Many From Africa, Haiti Seek Asylum at US Southern Border

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While most migrants who arrive at America’s southern border are from the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, the U.S. Border Patrol in Texas’ Del Rio Sector reports apprehending people from more than 50 countries in the last year. VOA’s Ramon Taylor and Victoria Macchi spoke with asylum-seeking families who have journeyed across the Atlantic and through the Americas en route to the US-Mexico border, desperate for a new beginning.

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Is Russia Using Patriotism as a Political Tool?

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In Russia, countrywide celebrations have been held to mark the 350th anniversary of the national flag. Yet, only 50 percent of respondents polled in a recent survey could correctly name the sequence of the colors on the flag. Russia recently saw a surge of patriotic celebrations orchestrated by local and federal authorities. Yulia Savchenko has more from Moscow on the state-promoted events.

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Teenage Climate Star Greta Thunberg Takes Her Friday School Strike to UN

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Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg took her Friday school strikes to the gates of the United Nations, surrounded by hundreds of other young activists, calling on adults to take action on climate change. Thunberg will speak at a climate change summit of world leaders next month at the U.N. General Assembly. VOA’s Diplomatic Correspondent Cindy Saine has more from Washington.

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VOA Our Voices 139: The Rhythm of the Day

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This week, on #VOAOurVoices: from afro beats and South Africa’s hypnotic gqom music, to the Ivorian sounds of Coupé-Decalé, African artists continue to reinvent the rhythms of Africa – and the world is taking note. This week, our hosts are joined by David Vandy, from VOA’s The African Beat. Together, they explore the global influence and reach of African music, and how that expansion benefits artists from the continent. In our #WomentoWatch segment, we highlight the women who are pushing the sounds of Africa to a new level, and feature a live performance from singer-songwriter ToluMiDe.

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Setback in First Legal Challenge to UK Govt’s Brexit Plans

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The first legal challenge to prevent British Prime Minister Boris Johnson from suspending Parliament has been delayed in a Scottish court.

The Court of Session in Edinburgh refused Friday to take immediate legal action to prevent Johnson from suspending Parliament for several weeks during part of the period ahead of the Brexit deadline of Oct. 31.

Judge Raymond Doherty, however, said a full hearing on the case will be heard Tuesday, raising the prospect that the government’s move could still be blocked. He said there is no need for an immediate injunction because a “substantive” hearing on the case will be heard next week.

The full hearing had originally been set for Sept. 6, but was moved up.

Law professor Nick McKerrell at Glasgow Caledonian University said the decision to speed up the hearing may be significant because it indicates the matter is being treated with urgency.

“This is not the end of the matter,” he said after the judge declined to take immediate action.

The case was brought by a cross-party group of legislators seeking to broaden the period for parliamentary debate in a bid to prevent a disorderly departure by Britain from the European Union.

Two other legal cases are in progress, one in Northern Ireland and another in London. Former Prime Minister John Major said Friday he is seeking to join the case in London to argue against suspension.

“If granted permission to intervene, I intend to seek to assist the court from the perspective of having served in Government as a minister and prime minister, and also in Parliament for many years as a Member of the House of Commons,” he said.

Major is an outspoken critic of Brexit who had vowed to intervene legally if Johnson sought to prevent parliamentary debate on the issue.

The legal skirmishes are designed to prevent Johnson from substantially shortening the amount of time Parliament will be given to enact legislation that might prevent a “no deal” Brexit, that many economists believe would damage Britain’s economy.

Johnson has repeatedly vowed to take Britain out of the EU bloc on Oct. 31 even if no arrangement has been reached. His predecessor, Theresa May, reached an agreement with EU leaders but Britain’s Parliament repeatedly rejected the terms.

In Helsinki, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab defended his government’s decision to suspend parliament and rejected suggestions that the move will prevent lawmakers from debating the country’s departure from the European Union as concern mounts that a costly and damaging Brexit without any agreement is now more likely.

On Wednesday, Johnson got Queen Elizabeth II’s approval to suspend parliament, a move widely criticized by his political opponents who see it as a maneuver to give them even less time to block a chaotic no-deal Brexit.

Johnson previously had refused to rule out such a move, but the timing of the decision took lawmakers _ many of whom are on vacation _ by surprise.
At talks with EU foreign ministers in Finland, Raab said that “the idea that this is some kind of constitutional outrage is nonsense. It’s actually lawful. It’s perfectly proper. There’s precedent for it.”

“We’ve been talking about nothing but Brexit. We’re going to get a chance to scrutinize all aspects of Brexit between now and the end of October,” he told reporters.

His counterparts expressed concern that a no-deal exit from the bloc appears more likely, but most declined to comment on the government’s move, saying it is a matter for Britain to resolve.

“It’s a debate that concerns the British government and parliament,” said Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders. Meanwhile, he said, Britain’s European partners are still waiting for new proposals to resolve the standoff over the divorce agreement, notably the so-called backstop clause which aims to avoid the return of border controls between Ireland in the EU and Britain’s Northern Ireland.

“If we receive some proposals from London we will examine them, as we always do,” said Reynders.

But some ministers were clearly concerned about political developments in London.

“Westminster is the mother of all parliaments, and now you have a situation where that parliament is in danger of being sidelined. It’s a way of proceeding in democracy that doesn’t quite conform to the rules,” said Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn. Johnson has insisted he was taking the step so he could outline his domestic agenda.

 “I’m worried,” Asselborn said. “A no-deal is a catastrophe. It could cost thousands and thousands of jobs and needlessly create misery. I hope that political reason will prevail.”

Britain has said it will step up its technical meetings with EU in an effort to secure a deal in the weeks that remain. The government said that Brexit negotiators will meet with their EU counterparts twice a week throughout September, with the possibility of additional technical meetings. Two meetings are set for next week.

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said he thought the EU would be ready to meet five times a week if it could get the job done, but he said that London must come up with realistic proposals and not simply kick the can down the road.

“It’s got to be credible. It can’t simply be this notion that look, we must have the backstop removed and we’ll solve this problem in the future negotiation without any credible way of doing that. That’s not going to fly, and I think it’s important that we’re all honest about that.”

British government minister Michael Gove was visiting Calais on Friday with France’s customs minister to study Brexit preparations at the busy French port.

Meanwhile, France’s junior minister for European affairs, Aurelie de Montchalin, said on BFM television that  “given how things are going, it’s probable’” that Britain will leave on Oct. 31 with no plans for how to handle trade, travel and cross-border business the next morning.

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Prominent Hong Kong Activists Arrested in Crackdown on Protests

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Police in Hong Kong have arrested three prominent pro-democracy activists, ahead of a major protest that had been planned for Saturday. The march had already been called off by organizers after an appeals board denied permission.

Joshua Wong, founder of political party Demosisto, was arrested Friday on suspicions of organizing an unauthorized protest on June 21, according to police.

“He was suddenly pushed into a private car on the street,” Demosisto, which advocates for greater democracy in Hong Kong, said on its official Twitter account.

Pro-democracy activists Agnes Chow, left, and Joshua Wong speak to media outside a district court in Hong Kong, Aug. 30, 2019.

Agnes Chow, also of Demosisto, was arrested at her home.

Police said Wong and Chow, both 22, are being investigated on suspicion of “organizing unorganized assembly” and “knowingly participating in unauthorized assembly.”

Wong was a prominent figure of Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement for full democracy during protests in 2014 that paralyzed parts of the city for 79 days. In June, he was released from jail after serving a five-week term for contempt of court.

On Thursday police also arrested Andy Chan, a founder of the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party, on suspicion of “participating in riots” and “attacking police” during a protest on July 13.

In an interview with VOA, Wong said protesters are “afraid of Beijing” and that China’s response to the current protests is much more intense than its approach to the Umbrella Movement.

Andy Chan, founder of the Hong Kong National Party, speaks during a luncheon at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Hong Kong, China, Aug. 14, 2018.

“During the Umbrella Movement, the police fired 80 to 90 [rounds of] tear gas in Hong Kong. Now, they fired 2,000 [rounds of] tear gas in Hong Kong. So, we experienced a stronger crackdown on human rights,” he said.

Police have arrested about 900 protesters since the demonstrations, generally peaceful, began in June to stop a now-suspended extradition bill that would allow for sending criminal suspects to Mainland China for trial. 

The protests have evolved into a movement for democratic reforms, but have recently turned violent, with protesters clashing with police.

Beijing has positioned paramilitary forces at Hong Kong’s border as part of its campaign to suppress the protests. Wong declared the move “is not a solution to silence the voices of the protesters.” 

Wong warned it is “time for people to be aware that perhaps another Tiananmen Massacre may happen in Hong Kong,” a reference to the deadly 1989 student-led demonstrations in Beijing. “So the world’s leaders should support the Hong Kong people with [their] solidarity.”

Wong also told VOA his invitation to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping still stands.

“President Xi should come to Hong Kong and meet with the protesters, not only meeting with me. If he comes to the crowd of the protesters, I think the protesters will chat with him and express the voices of the Hong Kong people.”

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No ‘Gay Gene,’ but Study Finds Genetic Links to Sexual Behavior   

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A large scientific study into the biological basis of sexual behavior has confirmed there is no single “gay gene” but that a complex mix of genetics and environment affects whether a person has same-sex sexual partners. 

The research, which analyzed data on DNA and sexual experiences from almost half a million people, found there are thousands of genetic variants linked to same-sex sexual behavior, most with very small effects. 

Five of the genetic markers were “significantly” associated with same-sex behavior, the researchers said, but even these are far from being predictive of a person’s sexual preferences. 

“We scanned the entire human genome and found a handful — five, to be precise — of locations that are clearly associated with whether a person reports in engaging in same-sex sexual behavior,” said Andrea Ganna, a biologist at the Institute of Molecular Medicine in Finland who co-led the research. 

He said these have “a very small effect” and, combined, explain “considerably less than 1% of the variance in the self-reported same-sex sexual behavior.” 

Other factors

This means that nongenetic factors — such as environment, upbringing, personality, nurture — are far more significant in influencing a person’s choice of sexual partner, just as with most other personality, behavioral and physical human traits, the researchers said. 

The study, which was the largest of its kind, analyzed survey responses and performed analyses known as genome-wide association studies (GWAS) on data from more than 470,000 people who had given DNA samples and lifestyle information to the UK Biobank and to the U.S. genetics testing company 23andMeInc. 

Asked why they had wanted to conduct such research, the team 
told reporters on a teleconference that previous studies on this topic had mostly been too small to offer robust conclusions. 

“Previous studies were small and underpowered,” Ganna said. “So we decided to form a large international consortium and collected data for [almost] 500,000 people, [which] is approximately 100 times bigger than previous studies on this topic.” 

FILE – Participants take part in a gay pride parade in Santiago, Chile, Nov. 17, 2018.

The results, published in the journal Science on Thursday, found no clear patterns among genetic variants that could be used to meaningfully predict or identify a person’s sexual behavior, the researchers said. 

‘A lot of diversity’

“We’ve clarified that there’s a lot of diversity out there,” said Benjamin Neale, a member at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard who worked with Ganna. “This moves our understanding [of same-sex sex] to a deeper and more nuanced place.” 

Sexual-rights campaigners welcomed the study, saying it “provides even more evidence that being gay or lesbian is a natural part of human life.” 

“This new research also reconfirms the long-established understanding that there is no conclusive degree to which nature or nurture influences how a gay or lesbian person behaves,” said Zeke Stokes of the U.S.-based LGBTQ rights group GLAAD. 

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US: Venezuela’s Maduro Relinquishing Power Not About Punishment

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The U.S. Special Representative to Venezuela Elliot Abrams told reporters at the State Department that America is “ready for change in Venezuela,” and that embattled President Nicolas Maduro leaving power is a critical part of the country being able to move forward toward free elections and a transition to democracy. 

But Abrams stressed “this isn’t about punishment, this isn’t about vengeance and we have tried to make that clear.”

Abrams said he has not yet seen any signs of a willingness by Maduro to negotiate a compromise where he voluntarily leaves power. 

FILE – U.S. diplomat Elliott Abrams attends a meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Venezuela at U.N. headquarters in New York, Feb. 28, 2019.

Maduro’s re-election in 2018 is considered to be illegitimate by many nations in the Western Hemisphere. The United States and more than 50 other countries recognize opposition leader Juan Guaido as the interim president of Venezuela. Abrams said the negotiations hosted by Norway between Maduro’s representatives and representatives of Guaido are on hiatus, with Guaido’s team seeking to ascertain if Maduro is negotiating in good faith, or simply trying to buy time. 

Maduro has confirmed that members of his government have also been holding talks with U.S. officials, saying there are contacts through various channels — with his direct permission.

Abrams pointed to the opening of the Venezuela Affairs Unit (VAU), under the leadership of Charge d’Affaires James Story at the U.S. Embassy in Bogata, Colombia, saying the U.S. wants to be ready for — in his words — “the day this regime falls.”

U.S. sanctions

Abrams told reporters Thursday that U.S. sanctions on top-ranking members of Maduro’s government continue to have their desired effect, and that he believes they are finding it more difficult to sell their oil at market prices and to engage in financial transactions. 

“The U.S. is hopeful the European Union will impose more sanctions on the regime in the coming months,” he added.

Abrams said U.S. sanctions target Maduro’s government and not the Venezuelan people, and include exceptions for the flow of food, medicine and other humanitarian goods. 

FILE – Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido gestures as he speaks during the session of the Venezuela’s National Assembly in Caracas, Venezuela, July 2, 2019.

“But the Maduro regime is spending its money in other ways — not on food or medicine but on repaying debts to Russia and China, buying Russian arms, and other ways that do not benefit the Venezuelan people, including massive corruption,” he said.

The Trump administration imposed sanctions on Venezuela’s oil industry in January in an attempt to bring down Maduro.

But China National Petroleum Corporation, or CNPC, and Russia’s Rosneft, another major buyer of Venezuelan oil, are not subject to the U.S. sanctions.

“A company that has no connection to the United States, and does not transact business in dollars, would potentially be beyond the reach of those sanctions,” Abrams said.

China, Russia

China and Russia are Venezuela’s two main bilateral creditors and have major financial interests in Venezuela. But they have not aligned with the U.S. on policies toward the Maduro government.

For the first half of this year, China imported more than 8 million tons of crude oil from Venezuela, which is about 3.5% of its total imports, according to Chinese customs data.
The United States is cautious about reports that CNPC is suspending the purchase of crude from Venezuela in August. 

“I don’t know yet because we’re still in August and we’ll have to see what happens in August and September. We won’t have data I think for a while,” Abrams told VOA on Thursday. 

Washington does not see the reported move as an indication that China is moving more in line with the U.S. toward the embattled Maduro government. 

“It may be that CNPC withdraws, but that doesn’t mean that China withdraws from buying Venezuelan oil,” said Abrams in response to questions posed by VOA.

On Aug. 5, U.S. President Donald Trump issued an executive order, threatening to block U.S. assets and properties of any person or company determined to have “materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for” the Maduro government. 

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US National Security Adviser Visits Belarus

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U.S. President Donald Trump’s national security adviser visited Belarus Thursday, receiving an enthusiastic welcome from its autocratic leader who has faced Western criticism over the nation’s democratic record.

John Bolton met with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled the nation of 10 million with an iron hand for a quarter century, showing little tolerance for dissent and independent media.

Lukashenko warmly greeted Bolton, saying that Belarus is ready to “turn a new page” in relations with Washington. “We haven’t seen such high-ranking figures here for a long time, which makes your visit historic,” he said.

The Belarusian leader asked Bolton to deliver presents to Trump and his wife — a navy officer’s dagger for the president and a linen tablecloth with napkins for the first lady. He added that he was a “fan” of Trump ahead of the 2016 election and was glad that he won.

Lukashenko also gave gifts to Bolton — a box of chocolate and a book about Belarusian folk art.

The U.S. and the European Union have continuously criticized Belarus for its crackdown on the opposition and flawed elections and introduced sanctions against Lukashenko’s government. Some of those penalties have been lifted in recent years as Lukashenko, who was once dubbed Europe’s last dictator, has sought to improve his nation’s rights record.

Speaking after the talks that lasted for three hours instead of a planned hour-long meeting, Bolton said it offered “an excellent opportunity to discuss several very important matters — regional security and bilateral cooperation.”

“History does not stand still,” Bolton said. “A fair amount of time has passed since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The geopolitical situation has changed. It is changing even as we are talking. Therefore, there is a regional agenda. There are also matters related to some faraway countries that also have an impact on the situation here.”

Russia is Belarus’ main sponsor and ally, but the two nations have a slew of trade disputes. Lukashenko has won concessions from Moscow in the past by raising the prospect of a shift toward the West, and a meeting with Bolton offered him a chance to use the same tactic.

Last fall, Russia introduced higher prices for its oil supplies, dealing a heavy blow to Belarus, which has been making hefty profits from the export of oil products made from cheap Russian crude. Lukashenko has criticized the price hike as part of Moscow’s efforts to persuade his country to abandon its independence.

Russia and Belarus signed a union treaty in 1997 that envisaged close ties, but stopped short of forming a single state. Some in Belarus fear that the Kremlin may now contemplate a full merger. Lukashenko has said that the two countries could more closely integrate their economies, but emphasized that Belarus would remain independent.

Asked about the possibility of Belarus’ merger with Russia, Bolton replied that Belarusians don’t want it.

“The question is what the people of Belarus want,” he told reporters. “I think they want independence.”

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In Uganda, US Senators Call for Ebola Action, Praise Refugee Resettlement Efforts

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Democratic U.S. Senators Chris Coons and Chris Van Hollen last week endorsed taking action to head off a possible Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, lauded an innovative Ugandan approach to resettling war refugees, and called for greater political openness in Uganda.

The senators spoke to VOA after traveling to Uganda earlier this month.  The Aug. 12-15 trip occurred as Ebola was spreading in the neighboring DRC. During the last pandemic, Coons said, “we made a critical investment in protecting Liberia, West Africa and frankly the world, and we could and should do that again in the Democratic Republic of the Congo today.”

Senator Chris Van Hollen, left, walks with CARE President and CEO Michelle Nunn, while touring refugee settlements in Uganda, Aug. 14, 2019.

The two also met with refugees fleeing South Sudanese and Congolese conflicts, and Coons praised Uganda’s response to the refugee influx. Refugees in Uganda live in settlements resembling villages and are granted small land plots and the immediate right to work. They are also more deliberately integrated into local communities, which includes access to local schools. This is in contrast to most parts of the world, where refugees are housed in camps.

“This is a compelling model that reduces tensions between the refugees and the host communities,” Coons said of settlements he toured in Bidi Bidi and Lobule in northern Uganda. Such arrangements “make it possible for refugee families to grow and develop until there’s a time when their host countries are safe enough for them to return. And it’s a model that’s being made possible by some significant support from the United States.”

A woman’s fingerprints are scanned before receiving a cash voucher at the Lobule refugee settlement in Uganda. August 14, 2019 (T. Krug/VOA)

In between rain showers, Coons and Van Hollen toured the Lobule refugee settlement, where refugees were receiving cash vouchers through the World Food Program to be used in local markets. In its use of vouchers, increasingly employed as an alternative to the delivery of bulk food, the WFP has been building on a pilot program implemented in 2014 of providing cash vouchers to refugees. 

According to an email from Stephan Deutscher, a program policy officer for cash-based transfers at the WFP, as of this month, WFP Uganda was providing “monthly unconditional unrestricted cash transfers to more than 360,000 refugees in eight settlements across the country,” including Lobule, with the hope of reaching up to 500,000 refugees by the end of the year.

“The cash transfer value is equivalent to the value of the food basket refugees would otherwise receive in kind,” Deutscher wrote, currently 31,000 Ugandan shillings (about $8.40) per month.

With that money, refugees were able to immediately gain access to — and invest in buying and reselling of — produce in local markets. One group of women standing around a stand that sold fish and vegetables, several yards from where the cash vouchers were distributed, said that while the money was not enough, it helped.

Coons said he was encouraged at how the food assistance had developed even since he visited Uganda in 2017 with former Republican Senator Bob Corker.

Coons praised the program, calling it “a more flexible, more cost-effective, more sustainable model for delivering food assistance.”

Uganda’s Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda addresses the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly, Sept. 27, 2018, at the United Nations headquarters.

In addition to meeting with refugees in the northern Ugandan settlements at Lobule and Bidi Bidi, one of the world’s largest refugee settlements, Coons and Van Hollen met with Ugandan Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda, raising the issue of criticism of President Yoweri Museveni, who has been widely criticized domestically and globally for overstaying his time in office and suppressing opposition.

Coons called the relationship with the Ugandan government, which works with Washington in the fight against al-Shabab, “complex.”

“There have been significant actions by the government, by President Museveni, who has been president for decades, to constrain civil society, to harass or threaten political opponents, to shut down news outlets, and to pass legislation that narrows the space for civil society in Uganda,” Coons said.

“While it certainly is not the most oppressive regime in Africa, it clearly needs to create more open political space in the country for dissenting voices and opposition views,” Van Hollen said. “I raised that issue with the prime minister, especially as it related to providing the growing youth population an opportunity to express themselves politically, and they have adopted this new law that says that people can engage in protests, but in order to do so, they have to get these government permits, and the government uses that device to suppress dissent.”

Earlier this month, the academic Stella Nyanzi was sentenced to jail for 18 months for “cyber harassing and offensive communication” for a poem she wrote and posted on Facebook last year, in which she wished that the president had burned up in his mother’s birth canal.

Pop star, minister of parliament and presidential hopeful Bobi Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, was charged this month with “annoying” the president after Wine and other opposition leaders allegedly stoned the president’s convoy in August 2018.

“I thought it was important that we met with Bobi Wine,” Van Hollen said of a brief meeting toward the beginning of the trip, “and not because the United States should take a position or support any particular candidate. We should not do that, but we should support a process that creates more political space and room for dissent within the democratic process.”

In a separate encounter later that week, Van Hollen added that while debarking in Nairobi on a flight from Uganda, he and Coons ran into Wine, who was in Kenya to record music.

“He was worried that the Ugandan authorities would crack down on the music studio if he tried to record it in Uganda,” Van Hollen said.

“That’s just another example of fear of government suppression, and it’s not without reason.”

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CNN Apologizes for Misleading Hong Kong Headline  

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CNN has apologized for a misleading headline that appeared on its website during its coverage Sunday of the Hong Kong riots.

At one point, a headline reading “Police Use Petrol Bombs and Water Cannons Against Hong Kong Protesters” flashed on the screen.

According to Hong Kong police, officers shot water cannons at barricades, not people, and it was the demonstrators who threw the gasoline bombs.

CNN’s Hong Kong bureau chief Roger Clark admitted in a letter to police that the headline was “erroneous.”

Clark said CNN is “working hard to ensure that reporting of the Hong Kong protests is fair and balanced at all times.”

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Swedish Teen Climate Activist Sails Into New York for UN Summit 

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Teenage environmental activist Greta Thunberg arrived in New York on Wednesday after crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a zero-emissions sailboat to attend a conference on global warming. 
The 16-year-old Swede set sail from Plymouth, England, on Aug. 14. At 4 a.m., she tweeted:

Land!! The lights of Long Island and New York City ahead.

— Greta Thunberg (@GretaThunberg) August 28, 2019

Thunberg came to the U.S. for the U.N. climate summit and chose to sail rather than fly to avoid the greenhouse gas emissions that come with commercial jet travel. 
Thunberg said she first learned about climate change when she was 8 years old and became very concerned about the future of humanity.  
A few years later, she was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, obsessive-compulsive disorder and selective mutism.  “That basically means I only speak when I think it’s necessary,” she told the audience at a TED Talk last year. “Now is one of those moments.” 
In August 2018, Thunberg stopped attending school on Fridays and took to protesting alone outside the Swedish parliament. She called it a strike intended to draw attention to climate change.  
Thousands of students have since taken up her cause around the world, staying out of school on Fridays and demanding adults do something about climate change. 

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg sails into New York harbor aboard the Malizia II, a zero-emissions yacht, Aug. 28, 2019.

The boat carrying Thunberg, the Malizia II, has the hashtag #FridaysForFuture under “UNITE BEHIND THE SCIENCE” inscribed on the sails.  
The sailboat’s onboard electronics are powered by solar panels and underwater turbines. It has no toilet or fixed shower aboard, no windows below deck and only a small gas cooker to heat up freeze-dried food. 

Thunberg’s boat was greeted by a flotilla of 17 sailboats representing each of the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals on their sails.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed Thunberg on Twitter: 

Welcome to New York, @gretathunberg!

The determination and perseverance shown during your journey should embolden all of us taking part in next month’s #ClimateAction Summit.

We must deliver on the demands of people around the world and address the global climate crisis.

— António Guterres (@antonioguterres) August 28, 2019

Thunberg will speak at the U.N. Climate Action Summit next month and then attend a climate summit in Chile in December. She is taking a year off from school to pursue her activism.  

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New DRC Cabinet Prompts Accusations that Kabila’s Regime Still Holds Power

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As the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s new president unveils his coalition government, opposition members are complaining about being left out. 

On Monday, President Felix Tshisekedi announced his cabinet, seven months after winning a contested election that landed him in the country’s highest office. The 65-member cabinet includes 23 appointees from Tshisekedi’s Direction for Change Party and 42 from former President Joseph Kabila’s Common Front for Congo coalition. But members of the DRC’s numerous other political parties are warning that the cabinet gives too much power to allies of the former president and not enough to opposition voices. 

Emery Kalwira, president of the opposition group Congolese Coalition, said that Tshisekedi’s predecessor, Kabila, maintains the majority of the seats in the government and doesn’t want to leave power. 

“He is [Kabila] still the main leader of the DRC and Tshisekedi isn’t the real president,” he told VOA’s Daybreak Africa radio program. “That is why we want to call all the people to get up and to put them out and to begin a good transition with our popular salvation authority.”


Daybreak Africa

Daybreak Africa audio player.

In January, Tshisekedi took office, despite critics saying the election he won was rigged. Now opposition voices are accusing the new president of being a puppet.

“You know that Kabila is controlling the two parliamentary senate and the parliament and the biggest majority from the government composition is from him. That shows that … Congolese people will still be suffering, and that’s why we say Mr. Kabila must go out. Because Tshisekedi is not the real president,” Kalwira added. 

But Abraham Lukabwanga, president of the press to Tshisekedi, told VOA that the 76% of the cabinet are new to the government in an interview with Africa News Tonight. “Those are people that have never been into politics. They never had the position, so this can lead to a really big change,” he said.


Africa News Tonight

Africa News Tonight audio player.

Lukabwanga stressed that the cabinet is diverse and includes representatives of all 26 of DRC’s provinces, including women and young people who previously did not have a voice in government. He said they are determined to address pressing issues in the country, including corruption and an ongoing Ebola outbreak. 

“What you’ve seen the last 48 hours since the government has been published is the joy of, the satisfaction of, I may say, the majority of people who are happy to say that now we do have a government. It’s time to work. We don’t have time to waste,” he said.

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‘Now or Never’: Hong Kong Protesters Say They Have Nothing to Lose

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Exasperated with the government’s unflinching attitude to escalating civil unrest, Jason Tse quit his job in Australia and jumped on a plane to join what he believes is a do-or-die fight for Hong Kong’s future.

The Chinese territory is grappling with its biggest crisis since its handover to Beijing 22 years ago as many residents fret over what they see as China’s tightening grip over the city and a relentless march toward mainland control.

The battle for Hong Kong’s soul has pitted protesters against the former British colony’s political masters in Beijing, with broad swathes of the Asian financial center determined to defend the territory’s freedoms at any cost.

Faced with a stick and no carrot – chief executive Carrie Lam reiterated on Tuesday protesters’ demands were unacceptable – the pro-democracy movement has intensified despite Beijing deploying paramilitary troops near the border in recent weeks.

“This is a now or never moment and it is the reason why I came back,” Tse, 32, said, adding that since joining the protests last month he had been a peaceful participant in rallies and an activist on the Telegram social media app. “If we don’t succeed now, our freedom of speech, our human rights, all will be gone. We need to persist.”

Since the city returned to Chinese rule in 1997, critics say Beijing has reneged on a commitment to maintain Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms under a “one country, two systems” formula.

Opposition to Beijing that had dwindled after 2014, when authorities faced down a pro-democracy movement that occupied streets for 79 days, has come back to haunt authorities who are now grappling with an escalating cycle of violence.

“We have to keep fighting. Our worst fear is the Chinese government,” said a 40-year-old teacher who declined to be identified for fear of repercussions. “For us, it’s a life or death situation.”

‘If we burn, you burn’

What started as protests against a now-suspended extradition bill that would have allowed people to be sent to mainland China for trial in courts controlled by the Communist Party, has evolved into demands for greater democracy.

“We lost the revolution in 2014 very badly. This time, if not for the protesters who insist on using violence, the bill would have been passed already,” said another protester, who asked to be identified as just Mike, 30, who works in media and lives with his parents.

He was referring to the 79 days of largely peaceful protests in 2014 that led to the jailing of activist leaders. “It’s proven that violence, to some degree, will be useful.”

Nearly 900 people have been arrested in the latest protests.

The prospect of lengthy jail terms seems to be deterring few activists, many of whom live in tiny apartments with their families.

“7K for a house like a cell and you really think we out here scared of jail,” reads graffiti scrawled near one protest site.

HK$7,000 ($893) is what the monthly rent for a tiny room in a shared apartment could cost.

The protests pose a direct challenge to Chinese leader Xi Jinping, whose government has sent a clear warning that forceful intervention to quell violent demonstrations is possible.

Some critics question the protesters’ “now or never” rallying cry, saying a crackdown by Beijing could bring an end to the freedoms in Hong Kong that people on the mainland can only dream of.

The campaign reflects concerns over Hong Kong’s future at a time when protesters, many of whom were toddlers when Britain handed Hong Kong back to Beijing, feel they have been denied any political outlet and have no choice but to push for universal suffrage.

“You either stand up and pull this government down or you stay at the mercy of their hands. You have no choice,” said Cheng, 28, who works in the hospitality industry.

“Imagine if this fails. You can only imagine the dictatorship of the Communists will become even greater … If we burn, you burn with us,” he said, referring to authorities in Beijing.

“The clock is ticking,” Cheng added, referring to 2047 when a 50-year agreement enshrining Hong Kong’s separate governing system will lapse.

‘Not China’

As Beijing seeks to integrate Hong Kong closer to the mainland China, many residents are recoiling.

A poll in June by the University of Hong Kong found that 53% of 1,015 respondents identified as Hong Kongers, while 11% identified as Chinese, a record low since 1997.

With the prospect of owning a home in one of the world’s most expensive cities a dream, many disaffected youth say they have little to look forward to as Beijing’s grip tightens.

“We really have got nothing to lose,” said Scarlett, 23, a translator.

As the crisis simmers, China’s People’s Liberation Army has released footage of troops conducting anti-riot exercises.

But graffiti scrawled across the city signals the protesters’ defiance.

“Hong Kong is not China” and “If you want peace, prepare for war” are some of the messages.

Tse said he believes violence is necessary because the government rarely listens to peaceful protests.

“Tactically I think we should have a higher level of violence,” he said. “I actually told my wife that if we’ll ever need to form an army on the protester side I will join.”

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Are Water Shortages Driving Migration? Researchers Dispel Myths

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Water scarcity is one factor driving millions of people from their homes each year but is often not the only reason why they move, researchers told an international conference on Tuesday.

In most cases, other economic and social problems like conflict, corruption or a lack of jobs contribute to the decision to leave, they said.

They warned against over-simplifying the links between water and migration, and said many of those who do move – at least partly because of water-related pressures such as floods, droughts and pollution – may not travel far.

“International migration is very expensive and very risky and it lies beyond the reach of many of the poorest people who are most vulnerable to water security and drought,” said Guy Jobbins of the London-based Overseas Development Institute.

Those who suffer water-related shocks to their livelihoods – losing animals or crops – “are less likely to have the funds to start again in South Africa or France”, he told an audience at World Water Week in Stockholm.

Conversely, there was some evidence to suggest that people who have better access to secure, affordable water are more likely to have enough financial resources to migrate, he added.

Although much is made of international migration, most movement related to water is inside countries, often from one rural place to another, said Sasha Koo-Oshima, deputy director of land and water at the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

FILE – Newly-arrived women who fled drought queue to receive food distributed by local volunteers at a camp for displaced persons in the Daynile neighborhood on the outskirts of the capital Mogadishu, in Somalia, May 18, 2019.

Three out of four of the world’s poor live in rural areas and rely heavily on agricultural production, with food insecurity, water contamination and drought forcing people from their homes – especially the young, she added.

Efforts should be stepped up to prevent water scarcity and make it profitable for young people to stay on rural land, she said.

But if people do leave, “it is not necessarily a negative phenomenon”, as humans have always moved in search of a better life, she added.

Refugee scapegoats

Researchers also called for a more sophisticated analysis of how mass migration impacts on water supplies.

In Jordan – the world’s second most water-scarce country, according to Hussam Hussein, a Middle East water researcher at Germany’s University of Kassel – a large influx of refugees from Syria, after civil war broke out there in 2011, led to tensions with their host communities, especially in cities.

Jordan hosts about 750,000 Syrians, the vast majority in urban areas, according to the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR). But contrary to public discourse, their presence is not the main cause of the country’s water shortages, said Hussein.

“When we look at the numbers, the impact of refugees is not as important as unsustainable use (of water) in the agricultural sector,” he said.

Mismanagement of water resources, leaks, illegal wells and intensive farming made up the majority of water losses in parched Jordan, he added.

In war-torn Syria, water scarcity and climate-related events such as drought had been a “trigger” for the conflict but not a primary cause, said Fatine Ezbakhe of the Mediterranean Youth for Water Network.

Instead a lack of water amplified political instability and poverty that fueled migration and unrest, she added.

Now improvements to water supplies could be used to persuade people to return home, she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“If we actually invest in water, we could… try to make people go back and restart (in) the rural areas they left in the first place,” she said.

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Students rally in Pakistan-Held Kashmir against India

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More than a thousand students have rallied in the capital of Pakistan-held Kashmir to denounce India’s downgrading of the special status of the portion of the disputed region it controls.

The demonstrators chanted “We want freedom” and denounced human rights violations in Indian-administrated Kashmir.

Tuesday’s rally in Muzaffarabad came a day after Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan vowed to globally highlight the issue of Kashmir. He will address the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 27.

Tensions have soared between Pakistan and India since Aug. 5, when New Delhi revoked Muslim-majority Kashmir’s decades-old semiautonomous status, touching off anger in Indian-controlled Kashmir and in Pakistan.

Kashmir is split between archrivals Pakistan and India and claimed by both in its entirety.

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Syrian Activists: Insurgents Strike Back in Rebel Stronghold

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Syrian insurgents launched counterattacks Tuesday in and near areas recently taken by government forces in the country’s last remaining rebel region, after a series of setbacks they suffered in recent weeks, opposition activists said.

The fierce fighting killed more than 50 fighters on both sides, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. It also underscored that President Bashar Assad’s forces will face a long, hard fight as they try to chip away at the last rebel-held territory.

The counterattacks began early in the morning and government forces called in Syria’s air force to repel them, the Observatory said. It said 29 Syrian troops and pro-government gunmen were killed, as well as 23 insurgents.

The insurgents captured two villages, Salloumieh and Abu Omar, and pushed into the nearby village of Sham al-Hawa, it said.

The Ibaa media outlet of the al-Qaida-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham militant group said its fighters were attacking Syrian positions east of Khan Sheikhoun, a major town that was held by rebels until they lost it last week.

Pro-government activists said on social media that Syrian troops and pro-government gunmen are repelling the attack.

Syrian government forces captured wide areas from insurgents over the past weeks in an offensive that began on April 30. The areas taken include all rebel-held parts of Hama province as well as villages on the southern edge of Idlib, the last remaining rebel stronghold in Syria.

Tuesday’s clashes came after Syrian warplanes pounded the rebel-held town of Maaret al-Numan and nearby villages over the past two days — their likely next target for takeover.

Maaret al-Numan, like Khan Sheikhoun, sits on the highway linking Damascus with the northern city of Aleppo, Syria’s largest. Government forces are trying to eventually open that highway.

Taher al-Omar, a citizen journalist with the al-Qaida-linked militants, wrote on social media that they have carried out several suicide attacks so far.

The months of fighting have displaced more than half a million civilians toward northern parts of Idlib, already home to some 3 million people, according to U.N. humanitarian officials.

Elsewhere in northern Syria, a bomb exploded on a minibus, killing two people and wounding nine near the town of Azaz. The town is controlled by Turkish troops and Turkey-backed opposition fighters, according to pro-government media and the Azaz media center, an activist collective.

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Thai Palace Shares Photos of king, Newly Named Royal Consort

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Thailand’s royal palace has released photos of King Maha Vajiralongkorn and his recently anointed royal consort, though the official website hosting the images became inaccessible within a few hours.

The photos released Monday show the 67-year-old monarch and Sineenatra Wongvajirabhakdi in formal regalia as well as in casual settings. She was named Chao Khun Phra Sineenatra Bilasakalayani last month on the king’s birthday, becoming the first to receive the title of royal noble consort since 1921, during an era of absolute monarchy.

The king married longtime companion Suthida Vajiralongkorn Na Ayudhya in May a few days before his coronation and named her his queen. Like Sineenatra, she has been serving as a senior officer in palace security units.

Vajiralongkorn was married three times previously, fathering seven children.

Vajiralongkorn assumed the throne after the 2016 death of his father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who reigned for 70 years. During his decades as crown prince, Vajiralongkorn’s personal life was often the subject of hushed gossip, though public discussion was hampered by the country’s harsh lese majeste law, which mandates prison terms of up to 15 years for those found guilty of insulting some members of the royal family.

Some of the new palace images show 34-year-old Sineenatra, who holds the army rank of major general, engaging in activities in uniform such as piloting a fighter jet, aiming a rifle on a firing range and preparing for what appears to be a night-time parachute jump.

Others show her and the king holding hands, unusually intimate photos for members of the royal family.

Unflattering unauthorized photos of the king and his consort taken by paparazzi in Germany, where the monarch maintains a residence, have circulated widely on social media. The most recent such pictures were published by the German tabloid Bild earlier this month.

Although there were no details accompanying Monday’s official photos, the palace also posted a biography of Sineenatra, who was born in the northern province of Nan.

It said that after serving as an army nurse from 2008-2012, she joined the Royal Household Bureau, working at the palace’s handicraft store. She later transferred to the offices of Vajiralongkorn, then the crown prince. Vajiralongkorn assumed the throne after the 2016 death of his father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Sineenatra was said to have undergone rigorous military training as well as taking flying lessons, and holds several positions in the palace bureaucracy.

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