Month: August 2019

Knife Attack Kills 1, Injures 9 Near Lyon; Suspect Detained 

Police detained an Afghan man seeking asylum in France after one person was fatally stabbed and nine others injured Saturday outside a subway station near Lyon, authorities said. The reason for the attack was unclear. 
The assailant was a 33-year-old Afghan citizen who had applied for asylum in France and was awaiting a response, according to a national police official. The attacker provided contradictory information to police, but the attack did not appear to be terrorism-related, two French officials told The Associated Press. 
The victim who died was a 19-year-old man, and it was unclear whether he knew the attacker, according to local police. Three of the injured were in critical condition, officials said. 
The subway station in the Lyon suburb of Villeurbanne was cordoned off, with police combing the area. 
A manhunt was initially launched for a second attacker. Police later determined that the detained man was the main suspect, two officials said, but police were still looking for possible accomplices. The officials were not authorized to be publicly named because of French government policy. 
The national anti-terrorism prosecutor’s office has not been asked to participate in the investigation at this stage. An official with the Lyon regional administration said national security forces weren’t involved in the search, which included a few dozen local police officers and a helicopter. 
France remains on high alert after several deadly Islamic extremist attacks in 2015 and 2016. 


Thousands Protest British PM’s Move to Suspend Parliament 

Thousands of people across Britain and Northern Ireland protested on Saturday against Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend Parliament for about a month before the deadline for the country to leave the European Union. 
Johnson has pledged to take Britain out of the EU on Oct. 31 with or without a deal on future relations with the bloc. The move to shut Parliament for around a month in the period before that will hinder efforts by his opponents to stop him. About 2,000 people gathered outside his office in Downing Street, chanting: “Liar Johnson, shame on you!” 
A sign read: “#StopTheCoup. Defend our Democracy. Save our future.” 

Nothing abnormal

The government says it is usual for Parliament to be suspended before a new prime minister outlines his policy program in a queen’s speech, now scheduled for Oct. 14. His supporters also say Parliament usually breaks in late September, when the main political parties hold their annual conferences. 
But his critics say the suspension, known as a prorogation, is unusually long and describe the move as a thinly veiled attempt to reduce the time that lawmakers will have to debate before Britain leaves the EU at the end of October. 
Opposition lawmakers want to prevent the shutdown of Parliament and pass legislation to avoid a no-deal Brexit when they return from summer recess on Tuesday. 
Protests were scheduled in other major cities in the four nations of the United Kingdom, comprising England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.  

A crowd gathers to protest against British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend Parliament, in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Aug. 31, 2019.

About 100 people protested outside the city hall in Belfast, the capital of the Northern Ireland, which has become a particular focus in the Brexit negotiations because it has the United Kingdom’s only land border with the European Union. 
The “backstop” insurance policy, part of the withdrawal agreement negotiated between the EU and Britain’s former prime minister and which aims to keep the border with Ireland open, has become the main sticking point in negotiations. 
Johnson wants the backstop removed, saying it could leave Northern Ireland operating under different regulatory rules than the rest of the United Kingdom. The EU and Ireland say Britain has yet to come up with acceptable alternatives. 

Court case

A court case being heard in Belfast next week aims to block Johnson’s suspension of Parliament on the ground that a no-deal Brexit would breach the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to the British-run province of Northern Ireland. 
Protesters said the government had failed to consider the importance of the border issue. 
“The thing that scares me most is they have no appreciation of what is important for Northern Ireland. We are not on their radar,” said Graham Glendinning, 49, a software worker. “The border means nothing to them and they don’t give two hoots about it.” 


Trump Tweets, Golfs Amid Hurricane Preparations

After canceling a trip to Poland to stay stateside to oversee the federal government’s response to an approaching hurricane, President Donald Trump took time out to golf and to send a thinly veiled warning to his ousted Oval Office gatekeeper.

The president, on Saturday morning, was flown on Marine One from Camp David in Maryland to his Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Virginia.
Camp David has a driving range and a single golf hole with multiple tees, but the president, keeping to his weekend routine when the weather is fair, chose to head to the nearest of his private 18-hole courses.

Before departing the presidential retreat, which he rarely has used, Trump dispatched a blizzard of tweets – at a rate of nearly one per minute over an hour – on his personal @realDonaldTrump account.

Some of his tweets referenced Hurricane Dorian, a Category 4 storm poised to damage the southeastern U.S. coast, with Trump noting it could pose more of a threat to South Carolina and Georgia than the original forecast of landfall in Florida.

Looking like our great South Carolina could get hit MUCH harder than first thought. Georgia and North Carolina also. It’s moving around and very hard to predict, except that it is one of the biggest and strongest (and really wide) that we have seen in decades. Be safe!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 31, 2019

“He’s being briefed every hour” about the hurricane, according to White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham.

Amid continuing questions about why Trump postponed his trip to Poland for a hurricane that is not expected to hit any of the United States until after the time the president would have returned from Europe, Grisham said, “Obviously, being here domestically is better. … We’re more nimble and all his agencies are here.” 

After time at his golf course, Trump was to receive another briefing, back at Camp David, about the hurricane.

On Sunday, Trump is scheduled to return to the White House and then visit the headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency in downtown Washington.

FILE – President Donald Trump’s personal secretary Madeleine Westerhout stands outside the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, April 2, 2018.

A pair of Saturday tweets by Trump focused on the abrupt departure of Oval Office gatekeeper Madeleine Westerhout, who had dished gossip to a group of reporters during an off-the-record dinner and drinking session about the president’s eating habits. She also disparaged daughter Tiffany Trump, claiming the president does not like being photographed with her because he thinks she is overweight.

Book publishers reportedly have been seeking to contact Westerhout after she was not permitted to return on Friday to her job as a personal assistant to the president.

Trump, on Twitter, said Westerhout had signed a confidentially agreement, but “I don’t think there would ever be reason to use it. She called me yesterday to apologize, had a bad night. I fully understood and forgave her! I love Tiffany, doing great!”

While Madeleine Westerhout has a fully enforceable confidentiality agreement, she is a very good person and I don’t think there would ever be reason to use it. She called me yesterday to apologize, had a bad night. I fully understood and forgave her! I love Tiffany, doing great!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 31, 2019

In a subsequent tweet, the president claimed he is “currently suing several people for violating their confidentiality agreements,” including former White House aide Omarosa Manigault Newman, who was fired after one year as the communications director in the White House Office of Public Liaison.

…Yes, I am currently suing various people for violating their confidentiality agreements. Disgusting and foul mouthed Omarosa is one. I gave her every break, despite the fact that she was despised by everyone, and she went for some cheap money from a book. Numerous others also!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 31, 2019

A number of former federal lawyers and private attorneys rebutted Trump on Twitter, asserting that the non-disclosure agreements are not legally enforceable unless classified information is revealed.

Trump himself is facing some criticism about revealing sensitive U.S. government information after he tweeted on Friday a detailed photograph of a launchpad explosion of an Iranian rocket that was set to put a satellite into space.  

Analysts say the public release of an image with such resolution is unprecedented and was probably taken by a KH-11 American spy satellite known as USA-224.

“We had a photo and I released it, which I have the absolute right to do,” Trump told reporters on Friday.

U.S. presidents are able to declassify information at their discretion – the most prominent example being John Kennedy’s decision in 1962 to make public pictures taken by a U-2 spy plane that revealed Soviets troops were placing missiles in Cuba aimed at the United States.



9 FARC Rebels Killed in Raid by Colombian Military

The Colombian military has killed nine rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces in Colombia (FARC), President Ivan Duque said.

A FARC commander and eight other guerrillas were killed in a bombing raid in southern Colombia on Friday, just days after the group announced it was taking up arms again to ensure their political rights under an historic peace agreement.

Duque said the attack occurred in the municipality of San Vicente del Caguan, located in the province of Caqueta, after he authorized a military operation in rural areas in the southern part of the country.

Duque said Friday’s bombing sends “a clear message” to FARC members to lay down their weapons.

Among those killed was a rebel known by his alias, Gildardo Cucho, a member of a group led by former FARC chief negotiator Luciano Marin, who was trying to recruit potential rebels for a new guerrilla movement.

On Thursday, former FARC commander Ivan Marquez announced in a video that a new offensive would be launched, three years after FARC signed a peace deal with the government, ending five decades of armed conflict in the South American country.

“This is the continuation of the rebel fight in answer to the betrayal of the state,” Marquez, in a 32-minute YouTube video. “We were never beaten or defeated ideologically, so the struggle continues.”

Marquez, a former chief rebel negotiator, appeared alongside some 20 heavily armed guerrillas when he made the announcement, which comes amid severe challenges to the complex peace agreement.

In response to the FARC announcement, Duque said “Colombia takes no threats. Not of any nature.”

Colombia’s peace tribunal also has issued arrest warrants for Marquez and the others who have pledged to take up the insurgency again.

President Duque is offering an $863,000 reward for information leading to the capture of anyone who appeared in the YouTube video, according to Reuters.

Hundreds of former rebels and human rights activists have been murdered since the accord was signed.  That, coupled with delays in funding for economic efforts by former rebels — has exacerbated deep political divisions within the country.

Marquez said the group’s objective is to ensure the installation of a government that will promote peace. Marquez said the group will fight corruption and fracking (the hydraulic fracturing crude oil extraction process) and demand payments from participants in illicit economies and from multinational corporations.

About 7,000 rebels surrendered their weapons to United Nations observers as part of the agreement that was negotiated with the support of the United States, Cuba and Norway. But smaller rebel groups and drug traffickers have filled the void, leaving many citizens frustrated with the slow pace of implementing the agreement.

Security sources estimate the force commanded by Marquez could number 2,200 fighters.



Thousands March in Moscow Protest Defying Authorities

Current Time TV is a Russian-language network led by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA.

MOSCOW — Thousands of Russians defied authorities and marched in central Moscow, ignoring officials’ warnings and pressing demands to let independent candidates run in upcoming city council elections.

Police did not interfere with the August 31 protest, which was markedly smaller than previous ones.

However, camouflaged officers linked arms to keep marchers out of the road when demonstrators arrived at Pushkin Square — a symbolically important public park closer to the Kremlin. A heavy presence of detention buses and water-cannon trucks were visible on nearby side streets.

Neither police nor independent watchdogs reported any arrests or detentions from the action — in contrast to other recent protests in which thousands were detained, sometimes violently.

The August 31 action was the latest in a series of confrontations between liberal activists, and Moscow city authorities — and the Kremlin.

Demonstrators clapped and chanted “Russia Will Be Free!” and “Down With The Tsar!” (in a reference to President Vladimir Putin, who has been in power in Russia for two decades), as they walked along a leafy boulevard just a few kilometers north of the Kremlin.

A leading opposition figure and one of the organizers of the march, Lyubov Sobol, led people chanting “Freedom For Political Prisoners.”

“People of different ages have come out because everyone wants justice. They want Russia to be free and happy and to not drown in lawlessness and mayhem. We demand this and we will not back down,” she told reporters.

At Pushkin Square, the ending point for the march, participants milled around, occasionally yelling political chants. One group entered the crowd carrying a large banner citing the clause in the constitution that gives Russians the right to gather peacefully, and yelled “We Need Another Russia!”

Unofficial estimates put the crowd size in the low thousands.

Protesters also yelled “Let Them Through!” as they marched — a reference to the City Duma elections scheduled for Sept. 8.

The refusal by election officials to register some independent candidates has been the impetus for the protests that have been held weekly since mid-July.

However, they’ve also turned into a major challenge for the Kremlin and a reflection of growing impatience among Russians with President Vladimir Putin.

The weekly protests first erupted in July as election authorities blocked some independent candidates from registering to run on September 8.

The initial rallies drew tens of thousands of people in some of the largest political demonstrations seen in the country since 2012. Some, though not all, were authorized by officials ahead of time.

Police have violently dispersed several of the earlier demonstrations, some of which authorities described as “illegal mass gatherings.” More than 2,000 people have been detained, some preemptively, drawing international condemnation.



Twitter CEO Account Hacked, Offensive Tweets Posted

Twitter said Friday the account of chief executive Jack Dorsey had been “compromised” after a series of erratic and offensive messages were posted.

The tweets containing racial slurs and suggestions about a bomb showed up around 2000 GMT on the @jack account of the founder of the short messaging service before being deleted.

Some of the tweets contained the hashtag #ChucklingSquad, which was believed to indicate the identity of the hacker group. The same calling card was left behind during recent hacks of other high-profile social media personalities.

The messages contained racial epithets, and included a retweet of a message supporting Nazi Germany.

“We’re aware that @jack was compromised and (are) investigating what happened,” a Twitter spokesperson said.

Tweets up for 30 minutes

The San Francisco-based firm followed up midafternoon with a Twitter post saying Dorsey’s account was secured and there was “no indication that Twitter’s systems have been compromised.”

It appeared that tweets posted on Dorsey’s account by the hacker were up for about a half-hour before they were removed.

Pinned atop Dorsey’s account was a tweet from early last year saying: “We’re committing Twitter to help increase the collective health, openness, and civility of public conversation, and to hold ourselves publicly accountable towards progress.”

A barrage of comments fired off on the platform questioned why the Twitter co-founder didn’t secure his account with two-factor authentication, and how disturbing a sign it was that the service wasn’t to keep its own chief safe on the platform.

“If you can’t protect Jack, you can’t protect … jack,” one Twitter user quipped.

The Twitter logo is displayed above a trading post on the floor of the NY Stock Exchange, Feb. 8, 2018.

Cleaning up content

The news comes with Dorsey and Twitter moving aggressively to clean up offensive and inappropriate content as part of a focus on “safety.”

“This might be the only way to get rid of racist tweets on this platform,” a Twitter user commented.

British-based security consultant Graham Cluley said the incident highlighted the importance of two-factor authentication, where a user must confirm the account via an external service.

“Everyone should ensure they have 2FA enabled, use unique password, and double check what apps they’ve linked to their accounts,” Cluley tweeted. “Hard to say at moment how he was compromised, but one of those reasons most likely.”


Cybersecurity researcher Kevin Beaumont said the account appeared to have been hijacked “via a third party called Cloudhopper, which Twitter acquired about 10 years ago and had access to his account.”

Cloudhopper enables users to send tweets on their phones via SMS.

University of Hartford communications professor Adam Chiara was keen to learn whether the breach resulted from Dorsey’s negligence or a breakdown of security at Twitter.

“While it’s tempting to laugh at the irony of it, the real-world consequences don’t make it funny,” Chiara said of Dorsey’s account being hacked. “Twitter can tell us that they are becoming more diligent with our privacy and security, but actions speak louder than words.”

The incident raised fresh concerns about how social media users, even prominent ones, can have their accounts compromised and used for misinformation, a point highlighted by Canadian member of parliament Michelle Rempel Garner.

“Between bots, trolls and abuse, I’ve been skeptical about @Twitter as a viable platform for some time now,” Rempel Garner wrote. “But the fact it took the platform’s owner (@jack) about 30 min to get his hacked account under control is deeply problematic, and makes me worry as an elected official.”


Valerie Harper, TV’s ‘Rhoda,’ Dies at 80

Valerie Harper, who scored guffaws and stole hearts as Rhoda Morgenstern on back-to-back hit sitcoms in the 1970s, has died. She was 80. 
Longtime family friend Dan Watt confirmed Harper died Friday, adding the family wasn’t immediately releasing any further details.  

Harper was a breakout star playing the lovable sidekick on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” then as the funny leading lady of the spinoff series “Rhoda.” 
In March 2013, she revealed that she had been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. She had battled lung cancer in 2009, and her husband-manager said recently that he’d been advised to place her in hospice. 
Harper appeared on Broadway and in feature films, including “Freebie and the Bean” and “Chapter Two.” 


Trial in 9/11 Case at Guantanamo to Start in Early 2021

A military judge set a date Friday in early 2021 for the start of the long-stalled war crimes trial of five men being held at the Guantanamo Bay prison on charges of planning and aiding the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Air Force Col. W. Shane Cohen set the start date in an order setting motion and evidentiary deadlines in a case that has been bogged down in pretrial litigation. The five defendants were arraigned in May 2012.

In setting the Jan. 11, 2021, start, Cohen noted that the trial at the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, “will face a host of administrative and logistics challenges.”

The U.S. has charged the five with war crimes that include terrorism, hijacking and nearly 3,000 counts of murder for their alleged roles planning and providing logistical support to the Sept. 11 plot. They could get the death penalty if convicted at the military commission, which combines elements of civilian and military law.

The five defendants include Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, a senior al-Qaida figure who has portrayed himself as the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks and other terrorist plots.

Mohammad and his four co-defendants have been held at Guantanamo since September 2006 after several years in clandestine CIA detention facilities following their capture.


Tanzanian Journalist’s Lawyer Presses for Trial, Medical Care

Peter Clottey of VOA’s English to Africa service contributed to this report.

A lawyer for Tanzanian investigative journalist Erick Kabendera on Friday asked that he get a speedy trial and medical attention after more than four weeks of incarceration.

Appearing with Kabendera at a hearing in magistrate’s court in Dar es Salaam, attorney Jebra Kambole asked that the journalist’s case be resolved quickly. It was adjourned for the third time until Sept. 12, according to Reuters news service, reportedly because the prosecution’s investigation is continuing.

Kabendera was arrested at his home July 29 over what authorities at the time said were problems with his citizenship. He subsequently was charged with involvement in organized crime, money laundering and tax evasion.

Kabendera is being held at Segerea prison on the city’s outskirts.

Kambole later told VOA, in a phone interview, that he had asked prison authorities to allow the journalist to be taken to a state hospital for treatment of respiratory and leg problems that have developed during his incarceration.

“The last time we sit and talk,” Kambole said, the journalist had experienced faintness and leg numbness. “He cannot walk properly.”

Kabendera has been critical of President John Magufuli’s administration and the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi party in stories for The Guardian, The East African and The Times of London.

On Thursday, ahead of the court hearing, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) called for authorities to drop all charges against Kandera.

In a statement, the IFJ cited its concern “that the journalist’s arrest and the confused prosecution based on spurious charges are an attempt to hide what merely is a ruthless retaliation against Kabendera for his reporting.”

After Kabendera’s arrest, the United States and Britain raised concerns about the “steady erosion of due process” in the east African country. Their governments put out a joint statement raising concern about “the irregular handling of the arrest, detention and indictment” of Kabendera.


Teen Climate Activist Thunberg Leads Rally at UN

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg joined several hundred other young people Friday outside the United Nations to demand action on global warming. 
To chants of “Greta! Greta!” the petite 16-year-old climate rock star made her way through a sea of young people, many of whom said they had drawn inspiration from her activism. 
She rose to fame last year after she started skipping school on Fridays, leading strikes over the lack of action on climate change. 
Greta arrived in New York on Wednesday, ahead of a Sept. 21 Youth Climate Summit at the United Nations, which she will address. Adult leaders will meet two days later to have a climate summit of their own. 
She has said she will not fly because air travel leaves too big a carbon footprint, and she put her principles to the test, crossing the Atlantic in a zero-emissions, no-frills sailboat with her father and a small crew. The trip took two weeks and the seas were often rough. 
On Friday, she looked tired and perhaps a bit overwhelmed by the large and enthusiastic crowd and the aggressive pack of photographers and reporters. She answered a few questions, but her comments were mostly inaudible because there was no sound system and she is not one to shout her message. But it did not dampen the enthusiasm of the many young people who had come to see her.  

Youths gather Aug. 30, 3019, outside the United Nations in New York to demand action on global warming. (M. Besheer/VOA)

“We came today because we want to support Greta,” 12-year old Tilly told VOA. She had a sturdy grip on the hand of her 8-year old sister, Izzy. Tilly noted that her family recycles.  
Olivia, 15, from Long Island, New York, came by commuter train with her friend Defna, also 15, to see Greta. Olivia said her school is very conservative and climate change is not a subject that gets much attention. She wants to change that. 
“We want to start being a voice for our school, because we have to, because no one else is,” Olivia said. “We don’t have any clubs about the environment. We don’t have anything. We are trying to start, we have to, because people need to know about it, because they think it’s not as bad as it is.” 
This youth movement is angry at world leaders and adults who they think are not taking rising atmospheric temperatures, melting ice caps and greenhouse gas emissions seriously. 
“They [adults] have to strike with us, definitely,” Defna said. “And people who do not believe in the issue have to come here and support the kids, because it is our future.” 

A speaker addresses young climate activists outside the United Nations in New York, Aug. 30, 2019. The rally preceded a Sept. 21 Youth Climate Summit at the U.N.; adults will meet two days later for a climate summit of their own. (M. Besheer/VOA)

Demonstrators carried signs that warned, “Protect the planet because your life depends on it,” “Our house is on fire,” and messages to the grownups that included, “Act now or we will!” 
Greta received an impromptu invitation to meet with the president of the U.N. General Assembly, María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés. She took two of the young New York activists with her, Alexandria Villasenor, 14 and Xiye Bastida, 17. 
As they entered the U.N. building, Thunberg noted, “There is a lot of air conditioning.” 

‘Tipping point’
In her meeting, she spoke of the upcoming summit.  
“I think this U.N. summit needs to be some kind of breaking point, tipping point, where people start to realize what is actually going on,” Thunberg said. “And, so we have high expectations in you, too, and all member states to deliver. And we are going to try to do our part to make sure that they have all eyes on them and they have put the pressure on them so they cannot continue to ignore it.” 
Espinosa told VOA that she was impressed with Thunberg because of all that she has done and for “her commitment, strength and intelligence.” 
She said they discussed how governments, the private sector, citizens and youth all have roles to play to change the tide of global warming.  
Also Friday, a Brazilian delegation met with U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House, “to thank [him] for his support during the crisis surrounding the fires in the Amazon rainforest.” 
The meeting was not previously announced in the president’s daily schedule but was tweeted by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro late Thursday.

– Nosso Chanceler @ernestofaraujo e o Deputado Eduardo @BolsonaroSP serão recebidos, nessa sexta-feira, pelo Presidente @realDonaldTrump na Casa Branca em Washington.

— Jair M. Bolsonaro (@jairbolsonaro) August 29, 2019

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Minister of Foreign Affairs Ernesto Araújo downplayed the fires. “It’s basically on average of the last years, and Brazil is already controlling the fires,” he said. 
More than 75,000 fires covering the Amazon region have been detected this year, with many of them coming this month. Experts have blamed farmers and ranchers for the fires, accusing them of setting them to clear lands for their operations.  
About 60% of the Amazon region is in Brazil. The vast rainforest also extends into Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana.  
At the Group of Seven summit in Biarritz, France, last weekend, French President Emmanuel Macron and Bolsonaro went head to head several times over the Amazon fires issue. 


US Space Command Launched at White House Ceremony

The United States Space Command officially launched Thursday at a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden. The military hopes the new command will improve the defense of U.S. interests in outer space, and the administration hopes it also will lead to the creation of a new Space Force. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb has the details.


Ten Democrats Set to Debate Next Month in Houston

The lineup is now set for the next Democratic presidential debate in September. A total of 10 Democratic contenders qualified for the debate in Houston, Sept. 12, half the number of the previous two debates that were held over two nights. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more on who is in the next debate and what it means for the race to pick a Democratic presidential nominee.


Prospects Dim for Millions of Refugee Children Who Aren’t in School

A report by the U.N. refugee agency finds more than half of the world’s refugee children, about 3.7 million, do not go to school and will not gain the skills needed to build a productive future.

The statistics on education for refugee children worsen as the children grow older. The report finds 63% of refugee children go to primary school, compared to 91% globally. But that dwindles to only 24% of refugee adolescents getting a secondary education, compared to 84% globally.

Investing in the future

The U.N. refugee agency says lack of money is keeping refugee children out of school. The head of the Global Communications Service and UNHCR spokeswoman, Melissa Fleming, calls the failure to invest in refugee education shortsighted. She says this is not only sad, but also foolish.

“Not investing in refugees, people who have fled warzones, people who have fled countries where the world is interested in the future of peace is not investing—very simply—in the future of its people … who are interested in reconciliation and not revenge.”

The UNHCR is backing a new initiative aimed at kick-starting secondary education for refugees. The initiative will seek to construct and refurbish schools, train teachers and provide financial support to refugee families to cover the expenses of sending their children to school.

Secondary education

Mamadou Dian Balde is UNHCR deputy director of the Department of Resilience and Solutions. He tells VOA some pilot projects on secondary education for refugee adolescents will be conducted before the initiative gets fully underway.

“We are going to start in a very … in a very, I think, resolute manner in a given number of countries in the eastern Horn of Africa, in Asia and then move into a greater number of countries—also being aware of the scarcity of resources in such an initiative.”

The UNHCR says bringing this initiative to fruition will take vast sums of money. But an initial outlay of $250 million will get moving the process of improving refugee enrollment in secondary education.


In India’s Assam State, a Campaign against Illegal Immigrants Jeopardizes Millions

In India’s northeastern Assam state, anxiety and panic is mounting among nearly four million people who fear they may no longer count as Indian citizens although many have lived in the country for decades.

As part of a campaign to root out illegal immigrants, authorities will publish on Saturday a final list of the state’s bonafide citizens.

The hundreds of thousands whose names were excluded from a preliminary list last July have scrambled through a bureaucratic maze for the past year, trying to dig out documents from government offices or engaging lawyers they often cannot afford to fight for their inclusion in the citizens’ register.

Waiting to hear their fate, they fear being packed to detention camps or becoming “stateless” and stripped of benefits such as voting rights.

“People are going around with bundles of hope, wrapped in plastic, waiting for hearings, lining up to get on to the register,” says Sanjoy Hazarika, international director of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative and an Assamese scholar.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses a youth rally organized by the Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) ahead of Assam state elections in Gauhati, India, Jan. 19, 2016.

The process to identify illegal immigrants has the strong backing of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government, although it was mandated before they came to power by a Supreme Court order to update the state’s citizens’ list. Assam had been wracked by an “anti-foreigner movement” in the 1980’s as indigenous communities complained of being swamped by hundreds of thousands of mostly Muslim, illegal migrants from neighboring Bangladesh.

Tracing roots to before 1971

The state’s 33 million residents, many poor and illiterate, were called on to show documentation that they or their ancestors had lived in Assam before Bangladesh’s independence in March 1971. It turned out to be a veritable nightmare for many, say human rights activists.

“Can you imagine working class people like rickshaw pullers keeping with documents dating back 50 years? It’s an incredibly unfair and slanted process where the poor find themselves at the wrong end of the process,” says Colin Gonsalves, a senior lawyer and founder of Human Rights Law Network, who visited Assam to hear about the travails of people running from pillar to post to prove they are of Indian heritage.

Poor people such as daily wage workers in India often have no bank accounts or do not own property.

Critics also point out that the campaign is not targeting recent immigrants but those that may have migrated decades ago.

“Fifty years you have been here, you never thought you would be questioned. You have children, some of them have grandchildren and suddenly you are asked to prove you are Indian,” says Gonsalves. “It’s a thoroughly arbitrary and a biased system.”

Indian children stand by a fence on the India-Bangladesh border at Jhalchar, in the northeastern Indian state of Assam.

The arbitrariness was highlighted when a war veteran, Mohammed Sanaullah was identified as a “foreigner” in May and packed off to a detention camp – he was released days later by the state’s High Court on bail when the case made headlines.

Muslims especially worried

Worries run specially high among Muslims in a state where they make up one third of the population, far higher than in other parts of India. And as many Muslims complain of bias against them, critics have slammed the BJP for exposing communal fault lines and using them as a political target to build their support base in the state.

Among those who have scrambled to prove that they are Indians are 70 members of school principal Mansur Ahmed’s maternal family whose names never made it to the citizens’ list published last year. The problem: his grandfather’s name appeared with different spellings on land records that date back to the 1930’s — a common problem in India, where record keeping in the past was never accurate.

Ahmed says the family has appeared over 12 times before officials hearing appeals. “They are becoming tired, appearing in interviews again and again. Still they are in confusion whether their name will come or not,” he says.  “It is very distressing for all people, specially Muslims, they are in great fear,”

Selling assets to prove citizenship

The BJP has strongly countered charges of anti-Muslim prejudice and pointed out that the 4 million who were excluded from the citizens’ list includes hundreds of thousands of Hindus also.

Many of these poor people have pledged their land or sold their farm animals as they frantically try to raise funds to prove that they are of Indian heritage, according to Mubarak Ali, a retired army soldier who is now with the voluntary group Citizens for Peace and Justice.

“They have to bribe to get documents and sometimes travel as far away as 400 kilometers to appeal at the designated office. And they have to carry all members of the family with them,” he says. “Poor people don’t have so many funds.”

And as tens of thousands stare at uncertainty, Sanjoy Hazarika points out that authorities have not prepared a roadmap on how to deal with those whose names do not figure on the list.

“What happens afterwards? I don’t think governments have addressed that issue very clearly except speaking in rhetorical flourishes,” he says. “The whole thing is a mess.”

Widespread criticism

Deportations are not an option — Bangladesh has said the citizenship exercise is India’s internal matter. But many fear being sent off to detention camps — six in the state already have about 1000 inmates and 10 more are being set up. Or they could just be left in limbo, with no access to rights such as voting, healthcare and education.

The government has said that those excluded can appeal to foreigners tribunals, whose numbers are being expanded. It is also promising legal aid to the poor although it may be difficult for poor people to negotiate long legal battles.

Despite widespread criticism of the controversial exercise, the government is not backing off. In fact, Home Minister Amit Shah, a close aide of Prime Minister Modi, who during an election rally called illegal immigrants “termites,” has said the campaign to root them out will go nationwide. So far Assam is the only state in the country to have a citizens list.

The contentious issue of citizenship has been further muddied by a BJP-backed proposed law that would grant citizenship rights to non Muslims such as Hindus and Sikhs from neighboring countries, but exclude Muslims.

For the time being, all eyes will be on the numbers that do not make it to Assam’s citizen’s register on Saturday — human rights activists worry it could add up to the a massive stateless population.


Hong Kong Democracy Activists Arrested, Protest Canceled

Hong Kong police arrested well-known activist Joshua Wong and another core member of a pro-democracy group Friday in a mounting crackdown on people involved in this summer’s protests.

Police also arrested Andy Chan, the leader of a pro-independence movement, at the airport Thursday night.

An appeals board also denied permission for a major march planned for Saturday, the fifth anniversary of a decision by China against allowing fully democratic elections for the leader of Hong Kong.

March canceled

The organizers said they were calling off the march.

“The first priority of the Civil Human Rights Front is to make sure that all of the participants who participate in our marches will be physically and legally safe. That’s our first priority,” said Bonnie Leung, a leader of the group. “And because of the decision made by the appeal board, we feel very sorry but we have no choice but to cancel the march.”

Hong Kong’s pro-democracy activist Agnes Chow attends a news conference at Japan National Press Club in Tokyo, June 10, 2019.

Police said that Wong and Agnes Chow are being investigated for their role in a June 21 unauthorized protest outside a police station. Both face potential charges of participating in the demonstration and inciting others to join it. Wong also is being investigated on suspicion of organizing it.

Wong is secretary-general of Demosisto and Chow is a member. He was one of the student leaders of the Umbrella Movement, the major pro-democracy demonstrations in 2014.

Demosisto first reported the arrests on its social media accounts, saying Wong was pushed into a private car as he was heading to a subway station around 7:30 a.m. and has been taken to police headquarters. It later said Chow had also been arrested, at her home.

Wong was released from prison in June after serving a two-month sentence related to that protest. He has been speaking out regularly in support of the pro-democracy protests that have racked Hong Kong this summer.

People hold placards and light up their smartphones as they take part in a rally at the financial district in Hong Kong, Aug. 28, 2019. Several thousand people protest against what they called sexual violence by the police.

Extradition legislation

The protests were set off by extradition legislation that would have allowed suspects to be sent to mainland China to face trial and expanded to the general concern that China is chipping away at the rights of Hong Kong residents.

The extradition bill was suspended but the protesters want it withdrawn and are also demanding democracy and an independent inquiry into police actions against protesters.

Police said that Chan was arrested under suspicion of rioting and attacking police.


Man Carrying Honey, Not Methamphetamine, Jailed for Months

A Maryland man visiting Jamaica decided to bring back some honey from his favorite roadside stand and was jailed for months on the false assumption he was smuggling methamphetamine.
News outlets report Leon Haughton was returning home from a family visit last Christmas when a drug-sniffing dog alerted to his bag at Baltimore’s airport. He figures it was the fast-food leftovers he was carrying.
He was arrested and remained jailed despite being granted work release, even after a Maryland state lab, weeks later, found no evidence of drugs in the honey. A follow-up test also was negative.

But because Haughton holds a green-card, it was either jail or potential deportation until his Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainer was removed. He spent 82 days behind bars for carrying honey.


Raqqa Slowly Recovers from IS Rule But Residents Fear Militants’ Return

Once the epicenter of the self-declared “Islamic State” that ruled over parts of Syria and Iraq, Raqqa is slowly recovering after its liberation even though occasional attacks by extremists are on the rise.  There is a lingering fear among Raqqa residents that IS sleeper cells will rise up and take their revenge against those who are now living in peace with the authorities that defeated the militants and put an end to the harsh version of Islamic Law that guided their rule.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Raqqa, Syria.


Furry Hero: UK Honors Dog Who Stopped White House Intruder

A four-legged hero who saved then-President Barack Obama from a White House intruder is now an award-winner in Britain.

Hurricane, a former Secret Service dog, has earned the Order of Merit from British veterinary charity PDSA. He’s the first foreigner to win the honor, to be bestowed at a London ceremony in October.

The Belgian Malinois intercepted an intruder who scaled the White House fence in October 2014. The intruder swung Hurricane around, punching and kicking him, but the dog dragged him to the ground, allowing Secret Service agents to intercept him. Obama, home at the time, was not harmed. 

Handler Marshall Mirarchi described Hurricane as a “legend” within the service after the attack. Mirarchi said injuries suffered in the incident contributed to Hurricane’s 2016 retirement from the Secret Service.