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‘Game of Thrones,’ ‘Veep’ Aim for Records at Emmy Awards

Records could be broken at the 2019 Emmy Awards by “Game of Thrones” and “Veep” star Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

The HBO fantasy saga already has the most awards for a show in one season, 12, and it’s competing Sunday in seven categories.

If Louis-Dreyfus wins top comedy actress honors for “Veep,” she’ll have a total of nine Emmys, the most ever for a performer.

Other contenders to keep an eye on include Sandra Oh of “Killing Eve” and Billy Porter of “Pose,” both vying for top drama series acting awards.

Oh could become the actress of Asian descent to win in the category, and Porter could be the first openly gay actor to nab a trophy.

The 71st annual Emmy Awards airs at 8 p.m. EDT Sunday on Fox.



FIFA Says Tehran ‘Assured’ That Women Can Get Into Next Soccer Match

FIFA President Gianni Infantino says soccer’s world governing body “cannot wait any more” and has been “assured” by Tehran that the authorities will allow women spectators into the arena when Iran hosts its next international match.

Infantino’s comments follow a FIFA delegation visit to Iran over the conservative Shi’ite leadership’s longtime ban on women at major men’s sporting events — a policy that turned more tragic with the recent death of a young woman who was being punished for trying to sneak into a stadium disguised as a man.

Iran is scheduled to play Cambodia in a 2022 World Cup qualifier on October 10 at Azadi Stadium in Tehran.

“In these productive discussions, FIFA reiterated its firm and clear position that women need to be allowed to enter football matches freely and that the number of women who attend the stadiums be determined by the demand, resulting in ticket sales,” FIFA said in a September 21 statement summarizing the delegation’s visit to Tehran and Azadi Stadium.

FIFA further said it would work with Iran’s national soccer federation, the FFIRI, to ensure that women spectators could get into the Iranian soccer league’s matches in future.

The delegation “discussed the need to open stadiums for women to attend national matches. In that respect, FIFA announced that it will, based on the operational plans and results of the [October 10] game, collaborate with the FFIRI in developing an operational protocol and related requirements for matches in the Iranian football league to be opened for women as well.”

There was a social outcry upon news that 29-year-old Iranian Sahar Khodayari had died earlier this month after dousing herself with gasoline and setting herself alight on September 2 following charges over her bid to see a match in March.

FILE – Iranian women cheer as they wave their country’s flag after authorities in a rare move allowed a select group of women into Azadi stadium to watch a friendly soccer match between Iran and Bolivia, in Tehran, Oct. 16, 2018.

Iranian officials have sometimes allowed select groups of women into specific areas to watch soccer matches or other men’s sporting events in the past, but have resolutely held the line for nearly four decades at general admission for women.

Khodayari, nicknamed “The Blue Girl” after the colors of her favorite team, Esteghlal, had reportedly suffered burns over 90 percent of her body in the self-immolation.

A sister had told RFE/RL that the girl suffered from bipolar disorder and that her mental state had deteriorated after her arrest and hearing that she could spend six months in prison.

Iranian President Hassan Rohani has mostly failed to deliver on pledges to open up some aspects of Iranian society, including reforms that could help lift Iranian women from distant second-class status under the law.

Iranian women exercise at a football school in Tehran, Sept. 14, 2019.

FIFA has received frequent criticism for its perceived failure to confront Iran’s and others’ gender-based discrimination.

On August 25, Iranian Deputy Sports Minister Jamshid Tahizade announced that women would be allowed to attend the Cambodia match.

But Tehran has dithered on the issue in the past, apparently prompting the FIFA visit this month.

“FIFA’s position is firm and clear,” the group said in its recent statement. “Women have to be allowed into football stadiums in Iran. For all football matches.”


Hong Kong Protesters Vandalize Subway Station, Deface Chinese Flag

Protesters on Hong Kong vandalized a subway station and defaced a Chinese flag Sunday during another weekend of pro-democracy demonstrations.

Thousands also rallied inside a shopping mall in Sha Tin.  Protesters later built a barricade across the street and set it on fire.

Riot police fired tear gas to disperse some of the protesters.

Riot police patrol inside Hong Kong International Airport in Hong Kong, Sept. 22, 2019.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong has cut back rail and bus access to its airport in a move designed to avoid an anti-government protests at one of the busiest airport hubs in the world.

“There are calls online for using fake boarding passes, fake air tickets or fake flight booking information to enter the terminal buildings…the Airport Authority reminds that such behavior could amount to forgery or using false instrument,” the authority said in a statement warning demonstrators to stay away.

Damaged ticket machines are seen inside Sha Tin MTR station after an anti-government rally at New Town Plaza at Sha Tin, Hong Kong, Sept. 22, 2019

On Saturday, police fired tear gas at demonstrators who vandalized a light rail station.

A proposed bill that would have allowed some Hong Kong criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China for trial sparked the months-long, anti-government demonstrations.  

The extradition legislation has been withdrawn, but the demonstrations continue.

Dissenters have since broadened their demands for the direct election of their leaders and police accountability.

More than 1,300 people have been arrested since the demonstrations began in early June.






Bus Crash Kills 25 in Northwest Pakistan, after Brakes Fail

A bus crash on a mountainous road in northwest Pakistan Sunday killed 25 passengers and injured 20 others, police said.

Abdul Wakil, a local police officer, said the accident happened in the Chilas distract on the bus’ route from Skardu to the city of Rawalpindi.

Wakil said rescue efforts were facing difficulties in the remote mountainous terrain due to lack of needed equipment and resources.

Such road accidents are common in Pakistan where motorists largely disregard traffic rules and safety standards on battered roads. Last month a speeding bus fell off a mountainous road into a river in the northwest, killing 24 passengers.



Trump Joining Indian PM in ‘Howdy Modi’ Event

U.S. President Donald Trump is visiting Houston, Texas Sunday to take part in a huge rally with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Trump will appear with Modi before a largely Indian audience of some 50,000 people who are due to pack a Houston stadium for the “Howdy Modi” event.

Preeti Dawra, one of he organizers of the “Howdy Modi” event says, “Trump is completely welcomed by the community.”  

FILE – President Donald Trump, accompanied by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, left, speaks during a bilateral meeting at the G-7 summit in Biarritz, France, Aug. 26, 2019.

Recent polls however show lackluster support for Trump within the Indian-American community, a majority of whom voted for Trump’s Democratic rival Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election.

Modi, who is already in Houston, is facing global backlash for his crackdown in disputed Kashmir.  

Last month, he striped the Indian controlled section of Kashmir of its semi-autonomous status, sparking renewed tensions with Pakistan, which also claims part of Kashmir.   

India has deployed thousands of troops to prevent violent protests in the Muslim-majority region and residents in Kashmir continue to face curbs on travel and communications restrictions.  

Meanwhile, President Trump later  travels to Ohio where he will make an appearance with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

In Ohio, the president and Morrison will tour a new Australian-owned manufacturing facility for Pratt Industries




Pompeo Emboldened After Bolton Exit, Takes Lead on Saudi Oil Crisis

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is facing his first major crisis on how to respond to the attacks on Saudi oil facilities, which he blamed on Iran. In response to the attacks, President Donald Trump has approved the deployment of U.S. troops — defensive in nature — and military equipment to Saudi Arabia. VOA’s Diplomatic Correspondent Cindy Saine looks at Pompeo’s close relationship with the president and his leadership skills on display at this critical moment.



Trump Denies Pressuring Ukraine to Probe Company Linked to Biden’s Son

U.S. President Donald Trump is denying he said anything “wrong” in a telephone conversation with the new president of Ukraine during which Trump allegedly urged him to investigate the son of former vice president and 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden.

Democrats meanwhile stepped up their criticism of the president for what they characterized as an attempt to engage a foreign leader in a scheme to damage the candidacy of Trump’s leading rival in the 2020 campaign.

Trump tweeted Saturday morning he had a “perfectly fine and routine conversation” on July 25 with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and that, “Nothing was said that was in any way wrong.”

Trump accused Democrats and the news media of ignoring allegations against the Bidens and creating a false story about him.

“The Fake News Media and their partner, the Democrat (sic) Party, want to stay as far away as possible from the Joe Biden demand that the Ukrainian Government fire a prosecutor who was investigating his son, or they won’t get a very large amount of U.S. money, so they fabricate … a story about me …”

The Fake News Media and their partner, the Democrat Party, want to stay as far away as possible from the Joe Biden demand that the Ukrainian Government fire a prosecutor who was investigating his son, or they won’t get a very large amount of U.S. money, so they fabricate a…..

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 21, 2019

Trump urged Zelenskiy about eight times during their conversation to investigate Biden’s son, according to news reports citing people familiar with the matter. The sources were quoted saying Trump’s intent was to get Zelenskiy to collaborate with Trump lawyer Rudolph Giuliani on an investigation that could undermine Biden.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko on Saturday denied Trump had pressured Zelenskiy during the call, telling the media outlet Hromadski that Ukraine would not take sides in U.S. politics even if the country was in a position to do so.

FILE – Rudy Giuliani speaks at the Wall Street Journal CEO Council in Washington, Nov. 14, 2016.

Trump and Giuliani have pushed for an investigation of the Bidens for weeks, following news reports this year that explored whether a Ukrainian energy company tried to secure influence in the U.S. by employing Biden’s younger son, Hunter.

Democrats are condemning what they perceive as a concerted effort to damage Biden, who has been thrust into the middle of an unidentified whistleblower’s complaint against Trump. Biden is currently the leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination.

The Trump administration has blocked procedures under which the whistleblower complaint would have normally been forwarded by the U.S. intelligence community to members of the Democrat-controlled Congress, keeping its contents secret.

FILE – Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, left, gestures next to U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, during a bilateral meeting in Warsaw, Poland, Sept. 1, 2019.

However a series of leaks have indicated the complaint is based on multiple events, including the July telephone conversation between Trump and Zelenskiy, two people familiar with the matter said. The sources were granted anonymity in order to discuss the issue.
One person briefed on the call said said Trump urged Zelenskiy to investigate Hunter Biden, who served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company. The controversy unfolded amid a White House-ordered delay in the delivery of lethal military assistance to Ukraine, but the unnamed source was quoted saying Trump did not mention U.S. aid in his conversation with Zelenskiiy.

Biden said late Friday that if the reports are accurate, “then there is truly no bottom to President Trump’s willingness to abuse his power and abase our country.” Biden also called on Trump to disclose the transcript of his conversation with Zelenskiy so “the American people can judge for themselves.”

The intelligence community inspector general has described the whistleblower’s August 12 complaint as “serious” and “urgent,” conditions that would normally require him to forward the complaint to Congress. Trump has characterized the complaint as “just another political hack job.”

The standoff  raises new questions about the extent to which Trump’s appointees, including the acting director of national intelligence Joseph Maguire, are protecting the Republican president from congressional oversight.

Democrats maintain the administration is legally required to give Congress access to the complaint. House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff said any attempt by Trump to urge a foreign country to “dig up dirt” on a political foe while withholding aid is inappropriate.

“No explicit quid pro quo is necessary to betray your country,” Schiff tweeted Friday.

House Democrats are also battling the administration for access to witnesses and documents in ongoing impeachment investigations.

The whistleblower case has lawmakers investigating whether Giuliani traveled to Ukraine to pressure the government to help Trump’s reelection chances by investigating Hunter Biden and whether his father intervened in the country’s politics to help his son’s business.

Late in the administration of then-President Barack Obama in 2016, Joe Biden was sent to Kiev armed with a threat to withhold billions of dollars in government loan guarantees unless the country cracked down on corruption. Biden’s primary demand was to fire the chief prosecutor at the time, Viktor Shokin, for ineffectiveness. Shokin was fired shortly thereafter.

But before the vice president arrived in Kiev, Shokin had already opened an investigation into Burisma Holdings, a natural gas company on which Hunter was a board member receiving $50,000 per month. Burisma is owned by Mykola Zlochevsky, a Ukrainian businessman and politician.

While Republicans are suggesting the senior Biden used the loan money as leverage force an end to the Bursima investigation, Bloomberg News, citing a former Ukrainian official and Ukranian documents, reported that the probe had been dormant since 2015, long before Biden’s trip to Kyiv.

Giuliani  had meetings this year in New York with Shokin’s successor, Yuriy Lutsenko. Around the same time, Ukraine revived the case against Burisma. The New York Times reported Lutsenko relaunched the probe to “curry favor from the Trump administration for his boss and ally.”

The reported timeline appears to be more consistent with Biden’s contention that he was pushing for the ouster of a prosecutor who was failing to rein in rampant corruption, instead of seeking the firing of a prosecutor threatening a company linked to his son.

During a CNN interview Thursday,  Giuliani initially said “No” when asked if he had asked Ukraine to investigate Biden, but said seconds later, “of course I did.”



Somali Pirates Free Iranian Hostage Captured in 2015

An Iranian man held by Somali pirates for more than four years was flown to Ethiopia’s capital Saturday after his captors released him because he needed urgent medical care.

The release of Mohammad Shariff Panahandeh means just three hostages remain in the custody of Somali pirates, according to the Hostage Support Partnership, the charity that negotiated his release.

His health had deteriorated significantly in recent weeks, lending new urgency to efforts to secure his freedom, John Steed of the Hostage Support Partnership told AFP on Saturday.

“He’s severely malnourished. He lost a huge amount of weight. It reminded me of someone who’s just been released from Belsen [a Nazi] concentration camp,” Steed said.

Shariff is also suffering from “severe stomach problems and internal bleeding,” Steed said.

Shariff arrived in Addis Ababa on an Ethiopian Airlines flight from the city of Garowe. He will receive some medical care in Ethiopia before being flown home to Iran, Steed said.

Shariff was captured with three other men in March 2015 after an attack on the Iranian fishing vessel FV Siraj.

Officials with the Iranian embassy in Addis Ababa could not be reached for comment Saturday.

Steed said no ransom was paid for Shariff, but that the pirates were likely to try to hold out for large sums before letting the other three go.  

In a statement announcing Shariff’s release, the Hostage Support Partnership said Somali community leaders had been crucial in the negotiations.

Steed said the same kind of local involvement would likely be needed in the case of the final three hostages.

“We need to get them out,” he said.

Pirate attacks on maritime vessels off the Somali coast peaked at 176 in 2011 before falling off sharply in recent years.




Tunisia Turns The Page on Ben Ali

With the burial in Saudi exile Saturday of former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia is turning the page on more than two decades of nepotism and repression with a large dose of indifference.

Forced out of Tunisia on January 14, 2011, by weeks of popular outrage spurred by the self-immolation of a market trader protesting police harassment and unemployment, Ben Ali died on Thursday in the Saudi city of Jeddah.

His death did not feature especially heavily either in the news or the conversations of ordinary Tunisians, in a country that is in the midst of elections.

Reflecting the pluralism that has emerged since Ben Ali’s downfall, two non-establishment candidates made it through the first round of a presidential poll held last Sunday — one a socially conservative academic committed to radical decentralisation of power, the other a populist media magnate currently behind bars.

The funeral of the former president took place in the Muslim holy city of Medina in Saudi Arabia on Saturday, an AFP photographer said. He was laid to rest at Al-Baqi cemetery next to the Prophet Mohammed’s mosque and a place of great reverence for Muslims.

His body, covered by a green shroud, was carried to his final resting place by a procession of about a dozen men.

Some dressed in white, and others in suits, they crossed a marble forecourt in the shadow of the green dome of the mosque, before entering the cemetery.

‘History will judge him’

Some of his family were to receive condolences on Sunday in an upmarket suburb of Tunis, according to a small notice published in La Presse newspaper.

The ex-leader’s wife, Leila Trabesli, who has led a comfortable and discreet life in exile with daughters Nesrine and Halima — along with son Mohamed — has little incentive to return home.

She faces heavy sentences for embezzlement, alongside possession of weapons, drugs and archaeological artifacts. 

Ben Ali himself was sentenced several times to life in prison, including for the bloody suppression of protests in the last weeks of his autocratic rule, which killed more than 300 people.

He never faced justice.

“The second president of the Tunisian republic henceforth belongs to history, and history will judge him”, said his Lebanese lawyer Akram Azouri.

Several trials are ongoing, notably under the auspices of the Truth and Dignity Commission, which is mandated to shine a light on violations committed between 1955 and 2013.

The commission has collected witness testimony, documents and information from official archives so that those implicated in serious abuses can be judged by special courts.

Fourteen public hearings have meanwhile brought a measure of closure for relatives of the disappeared.

They have also seen public testimony on the network of corruption established by Ben Ali’s nephew, Imed Trabelsi, who was a pillar of the regime.

Yachts, cars, businesses

The extended family of Ben Ali’s hated wife captured vast swathes of the economy, as detailed by the World Bank in a 2014 report.

The global lender said that by the end of 2010, the 114 people who comprised the Ben Ali clan controlled 220 businesses that hoovered up more than a fifth of all private sector profits.

When he was forced from power, hundreds of businesses and properties, along with luxury cars and jewellery hoarded by the Ben Ali family, were impounded through a state holding company.  

That firm — Karama Holding — still owns 51 percent of telecom company Orange’s Tunisia operations, a majority of the country’s biggest cement company, and swathes of agricultural land and palaces.

The Tunisian state is still far from retrieving all of the pillaged funds.

One highly visible symbol of the rot that set in under Ben Ali is a collection of rusting yachts gathered at the port of Sidi Bou Said.

Luxury cars and even a camper van, offered for sale last year, have failed to garner interest.

Persistent social and economic problems have fed nostalgia in some quarters for the Ben Ali era but that is a limited phenomenon.

Abir Moussi, the only candidate to overtly defend the record of Ben Ali’s former ruling party, came a distant ninth in last Sunday’s presidential election first round with four percent of the vote.





Small But Rare Protests in Egypt After Online Call for Dissent

Hundreds protested in central Cairo and several other Egyptian cities late on Friday against President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, responding to an online call for a demonstration against government corruption, witnesses said.

Protests have become very rare in Egypt following a broad crackdown on dissent under Sisi, who took power after the overthrow of the former Islamist president Mohamed Mursi in 2013 following mass protests against his rule.

Security forces moved to disperse the small and scattered crowds in Cairo using tear gas but many young people stayed on the streets in the center of the capital, shouting “Leave Sisi,” Reuters reporters at the scene said.

Police arrested some of the demonstrators, witnesses said.

Small protests were also held in Alexandria on the Mediterranean coast, Suez on the Red Sea as well as the Nile Delta textile town of Mahalla el-Kubra, about 110 km (68 miles) north of Cairo, according to residents and videos posted online.

There was a heavy security presence in downtown Cairo and on Tahrir Square where mass protests started in 2011 which toppled veteran ruler Hosni Mubarak.

Authorities could not be immediately reached to comment.

State TV did not cover the incidents.

A pro-government TV anchor said only a small group of protesters had gathered in central Cairo to take videos and selfies before leaving the scene. Another pro-government channel said the situation around the Tahrir Square was quiet.

Mohamed Ali, a building contractor and actor turned political activist who lives in Spain, called in a series of videos for the protest after accusing Sisi and the military of corruption.

Last Saturday, Sisi dismissed the claims as “lies and slander.”

Sisi was first elected in 2014 with 97% of the vote, and re-elected four years later with the same percentage, in a vote in which the only other candidate was an ardent Sisi supporter.

His popularity has been dented by economic austerity measures.

Sisi’s supporters say dissent must be quashed to stabilize Egypt, after a 2011 uprising and the unrest that followed, including an Islamist insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula that has killed hundreds of police, soldiers and civilians.

They also credit him with economic reforms agreed with the International Monetary Fund.