G-7 Assures Aid to Ukraine, Pain to Russia, as Russia Strikes Ukrainian Targets

Giving aid to Ukraine and pain to Vladimir Putin – those are the measures leaders of the world’s wealthiest liberal democracies zeroed in on Monday as they listened to Ukraine’s president plea for more help. VOA White House correspondent Anita Powell reports from Telfs, Austria.

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India Arrests Prominent Rights Activist, Triggering Outrage 

The arrest in India of a prominent human rights activist accused of criminal conspiracy and fabrication of evidence against Prime Minister Narendra Modi has triggered outrage across the global human rights community.

On Saturday, Gujarat police arrested activist Teesta Setalvad and former senior police officer and whistleblower RB Sreekumar. The two and another former police officer, Sanjiv Bhatt — who has already been jailed for life in a case of custodial killing — were named in a First Information Report (FIR) related to the Gujarat riots.

Setalvad is known for her fight in support of the victims of the 2002 riots in which more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, died in communal riots when Modi was the chief minister of the western state.

During the riots, Gujarat state police were accused of sitting idle while Hindu mobs hacked and burned Muslims to death. India’s National Human Rights Commission then blamed Modi’s Gujarat government for not taking basic steps to prevent violence and failing to respond to specific pleas for protection during the riots.

In 2012, a court-appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT) filed a report noting that there was “no prosecutable evidence” against Modi and his officials and exonerated all of them from complicity in the riots.

On Friday, India’s Supreme Court dismissed a petition that Setalvad and Zakia Jafri — whose husband and former member of Indian parliament, Ehsan Jafri, was burned to death during the riots — had filed challenging Modi’s exoneration by the SIT.

The next day, India’s home minister Amit Shah accused Setalvad of giving false information about the Gujarat riots to the police with an intention to defame Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party.

“The court has, in fact, established that the allegation that the riots were organized as part of a criminal conspiracy was a lie that was spread by a troika of NGOs, the opposition and ideologically driven journalists,” Shah said. “If those who leveled allegations have a conscience, they should apologize.”

Setalvad was picked up by the Gujarat police hours after Shah’s accusation against Setalvad was broadcast on national TV.

In dismissing the petition challenging Modi’s exoneration, the Supreme Court on Friday observed, “At the end of the day, it appears to us that a coalesced effort of the disgruntled officials of the State of Gujarat along with others was to create sensation by making revelations which were false to their own knowledge. … All those involved in such abuse of process need to be in the dock and proceeded with in accordance with law,” the court said.

Citing observations by the Supreme Court, the police have justified the filing of the FIR and launched investigations against Setalvad and the two former police officers.

Journalist-turned-activist Setalvad founded the rights group Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) to advocate for the victims of the Gujarat riots. In their petition, Setalvad, Zakia Jafri and CJP demanded a criminal trial of Modi and dozens of state officials, alleging criminal conspiracy to spread riots.

Arrest reflects ‘shrinking space for dissent, says supporter

Standing in support of Setalvad, rights activists and groups have condemned her arrest and demanded she be released immediately.

Calling her arrest “outrageous,” Govind Acharya, an India specialist at Amnesty International USA, said targeting human rights activists for their legitimate human rights work is “unacceptable.”

“The detention of Teesta Setalvad is a way to punish those who are brave enough to question India’s human rights record. Her arrest is part and parcel of the shrinking space for civil society and dissent in India,” Acharya told VOA.

Elaine Pearson, acting Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said Setalvad has long been recognized for her work supporting Muslim victims of the Gujarat riots and her pursuit for justice.

“It is her work, and those of other brave activists like her, that led to the Supreme Court monitoring the investigation and prosecution of scores of people that raped and murdered their neighbors during the riots,” Pearson told VOA.

“It is unfortunate that India’s Supreme Court chose to ignore the work that Teesta has done, despite repeated raids and cases filed against her by Gujarat authorities, perhaps in retaliation or to cover up the failures of the state to protect minority rights.”

Setalvad’s arrest shows how religious minorities and those standing for justice for Muslims are being targeted in India now, New Delhi-based civil rights activist Kavita Krishnan said.

“It’s also a shame that the Supreme Court of India for the very first time has not only failed to deliver justice to the Gujarat riots victims, but has encouraged the state to put the petitioners ‘in the dock,’” Krishnan told VOA.

“The Supreme Court judgment instigating criminalization of the petitioners for justice, followed by the vindictive prosecution by the Gujarat police in collusion with the Modi-Shah regime, is an attempt to chill civil liberties and human rights activism in India,” she said.

Delhi University teacher and social activist Apoorvanand said the arrest of Setalvad based on the direction of the Supreme Court to proceed against her and others is a dangerous signal to all human rights workers fighting to secure justice for the marginalized sections of society.

“It subverts the basic principle of justice that you don’t punish those who are fighting against the all-powerful state seeking justice. To criminalize the act of justice-seeking is a new low for the Supreme Court of India,” Apoorvanand told VOA.

Mary Lawlor, U.N. special rapporteur on human rights defenders, said in a tweet she was “concerned” by the news of Setalvad’s arrest.

“Teesta is a strong voice against hatred and discrimination. Defending human rights is not a crime. I call for her release and an end to persecution by #Indian state,” Lawlor said.

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Jan. 6 Panel Calls Surprise Hearing to Present New Evidence

The House Jan. 6 panel is calling a surprise hearing this week to present evidence it says it recently obtained, raising expectations of new bombshells in the sweeping investigation into the Capitol insurrection. 

The hearing scheduled for 1 p.m. Tuesday comes after Congress left Washington for a two-week recess. Lawmakers on the panel investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection said last week that there would be no more hearings until July. 

The subject of the hearings is so far unclear. A spokesman for the panel declined to comment on its substance. 

The committee’s investigation has been ongoing during the hearings that started three weeks ago, and the nine-member panel has continued to probe the attack by supporters of then-President Donald Trump. Among other investigative evidence, the committee recently obtained new footage of Trump and his inner circle taken both before and after Jan. 6, 2021, from British filmmaker Alex Holder. 

Holder said last week that he had complied with a congressional subpoena to turn over all of the footage he shot in the final weeks of Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign, including exclusive interviews with Trump, his children and then-Vice President Mike Pence while on the campaign trail. The footage includes material from before the insurrection and afterward. 

It is uncertain if Holder’s footage is the subject of the hearing Tuesday, or if Holder himself will be there. Russell Smith, a lawyer for Holder, declined to comment. 

Rep. Bennie Thompson, the panel’s Democratic chairman, told reporters last week that the committee was in possession of the footage and needed more time to go through the hours of video Holder had turned over. The British filmmaker came in for a deposition Thursday that lasted two hours, Smith said last week. 

Smith said then that it was Holder’s “civic duty” to come forward and that the footage had shown some inconsistencies with previous testimony during the hearings. 

The panel has held five hearings so far, mostly laying out Trump’s pressure campaign on various institutions of power in the weeks leading up to the Jan. 6 joint session of Congress that eventually certified Democrat Joe Biden’s presidential victory. The committee detailed the pressure from Trump and his allies on Vice President Mike Pence, on the states that were certifying Biden’s win and on the Justice Department. 

The panel has used live interviews, video testimony of its private witness interviews and footage of the attack to detail what it has learned. 

Lawmakers said last week that the two July hearings would focus on domestic extremists who breached the Capitol that day and on what Trump was doing as the violence unfolded. 

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Nigerian Churches on Alert After Deadly Church Shooting

Nigerian churches are introducing armed security and entry searches after a deadly June 5 attack on a Catholic church blamed on the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP). Security experts fear the attack in Nigeria’s southwest Ondo state means the threat of terrorism is spreading and could soon reach the capital. Timothy Obiezu reports from Abuja.

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Nigerian Activists Encourage Young Concertgoers to Vote 

Hundreds of young people chanted joyously Saturday at a concert in Abuja, listening to some of Nigeria’s biggest music stars.

The concert was set up to encourage voter registration among young people. There were at least 50 registration points for attendees to either register or verify already existing voter cards.

The artists one after another took to the stage to serenade the crowd but with clear messages encouraging them to vote in elections early next year.

The initiative was organized by a joint team comprising of the European Union, Nigeria’s Independent Electoral Body or INEC, and civil society organizations to boost voter participation, especially among young people, which authorities say was below 20 percent in 2019.

INEC chairman Mahmood Yakubu says thousands of people signed up to vote at the concert.

“We’re still registering today but in five days, we registered over 14,000 Nigerians in this place alone,” Yakubu said. “We’ll not stop the registration until we’re satisfied that those who wish to register are given the opportunity.”

Young people constitute about 70% of Nigeria’s total population but youth participation in politics has been low.

People who registered at the concerts say successive governments have let the country down – and that’s why they want to make their voices heard at the ballot box.

Hamza Yusuf registered to vote during Saturday’s concert.

“You can see everybody coming out,” Yusuf said. “Basically, with concerts like this, it will help people want to get off their couches from their homes. We are all tired of how our governance is.”

Francis Atama also registered to vote at the concert.

“In the past there’s been high level of bad governance, and then the youths need inclusiveness in the government,” Atama said.

Samson Itodo, the executive director of the Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth and Advancement (YIAGA Africa), predicts young people will assume a greater role in Nigerian politics.

“Nigerian youths have made a bold statement that they have not lost hope in Nigeria,” Itodo said. “The crowd that you see here in their thousands is a demonstration of the fact that a lot of young people are very determined to cast their votes. There are over 10,000 people here today who have come to register.”

Presidential and National Assembly elections are slated for February 25 of next year, while governor and state assembly elections will take place in March.


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Abortion Rights Could Drive Democratic Voters to Polls in November

For decades, the contentious issue of abortion rights has motivated American voters from both parties. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last week to overturn the 1973 decision guaranteeing women a constitutional right to abortion could have a defining impact on upcoming congressional midterm elections, when Democrats attempt to hold on to their narrow edge in the U.S. House and Senate.    

Midterm elections traditionally do not drive voter turnout in the same numbers as presidential elections. But recent polling suggests the overturn of the nearly 50-year-old law could motivate voters.   

A May poll from American news network CBS found that 40% of Democratic voters said they would be more likely to vote if Roe v. Wade was overturned. Forty-eight percent of Democratic voters said in a May Monmouth University poll that they were basing their vote on candidates’ positions on abortion rights.    

In the hours after the decision was handed down, sending the issue of legalizing abortion back to the state level, U.S. Democratic lawmakers warned this was just the beginning of the fight over reproductive rights.    

“We need to restore the protections of Roe as law of the land. We need to elect officials who will do that. This fall, Roe is on the ballot. Personal freedoms are on the ballot,” U.S. President Joe Biden said Friday.  

A Politico/Morning Consult poll conducted after Friday’s announcement found 40% of the American public strongly disapprove of the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and leave abortion laws up to states.   

Former U.S. President Donald Trump was elected partly on the strength of his campaign promise to nominate Supreme Court justices who opposed abortion rights. In a 2016 debate with Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, Trump said, “I am putting pro-life justices on the court — it will go back to the states.”   

He eventually nominated three Supreme Court associate justices — Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. All three told lawmakers in their confirmation hearings that Roe v. Wade was the settled law of the land. All three were confirmed and eventually overturned the law, becoming the key votes in the decision. 

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Friday the overturn of Roe v. Wade was the direct result of the election of Trump and warned that Trump’s “Make America Great Again” wing of the Republican Party would result in further loss of reproductive rights if voters were not careful.    

“Elect more MAGA Republicans if you want nationwide abortion bans, the jailing of women and doctors, and no exemptions for rape or incest. Or elect more pro-choice Democrats to save Roe and protect a woman’s right to make their own decisions about their body, not politicians,” Schumer said at a press conference in New York.  

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned Friday that if Republicans gained control of Congress in November, they would move to even more serious action.   

“Republicans are plotting a nationwide abortion ban. They cannot be allowed to have a majority in the Congress to do that. But that’s their goal. This is deadly serious,” Pelosi said.    

But outside the Supreme Court on Friday, 23-year-old abortion rights supporter Anabelle (whose last name was withheld by request), told VOA that electoral politics was not the solution.    

“Even if we codify Roe, it’s pretty clear the Supreme Court is just going to rule it unconstitutional. So, I think in theory, Roe is on the ballot. In reality, it would require 60 Democratic senators who are willing to actually take action on cracking the code on ending the filibuster on making sure that this is here to stay,” she said.  

Various public opinion polls show that about 70% of Americans support legalized abortion in some form. But some analysts say the Democratic Party needs to do a better job of developing an action plan.    

“There is this sort of fantasy of the apathetic, young voter who won’t turn up for midterms,” Sarah Clarke Kaplan, director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, told VOA. “But I think that really one of the things that we’ve seen in years is that actually what affects the turnout of young voters is how much they feel they are represented by the progressive bent of the Democratic Party.”  

She added, “We’re going to have to first see on the level of political parties a kind of progressive actionable stance around what the Democratic Party’s response plans to be for maintaining access to abortion for young people and for all people.” 

On the Republican side, the path forward is clearer. On Friday, House Minority Whip Steve Scalise said the overturn of Roe v. Wade was the result of decades of hard work but added, “The work just begins now to go and protect life even more, because the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade, correcting that flawed decision, finally allows states and Congress to protect life in ways that we never were able to for the last 50 years.”    

Anna Lulis, a digital engagement strategist for Students for Life of America, said outside the Supreme Court on Friday that this is the right approach.  

“I think it’s super important to push pro-life legislation. What you’re going to see with a post-Roe America is probably a polarization among the states. You’re going to have some states ban abortion, and then you’re going to have some states probably push radical pro-abortion laws. So, what we need to do, and what we hope to do, is go to those states, those radical pro-abortion laws, and educate them about the issue of abortion. But also, and hopefully, encourage them to push, eventually, pro-life legislation by cultivating a culture of life,” Lulis said. 


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3 Killed When Amtrak Train Hits Truck, Derails in Missouri

Three people were killed and others were injured when a passenger train traveling from Los Angeles to Chicago struck a dump truck and derailed in a remote, rural area of Missouri on Monday, officials said.

It was not immediately clear how many people were hurt beyond the three people who died, the Missouri State Highway Patrol said.

At least eight medical helicopters were responding from around the state, Matt Daugherty, Lifeflight Eagle director of business development, told The Kansas City Star. Daugherty said he knew there were a number of injuries and some people were in critical condition.

The Southwest Chief was carrying about 243 passengers and 12 crew members when the collision happened near Mendon at 12:42 p.m. local time, Amtrak said. The Highway Patrol said seven cars derailed. Amtrak had previously said eight cars had.

Helicopter video shown by KMBC-TV in Kansas City from the scene showed rail cars on their side as emergency responders used ladders to climb into one of them. The video also showed six medical helicopters parked nearby waiting to transport patients.

Three passengers were taken to University Hospital in Columbia, hospital spokesman Eric Maze said. He did not have information on their conditions. 

Passengers on the train included high school students from Pleasant Ridge High School in Easton, Kansas, who were headed to a Future Business Leaders of America conference in Chicago, Superintendent Tim Beying told The Kansas City Star.

The Southwest Chief takes about two days to travel from Los Angeles to Chicago. Mendon, with a population of about 160, is about 84 miles (135 kilometers) northeast of Kansas City. 

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UN Appeals for $110 Million for Afghan Quake Response  

The United Nations made an urgent appeal Monday for $110.3 million to provide livesaving assistance to more than 360,000 Afghans who were affected last week by a magnitude 5.9 earthquake that killed about 1,000 people, including 150 children.

The funding is required in the next three months to meet pressing humanitarian needs, prevent more deaths and help rebuild homes and communities shattered by the disaster.

The earthquake destroyed or damaged hundreds of homes in several districts in Paktika and Khost provinces, according to aid agencies and Taliban officials.

“I’m appealing to the world — please help. We need money. We need funding. We need support to resolve this tragedy,” Ramiz Alakbarov, U.N. resident relief coordinator for Afghanistan, said in a video message while visiting an area in Paktika province hard hit by the earthquake.

More than half of the appealed funding, if provided by donors, will be spent on emergency shelters and non-food items, while about $35 million will go to emergency food and health care needs.

Several countries in the region, including the United Arab Emirates, Iran, Qatar, Pakistan, India and China, have responded to the disaster with planes loaded with tents, clothes, medical supplies and food items. The United States has also pledged aid.

“U.S. humanitarian partners are already responding, including by sending medical teams to help people affected, and we are assessing other response options,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement June 22, the day the earthquake was reported.

The quake response appeal is separate from the 2022 Afghanistan humanitarian appeal of $4.4 billion, the largest single-country appeal the U.N. has ever launched. Halfway through the year, donors have pledged less than 34% of the humanitarian appeal. With a $459.6 million commitment, the U.S. is on top of the donor list.

Online funding temporarily on hold

Hours after the earthquake was reported, online campaigns appeared on social platforms calling for aid.

Over the past five days, at least 120 individual calls for funding have been launched on the crowdfunding platform GoFundMe, raising more than $500,000 from international donors.

However, some of the funds cannot be transferred to banks in Afghanistan due to U.S. sanctions on the Taliban.

“We’ve raised a lot of money thanks to the goodwill of people, but we cannot move the funds because of politics and bureaucracy,” Ajmal Ziarmal, who has raised more than $26,000 on GoFundMe, told VOA.

“People have lost their loved ones, their homes and everything they had, and they should not be further punished for politics,” he added.

A spokesperson for GoFundMe offered sympathies to the Afghan quake victims but said some of the funds raised on the platform are temporarily on hold.

“Where funds are temporarily on hold, it generally means that we are ensuring a clear path to a beneficiary has been established and that the fundraiser is compliant with GoFundMe’s Terms of Service and international laws and regulations,” the spokesperson told VOA.

The California-based for-profit platform has been encouraging donors to make their contributions to verified campaigners whose accounts are not subject to transfer restrictions. As of June 27, nine verified campaigners have solicited funds for the quake response.

The U.S. has issued humanitarian waivers for financial transactions with Afghanistan particularly when the aid does not directly benefit the Taliban. But aid agencies say they still face significant obstacles and delays in banking with the country.

“(T)he formal banking system continues to block transfers due to excessive de-risking, impacting payment channels and causing breakdowns in supply chains,” Martin Griffiths, U.N. emergency relief coordinator, told the Security Council last week.

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US Urges Israelis, Palestinians to Calm Tensions Ahead of Biden Visit 

The United States expressed concern Monday about “palpable and dangerous” tensions between Israelis and Palestinians, ahead of a visit next month by President Joe Biden to the region.

“We once again call on all parties to refrain from unilateral actions that increase tensions and undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution, such as settlement activity, demolitions, incitement to violence and evictions,” the deputy U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Richard Mills, told a meeting of the Security Council on the issue of Israeli settlements.

Biden will visit Israel and the West Bank and then continue to Saudi Arabia from July 13 through July 16.

The White House says the president plans to meet with Israeli leaders to discuss that country’s “security, prosperity, and its increasing integration into the greater region.” Biden will also visit the West Bank to meet with Palestinian Authority officials.

Mills said that during the trip, Biden will “urge calm and explore ways to promote equal measures of security, freedom and opportunity for both Israelis and Palestinians.”

U.S.-Palestinian relations hit a low in 2020, when the Trump administration unveiled its Middle East peace plan. The Palestinians rejected it outright, saying it heavily favored Israel and did not give them a sovereign, contiguous state with East Jerusalem as its capital. The Trump administration also moved the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, angering the Palestinians. Biden has criticized that move but has not reversed it.

The United Nations says violence has increased in recent months in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and in Israel. Since mid-March, the U.N. says 49 Palestinians, including several children, have been killed in demonstrations and clashes with Israeli forces, while 11 Israelis and three foreign nationals have been killed in attacks inside Israel.

“As events over recent months have demonstrated yet again, managing the conflict in perpetuity is not a viable option,” Tor Wennesland, U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, told the council from Jerusalem. “There is no substitute for a legitimate political process that will resolve the core issues driving the conflict.”

Palestinian-American journalist’s death

Biden is also likely to face questions from Palestinian officials about the death of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was shot and killed May 11 while covering an Israeli operation in the West Bank city of Jenin. Abu Akleh was also a U.S. citizen.

The U.N. office for human rights said Friday that information it had gathered was “consistent with the finding” that Abu Akleh was killed by fire from Israeli Security Forces and not from indiscriminate firing by armed Palestinians, as Israeli authorities initially claimed. The U.N. rights office said its monitors also found no information suggesting activity by armed Palestinians in the immediate vicinity of Abu Akleh and her colleagues.

“We, like others on this council, are concerned with the killing of Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh,” Mills told the Security Council. “We continue to stress the importance of accountability for Abu Akleh’s tragic death. The United States will not relent on our calls for transparent accountability for those responsible for this tragedy until justice is done.”

Asked last week by a reporter if Biden would raise Abu Akleh’s killing during his trip to Israel, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the administration wants her death “fully investigated,” and the president would not be “bashful” about raising human rights and press freedom issues “with any foreign leader anywhere in the world.”

VOA’s Anita Powell contributed to this story.

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Taliban’s Alleged Extrajudicial Killings in Afghan District Worry UN, Rights Groups

Taliban authorities in Afghanistan are being accused of carrying out extrajudicial killings and other human rights abuses as they attempt to quell an armed rebellion in a northern region.

The United Nations and rights watchdogs on Monday called reports of abuses in the turbulent Balkhab district in northern Sar-e Pol province alarming and demanded that the ruling Islamist group hold those responsible.

The accusations stemmed from recent Taliban military operations against loyalist-turned-rebel commander Mehdi Mujahid and his fighters in Balkhab.

Mujahid, an influential member of the Afghan ethnic minority Hazara Shi’ite community, served until recently as the Taliban’s spy chief for central Bamyan province. He was dismissed for unspecified reasons, prompting him to break away from the Sunni-based Islamist rulers.

“Amnesty International is gravely concerned by reports of summary executions and harm to civilians in Balkhab district of Sari-Pul province,” the global rights group tweeted Monday. “As the de facto authorities in Afghanistan, the Taliban has a primary responsibility to end the attacks against civilians and ensure justice and accountability.”

Richard Bennett, the United Nations special rapporteur on the situation on human rights in Afghanistan, described as “disturbing” reports of extrajudicial killings, civilian displacement, property distraction and other human rights abuses in the northern district.

“Regrettably verification hampered by info blackout, internet cut & denial of access to media & HR monitors,” Bennett tweeted.

The Taliban refuted the charges as propaganda.

“The situation in Balkhab has returned to normal. No one has been oppressed or persecuted. The people are living a peaceful and safe environment. The propaganda about mistreatment of civilians or casualties is not true,” the chief Taliban spokesman tweeted Monday.

Taliban officials maintained they had reportedly dispatched several delegations to Balkhab to unsuccessfully negotiate a settlement with Mujahid before ordering last week’s military offensive against his forces

The Defense Ministry in Kabul announced on Sunday that security forces had evicted Mujahid’s fighters from the district headquarters and surrounding areas, saying fleeing rebels had taken refuge in a nearby valley, and operations against them were continuing. VOA could not ascertain from independent sources the veracity of the official claims.

A video speech circulating on social media showed Mujahid among his fighters somewhere in Balkhab while one of his loyalists addressed the crowd, accusing the Taliban of sidelining Hazara Afghans from the national political space.

The insurgent-turned-ruling group seized power in Afghanistan last August as the United States and NATO partners withdrew their last troops from the country.

The Taliban installed an all-male interim Cabinet to govern the conflict-torn South Asian nation, imposing restrictions on women’s rights to work and education, and cracking down on dissent.

Critics say the new government in Kabul comprises members of the Pashtun-based Taliban group and doesn’t give representation to other Afghan ethnicities.

The lack of political inclusivity and respect for rights of all Afghans, including women, is keeping the global community from formally recognizing the Taliban as legitimate rulers of Afghanistan.

Taliban leaders reject criticism of their administration, officially called the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, and maintain that their polices are in line with Afghan culture and Islamic tradition.

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Protesters in India Call for Release of Anti-Modi Activist 

Protesters in India’s financial capital Mumbai on Monday demanded the release of a critic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi who was arrested over the weekend on suspicion of faking documents about anti-Muslim riots in 2002.

Teesta Setalvad is accused of tutoring witnesses, forging the documents and fabricating evidence in cases pertaining to the riots in Gujarat when Modi was state chief minister, according to police documents seen by Reuters.

A lawyer for Setalvad could not immediately be reached for comment.

Modi was accused of failing to stop the rioting when at least 1,000 people died under his watch. He denied the accusations and was exonerated in an Indian Supreme Court inquiry in 2012. Last week, the Supreme Court dismissed another petition questioning his exoneration.

Setalvad, a leading rights activist, was detained from her residence in Mumbai on Saturday by police from Gujarat, taken to the neighboring state, placed under formal arrest and sent to police custody until July 2.

“Just because activists like her are fighting in the court of law, doesn’t mean they should be put behind bars,” Nooruddin Naik, a protester, told Reuters.

Protesters carrying placards and posters of Setalvad shouted slogans against Modi and his party, the BJP.

Meanwhile “Teesta” was a top trending topic on Twitter on Monday.

Her arrest was condemned internationally as well, and Mary Lawlor, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, said she was “deeply concerned” over Setalvad’s detention.

“Teesta is a strong voice against hatred and discrimination. Defending human rights is not a crime. I call for her release and an end to persecution by Indian state,” she said in a tweet.

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Pride Parades March on With New Urgency Across US

NEW YORK — Pride parades kicked off in New York City and around the country Sunday with glittering confetti, cheering crowds, fluttering rainbow flags and newfound fears about losing freedoms won through decades of activism.

The annual marches in New York, San Francisco, Chicago and elsewhere took place just two days after one conservative justice on the Supreme Court signaled, in a ruling on abortion, that the court should reconsider the right to same-sex marriage recognized in 2015.

‘We’re here to make a statement,” said 31-year-old Mercedes Sharpe, who traveled to Manhattan from Massachusetts. ‘I think it’s about making a point, rather than all the other years like how we normally celebrate it. This one’s really gonna stand out. I think a lot of angry people, not even just women, angry men, angry women.”

Thousands of people — many decked in pride colors — lined the parade route through Manhattan, cheering as floats and marchers passed by. Organizers announced this weekend that a Planned Parenthood contingent would be at the front of the parade.

In Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot called the top court ruling a ‘momentary setback’ and said Sunday’s events were ‘an opportunity for us to not only celebrate Pride, but be resolved for the fight.’

‘We will not live in a world, not in my city, where our rights are taken from us or rolled back,’ said Lightfoot, Chicago’s first openly gay mayor, and the first Black woman to hold the office.

In San Francisco, some marchers and spectators held signs condemning the court’s abortion ruling. U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who rode in a convertible holding a gavel and a rainbow fan, said the large turnout was an acknowledgement that Americans support gay rights.

‘Even in spite of the majority on the court that’s anti our Constitution, our country knows and loves our LGBTQI+ community,’ she told KGO-TV.

The warning shot from the nation’s top court came after a year of legislative defeats for the LGBTQ community, including the passage of laws in some states limiting the discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity with children.

As anti-gay sentiments resurface, some are pushing for the parades to return to their roots — less blocks-long street parties, more overtly civil rights marches.

‘It has gone from being a statement of advocacy and protest to being much more of a celebration of gay life,’ Sean Clarkin, 67, said of New York City’s annual parade while enjoying a drink recently at Julius’, one of the oldest gay bars in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village.

As he remembers things, the parade was once about defiance and pushing against an oppressive mainstream that saw gays, lesbians and transgender people as unworthy outsiders.

‘As satisfying and empowering as it may be to now be accepted by the mainstream,’ Clarkin said, ‘there was also something energizing and wonderful about being on the outside looking in.’

New York’s first Pride March, then called the Christopher Street Liberation Day March, was held in 1970 to mark the first anniversary of the Stonewall rebellion, a spontaneous street uprising triggered by a police raid on a gay bar in Manhattan.

San Francisco’s first march was in 1972 and had been held every year since, except during the last two years of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Celebrations are now global, taking place throughout the year in multiple countries, with many of the biggest parades taking place in June. One of the world’s largest, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, was held June 19.

In the United States, this year’s celebrations take place amid a potential crisis.

In a Supreme Court ruling Friday striking down the right to abortion, Justice Clarence Thomas said in a concurring opinion that the court should also reconsider its 2015 decision legalizing same-sex marriage and a 2003 decision striking down laws criminalizing gay sex.

New York City parade spectator Jackie English said she and her fiancee Dana had yet to set a wedding date, but have a new sense of urgency.

‘Now we feel a bit pressured,” she said, adding they might ‘jump the gun a little sooner. Because, what if that right gets taken away from us?’

More than a dozen states have recently enacted laws that go against the interests of LGBTQ communities, including a law barring any mention of sexual orientation in school curricula in Florida and threats of prosecution for parents who allow their children to get gender-affirming care in Texas.

Several states have put laws in place prohibiting transgender athletes from participating in team sports that coincide with the gender in which they identify.

According to an Anti-Defamation League survey released earlier this week, members of LGBTQ communities were more likely than any other group to experience harassment. Two-thirds of respondents said they have been harassed, a little more than half of whom said the harassment was a result of their sexual orientation.

In recent years, schisms over how to commemorate Stonewall have opened, spawning splinter groups events intended to be more protest-oriented.

In New York City, the Queer Liberation March takes place at the same time as the traditional parade, billing itself as the ‘antidote to the corporate-infused, police-entangled, politician-heavy Parades that now dominate pride celebrations.”

San Francisco’s parade was marked by the return of uniformed police, who were banned in 2020 after a 2019 confrontation with protesters who staged a parade-stopping sit-in. Critics accused them of using excessive force. On Sunday, San Francisco Police Chief William Scott, in full dress uniform, passed out small rainbow pride flags to spectators.

Despite the criticism of growing commercialism, a strong streak of activism was apparent among attendees this year.

‘The recent overturning of Roe v. Wade has caused a very strong uproar about what went down,” said Dean Jigarjian, 22, who crossed the river from New Jersey with his girlfriend to take part in the New York City parade. ‘So as you can see here, the crowd seems to be very energized about what could be next.’

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South Africa Police Investigating Deaths of 21 Teenagers in Bar

South African authorities say the owner of a bar where at least 17 teenagers were found dead and four others died while receiving medical care is expected to face charges.  Police investigating the mysterious deaths in Eastern Cape province say they have not ruled out the possibility the teenagers were poisoned. 

South African police say they are investigating and awaiting autopsy results after the teenagers’ bodies were found at a bar early Sunday morning with no visible cause of death.

Brigadier Thembinkosi Kinana is a police spokesman.

“Whilst we understand the urgency of this matter and the anxiety of the public, in particular the affected families who want answers.  We urge that we allow sufficient time for our detectives to finalize those investigations.  I must also add that we have not made any arrests at this stage,” he said.

South African police say the owner is expected to face charges and have not ruled out the possibility that the teenagers were poisoned.

Spokesman Kinana said half-a-dozen of the bodies were not immediately claimed.

“We are making an appeal to parents or relatives who may have not seen their children since the past weekend to please make time to make inquiries. We are also calling upon parents whose children who may have survived the tavern incident but are still feeling sick to please visit hospitals and clinics for medical check-ups,” he said.

Police were called to East London’s Enyobeni Tavern in Eastern Cape province, where local media reported the bodies were found slumped on the floor and tables.

The tavern’s owner, Siyakhangela Ndevu, told AFP news agency that patrons had tried to force their way into the bar despite it already being packed.

But safety authorities were quick to rule out a stampede because of the lack of injuries on the bodies, some as young as 13 years old.

Eighteen is the legal drinking age in South Africa.

Lucky Ntimane is Convenor of South Africa’s National Liquor Traders Council.

“The owner had workers working there, he had bouncers, they could’ve seen, easily seen that there were minors in that establishment.  But this was allowed to happen, the owner put the profits before the people.  He should never ever trade in alcohol ever in his life. The license should be revoked with immediate effect,” he said. 

South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa expressed condolences for the families through his spokesman Vincent Magwenya.

“While the president awaits more information on the incident, his thoughts are with the families who have lost children.  The president is however also concerned about the reported circumstances under which such young people were gathered at a venue which on the face of it should be off limits to people under the age of 18.  The president expects the law to take its course following investigations into the tragedy,” he said.

He added that the deaths were even more tragic as they happened during South Africa’s youth month.

Youth month developed from the June 16 National Youth Day when South Africa reflects on the massacre of students during the 1976 Soweto Uprising against apartheid.

Some of the dead were also students celebrating the end of mid-year exams.

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New Report Blames Separatists in Cameroon for Gross Human Rights Violations

A Human Rights Watch report released Monday says separatists in Cameroon are increasingly brutal in their attacks. Human Rights Watch says separatists have committed murders, are using rape as a weapon, and have carried out at least 80 abductions since January.

According to the report, separatists have killed at least seven people, injured six, raped a teenage girl, and committed other grave human rights abuses in the English-speaking western regions this year.

The separatists also torched at least two schools, attacked a university and kidnapped people, including 33 students and five teachers, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Ilaria Allegrozzi, HRW’s central Africa researcher, said an escalation in attacks on civilians, education and health has exacerbated an already dire human rights situation in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions.

“The separatist groups have kidnapped more than 80 people since January and this figure is more likely underestimated compared to the reality on the ground, given the challenges of accessing the regions, but also the widespread fear among the victims to denounce because of possible retaliations and reprisals,” Allegrozzi said. “These are serious human rights abuses and they continue in the context of increasing violence and impunity that facilitates and fuels other abuses.”

HRW said in April, separatists stormed the University of Bamenda campus in the Northwest region, shooting in the air, causing panic among students and teachers, and leading to a stampede that injured at least five people. The report said fighters attacked the university for not observing a lockdown imposed by separatists.

In April, armed separatists kidnapped 33 Roman Catholic seminary students for ransom in Bachuo-Ntai, Southwest region, HRW said.

Capo Daniel, deputy defense chief of the Ambazonia Defense Forces, ADF, one of the separatist groups named in the report, said fighters alone should not be blamed for the human rights abuses.

“Criminal gangs have taken maximum advantage of the chaos of his war to carry out kidnapping for ransom,” Daniel said. “While there have been some few cases that involved Ambazonia forces, it has mainly been as a result of lack of command and control by factions within our struggle that do not take their responsibility over those forces and Cameroon is ultimately responsible for the chaos.”

Daniel said the ADF has laid out a code of conduct that forbids fighters from committing crimes, and has punished fighters who committed offenses, including rape.

HRW says in February fighters attacked a vehicle of the Cameroon Baptist Convention Health services, killing a female nurse, and injuring another female nurse and a male doctor according to the report.

The rights group also said separatists killed a Doctors Without Borders health worker in the Southwest region, after accusing him of collaborating with the military.

HRW said since the conflict began in 2017, government troops have also committed human rights violations, including torching of houses and villages, torture, rape, mistreatment and incommunicado detentions.

The Cameroonian government has denied the claims.

Separatists in English-speaking western Cameroon launched their rebellion in 2017, with the stated goal of separating from the French-speaking majority country and setting up an independent state.

The conflict has killed more than 3,300 people and displaced more than 750,000 others, according to the U.N. 

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Nigeria’s Zamfara State to Issue Gun Licenses to Individuals

Authorities in Nigeria’s Zamfara state said they will begin granting gun licenses to residents. The rare move will allow individuals to carry guns so that they can defend themselves against gunmen and rebels in the troubled West African country’s northern region. 

Armed gangs that rob and kidnap for ransom are common in the area. 

Gunmen recently killed eight people and kidnapped nearly 40 in two churches in Kaduna. 

Nigeria’s security forces are stretched thin with the violent attacks and a ten-year war against Islamist rebels. 

Ibrahim Dosara, the Zamfara information commissioner, said in a statement that 500 licenses will be distributed to people “who qualify and are wishing to obtain such guns to defend themselves.”

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.

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The Bolsheviks to Putin: A History of Russian Defaults

In 1918, Soviet revolutionary Leon Trotsky told Western creditors aghast at the Bolsheviks’ repudiation of Russia’s external debt: “Gentlemen, you were warned.” 

He reminded them that the dismissal of Tsarist-era debt had been a key manifesto of the failed uprising in 1905. More than a century later, Russia stands on the brink of another default but this time there was no warning. 

Few expected the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine to elicit such a ferocious response from the West, which has all but severed Russia from global financial and payment systems. 

These are Russia’s major debt events over the past century: 

1918: Repudiation 

Just before the 1917 revolution, Russia was the world’s largest net international debtor, having borrowed heavily to finance industrialization and railways. 

But seeing the Tsarist industrialization drive as failing the working class, the Bolsheviks repudiated all foreign debt. 

“They said ‘we are not paying and even if we could, we wouldn’t pay.’ And that was a political statement,” said Hassan Malik, senior sovereign analyst at Loomis Sayles and the author of the book “Bankers and Bolsheviks: International Finance and the Russian Revolution.” 

Despite Trotsky’s reminder, the default shocked the world, especially France, whose banks and citizens suffered massive losses. 

“Investors didn’t take it seriously because they thought it would be so self-harmful,” Malik said, estimating the debt to be worth at least $500 billion at 2020 prices and possibly more. 

It took until the mid-1980s for Moscow to recognize some of that debt. 

1991: USSR to Russia 

Following the break-up of the USSR in 1991, Russia stopped servicing part of the overseas debt it inherited from former Soviet states. 

Andrey Vavilov, Russia’s deputy finance minister between 1994 and 1997, said the Russian Federation held around $105 billion in Soviet-era debt at the end of 1992, with its own debt amounting to $2.8 billion. 

For accepting the inherited debt, the Paris Club recognized Russia as a creditor nation, Vavilov wrote in his book “The Russian Public Debt and Financial Meltdowns.” And as Russia agreed with the group of nations to restructure $28 billion in debt in 1996, it was allowed to shift major Soviet-era debt payments to the next decade. 

But with a financial crisis around the corner, it would take until 2017 to clear the Communist-era arrears. 

1998: Rouble debt default 

By 1997, crashing oil prices slashed Russian export revenues. External debt, which stood near 50% of GDP in 1995, had swelled by 1998 to 77%, according to Vavilov, who blamed hefty IMF/World Bank loans for contributing to the pile. 

Russia raised very little tax revenue and relied on short-term Treasury bills known as GKO to cover expenditure. But it found it harder and harder to roll these over and was soon spending ever-increasing amounts to defend the rouble. 

“The more the government insisted that it would stand by the currency and repay its debts, the more investors concluded it was time to sell,” said Chris Miller in his book “Putinomics: Power and Money in Resurgent Russia.” 

A month before the default, the IMF put together a $22.6 billion aid package, but “the market was expecting the announcement of an additional $20 billion,” Martin Gilman, the IMF representative in Moscow at the time, wrote in his book “No Precedent, No Plan: Inside Russia’s 1998 Default.” 

On Aug. 17, 1998, Russia threw in the towel, devaluing the rouble, announcing it could no longer pay rouble debt and introducing a three-month moratorium on some external debt. 

Russian banks that had invested heavily in T-bills and had extensive foreign currency exposure soon went under. 

2022: A forced default 

Through dire financial straits in 1998, Moscow made sure to continue Eurobond payments. Now it has plenty of cash but may not dodge default. 

To sidestep sanctions, the Kremlin is suggesting foreign creditors open Russian bank accounts to receive payments in alternative currencies to the dollar. 

Non-U.S. investors can in theory agree, but U.S. bondholders cannot, after a U.S. Treasury license allowing them to accept Russian payments expired in May. 

Miller, author of “Putinomics,” said Russia would fight tooth and nail to dodge a Eurobond default.

“The officials on the central bank and the finance ministry have built their careers on restabilizing Russia as a creditor that can be trusted in international markets,” he said. 

“It’s built into their identity to make sure a default doesn’t happen again.” 

Reporting by Jorgelina do Rosario, editing by Sujata Rao and Nick Macfie

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Action Needed on Austin Tice, Says Family of US Journalist Missing in Syria

American journalist Austin Tice has been missing in Syria for 10 years. His family from Texas advocates tirelessly to bring him home. VOA’s Sirwan Kajjo has more.

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Sri Lanka Runs Out of Fuel

Sri Lanka has run out of fuel, according to a report Monday in the country’s Daily Mirror newspaper. 

The 1,100 tons of petrol and 7,500 tons of diesel the country has would not last a day, the newspaper reported, citing anonymous sources in the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation Trade Union.

According to Reuters, which cited a top government official on Sunday, the country of 22 million people is down to just 15,000 tons of petrol and diesel to keep essential services running in  coming days. 

Without any deliveries of fuel, the newspaper said, Sri Lanka “will come to a complete standstill from this week, as even public transportation will come to a grinding halt.” 

The country’s energy crisis is compounded by a financial crisis. 

The Daily Mirror said Sri Lanka has been “blacklisted by international companies as it has defaulted on its debts and companies now require international bank guarantees for fresh orders.” 

However, Sri Lanka is sending two ministers to Russia, according to The Associated Press, for face-to-face negotiations to try to acquire the much-needed fuel. 

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.

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Avalanche Defeat Lightning to Win Stanley Cup

The Colorado Avalanche defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1 Sunday night to win the National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup. 

The Avalanche won the best-of-7 series four games to two, denying the Lighting in their quest to become the first team to win three consecutive NHL championships since the New York Islanders in the early 1980s. 

Tampa Bay star Steven Stamkos gave the lightning an early 1-0 lead with a first period goal. 

But the Avalanche responded in the second period, with center Nathan MacKinnon evening the game 1-1 less than two minutes into the period. 

Colorado winger Artturi Lehkonen put the Avalanche ahead 2-1 midway through period, the score that would hold as they defeated Tampa Bay on their home ice. 

Colorado defenseman Cale Makar won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player during the playoffs.

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Survivors Recount Mali’s Deadliest Attack Since Coup

 Moussa Tolofidie didn’t think twice when nearly 100 jihadis on motorbikes gathered in his village in central Mali last week. 

A peace agreement signed last year between some armed groups and the community in the Bankass area had largely held, even if the gunmen would sometimes enter the town to preach Shariah to the villagers. But on this Sunday in June, everything changed — the jihadis began killing people. 

“They started with an old man about 100 years old … then the sounds of the weapons began to intensify around me and then at one moment I heard a bullet whistling behind my ear. I felt the earth spinning, I lost consciousness and fell to the ground,” Tolofidie, a 28-year-old farmer told The Associated Press by phone Friday in Mopti town, where he was receiving medical care. 

“When I woke up it was dark, around midnight,” he said. “There were bodies of other people on top of me. I smelled blood and smelled burnt things and heard the sounds of some people still moaning.”

Two days of attacks

At least 132 people were killed in several villages in the Bankass area of central Mali during two days of attacks last weekend, according to the government, which blames the Group to Support Islam and Muslims jihadi rebels linked to al-Qaida. 

The attack — the deadliest since mutinous soldiers toppled President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita nearly two years ago — shows that Islamic extremist violence is spreading from Mali’s north to more central areas, analysts have said. 

The conflict-riddled country has been battling extremist violence for a decade since jihadis seized control of key northern cities in 2012 and tried to take over the capital. They were pushed back by a French-led military operation the following year but have since regained ground. 

The Associated Press spoke to several survivors on Friday who had sought treatment at a hospital in Mopti and were from the villages of Diallassagou, Dianweli and Dessagou. People described hearing gunfire and jihadis shouting, “Allahu akbar,” Arabic for “God is great,” as they ran into the forest to save their lives. 

Mali’s government blamed the attacks on the Group to Support Islam and Muslims, or JNIM, which is backed by al-Qaida, although the group denied responsibility in a statement on Friday. 

UN says violence has displaced population

The United States and France condemned the attacks and the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali (MINUSMA) issued a statement on Twitter saying the violence has caused casualties and displaced the population. 

Conflict analysts say the fact that the attacks happened in an area where local peace agreements were signed could signify the end of the fragile accords. 

“The resurgence of tension is perhaps linked to the expiration of these local agreements but also can be linked to the intensification of military operations by the defense forces,” said Baba Dakono, director of the Citizen Observatory on Governance and Security, a local civil society group. 

Ene Damango, a mechanic from Dialassagou, fled his village when the shooting started, but he said his uncle was shot in the leg and severely wounded. 

“When I returned to the village. I discovered the carnage.”

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