney was escorting the USNS Supply [oiler] and another U.S.-flagged and -crewed ship carrying military equipment to the region,” U.S. Central Command said.

There were no injuries or damage to any of the vessels during the incident.

On Sunday, two ballistic missiles were fired from Houthi-controlled areas in Yemen in the direction of the USS Mason, a destroyer, as it came to the aid of a commercial vessel that was dealing with an apparent pirate attack.

The Pentagon has officially said that it doesn’t believe the USS Mason was the missiles’ target, but two defense officials have since told VOA they disagree with that assessment.

U.S. has countered attacks in Iraq, Syria

Last week, U.S. forces carried out three strikes within 24 hours against Iranian-backed forces and their facilities in what the military said was a “direct response to attacks against U.S. and coalition forces by Iran and Iran-backed groups.”

Two of the U.S. strikes targeted an operations center and a command-and-control node used by the Iranian-backed militant group Kataib Hezbollah near Al Anbar and Jurf al-Saqr in Iraq, a defense official told VOA. Kataib Hezbollah forces were present at the two facilities, which the defense official said had supported recent attacks on U.S. bases in Iraq and Syria.

Early assessments pointed to at least six militants killed in the two strikes, the defense official said.

A third U.S. attack struck and killed Iranian-backed proxies who earlier had launched a close-range ballistic missile against al-Asad air base in Iraq.

It was the first time a ballistic missile had been launched against U.S. forces in the Middle East since the surge in attacks began on October 17. Ballistic missiles can be much more powerful and carry much more destructive payloads than the rockets and drones used in previous attacks. 

U.S. Central Command said the ballistic missile attack caused eight injuries to U.S. personnel and minor damage to infrastructure. 

Prior to last week’s attacks, U.S. fighter jets had carried out three rounds of strikes targeting four facilities in Syria used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and their proxy groups since October 17.

Most attacks disrupted

Most of the 74 attacks since October 17 were disrupted by the U.S. military or failed to reach their targets, causing no casualties or damage to infrastructure, according to the military. But a handful of attacks have injured dozens of U.S. military personnel. Some suffered shrapnel wounds or perforated eardrums, while a few suffered traumatic brain injuries.

One U.S. contractor at al-Asad Air Base in Iraq suffered a cardiac episode and died while sheltering in place during a false alarm for an air attack. 

Since U.S. President Joe Biden took office in January 2021, Iranian-backed proxies have attacked U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria more than 160 times.

A spate of attacks from Iranian-backed militants in March killed a U.S. contractor in Syria, caused traumatic brain injuries in 23 military personnel and wounded 25 U.S. military personnel, according to the Pentagon. 

The Pentagon responded with air strikes against Iranian-backed facilities in Syria, much like the strikes carried out by U.S. forces in recent weeks. 

The last time Iran or Iranian-backed proxies used ballistic missiles against U.S. forces in Iraq was in 2020 following a U.S. attack in Iraq that killed Iranian Quds force leader Qassem Soleimani.

Posted by Worldkrap on

Hungary Says It Opposes EU Membership Talks With Ukraine

Hungary will not support any European Union proposal to begin talks on making Ukraine a member of the bloc, a government minister said Thursday. 

Gergely Gulyas, the chief of staff to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, said at a news conference in Budapest that it was premature to begin formal talks with Kyiv on the war-ravaged country joining the EU, and that Hungary would not consent to opening the discussions when EU leaders meet in mid-December. 

“We are dealing with a completely premature proposal,” Gulyas said, adding that Hungary “cannot contribute to a common decision” on inviting Ukraine to begin the process of joining the bloc. 

Earlier this month, the EU’s executive arm recommended allowing Ukraine to open membership talks once it addresses governance issues that include corruption, lobbying concerns, and restrictions that might prevent national minorities from studying and reading in their own languages. 

But unanimity among all EU member nations is required on matters involving admission of a new country, giving the nationalist Orban a powerful veto. 

His government has long taken an antagonistic approach to Ukraine, arguing vehemently against EU sanctions on Russia over its invasion and holding up financial aid packages to Kyiv. 

Orban, widely considered one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest allies in Europe, has argued that accession negotiations should not begin with a country that is at war, and that Ukraine’s membership would reorient the system the 27-nation European Union uses to distribute funds to member countries. 

Earlier this month, Orban said that Ukraine is “light years” from joining the bloc, further signaling that his government would be a major obstacle to Kyiv’s ambitions at next month’s meeting of EU heads of state and government in Brussels. 

On Thursday, Gulyas also said Hungary would not support proposed amendments to the EU’s budget, part of which would provide 50 billion euros ($54.5 billion) in long-term aid to Kyiv. 

He said the EU was “illegally” withholding funds from Hungary, and that the government would consequently decline to support any budget amendment. 

The EU froze billions in funding to Budapest over the alleged failures of Orban’s government to adhere to EU rule-of-law and corruption standards. 

Hungary insists it doesn’t link the frozen EU funds to other issues, but many in Brussels see its veto threats regarding aid and Ukraine’s membership as an attempt to blackmail the bloc into releasing the withheld funds. 

Posted by Worldkrap on

As Closings Continue, Britain’s Church Buildings Find New Purpose

More than 2,000 of Britain’s churches of several denominations have closed in the last decade. Many have been demolished, but as Umberto Aguiar reports from London, some are finding new life and are being used for purposes other than religion. Marcus Harton narrates. Camera: Umberto Aguiar.

Posted by Worldkrap on

Mexican Journalist Granted US Asylum After 15-Year Journey

Emilio Gutierrez Soto came to the National Press Club on Wednesday with a message of gratitude. Press freedom advocates came with a call to action.

The 60-year-old journalist fled with his son to the U.S.-Mexico border in 2008 seeking asylum after receiving death threats because of his reporting on Mexican military corruption.

After 15 years, the Board of Immigration Appeals ruled in favor of Gutierrez Soto.

He still needs to go in front of an immigration judge in March 2024 to receive his asylum papers, but his immigration lawyer said his case has been resolved. 

At an event in Washington to highlight his case, Gutierrez Soto was smiling, shaking hands with other journalists, and at times holding back tears as he thanked the people who helped him along the way. 

“These fifteen years have been terrible. … I feel profoundly grateful for everyone here,” Gutierrez Soto said. 

The ruling was a win for the National Press Club and more than 20 other journalism organizations who joined his legal fight.

Press freedom advocates and first amendment lawyers say Gutierrez Soto’s journey offers a case study in how press freedom cases are often overlooked as a priority in the United States.

And they want better protections for at-risk journalists who have to come to the U.S. for safety reasons.

Press freedom advocates recommend sending court watchers to immigration asylum hearings, creating a legal taskforce of First Amendment experts willing to take on the asylum cases of journalists, and producing a database of these experts around the country so at-risk reporters can easily connect with them.

“These experts should be all over the country because they know the system of various judges, immigration judges and federal judges,” said Rutgers University law professor Penny Venetis, who was also one of Gutierrez Soto’s attorneys. 

They also said more media attention on cases of journalists at risk is needed.

“Publicize all cases. I think a big part of this [win] was that it was constantly in the press,” Venetis said. 

Experts involved in Gutierrez Soto’s case on Wednesday talked about ideas to develop a team of experts that can file amicus briefs in every single immigration case involving a journalist and to require immigration judges to be trained in specific subject areas so that they can process immigration cases faster. 

“[Gutierrez Soto’s] case was pending for 15 years. It should not have been. It was a slam dunk case. There should be a group of immigration judges that only handle cases related to journalists,” Venetis said. 

According to Kathy Kiely, National Press Club freedom fellow and the Lee Hills chair in free-press studies at University of Missouri, one of the ways to support at-risk journalists is by advocating for a special visa for human rights workers and journalists. 

“This is in place in Canada. They started with 250 [visas] and they’ve now doubled it to 500 special visas a year. And it gives people at least a three-year runway, so they know they have legal status, they can work,” she said. 

The U.S. does not have a humanitarian visa category. 

Gutierrez Soto’s case

Gutierrez Soto and his son, Oscar, came to the U.S.-Mexico border in 2008 requesting asylum.

At that time, he had been working as a journalist, writing articles about the military forces robbing and extorting people in Chihuahua, which borders New Mexico and part of Texas.

Gutierrez Soto said he received death threats because of those articles and feared being targeted if he stayed in Mexico.

Following their arrival, father and son, who was then 15, were separated. His son went on to stay with relatives in the U.S. while Gutierrez Soto remained in immigration detention for several months. After he was released, he settled in New Mexico where he and his son lived for nine years while his asylum process wound through immigration courts. 

But in 2017 that asylum claim was denied by immigration Judge Robert Hough who ruled Gutierrez Soto did not present sufficient evidence to prove he was targeted for his journalistic work or that his life would be in danger if he returned to Mexico. 

Hough seemed unconvinced that he was a journalist. He denied the asylum claim and ruled that Gutierrez Soto could be removed from the United States.

The Press Club and immigration advocates stepped in to help in 2017 and were able to stop his deportation. 

Shortly after that, Gutierrez Soto received the John Aubuchon award, the club’s highest honor for press freedom. 

Years went by as his case went through the U.S. immigration courts. Then, on September 5, a three-judge appeals panel said Gutierrez Soto had a reasonable and well-founded fear of returning to Mexico because of his articles exposing the corruption of the Mexican military.

They also said the initial judge in his case twice had ruled in error to deport Gutierrez Soto.

The Mexican journalist was working on a Michigan farm when he first learned that his asylum request was finally approved. 

Kiely hopes his case helps to grow support and advocacy for other at-risk journalists and protect freedom of the press. 

“We need to really, collectively as a profession, begin to point out to policymakers, how much you lose when you waste time, resources and money on a case like Emilio’s that should have been decided years ago and how much we can gain if we enabled the journalists to do their jobs,” Kiely said.  

Posted by Worldkrap on

Asian Americans Still Face Prejudice and Discrimination, Study Finds

Facing prejudice is, for most Asian Americans, an all-too-familiar part of life, a new report from the Pew Research Center shows.

The study, which is based on a survey of more than 7,000 respondents, found that the majority of Asian Americans think too little national attention is being paid to their experiences with discrimination.

About one-third of Asian Americans have been told to go back to their home country, the report found. Forty-four percent of Asian Americans ages 18 to 29 said they know an Asian person who has been personally threatened or attacked since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

There are about 23.5 million Asian Americans, making up 7.1% of the nation’s population. The year 2021 saw anti-Asian hate crimes in the U.S. jump to an all-time high, and 2022 was the second-worst year on record.

“Discrimination is nothing new against Asian Americans,” said Neil Ruiz, head of New Research Initiatives at Pew and the study’s co-author. Asian Americans have endured relentless stereotyping, reaching as far back as the 1800s, and Ruiz’s study highlights a paradox at the crux of that.

Asian American communities have for decades been typecast as model minorities: “loyal and hardworking,” as one respondent put it. On the other hand, Asian Americans have found themselves ostracized, treated as what scholars and activists have dubbed “forever foreigners.”

‘Forever Foreigner’ Trope

“We found that 78% of Asian Americans have been treated as a foreigner in some way, even if they were born in the United States,” Ruiz, an Asian American himself, told VOA. Criteria include being told to go back to one’s home country, being ridiculed for speaking a language other than English in public or having one’s name pronounced incorrectly.

Ruiz acknowledged that mispronouncing someone’s name can be an honest mistake. But for many of the study’s participants, these incidents have often bordered on disrespect or become outright offensive, he said.

Ruiz recounted how, in one focus group, an Indian American woman said she had a list of more than 200 ways her name had been mispronounced, leaving her feeling perpetually demeaned. Some reported that they had felt pressured to adopt Anglicized names.

Russell Jeung, a professor of Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University, said that fighting anti-Asian prejudice means creating spaces where people “feel free to share how they are hurt or how others might be hurt” by offhand remarks.

The harder question, activists say, is how to respond when it’s not just a coworker making derisive comments but former President Donald Trump or others in positions of authority, such as airport security personnel who, according to the study, screen South Asian Americans at markedly higher rates.

After Trump used offensive language during the pandemic, including calling the coronavirus the “Chinese virus,” the non-profit group Stop AAPI Hate found that use of anti-Asian slurs had risen online.

Having a tolerant national role model is “a matter of life or death,” Jeung said.

Days after 9/11, then-President George W. Bush delivered a speech at a mosque calling for respect for Islam. Hate crimes against Arab and South Asian Americans immediately fell, according to the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism.

“American leaders have a very deficient understanding of the experiences and needs of a group as diverse as Asian America,” said Charles Jung, a Californian civil rights lawyer and community organizer.

National leaders, Jung said, have a responsibility to encourage tolerance and to bring communities together by highlighting shared values rather than perceived differences. “At a minimum, that means not saying racist things and inflaming hatred,” Jung said. “But that’s the bare minimum.”

Model Minority Stereotype

The notion that Asian Americans serve as a model for other minority groups has been perpetuated in popular media for generations. In 1966, The New York Times Magazine ran an article hailing Japanese Americans as a “success story.” In 1987, Time magazine ran a cover story describing Asian American children as “whiz kids.”

But Jung said the “model minority” stereotype is “certainly flattening and simplistic — a cartoonish view of an entire people who are incredibly diverse.”

The Pew survey found that most Asian Americans, particularly Indian Americans, had not heard of the term “model minority,” though most respondents said they had been presumed by peers to be good at math or uncreative — two stereotypes associated with Asians.

Karthick Ramakrishnan, a professor of public policy at the University of California, Riverside, and founder of AAPI Data, said that, compared with East Asian Americans, “the model minority myth is not as much of a barrier or a concern that South Asians have to deal with.”

“South Asians and East Asians experience racism and racial discrimination differently,” Ramakrishnan added, citing disproportionate security screenings and surveillance of South Asian Americans in the post-9/11 era.

Of the Asian Americans who were familiar with the term, 42% said the model minority stereotype is harmful.

There isn’t a consensus among Asian Americans: 17% thought the model minority stereotype is positive, a stance Republican Asian Americans are comparatively more likely to take.

Jeung counts himself among the 42% who believe the stereotype is damaging. He said it “drives a wedge between Asians and other racial groups. It also masks issues that Asians face: If we’re seen as a model, we’re seen as not having any particular problems. But clearly, we face racism.”

Jeung said the model minority stereotype belies a wide range of social issues that many Asian Americans confront in their day-to-day lives, from workplace discrimination (according to the Pew survey, about 1 in 5 Asian Americans said they had experienced anti-Asian workplace discrimination) to expectations of perfection in the classroom and beyond.

Despite the widespread problem of anti-Asian hate, the majority of Asian American adults said the challenges of racism were rarely, if ever, discussed in their households growing up.

“Sometimes, the adaptation that immigrant Asian parents adopt is swallowing the bitterness and pain,” Jung said.

Posted by Worldkrap on

Shane MacGowan, Lead Singer of The Pogues, Dies at 65

Shane MacGowan, the boozy, rabble-rousing singer and chief songwriter of The Pogues, who infused traditional Irish music with the energy and spirit of punk, died Thursday, his family said. He was 65.

MacGowan’s songwriting and persona made him an iconic figure in contemporary Irish culture, and some of his compositions have become classics — most notably the bittersweet Christmas ballad “Fairytale of New York,” which Irish President Michael D. Higgins said “will be listened to every Christmas for the next century or more.”

“It is with the deepest sorrow and heaviest of hearts that we announce the passing of our most beautiful, darling and dearly beloved Shane MacGowan,” his wife Victoria Clarke, his sister Siobhan and father Maurice said in a statement.

The singer died peacefully with his family by his side, the statement added.

The musician had been hospitalized in Dublin for several months after being diagnosed with viral encephalitis in late 2022. He was discharged last week, ahead of his upcoming birthday on Christmas Day.

The Pogues melded Irish folk and rock ‘n’ roll into a unique, intoxicating blend, though MacGowan became as famous for his sozzled, slurred performances as for his powerful songwriting.

His songs blended the scabrous and the sentimental, ranging from carousing anthems to snapshots of life in the gutter to unexpectedly tender love songs. The Pogues’ most famous song, “Fairytale of New York” is a tale of down-on-their-luck immigrant lovers that opens with the decidedly unfestive words: “It was Christmas Eve, babe, in the drunk tank.” The duet between the raspy-voiced MacGowan and the velvet tones of the late Kirsty MacColl is by far the most beloved Pogues song in both Ireland and the U.K.

Singer-songwriter Nick Cave called Shane MacGowan “a true friend and the greatest songwriter of his generation.”

Higgins, the Irish president, said “his songs capture within them, as Shane would put it, the measure of our dreams.”

“His words have connected Irish people all over the globe to their culture and history, encompassing so many human emotions in the most poetic of ways,” Higgins said.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said MacGowan’s songs “beautifully captured the Irish experience, especially the experience of being Irish abroad.”

Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald said: “Nobody told the Irish story like Shane — stories of emigration, heartache, dislocation, redemption, love and joy.”

Born on Christmas Day 1957 in England to Irish parents, MacGowan spent his early years in rural Ireland before the family moved back to London. Ireland remained the lifelong center of his imagination and his yearning. He grew up steeped in Irish music absorbed from family and neighbors, along with the sounds of rock, Motown, reggae and jazz.

He attended the elite Westminster School in London, from which he was expelled, and spent time in a psychiatric hospital after a breakdown in his teens.

MacGowan embraced the punk scene that exploded in Britain in the mid-1970s. He joined a band called the Nipple Erectors, performing under the name Shane O’Hooligan, before forming The Pogues alongside musicians including Jem Finer and Spider Stacey.

The Pogues — shortened from the original name Pogue Mahone, a rude Irish phrase — fused punk’s furious energy with traditional Irish melodies and instruments including banjo, tin whistle and accordion.

“It never occurred to me that you could play Irish music to a rock audience,” MacGowan recalled in “A Drink with Shane MacGowan,” a 2001 memoir co-authored with Clarke. “Then it finally clicked. Start a London Irish band playing Irish music with a rock and roll beat. The original idea was just to rock up old ones but then I started writing.”

The band’s first album, “Red Roses for Me,” was released in 1984 and featured raucous versions of Irish folk songs alongside originals including “Boys from the County Hell,” “Dark Streets of London” and “Streams of Whisky.”

Playing pubs and clubs in London and beyond, the band earned a loyal following and praise from music critics and fellow musicians from Bono to Bob Dylan.

MacGowan wrote many of the songs on the next two albums, “Rum, Sodomy and the Lash” (1985) and “If I Should Fall from Grace with God” (1988), ranging from rollicking rousers like the latter album’s title track to ballads like “A Pair of Brown Eyes” and “The Broad Majestic Shannon.”

The band also released a 1986 EP, “Poguetry in Motion,” which contained two of MacGowan’s finest songs, “A Rainy Night in Soho” and “The Body of an American.” The latter featured prominently in early-2000s TV series “The Wire,” sung at the wakes of Baltimore police officers.

“I wanted to make pure music that could be from any time, to make time irrelevant, to make generations and decades irrelevant,” he recalled in his memoir.

The Pogues were briefly on top of the world, with sold-out tours and appearances on U.S. television, but the band’s output and appearances grew more erratic, due in part to MacGowan’s struggles with alcohol and drugs. He was fired by the other band members in 1991 after they became fed up with a string of no-shows, including when The Pogues were opening for Dylan. The band briefly replaced MacGowan with Clash frontman Joe Strummer before breaking up.

MacGowan performed with a new band, Shane MacGowan and the Popes, with whom he put out two albums: “The Snake” in 1995 and “The Crock Of Gold” in 1997. He reunited with The Pogues in 2001 for a series of concerts and tours, despite his well-documented problems with drinking and performances that regularly included slurred lyrics and at least one fall on stage.

MacGowan had years of health problems and used a wheelchair after breaking his pelvis a decade ago. He was long famous for his broken, rotten teeth until receiving a full set of implants in 2015 from a dental surgeon who described the procedure as “the Everest of dentistry.”

MacGowan received a lifetime achievement award from the Irish president on his 60th birthday. The occasion was marked with a celebratory concert at the National Concert Hall in Dublin with performers including Bono, Nick Cave, Sinead O’Connor and Johnny Depp.

Clarke wrote on Instagram that “there’s no way to describe the loss that I am feeling and the longing for just one more of his smiles that lit up my world.”

“I am blessed beyond words to have met him and to have loved him and to have been so endlessly and unconditionally loved by him and to have had so many years of life and love and joy and fun and laughter and so many adventures,” she wrote.

Posted by Worldkrap on

Russia’s Supreme Court Effectively Outlaws LGBTQ+ Activism in Landmark Ruling

Russia’s Supreme Court on Thursday effectively outlawed LGBTQ+ activism, in the most drastic step against advocates of gay, lesbian and transgender rights in the increasingly conservative country.

In a statement announcing a lawsuit filed to the court earlier this month, the Justice Ministry argued that authorities had identified “signs and manifestations of an extremist nature” by an LGBTQ+ “movement” operating in Russia, including “incitement of social and religious discord,” although it offered no details or evidence. In its ruling, the court declared the “movement” to be extremist and banned it in Russia.

The hearing took place behind closed doors and with no defendant. Multiple rights activists have pointed out that the lawsuit targeted the “international civic LGBT movement,” which is not an entity but rather a broad and vague definition that would allow Russian authorities to crack down on any individuals or groups deemed to be part of the “movement.”

“Despite the fact that the Justice Ministry demands to label a nonexistent organization — ‘the international civic LGBT movement’ — extremist, in practice it could happen that the Russian authorities, with this court ruling at hand, will enforce it against LGBTQ+ initiatives that work in Russia, considering them a part of this civic movement,” Max Olenichev, a human rights lawyer who works with the Russian LGBTQ+ community, told The Associated Press ahead of the hearing.

Some LGBTQ+ activists have said they sought to become a party to the lawsuit, arguing that it concerns their rights, but were rejected by the court. The Justice Ministry has not responded to a request for comment on the lawsuit.

The Supreme Court ruling is the latest step in a decadelong crackdown on LGBTQ+ rights in Russia begun under President Vladimir Putin, who has put “traditional family values” at the cornerstone of his rule.

In 2013, the Kremlin adopted the first legislation restricting LGBTQ+ rights, known as the “gay propaganda” law, banning any public endorsement of “nontraditional sexual relations” among minors. In 2020, constitutional reforms pushed through by Putin to extend his rule by two more terms also included a provision to outlaw same-sex marriage.

After sending troops into Ukraine in 2022, the Kremlin ramped up its comments about protecting “traditional values” from what it called the West’s “degrading” influence, in what rights advocates saw as an attempt to legitimize the war. That same year, the authorities adopted a law banning propaganda of “nontraditional sexual relations” among adults, also, effectively outlawing any public endorsement of LGBTQ+ people.

Another law passed earlier this year prohibited gender transitioning procedures and gender-affirming care for transgender people. The legislation prohibited any “medical interventions aimed at changing the sex of a person,” as well as changing one’s gender in official documents and public records. It also amended Russia’s Family Code by listing gender change as a reason to annul a marriage and adding those “who had changed gender” to a list of people who can’t become foster or adoptive parents.

“Do we really want to have here, in our country, in Russia, ‘Parent No. 1, No. 2, No. 3’ instead of ‘mom’ and ‘dad?'” Putin said in September 2022. “Do we really want perversions that lead to degradation and extinction to be imposed in our schools from the primary grades?”

Authorities have rejected accusations of discrimination against LGBTQ+ people. Earlier this month, Russian media quoted Andrei Loginov, a deputy justice minister, as saying that “the rights of LGBT people in Russia are protected” legally. Loginov spoke in Geneva, while presenting a report on human rights in Russia to the U.N. Human Rights Council, and argued that “restraining public demonstration of non-traditional sexual relationships or preferences is not a form of censure for them.” 

Posted by Worldkrap on

World Leaders React to Kissinger Death

World leaders reacted to the death of Henry Kissinger, a former U.S. secretary of state who influenced geopolitics under two presidents.

Kissinger died Wednesday at 100.

“Deeply shocked and saddened to learn of Dr. Kissinger’s passing at 100,” Xie Feng, China’s ambassador to the United States said in a post on X, formerly known as twitter. “My deepest condolences go to Nancy (Kissinger’s wife) and her family. It is a tremendous loss for both our countries and the world. The history will remember what the centenarian had contributed to China-U.S. relations, and he will always remain alive in the hearts of the Chinese people as a most valued old friend.”

Kissinger made two trips to China before accompanying U.S. President Richard Nixon on his groundbreaking visit to Beijing in 1972 to meet with China’s Communist Party chairman, Mao Zedong. During the visit, the United States and China formalized diplomatic relations after a break of 23 years.

In Japan, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida spoke of Kissinger’s role in Asia, saying he was responsible for “significant contributions” to peace and stability, in a post on X.

Kishida mentioned Kissinger’s work in China and added, “I’d like to express my most sincere respect to the great achievements he made. I also would like to offer my condolences.”

European Council President Charles Michel called Kissinger a “strategist with attention to the smallest detail,” in another post on X. He declared him “A kind human and a brilliant mind who, over 100 years, shaped the [destinies] of some of the most important events of the century.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin called Kissinger “a wise and farsighted statesman,” in a telegram to Kissinger’s widow, Nancy, according to Reuters.

“America has lost one of the most dependable and distinctive voices” on foreign affairs, said former President George W. Bush, striking a tone shared by many high-level officials past and present.

“I have long admired the man who fled the Nazis as a young boy from a Jewish family, then fought them in the United States Army,” Bush said in a statement. “When he later became secretary of state, his appointment as a former refugee said as much about his greatness as it did America’s greatness.”

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said he was “in awe” of Kissinger.

“Of course, like anyone who has confronted the most difficult problems of international politics, he was criticized at times, even denounced,” Blair said. “But I believe he was always motivated not from a coarse ‘realpolitik,’ but from a genuine love of the free world and the need to protect it. He was a problem solver, whether in respect of the Cold War, the Middle East or China and its rise.”

Israeli President Isaac Herzog said as he met U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Tel Aviv that Kissinger “laid the cornerstone of the peace agreement, which (was) later signed with Egypt, and so many other processes around the world I admire.”

Blinken said Kissinger “really set the standard for everyone who followed in this job” and that he was “very privileged to get his counsel many times, including as recently as about a month ago.”

“Few people were better students of history,” he said. “Even fewer people did more to shape history than Henry Kissinger.”

French President Emmanuel Macron wrote on X that “Henry Kissinger was a giant of history. His century of ideas and of diplomacy had a lasting influence on his time and on our world.”

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz reflected on Kissinger’s impact on the relationship between the U.S. and Germany, his native county. Kissinger was a Jew who fled Nazi rule with his family in his teens.

“His commitment to the transatlantic friendship between the USA and Germany was significant, and he always remained close to his German homeland,” Chancellor Olaf Scholz wrote on X.

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