Afghan refugees’ problems in Pakistan compounded by fear of deportation

Washington/Peshawar, Pakistan — Every morning, Zakira prepares Afghan dumplings known as mantu and waits for her sons Arsalan, 12, and Alyan, 10, to return from school when they take the mantu to the nearby streets to sell.

“As refugees in Pakistan, this is how we earn a living,” said 38-year-old Zakira, who goes by her first name, adding that her husband, a laborer, “can’t often find a job.”

Zakira, a teacher, told VOA she can’t find a job in Pakistan because of her refugee status, and that is why her children work.

“It is difficult to see them selling food on the street instead of playing like other kids,” she said. “But how will we pay the bills if they don’t work?”

Zakira and her husband hold Afghan citizen cards issued in 2017 by Pakistan to Afghan refugees. More than 800,000 of the 3.1 million Afghan refugees have the cards.

“There are no benefits in having these cards, as no one would give me a job with it,” Zakira said.

Another 1.35 million are registered as Afghan refugees, while more than 800,000 Afghans in Pakistan are undocumented.

Around 600,000 new arrivals were in the country before the Pakistani government started deporting undocumented Afghan refugees.

Deportations started last year

Pakistan began deporting undocumented Afghan refugees last September. According to the United Nations, about 575,000 refugees were returned, of whom 89% were undocumented.

Many of the documented refugees are also afraid, as local media reported in March that the government of Pakistan was preparing for the repatriation of Afghan citizen cardholders.

Loqman Jalal, 27, who was born in Pakistan and holds a citizen card, told VOA that Afghan refugees, whether documented or undocumented, fear deportation.

“There is fear that in the second phase, Pakistan will deport refugees holding ACC and then PoR [proof of registration] holders,” said Jalal, a father of three who is concerned about their future.

In April, Pakistan extended the proof of registration cards for Afghan refugees to June 30.

The U.N., however, said an extension of three months would not lessen the uncertainty the Afghan refugees are facing in Pakistan.

Jalal said that the uncertainty makes it difficult for Afghan refugees in Pakistan “to live a normal life.”

“Everything changed for us after the regime change [Taliban’s takeover] in Afghanistan. We face many problems including the possibility of being deported,” he said.

In May, the U.N. said it assisted the return of 18,700 refugees from Pakistan in the first quarter of 2024, a 14-fold increase from the same period in 2023.

“Fear of arrest/deportation, abuse by police or state authorities related to the proof of registration cards extension in Pakistan, no added protection value of the PoR card, and night raids” were some of the reasons, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Sophie Jambazishvili, a senior protection officer for UNHCR in Kabul, told VOA that individuals with PoR cards, UNHRC asylum-seeker certificate holders and ACC holders were included among the refugees forcibly deported to Afghanistan.

“We have seen quite a variety of individuals with different legal backgrounds,” Jambazishvili said about those deported by Pakistani authorities.

She said that Pakistan has not started the second phase of deportations, which will include the ACC holders.

“I have to say that we thought that would start. Thankfully, it has not yet fully been implemented,” she said.

‘Nothing left in Afghanistan’

Many refugees, including Zakira, fear that Pakistan will start deporting registered refugees.

She said that after living for decades in Pakistan, they have “nothing left in Afghanistan.”

“I am sad for my children. If deported, I don’t know what would happen to them.”

Zheela Noori contributed to this report, which originated in VOA’s Afghan Service.

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Georgia looks to China for investment; critics fear turn from West

A Chinese consortium last month was awarded the contract to develop a deep-sea megaport on Georgia’s Black Sea coast. But critics say the Georgian government is putting the country’s economy and democracy at risk by turning away from Western partners toward China. Henry Ridgwell reports from Tbilisi.

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Nigeria announces plans to acquire 50 military aircraft; analysts question intent

Abuja, Nigeria — The Nigerian air force said Tuesday it will acquire 50 new aircraft to strengthen its capabilities against armed gangs and terrorists in northwest Nigeria.

Nigerian Chief of Air Staff Marshal Hassan Bala Abubakar made the announcement at the opening of new military facilities, including two aircraft hangars in northwest Katsina state.

Abubakar said the aircraft would include 12 AH-1 attack helicopters, 24 M-346 combat planes, 12 AW109 multipurpose helicopters and a pair of Casa 295 transport aircraft. He did not disclose the cost, nor did he say who would provide the aircraft.

He said Nigeria is expected to receive them by next year.

The aircraft will be used to bolster offensives against jihadist groups and armed gangs that have terrorized northwest and central states in recent years, Abubakar said.

But security analyst Mike Ejiofor says acquiring 50 aircraft is overambitious and possibly misdirected.

“I know it will bolster the fight against terrorism, but I believe that we should concentrate more on land than air. We’re not at war,” Ejiofor said.

The money, he said, should “have been channeled to training and provision of welfare for the ground troops. I think we would’ve achieved more results.”

Abubakar’s announcement came as Kaduna state authorities announced Tuesday a partnership with the military to set up three new operational fronts within the state.

Kaduna state Governor Uba Sani said, “We concluded with the military to set up forward-operating bases in southern Kaduna, and another one in the Giwa and Birnin-Gwari axis. All the arrangements are being concluded.”

The Nigerian air force came under heavy criticism in December after more than 80 people were killed and dozens wounded during an airstrike in Kaduna state that was intended to target gangs.

Nigerian authorities have promised to operate with more precision to avoid future accidents.

Nigerian Chief of Defense Staff General Christopher Musa told journalists in Abuja, “The armed forces of Nigeria are highly professional. We’re here to protect innocent citizens, not to harm them. Whatever it was that happened there was a mistake, but we’re addressing such issues.”

Ejiofor said authorities should focus more on boosting the ability of the air force to gather and process accurate information about the activities of armed groups.

“These strikes are intelligence-driven, so we must get the intelligence before they’re guided to the areas,” he said. “I think what we should’ve done is to deploy more drones that will be sending this data.”

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Tropical Storm Alberto forms over Gulf of Mexico, bringing floods

MEXICO CITY — Tropical Storm Alberto, the first named storm of 2024 Atlantic hurricane season, has formed over the western Gulf of Mexico, the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC), said on Wednesday, bringing  flooding across the southern coast of the United States. 

The storm was located about 300 kilometers (186.4 miles) east of Tampico, Mexico, packing maximum sustained winds of 65 kilometers per hour (40.3 miles per hour), the forecaster said. Alberto is likely to dissipate over Mexico as early as Thursday night. 

The NHC said the storm was very large and that rainfall, coastal flooding and strong winds could occur far from the center along north-eastern Mexico and the south Texas coast.  

Heavy rains also will affect large regions of Central America, the NHC warned, a region that is still facing strong rains that left some 11 people dead in El Salvador over the weekend because of landslides and road accidents. 

“Life-threatening flooding and mudslides are likely in and near higher terrain across the Mexican states of Coahuila, Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas,” the NHC said, including the eastern city of Ciudad Victoria and Monterrey, Mexico’s third-biggest city in Nuevo Leon state. 

Nuevo Leon State Governor Samuel Garcia said on the social media platform X that people should avoid leaving the house or crossing waterways while it is raining and to keep emergency kits on hand. Workers were ready to address the possible impact of strong winds and rain on the electrical grid, water supplies, and sewage, he said. 

Across the Gulf on Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, local media reported strong winds and torrential rains. Some authorities, however, said the storm could help fill the country’s dams, depleted by an extended drought. 

The NHC predicted “moderate coastal flooding” along much of the Texan coast through Thursday as southern areas experience tropical storm conditions.  

Forecasters have warned that this year’s Atlantic hurricane season will likely be highly active because of impacts from the La Nina weather pattern and warmer ocean water. 

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Taliban accuse UN rights expert on Afghanistan of undermining Doha meeting

Islamabad — Afghanistan’s Taliban have labeled the latest United Nations report on alleged human rights violations as an attempt to “tarnish perceptions” in the lead-up to this month’s international meeting to discuss the crisis-ridden country.

Zabihullah Mujahid, the chief Taliban spokesman, emphasized Wednesday the need for “constructive and positive engagement” between their government and the international community. 

His response came a day after Richard Bennett, the U.N. special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Afghanistan, alleged that the Taliban’s “pattern of systematic violations of women’s and girls’ fundamental rights” has intensified. 

Bennett presented his hard-hitting report on Tuesday to a meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, demanding that those responsible for Afghan human rights abuses be held to account.

“Some members of the United Nations, particularly the report by Richard Bennett, are attempting to tarnish perceptions ahead of the upcoming Doha meeting,” Mujahid stated. “Unfortunately, certain individuals within the United Nations are constantly trying to present a distorted image of Afghanistan and overshadow significant progress with a few limited issues,” he added.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called a two-day conference of international envoys on Afghanistan in Qatar’s capital, Doha, on June 30. 

The Taliban will attend for the first time in what will be the third meeting hosted by the Gulf state since Guterres initiated the process over a year ago. The U.N.-led dialogue is aimed at establishing a coherent and unified global approach to engagement with the de facto Afghan government, which has yet to be formally recognized by the world.

Bennett said Tuesday it is essential that Afghan civil society, including women human rights defenders, meaningfully participate in the third Doha meeting and that women’s and girls’ rights be addressed both directly and within thematic discussions. 

“It is hoped that reality will be understood, and a constructive stance will be adopted,” Mujahid said Wednesday.

Human rights groups have criticized the U.N. for inviting the Taliban to the Doha huddle rather than holding them accountable for “crimes” against Afghan women and girls. They also have expressed concerns that, unlike the previous two Doha meetings, Afghan civil society and human rights activists would be kept from the upcoming session under pressure from the Taliban. 

On Tuesday, Farhan Haq, the U.N. deputy spokesperson, defended the decision to invite the Taliban to the third Doha conference. He would not say, however, whether Afghan civil society representatives will have a session with representatives of the de facto government.

“At this stage, the arrangements for the conference are still ongoing,” Haq told a news conference in New York. 

“This is a key concern, and we want to make sure that the rightful role of women in society is respected in Afghanistan, as it needs to be everywhere in the world,” he said when asked whether the U.N. would support Bennett’s call for the Taliban’s “gender apartheid” to be codified as a crime against humanity.

“Well, I just want to underscore that we treat them as the de facto authorities on the ground. They are not treated as the recognized government of Afghanistan,” Haq explained when asked whether the U.N. would follow Bennett’s advice not to treat the Taliban as a legitimate government or allow them to dictate the terms of the U.N.-hosted meetings.

Guterres did not invite the Taliban to the first Doha meeting in May 2023, and the de facto Afghan rulers refused to join the second in February unless their delegates could be accepted as the sole representatives of Afghanistan. 

The Taliban’s foreign ministry announced on Sunday that it has decided to send its delegation to the third Doha meeting after two months of discussions with the U.N. regarding the agenda and participation list. “If there are any changes to the agenda and participation, it would naturally affect our decision, which we will share with all sides at that time,” it stated. 

The Taliban returned to power in Kabul almost three years ago, imposing sweeping retractions on Afghan women’s rights and freedom of movement in line with their harsh interpretation of Islam.

Girls aged 12 and older are banned from attending secondary school, and women are prohibited from working in public and private sectors, including the U.N., except for Afghan health care and a few other departments. Females are not allowed to travel long distances by road or air unless accompanied by a male relative, and they are banned from visiting public places such as parks, gyms and bathhouses. 

The Taliban dismiss international criticism of their governance and calls for reversing curbs on women as an interference in the internal affairs of Afghanistan.

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Explosions at Chadian military ammunition depot kill 9, injure 46

N’DJAMENA, Chad — Nine people were killed and more than 40 injured when a fire set off explosions at a military ammunition depot in Chad’s capital, an official said Wednesday.

Government spokesperson Abderaman Koulamallah said 46 people were being treated for various injuries after the explosions jolted residents from their sleep late Tuesday in the Goudji district of N’Djamena. The situation has been brought under control, Koulamallah said.

The explosions lit up the sky as thick smoke covered the clouds in the West African nation, setting off frantic efforts to extinguish the fire as residents fled their homes for safety.

The cause of the fire was not immediately clear, and President Mahamat Deby Itno said an investigation would be conducted.

“Peace to the souls of the victims, sincere condolences to the bereaved families and quick recovery to the injured,” Deby said on Facebook. He later visited the accident scene and hospitals where the injured were treated.

People living in the area panicked, thinking the explosion was an armed attack, resident Oumar Mahamat said.

Local media reported the blasts started just before midnight as nearby buildings shook and ammunition was thrown from the depot with explosive force.

Authorities called on residents to stay out of the area, which was taken over by security forces gathering the scattered artillery shells.

Allamine Moussa, a resident, called on the government to “come to our aid urgently” after he and other residents fled their homes.

“Many families have recorded deaths, and it’s sad,” Moussa said.

Chad, a country of nearly 18 million people, has been reeling from political turmoil before and after a controversial presidential election that resulted in Deby Itno’s victory.

He had led the country as interim president during the period of military rule that followed the death of his father in 2021.

Cameron Hudson, an Africa expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the explosions might not be entirely coincidental and “feels more like a message” to the government, which has been embroiled in internal political tensions and as well as regional tensions over the war in neighboring Sudan.

Recent claims about Chad’s alleged involvement in the war in Sudan create an untenable position at home for Deby Itno, said Hudson, a former U.S. official. “A house divided cannot stand.”

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World Refugee Day: Is neglect the new normal?

Aid groups say crises in Sudan, Somalia, the Sahel, and other places are receiving a lot less funding that they need to handle the challenges they face. Earlier this month, the head of the Norwegian Refugee Council’s (NRC) said “the utter neglect of displaced people has become the new normal.” Henry Wilkins reports on what refugees and non-profit groups think about current funding levels.

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Investigators: Disregard for human rights, law drives crisis in Sudan

GENEVA — Independent investigators have accused Sudan’s warring parties of driving the country into a humanitarian abyss by blatantly disregarding fundamental human rights and international humanitarian law. 

The three-member International Fact-Finding Mission for Sudan presented its first oral update Tuesday and Wednesday at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.  

The investigators told the council that the lack of concern for the suffering of millions of Sudanese civilians by the warring parties has led to killings, looting, mass displacement, rape and other forms of sexual violence, “and resulted in a grave humanitarian crisis.” 

They accused the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) of preventing humanitarian aid from reaching millions of people who are at risk of famine. 

Citing the World Food Program, they warned that around 18 million people deprived of sufficient food will face acute hunger, with 5 million on the brink of starvation. 

The U.N. reports that rampant violations and abuses, along with the deprivation of essential lifesaving aid, have led to the mass displacement of nearly 9 million people inside Sudan, as well as to more than 1.8 million people fleeing to neighboring countries. 

Since the conflict began in April 2023, other armed groups have sprung up to support the two main military forces. Fact-finding mission chair Mohamed Chande Othman said the deadly conflict “now involves multiple actors within and outside Sudan and has spread from Khartoum and Darfur to most of the country.” 

“We are deeply concerned that the fighting persists with tragic consequences and enormous suffering of the civilian population,” he said.  

“We have received credible accounts of indiscriminate attacks against civilians and civilian objects, including through airstrikes and shelling in heavily populated residential areas, as well as ground attacks against civilians in their homes and villages,” he said. He added that in the capital, Khartoum, and in nearby towns, killings, looting and sexual violence have “forced many to leave their homes and property to seek refuge in other locations.” 

The investigators expressed particular concern about the situation in the Darfur region, especially the siege of the capital, El Fasher — the last stronghold of the SAF, where 1.5 million inhabitants and some 800,000 internally displaced people are in great danger. 

“Already, heavy fighting between the warring parties in different parts of the city has led to significant civilian casualties, damaged homes and caused mass displacement,” Othman said. “The attack on one of the main and last functioning hospitals in the city on June 8 led to its closure, leaving the civilian population without access to lifesaving medical care.” 

The fact-finding mission said it is investigating earlier large-scale attacks against civilians based on their ethnicity in other areas of Darfur. These, said Othman, “have included killings, rape and other forms of sexual violence, torture, forced displacement and looting.” 

The investigators said they also have received credible reports of rampant sexual violence, including rape and gang rape, and that they are investigating reports “of sexual slavery and sexualized torture in detention facilities, including against men and boys.” 

Othman said the mission has received worrying reports about the “widespread recruitment and use of children at checkpoints to gather intelligence, as well as to participate in direct combat and commit violent crimes,” thereby putting the lives and future of many children at risk. 

A June 3 report from U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on children and armed conflict ranks Sudan among the countries with the highest number of “grave violations against children” in the world.  

The fact-finding mission to Sudan is calling for an immediate cease-fire, without which, it said, “it is hard to see the human rights and humanitarian situation in Sudan improving.” 

Following the presentation of the report, Yassir Bashir Elbukhari Suliman, the chief prosecutor of Sudan, spoke as the representative of the concerned country. He accused the RSF of multiple crimes and atrocities against unarmed civilians, without assigning any blame to the SAF for the commission of similar acts. 

Commanders of the RSF and the Sudanese Armed Forces have previously denied committing war crimes as they battle for control of the country. 

Commenting on the situation in Sudan last month, Guterres accused both warring factions of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity.

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Abortion looms in US presidential election 2 years after key ruling

Two years ago this month, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed its 1973 ruling that legalized abortion. Now, abortion looms as a major issue in this year’s elections. VOA’s senior Washington correspondent Carolyn Presutti looks at how the issue is charging the presidential campaign.

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North Korea, Russia pledge mutual defense, surprising many observers

Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un upgraded their countries’ relationship as they met Wednesday in Pyongyang. Both men signed a treaty they say contains a mutual defense clause. The developments are being criticized by the U.S. and its allies, who say the relationship is a threat to global peace. More from VOA’s Bill Gallo in Seoul, South Korea. Contributor: Kim Lewis

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For Juneteenth, Black creatives use augmented reality to bring past to life

June 19th is known as Juneteenth, a U.S. holiday celebrating the end of slavery in the former Confederate states of the American Civil War. In observance of the day, international collaborators gathered in California to connect history with the future using an augmented reality app. Matt Dibble has our story from Oakland.

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US lawmakers meet Dalai Lama as China slams visit  

New Delhi — A group of U.S. lawmakers met the Dalai Lama in India’s northern town of Dharamshala Wednesday, amid cheers from Tibetans in exile and an angry reaction from China, which calls the Tibetan spiritual leader a separatist and a splittist.

The visit follows the passage last week of a bill by the U.S. Congress that seeks to encourage dialogue between Beijing and Tibetan leaders in exile, who have been seeking more autonomy for Tibet. Talks with the Dalai Lama’s representatives and China stalled in 2010.

“This bill is a message to the Chinese government that we have clarity in our thinking and our understanding of this issue of the freedom of Tibet,” Nancy Pelosi, former House Speaker, said to cheers from hundreds of Tibetans whom the lawmakers addressed at a public ceremony after meeting the Dalai Lama at his residence.

U.S. President Joe Biden is expected to soon sign the legislation called “Promoting a Resolution to the Tibet-China Dispute Act,” also referred to as the Resolve Tibet Act.

In Dharamshala, where the Tibetan government in exile is based, the visit of the U.S. lawmakers brought hope. “It is a jubilant moment for all Tibetans. We are all overjoyed. The visit is very significant because it comes soon after the passage of the bill which we hope will soon be passed into law,” Tenzin Lekshay, spokesperson for the Central Tibetan Administration, told VOA.

Congressman Michael McCaul, who led the seven-member visiting delegation, said the bill reaffirms American support for what he referred to as the Tibetan right to self- determination. He said that their delegation had received a letter from the Chinese Communist Party, warning them not to visit.

Beijing said the U.S. should not sign into law the bill passed by Congress. “China will take resolute measures to firmly defend its sovereignty, security and development interests,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Lin Jian said on Tuesday, as the lawmakers arrived in the Indian town.

The Chinese embassy in New Delhi reiterated Beijing’s concerns. “We urge the U.S. side to fully recognize the anti-China separatist nature of the Dalai group, honor the commitments the U.S. has made to China on issues related to Xizang, stop sending the wrong signal to the world,” it said in a statement Tuesday night. Xizang is China’s name for Tibet.

In his remarks to Tibetans, McCaul said it is important that China not influence the choice of the Dalai Lama’s successor. “Beijing has even attempted to insert itself into choosing the successor of the Dalai Lama,” he said. “We will not let that happen.”

The issue is contentious. China says it has the right to approve the spiritual leader’s successor while according to Tibetan tradition, the Dalai Lama is reincarnated after his death. The Dalai Lama has said his successor is likely to be found in India but Tibetans in exile fear China will try to designate a person to be the successor, in an effort to bolster control over Tibet.

Meanwhile, Tibetan spokesman Lekshay said China needs to come forward to reinstate a dialogue with exiled Tibetan leaders. “It is a time for introspection for China to see what is going wrong, particularly with the Tibet issue which has been a longstanding conflict. China needs to be more positive.”

Beijing does not recognize the exiled administration. A formal dialogue process between the Dalai Lama’s representatives and the Chinese government ended in 2010 after it failed to produce a concrete outcome.

Pointing out that they are asking for autonomy within China and not independence, Lekshay said the Tibetan administration in exile did not represent a separatist movement.

Tibetans in exile say they fear that their culture, language and identity is under threat due to Chinese assimilation of the region.

The Dalai Lama, who fled to India in 1959, has been instrumental in putting the Tibetan cause in the global spotlight but in recent years some Tibetan activists have expressed concerns that the Tibet cause is not getting appropriate attention in Western capitals.

The Himalayan town of Dharamshala has been the Dalai Lama’s home since he fled Tibet over six decades ago following a failed uprising against Chinese rule.

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Chad ammo depot blaze kills 9, wounds dozens 

N’Djamena — A fire that tore through a huge military ammunition depot in Chad’s capital N’Djamena killed at least nine people and wounded dozens more, officials said Wednesday, warning the toll could rise.

The blaze, which started late on Tuesday, sent powerful blasts into the night sky and the exploding ordnance shook buildings miles away.

Chad’s Health Minister Abdelmadjid Abderahim told journalists that the toll was in danger of rising as many of the 46 wounded were in an “extremely serious” condition.

A visit to the scene Wednesday revealed unexploded shells and other munitions scattered on the ground and the burnt-out wreckage of what looked like military vehicles.

Government spokesman Abderaman Koulamallah said the cause was not “criminal” but an investigation was under way.

According to initial indications, several people died in the ammunition storeroom, he said.

“There are fewer deaths and less damage than we foresaw. We were expecting dozens and dozens of deaths,” Koulamallah, who is also foreign minister, told AFP by telephone. “There aren’t many civilians who lost their lives.”

The sky burst into flames above the Goudji area — where the army’s largest depot of ammunition is located — for several hours before tapering off and finally ceasing after midnight.

The explosions shook buildings as far as seven kilometers (four miles) away and the flames were visible from far off.

“The roof of our house was blown off by one of the explosions,” said resident Kadidja Dakou, who lives in the Amsinene area near Goudji.

The 36-year-old and her three children took refuge in the street alongside their neighbors, for fear their houses would collapse, she told AFP by phone.

“The soldiers had time to evacuate the vehicles, heavy weapons etc. and were able themselves to take shelter,” Koulamallah said.


Regional Planning Minister Mahamat Assileck Halata told reporters at the scene that the fire was “contained” and the situation was under control.

Nearby, gutted buildings could be seen and at least one huge crater was visible in the grounds of the military camp.

“I call on people to remain calm and serene and to avoid handling any object that may have landed,” Assileck said, adding deminers were at work.

President Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno during the night offered his condolences to victims’ families.

The grieving family of a six-year-old girl sat in front of ruined houses in Amsinene after a shell fell in the room of the child, killing her, the family told AFP.

“She burned to death, we couldn’t get her out” of the house, her cousin, who did not want to be named, said.

Iron fist

Authorities had cordoned off the area with a heavy security presence, where thick red smoke hung in the air long after the blasts stopped.

There are multiple homes in the neighborhood that is the site of the depot, which lies near the international airport and a base where French troops are stationed.

The blaze “caused explosions of ammunition of all calibers”, an official with the French forces told AFP on condition of anonymity.

“For the moment, no French military personnel have been wounded,” he said.

Chad’s president officially won 61 percent of a May 6 vote that international NGOs said was neither credible nor free and which his main rival called a “masquerade.”

Deby was proclaimed transitional president in April 2021 by a junta of 15 generals after his father, president Idriss Deby Itno who had ruled with an iron fist for 30 years was shot dead by rebels.

Chad, one of the world’s poorest nations, is considered vital in the fight to stop the march of jihadists through the Sahel region.

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South African President Ramaphosa starts new term with multi-party government

PRETORIA — South Africa put on a display of pomp and ceremony on Wednesday for Cyril Ramaphosa’s inauguration as president for a second term that will see his African National Congress share power with other parties after it lost its majority in parliament.  

African heads of state and dignitaries gathered outside the Union Buildings in Pretoria, seat of the South African government, to watch Ramaphosa’s motorcade arrive with a guard of honor on horseback.  

Ramaphosa will head what he calls a government of national unity with five other parties, including the ANC’s largest rival and virulent critic, the pro-business Democratic Alliance.

While investors have welcomed the inclusion of the DA, which wants to boost growth through structural reforms and prudent fiscal policies, analysts say sharp ideological divisions between the parties could make the government unstable.  

Just before the election, Ramaphosa signed into law a National Health Insurance bill that the DA says could collapse a creaking health system. It was unclear what would happen to that law under the new government.  

The DA advocates scrapping the ANC’s flagship Black economic empowerment program, saying it hasn’t worked — a highly contentious topic in a nation grappling with huge inequalities, some inherited from apartheid.  

Ramaphosa has yet to announce the make-up of his new government, which he will have to negotiate with members of the new alliance.  

“The president does not want the country to go through a prolonged period of uncertainty,” his spokesman Vincent Magwenya told state broadcaster SABC.

“This time around, there is a small layer of complexity in that he has to consult with the various parties that form part of the government of national unity. Those consultations have been underway. They will continue, even tonight,” he said. 

A former liberation movement, the ANC came to power under Nelson Mandela’s leadership in the 1994 elections that marked the end of apartheid. Once unbeatable, it has lost its shine after presiding over years of decline.  

It remains the largest party after the May 29 election, with 159 seats out of 400 in the National Assembly, but lost millions of votes compared with the previous election in 2019. The DA’s vote share remained stable and it has 87 seats.  

Voters punished the ANC for high levels of poverty, inequality and unemployment, rampant crime, rolling power cuts and corruption in party ranks. 

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China is erasing Uyghur culture by changing village names, rights group says

WASHINGTON — A new report finds that the Chinese government has been systematically changing village names with cultural or religious significance to the Uyghurs in China’s Xinjiang autonomous region to Chinese names showcasing Chinese Communist Party ideologies. 

The report, released Wednesday by Human Rights Watch and the Norwegian Uyghur organization “Uyghur Hjelp,” which co-authored the report, found that around 630 villages have seen elements of religion, Uyghur history, and Uyghur cultural practices, including a traditional Uyghur string instrument “dutar” and a shrine called “mazar,” removed from their village names. 

Some analysts say the campaign is part of Beijing’s efforts to erase Uyghur culture and religious expressions. “This is a part of the serious abuses that are ongoing for the Uyghurs in Xinjiang,” Maya Wang, the Interim China Director at Human Rights Watch, told VOA by phone. 

The Chinese government often uses Chinese phrases such as “happiness,” “unity,” and “harmony” to replace those Uyghur village names, according to the report. 

“New village names are mostly in Mandarin Chinese and they denote a positive sentiment the government wants Uyghurs to embrace and express under the Chinese leadership,” the report wrote. 

While authorities in Xinjiang continue to change some Uyghur village names, the report said the majority of the name changes took place between 2017 and 2019, which coincides with mass internment of Uyghurs across the region. 

“Since 2017, Uyghur people’s expressions of who they are, their history, and how they came to be a group of people have been erased or manipulated,” Wang said, adding that Beijing’s goal is to force Uyghur people to conform to the rules they have laid out. 


“If you practice something different, you could be labeled as an extremist and put under long imprisonment, so this is part of a wholesale erasure [of Uyghur culture and expression],” she added. 

The report found that most villages that undergo name change are concentrated in prefectures that are predominantly Uyghur, including Aksu, Kashgar, and Hotan in Southern Xinjiang.

In response to findings from the report, the Chinese embassy in Washington D.C. said Uyghur culture has been “effectively protected and promoted.”

“Uyghur population in Xinjiang can use their ethnic language and road signs in Xinjiang are mostly in both Mandarin and Uyghur,” Liu Pengyu, the spokesperson of the Chinese embassy, told VOA in a written response. 

In 2022, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights determined in a report that the Chinese government had committed human rights abuses against the Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslim minorities in Xinjiang that could constitute crimes against humanity.

According to U.N. estimation, at least one million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities may have been interned in re-education camps by Beijing in Xinjiang since 2017, but China denied these allegations and claimed in 2019 that all Uyghurs in the camps had “graduated.”

Impact on the Uyghur community 

As China continues to change some village names from Uyghur to Chinese, the report found that the campaign has seriously affected the Uyghur community. Based on interviews with 11 Uyghurs, the report found that the name change may increase the difficulty for some Uyghurs to find their villages while others may have difficulty registering for government services. 

“Some Uyghurs outside Xinjiang feel like they can’t even recognize their hometown,” Abduweli Ayup, an exiled Uyghur linguist who co-authored the report, told VOA by phone. 

The impact of the village name change is accompanied by the effect of Beijing’s mass detention of Uyghurs, mass surveillance of the Uyghur community, and other persecutions against the Uyghurs, including separation of families, forced labor, and sexual violence. 

Some activists say all these efforts are part of the campaign that “targets everything that is of the essence’’ for Uyghurs.

“This village name change campaign makes some Uyghurs feel like they’re less than the Han Chinese because their culture is backward,” Zumretay Arkin, Director of Global Advocacy at World Uyghur Congress, told VOA by phone. 

According to Arkin, other campaigns that Beijing has initiated to better assimilate the Uyghurs in the Han Chinese majority is to sinicize mosques across Xinjiang by removing the crescent and dome while replacing religious writings with an homage to the Chinese Communist Party. 

In 2017, Human Rights Watch also found that Chinese authorities prohibited Uyghurs from using dozens of names with religious connotations common to Muslims around the world, claiming that using these names could “exaggerate religious fervor.”

What can the international community do? 

Arkin said the Chinese government’s efforts to forcibly assimilate Uyghurs into the Han Chinese community have pushed Uyghurs to hide their identity and basic way of life. “For Uyghurs living in Xinjiang, they have to constantly hide their identity so they can fit into the mold that the Chinese government has created for them,” she told VOA. 

Arkin said this trend has shifted the responsibility to preserve Uyghur cultural heritage to the diaspora community. “Since the diaspora community has been largely cut off from their family members and friends in Xinjiang, the responsibility of preserving the Uyghur culture has become a heavy burden for the diaspora community,” she said. 

While the United Nations and foreign governments have condemned China’s systematic persecution of the Uyghurs and imposed targeted sanctions on Chinese officials, Human Rights Watch said these responses have been ineffective in affecting Beijng’s treatment of the Uyghur community. 

Ayup urged foreign countries to try to increase pressure on Beijing during the upcoming UN Human Rights Council session. 

“Concerned governments and the UN human rights office should intensify their efforts to hold the Chinese government accountable for their abuses in the Uyghur region,” Ayup told VOA, adding that one priority should be the release of the hundreds of thousands Uyghurs who are still detained in Xinjiang.

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In Pyongyang, Putin and Kim upgrade relationship, pledge closer ties

Seoul, South Korea — Russian President Vladimir Putin received a grandiose reception in Pyongyang on Wednesday, meeting North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and pledging closer cooperation as both countries confront the West. 

Putin and Kim, who also signed a document upgrading ties, participated in a welcoming ceremony in the central Kim Il Sung Square, where buildings were draped in massive Russian and North Korean flags and portraits of the two leaders. 

North Korean residents dressed in red, white, and blue shirts waved bright bouquets of flowers in unison as a brass band played patriotic songs. Putin and Kim also observed a North Korean honor guard before departing for negotiations, which included two hours of one-on-one talks, according to Russian media.

At the outset of the negotiations, Putin thanked North Korea for its “consistent and unwavering support” for Russian policy, including in Ukraine, reported Russia’s Interfax news agency.

Kim expressed his “full support and solidarity” for what he called Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine, according to Interfax. The North Korean leader also vowed to “unconditionally support” Russia’s policies, the agency added.

Putin, who is making his first visit to North Korea in 24 years, invited Kim to Moscow, Russian state media reported.

Russia and North Korea have long been close partners, but their cooperation has intensified following Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine. North Korea has supplied Russia with thousands of containers of munitions, including ballistic missiles, according to U.S. officials – an allegation denied by Pyongyang and Moscow.

Close, but how close?

According to Interfax, Putin and Kim signed a comprehensive strategic partnership treaty, formally upgrading ties. The treaty text has not been released. Though it is expected to fall short of a formal alliance agreement, Russian officials have said it will likely cover defense cooperation in some sense.

Analysts debate how far North Korea-Russia military cooperation will go. Some say Kim and Putin may find more reasons to continue working together as each country’s relationship with the West deteriorates. But the two men will not restore Soviet-era ties, said Kim Gunn, a South Korean lawmaker who earlier this year stepped down as South Korea’s top nuclear envoy.

“Russia is not the former Soviet Union,” he said. “And Russia is at war in Ukraine – they are pouring all their energy into this war. There’s not so much room for Russia to do anything with North Korea.”

For now, Putin and Kim are presenting a united front, with Putin describing their collaboration on Wednesday as a fight against U.S. hegemony.

An editorial Tuesday in the Rodong Sinmun, North Korea’s main newspaper, said the “people and military of both countries have the sacred duty, together, to safeguard their country’s sovereignty and dignity and guarantee the peace and security of the region.”

Rachel Minyoung Lee, a North Korea watcher and senior fellow at the Washington-based Stimson Center, said that formulation was unusual for North Korean state media, an aberration that she said sends a “less than comforting message” about future military cooperation.

“The agreement (or a treaty) North Korea and Russia sign during Putin’s visit, if made public, will hopefully bring clarity to this phrase,” she wrote in a blog post on 38 North, a North Korea-focused website.

Sanctions evasion

Tuesday, Putin vowed to work with North Korea to counter sanctions. In a letter published in North Korean state media, Putin said the two countries would develop trade mechanisms “not controlled by the West” and would “jointly oppose illegitimate unilateral restrictions.”

Both countries are subject to a growing number of sanctions imposed by individual countries – Russia because of its invasion of Ukraine and North Korea because of its nuclear weapons program and other illicit activities, such as cybertheft.

North Korea is also subject to a series of United Nations Security Council resolutions, which prohibit a wide range of economic activity with Pyongyang.

Russia – a permanent, veto-wielding member of the U.N. Security Council – voted for the North Korea sanctions as recently as 2017. But it now opposes the sanctions and has taken steps to complicate their enforcement. 

 Many Russian analysts say Putin is reluctant to completely abandon U.N. sanctions on North Korea. Instead, he may search for what he sees as loopholes that facilitate cooperation even in areas that are subject to U.N. sanctions, such as North Korean laborers earning income abroad.

For instance, North Korean IT specialists could work remotely from their home country without technically receiving income abroad, said Georgy Toloraya, a former member of the U.N. Panel of Experts, which was meant to monitor enforcement of the North Korea sanctions.

Weapons cooperation

Analysts are also watching Putin’s visit for any signs of additional defense cooperation.

A key question among Western analysts is what Putin might offer North Korea in exchange for weapons allegedly used in the Ukraine war.

U.S. officials have expressed concern that Russia may provide North Korea with advanced weapons or other assistance related to its nuclear program.

Such cooperation represents “the greatest threat to U.S. national security since the Korean War,” said Victor Cha, the Korea Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

In a blog post, Cha said it is “highly unlikely that Kim would have feted Putin so lavishly only for the promise of food and fuel,” noting that Pyongyang seeks advanced weapons, including nuclear submarine and intercontinental ballistic missile technology.

“This aspect of the relationship not only destabilizes security on the peninsula and in Asia; it also heightens the direct threat posed by North Korea to the [U.S.] homeland,” he said.

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Fresh Malaysian durians for China after trade deals signed during Li’s visit

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Fresh Malaysian durians will soon make their way to China as the two countries signed a slew of trade and economic deals Wednesday during a visit by Premier Li Qiang to celebrate a half-century of diplomatic relations.

Li held private talks with Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim in the government administrative capital of Putrajaya before they met with their delegations. The two leaders witnessed the signing of various pacts, including a new five-year deal for economic and trade cooperation that officials said would bolster links between industries in priority sectors like high-level manufacturing and the digital economy.

The sides also inked a protocol on measures that will allow Malaysia to export to China fresh durian, a spiky tropical fruit with a strong odor and known for its creamy pulp, Anwar’s office said.

Exporting fresh durians to China will open a new market for Malaysia, which began selling durian pulp and paste to China in 2011 and frozen durian whole fruits in 2018. Malaysia’s frozen durian export value to China has surged from 170 million ringgit ($36 million) in 2018 to nearly 1.2 billion ringgit ($255 million) last year, it said.

Li, the first Chinese premier to visit Malaysia since 2015, flew in for a three-day visit late Tuesday from Australia. Li, who was given a red-carpet welcome, said upon his arrival that the two nations’ 50-year anniversary was a new starting point to deepen links and increase exchanges.

“China is advancing Chinese modernization on all fronts through high-quality development. Malaysia, on its part, is promoting national development under the vision of Malaysia MADANI. China is ready to work with Malaysia,” Li said in a statement published by the national Bernama news agency.

Li, China’s No. 2 leader after President Xi Jinping, last week also became the first Chinese premier to visit New Zealand and then Australia in seven years.

Other agreements signed aim to promote investment in the digital economy and green development, combat transnational crime, and boost housing and urban development, higher education, people-to-people exchanges in science and technology, tourism and cultural cooperation, Anwar’s office said.

Trade with China — Malaysia’s No. 1 trading partner since 2009 — made up 17% of Malaysia’s global trade, valued at $98.8 billion last year, Trade Minister Zafrul Aziz was quoted as saying by Bernama last week.

While trade dominated the talks, Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Mohamad Hassan has said the prickly issue of territorial claims in the South China Sea was also likely to be raised.

Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan all dispute Beijing’s claims to almost the entire South China Sea. But unlike the publicized clashes between the Philippines and China, Malaysia’s government prefers the diplomatic channel and rarely criticizes Beijing even though Chinese coast guard ships have sailed near Malaysia’s waters. This is partly to protect economic ties between the trade partners.

“That is why we need to further build on this good cooperation we have established since 1974. The good ties we have enjoyed since will allow us to manage and resolve any issue amicably,” Mohamad Hassan was quoted as saying by The Star newspaper ahead of Li’s visit. 

Anwar, who visited China twice last year, has sought to move closer to Beijing even while engaging the U.S. as a key ally. While speaking at a forum in Tokyo in May, Anwar stressed that Beijing is too close, too important and too strategic to ignore.

Ahead of Li’s visit, Anwar told Chinese media that Malaysia planned to join the BRICS bloc of developing economies but didn’t give details. The plan was confirmed by Zafrul and Mohamad Hassan on Monday. The bloc’s core members are Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, who seek a fairer world order currently dominated by Western nations. The bloc expanded with Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates invited to become members this year. Some 40 countries have also expressed interest.

“Joining BRICS doesn’t mean Malaysia will lose its strategic ambiguity between Beijing and Washington. It merely means an additional platform to give it a bigger voice as a middle power,” said James Chin, professor of Asian studies at Australia’s University of Tasmania.

Li is also scheduled to have an audience with King Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar. Malaysia’s Foreign Ministry said Li and Anwar will also attend a groundbreaking ceremony at a construction site for the East Coast Rail Link, which connects Malaysia’s west coast to eastern rural states and is a key part of China’s Belt and Road infrastructure initiative.

The project was suspended in 2018 after Malaysia’s long-ruling coalition was toppled in a historic general election over a massive corruption scandal. It was subsequently revived after the Chinese contractor agreed to cut the construction cost by one-third, and is now due to be completed by the end of 2026.

The two leaders will also attend a dinner to celebrate the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations. Both leaders will also meet the business community at a luncheon before Li heads home Thursday.

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Security and trade dominate Australian ministerial talks in Papua New Guinea

SYDNEY — Senior Australian ministers are in Papua New Guinea to discuss security and development amid China’s growing ambitions in the region.

The ministerial forum comes at a critical time with the Canberra government hoping to maintain its position as a dominant trade and security partner in the Pacific.

Papua New Guinea is boosting trade ties with China and has had negotiations with Beijing over policing cooperation, which has caused alarm in Canberra and Washington, which struck a defense accord with Papua New Guinea last year. 

Australia’s high-level delegation to Papua New Guinea includes Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong, Defense Minister Richard Marles, and ministers for cyber security, agriculture and fisheries, trade and international development.

They will join their counterparts for talks Wednesday on economic and security cooperation.

Wong told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. that Canberra will pursue its own interests, while Beijing will do the same.

“We do not expect China to stop being China. China will continue to assert its interests,” she said. “How we deal with that is to assert ours and we do so both in the bilateral relationship but also in the way we engage in the region and the way we engage with other powers.”

Meg Keen, director of the Pacific Islands Program at the Lowy Institute, a Sydney-based research organization, told VOA that both Canberra and Washington want to limit Beijing’s influence in Papua New Guinea.

China has already sent police to neighboring Solomon Islands and Kiribati, insisting it has a plan to help Pacific Island countries maintain social order.

Australia has, however, said that Beijing should have “no role” in policing the Pacific Islands, and that the Canberra government will train more local security forces to fill gaps.

Keen said China has strategic ambitions in the Pacific region.

“China is in a competition with Taiwan for recognition and since 2019 it has been able to win the support away from Taiwan of three countries in the region. That is significant. Kiribati is one of those,” Keen said. “So, while these are small countries they have enormous ocean territories. They sit in a very strategic place between the United States, Australia and Asia.”

This week, the Chinese Premier Li Qiang held talks with senior government officials in Australia.

It was a further sign that bilateral relations, which have been strained over various geopolitical and trade disputes, are improving.

However, differences between the two sides remain over human rights, the South China Sea, allegations of cyber espionage and, increasingly, over Beijing’s ambitions in the Pacific, a region Australia has traditionally considered to be its sphere of influence.

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US acknowledges Northwest dams have devastated the region’s Native tribes

SEATTLE — The U.S. government on Tuesday acknowledged, for the first time, the harmful role it has played over the past century in building and operating dams in the Pacific Northwest — dams that devastated Native American tribes by inundating their villages and decimating salmon runs while bringing electricity, irrigation and jobs to nearby communities.

In a new report, the Biden administration said those cultural, spiritual and economic detriments continue to pain the tribes, which consider salmon part of their cultural and spiritual identity, as well as a crucial food source.

The government downplayed or accepted the well-known risk to the fish in its drive for industrial development, converting the wealth of the tribes into the wealth of non-Native people, according to the report.

“The government afforded little, if any, consideration to the devastation the dams would bring to Tribal communities, including to their cultures, sacred sites, economies, and homes,” the report said.

It added: “Despite decades of efforts and an enormous amount of funding attempting to mitigate these impacts, salmon stocks remain threatened or endangered and continued operation of the dams perpetuates the myriad adverse effects.”

The Interior Department’s report comes amid a $1 billion effort announced earlier this year to restore the region’s salmon runs before more become extinct — and to better partner with the tribes on the actions necessary to make that happen.

That includes increasing the production and storage of renewable energy to replace hydropower generation that would be lost if four dams on the lower Snake River are ever breached. Tribes, conservationists and even federal scientists say that would be the best hope for recovering the salmon, providing the fish with access to hundreds of miles of pristine habitat and spawning grounds in Idaho.

“President Biden recognizes that to confront injustice, we must be honest about history – even when doing so is difficult,” said a statement from White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Brenda Mallory and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the first Native American cabinet secretary. “In the Pacific Northwest, an open and candid conversation about the history and legacy of the federal government’s management of the Columbia River is long overdue.”

Northwest Republicans in Congress and some business and utility groups oppose breaching the dams, saying it would jeopardize an important shipping route for farmers and throw off clean-energy goals. GOP Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who represents eastern Washington, called Tuesday’s report a “sham.”

“This bad faith report is just the latest in a long list of examples that prove the Biden administration’s goal has always been dam breaching,” she said in a written statement.

The document was a requirement of an agreement last year to halt decades of legal fights over the operation of the dams. It lays out how government and private interests in the early 20th century began walling off the tributaries of the Columbia River, the largest in the Northwest, to provide water for irrigation or flood control, compounding the damage that was already being caused to water quality and salmon runs by mining, logging and rapacious non-tribal salmon cannery operations.

The report was accompanied by the announcement of a new task force to coordinate salmon recovery efforts across federal agencies.

Tribal representatives said they were gratified with the administration’s formal, if long-belated, acknowledgment of how the U.S. government ignored their treaty-based fishing rights and their concerns about how the dams would affect their people.

“The salmon themselves have been suffering the consequences since the dams first were put in,” said Shannon Wheeler, chairman of the Nez Perce Tribe. “The lack of salmon eventually starts affecting us, but they’re the ones who have been suffering the longest. … It feels like there’s an opportunity to end the suffering.”

Salmon are born in rivers and migrate far downstream to the ocean, where they spend their adult lives before returning to their natal rivers to spawn and die. Dams can disrupt that by cutting off access to upstream habitat and by slowing and warming water to the point that fish die.

The Columbia River Basin, an area roughly the size of Texas, was once the world’s greatest salmon-producing river system, with as many as 16 million salmon and steelhead returning every year to spawn.

Now, scientists say, about 2 million salmon and steelhead return to the Columbia and its tributaries each year, about two-thirds of them hatchery raised. The Shoshone-Bannock Tribe in southeastern Idaho said it once harvested enough salmon for each tribal member to have 700 pounds of fish in a year. Today, the average harvest yields barely 1 pound per tribal member.

Of the 16 stocks of salmon and steelhead that once populated the river system, four are extinct and seven are listed under the Endangered Species Act.

Another iconic but endangered Northwest species, a population of killer whales, also depend on the salmon.

There has been growing recognition across the U.S. that the harms some dams cause to fish outweigh their usefulness. Dams on the Elwha River in Washington state and the Klamath River along the Oregon-California border have been or are being removed.

The construction of the first dams on the main Columbia River, including the Grand Coulee and Bonneville dams in the 1930s, provided jobs to a country grappling with the Great Depression, as well as hydropower and navigation.

As early as the late 1930s, tribes were warning that the salmon runs could disappear, with the fish no longer able to access spawning grounds upstream. The tribes — the Yakama Nation, Spokane Tribe, confederated tribes of the Colville and Umatilla reservations, Nez Perce, and others — continued to fight the construction and operation of the dams for generations.

Tom Iverson, regional coordinator for Yakama Nation Fisheries, said that while the report was gratifying, it remains “hopes and promises” until funding for salmon restoration and renewable power projects comes through Congress.

“With these agreements, there is hope,” Iverson said. “We feel like this is a moment in time. If it doesn’t happen now, it will be too late.”

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US approves $360 million arms sale to Taiwan for missiles, drones

TAIPEI, Taiwan — The U.S. State Department has approved the possible sale to Taiwan of drones and missiles for an estimated $360 million, the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency said.

The United States is bound by law to provide Chinese-claimed Taiwan with the means to defend itself despite the lack of formal diplomatic ties, to the constant anger of Beijing.

China has been stepping up military pressure against Taiwan, including staging war games around the island last month after the inauguration of Lai Ching-te as president.

The sale “will help improve the security of the recipient and assist in maintaining political stability, military balance, and economic progress in the region,” the Pentagon agency said in separate statements on Tuesday in the U.S.

The sale includes Switchblade 300 anti-personnel and anti-armor loitering munitions and related equipment for an estimated cost of $60.2 million, and ALTIUS 600M-V drones and related equipment for an estimated cost of $300 million, the agency added. Loitering munitions are small guided missiles that can fly around a target area until they are directed to attack.

Taiwan’s defense ministry expressed its thanks, especially for U.S. efforts to increase arms sales to the island. Taiwan has repeatedly complained of delayed deliveries.

“In the face of the Chinese communists’ frequent military operations around Taiwan, these US-agreed-to arms sales items will have the ability to detect and strike in real time, and can respond quickly to enemy threats,” it said in a statement.

Peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait require goodwill from China, the ministry added.

“It is hoped that the People’s Liberation Army will stop its oppressive military operations around Taiwan and jointly contribute to regional stability.”

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Senegal customs seize cocaine shipments worth over $50M

Dakar, Senegal — Senegalese customs said Tuesday it had intercepted three shipments of cocaine with a total estimated value of more than $50 million in the past five days.

The authorities have made an increasing number of cocaine seizures in recent months from neighboring countries — notably Guinea, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau and Mali — which are reputed to be transit zones for drugs produced in Latin America on their way to Europe.

In a statement on Tuesday, the police said they had intercepted a refrigerated truck near the border with Mali.

“The search of the lorry revealed 264 packets of cocaine weighing a total of 306.24 kilograms, carefully concealed in a hiding place inside the ventilation compartment of the fridge,” it said.

The value of the seizure is estimated at $40 million.

The day before, customs officers in the south of the country carried out an operation on a vehicle from “a neighboring country” driven “by an individual from a Sahel country,” according to another statement published on Friday.

Customs officers discovered 95 packets of cocaine worth $14.2 million.

Another seizure on Saturday at Blaise Diagne International Airport, near Dakar, led to the discovery of 18 kilograms of cocaine worth around $2.3 million.

The drugs were in a suitcase that was part of a consignment of unaccompanied luggage “coming from a country bordering Senegal and bound for a European Union country.”

Several seizures of cocaine have been announced by customs in recent months, including a 1-ton haul in mid-April in the east of the country, near the border with Mali, and several others earlier this month.

In November, the army announced the seizure of nearly 3 tons of cocaine from a vessel seized in international waters off the coast of Senegal.

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Hong Kongers’ voices more influential in UK elections

LONDON — General elections in the United Kingdom will be held on July 4, and thousands of Hong Kongers who are eligible to vote through the British National (Overseas) program, or BNO visa, are expected to make their voices heard.

The program was launched in January 2021 in response to a harsh Chinese security law imposed on Hong Kong seven months earlier. Since then, more than 150,000 Hong Kongers have received visas. The policy allows them to build new lives in the U.K. and gives them the right to vote.

In towns such as Sutton and Wokingham, where many Hong Kongers live, the influence of Hong Kong society is obvious as the election approaches. Candidates seeking to secure their votes are addressing their concerns and needs.

Lucy Demery, a Conservative Party parliamentary candidate for Wokingham, lived in Hong Kong for 17 years and once joined peaceful protests against the strict rule of the Chinese Communist Party.

She told VOA that she wants to make sure that she is “the biggest, strongest advocate for the Hong Kong community here.”

“It’s a priority of mine to make sure that all Hong Kongers in Wokingham feel safe and secure and integrated into the community here. … It’s really a Conservative government that initiated the BNO settlement scheme, which I’m very proud of,” she said.

In Sutton, parliamentary candidates from all parties met with more than 70 BNO Hong Kongers and journalists on Saturday. The event was organized by local community groups Sutton Hong Kongers and Vote for Hong Kong 2024.

The candidates expressed support for integration and providing a safe environment for the Hong Kong people. They also took a firm stance on international issues involving China, emphasizing the importance of human rights and democracy.

Hersh Thaker, a Labour Party candidate for Carshalton and Wallington, said, “This is going to be one of the most remarkable migration stories in British history when you look back at the number of people that have come over from Hong Kong, but actually the contribution that has been made to this country as a result of this has been extraordinary.”

But not all Hong Kongers are eager to participate in the political process.

Richard Choi, Sutton Hong Kongers’ organizer, told VOA, “It’s important for Hong Kongers to feel safe. They are too scared to get involved in politics. They are afraid of speaking out. It’s hard to get feedback from them. Even though their email address, postcode, and data are not required, people still don’t want to get involved. Article 23 [of Hong Kong’s national security law] and the spy incident make it even worse.” 

Last month, the U.K. prosecuted three people under the country’s National Security Act of 2023 for allegedly assisting Hong Kong intelligence agencies to conduct foreign interference activities in the U.K. According to the prosecution, Chung Biu Yuen, the executive manager of the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in London, was the suspected mastermind of the activities.

Article 23 of Hong Kong’s national security law has also been used against Hong Kongers in the U.K. The Hong Kong passports of activists Simon Cheng and Nathan Law, who are in exile in the U.K., have been revoked, and their families in Hong Kong have been harassed.

Demery said the U.K.’s strengthened national security law is crucial in protecting the safety of Hong Kong people.

“It was also a Conservative government which strengthened our national security laws in the U.K., which allows us now to be cracking down on some transnational oppression from Hong Kong and China on our territory,” she said.

Bobby Dean, the Liberal Democrats candidate for Carshalton and Wallington, trained democracy activists in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. He expressed concerns about China’s threat to the Hong Kong community in the U.K. and called on the government to take a tough stance.

“In the West, for too long, [we] have been too lenient and too concerned about how bad state actors like Russia and China might react to the language and rhetoric that we use, and so, we really soften that,” he said. “China and Russia are looking at the hard calculation, not the tone of what we say.”   

During the event, some Hong Kongers expressed their concerns about higher tuition fees for those who haven’t lived in the U.K. for three years. One BNO passport holder said, “People misunderstand that Hong Kong people are rich. But many of us cannot afford £50,000 [$63,000] a year in tuition fees for our children because we are still classified as internationals.”

Tom Drummond, the Conservative Party candidate for Sutton and Cheam, said he would help solve the problem of expensive tuition fees.

“We need to rebuild trust. We are all standing to make your lives better. I will be your voice in Westminster instead of your voice in Sutton. But I think it’s important to realize that we’re standing, all of us. And whoever’s elected, I’ve got no doubt, they’re going into it for the right reasons,” he said.

Luke Taylor, the Liberal Democrats candidate for Sutton and Cheam, said, “I think I would give you the reassurance that as Liberal Democrats, we have a history of standing on, as a party, the right side of controversial issues. We are not afraid to be contrary to the established view.”

Adrianna Zhang contributed to this report.

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