India’s Northeast Remains on Edge After Ethnic Clashes

Shootings and arson continued Monday in India’s northeastern state of Manipur, where clashes between security forces and tribal insurgents the previous day killed five people, media reports said.

The state, which borders Myanmar, has been roiled by violence for weeks after members of mostly Christian tribal groups clashed with the Hindu majority over its demands for special economic benefits.

More than 75 people have been killed in the fighting, the state’s worst ethnic clashes in decades. Hundreds have been injured and more than 35,000 have been displaced.

Authorities said Indian Home Minister Amit Shah was expected to arrive in the state capital, Imphal, on Monday evening to review the security situation and help restore peace in the state, where a curfew is in place and the internet has been shut off to stop rumors from spreading. 

The violence prompted the federal government to rush thousands of paramilitary and army troops to the state, and many of the recent deaths were caused by the security forces.

The state’s chief minister, N. Biren Singh, said Sunday that 40 Kuki insurgents were killed by government troops. It was not clear whether the figure was part of the overall death toll.

“The fight is not between communities, it is between Kuki rebels and government security forces,” Singh told reporters.

He said insurgents fired at civilians and burned down homes, prompting the security forces to counter their attacks.

The clashes occurred after the security forces began searching for weapons looted from police stations, the Press Trust of India news agency reported. 

Homes and buildings burned in some villages on Sunday, with plumes of grey smoke filling the skies. Troops also fired in the air and lobbed tear gas shells to disperse a mob that attempted to take weapons from a police station near Imphal, said Sapam Ranjan, a state government spokesperson. He said 1,041 guns and 7,500 rounds of ammunition were looted in recent weeks, with authorities recovering about 500 weapons so far. 

Gunfire was reported Monday in districts near the capital, army officials said. Homes were also set ablaze in the Leimakhong area, they said.

The violence first broke out on May 3 after protests by more than 50,000 Kukis and members of other predominantly Christian tribal communities against the majority Meitei Hindu community’s demand for a special status that would give them benefits including access to forest land, cheap bank loans, health and educational facilities, and more government jobs.

The Kuki and other minority leaders say the Meitei community is comparatively well-off and that granting them more privileges would be unfair. The Meiteis say employment quotas and other benefits for the tribespeople would be protected.

Two-thirds of the state’s 2.5 million people live in a valley that comprises roughly 10% of the state’s total area. The Kuki and other tribes mainly live in the surrounding hill districts. 

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Niger Says 55 Jihadists Killed in Joint Operation

Niger’s army said Monday that 55 jihadists, including several high-ranking combatants affiliated to the Islamic State group, had been killed in a joint operation with Nigeria.

The 22-day operation, which ended Sunday, targeted an Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) stronghold in Arege, in northeastern Nigeria’s border region with Niger, it said.

The 55 “neutralized terrorists” include several senior military operatives as well as several religious leaders, it said, using a traditional term for jihadists.

The figures were given in an army bulletin on operations in Niger’s southeastern region of Diffa, seen by AFP on Monday.

The ground and air operation aimed to “maintain pressure” on ISWAP and cut supply routes, the bulletin added.

Two soldiers were killed and three were injured, it said, adding that 13 vehicles, 13 motorcycles and five “booby-trapped vehicles” were destroyed.

The vast Lake Chad region, shared by Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chad, is a notorious refuge for Boko Haram jihadists and ISWAP, their deadly rival.

The four countries bordering the lake set up a multinational anti-jihadist force in 2015.

Niger earlier this month said the army had picked up nearly 1,400 Boko Haram followers who were fleeing into the country following clashes with ISWAP.

The exodus started in March when ISWAP pursued Boko Haram in its forest hideout of Sambisa in northeastern Nigeria.

Niger’s Diffa region has borne the brunt of jihadist attacks over the years but has been relatively calm since the start of 2023, a security source told AFP.

The country, one of the poorest nations in the world, is also facing a jihadist insurgency in its southwest, launched by militants who launched cross-border raids from Mali in 2015.

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Bola Tinubu Sworn In as Nigeria’s President Amid Hopes, Skepticism

Bola Tinubu became Nigeria’s president Monday during a period of unprecedented challenges for Africa’s most populous country, leaving some citizens hopeful for a better life and others skeptical that his government would perform better than the one he succeeded.

Thousands of Nigerians and several heads of government attended the swearing-in ceremony for the 71-year-old Tinubu in the country’s capital, Abuja. He succeeds President Muhammadu Buhari to lead a country that by 2050 is forecast to become the third most populous nation in the world, tied with the United States after India and China.

Tinubu — the former governor of Lagos, which is Nigeria’s economic hub — has promised to build on Buhari’s efforts to deliver democratic dividends to citizens in a country where deadly security crises, widespread poverty and hunger have left many frustrated and angry. And with his election still being contested in court by opposition parties and among many young Nigerians, Tinubu has also pledged to reunite the country.

In Photos: Bola Tinubu Sworn In as Nigeria’s President 

In his first comments as president, Tinubu, also from Buhari’s party, declared that “hope is back for Nigeria” and said he would work beyond improving the economic and security conditions to unite a deeply divided nation and ensure fairness and justice for aggrieved groups.

“We have endured hardship that would have other societies crumble,” said Tinubu. “Our mission is to improve our ways of life in a manner that nurtures our humanity, encourages compassion towards one another and duly rewards our collective efforts.”

Symbolic of a transition of power and loyalty to the new president, Gen. Lucky Irabor, Nigeria’s chief of defense staff, presented old national and defense flags of Nigeria to Buhari and received new ones from Tinubu, who is also the Chief of the Armed Forces.

Following the national elections in February, newly elected governors also took their oath of office in many Nigerian states Monday.

At the inauguration venue, neither of the two main opposition candidates challenging Tinubu’s election in court was present and many Nigerians tweeted in protest to Tinubu’s inauguration. The outcome of the court challenge is due in about three weeks. If the opposition challenges are upheld, it would be the first time a presidential election would be nullified by the court in Nigeria’s history.

Tinubu’s manifesto of “renewed hope” prioritizes the creation of sufficient jobs and ramping up of local production of goods, investing in agriculture and public infrastructure, providing economic opportunities for the poorest and most vulnerable as well as creating better national security architecture to tackle all forms of insecurity.

However, Tinubu’s ambitious plans could be threatened in his first 100 days in office by a mountain of challenges, from insecurity to a fiscal crisis, poverty and deepening public discontent with the state, said Mucahid Durmaz, senior West Africa analyst at risk intelligence company Verisk Maplecroft.

In Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, locals identified economic hardship and insecurity as the biggest challenges they struggled with during Buhari’s eight-year rule. “People have really suffered [during] this period. People have been dying because of a lack of money, and I pray and hope we should not experience this kind of thing again under the new president,” said Princess Taiwo, a fruit seller.

Long before Buhari came to power in 2015, Nigeria’s development has for many years slowed under the weight of poor governance and endemic corruption, making it difficult for citizens to benefit from the country’s high earnings as Africa’s top oil producer.

Though he has whittled down the power of Islamic extremists in the northeast and has built key infrastructure with the aid of foreign loans, many believe the quality of life and standard of living has reduced under Buhari. They cite widening insecurity in other parts of the country, growing poverty as well as an economy struggling with record unemployment, inflation at an 18-year high of 22.2%, and rising debt.

“When you combine the lack of opportunities in an environment that is disabling with a strong youth population that is frustrated, that is a ticking time bomb and that is the story of Nigeria over the past 50 years and Buhari has made it worse,” said development expert Kolade.

Coming from the ruling All Progressives Congress, which has been dogged with allegations of corruption, Tinubu’s emergence as Nigeria’s president-elect has also drawn concerns about how transparent he would be in office.

Although he has often talked about assembling the best hands to lead Nigeria, the nation’s problem has never been about the quality of public officials but about accountability, said Leena Koni Hoffmann-Atar, associate fellow in the Africa program at the Chatham House think tank.

“What we underestimate is that for state institutions to be strengthened, beyond the character and competence of the individuals, you have to have processes of accountability. And it remains to be seen whether accountability in state institutions will be strengthened under his administration,” said Hoffmann-Atar.

Tinubu must also act quickly and decisively to tackle Nigeria’s security crises with the country already in a critical situation, analysts said.

“There is already a very substantial loss of confidence in the government as a protector of citizens,” said Nnamdi Obasi, senior adviser for Nigeria at the International Crisis Group. “If the new government fails to act very decisively, we would have more people seeking their own self-help and protection.”

Among those now contemplating self-protection are villagers in north central Plateau state’s Mangu district where gunmen killed more than 100 people in a late-night attack earlier in May. Yaputat Pokyes, one of the survivors, said all that they want from the incoming president is to help them stay alive.

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UN: Pledged Fund to Support Rohingya Refugees Grossly Insufficient

Bangladesh should not bear the burden of more than 1 million Rohingya refugees alone while the agencies of the United Nations are facing challenges to feed them, an official of the United Nations said Monday.

Olivier De Schutter, a U.N. special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, made the statement after ending a 12-day trip to Bangladesh, where he visited camps sheltering the refugees from Myanmar. He said the response from the international community to support the refugees against the fund needed is “grossly insufficient.”

About $876 million are needed to support the community for a year, but only 17% of that has been pledged to date, he said, calling it “scandalous” at a news conference in Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka.

“Bangladesh should not be left to shoulder the burden of the presence of the refugees on its own. These [U.N.] agencies should be much better supported in their work,” De Schutter said.

He said the World Food Program has been forced in May to reduce the value of the monthly food vouchers it gives to each refugee from $12 to $10. It will be reduced further to $8 on June 1, he said.

“In a context in which food inflation this year was about 8%, that means that in the camps, children are undernourished,” De Schutter said. “The rates of malnutrition will increase. The rates of stunting will increase. The development of the child in that context will be endangered.”

Bangladesh has sheltered more than 1 million refugees as the Muslim Rohingya face widespread discrimination in the Buddhist-majority Myanmar, where most are denied citizenship and other rights.

More than 700,000 fled to Bangladesh starting in late August 2017, when the Myanmar military launched a “clearance operation” against them following attacks by a rebel group. The safety situation in Myanmar has worsened following a military takeover last year.

Bangladesh is currently working with China to start repatriation of the Rohingya to Myanmar as a pilot case. The U.N. said earlier that they were aware of such a move but were not part of it.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said she would not force any refugees to move to Myanmar.

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Russia Issues Arrest Warrant for US Senator Graham Over Ukraine Comments

Russia’s Interior Ministry issued an arrest warrant Monday for U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham following his comments related to the fighting in Ukraine.

In an edited video of his meeting Friday with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy that was released by Zelenskyy’s office, Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, noted that “the Russians are dying” and described the U.S. military assistance to the country as “the best money we’ve ever spent.”

While Graham appeared to have made the remarks in different parts of the conversation, the short video by Ukraine’s presidential office put them next to each other, causing outrage in Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov commented Sunday by saying that “it’s hard to imagine a greater shame for the country than having such senators.”

The Investigative Committee, the country’s top criminal investigation agency, has moved to open a criminal inquiry against Graham, and the Interior Ministry followed up by issuing a warrant for his arrest as indicated Monday by its official record of wanted criminal suspects.

Graham is among more than 200 U.S. members of Congress whom Moscow banned last year from entering Russia.

Graham commented on Twitter, saying that “to know that my commitment to Ukraine has drawn the ire of Putin’s regime brings me immense joy.”

“I will continue to stand with and for Ukraine’s freedom until every Russian soldier is expelled from Ukrainian territory,” he tweeted. “I will wear the arrest warrant issued by Putin’s corrupt and immoral government as a Badge of Honor.”

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Homeless People Camping in Cape Town’s City Center Battle Eviction

In South Africa, a legal battle is being waged over people who live in shacks in the center of Cape Town. City officials are reasonably confident they will win an order to tear down 300 shacks erected on pavements, under bridges and even at historic landmarks. But human rights groups say it’s far from a done deal. Vicky Stark reports from Cape Town.

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Men Weave Tight Bonds Over Knitting

A men’s knitting group in New York City is unraveling gender stereotypes by stitching in public, joining the multitudes of knitters who find the hobby calming as well as creative. Nina Vishneva has the story, narrated by Anna Rice. Camera: Natalia Latukhina, Vladimir Badikov

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United States Observes 155th Memorial Day

Monday marks the 155th observation of Memorial Day in the United States as the nation honors those who have lost their lives in service to the country. 

Recognized annually on the last Monday in May, this year the holiday falls on May 29. 

President Joe Biden will mark the day at Arlington National Cemetery, where about 400,000 people — veterans and their eligible dependents — are buried.  He will lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and deliver an address.

“As a nation, we undertake a sacred ritual: to reflect and to remember,” Biden said in his remarks last year.

The holiday was first widely observed in 1868 as the country recovered from the American Civil War. It became a federal holiday over one century later in 1971. 

Since the Revolutionary War ended in 1783, over 646,000 American troops have died in battle, while over 539,000 died from other non-combat related causes, reported in 2020.

While some observations of Memorial Day, particularly in and around Washington, are marked by solemnity, many Americans spend the unofficial start to summer celebrating over the weekend with barbecues and trips to the beach. 

More than 42 million Americans were expected to travel over the weekend, according to the travel organization Triple-A, marking what was expected to be the third busiest Memorial Day weekend since 2000, when AAA started tracking holiday travel.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg held a news conference last week about Memorial Day weekend, which he said would be “a test of the system.”

“More Americans are planning trips and booking them earlier, despite inflation. This summer travel season could be one for the record books, especially at airports,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA.

Last year, thousands of flights were canceled or delayed over Memorial Day weekend. 


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Zimbabwe Vaccination Targets Cholera Outbreak

Zimbabwe officials hope vaccinations will tame a cholera outbreak as citizens continue to drink unsafe water. As Columbus Mavhunga reports from Harare, authorities are urging people to practice good hygiene to contain the waterborne disease. Camera: Blessing Chigwenhembe    

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UN Agencies Warn of Starvation Risk in Sudan, Haiti, Burkina Faso and Mali, Call for Urgent Aid 

Two U.N. agencies warned Monday of rising food emergencies including starvation in Sudan due to the outbreak of war and in Haiti, Burkina Faso and Mali due to restricted movements of people and goods.

The four countries join Afghanistan, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen at the highest alert levels, with communities that are already facing or projected to face starvation or otherwise risk a slide “towards catastrophic conditions.”

The report by the World Food Program and the Food and Agriculture Organization calls for urgent attention to save both lives and jobs. Beyond the nine countries rating the highest level of concern, the agencies said 22 countries are identified as “hotspots’’ risking acute food insecurity.

“Business-as-usual pathways are no longer an option in today’s risk landscape if we want to achieve global food security for all, ensuring that no one is left behind.” said Qu Dongyu, FAO director-general.

He called for immediate action in the agricultural sector “to pull people back from the brink of hunger, help them rebuild their lives and provide long-term solution to address the root causes of food insecurities.”

The report cited a possible spillover of the conflict in Sudan, deepening economic crises in poor nations and rising fears that the El Nino climatic phenomenon forecast for mid-2023 could provoke climate extremes in vulnerable countries.

The report warns that 1 million people are expected to flee Sudan, while an additional 2.5 million inside Sudan face acute hunger in the coming months as supply routes through Port Sudan are disrupted by safety issues.

WFP Executive Director Cindy McCain warned of “catastrophic” consequences unless there is clear action to “help people adapt to a changing climate and ultimately prevent famine.”

“Not only are more people in more places around the world going hungry, but the severity of the hunger they face is worse than ever,” McCain said.

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US Leaders Urge Lawmakers to Approve Debt Ceiling Deal

U.S. lawmakers are examining the details of an agreement to increase the country’s borrowing limit ahead of votes expected in the coming days, as both President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy urge them to approve it. 

The proposal includes waiving the debt ceiling until January 2025 and a two-year budget deal that keeps federal spending flat in 2024 and increases it by 1% in 2025. 

Among the other pieces of the compromise package are reducing some funding to hire new Internal Revenue Service agents, rescinding $30 billion in COVID-19 relief and ensuring people ages 49 to 54 meet work requirements in order to receive food aid. 

Biden and McCarthy reached the agreement Sunday after weeks of negotiations with an early June deadline looming for the government running out of money to pay its bills. 

“The agreement prevents the worst possible crisis, a default, for the first time in our nation’s history,” Biden said at the White House. It “takes the threat of a catastrophic default off the table.”  

McCarthy, discussing the agreement at the Capitol, said, “At the end of the day, people can look together to be able to pass this.”  

SEE ALSO: A related video by VOA’s Veronica Balderas Iglesias

While the two leaders expressed support for the deal, progressive Democratic lawmakers from the party’s ideological left, and Republicans from the party’s right-wing immediately voiced opposition Sunday.      

“The agreement represents a compromise, which means not everyone gets what they want. But that’s the responsibility of governing,” Biden said in a statement. He called the pact “an important step forward that reduces spending while protecting critical programs for working people and growing the economy for everyone.”      

Earlier Sunday, McCarthy, on the “Fox News Sunday” show, said that from Republicans’ perspective, “There’s so much in this that is positive. It will not do everything for everyone, but this is a step in the right direction.”       

The debt ceiling needs to be increased so the government can borrow more money, or the U.S. government will run out of cash to pay its existing bills June 5, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has warned Congress.     

Yellen has said that without an increase in the debt ceiling or a suspension of the borrowing limit, interest on U.S. bonds held by foreign governments and individual American investors would be imperiled, as well as stipends for U.S. pensioners and salaries for government workers and contractors. Without enough tax receipts coming into U.S. coffers to pay its bills, the government would be forced to prioritize which payments to make.    

Another part of the agreement would also speed up the approval process for new energy projects.     

The pact also left in place Biden’s plan to write off up to $20,000 in student loan debts but says that loan recipients will have to start making loan payments that had been paused during the coronavirus pandemic. The provision would become moot if the Supreme Court overturns Biden’s authority to revoke the debt in a challenge to his action that it is expected to rule on by the end of June.    

Democratic Representative Pramila Jayapal, the leader of the 102-member House progressive caucus, told CNN’s “State of the Union” show that Biden and Jeffries should worry about progressives’ support for passage of the debt ceiling increase.     

Jayapal criticized expanding work requirements for food stamp recipients and said she did not know whether she would vote for the debt ceiling increase.    

“I’m not a big fan of in-principle (agreements) frameworks,” she told CNN’s “State of the Union” show. “That’s always, you know, a problem if you can’t see the exact legislative text. And we’re all trying to wade through spin right now. But I think it’s going to come down to what the legislative text is.”   

Among Republicans, Representative Bob Good wrote on Twitter, “No one claiming to be a conservative could justify a YES vote” on the package.    

Another Republican critic of the deal, Representative Ralph Norman, tweeted, “This ‘deal’ is insanity.” He said a possible $4 trillion increase in the debt over the next two years “with virtually no cuts is not what we agreed to. Not gonna vote to bankrupt our country. The American people deserve better.” 

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

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70 Years of Mount Everest

Seventy years ago, New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Nepali Tenzing Norgay Sherpa became the first humans to summit Everest on May 29, 1953.    

The British expedition made the two men household names around the world and changed mountaineering forever.   

Hundreds now climb the 8,849-meter (29,032-foot) peak every year, fueling concerns of overcrowding and pollution on the mountain.    

AFP looks at the evolution of the Everest phenomenon.   

What is the mountain called? 

Initially known only to British mapmakers as Peak XV, the mountain was identified as the world’s highest point in the 1850s and renamed in 1865 after Sir George Everest, a former Surveyor General of India.    

On the border of Nepal and China and climbable from both sides, it is called Chomolungma or Qomolangma in Sherpa and Tibetan — “goddess mother of the world” — and Sagarmatha in Nepali, meaning “peak of the sky.”   

How has climbing Everest changed? 

The 1953 expedition was the ninth attempt on the summit and it took 20 years for the first 600 people to climb it. Now that number can be expected in a single season, with climbers catered to by experienced guides and commercial expedition companies.   

The monthslong journey to the base camp was cut to eight days with the construction of a small mountain airstrip in 1964 in the town of Lukla, the gateway to the Everest region.   

Gear is lighter, oxygen supplies are more readily available, and tracking devices make expeditions safer. Climbers today can summon a helicopter in case of emergency.     

Every season, experienced Nepali guides set the route all the way to the summit for paying clients to follow.   

But Billi Bierling of Himalayan Database, an archive of mountaineering expeditions, said some things remain similar: “They didn’t go to the mountains much different than we do now. The Sherpas carried everything. The expedition style itself hasn’t changed.”   

What is base camp like? 

The starting point for climbs proper, Everest Base Camp was once little more than a collection of tents at 5,364 meters (17,598 feet), where climbers lived off canned foods.   

Now fresh salads, baked goods and trendy coffee are available, with crackly conversations over bulky satellite phones replaced by Wi-Fi and Instagram posts.   

How does the news of a summit travel? 

Hillary and Tenzing summited Everest on May 29, but it only appeared in newspapers on June 2, the day of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation: the news had to be brought down the mountain on foot to a telegraph station in the town of Namche Bazaar, to be relayed to the British Embassy in Kathmandu.   

In 2011, British climber Kenton Cool tweeted from the summit with a 3G signal after his ninth successful ascent. More usually, walkie-talkie radios are standard expedition equipment and summiteers contact their base camp teams, who swiftly post on social media.   

In 2020, China announced 5G connectivity at the Everest summit.    

What are the effects of climate change?   

Warming temperatures are slowly widening crevasses on the mountain and bringing running water to previously snowy slopes.   

A 2018 study of Everest’s Khumbu glacier indicated it was vulnerable to even minor atmospheric warming, with the temperature of shallow ice already close to melting point.   

“The future of the Khumbu icefall is bleak,” its principal investigator, glaciologist Duncan Quincey, told AFP. “The striking difference is the meltwater on the surface of the glaciers.”   

Three Nepali guides were killed on the formation this year when a chunk of falling glacial ice swept them into a deep crevasse. 

It has become a popular cause for climbers to highlight, and expedition companies are starting to implement eco-friendly practices at their camps, such as solar power.   

What is the impact of social media? 

Click, post, repeat — the climbing season plays out on social media as excited mountaineers document their journey to Everest on Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms.   

Hashtags keep their sponsors happy, and the posts can catch the eyes of potential funders.    

That applies to both foreign climbers and their now tech-savvy Nepali guides.   

“Everyone posts nowadays, it is part of how we share and build our profile,” said Lakpa Dendi Sherpa, who has summited Everest multiple times and has 62,000 Instagram followers.   

Mountain of records? 

Veteran Nepali guides Kami Rita Sherpa and Pasang Dawa Sherpa both scaled Everest twice this season, with the latter twice matching the former’s record number of summits before Kami Rita reclaimed pole position with 28.   

There are multiple Everest record categories for first and fastest feats of endurance.   

But some precedents are more quixotic: in 2018, a team of British climbers, an Australian and a Nepali dressed in tuxedos and gowns for the world’s highest dinner party at 7,056 meters on the mountain’s Chinese side. 

How many people have attempted to climb Mount Everest?   

Since 1953, more than 6,000 people have attempted to summit Mount Everest, and at least 310 people have died on the mountain, according to the online site Everett Base Camp Trek.  

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Mogadishu Book Fair Drives Literary Revival

The Mogadishu Book Fair, an annual literary event that was launched in 2015, took place last week after a three-year break because of the COVID pandemic. The fair, meant to promote reading and Somali culture and heritage by bringing together literary creatives and young people, was held at the National Theatre of Somalia. Mohamed Sheikh Nor has more from Mogadishu.

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Mpox Is Down, But US Cities Could Be at Risk for Summertime Outbreaks

The mpox health emergency has ended, but U.S. health officials are aiming to prevent a repeat of last year’s outbreaks.

Mpox infections exploded early in the summer of 2022 in the wake of Pride gatherings. More than 30,000 U.S. cases were reported last year, most of them spread during sexual contact between gay and bisexual men. About 40 people died.

With Pride events planned across the country in the coming weeks, health officials and event organizers say they are optimistic that this year infections will be fewer and less severe. A bigger supply of vaccine, more people with immunity and readier access to a drug to treat mpox are among the reasons.

But they also worry that people may think of mpox as last year’s problem.

“Out of sight, out of mind,” said Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, who is advising the White House on its mpox response. “But we are beating the drum.”

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a health alert to U.S. doctors to watch for new cases. On Thursday, the agency published a modeling study that estimated the likelihood of mpox resurgence in 50 counties that have been the focus of a government campaign to control sexually transmitted diseases.

The study concluded that 10 of the counties had a 50% chance or higher of mpox outbreaks this year. The calculation was based largely on how many people were considered at high risk for infection and what fraction of them had some immunity through vaccination or previous infection.

At the top of the list are Jacksonville, Florida; Memphis, Tennessee; and Cincinnati — cities where 10% or fewer of the people at highest risk were estimated to have immunity. Another 25 counties have low or medium immunity levels that put them at a higher risk for outbreaks.

The study had a range of limitations, including that scientists don’t know how long immunity from vaccination or prior infections lasts.

So why do the study? To warn people, said Dr. Chris Braden, who heads the CDC’s mpox response.

“This is something that is important for jurisdictions to promote prevention of mpox, and for the population to take note — and take care of themselves. That’s why we’re doing this,” he said.

Officials are trying to bring a sense of urgency to a health threat that was seen as a burgeoning crisis last summer but faded away by the end of the year.

Formerly known as monkeypox, mpox is caused by a virus in the same family as the one that causes smallpox. It is endemic in parts of Africa, where people have been infected through bites from rodents or small animals but was not known to spread easily among people.

Cases began emerging in Europe and the U.S. about a year ago, mostly among men who have sex with men, and escalated in dozens of countries in June and July. The infections were rarely fatal, but many people suffered painful skin lesions for weeks.

Countries scrambled to find a vaccine or other countermeasures. In late July, the World Health Organization declared a health emergency. The U.S. followed with its own in early August.

But then cases began to fall, from an average of nearly 500 a day in August to fewer than 10 by late December. Experts attributed the decline to several factors, including government measures to overcome a vaccine shortage and efforts in the gay and bisexual community to spread warnings and limit sexual encounters.

The U.S. emergency ended in late January, and the WHO ended its declaration earlier this month.

Indeed, there is a lower sense of urgency about mpox than last year, said Dan Dimant, a spokesman for NYC Pride. The organization anticipates fewer messages about the threat at its events next month, though plans could change if the situation worsens.

There were long lines to get shots during the height of the crisis last year, but demand faded as cases declined. The government estimates that 1.7 million people — mostly men who have sex with men — are at high risk for mpox infection, but only about 400,000 have gotten the recommended two doses of the vaccine.

“We’re definitely not where we need to be,” Daskalakis said, during an interview last week at an STD conference in New Orleans.

Some see possible storm clouds on the horizon.

Cases emerged this year in some European countries and South Korea. On Thursday, U.K. officials said an uptick in mpox cases in London in the last month showed that the virus was not going away.

Nearly 30 people, many of them fully vaccinated, were infected in a recent Chicago outbreak. (As with COVID-19 and flu shot, vaccinated people can still get mpox, but they likely will have milder symptoms, officials say.)

Dr. Joseph Cherabie, associate medical director of the St. Louis County Sexual Health Clinic, said people from the area travel to Chicago for events, so outbreaks there can have ripple effects elsewhere.

“We are several weeks behind Chicago. Chicago is usually our bellwether,” Cherabie said.

Chicago health officials are taking steps to prevent further spread at an “International Mr. Leather” gathering this weekend.

Event organizers are prominently advising attendees to get vaccinated. Chicago health officials put together social media messages, including one depicting three candles and a leather paddle that reads: “Before you play with leather or wax get yourself the mpox vax.”

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‘The Little Mermaid’ Makes Box Office Splash With $95.5 Million Opening

“The Little Mermaid ” made moviegoers want to be under the sea on Memorial Day weekend.

Disney’s live-action remake of its 1989 animated classic easily outswam the competition, bringing in $95.5 million on 4,320 screens in North America, according to studio estimates Sunday.

And Disney estimates the film starring Halle Bailey as the titular mermaid Ariel and Melissa McCarthy as her sea witch nemesis Ursula will reach $117.5 million by the time the holiday is over. It ranks as the fifth biggest Memorial Day weekend opening ever.

It displaces “Fast X” in the top spot. The 10th installment in the “Fast and Furious” franchise starring Vin Diesel lagged behind more recent releases in the series, bringing in $23 million domestically for a two-week total of $108 million for Universal Pictures.

In its fourth weekend, Disney and Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” made an estimated $20 million in North America to take third place. It’s now made $299 million domestically.

Fourth went to Universal’s “The Super Mario Bros. Movie,” which keeps reaching new levels in its eighth weekend. Now available to rent on VOD, it still earned $6.3 million in theaters. Its cumulative total of $559 million makes Mario and Luigi the year’s biggest earners so far.

Comics couldn’t stand up to Ariel as the week’s other new releases sank.

“The Machine,” an action comedy starring stand-up comedian Bert Kreischer, finished fifth with $4.9 million domestically. And ” About My Father,” the broad comedy starring stand-up Sebastian Maniscalco and Robert De Niro, was sixth with $4.3 million.

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Comscore. Final domestic figures will be released Monday.

  1. “The Little Mermaid,” $95.5 million.

  2. “Fast X,” $23 million.

  3. “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3,” $20 million.

  4. “The Super Mario Bros. Movie,” $6.3 million.

  5. “The Machine,” $4.9 million.

  6. “About My Father,” $4.3 million.

  7. “Kandahar,” $2.4 million.

  8. “You Hurt My Feelings,” 1.4 million.

  9. “Evil Dead Rise,” $1 million.

  10. “Book Club, The Next Chapter,” $920,000.

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Nearly a Decade On, Over 80 of Nigeria’s ‘Chibok Girls’ Still in Captivity

Nigeria’s military this month rescued three more schoolgirls abducted by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram more than nine years ago in northeastern Borno state. In that 2014 incident, Boko Haram raided a government secondary school in the town of Chibok and seized nearly three hundred schoolgirls. Many of the girls have been freed through negotiations, but scores more remain captive. From Abuja, Timothy Obiezu has this report, narrated by Vincent Makori.

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In Nigeria’s Hard-Hit North, Families Seek Justice as Armed Groups Seek Control

Christian Jonathan’s mother was holding the 9-month-old boy in her arms when she was shot dead during an attack on their village in northwestern Nigeria. The assailants cut off one of Christian’s fingers and abandoned him by the side of the road with a bullet wound in his tiny leg.

“They left him on the ground beside his mother’s body,” said Joshua Jonathan, Christian’s father. “They thought the boy was dead.”

The late-night attack in April in Runji in Kaduna State left 33 people dead, most of them burned alive or shot dead. Many more have been killed since in the continuing clashes between nomadic cattle herders and farming communities in northwest and central regions of the West African nation, including more than 100 this month in Plateau state.

The decades long violence is becoming deadlier, killing at least 2,600 people in 2021, according to the most recent data from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project. Once armed with sticks, the groups now fight with guns that have been smuggled into the country.

Both sides accuse the government of injustice and marginalization, but the clashes have also taken on a religious dimension, giving rise to militias that side with the herders, who are primarily Muslim, or the farmers from Christian communities.

The growing security crisis presents a huge challenge for Nigeria’s incoming president, Bola Tinubu, who rose to power in Nigeria — Africa’s largest economy and among its top oil producers — promising to improve the lives of affected communities and address the root causes of the crisis by providing jobs and ensuring justice. Tinubu’s inauguration is scheduled for Monday.

If the violence isn’t reined in, analysts say, it could further destabilize the country and drive more of its 216 million people into poverty. U.N. agencies say the violence affects mostly children, who are already threatened by malnutrition, and women, who are often abducted and forced into marriage.

The response of security forces can be slow and arrests are rare, prompting a growing number of communities to defend themselves when they come under siege.

“There is a substantial loss of confidence in the government as a protector of citizens,” said Nnamdi Obasi, the senior adviser for Nigeria at the International Crisis Group. Obasi warned that the failure of the incoming administration to speedily resolve the conflict would lead to “more people seeking their own self-defense, more proliferation of weapons, more criminal groups and a rise in organized armed groups.”

In Runji, an agrarian village, The Associated Press spoke to some survivors in hospital beds and others touring a mass grave and their razed houses. They said they were under attack for hours and that the gunmen fled long before security forces arrived.

Every household bears a scar.

Christopher Dauda’s family was trying to escape when the gunmen caught up with his wife and four children, killing all five. Danjuma Joshua’s two daughters were shot in the back while they tried to flee. In the home of Asabe Philip, who survived but has burns all over her body, the assailants burned five children alive as they cowered in one room.

Christian’s aunt has tried to fill the void left by the killing of his mother. His father said Christian cries a lot and barely sleeps, although his physical wounds are gradually healing.

“We try to manage with what we have left,” Joshua Jonathan said.

On the other side of the conflict, the herders say they are also under attack. They complain of cattle rustling and extrajudicial killings by local security groups working as community vigilantes.

Abdullahi Bello Bodejo, the president of the national herders’ association, denied that anyone in the group was responsible for the violence. Most of the herders belong to the Fulanis, an ethnic group.

“Fulanis are not the killers. Any person carrying out killings is not our member. Sometimes, when communities accuse us of killings, 75% is not true; they have their own crisis but always blame Fulanis,” said Bodejo.

Nigerian security forces say they have arrested dozens of gunmen and recovered their weapons. But the assailants are estimated to number in the thousands and can easily recruit new members, according to Abdulaziz Abdulaziz, a conflict researcher.

“There is a limit to the kinetic (military) operations, as it doesn’t address the socioeconomic issue that gave rise to banditry in the region in the first place,” said Oluwole Ojewale of the Africa-focused Institute for Security Studies. He said the incoming Tinubu administration must work with state governments to address unemployment, poverty and social injustice.

The recent violence has led to the formation of community, state and regional security outfits that experts say could create bigger problems for Nigeria’s security architecture if not properly monitored.

And their recruits are young.

Felix Sunday, a college student in Kaduna, said that he was 16 when he joined a local vigilante group in 2021, and that he struggles to combine the night watch with his studies.

Across much of West and Central Africa, porous national borders facilitate the smuggling of weapons. A survey-based report published in 2021 by the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey in collaboration with the Nigerian government found that at least 6 million firearms may have been in the hands of civilians in the country at the time.

The military and police have recovered hundreds of firearms in Nigeria in the last year, but weapons dealers elsewhere are exacerbating the problem.

“Things have gotten considerably worse. Some are large military weapons imported from other countries,” said Confidence MacHarry with the Lagos-based SBM Intelligence security firm.

With sophisticated weapons, the gunmen have launched daring attacks in areas with a heavy security presence, including a military base and an airport in Kaduna, indicating that the problem may be the motivation of the security forces themselves.

Survivors of the attack in Plateau told the AP that the police didn’t arrive until the next day, echoing comments from people living in Runji, which has a security checkpoint nearby.

“When we call the soldiers, it is after the attackers have left that the soldiers come. Even if we hear they (the attackers) are coming and we report to the government, they don’t take proactive action,” said Simon Njam, a vigilante leader near Runji who uses bows, arrows and locally-made guns to secure the area.

Part of the problem is that the security forces are disorganized and unprepared to respond to the attacks, according to Kabir Adamu, the founder of Beacon Consulting, a security firm based in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja.

“We don’t have a coordinated security sector that identifies and counters threats,” he said. “They need to work together to protect lives and currently, we are not seeing enough of that.”

The Nigerian military and police didn’t respond to written and phone inquiries seeking a response to the claims.

As more families mourn the loss of their loved ones, forced to replace farmland with graveyards, their priority is demanding justice.

“How can people just come and kill and nothing will happen?” asked Dauda in Runji, remembering his life with his wife and four children. “They cannot bring back my lost family, but the government can at least rebuild my home and ensure justice.”

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Fresh Deadly Clashes Reported in Northeast India

Fresh deadly clashes were reported Sunday in the remote northeastern Indian state of Manipur although the exact number of fatalities was not immediately clear. 

Manipur has been on edge after an explosion of inter-ethnic violence this month killed at least 70 people and left tens of thousands displaced. 

The state’s chief minister N. Biren Singh told local media, in comments confirmed by a government official to AFP, that 40 suspected militants had died along with two police in the past two days.  

“The terrorists have been using M-16 and AK-47 assault rifles and sniper guns against civilians. They came to many villages to burn down homes,” local media quoted Singh as saying.  

“We have started taking very strong action against them with the help of the army and other security forces. We have got reports some 40 terrorists have been shot dead,” Singh was quoted as saying.  

However, while a military source confirmed an uptick of unrest, he said four people had been killed in the past 24 hours. 

“At least three armed miscreants — who were trying to set fire to empty houses and fired at the security forces when they tried to stop them — died in retaliatory firing,” the source told AFP, declining to be named. 

“One more armed miscreant was killed in Moreh and three others, including two security personnel, were injured,” the source said. 

The far-flung states of northeast India — sandwiched between Bangladesh, China and Myanmar — have long been a tinderbox of tensions between different ethnic groups. 

The violence in Manipur earlier in May was between the majority Meitei, who are mostly Hindus and live in and around the state capital Imphal, and the mainly Christian Kuki tribe in the surrounding hills. 

Most victims are believed to be from the Kuki community, with some of their villages and churches destroyed by Meitei mobs. But the Meitei were also targeted by the Kukis in some places.   

The initial spark was Kuki anger at the prospect of the Meitei being given guaranteed quotas of government jobs and other perks in a form of affirmative action.   

This also stoked long-held fears among the Kuki that the Meitei might be allowed to acquire land in areas currently reserved for them and other tribal groups.   

Thousands of troops were deployed to restore order, while around 30,000 people fled their homes for the safety of ad-hoc army-run camps for the displaced. Mobile internet has been cut for weeks.  

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Amid Some Objections, Confidence on US Debt Ceiling Deal Grows

Republican and Democratic House leaders expressed optimism Sunday that they will get enough votes in favor of raising the debt ceiling. VOA’s Veronica Balderas Iglesias has details on a deal that has in principle, been struck. Video editor: Marcus Harton.

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Former US Congresswoman Liz Cheney Urges Graduates Not to Compromise With the Truth

Former U.S. Congresswoman Liz Cheney implored new college graduates to not compromise when it comes to the truth, excoriating her House Republican colleagues for not doing enough to combat former President Donald Trump’s lies that the 2020 election was stolen.

In a commencement speech at Colorado College, the Wyoming Republican repeated her fierce criticisms of Trump but steered clear of talking about his 2024 reelection campaign or her own political future.

Cheney, who graduated from Colorado College in 1988, recalled being a political science student walking into a campus building where a Bible verse was inscribed above the entrance that read, “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.”

“After the 2020 election and the attack of January 6th, my fellow Republicans wanted me to lie. They wanted me to say the 2020 election was stolen, the attack of January 6th wasn’t a big deal, and Donald Trump wasn’t dangerous,” Cheney said Sunday in Colorado Springs, connecting her experiences as a student to her work in the U.S. House of Representatives. “I had to choose between lying and losing my position in House leadership.”

In three terms in office, Cheney rose to the No. 3 GOP leadership position in the House, a job she lost after voting to impeach Trump for the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the Capitol and then not relenting in her criticism of the former president.

Cheney’s speech touched on themes similar to those she has promoted since leaving office in January: addressing her work on the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol and standing up to the threat she believes Trump poses to democracy. She also encouraged more women to run for office and criticized one of the election-denying attorneys who worked for Trump after the 2020 election for recent remarks about college students voting.

“Cleta Mitchell, an election denier and adviser to former President Trump, told a gathering of Republicans recently that it is crucially important to make sure that college students don’t vote,” Cheney said. “Those who are trying to unravel the foundations of our republic, who are threatening the rule of law and the sanctity of our elections, know they can’t succeed if you vote.”

In an audio recording of Mitchell’s presentation from a recent Republican National Committee retreat, she warns of polling places on college campuses and the ease of voting as potential problems, The Washington Post reported.

Most students and parents in the audience applauded throughout Cheney’s remarks, yet some booed. Some students opposing the choice of Cheney as speaker turned their chairs away from the stage as she spoke.

Cheney’s busy speaking schedule and subject matter have fueled speculation about whether she may enter the 2024 GOP presidential primary since she left office. Candidates ranging from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley have calibrated their remarks about Trump, aiming to counter his attacks without alienating the supporters that won him the White House seven years ago.

Though some have offered measured criticisms, no declared or potential challenger has embraced anti-Trump messaging to the same extent as Cheney. She did not reference her plans on Sunday but has previously said she remains undecided about whether she wants to run for president.

Though she would face an uphill battle, Cheney’s fierce anti-Trump stance and her role as vice chairwoman of the House committee elevated her platform high enough to call on a national network of donors and Trump critics to support a White House run.

A super PAC organized to support of her candidacy has remained active, including purchasing attack ads on New Hampshire airwaves against Trump this month.

After leaving office and being replaced by a Trump-backed Republican who defeated her in last year’s primary, Cheney was appointed to a professorship at the University of Virginia and wrote “Oath and Honor,” a memoir scheduled to hit shelves in November.

Two of Cheney’s five children as well as her mother are also graduates of the liberal arts college.

Cheney’s speaking tour appears to be picking up. She is scheduled to appear Thursday at the Mackinac Policy Conference in Michigan.

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