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Possible Government Shutdown Looms over Washington Amid House Republicans’ Infighting

The U.S. government is less than one week away from a shutdown if the Republican-controlled House of Representatives can’t coalesce around a dozen spending bills that have so far divided the party. Some Republicans have gone so far as to threaten the ouster of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. VOA’s Arash Arabasadi has more.

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US Refuses Iran Top Diplomat’s Request to Visit Washington

The United States said Monday it refused a request by Iran’s foreign minister to visit Washington last week, pointing to concerns about Tehran’s record including past detentions of U.S. citizens.

Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian reportedly sought to travel to visit Iran’s consular interests section following the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

“They did make that request and it was denied by the State Department,” spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters.

“We do have an obligation to allow Iranian officials and other officials of foreign governments to travel to New York for U.N. business. But we do not have an obligation to allow them to travel to Washington, D.C.,” he said.

“Given Iran’s wrongful detention of U.S. citizens, given Iran’s state sponsorship of terrorism, we did not believe it was either appropriate or necessary in this instance to grant that request,” Miller said.

Iran last week allowed five U.S. citizens to leave in a prisoner swap in which the United States also arranged the transfer of $6 billion in frozen Iranian funds from South Korea to an account in Qatar.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken has played down speculation that the prisoner deal could lead to broader diplomatic movement, such as a resumption of talks on Iran’s contested nuclear program.

The news site first reported on Amir-Abdollahian’s hope to visit Washington, in what would have been the first by an Iranian foreign minister in 14 years.

The report, quoting anonymous sources, said that Amir-Abdollahian had said he wanted personally to review the consular operation, but that his goal may have also been “to generate positive headlines.”

The United States and Iran broke off relations after Islamic revolutionaries seized the U.S. embassy in Tehran and took the diplomats hostage for 444 days following the 1979 revolution that overthrew the pro-Western shah.

Iran’s consular interests section in Washington is officially under the flag of Pakistan.

The United States, under an agreement as host of the United Nations, allows representatives of all member states to travel to New York City but restricts the movement beyond the city of officials from some nations deemed hostile.

Former President Donald Trump’s administration went even further on Iran and confined Iranian officials to a few neighborhoods in New York.

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Burkina Faso Junta Suspends French Magazine Over ‘Untruthful’ Articles

Burkina Faso’s military junta on Monday suspended the French news magazine Jeune Afrique for publishing “untruthful” articles that reported tension and discontent within the country’s armed forces, it said in a statement. 

Jeune Afrique’s suspension marks the latest escalation in a crackdown on French media since the West African country fell under military rule last year. 

The statement accused the publication of seeking to discredit armed forces and of manipulating information to “spread chaos” in the country, following two articles published over the past four days. 

Relations between Burkina Faso and its former colonizer, France, have soured since frustrations over worsening insecurity linked to a jihadist insurgency spurred two military takeovers last year. 

These tensions have led to the expulsion of diplomatic officials, including the French ambassador to the country, and fueled a backlash against foreign media. 

The junta has already suspended French-funded broadcasters Radio France Internationale and France24 for allegedly giving voice to Islamist militants staging an insurgency across the Sahel region south of the Sahara. 

French television channel La Chaine Info, of private broadcaster TF1, was suspended for three months in June for airing a report on the insurgency that “lacked objectivity.” 

In April, two French journalists working for newspapers Le Monde and Liberation were expelled from the country. 

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Vietnam Reportedly Seeking Military Aid From Both Moscow and Washington

Military analysts say Vietnam is desperate for a new generation of powerful fighter jets and other arms, and recent news reports indicate the country could be seeking them from both the United States and Russia, although no details can be confirmed.  

Reuters reported Saturday that the Biden administration is in talks with Vietnam over an agreement for the largest transfer of arms between the two countries, including F-16 fighter jets.  The report says the deal is still in its early stages and may not come together. But it was a key topic of recent Vietnamese-U.S. Talks in Hanoi, New York and Washington over the past month, according to Reuters.  

The White House declined comment on the matter. 

A few weeks ago, before President Joe Biden visited Vietnam and upgraded the two country’s relations to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, the New York Times reported that Vietnam’s military was pursuing a secret Russian arms deal that would violate U.S. sanctions on Moscow. 

Since the release of the report, U.S. and Vietnamese officials have declined to discuss the issue. 

The deal was outlined in a March 2023 document from Vietnam’s Ministry of Finance and has been verified by former and current Vietnamese officials, according to the Times report. The Times report contends that Hanoi plans to fund defense purchases by shifting $8 billion over 20 years to Vietsovpetro – a joint oil venture in Siberia. 

Although experts say the Times report is well-founded, it is unclear whether it will go through and how it could affect Hanoi’s standing with Western partners, particularly the United States.       

“I do believe the NYT story has credence … If true, the report highlights that Vietnam still views Russia as an important defense cooperation partner,” wrote senior fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute Ian Storey over email.     

“We do not yet know if the Vietnamese government has decided to follow through on the deal,” he wrote.     

Nguyen The Phuong, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of New South Wales who specializes in Vietnam’s defense and maritime security, told VOA he first heard about a potential arms deal with Russia in June. Although he said he had not seen the leaked Finance Ministry document, he has seen a letter of intention from Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh to his Russian counterpart to pursue an arms purchase.     

“There’s a letter of intention from the Vietnamese prime minister to push that plan,” Phuong said of the arms deal. “It’s become more and more clear about the intention of the Vietnamese to move forward with that plan.”   

Historic ties     

Even as defense purchases from Russia become riskier, the secret arms deal would make a certain kind of sense for Hanoi, experts said.     

“The military is the most pro-Russian and anti-Western among all the national institutions in Vietnam,” said Alexander Vuving, professor at the Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies in Honolulu.     

“The leaders in the Ministry of Defense are still embracing Russia,” he said.     

The tight-knit bond is just part of the story, though. Vietnam’s supply of fighter jets is quickly aging beyond its service life and Russia can provide an affordable update without training pilots, ground, and mechanic crews in a new language and weapons system, said Zachary Abuza, professor at the National War College in Washington.     

“Vietnam is desperate for a new generation of fighter jets, and they have a limited budget. They’re comfortable with the Russians, and the Russians are willing to consider alternative funding mechanisms, so it’s kind of a win-win,” Abuza told VOA.     

The deal could fulfill another crucial requirement for Vietnam through the joint oil venture: energy. Following the slump in manufacturing during the COVID-19 pandemic, Vietnam is scrambling for enough energy to power its growing economy.      

“Vietnam can lock into a long-term supply contract for energy it desperately needs given its economic growth,” Abuza said. “At the same time, they can make sure some of that money is then directed into an arms procurement platform.”     

Risky deal     

Despite the benefits, the proposed Russian arms deal carries risks and the document leak reveals potential dissent among Vietnamese officials. 

“This leaked document would cause a lot of trouble for the Vietnamese,” Vuving said, adding that Hanoi is looking for support to build up a semiconductor supply chain and Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh recently advocated for Vietnam to be granted market economy status during a Washington visit this month, which would benefit Vietnamese exporters in antidumping disputes.     

“It shows that they are not reliable to the United States,” Vuving stated. “That’s why they wanted to keep [the arms deal] secret.”     

A defense partnership with Moscow is also increasingly chancy as Russia becomes more isolated and moves closer to China. The prospect of Russian lack of support in disputes between China and Vietnam in the South China Sea may have contributed to the leak.    

“There are less reasons for Vietnamese to trust Russia in the South China Sea than before,” Vuving said. “That’s why I think some Vietnamese officials were so unhappy with this agreement and they leaked the document.”     

Even with the uncertainty, the majority consensus still supports the Russian arms deal.      

“At the moment, Vietnam sees that the benefits outweigh the risks in dealing with Russia in the short term,” Phuong said.  

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Poll: More Americans See Climate Change as Culprit for Extreme Weather

Kathleen Maxwell has lived in Phoenix for more than 20 years, but this summer was the first time she felt fear, as daily high temperatures soared to 110 degrees or hotter and kept it up for a record-shattering 31 consecutive days.

“It’s always been really hot here, but nothing like this past summer,” said Maxwell, 50, who last week opened her windows for the first time since March and walked her dog outdoors for the first time since May. “I was seriously scared. Like, what if this doesn’t end and this is how it’s going to be?”

Maxwell blames climate change, and she’s not alone.

New polling from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research indicates that extreme weather, including a summer that brought dangerous heat for much of the United States, is bolstering Americans’ belief that they’ve personally felt the impact of climate change.

About 9 in 10 Americans (87%) say they have experienced at least one extreme weather event in the past five years — including drought, extreme heat, severe storms, wildfires or flooding — up from 79% who said that just a few months ago in April. And about three-quarters of those believe climate change is at least partly to blame.

In total, 64% of U.S. adults say both that they’ve recently experienced extreme weather and that they believe it was caused at least partially by climate change, up from 54% in April. And about 65% say climate change will have or already has had a major impact in their lifetime.

This summer’s heat might be a big factor: About three-quarters of Americans (74%) say they’ve been affected by extremely hot weather or extreme heat waves in the last five years, up from 55% in April — and of those, 92% said they’ve had that experience just in the past few months.

This summer was the hottest ever measured in the Northern Hemisphere, according to the World Meteorological Organization and the European climate service Copernicus.

Millions of Americans also were affected by the worst wildfire season in Canada’s history, which sent choking smoke into parts of the U.S. About six in 10 U.S. adults say haze or smoke from the wildfires affected them “a lot” (15%) or “a little” (48%) in recent months.

And around the world, extreme heat, storms, flooding and wildfires have affected tens of millions of people this year, with scientists saying climate change has made such events more likely and intense.

Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, said researchers there have conducted twice-yearly surveys of Americans for 15 years, but it wasn’t until 2016 that they saw an indication that people’s experience with extreme weather was affecting their views about climate change. “And the signal has been getting stronger and stronger year by year as these conditions continue to get worse and worse,” he said.

But he also believes that media coverage of climate change has changed dramatically, and that the public is interpreting information in a more scientific way than they did even a decade ago.

Seventy-six-year-old Bruce Alvord, of Hagerstown, Maryland, said it wasn’t unusual to experience days with a 112-degree heat index this summer, and health conditions mean that “heat really bothers me because it’s restricted what I can do.”

Even so, the retired government worker doesn’t believe in human-caused climate change; he recalls stories from his grandparents about bad weather, and thinks the climate is fluctuating on its own. 

“The way the way I look at it is I think it’s a bunch of powerful politicians and lobbying groups that … have their agenda,” said Alvord, a Republican who sees no need to change his own habits or for the government to do more. “I drive a Chrysler 300 (with a V8 engine). I use premium gas. I get 15 miles a gallon. I don’t give a damn.”

The AP-NORC poll found significant differences between Democrats and Republicans. Among those who have experienced extreme weather, Democrats (93%) are more certain that climate change was a cause, compared to just half of Republicans (48%).

About 9 in 10 Democrats say climate change is happening, with nearly all of the remaining Democrats being unsure about whether climate change is happening (5%), rather than outright rejecting it. Republicans are split: 49% say climate change is happening, but 26% say it’s not and an additional 25% are unsure. Overall, 74% of Americans say climate change is happening, largely unchanged from April.

Republican Ronald Livingston, 70, of Clute, Texas, said he’s not sure if human activity is causing climate change, “but I know something is going on because we have been sweating our butts off.”

The retired history teacher said it didn’t rain for several months this year, killing his grass and drying up a slough on his property where he sometimes fishes. It was so hot — with 45 days of 100 degrees or more — that he could barely go outside, and he struggled to grow a garden. He also believes that hurricanes are getting stronger.

And after this summer, he’s keeping an open mind about climate change.

“It worries me to the extent that I don’t think we can go two or three more years of this,” Livingston said.

Jeremiah Bohr, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh who studies climate change communication, said scientific evidence “is not going to change the minds that haven’t already been changed.” But people might be swayed if people or institutions they already trust become convinced and spread the word, Bohr said.

After a brutal summer, Maxwell, the Phoenix resident, said she hopes more Americans will accept that climate change is happening and that people are making it worse, and support measures to slow it.

“It seems very, very obvious to me, with all of the extreme weather and the hurricanes and flooding,” said Maxwell. “I just can’t imagine that people wouldn’t.”

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UN Investigators Find Growing Evidence of Russian War Crimes in Ukraine

A new report by the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine documents a growing body of evidence of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity committed by Russia in its war of aggression against Ukraine.

The report, which was submitted to the U.N. human rights council Monday, presents a picture of widespread violations and abuse against the civilian population and of wanton, large-scale destruction of essential infrastructure.

“The commission is concerned by the continuous evidence of war crimes committed by the Russian armed forces in Ukraine,” said Erik Mose, chair of the commission.

“Well into the second year of the armed conflict, people in Ukraine have been continuing to cope with the loss and injury of loved ones, large-scale destruction, suffering and trauma as well as economic hardship that have resulted from it,” he said. “Thousands have been killed and injured, and millions remain internally displaced or out of the country.”

Russia boycotted the proceedings and was not in the room to respond to these charges. In the past it has denied targeting civilians.

Latest figures from the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights put the number of civilian deaths at 9,614 and injuries at 17,535 since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. The agency, however, notes the number of casualties is likely to be much higher.

Statistics from UNHCR, the U.N. refugee agency, show 5.1 million people are displaced within Ukraine and another 6,197,200 have fled to other countries as refugees.

Since it was established in March 2022, the three-member commission has visited Ukraine more than 10 times, gathering information from government authorities and “listening to harrowing testimonies” from victims and witnesses of abuse.

“The commission regrets that all communications addressed to the Russian Federation remain unanswered,” said Mose.

The investigators report that “attacks with explosive weapons in populated areas have led to extensive destruction and damage and have been the leading cause of deaths and injuries among the civilian population.”

They have documented explosive weapons attacks against residential buildings, a railway station, commercial warehouses, medical and other key facilities that have disrupted essential services and supplies.

“In most cases, there seemed to not have been a military presence at the affected sites or in their vicinity,” said Mose.

In Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, regions which had been under prolonged Russian occupation, the commission collected further evidence indicating that the use of torture by Russian armed forces in areas under their control has been widespread and systematic, noting that the principal targets of torture were persons accused of being informants of the Ukrainian armed forces.

Mose told the council that torture mostly took place in various detention centers controlled by Russian authorities and that “the torture was inflicted with such brutality that it caused the death of some of the victims.”

He said the armed conflict has had devastating consequences for children and that the commission is continuing to investigate individual situations of alleged transfers of unaccompanied minors by Russian authorities to the Russian Federation.

“It regrets that there is a lack of clarity and transparency on the full extent, circumstances, and categories of children transferred,” said Mose.

Ukrainian Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin, addressing the proceedings by video link, lambasted “the massive atrocities committed to a shocking degree by Russia in the course of its war of aggression against Ukraine.”

He spoke with passion and anger about the harm caused to the more than 19,000 Ukrainian children who have been forcibly transferred and deported from their country by Russia’s top leadership.

“Ukrainian children are stripped of their Ukrainian citizenship and put for adoption into Russian families,” he said. “It is a war crime and crimes against humanity that also could amount to crime of genocide in line with the 1948 Genocide Convention.”

Mose said the commission also was “concerned about allegations of genocide in Ukraine.”

For instance, he said that “some of the rhetoric transmitted in Russian state and other media may constitute incitement to genocide.”

He said the commission is continuing its investigations on such issues.

“We continue our efforts to collect evidence which may be of use for judicial accountability purposes,” he added.

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Senior US Officials Travel to Armenia as Karabakh’s Armenians Start to Leave 

Senior Biden administration officials arrived in Armenia on Monday, a day after ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh began fleeing following Azerbaijan’s defeat of the breakaway region’s fighters in a conflict dating from the Soviet era.

The visit by U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) chief Samantha Power and U.S. State Department Acting Assistant Secretary for Europe and Eurasian Affairs Yuri Kim is the first by senior U.S. officials to Armenia since the Karabakh Armenians were forced into a ceasefire last week.

Power will meet with senior Armenian government officials on the trip, first reported by Reuters, and will affirm the U.S. partnership with the country and “express deep concern for the ethnic Armenian population in Nagorno-Karabakh and to discuss measures to address the humanitarian crisis there,” a U.S. official said.

Power will be the first USAID Administrator to go to Armenia, the official added.

“The United States is deeply concerned about reports on the humanitarian conditions in Nagorno-Karabakh and calls for unimpeded access for international humanitarian organizations and commercial traffic,” USAID said in the announcement of the trip.

The Armenians of Karabakh, a territory internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but previously beyond its control, sued for peace last week after a 24-hour military operation by the much larger Azerbaijani military.

The Armenians are not accepting Azerbaijan’s promise to guarantee their rights as the region is integrated. The Nagorno-Karabakh leadership told Reuters the region’s 120,000 Armenians did not want to live as part of Azerbaijan for fear of persecution and ethnic cleansing.

The Armenian government said that as of 5 a.m. on Monday more than 2,900 people had crossed into the country from Nagorno-Karabakh.

Armenia has prepared space for tens of thousands of Armenians from the region, including hotels near the border, though Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan says he does not want them to leave their homes unless it is absolutely necessary.

Thousands of Karabakh Armenians have been left without food.

The Armenian authorities in the region said late on Saturday that about 150 tons of humanitarian cargo from Russia and another 65 tons of flour shipped by the International Committee of the Red Cross had arrived in the region.

Karabakh has been run by a breakaway administration since a war in the early 1990s amid the breakup of the Soviet Union.

In 2020, after decades of skirmishes, Azerbaijan, backed by Turkey, won a 44-day Second Karabakh War, recapturing territory in and around Karabakh. That war ended with a Russian-brokered peace deal that Armenians accuse Moscow of failing to guarantee.

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Historians Race to Find Great Lakes Shipwrecks Before Mussels Destroy Sites

The Great Lakes’ frigid fresh water used to keep shipwrecks so well preserved that divers could see dishes in the cupboards. Downed planes that spent decades underwater were left so pristine they could practically fly again when archaeologists finally discovered them.

Now, an invasive mussel is destroying shipwrecks deep in the depths of the lakes, forcing archeologists and amateur historians into a race against time to find as many sites as they can before the region touching eight U.S. states and the Canadian province of Ontario loses any physical trace of its centuries-long maritime history.

“What you need to understand is every shipwreck is covered with quagga mussels in the lower Great Lakes,” Wisconsin state maritime archaeologist Tamara Thomsen said. “Everything. If you drain the lakes, you’ll get a bowl of quagga mussels.”

Quagga mussels, finger-sized mollusks with voracious appetites, have become the dominant invasive species in the lower Great Lakes over the past 30 years, according to biologists.

The creatures have covered virtually every shipwreck and downed plane in all of the lakes except Lake Superior, archaeologists say. The mussels burrow into wooden vessels, building upon themselves in layers so thick they will eventually crush walls and decks. They also produce acid that can corrode steel and iron ships. No one has found a viable way to stop them.

Wayne Lusardi, Michigan’s state maritime archaeologist, is pushing to raise more pieces of a World War II plane flown by a Tuskegee airman that crashed in Lake Huron in 1944.

“Divers started discovering (planes) in the 1960s and 1970s,” he said. “Some were so preserved they could fly again. (Now) when they’re removed the planes look like Swiss cheese. (Quaggas are) literally burning holes in them.”

Quagga mussels, native to Russia and Ukraine, were discovered in the Great Lakes in 1989, around the same time as their infamous cousin species, zebra mussels. Scientists believe the creatures arrived via ballast dumps from transoceanic freighters making their way to Great Lakes ports.

Unlike zebra mussels, quaggas are hungrier, hardier and more tolerant of colder temperatures. They devour plankton and other suspended nutrients, eliminating the base level of food chains. They consume so many nutrients at such high rates they can render portions of the murky Great Lakes as clear as tropical seas. And while zebra mussels prefer hard surfaces, quaggas can attach to soft surfaces at greater depths, enabling them to colonize even the lakes’ sandy bottoms.

After 30 years of colonization, quaggas have displaced zebra mussels as the dominant mussel in the Great Lakes. Zebras made up more than 98% of mussels in Lake Michigan in 2000, according to the University of California, Riverside’s Center for Invasive Species Research. Five years later, quaggas represented 97.7%.

For wooden and metal ships, the quaggas’ success has translated into overwhelming destruction.

The mussels can burrow into sunken wooden ships, stacking upon themselves until details such as name plates and carvings are completely obscured. Divers who try to brush them off inevitably peel away some wood. Quaggas also can create clouds of carbon dioxide, as well as feces that corrode iron and steel, accelerating metal shipwrecks’ decay.

Quaggas have yet to establish a foothold in Lake Superior. Biologists believe the water there contains less calcium, which quaggas need to make their shells, said Dr. Harvey Bootsma, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s School of Freshwater Sciences.

That means the remains of the Edmund Fitzgerald, a freighter that went down in that lake during a storm in 1975 and was immortalized in the Gordon Lightfoot song, The Ballad of the Edmund Fitzgerald, are safe, at least for now.

Lusardi, Michigan’s state maritime archaeologist, ticked off a long list of shipwreck sites in the lower Great Lakes consumed by quaggas.

His list included the Daniel J. Morrel, a freighter that sank during a storm on Lake Huron in 1966, killing all but one of the 29 crew members, and the Cedarville, a freighter that sank in the Straits of Mackinac in 1965, killing eight crew members. He also listed the Carl D. Bradley, another freighter that went down during a storm in northern Lake Michigan in 1958, killing 33 sailors.

The plane Lusardi is trying to recover is a Bell P-39 that went down in Lake Huron during a training exercise in 1944, killing Frank H. Moody, a Tuskegee airman. The Tuskegee Airmen were a group of Black military pilots who received training at Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama during World War II.

Brendon Baillod, a Great Lakes historian based in Madison, has spent the last five years searching for the Trinidad, a grain schooner that went down in Lake Michigan in 1881. He and fellow historian Bob Jaeck finally found the wreck in July off Algoma, Wisconsin.

The first photos of the site, taken by a robot vehicle, showed the ship was in unusually good shape, with intact rigging and dishes still in cabins. But the site was “fully carpeted” with quagga mussels, Baillod said.

“It has been completely colonized,” he said. “Twenty years ago, even 15 years ago, that site would have been clean. Now you can’t even recognize the bell. You can’t see the nameboard. If you brush those mussels off, it tears the wood off with it.”

Quagga management options could include treating them with toxic chemicals; covering them with tarps that restrict water flow and starve them of oxygen and food; introducing predator species; or suffocating them by adding carbon dioxide to the water.

So far nothing looks promising on a large scale, UW-Milwaukee’s Bootsma said.

“The only way they will disappear from a lake as large as Lake Michigan is through some disease, or possibly an introduced predator,” he said.

That leaves archaeologists and historians like Baillod scrambling to locate as many wrecks as possible to map and document before they disintegrate under the quaggas’ assaults.

At stake are the physical remnants of a maritime industry that helped settle the Great Lakes region and establish port cities such as Milwaukee, Detroit, Chicago and Toledo, Ohio.

“When we lose those tangible, preserved time capsules of our history, we lose our tangible connection to the past,” Baillod said. “Once they’re gone, it’s all just a memory. It’s all just stuff in books.”

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Some London Police Put Down Guns After Colleague Charged with Murder

Some members of London’s police force are refusing to carry firearms after a colleague was charged with murder in the fatal shooting of an unarmed Black man.

Such a charge against a police officer is extremely rare in England.

The Telegraph newspaper reports that more than 300 officers, about 10% of the armed police, have refused to carry their weapons following their colleague’s charge.

The officers’ move has prompted Scotland Yard to ask the Ministry of Defense for help with counter-terrorism policing. The MoD would provide London with soldiers who would do specific tasks, but not routine police work.

Only about one in ten police officers in London carries a weapon, after undergoing intensive training.

Chris Kaba, 23, was the unarmed Black man who was killed in an encounter with police last year.  The Associated Press reports Kaba was shot by single bullet as he sat in his car.

The officer accused of killing Kaba has not been publicly named. His trial is expected to begin next year.

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EU Businesses ‘Questioning Their Position’ in China: Trade Commissioner

European businesses in China are increasingly questioning their positions in the face of tough new security laws and a politicization of trade, an EU commissioner warned in Beijing on Monday.

“European companies are concerned with China’s direction of travel,” Valdis Dombrovskis said in a speech at the capital’s Tsinghua University.

“Many are questioning their position in this country.”

He pointed to a new foreign relations law and a recent update to China’s anti-espionage laws as being of “great concern to our business community.”

“Their ambiguity allows too much room for interpretation,” he warned.

“This means European companies struggle to understand their compliance obligations: a factor that significantly decreases business confidence and deters new investments in China,” Dombrovskis said.

The EU trade commissioner is on a multi-day visit to the world’s second-biggest economy, where he is set to meet senior economic officials and press the bloc’s case that it is not seeking an economic decoupling from China.

His trip follows a report by the Chamber of Commerce of the European Union last week that showed business confidence was at one of its lowest levels in decades.

“For decades, European companies thrived in China,” the Chamber’s president Jens Eskelund said.

But, after three “turbulent” years, he said, “many have re-evaluated their basic assumptions about the Chinese market”.

And it comes in the face of mounting trade tensions between the EU and China, following Brussels’ decision to launch a probe into Beijing’s electric car subsidies.

The investigation could see the EU try to protect European carmakers by imposing punitive tariffs on vehicles it believes are unfairly sold at a lower price.

The day after that announcement, the Chinese commerce ministry hit back at the EU’s “naked protectionism” and said the measures “will have a negative impact on China-EU economic and trade relations”.

Speaking in Beijing on Monday, Dombrovskis insisted China remained an attractive investment opportunity for European businesses.

“The EU and China both benefited immensely from being open to the world,” he said. “Trading and cooperating across borders helped to shape our economic and geopolitical strength.”

But, he said, growing challenges for business risked turning “what many saw as a ‘win-win’ relationship in past decades could become a ‘lose-lose’ dynamic in the coming years”.

Ukraine war

China’s refusal to condemn Russia’s war in Ukraine also poses a “reputational risk”, he said.

Beijing’s position “is affecting the country’s image, not only with European consumers, but also businesses”, he said.

China has sought to position itself as a neutral party in the Ukraine conflict, while offering Moscow a vital diplomatic and financial lifeline as its international isolation deepens.

Russian leader Vladimir Putin is due to visit China next month.

“China always advocates for each country being free to choose its own development path,” Dombrovskis said.

“So, it’s very difficult for us to understand China’s stance on Russia’s war against Ukraine, as it breaches China’s own fundamental principles.”

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Turkey’s Erdogan to Meet Azeri’s Aliyev as Thousands Flee Karabakh

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan is to meet his ally Azeri President Ilham Aliyev on Monday, as thousands of ethnic Armenians began an exodus from Nagorno-Karabakh after Azerbaijan defeated the breakaway region’s fighters last week.

Erdogan will pay a one-day visit to Azerbaijan’s autonomous Nakhchivan exclave – a strip of Azeri territory nestled between Armenia, Iran and Turkey – to discuss with Aliyev the situation in the Karabakh region, the Turkish president’s office said.

The Armenians of Karabakh, a territory internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan but previously beyond its control, were forced into a ceasefire last week after a 24-hour military operation by the much larger Azerbaijani military.

On Sunday, the Nagorno-Karabakh leadership told Reuters the region’s 120,000 Armenians did not want to live as part of Azerbaijan for fear of persecution and ethnic cleansing and started fleeing the area.

Russia’s RIA news agency cited early on Monday an Armenian government statement saying that more than 1,500 people had crossed into Armenia from Nagorno-Karabkah as of midnight.

Those with fuel had started to drive down the Lachin corridor toward the border with Armenia, according to a Reuters reporter in the Karabakh capital known as Stepanakert by Armenia and Khankendi by Azerbaijan.

Reuters pictures showed dozens of cars driving out of the capital toward the corridor’s mountainous curves.

Armenia and Azerbaijan have fought two wars over the enclave in 30 years — with Azerbaijan gaining back swathes of territory in and around Nagorno-Karabakh in a six-week conflict in 2020.

Erdogan, who backed the Azeris with weaponry in the 2020 conflict, said last week he supported the aims of Azerbaijan’s latest military operation but played no part in it.

Armenia says more than 200 people were killed and 400 wounded in last week’s Azeri operation, a hostility condemned by the United States and other Western allies of Armenia.

On Sunday, Azerbaijan’s defense ministry said it had confiscated more military equipment from Armenian separatists, including rockets, artillery shells, mines and ammunition.

The Karabakh Armenians are not accepting Azerbaijan’s promise to guarantee their rights as the region is integrated.

Armenia called for an immediate deployment of a U.N. mission to monitor human rights and security in the region.

“99.9% prefer to leave our historic lands,” David Babayan, an adviser to Samvel Shahramanyan, president of the self-styled Republic of Artsakh, told Reuters.

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Tentative Deal Reached to End Hollywood Writers Strike

Union leaders and Hollywood studios reached a tentative agreement Sunday to end a historic screenwriters strike after nearly five months, though no deal is yet in the works for striking actors.

The Writers Guild of America announced the deal in a statement.

The three-year contract agreement — settled on after five marathon days of renewed talks by negotiators for the Writers Guild of America and an alliance of studios, streaming services and production companies — must be approved by the guild’s board and members before the strike officially ends.

The terms of the deal were not immediately announced. The tentative deal to end the last writers strike, in 2008, was approved by more than 90% of members.

As a result of the agreement, nightly network shows including NBC’s “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” and ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” could return to the air within days.

But as writers prepare to potentially crack open their laptops again, it’s far from back to business as usual in Hollywood, as talks have not yet resumed between studios and striking actors. Crew members left with no work by the stoppage will remain unemployed for now.

The proposed solution to the writers strike comes after talks resumed on Wednesday or the first time in a month. Chief executives including Bob Iger of Disney, Ted Sarandos of Netflix, David Zaslav of Warner Bros. Discovery and Donna Langley of NBCUniversal reportedly took part in the negotiations directly.

About 11,500 members of the Writers Guild of America walked off the job May 2 over issues of pay, the size of writing staffs on shows and the use of artificial intelligence in the creation of scripts. Actors, who joined the writers on strike in July, have their own issues but there have been no discussions about resuming negotiations with their union yet.

The writers strike immediately sent late-night talk shows and “Saturday Night Live” into hiatus, and has since sent dozens of scripted shows and other productions into limbo, including forthcoming seasons of Netflix’s “Stranger Things,” HBO’s “The Last of Us,” and ABC’s “Abbot Elementary,” and films including “Deadpool 3” and “Superman: Legacy.” The Emmy Awards were also pushed from September to January.

More recently, writers had been targeting talk shows that were working around strike rules to return to air, including “The Drew Barrymore Show,” “Real Time With Bill Maher” and “The Talk.” All reversed course in the face of picketing and pressure and are likely to quickly return now.

The combined strikes made for a pivotal moment in Hollywood as creative labor faced off against executives in a business transformed and torn by technology, from the seismic shift to streaming in recent years to the potentially paradigm-shifting emergence of AI in the years to come.

Screenwriters had traditionally gone on strike more than any other segment of the industry but had enjoyed a relatively long stretch of labor peace until spring negotiations for a new contract fell apart. The walkout was their first since 2007 and their longest since 1988.

On July 14, more than two months into the strike, the writers got a dose of solidarity and star power — along with a whole lot of new picketing partners — when they were joined by 65,000 striking film and television actors.

It was the first time the two groups had been on strike together since 1960. In that walkout, the writers strike started first and ended second. This time, studios opted to deal with the writers first.

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, the group that represents employers in negotiations, first reached out to suggest renewing negotiations in August. The meetings were short, infrequent, and not productive, and talks went silent for another month.

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Megan Rapinoe Gets Triumphant Send-off as United States Beats South Africa, 2-0

Megan Rapinoe got a triumphant send-off, and the United States beat South Africa 2-0 on Sunday.

Trinity Rodman and Emily Sonnett scored, and the U.S. sent its captain toward retirement with one final victory as a member of the national team.

The 38-year-old Rapinoe was presented a framed jersey representing her 203 games with the United States prior to the win, and she raised her arms as the crowd roared.

Rodman gave the U.S. more to celebrate when she drilled the ball into the net off a cross from Alex Morgan in the 18th minute. Rapinoe was the first to hug her.

Sonnett made it 2-0 with a header in the 49th minute and then jumped into Rapinoe’s arms. Rapinoe came close to scoring but missed just high on a free kick. She exited the international stage for one final time to a standing ovation in the 54th minute, kissing and hugging her teammates and blowing a kiss to the crowd and bowing.

Rapinoe announced in July that she was retiring after an illustrious career that included a pair of World Cup championships as well as gold and bronze medals in the Olympics and countless victory poses with her feet together and arms raised wide as she grinned ear to ear. She used her platform make an impact beyond the pitch, fighting for equal pay and social justice.

In recent weeks, she’s been showing her emotions.

Rapinoe let them flow following the U.S. loss to Sweden at this summer’s Women’s World Cup, knowing it would be her last tournament with the national team. She did it again last weekend, when she played her final rivalry match between her NWSL team, OL Reign, and the Portland Thorns.

Rapinoe still has a few more regular-season games for the Reign, including a send-off match for local fans in Seattle on Oct. 6, before her career comes to an end. And what a remarkable career it has been.

She entered her final match for the United States with 63 goals, including two directly from corner kicks at the Olympics. At the 2019 World Cup in France, she scored six goals and took home the Golden Ball as top player.

Besides establishing herself as one of the best to play the game, she led the long fight for equal pay with the men’s national team.

Rapinoe, who came out publicly in 2012 and got engaged to basketball star Sue Bird in 2020, is outspoken about LGBTQ issues, including transgender rights. In 2022, President Joe Biden made her the first soccer player awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

She showed solidarity with former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in the fight for racial equity by kneeling during the national anthem. U.S. Soccer responded by implementing a rule that players must stand for anthems that was rescinded in 2021.

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Macron: France Pulling Ambassador, Troops From Niger After Coup

French President Emmanuel Macron said Sunday, France is imminently to withdraw its ambassador from Niger, followed by the French military contingent in the next months, in the wake of the coup in the west African country that ousted the pro-Paris president.

Macron’s announcement appeared to end two months of French defiance over the coup, which had seen Paris keep its ambassador in place in Niamey despite him being ordered by the coup leaders to go.

“France has decided to withdraw its ambassador. In the next hours our ambassador and several diplomats will return to France,” Macron told French television in an interview, without giving details over how this would be organized.  

Niger’s military rulers have banned “French aircraft” from flying over the country’s airspace, according to the Agency for the Safety of Air Navigation in Africa and Madagascar (ASECNA) website. It was not clear if this would affect the ambassador being flown out.

Macron added that military cooperation was “over,” and French troops would withdraw in “the months and weeks to come” with a full pullout “by the end of the year.”

“In the weeks and months to come, we will consult with the putschists, because we want this to be done peacefully,” he added.

France keeps about 1,500 soldiers in Niger as part of an anti-jihadis deployment in the Sahel region. Macron said the post-coup authorities “no longer wanted to fight against terrorism.”  

Niger’s military leaders told French ambassador Sylvain Itte he had to leave the country after they overthrew President Mohamed Bazoum on July 26.  

But a 48-hour ultimatum for him to leave, issued in August, passed with him still in place as the French government refused to comply, or to recognize the military regime as legitimate.

Earlier this month, Macron said the ambassador and his staff were “literally being held hostage” in the mission eating military rations with no food deliveries taking place.  

Macron in the interview reaffirmed France’s position that Bazoum was being held “hostage” and remained the “sole legitimate authority” in the country.

“He was targeted by this coup d’état because he was carrying out courageous reforms and because there was a largely ethnic settling of scores and a lot of political cowardice,” he argued.

The coup against Bazoum was the third such putsch in the region in as many years, following similar actions in Mali and Burkina Faso in 2021 and 2022 that also forced the pullouts of French troops.

But the Niger coup is particularly bruising for Macron after he sought to make a special ally of Niamey, and a hub for France’s presence in the region following the Mali coup. The U.S. also has over 1,000 troops in the country.

Macron regularly speaks by phone to Bazoum who remains under house arrest in the presidential residence.

The French president has repeatedly spoken of making a historic change to France’s post-colonial imprint in Africa, but analysts say Paris is losing influence across the continent especially in the face of a growing Chinese, Turkish and Russian presence.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) threatened military action to restore Bazoum but so far, its threats, which were strongly supported by France, have not transferred into action.

“We are not here to be hostages of the putschists,” said Macron. “The putschists are the allies of disorder,” he added.

Macron said that jihadi attacks were causing “dozens of deaths every day in Mali” after its coup and that now such assaults had resumed in Niger.  

“I am very worried about this region,” he said.

“France, sometimes alone, has taken all its responsibilities and I am proud of our military. But we are not responsible for the political life of these countries, and we draw all the consequences.”

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Ukrainian Train Is Lifeline Connecting Kyiv With the Front Line

Among the hundreds of trains crisscrossing Ukraine’s elaborate railway network every day, the Kyiv-Kramatorsk train stands apart, shrouded in solemn silence as passengers anticipate their destination.

Every day, around seven in the morning, passengers of this route leave the relative safety of the capital and head east to front-line areas where battles between Ukrainian forces and Russian troops rage and Russian strikes are frequent with imprecise missiles that slam into residential areas.

The passengers are a mix of men and women that offer up a slice of Ukrainian society these days. They include soldiers returning to the front after a brief leave, women making the trip to reunite for a few days with husbands and boyfriends serving on the battlefields, and residents returning to check on homes in the Donetsk region.

They are all lost in thought and rarely converse with each other.

Nineteen-year-old Marta Banakh anxiously awaits the train’s next brief stop at one of its nine intermediate stations on the way to Kramatorsk. She disembarks at the station for a quick cigarette break, shifting her weight back and forth from one foot to the other. Her family doesn’t know she has made this journey from western Ukraine, crossing the entire country to meet her boyfriend, who has been serving in the infantry since the onset of Russia’s full-fledged invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. He rarely gets a break, and Banakh has decided to surprise him with a visit.

“I worry that every day could be his last, and we may never see each other again,” she said wearing her hair down, crowned with a pearl-studded headband.

It’s the only high-speed daily train that drives to Kramatorsk. The city is about 30 kilometers (less than 20 miles) from the front line, which makes it susceptible to Russian strikes. And just a few kilometers away from the city, battles near the Russian-held city of Bakhmut rage for the second year.

The war has become an integral part of the lives of millions of Ukrainians, and the country’s vast railway system has remained operational despite the war. Night trains that rattle across the country still welcome customers with hot tea and clean sheets in the sleeping compartments. The trains also carry cargo, aid and gear.

The popularity of the Kyiv-Kramatorsk route highlights the reality of war.

Around 126,000 passengers used this route during the summer months this year, according to national railway operator Ukrzaliznytsia. It holds the fourth position for passenger volume among all intercity high-speed trains and maintains one of the highest occupancy rates — 94% — among all Ukrainian trains.

The connection was suspended for six months early in the war. The halt in April last year followed a Russian missile strike on the Kramatorsk railway station while passengers were waiting for evacuation. The strike killed 53 people and wounded 135 others in one of the deadliest Russian attacks.

Alla Makieieva, 49, used to regularly travel on this route even before the war. Returning from a business trip to the capital and back to Dobropillia, a town not far from Kramatorsk, she reflects on the changes between then and now.

“People have changed, now they seem more somber,” she says. “We’ve already learned to live with these missiles. We’ve become friends,” she joked. “In Kyiv, the atmosphere is completely different; people smile more often.”

Kyiv is regularly attacked by Russian missiles and drones. But unlike Kramatorsk in the Donetsk region, the capital has powerful air defense protection, which gives residents an illusion of safety.

As the morning light gradually gives way to the midday sun, it fills the spacious train carriages in warm radiance. The train shelves are mostly filled with military backpacks and small bags. Occasionally, a waiter breaks the silence in the aisle, offering coffee, tea, and snacks. Along the way, one can order dishes like bolognese pasta or a cappuccino.

The high-speed train ride from Kyiv to Kramatorsk costs approximately $14. In nearly seven hours, passengers cover a distance of around 700 kilometers (400 miles).

Twenty-six-year-old Oleksandr Kyrylenko sits in the train’s lobby with a coffee in hand, gazing thoughtfully out of the window as the landscapes change rapidly.

It’s his first time heading to the front line, and he admits he didn’t expect to travel to the epicenter of the grinding war with such comfort.

He had been working as a warehouse manager in Poland when Russia invaded Ukraine. “I helped as much as I could,” he said. “Then I decided I needed to go myself.”

“There is no fear. I simply want it to end sooner,” he says of the war, dressed in military attire.

His parents were not thrilled about this idea, but this summer the young man returned to Ukraine and immediately went to the military enlistment office.

“It even feels lighter on my conscience,” he said, adding that this decision came naturally to him. “Human resources are running out. Something needs to be done about it.”

The train arrives at its destination on time, and the platform quickly fills with people.

Some, wearing military-colored backpacks slung over their shoulders, stride forward swiftly, while others linger on the platform in long-awaited embraces.

Twenty-year-old Sofiia Sidorchuk embraces her boyfriend, who has been serving since the beginning of the full-scale invasion. The 20-year-old soldier refrains from disclosing his name for security reasons.

He holds Sidorchuk tightly, as if trying to make up for all the lost time during their longest separation in seven years of the relationship. “We missed each other,”  

Sidorchuk explains her decision to come from the northwestern Rivne region to Kramatorsk.

“It’s love,” added her partner, wearing military fatigues.

His commander granted him a few days alone with his beloved to recharge. In five days, he will embark on a new assault mission.

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Residents of Hawaii’s Lahaina to Return to Properties Devastated by Wildfire

From just outside the burn zone in Lahaina, on the Hawaiian island of Maui, Jes Claydon can see the ruins of the rental home where she lived for 13 years and raised three children. Little remains recognizable beyond the jars of sea glass that stood outside the front door. 

On Monday, officials will begin lifting restrictions on entry to the area, and Claydon hopes to collect those jars and any other mementos she might find. 

“I want the freedom to just be there and absorb what happened,” Claydon said. “Whatever I might find, even if it’s just those jars of sea glass, I’m looking forward to taking it….It’s a piece of home.” 

Authorities will begin allowing the first residents and property owners to return to their properties in the burn zone, many for the first time since it was demolished nearly seven weeks ago, on Aug. 8, by the deadliest U.S. wildfire in more than a century. 

The prospect of returning has stirred strong emotions in residents who fled in vehicles or on foot as the wind-whipped flames raced across Lahaina, the historic capital of the former Hawaiian kingdom, and overcame people stuck in traffic trying to escape. Some survivors jumped over a sea wall and sheltered in the waves as hot black smoke blotted out the sun. The wildfire killed at least 97 people and destroyed more than 2,000 buildings, most of them homes. 

Claydon’s home was a single-story cinderblock house painted a reddish-tan, similar to the red dirt in Lahaina. She can see the property from a National Guard blockade that has kept unauthorized people out of the burn zone. A few of the walls are still standing, and some green lawn remains, she said. 

Authorities have divided the burned area into 17 zones and dozens of sub-zones. Residents or property owners of the first zone to be cleared for reentry — known as Zone 1C, along Kaniau Road in the north part of Lahaina — will be allowed to return on supervised visits Monday and Tuesday between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Those eligible could pick up passes from Friday to Sunday in advance. 

Darryl Oliveira, interim administrator of the Maui Emergency Management Agency, said officials also want to ensure that they have the space and privacy to reflect or grieve as they see fit. 

“They anticipate some people will only want to go for a very short period of time, a few minutes to say goodbye in a way to their property,” Hawaii Gov. Josh Green said last week. “Others may want to stay several hours. They’re going to be very accommodating.” 

Those returning will be provided with water, shade, washing stations, portable toilets, medical and mental health care, and transportation assistance if needed.

Nonprofit groups are also offering personal protective equipment, including masks and coveralls. Officials have warned that ash could contain asbestos, lead, arsenic or other toxins. 

While some residents, like Claydon, might be eager to find jewelry, photographs or other tokens of their life before the fire, officials are urging them not to sift through the ashes for fear of raising toxic dust that could endanger them or their neighbors downwind. 

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Ukraine’s Zelenskyy Says He Met Top Businessmen During US Visit

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Sunday he met leading American entrepreneurs and financiers during a visit this week to the United States, where investment opportunities in Ukraine were discussed.

Zelenskyy said the businessmen, who included Michael Bloomberg, Larry Fink and Bill Ackman, were prepared to make major investments in rebuilding Ukraine after its war with Russia.

“The American entrepreneurs and financiers confirmed their readiness to make large-scale investments in our country immediately after the end of the war and the receipt of security guarantees,” he posted on Telegram, along with photos of the meeting.

“We are working for the victory and reconstruction of Ukraine.”

On a trip to the U.S. and Canada this past week, Zelenskyy sought continued military and financial support for Kyiv’s effort to fend off Russia’s 19-month-old invasion.

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Holocaust Revisionist Is Top Mayor Candidate in One German City 

A populist far-right politician is the front-runner in a mayoral race Sunday in the German city of Nordhausen, best known as the location of the Nazi concentration camp Mittelbau-Dora.

Joerg Prophet of the Alternative for Germany party, won 42.1% of the vote in the first round of the election earlier this month. His opponent, independent incumbent candidate Kai Buchmann, had just 23.7%.

The prospect of a far-right mayor holding a revisionist version of Germany’s Holocaust past has not gone unnoticed by Holocaust survivors and people who work in Germany to combat discrimination.

Jens-Christian Wagner, director of the Buchenwald and Mittelbau-Dora Memorials Foundation, told AFP that an AfD mayor would not be welcome at commemorative events.

Agence France-Presse reports that Prophet posted in a blog in 2020 that the Allied forces liberated Mittelbau-Dora because they were interested only in the site’s rocket and missile technology.

“Everything I hear,” Wagner said, “suggests that Prophet will be elected not despite such historical revisionist positions, but precisely because of such positions.”

The AfD party’s popularity has been growing, especially as thousands of migrants have sought asylum in Germany recently. Migration is AfD’s signature issue.

AfD’s growing popularity has presented a dilemma for other political parties that must decide whether or how to cooperate with the controversial party.

Information for this report came from The Associated Press and Agence France-Presse.

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Armenian PM Says Armenians May Flee Karabakh, Blames Russia

Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said on Sunday the likelihood was rising that ethnic Armenians would flee the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh and blamed Russia for failing to ensure Armenian security.

If 120,000 people go down the Lachin corridor to Armenia, the small South Caucasian country could face both a humanitarian and political crisis.

“If proper conditions are not created for the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh to live in their homes and there are no effective protection mechanisms against ethnic cleansing, the likelihood is rising that the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh will see exile from their homeland as the only way to save their lives and identity,” Pashinyan said in address to the nation.

“Responsibility for such a development of events will fall entirely on Azerbaijan, which adopted a policy of ethnic cleansing, and on the Russian peacekeeping contingent in Nagorno-Karabakh,” he said, according to a government transcript.

He added that the Armenian-Russian strategic partnership was “not enough to ensure the external security of Armenia.”

Last week, Azerbaijan scored a victory over ethnic Armenians who have controlled the Karabakh region since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. An adviser to the leader of the Karabakh Armenians told Reuters earlier on Sunday that the population would leave because they feel unsafe under Azerbaijani rule.

Russia had acted as guarantor for a peace deal that ended a 44-day war in Karabakh three years ago, and many Armenians blame Moscow for failing to protect the region.

Russian officials say Pashinyan is to blame for his own mishandling of the crisis, and have repeatedly said that Armenia, which borders Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan and Georgia, has few other friends in the region.

“The government will accept our brothers and sisters from Nagorno-Karabakh with full care,” Pashinyan said.

Pashinyan has warned that some unidentified forces were seeking to stoke a coup against him and has accused Russian media of engaging in an information war against him.

“Some of our partners are increasingly making efforts to expose our security vulnerabilities, putting at risk not only our external, but also internal security and stability, while violating all norms of etiquette and correctness in diplomatic and interstate relations, including obligations assumed under treaties,” Pashinyan said in his Sunday address.

“In this context, it is necessary to transform, complement and enrich the external and internal security instruments of the Republic of Armenia,” he said. 

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NASA’s 1st Asteroid Samples Land on Earth After Spacecraft Release 

NASA’s first asteroid samples fetched from deep space parachuted into the Utah desert Sunday to cap a seven-year journey.

In a flyby of Earth, the Osiris-Rex spacecraft released the sample capsule from 63,000 miles (100,000 kilometers) out. The small capsule landed four hours later on a remote expanse of military land, as the mothership set off after another asteroid.

Scientists estimate the capsule holds at least a cup of rubble from the carbon-rich asteroid known as Bennu but won’t know for sure until the container is opened. Some spilled and floated away when the spacecraft scooped up too much and rocks jammed the container’s lid during collection three years ago.

Japan, the only other country to bring back asteroid samples, gathered about a teaspoon in a pair of asteroid missions.

The pebbles and dust delivered Sunday represent the biggest haul from beyond the moon. Preserved building blocks from the dawn of our solar system 4.5 billion years ago, the samples will help scientists better understand how Earth and life formed.

Osiris-Rex, the mothership, rocketed away on the $1 billion mission in 2016. It reached Bennu two years later and, using a long stick vacuum, grabbed rubble from the small roundish space rock in 2020. By the time it returned, the spacecraft had logged 4 billion miles (6.2 billion kilometers).

NASA’s recovery effort in Utah included helicopters as well as a temporary clean room set up at the Defense Department’s Utah Test and Training Range. The samples will be flown Monday morning to a new lab at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. The building already houses the hundreds of pounds (kilograms) of moon rocks gathered by the Apollo astronauts more than a half-century ago.

The mission’s lead scientist, Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona, will accompany the samples to Texas. The opening of the container in Houston in the next day or two will be “the real moment of truth,” given the uncertainty over the amount inside, he said ahead of the landing.

Engineers estimate the canister holds 250 grams (8.82 ounces) of material from Bennu, plus or minus 100 grams (plus or minus 3.53 ounces). Even at the low end, it will easily surpass the minimum requirement of the mission, Lauretta said.

It will take a few weeks to get a precise measurement, said NASA’s lead curator Nicole Lunning.

NASA plans a public show-and-tell in October.

Currently orbiting the sun 50 million miles (81 million kilometers) from Earth, Bennu is about one-third of a mile (one-half of a kilometer) across, roughly the size of the Empire State Building but shaped like a spinning top. It’s believed to be the broken fragment of a much larger asteroid.

During a two-year survey, Osiris-Rex found Bennu to be a chunky rubble pile full of boulders and craters. The surface was so loose that the spacecraft’s vacuum arm sank a foot or two (0.5 meters) into the asteroid, sucking up more material than anticipated and jamming the lid.

These close-up observations may come in handy late in the next century. Bennu is expected to come dangerously close to Earth in 2182 — possibly close enough to hit. The data gleaned by Osiris-Rex will help with any asteroid-deflection effort, according to Lauretta.

Osiris-Rex is already chasing after the asteroid Apophis and will reach it in 2029.

This was NASA’s third sample return from a deep-space robotic mission. The Genesis spacecraft dropped off bits of solar wind in 2004, but the samples were compromised when the parachute failed, and the capsule slammed into the ground. The Stardust spacecraft successfully delivered comet dust in 2006.

NASA’s plans to return samples from Mars are on hold after an independent review board criticized the cost and complexity. The Martian rover Perseverance has spent the past two years collecting core samples for eventual transport to Earth.