Posted by Worldkrap on

Here Are Wikipedia’s Most Searched Topics in 2023

Millions around the world turn to Wikipedia when they want to better understand the world around them, and that apparently includes artificial intelligence — the most searched topic on the online encyclopedia in 2023.

“ChatGPT is one of the generative AI tools that is trained on Wikipedia data, pulling large amounts of content from Wikipedia projects to answer people’s questions,” says Anusha Alikhan, chief communications officer at the Wikimedia Foundation. “So, the fact that millions of people are going to Wikipedia to learn about ChatGPT is kind of an interesting twist.”

Wikipedia articles about ChatGPT garnered more than 79 million page views across all languages, according to the Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit that hosts and funds the site. The information found on Wikipedia is managed by volunteer editors around the world.

English-language Wikipedia drew more than 84 billion views in 2023, according to the nonprofit. The top five articles this year were ChatGPT; Deaths in 2023; 2023 World Cricket Cup; Indian Premier League; and the film “Oppenheimer.”

Cricket is a popular global sport, but this is the first time since Wikipedia started keeping track in 2015 that an article about the sport made the list.

The rest of the most popular topics in Wikipedia’s Top 25 include a couple of Indian movies, as well as the U.S. megahit film, “Barbie.” Two celebrities who died this year —Matthew Perry and Lisa Marie Presley — are on the list, as are two well-known people: singer Taylor Swift and businessman Elon Musk, who made headlines a lot this year. Sports events, the United States, and India also made the Top 25 list.

“It gives the world, in our opinion, a real deep dive into the topics that people were most interested in for the entire year,” Alikhan says. “We often say also that Wikipedia reflects the world.”

According to Wikipedia data, the top five countries that accessed the English Wikipedia in 2023 are the United States (33 billion page views); the United Kingdom (9 billion page views); India (8.48 million page views); Canada (3.95 billion page views); and Australia (2.56 billion page views).

Historical subjects that make the list are often connected to a current event, including J. Robert Oppenheimer, the so-called father of the atomic bomb.

“The fact that number seven on the list is J. Robert Oppenheimer speaks to the fact that it was, of course, connected to the ‘Oppenheimer’ movie,” Alikhan says. “The article about him was also very highly trafficked, in addition to the film. So typically, if there’s a historical article in the Top 25, it’s because it was related to a current event.”

Top 25 English Wikipedia articles that received the most pageviews in 2023:

ChatGPT  49 million page views

Deaths in 2023  43 million

2023 Cricket World Cup  38 million

Indian Premier League   32 million

Oppenheimer (film)   28 million

Cricket World Cup 25.9 million

J. Robert Oppenheimer 25.6 million

Jawan (film) 22 million

2023 Indian Premier League 21 million

Pathaan (film) 19.9 million

The Last of Us (TV series) 19.7 million

Taylor Swift 19 million

Barbie (film) 18 million

Cristiano Ronaldo 17 million

Lionel Messi 16.62 million

Premier League 16.60 million

Matthew Perry 16.45 million

United States 16.24 million

Elon Musk 14.37 million

Avatar: The Way of Water (film) 14.30 million

India 13.8 million

Lisa Marie Presley 13.7 million

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (film) 13.3 million

Russian invasion of Ukraine 12.79 million

Andrew Tate 12.72 million


Posted by Worldkrap on

Brutal killings of Women in Western Balkan Countries Trigger Alarm, Expose Faults in System

A man in Bosnia-Herzegovina killed his wife and streamed the murder live on Instagram. In neighboring Serbia, 27 women were killed in gender-based attacks this year, despite efforts to raise awareness and reverse the trend. Activists in Kosovo say violence against women there is a “national emergency.”

Throughout the western Balkans, women are harassed, raped, beaten and killed, often by their partners and after repeatedly reporting the violence to the authorities. The region is staunchly conservative, with a centuries-old tradition of male dominance, but the problem surged following the wars in the 1990s and the political, economic and social crises that have persisted since the conflicts ended.

In response, women’s groups in the region have organized protests to draw public attention and demand action. They have set up help lines and shelters for women. But activists blame authorities for not acting more decisively to protect women and counter a culture of impunity.

The public in Bosnia and the wider region was brutally shaken into reality in August, when a woman in the northeastern Bosnian town of Gradacac was shot in the head by her former partner, in a live video on Instagram.

The murder was “so gruesome and so tragic” that it was an “eye-opener,” said Jadranka Milicevic, from the Cure [Girls] group.

In the Western Balkans, most countries have passed laws and regulations to combat violence against women but implementation remains incoherent, activists say.

Bosnia, for example, was among the first countries to ratify the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention on violence against women, but the problem has only grown since then, Milicevic said.

“Violence against women and domestic violence are a global phenomenon. They exist everywhere, but it is the state response to the violence that is the key issue,” said Vanja Macanovic, from the Autonomous Women’s Center in Serbia. “Unfortunately, what we see here [in the Balkans] is that violence is approved. It is a model of behavior that is not sufficiently condemned in public.”

“We have signed all relevant international declarations, resolutions and conventions but their application is questionable,” said Milicevic. “Too many people still perceive [domestic] violence as a private issue, a private matter between two people. They do not understand that it is a social problem.”

Observers cite Bosnia’s lenient sentences for violence and killing of women as one of the key problems. A 2022 report by GREVIO, an expert body monitoring the implementation of the Istanbul Convention, said such court practices feed a “sentiment of impunity” that is felt strongly by both the perpetrators and their victims.

Only once was a murderer sentenced to the 40-year maximum in a case where a woman was the victim, Milicevic said. A total of 65 women have been killed in the past 10 years and five have survived attempted murders in the country of 3.3 million people, local data shows.

The situation is similar in Kosovo, another highly patriarchal and male-oriented Balkan society. There, the rape last year of an 11-year-old girl by five assailants triggered street protests demanding safety for women, which led to the resignation of the police chief.

But protesters were out in the streets again later in 2022, angered by two killings in the capital Pristina. A 63-year-old geography teacher was killed by her ax-wielding husband, while a pregnant woman was tracked down outside a hospital by her husband, who killed her while she was waiting to give birth.

A total of 66 women have been killed by partners or husbands since 2000 in Kosovo, a nation of 2 million, while only one perpetrator has been sentenced to life in prison, official statistics show.

Serbian activist Macanovic believes part of the problem is that “institutions are not being held responsible” and there is no consequence for mistakes in handling the cases. This discourages women from turning to the state for help, especially in smaller communities, she added.

“We do not have a well-structured system of responsibility for every professional for wrongful action, or rather lack of action,” she said. It is rare for police officers, social services, prosecutors or court officials to be held to account if mistakes are made and a woman is later killed.

Faced with a surge in violence and killings of women, in 2017 Serbia began implementing a special law to deepen cooperation among agencies, take immediate measures against attackers and set up local working groups on the prevention of violence.

Serbia’s minister of human and minority rights, Tomislav Zigmanov, pledged further efforts at a recent meeting in the capital Belgrade marking a global campaign to fight violence against women. Zigmanov called for cooperation with grassroots organizations in preventing violence and monitoring the penal process.

“We must also have civic organizations as partners when it comes to creating a tolerant society of mutual respect and understanding,” he said.

In Kosovo, the Ministry of Justice was sending out text messages to warn against violence and urge women to report attacks. Top officials there have publicly called for tougher sentences for perpetrators and criticized past practices.

“We need the entire justice system to prioritize cases of violence against girls and women,” Prime Minister Albin Kurti said at a conference on Tuesday, titled, “United against violence — It’s enough!” Kurti cited “cases when criminals are released and the crimes are repeated even worse than the first time.”

Bosnia, too, passed a law on the prevention of domestic violence several years ago and authorities have promised to do more. But in the societies that went through wars, where economies and institutions have crumbled, and where ethnic, political and social divisions are often fueled by authorities rather than countered, legal changes alone are not enough, say experts.

Violence has persisted and will continue, believes Vesna Stanojevic, who runs a chain of safe houses for women in Serbia. “Sometimes we take in women who are beaten so hard that they cannot walk or move their head, who have come after being in a hospital, who are about to give birth, have stomach injuries,” she said.

“Where did they [attackers] learn that? Who are role models for our children”?” she asked. “We should educate and we [societies] obviously are not doing it.”

Currently, more than 40 women and children are staying in the shelters run by her organization, she said. “In my 32 years of work, I haven’t seen violence decline. … Sometimes there is more, sometimes less, but generally it is always there.”

In one of the shelters, a 26-year-old woman said in an interview she decided to leave her partner when she noticed bruises also on their baby son. The woman, who wouldn’t give her name for security reasons, said her partner repeatedly raped her, beat and choked her, and kept her and the baby locked in their flat for hours at a time.

Upon leaving, the woman ended up in a hospital with chest injuries and bruising. The man has now been detained. “The last [beating] was really bad,” she said. “I knew that if it happened again, neither I nor the baby would remain alive.”

Posted by Worldkrap on

UK Interior Minister Signs New Rwanda Treaty to Resurrect Asylum Plan

British interior minister James Cleverly signed a new treaty with Rwanda on Tuesday in an attempt to overcome a court decision to block the government’s controversial policy of sending asylum seekers to the East African country.

The Rwanda plan is at the centre of the government’s strategy to cut migration and is being watched closely by other countries considering similar policies.

The United Kingdom’s Supreme Court last month ruled that such a move would violate international human rights laws enshrined in domestic legislation.

The new treaty will include an agreement that Rwanda would not expel asylum seekers to a country where their life or freedom would be threatened – one of the court’s major concerns.

There will also be a monitoring committee to enable individuals to lodge confidential complaints directly to them and a new appeal body made up of judges from around the world.

Cleverly said there was now no “credible” reason to block the deportation flights because the treaty addressed all the issues raised by the Supreme Court and no extra money had been given to Rwanda to upgrade the deal from the existing memorandum of understanding.

“I really hope that we can now move quickly,” Cleverly told a press conference in Rwanda’s capital Kigali.

Many lawyers and charities said it was unlikely that deportation flights could start before next year’s election. The opposition Labour Party, which has a double-digit lead in the polls, plans to ditch the Rwanda policy if it wins.

Under the plan agreed last year, Britain intends to send thousands of asylum seekers who arrived on its shores without permission to Rwanda to deter migrants crossing the Channel from Europe in small boats.

In return, Rwanda has received an initial payment of 140 million pounds ($180 million) with the promise of more money to fund the accommodation and care of any deported individuals.


Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is under intense pressure to cut net migration, which hit a record 745,000 last year, with the vast majority coming through legal routes.

“Stop the boats” is one of five goals Sunak set for his government, to end the flow of asylum seekers who pay people smugglers for their Channel crossings, often in overcrowded boats that are not seaworthy.

The Supreme Court ruled against the Rwanda plan because there was a risk that deported refugees would have their claims wrongly assessed or returned to their country of origin to face persecution.

The new treaty is expected to be followed later this week by the publication of legislation declaring Rwanda a so-called safe country, designed to stop legal challenges against the planned deportation flights.

However, this is likely to trigger a new round of political and legal wrangling. The first flight was scheduled to go last summer but was cancelled at the last moment because of legal challenges.

Sarah Gogan, an immigration lawyer at Harbottle & Lewis, said Rwanda’s human rights record meant the government’s policy would be challenged.

“Rwanda is an unsafe country and this is not a quick fix,” she said. “You cannot in a matter of weeks or months reform a country and turn it into one with an impartial judiciary and administrative culture.”

Yvette Cooper, Labour’s home affairs spokeswoman, dismissed the government’s latest plans as another “gimmick.”

Posted by Worldkrap on

Maryland Residents Run Nonprofit to Save Senior Dogs

In 2021, Maryland residents Georgia Dodson and Jade Conner started a nonprofit that rescues aging dogs. So far, Miri’s Haven Senior Dog Rescue says it has helped more than 280 dogs, all of which are over 7 years old, many with medical issues. Masha Morton has the story. VOA footage by Alexey Zonov.

Posted by Worldkrap on

Zelenskyy to Address US Lawmakers Amid Debate About New Aid for Ukraine  

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is set to address members of the U.S. Senate Tuesday amid a push by the White House for Congress to urgently approve new funding to help Ukraine in its defense against Russia’s invasion. 


Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Zelenskyy was invited to speak via video at a classified briefing “so we can hear directly from him precisely what’s at stake” when lawmakers vote on a bill that includes billions of dollars in aid for Ukraine. 


Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young warned in a letter to congressional leaders Monday that by the end of the year, the U.S. will no longer have the funds to send weapons and assistance to Ukraine. It “will not be able to keep fighting,” Young said of Ukraine, noting that the U.S. has already run out of money for propping up Ukraine’s economy.   


In October, the Biden administration asked Congress for nearly $106 billion to fund ambitious plans for Ukraine, Israel and U.S. border security.   


Funding for Ukraine has become politically controversial with some right-leaning lawmakers in the narrowly Republican-controlled Congress.   


However, Young said in the letter released by the White House that cutting off funding and a flow of weapons to Ukraine would likely work to Russia’s advantage on the battlefield.   


“I want to be clear: Without congressional action, by the end of the year we will run out of resources to procure more weapons and equipment for Ukraine, to provide equipment from U.S. military stocks,” she wrote. “There is no magical pot of funding available to meet this moment. We are out of money — and nearly out of time,” she said.




Diplomatic envoys of the EU’s 27 member countries will meet Tuesday to start debating a launch of EU membership talks with Ukraine, according to officials and diplomats.   


The meeting marks the start of preparations among the 27 for the December 14-15 summit of the bloc’s leaders that will also assess and decide on EU integration prospects for Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Bosnia and others.   


Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has demanded that Ukraine’s membership bid into the European Union not be on the agenda at the EU summit.  


In a letter he sent to European Council President Charles Michel, who will chair the summit in Brussels, Orban insisted that a “strategic discussion” is needed first about Ukraine’s European future and warned that forcing a decision could destroy EU unity.  


Orban, who is widely considered one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest allies in Europe, maintains that Ukraine is “light years away” from becoming an EU member.   


He wrote that EU leaders “must avoid this counterproductive scenario for the sake of unity, our most important asset.” He did not explicitly say that Hungary would veto any moves to open membership talks with Ukraine, but the threat was implicit.   


Decisions regarding EU membership and EU’s long-term budget, which includes $54.1 billion in assistance for Kyiv, can only be made unanimously by all 27 member countries.       


Ukraine-Russia fighting   


Russia’s defense ministry said Tuesday the country’s air defense systems destroyed or intercepted at least 35 Ukrainian drones.

The ministry said on Telegram it thwarted the attempted Ukrainian attacks over the Crimean Peninsula and the Sea of Azov.

Ukraine’s military said Tuesday that Russia attacked overnight with 17 Iran-made Shahed drones, with Ukrainian air defenses destroying 10 of the drones.

It also said Russia launched six guided missiles targeting the Donetsk and Kherson regions. 

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


Posted by Worldkrap on

Niger Ends Security, Defense Partnerships with EU

Niger’s junta on Monday scrapped two key military agreements that the West African nation signed with the European Union to help fight the violence in Africa’s Sahel region as the country’s army leaders and a senior Russian defense official discussed military cooperation.

Before the coup that deposed the country’s president, Mohamed Bazoum, Niger had been the West and Europe’s last major security partner in the Sahel, the vast region south of the Sahara Desert that Islamic extremist groups have turned into the global terror hot spot.

In a memo, Niger’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said the government has decided to “withdraw the privileges and immunities granted” under the EU Military Partnership Mission in Niger that was launched in February and consequently “has no legal obligation” related to that partnership.

It also dismissed the EU Civilian Capacity-Building Mission established in 2012 to strengthen Niger’s internal security sector, effectively revoking its approval for the missions.

The developments are the latest in growing political tensions between Niger and the EU since the July coup.

In a rare visit on Sunday, a Russian delegation led by Russia’s Deputy Minister of Defense Yunus-Bek Yevkurov met with Niger’s junta leader, General Abdourahmane Tchiani, and Minister of State for National Defense Salifou Mody. The two sides held more meetings on Monday to discuss military and defense issues.

“At the center of the discussions is the strengthening of cooperation between the two countries in the field of defense,” Niger’s Defense Ministry said in a statement, hinting at formal political ties with Moscow, which has no embassy or military personnel in the country.

Most of Niger’s foreign economic and security allies have sanctioned the country, including France, which had 1,500 troops operating in Niger. All of them have been asked to leave.

Analysts say that although regional and international sanctions to force the junta to reverse its coup have squeezed the country, they have also emboldened the military government as it consolidates its hold on power and seeks new partnerships.

Russia has been active in parts of Africa through its private mercenary Wagner Group, from the Central African Republic, where the mercenary forces have helped provide security services to the government, to Mali, where they are partnering with the army in battling armed rebels and where the Yevkurov-led delegation also visited.

The Wagner Group was one of the first sources of help that the military leaders in Niger reached out to for support as they faced a possible military intervention from West Africa’s regional bloc of ECOWAS in a bid to reverse the coup.

Posted by Worldkrap on

UK’s Giant Pandas Leave Edinburgh Zoo, Return to China

The U.K.’s only giant pandas left Edinburgh for China on Monday after spending 12 cub-less years in the Scottish capital. 

It was hoped that female Tian Tian (“Sweetie”) and male Yang Guang (“Sunshine”) would produce a cub during their stay at the Edinburgh Zoo. 

But the bears, who even had a special black, white, grey and red tartan created in their honor, never succeeded in conceiving. 

“It’s sad that Tian Tian hasn’t bred here. We would obviously really have liked her to have done so, but this is not unusual with giant pandas,” said Simon Girling, head of veterinary services at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS). 

“I think we’re all quite sad to see them go. They are two lovely individuals, lovely characters, and we’ve got to know them really well.” 

The pandas were transported to the airport in metal crates and loaded into a cargo plane with a pallet of bamboo ahead of their flight back to China. 

They will spend time in quarantine on arrival in China before being re-homed at a sanctuary in Chengdu, the capital of southwestern China’s Sichuan province. 

The pandas arrived at Edinburgh Zoo in December 2011 as part of a 10-year agreement between the RZSS and the China Wildlife Conservation Association, which was later extended by two years. 

During their stay in Edinburgh, the popular pair even had a special tartan created in their honor, in black, white and grey representing their fur, and red to symbolize China.

Difficult to breed  

But it was soon clear the two were not eager to breed.

The zoo and veterinarians from China made eight attempts at artificial insemination between the pair.

There was also a failed attempt to artificially inseminate Tian Tian in 2013.  

The giant panda breeding program was stopped in 2021 after Yang Guang was treated for testicular cancer and later was castrated. 

Giant pandas are notoriously difficult to breed in captivity, with bears losing interest in mating the natural way — or simply not knowing how.

A female panda has a single estrus cycle in the spring in which she is fertile for only 24 to 36 hours, according to the Pandas International conservation organization.   

“We have made a significant contribution to our understanding around giant panda fertility, husbandry and veterinary care — which has been of real benefit to efforts to protect this amazing species in China,” said RZSS chief executive David Field.  

Attempts to breed pandas in captivity began in China in 1955. In 1963, Ming Ming, the first giant panda bred in captivity, was born at the Beijing Zoo. 

Pandas are found in the wild in southwest China, along the Tibetan Plateau. 

Posted by Worldkrap on

US Republican Presidential Candidates Look for Edge in Final Debate

Only four Republican presidential candidates have qualified to take to the stage for a fourth and final debate of the year Wednesday, meaning the audience will hear more from each candidate before the U.S. primaries begin in 2024. VOA’s Senior Washington Correspondent Carolyn Presutti tells us what else they need to do to “break out from the pack.”

Posted by Worldkrap on

More Than $950,000 Raised for Palestinian Student Paralyzed After Being Shot in Vermont

More than $950,000 has been raised for the recovery of one of the three college students of Palestinian descent who was shot in Vermont and is currently paralyzed from the chest down, according to a GoFundMe page set up by his family.

One of the bullets that hit Hisham Awartani on Nov. 25 is lodged in his spine, his family said.

“Hisham’s first thoughts were for his friends, then for his parents who were thousands of miles away. He has demonstrated remarkable courage, resilience and fortitude – even a sense of humor – even as the reality of his paralysis sets in,” the fundraising page, which was set up on Saturday, states.

Awartani, Kinnan Abdalhamid and Tahseen Ali Ahmad are childhood friends who graduated from a private Quaker school in the West Bank and now attend colleges in the eastern U.S. The 20-year-olds were visiting Awartani’s relatives in Burlington for the Thanksgiving break. They were walking to the house of Hisham’s grandmother for dinner when they were shot in an unprovoked attack, the family said.

The young men were speaking in a mix of English and Arabic and two of them were also wearing the black-and-white Palestinian keffiyeh scarves when they were shot, Burlington Police Chief Jon Murad said. Authorities are investigating the shooting as a possible hate crime.

“In a cruelly ironic twist, Hisham’s parents had recommended he not return home over winter break, suggesting he would be safer in the US with his grandmother,” the fundraising page states. “Burlington is a second home to Hisham, who has spent summers and happy holidays with his family there. It breaks our hearts that these young men did not find safety in his home away from home.”

All three were seriously injured. Abdalhamid was released from the hospital last week.

The suspected gunman, Jason J. Eaton, 48, was arrested the following day at his Burlington apartment, where he answered the door with his hands raised and told federal agents he had been waiting for them. Eaton has pleaded not guilty to three counts of attempted murder and is currently being held without bail.

The shooting came as threats against Jewish, Muslim and Arab communities have increased across the U.S. in the weeks since the the Israel-Hamas war erupted in early October.

Awartani, who speaks seven languages, is pursuing a dual degree in math and archaeology at Brown University, where he is also a teaching assistant, the fundraising page said. He told his college professors that he is determined to start the next semester on time, according to the fundraiser.

“We, his family, believe that Hisham will change the world,” the fundraising page states. “He’ll change the world through his spirit, his mind and his compassion for those much more vulnerable than himself, especially the thousands of dead in Gaza and many more struggling to survive the devastating humanitarian crisis unfolding there.”

Posted by Worldkrap on

Berlin Police Probe Suspected Arson Attempt at Iran Opposition Group’s Office  

Police in Berlin are investigating a suspected arson attempt early Monday at the office of an Iranian opposition group. 

Members of the group noticed flames at a window of the building in Berlin’s Schmargendorf district about 2:15 a.m. and were able to extinguish them before the fire spread inside, police said in a statement. 

No one was hurt, and a police investigation was under way. The statement didn’t give further details or say who might have been responsible. 

The Iranian opposition group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, alleged that assailants affiliated with the Iranian government “initiated the attack by throwing incendiary materials towards the building.” 

The NCRI is the political wing of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, which is considered a terror organization by Iran and was once designated as such by the United States until it was delisted in 2012. The EU removed the group from its terrorism list in 2009. 

Posted by Worldkrap on

China’s Xi Welcomes Belarus President to Beijing 

Chinese leader Xi Jinping spoke of a “strengthened political mutual trust and international coordination” with Belarus after he met with the European country’s president in Beijing, according to official media.

China has sought to make Belarus a core member of its Belt and Road Initiative to build infrastructure with nations from Malaysia to Greece. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has become increasingly isolated following a crackdown on political opponents and his support for ally Russia in its war on Ukraine.

But the heavily state-controlled economy of Belarus has dimmed possibilities for major economic cooperation with China.

China “opposes external interference in Belarus’ internal affairs,” Xi was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua News Agency, a reflection of China’s unofficial alliance with authoritarian states from Cuba to Russia in opposition to the U.S.-led liberal democratic global order.

Xinhua said Xi and Lukashenko “also exchanged views on the Ukraine crisis,” but the news agency did not give details of their discussion about the conflict.

Russia used Belarus as a staging ground for troops and equipment before Russian President Vladimir Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022.

A Yale University study published last month reported that Belarus also has facilitated “Russia’s systematic effort to identify, collect, transport and re-educate Ukraine’s children” during the war. More than 2,400 Ukrainian children have been taken to Belarus from Russia-occupied parts of Ukraine, according to the study.

Posted by Worldkrap on

Former US Diplomat Charged With Spying for Cuba for Decades

A former U.S. ambassador to Bolivia, Manuel Rocha, has been charged with spying for Cuba since at least 1981.

Rocha, 73, was arrested in Miami on Friday and charged with multiple federal crimes, including acting as an illegal foreign agent and using a fraudulently obtained passport.

According to the complaint, Rocha met with Cuban intelligence operatives and gave false information to U.S. government officials about his travels. Prosecutors said Rocha concealed his identity as a foreign agent in efforts to protect himself, so he could continue engaging in “clandestine activity” for the Cuban government. 

The United States requires individuals acting for the benefit of foreign agencies to register with the U.S. Justice Department.

Rocha, a Colombian born, naturalized U.S. citizen, held several positions within the U.S. State Department, giving him “unique access,” to non-public government information, prosecutors said.

Rocha joined the department in 1981 and worked his way up to becoming the top U.S. diplomat in Argentina between 1997 and 2000, and later the ambassador to Bolivia from 2000 to 2002. 

Rocha’s arrest comes as the Justice Department ramps up criminal enforcement of illicit foreign affairs.

Since last year, the FBI has been running a series of undercover operations that include an FBI agent pretending to be a Cuban contact. In an undercover meeting in Miami last year, Rocha exposed that he had been instructed by the Cuban government’s intelligence services to “lead a normal life” and that he had created the “legend,” or artificial persona, “of a right-wing person,” according to a recording of the meeting cited in court documents.

In the meetings with the undercover FBI agent, Rocha repeatedly referred to the United States as the enemy and used the term “we” to describe himself and Cuba.

Rocha was expected to make his initial appearance in court on Monday. It was not clear whether he had a lawyer.

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

Posted by Worldkrap on

Spotify to Lay Off 1,500 Employees

Spotify says it is planning to lay off 17% of its global workforce, amounting to around 1,500 employees, following layoffs earlier this year of 600 people in January and an additional 200 in June.

The music streaming giant is continuing its effort to cut costs and work toward becoming profitable, said Spotify CEO Daniel Ek in a prepared statement.

“By most metrics, we were more productive but less efficient,” he said. “We need to be both.”

The layoffs come following a rare quarterly net profit of about $70.3 million in October. The company has never seen a full year net profit.

“I realize that for many, a reduction of this size will feel surprisingly large given the recent positive earnings report and our performance,” Ek said. “We debated making smaller reductions throughout 2024 and 2025. Yet, considering the gap between our financial goal … and our current operational costs, I decided that a substantial action to right size our costs was the best option to accomplish our objectives.”

With the new layoffs, the company now expects to see a fourth quarter loss between $100 million to $117 million after previously anticipating a $40 million profit.

A majority of the charges will go toward severance for laid off employees, who will get about five months’ pay, vacation pay and health care coverage for the severance period.

Spotify did not clearly state when the layoffs would become financially beneficial but said that they would “generate meaningful operating efficiencies going forward.”

Spotify is following many companies in the tech industry trying to cut costs after growth in the industry slowed following a surge during the COVID pandemic.

Tech giants including Meta, Microsoft, Amazon and Google parent company, Alphabet, all have plans to cut 10,000 or more people this year.

Spotify began informing affected employees on Monday.

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

Posted by Worldkrap on

Pilots Flying Tourists over US National Parks Face New Rules

Fewer planes and helicopters will be flying tourists over Mount Rushmore and other national monuments and parks as new regulations take effect that are intended to protect the serenity of some of the most beloved natural areas in the United States.

The air tours have pitted tour operators against visitors frustrated with the noise for decades, but it has come to a head as new management plans are rolled out at nearly two dozen national parks and monuments.

One of the strictest yet was recently announced at Mount Rushmore and Badlands National Park, where tour flights will essentially be banned from getting within a half mile of the South Dakota sites starting in April.

“I don’t know what we’re going to be able to salvage,” complained Mark Schlaefli, a co-owner of Black Hills Aerial Adventures who is looking for alternative routes.

The regulations are the result of a federal appeals court finding three years ago that the National Park Service and the Federal Aviation Administration failed to enforce a 2000 law governing commercial air tours over the parks and some tribal lands. A schedule was crafted for setting rules, and many are wrapping up now.

But now an industry group is eying litigation, and an environmental coalition already has sued over one plan. The issue has grown so contentious that a congressional oversight hearing is planned for Tuesday.

Critics argue that the whirr of chopper blades is drowning out the sound of birds, bubbling lava and babbling brooks. That in turn disrupts the experiences of visitors and the tribes who call the land around the parks home.

“Is that fair?” asked Kristen Brengel of the National Parks Conservation Association, noting that visitors on the ground far outnumber those overhead. “I don’t think so.”

The air operators argue they provide unrivaled access, particularly to the elderly and disabled.

“Absolutely exhilarating, a thrilling experience” is how Bailey Wood, a spokesman for the Helicopter Association International, described them.

Sightseeing flights got their start in the 1930s as crews building the massive Hoover Dam asked the helicopter pilots working on the project to give their families flyovers, Wood said.

“It took off from there,” he said, jokingly adding, “Sorry, aviation pun.”

The issue hit a tipping point at the Grand Canyon in 1986 when two tour aircraft collided over the national park in Arizona, killing 25 people. Congress acted the next year and a plan was enacted to designate routes and minimum altitude for canyon flights.

Congress passed another round of legislation in 2000 with a goal of setting rules in other national parks. But bureaucratic difficulties and delays stalled compliance.

The Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and the Hawaii Island Coalition Malama Pono sued, demanding something be done. Historically, some of the nation’s busiest spots for tour operators are Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which is home to one of the world’s most active volcanoes, and Haleakala National Park.

In 2020, a federal court ordered compliance at 23 national parks, including popular sites such as Glacier in Montana, Arches in Utah and Great Smokey Mountains in Tennessee and North Carolina. That same year, the latest in which data is available, there were 15,624 air tours reported, which was down about 30% because of the pandemic, the park service said.

As of this month, plans or voluntary agreements have been adopted for most of the parks, although not all of them have taken effect. Work is still underway on five, the park service said.

Parks exempted from developing plans include those with few flights and those in Alaska, where small planes are often the only way to get around.

“Mostly, the plans have been pretty generous to the industry, allowing them to continue as they have done in the past with some limited air tours around these parks,” said Peter Jenkins, senior council for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

His group went to court over a plan to allow a combined total of about 2,500 flights over the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and other nearby parks, alleging an inadequate environmental study.

Then came last month’s announcement about restrictions over Mount Rushmore and the Badlands.

“This isn’t a management plan,” complained Ray Jilek, owner of Eagle Aviation Inc. and its chief pilot. “This is a cease and desist plan, as far as I’m concerned.”

Andrew Busse of Black Hills Helicopter Inc. said his tours already don’t fly directly over Mount Rushmore. The park is relatively small, so the monument to the nation’s presidents is still visible from outside its boundaries, he said. 

The plans are aimed at taking tribal desires into account. But Shawn Bordeaux, a Democratic state lawmaker in South Dakota and a member of the Rosebud Sioux tribe, said he hasn’t heard complaints.

“We don’t want them flying around trying to watch our sun dances or ceremonies or something,” he said. “But as for tourism, I don’t see why it’s an issue.” 

A similarly strict plan has been proposed for Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico. Bruce Adams, owner of Southwest Safaris, flies a fixed-wing plane with tourists a couple times a week over the area known for the dwellings carved into the soft rock cliffs.

“Changing the route is going to force me to fly over Pueblo tribal lands that I have assiduously avoided doing for 49 years because I know it’s going to cause noise problems,” he said.

Glacier National Park, meanwhile, is phasing out the flights by the end of 2029. 

Wood said the process has been “broken and rushed” and threatens to put some operators out of business.

“Litigation is one tool that is definitely under consideration,” he said.

But Brengel of the National Parks Conservation Association said the resistance doesn’t have much traction. An amendment to the FAA reauthorization bill that would have required the agency to factor in the economics of commercial air tours over national parks failed in July, she said.

“People go to Arches, people go to Hawaii to hear the sights and sounds of these places,” Brengel said. “It’s so utterly clear that the vast majority of people who are going to these parks aren’t going to hear the sounds of helicopters over their heads.”  

Posted by Worldkrap on

Burkina Faso Suspends ‘All Distribution Methods’ of French Daily Le Monde

Military-ruled Burkina Faso on Saturday suspended “all distribution methods” of Le Monde daily after an article on a deadly jihadi attack in the north, in the latest measure against a French media organization.

“The government has decided to suspend all distribution methods of the newspaper Le Monde in Burkina Faso starting from Saturday, December 2, 2023,” Communication Minister Rimtalba Jean Emmanuel Ouedraogo said in a statement.

He criticized a “biased article,” referring to a story published on Le Monde’s website Friday about a bloody jihadi attack on a military base in Djibo on November 26.

The United Nations says at least 40 civilians were killed in the attack claimed by the Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims, while Burkinabe security sources spoke of a “few” military deaths.

“Contrary to what the newspaper Le Monde peremptorily claims, the Burkinabe government has never trapped itself in a propaganda mindset in the war we are waging against terrorism,” Ouedraogo said.

Le Monde “has chosen its side,” he added.

The Burkinabe authorities in recent months have suspended the French TV outlets LCI and France24 as well as Radio France Internationale and the magazine Jeune Afrique.

The correspondents of the French newspapers Liberation and Le Monde have also been expelled.

In April, Amnesty International urged the authorities to stop “attacks and threats” against press freedom in the West African country.

Relations between Burkina Faso and former colonial power France plummeted after the military seized power in a 2022 coup, citing failing efforts to quash a jihadi insurgency that erupted in 2015.

The junta has since turned away from its traditional ally, forcing it to withdraw its troops deployed against the rebels, and has turned toward Russia.

Insurgents affiliated with al-Qaida and the Islamic State group have fought the state since 2015 after a rebellion in neighboring Mali spilled over.

The fighting has killed thousands of civilians and members of the security forces and displaced many more.

Posted by Worldkrap on

Social Media Bringing Young American Adults Into Israel-Hamas Conflict

Social media posts from the actual and ideological battlefields of the Israel-Hamas war have been polarizing young people in the United States, sometimes leading to threats or violence. But some groups see the growing tension as an opportunity for dialogue. VOA’s Anthony LaBruto reports. (Camera and Produced by Anthony LaBruto)   

Posted by Worldkrap on

As Another Winter Sets In, Ukraine’s Power Grid Braces for Intense Russian Attacks

As a second wartime winter arrives in Ukraine, the country is working to ensure this one will not be as difficult as last year’s, when Russian attacks caused severe damage to the power grid and heat delivery systems. Anna Chernikova reports from Kyiv. VOA footage by Eugene Shynkar. Video editor: Rod James.

Posted by Worldkrap on

Ukraine Reports Downing 18 Russian Attack Drones

Ukraine’s military said Monday that Russia attacked the country overnight with 23 Iranian-made Shahed drones along with a cruise missile.

The Ukrainian air force reported on Telegram that the military’s air defenses shot down 18 of the 23 drones and destroyed the missile.

The air force said the air defenses operated in at least nine regions in Ukraine, but did not specify which ones.

The governor of the Mykolaiv region said six of the drones were shot down there, with the debris from one downed drone damaging an agricultural building.

Officials in Lviv also reported at least one drone in that part of the country, but no damage or injuries.

In Kherson, the regional governor said early Monday that Russian shelling during the past 24 hours had killed two people and injured eight others.  The governor also reported damage to a kindergarten, as well as a medical building and an engineering facility.

Also Monday, the governor of Russia’s Voronezh region said Major General Vladimir Zavadsky, the deputy commander of Russia’s 14th Army Corps, was killed in Ukraine.


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


Posted by Worldkrap on

Ukraine, Poland to Open Crossing for Trucks Monday to Unblock Border

Ukraine and Poland will open an additional border crossing for empty freight trucks Monday to free up a much-needed route for Kyiv, with some crossings blocked by weeks of protests by Polish drivers, Ukrainian authorities said Sunday.

Those protests, over what Polish truckers see as unfair competition from their Ukrainian peers, started on Nov. 6, with four border crossings now under blockade. Polish haulers’ main demand is to stop Ukrainian truckers having permit-free access to the EU, something that Kyiv and Brussels say is impossible.

Ukrainian border service said Uhryniv checkpoint, currently operating only for passenger cars and buses, would be opened from 1 a.m. (midnight GMT) Monday for empty heavy vehicles with a total permissible weight of more than 7.5 metric tons.

“The opening of Uhryniv is the first point on the list of measures implemented to unblock the border, reduce queues and increase the capacity of the Ukrainian-Polish border,” the border service said.

Ukraine said last week it had agreed to some measures with Poland that could ease the pressure at the blockaded border crossings, but that they had not discussed the main demands of the protests; that Ukrainian truckers be required to have entry permits for transport to EU countries. That permit rule was waived for Ukrainian truck drivers after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year.

Posted by Worldkrap on

Despite Ukraine War Needs, Arms Sales Troubled by Production Woes

Many Western arms companies failed to ramp up production in 2022 despite a strong increase in demand for weapons and military equipment, a watchdog group said Monday, adding that labor shortages, soaring costs and supply chain disruptions had been exacerbated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In its Top 100 of such firms, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, or SIPRI, said the arms revenue of the world’s largest arms-producing and military services companies last year stood at $597 billion — a 3.5% drop from 2021.

“Many arms companies faced obstacles in adjusting to production for high-intensity warfare,” said Lucie Beraud-Sudreau, director of the independent institute’s Military Expenditure and Arms Production Program.

SIPRI said the revenues of the 42 U.S. companies on the list — accounting for 51% of total arms sales — fell by 7.9% to $302 billion in 2022. Of those, 32 recorded a fall in year-on-year arms revenue, most of them citing ongoing supply chain issues and labor shortages stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nan Tian, a senior researcher with SIPRI, said that “we are beginning to see an influx of new orders linked to the war in Ukraine.”

He cited some major U.S. companies, including Lockheed Martin and Raytheon Technologies, and said that because of “existing order backlogs and difficulties in ramping up production capacity, the revenue from these orders will probably only be reflected in company accounts in two to three years’ time.”

Companies in Asia and the Middle East saw their arms revenues grow significantly in 2022, the institute said in its assessment, saying it demonstrated “their ability to respond to increased demand within a shorter time frame.” SIPRI singled out Israel and South Korea.

“However, despite the year-on-year drop, the total Top 100 arms revenue was still 14% higher in 2022 than in 2015 — the first year for which SIPRI included Chinese companies in its ranking.

SIPRI also said that countries placed new orders late in the year and the time lag between orders and production meant that the surge in demand was not reflected in these companies’ 2022 revenues.

“However, new contracts were signed, notably for ammunition, which could be expected to translate into higher revenue in 2023 and beyond,” Beraud-Sudreau said.