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Greece: Fire in Migrant Camp on Samos Island ‘Under Control’

A fire broke out Sunday evening in the reception and identification center for asylum-seekers on the Greek island of Samos but is now “under control,” according to police and firefighter sources.”The fire is under control but two or three containers were destroyed without causing any injuries,” a police source said. Refugees stay in containers.  According to the fire department press office, “three containers were removed as a precaution when the fire broke out.”  “The firefighters are there, there is no risk of the fire spreading,” an official with the firefighters’ press service told AFP.UN: Rehousing of Moria Fire Victims on Lesbos Island Proceeding Smoothly A police operation to transfer the asylum seekers to the new site has been proceeding smoothly with no use of force or incidence of violence    This disaster, which broke out around 8:30 p.m. local time (5:30 p.m. GMT), comes 10 days after two large fires ravaged the large camp of Moria on the island of Lesbos, known for its overpopulation and sordid living conditions.  On the streets for several days, most of the asylum-seekers expelled from Moria, about 10,000 people according to the authorities, were installed in a camp hastily set up by the government near the port of Mytilene, the capital of Lesbos.The Samos reception and identification center is one of five centers set up during the 2015 migration crisis on five Greek islands in the Aegean Sea (Lesbos, Samos, Kos , Leros, Chios) to stem the number of migrants arriving in Greece from neighboring Turkey.The living conditions in the Samos camp — which is smaller than that of Moria, with nearly 6,000 people despite its initial capacity for 650 asylum-seekers — are also very difficult, including inadequate hygienic conditions.The camps for asylum-seekers in Greece have been isolated since mid-March because of COVID-19, while the rest of the country returned to normal in early May.  According to authorities, 21 cases of COVID-19 have been detected in the Samos camp so far.

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Americans Pay Tribute to Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Tributes to Ruth Bader Ginsburg line the perimeter of the U.S. Supreme Court as Americans pay their respects to the late Supreme Court Justice. VOA’s Steve Redisch reports

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Report: US to Slap Sanctions on More Than Two Dozen Targets Tied to Iran Arms

The United States on Monday will sanction more than two dozen people and entities involved in Iran’s nuclear, missile and conventional arms programs, a senior U.S. official said, putting teeth behind U.N. sanctions on Tehran that Washington argues have resumed despite the opposition of allies and adversaries.Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official said Iran could have enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon by the end of the year and that Tehran has resumed long-range missile cooperation with nuclear-armed North Korea. He did not provide detailed evidence regarding either assertion.The new sanctions fit into U.S. President Donald Trump’s effort to limit Iran’s regional influence and come a week after U.S.-brokered deals for the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to normalize ties with Israel, pacts that may coalesce a wider coalition against Iran while appealing to pro-Israel U.S. voters ahead of the Nov. 3 election.The new sanctions also put European allies, China and Russia on notice that while their inclination may be to ignore the U.S. drive to maintain the U.N. sanctions on Iran, companies based in their nations would feel the bite for violating them.A major part of the new U.S. push is an executive order targeting those who buy or sell Iran conventional arms that was previously reported by Reuters and will also be unveiled by the Trump administration on Monday, the official said.The Trump administration suspects Iran of seeking nuclear weapons — something Tehran denies — and Monday’s punitive steps are the latest in a series seeking to stymie Iran’s atomic program, which U.S. ally Israel views as an existential threat.”Iran is clearly doing everything it can to keep in existence a virtual turnkey capability to get back into the weaponization business at a moment’s notice should it choose to do so,” the U.S. official told Reuters.The official argued Iran wants a nuclear weapons capability and the means to deliver it despite the 2015 deal that sought to prevent this by restraining Iran’s atomic program in return for access to the world market.In May 2018, Trump abandoned that agreement to the dismay of the other parties, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia, and restored U.S. sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy.Iran, in turn, has gradually breached the central limits in that deal, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), including on the size of its stockpile of low-enriched uranium as well as the level of purity to which it was allowed to enrich uranium.”Because of Iran’s provocative nuclear escalation, it could have sufficient fissile material for a nuclear weapon by the end of this year,” the official said without elaborating, except to say this was based on “the totality” of information available to the United States, including from the IAEA.The Vienna-based agency has said Iran only began significantly breaching the 2015 deal’s limits after the U.S. withdrawal and it is still enriching uranium only up to 4.5%, well below the 20% it had achieved before that agreement, let alone the roughly 90% purity that is considered weapons-grade, suitable for an atomic bomb.”Iran and North Korea have resumed cooperation on a long-range missile project, including the transfer of critical parts,” he added, declining to say when such joint work first began, stopped, and then started again.Asked to comment on the impending new U.S. sanctions and the U.S. official’s other statements, a spokesman for Iran’s mission to the United Nations dismissed them as propaganda and said they would further isolate the United States.”The U.S.’ ‘maximum pressure’ show, which includes new propaganda measures almost every week, has clearly failed miserably, and announcing new measures will not change this fact,” the mission’s spokesman, Alireza Miryousefi, told Reuters in an email.”The entire world understands that these are a part of (the) next U.S. election campaign, and they are ignoring the U.S.’ preposterous claims at the U.N. today. It will only make (the) U.S. more isolated in world affairs,” he said.The White House declined comment in advance of Monday’s announcements.’Snap back’ of UN sanctions?The U.S. official confirmed Trump will issue an executive order that would allow the United States to punish those who buy or sell conventional arms to Iran with secondary sanctions, depriving them of access to the U.S. market.The proximate cause for this U.S. action is the impending expiration of a U.N. arms embargo on Iran and to warn foreign actors, U.S. entities are already barred from such trade, that if they buy or sell arms to Iran they will face U.S. sanctions.Under the 2015 nuclear deal the U.N. conventional arms embargo is set to expire Oct. 18.The United States says it has triggered a “snap back,” or resumption, of virtually all U.N. sanctions on Iran, including the arms embargo, that took effect at 8 p.m. Saturday/0000 GMT Sunday.Other parties to the nuclear deal and most U.N. Security Council members have said they do not believe the United States has the right to reimpose the U.N. sanctions and that the U.S. move has no legal effect.On Friday, Britain, France and Germany told the Security Council that U.N. sanctions relief for Iran, agreed under the 2015 nuclear deal, would continue beyond Sunday, despite Washington’s assertion.In letters to the Security Council on Saturday, China’s U.N. Ambassador Zhang Jun and Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia both described the U.S. move as “illegitimate” and said the U.N. sanctions relief for Iran would continue.Also Saturday, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the Security Council he cannot act on the U.S. declaration that U.N. sanctions had been reimposed because it was not clear whether they had snapped back.”It is not for the secretary-general to proceed as if no such uncertainty exists,” he said.Targets include Iran’s nuclear, missile, arms groupsThe new executive order will define conventional weapons broadly as any item with a potential military use, meaning it could cover such things as speed boats that Iran retrofits to harass vessels in international waters, the U.S. official told Reuters.It would also apply to conventional circuit boards that can be used in ballistic missile guidance systems, he added.The more than two dozen targets to be hit with sanctions Monday include those involved in Iran’s conventional arms, nuclear and missile programs, the official said, saying some of the targets are already sanctioned under other U.S. programs.That could prompt criticism that the U.S. move is redundant and designed for public relations purposes to look tough on Iran, a charge critics have made about past U.S. sanctions actions.Among the targets will be Iran’s “most nefarious arms organizations,” about a dozen senior officials, scientists and experts from Iran’s nuclear complex, members of a procurement network that supplies military-grade dual-use goods for Iran’s missile program, and several senior officials involved in Iran’s ballistic missile program, the U.S. official said.The official declined to name the targets, saying this would be made public Monday, and stressed that the United States wants to deter foreign companies from dealing with them even if their governments believe this is legally permitted.”You might have a split in some countries where a foreign government may claim that the U.N. sanctions don’t snap back, but their banks and companies will abide by U.S. sanctions because they want to make sure they are not a future target,” he said.

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US Sets Record With Over 1 Million Coronavirus Tests in a Day 

The United States set a one-day record with over 1 million coronavirus diagnostic tests being performed, but the country needs 6 million to 10 million a day to bring outbreaks under control, according to various experts.   The country performed 1,061,411 tests on Saturday, according to data from The COVID Tracking Project, a volunteer-run effort to track the outbreak.   The record comes after testing fell for several weeks.   The United States tested on average 650,000 people a day in the week ended Sept. 13, down from a peak in late July of over 800,000 people a day.   Since the start of the pandemic, testing shortages have hampered efforts to curb the spread of the virus.   At one point during the summer, Houston residents lined up in cars and waited hours for tests, even sleeping in their vehicles overnight. Miami saw similar lines.   Once tested, people may have to wait up to two weeks to learn if they have the virus, which has killed nearly 200,000 Americans and infected more than 6.7 million. Such delays defeat the purpose of trying to prevent further infections.   In March, President Donald Trump said “anyone who wants a test, gets a test.” That goal has yet to be achieved.   At the heart of the crisis is a reliance by labs on automated testing equipment that locks them into using proprietary chemical kits and other tools made by a handful of manufacturers.   The Food and Drug Administration has granted emergency use authorization to several saliva tests, which require no swabs and use readily available reagents.   The United States has also authorized pooled testing, a method that tests samples from several people at once and can expand testing capacity.   However, pooled testing is only more efficient in areas with limited outbreaks. In mid-September, 27 of 50 states had positive test rates above 5%, according to a Reuters analysis, including South Dakota at 17%.   The World Health Organization considers positivity rates above 5% concerning. 

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Russian Jets Strike Syrian Rebel-Held Bastion in Heaviest Strikes Since Cease-fire 

Syrian opposition sources said Russian jets bombed rebel-held northwestern Syria on Sunday in the most extensive strikes since a Turkish-Russian deal halted major fighting with a cease-fire nearly six months ago.   Witnesses said the warplanes struck the western outskirts of Idlib city and that there was heavy artillery shelling in the mountainous Jabal al-Zawya region in southern Idlib from nearby Syrian army outposts. There were no immediate reports of casualties.   “These thirty raids are by far the heaviest strikes so far since the cease-fire deal,” said Mohammed Rasheed, a former rebel official and a volunteer plane spotter whose network covers the Russian air base in the western coastal province of Latakia.   Other tracking centers said Russian Sukhoi jets hit the Horsh area and Arab Said town, west of the city of Idlib. Unidentified drones also hit two rebel-held towns in the Sahel al-Ghab plain, west of Hama province.   There has been no wide-scale aerial bombing since a March agreement ended a Russian-backed bombing campaign that displaced over a million people in the region which borders Turkey after months of fighting.   There was no immediate comment from Moscow or the Syrian army, who have long accused militant groups who hold sway in the last opposition redoubt of wrecking the ceasefire deal and attacking army-held areas.   The deal between Turkish President and Russian President Vladimir Putin also defused a military confrontation between them after Ankara poured thousands of troops in Idlib province to hold back Russian-backed forces from new advances.   Western diplomats tracking Syria say Moscow piled pressure on Ankara in the latest round of talks on Wednesday to scale down its extensive military presence in Idlib. Turkey has more than ten thousand troops stationed in dozens of bases there, according to opposition sources in touch with Turkish military.   Witnesses say there has been a spike in sporadic shelling from Syrian army outposts against Turkish bases in the last two weeks. Rebels say the Syrian army and its allied militias were amassing troops on front lines.  

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US Judge Blocks Order to Remove WeChat From App Stores 

A U.S. judge early Sunday blocked the Commerce Department from requiring Apple Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google to remove Chinese-owned messaging app WeChat for downloads by late Sunday.   U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler in San Francisco said in an order that WeChat users who filed a lawsuit “have shown serious questions going to the merits of the First Amendment claim [and] the balance of hardships tips in the plaintiffs’ favor.”   On Friday, the Commerce Department had issued an order citing national security grounds to block the app from U.S. app stores owned by Tencent Holdings, and the Justice Department had urged Beeler not to block the order.   Beeler’s preliminary injunction also blocked the Commerce order that would have barred other transactions with WeChat in the United States that could have degraded the site’s usability for current U.S. users. The U.S. Commerce Department did not immediately comment.   WeChat has had an average of 19 million daily active users in the United States, analytics firms Apptopia said in early August. It is popular among Chinese students, Americans living in China and some Americans who have personal or business relationships in China.   The Justice Department said blocking the order would “frustrate and displace the president’s determination of how best to address threats to national security.” But Beeler said, “while the general evidence about the threat to national security related to China [regarding technology and mobile technology] is considerable, the specific evidence about WeChat is modest.”   She added, “The regulation — which eliminates a channel of communication without any apparent substitutes — burdens substantially more speech than is necessary to further the government’s significant interest.”   WeChat is an all-in-one mobile app that combines services similar to Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Venmo. The app is an essential part of daily life for many in China and boasts more than 1 billion users.   The WeChat Users Alliance that had sued praised the ruling “as an important and hard-fought victory” for “millions of WeChat users in the U.S.”   Michael Bien, a lawyer for the users, said “the United States has never shut down a major platform for communications, not even during war times. There are serious First Amendment problems with the WeChat ban, which targets the Chinese American community.”   He added the order “trampled on their First Amendment guaranteed freedoms to speak, to worship, to read and react to the press, and to organize and associate for numerous purposes.” 

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Greece Scrambles to Rehouse Homeless Migrants, Refugees on Lesbos 

For Rahaf al Mohammed, the Moria refugee center was a living hell, but now, after militant arsonists last week razed what has been frequently described as the worst in Europe, she refuses relocation to a new, fenced encampment 10 kilometers south.“Not good,” the 29-year-old Syrian mother said, “It is like [a] prison. Terrible prison.”“We went [there] but left [the] next day because [there was] no food, no electricity, no water, and no bottom [to] our tent,” she said, pushing a baby carriage back to Moria. “We slept on dirt and rocks. My babies [are] now sick.”Independent verification of the conditions at the new, heavily guarded Kare Tepe camp was not possible.Many of the 12,500 migrants and refugees left homeless after the ferocious blaze, though, attest to the same conditions, forcing most of them to return to Moria, seeking shelter in its chaotic, and now razed, sprawl of tarpaulin tents, crooked prefab structures and the acrid smell of burnt plastic.An aerial view of destroyed shelters following a fire at the Moria camp for refugees and migrants on the Island of Lesbos, Greece, Sept. 9, 2020.Under a scorching Greek sun this week, teams of bedraggled Afghan migrants were seen prying out mangled rods to erect flimsy tents. Others, mainly young men, used a broken irrigation pipe deep in an adjacent olive grove to shower in the open.“At least here,” said Mohammed Amir, 17, “we are at peace. Small aid groups come and help us. They give us food that we can eat three times a day.“Inside Kara Tepe,” the Afghan said, “food comes only once, and it is rotten.“There is no way, I am not going back there,” he said. His four sisters, in colorful head scarves and green plastic face masks, nodded in agreement.The stakes, though, are high. With more than 13,000 asylum seekers on the island, Lesbos remains a dangerous bottleneck in Europe’s migrant crisis.Worse yet, the troubled Kara Tepe transfer complicates government efforts to manage the country’s worst humanitarian crisis in five years, when more than 1 million refugees, mainly from Syria, flooded Europe in the biggest migration push since World War II.Government officials warn they may use force to round up and rehouse all migrants.Greek officials wearing personal protective equipment arrive in an area where refugees and migrants from the destroyed Moria camp are sheltered on the island of Lesbos, Sept. 18, 2020.In recent days, some 70 female officers in protective white suits and masks were deployed to help move women and children to Kara Tepe.More than 8,000 were checked in to the new sprawl of crisp white tents by the weekend. It remained unclear, however, whether the camp’s new residents would remain.“There are many Afghan men going around warning women and children not to resettle because they will burn this camp, also,” Abdirahman Chama, a 38-year-old migrant from Somalia said.“More importantly,” he said, “if you are out and have a chance to escape this island and go to the West, why go back in?“I will try to go Germany, but anywhere else will also be good.”Only recognized refugees can move to another EU member state, a status, together with its documentation, the government has told Lesbos’ homeless asylum seekers they can only obtain as residents of the new camp.Earlier this week, Germany agreed to take in 1,553 people from 408 families whose protected status has been confirmed by Greek authorities. Belgium and France are expected to follow suit, with the government vowing to empty Lesbos of its refugees by Easter.A woman with a baby holds a document before entering the new temporary refugee camp in Kara Tepe, on the northeastern island of Lesbos, Greece, Sept. 18, 2020.Until then, though, locals remain vigilant.“You think we would be relieved seeing this camp in our backyards destroyed,” said Stelios Panagopoulos, a coffee shop owner in the town of Moria, about a kilometer and a half north of the dreaded refugee camp.“We are now more scared than ever because militant migrants remain at large, and they are out there hiding in the fields and surrounding mountains, taking revenge on us, slaughtering our livestock and destroying our properties,” he said.Earlier this year, a farmer from Moria was barred from leaving the country and ordered to pay about $6,000 in fines for firing a warning shot at a migrant intruder. He has since been released and the migrant was detained.Last week, and after fleeing detention during the camp fire, the migrant returned, allegedly setting fire to the farmer’s barn.Authorities contacted by VOA suspect he was among the ringleaders of the Moria blaze.At least seven refugees, including two minors, have been arrested in connection with the fire.“There is one solution,” al Mohammed, the Syrian mother said, “we [must] all leave. It will be better for all.” 

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Tropical Storm Beta Meanders Toward Texas, Louisiana

Tropical Storm Beta on Sunday was making a slow crawl to the shores of Texas and Louisiana, casting worries about heavy rain, flooding and storm surge across the Gulf Coast.Beta was one of three named storms whirling in the Atlantic basin during an exceptionally busy hurricane season. If the system makes landfall in Texas – which forecasters predict it will sometime Monday – it would be the ninth named storm to make landfall in the continental U.S. in 2020. Colorado State hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach said that would tie a record set in 1916.Coastal communities began preparing for Beta over the weekend, with both the city of Galveston and Galveston County on Saturday issued voluntary evacuation orders. The city of Seabrook to the north of Galveston did, too.Mayor Pro Tem Craig Brown said in a statement that high tides and up to 25 centimeters of expected rainfall would leave roads impassable, especially along the city’s west end and low-lying areas.County Judge Mark Henry said during a Saturday news conference that his concern is also based on rising waters creating a storm surge and that a mandatory evacuation is not expected.“If you can survive in your home for three or four days without power and electricity, which we’re not even sure that’s going to happen, you’re OK,” Henry said. “If it’s uncomfortable or you need life support equipment, maybe go somewhere else.”Beta was brewing in the Gulf of Mexico, 355 kilometers southeast of Galveston, Texas, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said Sunday morning. The storm had maximum sustained winds at 95 kph and was moving north at 6 kph.Little change in strength was expected as the system approaches Texas, forecasters said. Earlier predictions showed Beta could reach hurricane strength before making landfall.A tropical storm warning was in effect from Port Aransas, Texas, to Morgan City, Louisiana. A hurricane watch, a tropical storm watch and a storm surge watch were all discontinued Sunday morning.In Lake Charles, Louisiana, where thousands of people remain without power more than three weeks after Hurricane Laura slammed into the coast, there are concerns that Beta could super-soak the region once again. Up to 51 centimeters of rain is possible in some parts of the area, Donald Jones, a National Weather Service meteorologist based in Lake Charles, said in a Saturday briefing.“A lot of people have been saying, `Is this going to be like Harvey? Is this going to be like Imelda?’” Jones said. “We’re not talking about rainfall totals yet that are on the orders of magnitude that we saw with that.” Imelda, which struck southeast Texas in 2019, was one of the wettest cyclones on record. Harvey — which dumped more than 127 centimeters of rain on Houston in 2017.However, if the storm ends up moving a bit more slowly than what’s being forecast now, rainfall totals could be even higher than 51 centimeters, Jones said.“Harvey was a very specific and unique event, but we are talking about the same idea in terms of very heavy, heavy rainfall,” he said.Forecasters were predicting up to 1.2 meters of storm surge from Port Aransas, Texas, to Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge, Louisiana. Strong winds, and life-threatening surf and rip current conditions were also expected with the storm.Forecasters ran out of traditional storm names on Friday, forcing the use of the Greek alphabet for only the second time since the 1950s.Meanwhile, Hurricane Teddy remained a powerful hurricane Sunday, with maximum sustained winds at 185 kph and moving northwest at 19 kph. Teddy was centered 550 kilometers south-southeast of Bermuda less than a week after Hurricane Paulette made landfall in the wealthy British territory.A tropical storm warning was in effect for Bermuda. Large swells from Teddy were impacting the Lesser Antilles, the Greater Antilles, the Bahamas, Bermuda, the U.S. East Coast and Atlantic Canada, forecasters said.Tropical Storm Wilfred was still at sea but expected to dissipate by Tuesday.Parts of the Alabama coast and Florida Panhandle were still reeling from the effects of Hurricane Sally, which roared ashore on Wednesday. At least two deaths were blamed on the system. Roughly 82,300 were still without power in the Florida Panhandle on Saturday. Gulf Power said 95% of its customers in hardest hit Escambia and Santa Rosa counties will have power restored by the end of the day Tuesday.Meanwhile, residents in Springfield were warned to avoid contact with standing water after about 19,000 liters of raw sewage spilled into Lake Martin, according to county health officials.The Salvation Army was distributing roughly 10,000 meals Saturday at 10 locations throughout the Panhandle.