Former President Jimmy Carter Marks 95th Birthday

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Four years after battling life-threatening cancer in his liver and brain, and four months after falling and breaking his hip, requiring surgery and weeks of intense physical therapy, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter took the stage September 18, unassisted, here for the Annual Jimmy Carter Emory University Town Hall, which he’s participated in, uninterrupted, for 38 years.

Standing without assistance for more than 30 minutes, addressing topics ranging from current polarized U.S. politics to his favorite animal, Carter, a distinguished professor at Emory, showed no signs of fatigue or pain as he enthusiastically answered question after question from those who gathered in the cavernous campus gymnasium by the thousands to hear him speak.

“Before this I really didn’t know much about President Carter,”  freshman Stephanie Teng said. “I feel so fortunate to be here.  I know that many students won’t have this opportunity in their lifetime, and this is a uniquely Emory thing, and something I’ll remember the rest of my life.”

“I think it’s a problem when we overly lionize political figures, but I do have a great deal of respect for Jimmy Carter,” another freshman, Gian-Luigi Zaninelli, said. 

“I’ve heard a great many conservatives being credibly critical of Jimmy Carter and basically view him as an ineffectual president,”  he said. However, Zaninelli said that comes from Carter’s presidential term, from 1977 to 1981.

“Because of the good works he’s been doing over the course of the last 30 or more years, we have a high opinion of him as a human being,” Zaninelli said.  “What is indisputable is that Jimmy Carter cares about other people and devotes himself to service, and when he did serve as a president, regardless of the success of his policies, he was doing so as a servant leader and not someone who was intending to enrich himself.”

“I would say I still adhere to the advice my school principal gave me, ‘You must accommodate to changing times – and these are really changing times – but cling to principles that never do change,’” Carter told VOA in an exclusive interview at the Atlanta-based Carter Center.

WATCH: VOA interview with President Carter

President Jimmy Carter Interview September 2019 video player.

“So I have faith in those principles, like telling the truth, and helping other people.”

Carter this year became the oldest living former president in U.S. history, surpassing George H.W. Bush for the record, and October 1 becomes the first former occupant of the White House to reach 95.

He reaches the milestone while continuing to engage with new and younger audiences born years after his presidency, and to work on the sorts of projects that have characterized his post-presidency life.

He is still involved in the Carter Center, which he leads with Rosalynn, his wife of 73 years, and which “wages peace, fights disease, and builds hope” around the world through programs including election monitoring, the elimination of river blindness, and the eradication of Guinea worm disease, among others, he told VOA.

“We still have in the neighborhood of 25 cases of Guinea worm, but we started out with three and a half million,” Carter said, with most of those cases in Africa.

During an August 2015 press conference here, when Carter told the world he was battling cancer that had spread to his brain, he said his one key hope was to witness the eradication of Guinea worm disease in his lifetime. 

There have been setbacks in the Guinea worm fight, including new cases of transmission between dogs, which can pass the worm to humans through water sources, that could ultimately jeopardize his hopes.

“We think we’ve prevented maybe 80 million people from having Guinea worm who may have had it otherwise,” Carter said, “So we’ve made very good progress but we still have a little ways to go.”  

While staff and volunteers around the world continue to work on the various peace and health initiatives that President and Mrs. Carter have championed since establishing the center in 1986, the former peanut farmer continues to participate in the annual weeklong Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project with Habitat for Humanity, a global nonprofit housing organization, building homes for those who need them most.  This year’s event is in Nashville, Tennessee, occurring soon after Carter’s birthday.

While there are no further signs of cancer and Carter says he is in relatively good health, he concedes age may finally be catching up with him.

“I still feel just about as active as I ever was, but my overseas movements are restrained because of age and health.  I used to travel to Africa three or four times a year, and always to China and so forth, so I’ve cut back on my foreign travel,” he said. 

Nevertheless, Carter remains an admired figure.

“President Carter is a kind of secular saint in America today,”  Joe Crespino, the Jimmy Carter professor of history and chair of the history department at Emory University, said.  He said Carter has set a high standard for what is expected of U.S. presidents once they leave office.

“His longevity, his commitment to doing as much good as he can do on the time he had left on earth is really a remarkable model, not just for his fellow Americans but for people around the globe,” he said.

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Students Turn to Sugar Daddies for Financial Aid

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Liv first met Bill in 2016 when she was a college student and $5,000 in debt from student loans.

Making rent was next to impossible, she said, but Bill helped her manage her expenses and finances better. They saw each other a few times a week, and soon Bill was paying Liv’s tuition and rent. He sent her on exotic trips to Europe and Thailand. They moved in together.

“He taught me how to do my taxes. He taught me how to get my own car insurance. He helped me pay back student loans,” Liv said. “He just taught me so much and he didn’t have to do any of it.

“I actually grew real feelings for him.”

“Actually” because Liv was 24 and Bill was 70 when they connected on SeekingArrangement, an online sugar-dating site that promotes itself as offering “upfront and honest arrangements with someone who will cater to your needs.” 

Typically, the arrangements are between young women (sugar babies) and older men (sugar daddies) with money. Sugar babies seek financial assistance in return for company. Most of the sources VOA Student Union interviewed said financial arrangements often, but not always, include sex in return.

“Join the more than 2.7 million students in the United States who have turned to SeekingArrangement and Sugar Daddies to avoid student debt and secure a better future,” according to their website. VOA Student Union made several attempts for comment from SeekingArrangement. 

Liv said she was seeking financial support for student debt and other expenses, and Bill was happy to help. 

“On that second date, he gave me $2,000…which paid for about four or five months of campus housing,” she said. 

Bill loved to treat Liv, she said, and sent her on international vacations. When they had been dating for nine months, Bill sent Liv on a vacation to Thailand. While there, she got a call that Bill had cancer that had metastasized. After she flew home, she slept by his hospital bedside almost every night. A month later, he died.

Bill bequeathed Liv more than $60,000 in an investment fund. 

“The money is definitely a big help for me. It helped me move out of the state, helped me get my own place, helped me get a new car,” she said. 

Exchanging companionship for financial support is not novel, but the internet has allowed people to connect more easily. That, combined with record-high tuition debt for many students — $37,000 on average or $1.6 trillion combined nationwide — has some students looking for alternative methods of debt relief. Some, like Liv, become sugar babies. 

She’s not alone. At Georgia State University in Atlanta — which registered the most sugar babies of all U.S. colleges, according to SeekingArrangement — more than 1,300 students signed up in 2018. Hundreds of students have signed up at schools in Florida, Alabama, New Jersey, California, Texas and Missouri. 

Is it all about sex?

Some women, like Liv, are well compensated in a mutual relationship. 

“Sometimes it’s not about sex,” Samantha, a college senior, explained. “Some men are just lonely. Some of them really are looking for someone to hang out with.”

But for others like Helene, the sugar daddies were domineering and violent. 

“It’s very rare for sugar babies to find a man that is not looking for sex,” Helene said. When one partner pays for everything, many men feel they are entitled to dominate the relationship.

“I knew that the only way for me to make money was to either sell drugs or get a sugar daddy,” she said. 

In this Tuesday, July 16, 2019 photo a passer-by appears in silhouette while walking past the Ray and Maria Stata Center, behind, on the campus of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in Cambridge, Mass.

A 20-year-old international student in the United States, her visa does not allow her to work in the U.S. She says she doesn’t want to burden her family financially. Through SeekingArrangement, she met a 27-year-old man who at first seemed normal, but then became aggressive.

He asked Helene to do things outside their agreement. He told her he would send her $1,000 immediately to have sex with him. 

“I was stupid and scared, so I did what I had to do,” Helene said.

When she asked for payment, he taunted her and refused. As she tried to leave, he “took his T-shirt off, wrapped it around my head and tangled it around my neck. … I really thought he was going to keep me hostage.” 

Another man Helene met ignored sexual consent. After three months together, he became forceful and “stopped caring about what I thought was uncomfortable. … He would get rougher and more violent with me as if he liked it when I told him to stop.” 

Sugar daddies often expect babies to adopt submissive roles in exchange for the money and gifts they receive. 

“Some guys, they give you money and they think they have access to you 24/7, like you can never tell them no,” said Liv, who returned to sugaring after Bill died. 

Helene said her experiences “kind of ruined my relationship to sex. … I didn’t like to be touched … or hugged from behind … because of what my sugar daddies did to me.”

Still, she is not ready to abandon sugaring, she said. 

“It hasn’t changed my relationship to the sugar baby/sugar daddy world, because I need the money,” she said.

Men, too

Men are sugar babies, too. Antonio found his first sugar daddy when he was 18. 

“I tried to hang out where I knew men with money hung out, because I had no idea what I was doing,” he said. Like Liv and Helene, he needed money for college. His first sugar daddy paid Antonio’s tuition and gave him money for school books and shopping sprees. 

Antonio said he misses the perks of sugar dating. 

“I work two jobs now … I want to be able to afford the things I once had. I got accustomed to that lifestyle,” he added.

Samantha said she just wanted exciting experiences with a mature partner. “I don’t really have any real need for money. [It’s] not something that interests me.” 

She said she preferred the no-strings-attached nature of sugar dating. “[I wanted] something that wouldn’t be too normal, something that would be more casual … something that wouldn’t get boring.”

Social stigma

Many people see sugar dating as a form of prostitution, or sex work, which is defined as a consensual sexual encounter between two or more adults in exchange for payment. The legal status of sex work is debated all over the world. In the United States, public opinion on sex work appears to favor its criminalization

Sweta Patel, a criminal defense attorney in Washington, D.C., said that while there are similarities between sex work and sugar dating, the difference in a sugar relationship is sex and money may be one part of the relationship, but not all. 

Patel makes another distinction between sugar babies and sex workers.

“The sugar-daddy model is two consenting adults, while often in sex work, that is not always the case,” she said.

Patel said undercover law enforcement monitors websites like SeekingArrangement for relationships that cross into sex work. 

“I’m so naive, so I’ve never thought about that,” Helene said. 

Because of sex-trafficking and recently passed legislation to control it, such as the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) and Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA), many apps like SeekingArrangement closely monitor messaging. Last year, the popular online classified site Craigslist stopped offering personal ads because they were being used by sex traffickers. 

Free to make choices

Ultimately, say some sugar babies, they are adults engaging in adult relationships on their own terms.

“So many so-called romantic relationships are based on how much money or status or how good looking someone is,” Liv said. “How is that more honest?”

“You give your girlfriends and wives money and pay their bills. The one difference here is the age,” she said. “On the other hand, I would say this lifestyle is not for everyone, and not for everyone to approve of or understand. But it works for us and that’s all that matters.” 

Helene says the economics are the last word for her. 

“Most people think that sugar babies are too lazy to work and make money or (are) gold-diggers, but that’s not always the case,” Helene said. “If I wasn’t in this situation that I’m in, I would never do this. I don’t like giving my body to strangers I don’t know, but if that’s the way for me to get an income, then that’s what I’ll do.” 

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China Spurns US Criticism of Economic Cooperation With Afghanistan

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A regional Chinese diplomat has rebuked the United States for being “ignorant” about his country’s ongoing key economic contributions and cooperation with Afghanistan.

Arrangements are being worked out to enhance the cooperation with Kabul even under Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Yao Jing, the Chinese ambassador to neighboring Pakistan told VOA.

He hailed Saturday’s successful Afghan presidential election, saying China hopes they will boost peace-building efforts in a country wrecked by years of conflicts.

“We hope that with the election in Afghanistan, with the peace development moving forward in Afghanistan, Afghans will finally achieve a peaceful period, achieve the stability,” said the Chinese diplomat, who served in Kabul prior to his posting in Islamabad.

Earlier this month, U.S. officials and lawmakers during a congressional hearing in Washington sharply criticized China for its lack of economic assistance to Afghan rebuilding efforts.

“I think it’s fair to say that China has not contributed to the economic development of Afghanistan. We have not seen any substantial assistance from China,” Alice Wells, U.S. Acting Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia, told lawmakers.

Wells, however, acknowledged that Beijing has worked with Washington on a way forward on peace as have other countries, including Russia and immediate neighbors of Afghanistan.

“She is a little ignorant about what China’s cooperation with Afghanistan is,” ambassador Yao said when asked to comment on the remarks made by Wells.

He recounted that Beijing late last year established a trade corridor with Kabul, which Afghan officials say have enabled local traders to directly export thousands of tons of pine nuts to the Chinese market annually, bringing much-needed dollars. Yao said a cargo train was also started in 2016 from eastern China to Afghanistan’s landlocked northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif.

China is also working on infrastructure projects, including the road linking Kabul to the eastern city of Jalalabad and the road between the central Afghan city of Bamiyan and Mazar-e-Sharif. Chinese companies, Yao, said are also helping in establishing transmission lines and other infrastructure being developed under the CASA-1000 electricity transmission project linking Central Asia to energy-starved South Asia nations through Afghanistan.

Ambassador Yao noted that China and Afghanistan signed a memorandum of understanding on BRI cooperation, identifying several major projects of connectivity.

“But the only problem is that the security situation pose a little challenge. So, that is why China and Pakistan and all the regional countries, we are working so hard trying to support or facilitate peace in Afghanistan,” he said.  

For her part, Ambassador Wells told U.S. lawmakers that China’s BRI is a “slogan” and “not any reality” in Afghanistan. “They have just tried to lockdown lucrative mining contracts but not following through with investment or real resources,” she noted.

Wells said that Washington continues to warn its partners, including the Afghan government about “falling prey to predatory loans or loans that are designed to benefit only the Chinese State.”

U.S. officials are generally critical of BRI for “known problems with corruption, debt distress, environmental damage, and a lack of transparency.” The projects aims to link China by sea and land through an infrastructure network with southeast and central Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa.

But Yao rejected those concerns and cited the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a pilot project of BRI, which has brought around $20 billion in Chinese investment to Pakistan within the past six years. It has helped Islamabad build roads and power plants, helping the country overcome its crippling electricity shortages, improve its transportation network and operationalize the strategic deep-sea Gwadar port on the Arabian Sea.


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Pope Decries World’s Indifference to Migrants, Refugees

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Pope Francis on Sunday decried “the culture of comfort” that leads to indifference in the face of a global migration and refugee crisis.

The pope who has made caring for migrants a hallmark of his papacy spoke during a Mass for the World Day for Migrants and Refugees.

“We cannot be indifferent to the tragedy of old and new forms of poverty, to the bleak isolation, contempt and discrimination experienced by those who do not belong to ‘our group,'” Francis said. “We cannot remain insensitive, our hearts deadened, before the misery of so many innocent people. We must not fail to weep. We must not fail to respond.”

The pontiff has often spoken of the need to be welcoming to migrants, traveling to the Italian island of Lampedusa in 2013 on his first trip as pope to comfort refugees. His message found political resistance in Italy’s previous populist government, during which the former hard-line interior minister, Matteo Salvini, campaigned to prevent the arrival in Italy of migrants rescued at sea by humanitarian groups.

During his homily Sunday, the pope also noted the weapons that fuel wars are often produced and sold in other regions “which are then unwilling to take in the refugees generated buy these conflicts.”

Many migrants and refugees from conflicts throughout the world attended the Mass in St. Peter’s Square, which closed with the unveiling of a bronze statue by Canadian artist Timothy Schmalz depicting migrants packed on a boat.

“This statue depicts a group of migrants from various cultures and over different historic periods. I wanted this artistic work here in St. Peter’s Square to remind everyone of the evangelical challenge of hospitality,” Francis said.

During the Mass, a multiethnic chorus sang and the incense burned came from a refugee camp in southern Ethiopia, where refugees are rekindling a 600-year-old tradition of collecting incense. The Vatican said the incense “reminds us that refugees can also thrive, not just survive.”


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Russian Opposition Stages New Moscow Rally After Summer of Protests

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Thousands of protesters jammed a central Moscow square on September 29 as opposition groups sought to regain momentum following a summer of demonstrations that targeted both local elections but also Russia’s broader political system.

The rally was the first major effort by liberal political groups and allied parties since elections earlier in the month that ended up being a catalyst for the biggest wave of sustained anti-government rallies in nearly a decade.

Instead of elections, the Moscow event was focused on “political repression,” as activists demanded that authorities halt a campaign of raids and arrests targeting anti-corruption crusader Aleksei Navalny and his network of supporters nationwide.

Activists were rallying against harsh police tactics used in earlier demonstrations as well as what many Muscovites say were harsh jail sentences handed down against those detained by police.

Under a cold rain on September 29 , demonstrators walked through metal detectors installed along Sakharov Boulevard before gathering under umbrellas and flags of political parties near a sound stage where leaders were expected to speak.

The rally was authorized by the Moscow mayor’s office, meaning mass detentions by police were less likely.

The nongovernmental organization White Counter estimated about 9,000 people were in attendance at the start of the rally.

In a video posted online ahead of time, Lyubov Sobol, a human rights lawyer and Navalny supporter who was a key organizer of the summer rallies, accused the Russian government of pursuing “political cases” to “frighten the opposition.”

Harsh Crackdown

During the near-weekly rallies held in the Russian capital in July and August, more than 3,000 people were detained and many were beaten as police in some cases used force to disperse crowds. The harsh crackdown sparked condemnation from human rights groups and Western governments.

The protests were among the largest in Moscow since a wave of demonstrations in 2011-12 sparked by anger over evidence of electoral fraud and dismay at Putin’s return to the Kremlin for a third presidential term.

Moscow, along with many regions and municipalities across Russia, held local and regional elections on September 8 — a test for the Kremlin-allied United Russia party ahead of parliamentary elections in 2021.

Despite the exclusion of dozens of opposition and independent candidates, the September 8 elections delivered a stinging setback to United Russia, which lost 13 seats in the 45-member city council in Moscow.

That outcome was credited in part to Navalny’s so-called Smart Voting strategy, under which he urged Russians to back candidates with the best chance of beating United Russia politicians — all of whom ran as independents in Moscow apparently to hide their affiliation with the party.

Never very popular, United Russia has seen its support fall further amid economic uncertainty and political fallout over moves such as raising the retirement age and hiking the VAT tax rate.

Other unpopular initiatives have included a program to tax long-distance trucking, and crackdowns on protests in many cities over local issues such as waste dumps and construction.

Putin’s ratings have also suffered.

Outside of Moscow, United Russia held its own, winning all regional governorships contested on September 8.

Meanwhile, Russian authorities have used a mix of tactics in an effort to quash the protest sentiment that erupted during summer and prevent it from spreading.

Seven people detained during the protests have been sentenced to prison terms ranging from two to five years, but prosecutors and courts — widely believed to answer to the Kremlin — have relented to pressure in some cases.

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Netanyahu, Gantz Trade Blame Over Breakdown in Israel Coalition Talks

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his rival Benny Gantz traded blame Sunday over the failure so far of efforts to reach a unity government deal following deadlocked elections.
A new round of negotiations between Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud and Gantz’s centrist Blue and White broke down Sunday and the two sides appeared far from reaching a compromise.
Likud said Netanyahu would make a “last effort” to reach a deal before informing President Reuven Rivlin he is unable to form a government.
That would leave Rivlin to decide whether to ask Gantz to try to do so or call on parliament to agree on a candidate for prime minister by a vote of at least 61 out of 120 members.
Netanyahu “will make a last effort to realize the possibility of forming a government at this stage, before returning the mandate to the president,” Likud said in a statement.
It called the latest round of negotiations a “big disappointment.”
Blue and White accused Likud of “throwing around slogans with the sole aim of generating support in preparation for dragging Israel into another round of elections at the behest of Netanyahu.”
This month’s poll was the second this year, after Netanyahu failed to form a coalition following April polls.
Israel marks the two-day Rosh Hashanah holiday beginning Sunday night and serious negotiations are not expected during that time.
Likud wants to negotiate on the basis of a compromise set out by Rivlin to form a unity government, which takes into account the possibility of Netanyahu being indicted for corruption in the weeks ahead.
The proposal could see Netanyahu remain prime minister for now, but step aside if indicted.
Gantz would step in as acting premier under such a scenario.
Netanyahu also says he will not abandon the smaller right-wing and religious parties supporting him in parliament, giving him a total of 55 seats backing him for prime minister.
Blue and White says Gantz must be prime minister first under any rotation arrangement, since it finished with the most seats in September 17 elections.
Blue and White won 33 seats, just ahead of Likud’s 32, but neither have a clear path to a majority coalition.
Gantz has 54 parliament members backing him for prime minister, but 10 are from Arab parties who say they will not serve in the ex-military chief’s government.
Rivlin tasked Netanyahu with trying to form a government Wednesday and he has 28 days to do so, with a two-week extension possible.
The deadlocked vote has threatened Netanyahu’s reign as Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.
If another election is called due to the standoff, it would be Israel’s third in a year.


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Syria Demands Withdrawal of All American, Turkish Forces

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Syria’s top diplomat on Saturday demanded the immediate withdrawal of American and Turkish forces from the country and said his government reserves the right to defend its territory in any way necessary if they remain.

Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem’s remarks to the United Nations General Assembly were made as Turkey and the United States press ahead with a deal to create a safe zone along Syria’s border with Turkey. 

On the political front, he reaffirmed the government’s support for the recently agreed committee to draft a new constitution for the country. As has been the government’s tone since the start of the 2011 uprising in Syria, the foreign minister took a hard line, stressing there must be no interference from any country or timeline imposed on the process. 

Al-Moallem’s speech highlighted the enormous challenges to achieve reconciliation in Syria, where over 400,000 people have been killed during the conflict and millions more have fled.

The more than eight-year conflict has also drawn numerous foreign militaries and thousands of foreign fighters to Syria, many to support the now-defeated Islamic State extremist group and others still there backing the opposition and battling government forces. 
“The United States and Turkey maintain an illegal military presence in northern Syria,” al-Moallem said. “Any foreign forces operating in our territories without our authorization are occupying forces and should withdraw immediately.”

If they refuse, he said, “we have the right to take any and all countermeasures authorized under international law.”

There are around 1,000 U.S. troops in Syria on a mission to combat Islamic State militants. The United States also backs and supports Kurdish groups in the northeast that are opposed to the Syrian government and have fought against Sunni extremist groups. 

U.S. President Donald Trump had said he wants to bring the troops home, but military officials have advocated a phased approach.
Al-Moallem described Turkey and the United States as “arrogant to the point of holding discussions and reaching agreements on the creation of a so-called `safe zone’ inside Syria” as if it was on their own soil. He said any agreement without the consent of the Syrian government is rejected. 

The deal between the U.S. and Turkey keeps U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters, considered terrorists by Turkey, away from Syria’s northeastern border with Turkey. It involves an area five to 14 kilometers deep (three to eight miles), as well as the removal of heavy weapons from a 20-kilometer-deep zone (12 miles). The length of the zone has not yet been agreed to by both parties but will likely stretch hundreds of kilometers. 

Most of Syria is now under the control of the Syrian government, which is backed by Russia and Iran. However, Syrian rebels and extremists still hold Idlib in the northwest, and U.S-backed Kurdish groups hold parts of the oil-rich northeast.

The Syrian government maintains that Idlib remains a hotbed for “terrorists” and al-Moallem vowed that its “war against terrorism” will continue “until rooting out the last remaining terrorist.”

In a breakthrough on the political front, earlier this week U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres announced the formation of the committee that would draft Syria’s new constitution, which he said could be an important step toward ending the war.

The U.N. chief announced Saturday that the committee will meet for the first time in Geneva on Oct. 30. Its rules state that a new constitution will be followed by “free and fair elections under United Nations supervision.”  

The committee was authorized at a Russian-hosted Syrian peace conference in January 2018, but it took nearly 20 months for the sides to agree on the 150 members — particularly on a 50-member civil society of experts, independents, tribal leaders and women to serve alongside 50 members from the government and 50 members from the opposition. The U.N. was authorized to put together the civil society list but the choices faced objections, mainly from the Syrian government.

Under the newly announced terms, the “Syrian-led and Syrian-owned” committee, with U.N. envoy Geir Pedersen as facilitator, will amend the current 2012 constitution or draft a new one.

Al-Moallem stressed that the committee will operate without preconditions, its recommendations must be made independently, and “no deadlines or timetables must be imposed on the committee.” 

On another long-simmering dispute, al-Moallem accused Israel of starting “another phase of escalation” through its repeated attacks on Syrian territory and the territory of other neighboring countries.

He stressed that “it is a delusion” to think that the Syrian conflict would force the government to forfeit its “inalienable right” to recover the Golan Heights which Israel captured during the June 1967 war. The annexation is not recognized under international law.

The Trump administration in March signed a proclamation recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, reversing more than a half-century of U.S. policy in the Middle East. He also moved the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem in recognition of Israel’s claims of the city as its capital. 

“It is a delusion,” al-Moallem stressed, “to think that the decisions of the U.S. administration on the sovereignty over the Golan would alter historical and geographical facts or the provisions of international law.”

“The Golan has been and will forever be part of Syria,” he said.

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British-Flagged Tanker Reaches Dubai Port After Departing Iran

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The British-flagged oil tanker that was seized by Iran in July has docked in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates early Saturday, according to ship-tracking websites and pool reporters.

The Stena Impero, which had been held off Bandar Abbas for more than two months, started moving out of the Iranian port Friday and reached the coast off Dubai early Saturday.

The arrival was reported on several ship-tracking websites.

Erik Hanell, CEO of the company that owns the vessel, Stena Bulk, told the media earlier that the tanker’s crew are “safe and in high spirits” following their release from Iran.

He added that arrangements have been made for them to return to their families.

“The crew will have a period of time to be with their families following 10 weeks of detainment on the vessel. Full support will be offered to the crew and families in the coming weeks to assist with their recovery,” he said.

The company did not release the names of the crew.

Following the release of the vessel, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said his country would cooperate with its overseas partners to protect shipping and uphold international laws.

“The Stena Impero was unlawfully seized by Iran. It is part of a pattern of attempts to disrupt freedom of navigation. We are working with our international partners to protect shipping and uphold the international rule of law,” Raab said.

Iranian authorities accused the Stena Impero and its crew of failing to observe international maritime law at the time of its seizure on July 19, two weeks after British forces near Gibraltar captured an Iranian oil tanker that has since been released and renamed the Adrian Darya 1.

The operator and owner of the 183-meter-long, 50,000-deadweight-ton Stena Impero vehemently denied Tehran’s accusations.

An Iranian government spokesman said Monday that, while the vessel was then free to go, he did not know the exact timing of when it would set sail.

There were 23 crew members of Indian, Russian, Latvian, and Filipino nationalities aboard the Stena Impero when it was seized in the Strait of Hormuz on July 19.

Seven of them were released in early September, while the others reportedly remained aboard the ship off Bandar Abbas.

The Gibraltar and Hormuz seizures came with tensions already ratcheted up by confrontations between Western and Iranian naval and commercial ships in the strategic Gulf region that is a conduit for around one-fifth of the world’s oil supplies.

U.S. President Donald Trump has launched a naval escort campaign to defend commercial shipping interests in the Gulf against harassment and illegal interference, with support from Australia, Britain, and other Western and Gulf states.

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Afghan Presidential Polls Close Amid Signs of Low Turnout

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Seemingly low voter turnout marked presidential elections in Afghanistan Saturday, even as security forces managed to maintain relative calm across the country, despite dire warnings from the Taliban.

At least four civilians and three security personnel were killed across the country and more than 50 civilians suffered injuries in election-related violence, mostly from small explosions. The figure is relatively small, keeping in mind past elections and the almost daily violence Afghanistan normally faces.  

“At the moment we don’t have the exact number of voter turnout. But we have created a safe environment. We do believe quite a wide range of our compatriots were present,” General Khoshal Sadat, the Afghan deputy interior minister, told VOA before polls closed.

Afghan incumbent president and presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani arrives to cast his vote in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sept. 28, 2019.

Daryush Khan, who came to a Kabul polling center with his wife and two small children, one of them in his arms, said he was there to safeguard his kids’ future.

“We know there are a lot of problems in Afghanistan, including security. But it’s our civil duty to come out and vote and choose our destiny,” he said. His wife, Gaity, holding up the other crying child, said they could not let threats get in the way of choosing their future.  

The Taliban had threatened to attack any election related activity, block roads, and blow up communication towers, calling the elections a “fake process.”

Taliban threats, however, were not the only reason people decided to stay home. Many said they were disgruntled after five years of bad governance and false promises.

Voting in Kabul, Afghanistan (B. Hamdard/VOA) video player.

Voting in Kabul, Afghanistan (B. Hamdard/VOA)

“In the last five years, the government didn’t deliver anything worthwhile. Especially, they didn’t do anything for women. The other candidates are also making empty promises. Nothing will change,” said Shabnam Yusufi of Kandahar, ahead of the polls.

A taxi driver in Kabul, Mohsin, said he would go to the polls only to cross out all the names.

The last presidential election was marred by allegations of fraud and the country became so divided that then-U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had to step in and broker a power-sharing deal between the two leading candidates. The same two, incumbent President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, seemed to be leading in this year’s race as well.
Former warlord turned presidential candidate Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, said the elections were marked with “widespread fraud” and there would be no Kerry this time to save the day.

Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah casts his vote at a polling station in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sept. 28, 2019.

Hekmatyar, known as the “butcher of Kabul” for mercilessly shelling the Afghan capital in the 1990s, and accused of multiple other war crimes, came into the political fray when he accepted Ghani’s offer of a peace deal.  

Days before the election, he issued a veiled threat of violence if he suspected fraud in the polls.

“Don’t make us regret our return, don’t make us regret participating in the electoral process, don’t make us use other means. We can do it and we have the experience to be able to do it,” he said to his supporters at an election rally in Kabul earlier this week.

“Afghanistan is not in the 1990s. It has a professional, strong Afghan security force,” responded General Khoshal Sadat, the deputy interior minister in an interview with VOA. “We have grown up in chaos, so we know how to tackle chaos.”

Responding to allegations from multiple candidates, including Abdullah, of fraud or misuse of government resources, Ghani asked election authorities to take robust action.

“If any candidate has any evidence of fraud or corruption in this election, I request them to register their cases with the Electoral Complaints Commission. And I demand the commission to process their complaints,” Ghani said in a live TV address after the election in which he thanked security forces and the nation for a successful polling day.

Sporadic reports of voter registration problems trickled in throughout the day.

“This was a good chance for us to elect our president and choose our future. We have come from far away to vote and choose our upcoming president, but they (election authorities) are just playing with us,” said Abdul Wadood, an elderly man with a white beard who could not find his name on a voter list at a Kabul polling station.


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US Rejects Request From Iran’s Zarif to Visit UN Envoy in New York Hospital Unless Prisoner Released

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The United States rejected a request by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to visit Iran’s United Nations ambassador in a New York hospital where he is being treated for cancer, the U.S. State Department and Iranian U.N. mission said on Friday.

A U.S. State Department spokesperson said Zarif’s request would be granted if Iran released one of several American citizens it had detained.

In July the United States imposed tight travel restrictions on Zarif before a visit that month to the United Nations, as well as on Iranian diplomats and their families living in New York, which Zarif described as “basically inhuman.”

Unless they receive prior approval from Washington, they are only allowed to travel within a small area of Manhattan, Queens and to and from John F. Kennedy airport.

FILE – Iranian Ambassador to the United Nations Majid Takht Ravanchi speaks to the media outside Security Council chambers at the U.N. headquarters in New York, June 24, 2019.

Iran’s U.N. mission spokesman Alireza Miryousefi said Iran’s U.N. Ambassador Majid Takht Ravanchi was being treated for cancer in a hospital not far away in Manhattan’s Upper East Side neighborhood. Zarif is in New York for the annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations.

“Iran has wrongfully detained several U.S. citizens for years, to the pain of their families and friends they cannot freely visit,” the State Department spokesperson said. “We have relayed to the Iranian mission that the travel request will be granted if Iran releases a U.S. citizen.”

The United States and Iran are at odds over a host of issues, including the U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, U.S. accusations — denied by Tehran — that Iran attacked two Saudi oil facilities on Sept. 14 and Iran’s detention of U.S. citizens on what the United States regards as spurious grounds.

U.S. Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook speaks to VOA Persian service reporter.

Brian Hook, the State Department’s special representative for Iran, on Monday said that if Iran wanted to show good faith, it should release the U.S. citizens it has detained, including Xiyue Wang, a U.S. citizen and Princeton University graduate student who was detained in Iran in 2016.

At a news conference in New York on Thursday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Tehran was open to talking about prisoner swaps but that the ball was in Washington’s court after Iran’s release of a Lebanese man with U.S. permanent residency in June.

The United States deported an Iranian woman who pleaded guilty to exporting restricted U.S. technology to Iran on Tuesday. During a visit to New York in April, Zarif specifically mentioned the woman’s case when talking about possible prisoner swaps.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday declined to discuss the possibility of a U.S.-Iranian prisoner swap after the woman’s deportation.   

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Joe Wilson, Skeptic on Iraq War Intelligence, Dies at Age 69

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Joseph Wilson, the former ambassador who set off a political firestorm by disputing U.S. intelligence used to justify the 2003 Iraq invasion, died Friday, according to his ex-wife. He was 69. 
Wilson’s died of organ failure in Santa Fe, said his former wife, Valerie Plame, whose identity as a CIA operative was exposed days after Wilson’s criticism of U.S. intelligence that Saddam Hussein was attempting to purchase uranium. 
The leak of Plame’s covert identity was a scandal for the administration of President George W. Bush that led to the conviction of vice presidential aide Scooter B. Libby for lying to investigators and justice obstruction. 
President Donald Trump pardoned Libby in 2018. 
Plame, who is running as a Democrat for Congress — in part as a Trump adversary — called Wilson “a true American hero, a patriot, and had the heart of a lion.” Plame and Wilson moved to Santa Fe in 2007 to raise twin children and divorced in 2017. 
In 2002, Wilson traveled as a diplomat to the African country of Niger to investigate allegations that Hussein was attempting to purchase uranium, which could have been used to make nuclear weapons. 

Wife’s identity revealed

Plame’s identity with the CIA was revealed in a newspaper column days after Wilson alleged in an opinion piece in The New York Times that the Bush administration twisted prewar intelligence on Iraq to justify going to war. Wilson later accused administration officials and political operatives of putting his family at risk. 
A Connecticut native and graduate of the University of California-Santa Barbara, Wilson’s career with the Foreign Service included posts in a handful of African nations. 
He was the senior U.S. diplomat in Baghdad during the first Gulf War and was the last American official to meet with Saddam before Desert Storm. 
Wilson drew intense criticism from Republican lawmakers over his statements regarding Iraq in the lead-up to the U.S. invasion. A report by the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2004 pointed to inconsistences. 
Wilson dismissed those claims, later authoring the book “The Politics of Truth.” 
In a 2003 interview with PBS, he said that the post-9/11 security mission went astray with the full invasion of Iraq. 
“The national security objective for the United States was clear: It was disarmament of Saddam Hussein,” he said. “We should have pursued that objective. We did not need to engage in an invasion, conquest and occupation of Iraq in order to achieve that objective.” 

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French Queue to Remember Chirac Ahead of National Mourning

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Mourners gathered at the Elysee Palace in Paris on Friday to pay their respects to former President Jacques Chirac, whose death unleashed a flood of tributes to a charismatic but complex giant of French politics. 
Chirac, president from 1995 to 2007, died Thursday at age 86 after years of deteriorating health since suffering a stroke in 2005. 
Ahead of a national day of mourning announced for Monday, the French presidency threw open the doors of the Elysee Palace for people wanting to sign a book of condolences. 
“I express my admiration and tenderness for the last of the great presidents,” read one tribute. “Thank you for fighting, thank you for this freedom and good spirits.” 
In a televised address Thursday night, President Emmanuel Macron praised “a man whom we loved as much as he loved us.” 
Chirac is also to be given the honor of a public memorial ceremony on Sunday as well as a mass on Monday, which will be attended by Macron and foreign dignitaries including German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. 
A minute of silence will also be observed Monday at public institutions, schools and football matches. 
Schools have also been urged to dedicate class time on Monday “to evoke the former head of state’s memory,” with the education ministry saying it will propose potential discussion themes for teachers. 
And the Quai Branly museum of indigenous art founded by Chirac, who had a deep appreciation of Asian cultures, said it would offer free admission until Oct. 11. 
French newspapers splashed his portrait across their front pages and dedicated most of their editions to the former president’s life — Le Parisien had an exhaustive 35 pages plus a 12-page special insert. 

People line up to sign a condolence book for the late French President Jacques Chirac, Sept. 27, 2019, in the courtyard of the Elysee Palace in Paris.

Everyman charm 

Even Chirac’s opponents hailed his charm and qualities as a political fighter, as well as how he stood up to Washington in 2003 by opposing the Iraq War. 
He was also lauded for acknowledging France’s responsibility for the wartime deportation of Jews, slashing road deaths with the introduction of speed cameras, and standing up to the increasingly popular far right under Jean-Marie Le Pen. 
But some questioned how much he had actually achieved during a long period in office — his career shadowed by a graft conviction while mayor of Paris, from 1977 to 1995. 
He contested the ruling but did not appeal it, saying the French people “know who I am: an honest man” who worked only for “the grandeur of France and for peace.” 
And it hardly dented the popularity of the beer- and saucisse-loving charmer, whose extramarital affairs were an open secret. 
He had barely been seen in public in recent years, after suffering a stroke in 2005 and undergoing kidney surgery in December 2013. 
He will be buried at the Montparnasse cemetery in Paris next to his daughter Laurence, who died in 2016 after a lifelong battle with anorexia. 
He is survived by Bernadette, his wife of more than six decades; his daughter Claude, who served as his confidante and adviser; and a grandson, Martin. 

People gather to pay tribute to the late former French President Jacques Chirac in Nice, France, Sept. 27, 2019.

‘Embodied’ France 
The centre-right Chirac succeeded his longtime political rival,  Socialist Francois Mitterrand, in 1995 after two previously unsuccessful bids to secure the Elysee. 
“As a leader who was able to represent the nation in its diversity and complexity … President Chirac embodied a certain idea of France,” Macron said Thursday. 
His death garnered an outpouring of tributes from world leaders, the latest from Chinese President Xi Jinping, who lauded “an old friend of the Chinese people.” 
Lebanon has also declared a day of mourning Monday, noting the close ties between Chirac and the family of former Premier Rafiq Hariri — whose family provided Chirac and his wife with a sumptuous Paris apartment for several years after he left office. 

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Health Experts Warn Disease Could Kill Millions Worldwide in 36 Hours

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Health experts warn we are due for a cataclysmic pandemic — they just don’t know when it will happen.

The warning was delivered this week to world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly by a special global health monitoring group that said the next pandemic could traverse the world in 36 hours, killing up to 80 million and causing devastating economic loss.

The group, the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board, operates independently of the World Health Organization and the World Bank, the entities that created it last year with a mandate to issue an annual assessment. The first report was grim.

A health worker vaccinates a child against malaria in Ndhiwa, Homabay County, western Kenya, Sept. 13, 2019, during the launch of a malaria vaccination campaign in the country.

Lack of medical care a threat

Despite remarkable gains in medicine, politics and social issues keep those in rich countries as well as poor ones from desperately needed medical care, and this threatens the entire world.

Medical achievements of the past several decades are remarkable. AIDS once meant enduring a horrible death, but now treatment has changed that and research on a vaccine is promising.

Moreover, there’s talk about ending malaria, a disease that kills half a million people each year, most of them children.

Scientists are also closing in on Ebola. A vaccine and two new drugs to treat those infected are saving lives in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Ebola used to kill up to 90% of its victims. Now, it’s been reversed.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, at the U.S. National Institutes of Health and a member of the board, says with a low viral load, someone infected with the Ebola virus now has a 90% chance of surviving.

This report warns that the world is woefully unprepared for the next pandemic. So unprepared that the next pandemic could kill up to 80 million people and cause enormous economic suffering.

FILE – Gro Harlem Brundtland is a former prime minister of Norway and a former head of the World Health Organization.

The report is intended for political leaders. One of the board’s co-chairs is both a doctor and a politician. Gro Harlem Brundtland is a former prime minister of Norway and a former head of the World Health Organization. She likens health to a military threat in response to which an entire government comes together.

“This has to be the same in global health security,” Brundtland said.

Fauci just returned from a trip to East Africa to assess progress against an Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“I was clearly impressed at the capabilities of the Congolese who are administering the care here, as well as the preparedness of the Rwandans and the Ugandans, in case cases spill over the border,” he said.

The board cited stigma as a problem that makes it more difficult to stop the spread of disease. Diseases like tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, Ebola and others carry such a stigma that those who are infected often don’t seek treatment. Political leaders can create policies to erase stigma, the board said.

The report cited poverty and lack of clean water and sanitation as incubators for infectious disease. Political leaders can fund cleaning up polluted water and improving hygiene.

“We need to have a stronger preparedness across the board to avoid unnecessary loss of life and large economic losses,” Brundtland warned.

The monitoring group also cited prolonged conflict and forced migration as risk factors for the spread of disease. It urged countries to establish emergency preparedness from the local level on up, to build trust and to work cooperatively to improve responses to serious threats and ensure health of the world’s 7.7 billion people.

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Shallow Tremor Rocks Quake-Hit Area of Pakistan

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A shallow tremor Thursday sent terrified residents of northeastern Pakistan onto the streets, days after a powerful quake killed 38 people and caused widespread damage in the area.

The tremor stretched already-frayed nerves in Mirpur, in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir, as fears of aftershocks from Tuesday’s quake sent hundreds into the streets and put local hospitals on alert.

The US Geological Survey put the quake at 4.7 magnitude and 10 kilometres (six miles) deep, adding that it had struck just four kilometres outside of Mirpur.

City residents huddled in streets following the quake, some still barefoot, while others recited verses from the Koran.

“It’s hell. I am running to save my life,” Mohammad Bilal told AFP moments after the tremor.

“I thought most of the building would have tumbled down,” said Sagheer Ahmad. “Allah is very kind to us.”

Dozens of patients were evacuated from the main government hospital in Mirpur, some in wheelchairs or on stretchers.

Dr Farooq Noor, the medical superintendent at the hospital, told AFP that 93 people were brought in after the tremor.

Most were swiftly discharged with minor wounds or shock, but some with head injuries and broken limbs were admitted, he added.

The city’s hospitals were already packed with hundreds injured by the quake earlier in the week.

‘Poor construction’

The tremor came as rescuers continued to pick through toppled buildings to reach victims from Tuesday’s earthquake.

“You can see we have no arrangements, we don’t have any place to live, have nothing to eat, we are pulling out rubble, and trying to restore electricity and water,” Muhammad Waqas Aslam, who lives in the village of Nakkah Kharak outside Mirpur, told AFP.

The village of Jatlan appeared to be one of the worst affected by Tuesday’s quake, while Mirpur was largely spared major damage.

In Jatlan, bridges, mobile-phone towers and electricity poles were badly damaged while its roads were ripped apart.

Pakistani geologists blamed the “poor construction of shanty houses in Jatlan” for some of the damage, as well as its location near a fault line and the shallowness of the quake.

Pakistan’s Kashmir information minister Mushtaq Minhas said at least 6,500 homes were destroyed by Tuesday’s quake, adding that officials had begun to distribute thousands of tents to affected residents.

Mirpur, a city known for its palatial houses, has strong ties to Britain and many of its population of 450,000 carry both British and Pakistani passports.

The city owes its prosperity to thousands of former residents who migrated to Britain in the 1960s, but retained their links to the area — repatriating money to buy land and build plush homes.

Tuesday’s quake also sent people in Lahore and Islamabad running into the streets, while tremors were felt as far as New Delhi.

Pakistan straddles the boundary where the Indian and Eurasian tectonic plates meet, making the country susceptible to earthquakes.

In October 2015, a 7.5-magnitude quake in Pakistan and Afghanistan killed almost 400 people across rugged terrain that impeded relief efforts.

The country was also hit by a 7.6-magnitude quake on October 8, 2005, that killed more than 73,000 people and left about 3.5 million homeless, mainly in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir.

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‘OK’ Hand Gesture, ‘Bowlcut’ Added to Hate Symbols Database

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A Jewish civil rights group has added dozens of new entries to its online database of hateful symbols, slogans and memes that white supremacists have adopted and spread.

The “OK” hand gesture is one of the images that the Anti-Defamation League has added to its hate symbols database. Online trolls have used the gesture to dupe viewers into perceiving it as a “white power” symbol, but the ADL says far-right extremists also are using it as a sincere expression of white supremacy.

FILE - John T. Earnest appears for his arraignment, April 30, 2019, in San Diego. Earnest faces charges of murder and attempted murder in the April 27 assault on the Chabad of Poway synagogue.
California Synagogue Shooting Suspect Pleads Not Guilty to Hate Crimes
The man suspected of killing a woman in a shooting at a Southern California synagogue pleaded not guilty to federal hate crime charges Tuesday.

John T. Earnest spoke twice during the brief hearing — to acknowledge his name and to say he agreed with his court-appointed attorney’s decision against seeking bail.

Earnest, 19, is charged with bursting into the Chabad of Poway synagogue on April 27 and opening fire with an assault rifle, killing one and injuring three. 
Peter Ko, an assistant U.S. attorney, told the judge that the government had not decided whether to seek the death penalty.

The database additions also include “Happy Merchant,” an anti-Semitic meme that depicts a stereotypical image of a Jewish man rubbing his hands together.
ADL launched the database in 2000 to help law enforcement officers and others recognize signs of extremist activity. It has grown to nearly 200 entries.

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France’s Retirement Overhaul: Macron’s Greatest Challenge?

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The fate of Emmanuel Macron’s presidency of France may lie in the fate of his planned overhaul of the retirement system, which has already prompted strikes and protests.

Knowing that it’s not going to be the easiest of sells following the yellow vest movement that brought France to a near-standstill last winter, Macron is embarking Thursday on a “Tour de France” of meetings to try to convince skeptical workers that reform is exactly what France’s stretched and hugely complicated pension system needs to survive into the long-term.  
Here’s a look at the planned changes, and why they are generating debate:
France old-age pension system

The country’s retirement system has its roots in 1673 and the reign King Louis XIV. Initially for royal marines, the system swelled to include civil servants in the wake of the French Revolution at the end of the 18th century. Military personnel were added in 1831, followed by others over the decades to come, before employees in the private sector were finally added in 1930.
Now, all French retirees receive a state pension. The average French pension this year stands at 1,400 euros per month ($1,500 per month) once taxes are deducted. But that average masks an array of different pension regimes. In total, there are 42 pension regimes.
So many special regimes
The easy bit: Employees from the private sector are affiliated to the overall system. The account for around 7 of 10 workers.
The more complicated bit: many professions have a special pension regime. Some workers like train workers and air crews allow early retirements, others, like lawyers and doctors, pay less tax.
Civil servants also have a separate pension scheme.
Over the last three decades, governments have made changes but each reform has been met with massive demonstrations. None of the changes managed to simplify the system.    
Macron’s grand plan
Macron wants to simplify the system and replace it with a unified scheme, so that all French workers have the same pension rights.
He promises that the overhaul will make the system fairer.
He also wants to make the French pension system, which is projected to be in deficit in the coming years, more sustainable.
However, unions argue that the new system will require people to work longer and reduce pensions. Strikes have already taken place and more are expected over the coming months.
The government has promised the legal retirement age of 62 won’t change, but new financial conditions may encourage people to work longer.
Macron’s government said some specific measures would be maintained to allow military and police officers to retire earlier. Very arduous jobs would also be taken into account to allow workers to retire earlier.

What’s next?
The government has opened three-month talks with unions, employer groups and professional organizations. Ordinary citizens are also being invited to give their opinion on a dedicated website and in public meetings — the first one taking place in the southern town of Rodez Thursday in the presence of Macron.
The government says that what finally emerges will take into account the outcomes of the current debate.
The bill is expected to be debated by lawmakers next summer. The government has said that the changes will only apply on people born after 1963 and will enter progressively into force between 2025 and 2040.

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Israeli President Asks Netanyahu to Try to Form Unity Government

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Israel’s president has asked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to try to form a new government after last week’s deadlocked elections that have paralyzed the country.

The office of President Reuven Rivlin made the announcement after meeting Wednesday with Netanyahu and his primary challenger, Benny Gantz.

Rivlin has the responsibility of selecting the candidate he believes has the best chance of forming a coalition government after neither Netanyahu nor Gantz captured the required support of the parliamentary majority.

Rivlin mediated two previous meetings this week between the politicians, hoping to reach a deal between Netanyahu’s conservative Likud party and Gantz’s centrist and liberal Blue and White alliance.

FILE – Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz delivers a statement in Tel Aviv, Israel, Sept. 19, 2019.

The talks ended, though, because of disagreements over who should lead a new unity government.

Gantz has said he would not participate in a Netanyahu-led government because of the prime minister’s legal problems.

Netanyahu is desperate to remain as prime minister amid an ongoing corruption investigation against him. The country’s attorney general recommends charging Netanyahu fraud, bribery and breach of trust stemming from a number of scandals.

Netanyahu, who denies any wrongdoing, is scheduled to appear before the attorney general next week, after which a decision on the charges is expected.

Final election results announced Wednesday show the Blue and White won 33 seats in the 120-seat parliament, one more than the Likud’s 32 seats. Even with the support of other allies, both parties remain short of the required 61-seat majority.

Israeli law gives the president’s first choice to form a government six weeks to achieve the task. If he fails, the president can task another candidate. A second failure could enable a majority of parliament to nominate a third person as prime minister. Yet another failure would force Israel to hold its third election in less than a year.  


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Impeachment Push Complicates Trump’s Re-Election Prospects

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The decision by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to launch an impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump has complicated what already was Trump’s uncertain road to re-election next year.  Public opinion polls suggest Trump is in a weaker position for re-election than most other incumbent presidents have been, and he is counting on a strong economy and loyal supporters to overcome what is expected to be an intense turnout of motivated Democratic voters next year.

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House Approves Bill to Aimed at Holding Myanmar Leaders Accountable for Atrocities

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VOA Burmese Service contributed to this report

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed legislation aimed at advancing efforts to hold senior Myanmar leaders accountable for crimes committed against Rohingya and other ethnic minorities.

The BURMA act was approved on Tuesday and now goes to the Senate for consideration.

Andy Levin, D-Mich, arrives for member-elect briefings on Capitol Hill in Washington, Nov. 15, 2018.

“Journalists, activists and anyone who is willing to use their voice to call out wrong doing must be protected. That is why Congresswoman Ann Wagner and I introduced the Burma Political Prisoners Assistance Act, Rep. Andy Levin (D) said. “This bill calls for the release of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience in Burma and directs our State Department to bolster its works to achieve this act.”

Amnesty International urged the Senate to act on the legislation.

 “Over two years have passed since the world witnessed atrocities committed against Rohingya women, men, and children. Yet the U.S. Congress has so far failed to speak with a united voice on the issue. Further inaction by the U.S. sets a terrible precedent for other countries and risks emboldening the Myanmar military to continue committing crimes across the country,” Amnesty International USA’s Asia Pacific Advocacy Manger Francisco Bencosme said.

Last month, A U.N. fact-finding mission concluded that the Myanmar military intended to perpetrate genocide on ethnic Rohingya Muslims when it drove hundreds of thousands of them from the country in 2017.

More than 700,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state in August and September 2017, after attacks by Rohingya militants against state security forces led to military reprisals. They continue to seek shelter in a refugee camp in neighboring Bangladesh.


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‘Nightmare’ for Global Postal System if Trump Pulls Out, UN Body Says

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A threat by Donald Trump to pull the United States out of the global postal system could lead to a “nightmare scenario” of mail going undelivered, packages piling up and American stamps no longer being recognized abroad, the U.N. postal agency said.

The Universal Postal Union (UPU) has been holding an emergency meeting in Geneva to persuade Washington not to follow through on a threat to quit the agency, which sets rules to ensure mail gets delivered around the globe.

The Trump administration says it wants to charge other countries more than UPU rules now permit to have letters and packages delivered in the United States. It has set a deadline of next month for rates to be raised or it will quit.

Universal Postal Union (UPU) Director General Bishar Hussein attends a press conference during an extraordinary congress of the UPU in Geneva, Sept. 24, 2019.

“It is really a nightmare scenario,” the UPU’s secretary-general, Bishar Hussein, told a news conference, noting that no country had ever left since the agency was founded nearly 150 years ago. It now has 192 members.

“If the United States leaves, you’ll get those piles, because somehow every country has to figure out how to send mail to the United States. … A major disruption is on the way if we don’t solve the problem today.”

Were the United States to quit the UPU, U.S. stamps would no longer be valid abroad, he said. He said he was “very optimistic” that a compromise could be reached.

‘Broken’ system

The UPU is one of the oldest international organizations, set up in 1874 to ensure that mail could be delivered anywhere on Earth. It establishes a system for calculating the fees, known as “terminal dues,” that countries collect from each other to deliver mail that arrives from abroad.

Washington says the fees are too low, which unfairly benefits exporters from countries such as China, who can send goods ordered online to U.S. customers while the U.S. Postal Service bears part of the cost of delivering them.

White House trade adviser Peter Navarro, left, attends the opening session of an extraordinary congress of the Universal Postal Union (UPU) in Geneva, Sept. 24, 2019.

White House trade adviser Peter Navarro, who heads the U.S. delegation, called for fixing a system “that everyone in this room knows is broken.”

“The mission here today is to retool this system for the brave new world of e-commerce,” he told the three-day talks.

Navarro, speaking to journalists, said: “In an age of e-commerce, the United States is being forced to heavily subsidize small parcels coming into our country. Many are from China, but this is not strictly a China problem.”

He said the system meant the U.S. Postal Service was effectively spending $300 million to $500 million to subsidize the cost of delivering imports, including counterfeit goods and drugs mailed to the United States from China.

Other countries that receive more mail than they send, including Brazil, Canada, Norway and South Africa, were also being hit, he said. Countries should be allowed to set their own rates, which he said “might cause some very short-term disruptions” but was “the clearest, cleanest, fairest and quickest path to a reform that is long overdue.”

Massive disruptions?

Democrats Abroad, the arm of the Democratic Party for Americans overseas, has warned of chaos and urged members to lobby Congress against the proposal by the Republican administration to quit the body.

“If the withdrawal goes forward, postal mail service to the United States will be thrown into disarray and the USPS expects postal service to and from the States to be massively disrupted,” the group said in a statement.

Navarro said Washington could quit without problems.

“We have prepared for a seamless transition. There will be absolutely no disruption in military mail, election mail, or holiday mail,” he said.

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UN Head Urges a ‘Decade of Action’ to Address World Crises

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Sweeping goals to end poverty, inequality and other global ills are being derailed by climate change, conflicts and violence, the head of the United Nations told world leaders in New York on Tuesday, calling for a “decade of action.”

Sustainable development needs more financing, investment in health and education, and broader access to technology to succeed, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said at the first high-level review of the global goals adopted in 2015.

Launched with great fanfare and optimism, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agreed by the 193 U.N. member states set out an ambitious “to-do” list tackling conflict, hunger, land degradation, gender inequality and climate change by 2030.

But assessments of their progress have been bleak.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addresses the Climate Summit in the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York.

“Let us be clear: we are far from where we need to be. We are off track,” Guterres said. “Deadly conflicts, the climate crisis, gender-based violence and persistent inequalities are undermining efforts to achieve the goals.

“Uneven growth, rising debt levels, heightened global trade tensions are creating new obstacles to implementation.

Another assessment came on Tuesday from global business leaders who complained of being hampered by political uncertainty and market constraints in their efforts to contribute to the goals’ progress.

Four in 10 chief executives said political uncertainty was slowing or stalling their efforts, and a third said closing global markets and limits on free trade were hindrances, according to a study by the U.N. Global Compact, a network of businesses, and consulting company Accenture Strategy.

“The way in which markets are working at the moment, political uncertainty is a real concern,” said Peter Lacy, an Accenture senior managing director. “Global trade looks ever more threatened. Populism is rearing its head again.

“Unequivocally we know that the global goals are not on course to deliver the ambitious targets set.”

Some progress is being made in areas such as access to energy, to decent work, and in fighting extreme poverty and child mortality, Guterres said in his remarks.

But he said youth unemployment has not improved and global hunger and gender inequality are on the rise.

“Indeed, half the wealth around the world is held by people who could fit around a conference table,” he said.

With just 10 years to go until the goals’ deadline, he made a call for a “decade of action”, with an annual meeting beginning on the goals beginning next September.

“We need to focus on solutions that will make greatest impact,” he said.

The cost of implementing the global goals has been estimated at $3 trillion a year.


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House, Senate Leaders React Along Party Lines to Impeachment Inquiry

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House and Senate leaders are reacting along party lines to Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s announcement of a Trump impeachment inquiry.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is accusing Democrats of having a “predetermined conclusion” about Trump’s guilt, calling Tuesday’s developments part of an “impeachment parade in search of a rationale.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) delivers remarks during a weekly Senate Luncheon press conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Sept. 24, 2019.

“It simply confirms that House Democrats’ priority is not making life better for the American people, but their nearly three-year-old fixation on impeachment.”

McConnell’s statement came just after he was part of the Senate’s unanimous consent agreement that the whistleblower’s complaint be immediately handed over to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.

McConnell’s House counterpart, Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, says Democrats are still bitter about losing the 2016 presidential election and have wanted to impeach Trump from “day one.”

FILE – House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-MD) addresses a National Press Club luncheon in Washington, Aug. 7, 2019.

But the Democratic chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Elijah Cummings, reminded Republicans that history will show they ignored their duty to the Constitution if they “close their eyes and put party over country.”

He called Trump’s alleged appeal to another government to interfere in a U.S. election “an affront to the Constitution and a grave breach of his oath of office.”

Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren has been calling for Trump’s impeachment for months because of his alleged obstruction of justice in the Russian election probe.

She tweeted that the “impeachment inquiry must move forward with the efficiency and seriousness the crisis demands.”

U.S. markets closed down Tuesday over the impeachment uncertainty before Pelosi spoke.

But experts say many investors do not expect the Republican-led Senate to ultimately convict Trump in any impeachment trial. The experts also do not think the House inquiry will have a big impact on stocks.

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World Leaders Set to Address UN General Assembly

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World leaders involved in some of the most high profile geopolitical issues are among those set to speak on the first day of the U.N. General Assembly in New York.

After opening remarks from U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, those gathered for the annual meeting will hear from a group that includes U.S. President Donald Trump, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Korean President Moon Jae-in and French President Emmanuel Macron.

The addresses come a day after Swedish teen activist Greta Thunberg scolded world leaders at a U.N. summit calling for climate action, saying people are suffering and dying from the effects of global warming and that all the leaders have are empty words. 

“We are in [the] beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money,” said Thunberg, who ignited a youth movement with her Friday school strikes for climate action.

She said the science has been clear for 30 years, and still they are not doing enough. 

“You are failing us! But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal,” Thunberg said in a voice filled with emotion. “The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us, I say we will never forgive you.”

The 16-year-old warned the more than 60 presidents and prime ministers gathered in the General Assembly hall for the summit that the youth would not let them “get away with this.” She said they draw the line here and now and “change is coming,” whether they like it or not.

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg speaks with other child petitioners from 12 countries who presented a landmark complaint to protest the lack of government action on the climate crisis during a press conference in New York, Sept. 23, 2019.


“My generation has failed in its responsibility to protect our planet,” Guterres said. “That must change.”

Guterres has called for the phasing out of fossil fuels and an end to construction of new coal power plants. 

“Is it common sense to build ever more coal plants that are choking our future?” the secretary-general asked. “Is it common sense to reward pollution that kills millions with dirty air and makes it dangerous for people in cities around the world to sometimes even venture out of their homes?” 

He said it is time to end subsidies to the fossil fuel industry and shift taxes from salaries to carbon – taxing pollution, not people.

The U.N. chief has sought to highlight the importance of the summit and challenged leaders to “come with concrete plans” and not just “beautiful speeches,” which some outlined Monday.

India, which has one of the world’s highest levels of air pollution, said it would increase its renewable energy capacity to 175 gigawatts by 2022. Prime Minister Narendra Modi highlighted his country’s expansion into solar energy. 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in a rare U.N. appearance, pledged that her country would reduce its carbon emissions by 2030 by 55% compared to its 1990 emissions. She said Germany would be carbon neutral by 2050. 

“In 2030 we want to get two-thirds of our energy from renewables,” Merkel said. “In 2022, we will phase out the last of our nuclear power plants, and at latest, in 2038, we will phase out coal.”

Trump, who announced his administration’s intention to withdraw from the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement soon after taking office, was not scheduled to attend or speak at Monday’s summit. Trump, however, made a brief appearance and was seen sitting at the U.S. delegation’s table before attending an event on religious persecution.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, far left, and young environmental activists look on as Greta Thunberg, of Sweden, in red, addresses the Climate Action Summit in the United Nations General Assembly, at U.N. headquarters, Sept. 23, 2019.


The U.N. released a report ahead of the summit compiled by the World Meteorological Organization showing there has been an acceleration in carbon pollution, sea-level rise, warming global temperatures, and shrinking ice sheets.

It warns that the average global temperature for the period of 2015 through the end of 2019 is on pace to be the “warmest of any equivalent period on record” at 1.1 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

The 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, which has been ratified by 186 nations, calls for actions to prevent global temperatures from surpassing 2 degrees, and ideally remain within 1.5 degrees by cutting greenhouse gas emissions.  One of the world’s biggest emitters – the United States – announced under President Trump that it would leave the pact. The U.S. decision has not stopped climate action at the state, local and private sector levels. 

The report warns that in order to achieve the 2-degree target, “the level of ambition needs to be tripled.”

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Honda to Cease Diesel Vehicle Sales in Europe by 2021

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Honda said on Monday it would phase out all diesel cars by 2021 in favor of models with electric propulsion systems, as the Japanese automaker moves to electrify all of its European cars by 2025.

Honda is the latest automaker cutting production of diesel cars to meet stringent global emissions regulations. The plan is part of its long-term goal to make electric cars, including all battery-electric vehicles, to account for two-thirds of its line ups by 2030 from less than 10% now.

By next year, according to European Union emission targets, CO2 must be cut to 95 gram per km for 95% of cars from the current 120.5 gram average, a figure that has increased of late as consumers spurn fuel-efficient diesels and embrace SUVs. All new cars in the EU must be compliant in 2021.

For Honda, declining demand for diesel vehicles and tougher emissions regulations have clouded its manufacturing prospects in Europe.

Honda said in February it would close its only British car plant in 2021 with the loss of up to 3,500 jobs.

Japan’s No. 3 automaker has said it would cut the number of car model variations to a third of current offerings by 2025, reducing global production costs by 10% and redirecting those savings toward advanced research and development.

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Tech Companies Back Independent Watchdog to Tackle Online Extremism

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A global working group set up by Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Microsoft to remove extremist content will become an independent watchdog working “to respond quicker and work more collaboratively to prevent” attacks like Christchurch, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday.

Ardern has pushed for stronger action since New Zealand’s worst peacetime mass shooting in March, when a gunman attacked Muslims attending Friday prayers in Christchurch. He killed 51 people and broadcast the attack live on Facebook.

“In the same way that we respond to natural emergencies like fires and floods, we need to be prepared and ready to respond to a crisis like the one we experienced,” Ardern told reporters on the sidelines of the annual United Nations gathering of world leaders.

The Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism was created in 2017 under pressure from U.S. and European governments after a spate of deadly attacks. It will now become an independent organization led by an executive director, funded by Facebook, Google’s YouTube, Twitter and Microsoft.

Speaking at a joint news conference with Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, Ardern said the organization would be governed by an operating board made up of company representatives and would have an independent advisory committee composed of government and civil society members.

Ardern said some of the group’s work would be to fund and coordinate academic research on terrorism and violent extremist operations and on best practices for data sharing.

Sandberg said the forum had already shared some 200,000 digital fingerprints “because when terrorists try to use one platform, they try to use all the platforms; so when one of us find them, we can take them down across multiple platforms.”

She added that while the fastest-growing messaging platforms were encrypted, Facebook was still able to combat extremism while aiming to protect users’ privacy. She noted that even though WhatsApp is encrypted, Facebook and Facebook-owned Instagram are not.

“We are often able to find people on one and then take then down off the encrypted platforms,” Sandberg said.

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Harry and Meghan Start 1st Official Tour as Family in Africa

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Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, began their first official tour as a family Monday with their infant son, Archie, in South Africa, with Meghan declaring to cheers that “I am here with you as a mother, as a wife, as a woman, as a woman of color and as your sister.”

The first day of their 10-day, multi-country tour started in Cape Town with visits to girls’ empowerment projects that teach rights and self-defense. Harry danced a bit as a musical welcome greeted them in the township of Nyanga, whose location was not made public in advance because of security concerns.
Violent crime is so deadly in parts of Cape Town that South Africa’s military has been deployed in the city, and its stay was extended last week.
The royal couple also was meeting with former residents of District Six, a vibrant mixed-race community that was relocated from the inner city during South Africa’s harsh period of apartheid, or white minority rule, that ended in 1994.

FILE – Diana, Princess of Wales is seen in this Jan. 15 1997 file picture walking in one of the safety corridors of the land mine fields of Huambo, Angola during her visit to help a Red Cross campaign to outlaw landmines worldwide.

Their visit also will focus on wildlife protection, entrepreneurship, mental health and mine clearance — a topic given global attention by Harry’s late mother, Princess Diana, when she walked through an active mine field during an Africa visit years ago.
Harry later this week will break away for visits to Botswana, Angola and Malawi.
The couple arrived in a South Africa still shaken by the rape and murder of a university student, carried out in a post office, that sparked protests by thousands of women tired of abuse and impunity in a country where more than 100 rapes are reported every day.
This is “one of the most unsafe places in the world to be a woman,” President Cyril Ramaphosa said last week, announcing new emergency measures and vowing to be tougher on perpetrators.
While the royal visit wasn’t causing the kind of excitement seen at times in other parts of the Commonwealth, some in South Africa said they were happy to see the arrival of Meghan, who has been vocal about women’s rights.

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