Respiratory diseases plague Kenya as more people burn wood to save money

NAIROBI, Kenya — Piles of firewood surrounded Jane Muthoni in her kitchen made of iron sheets. The roof, walls and wooden pillars were covered in soot. As she blew on the flame for tea, the 65-year-old was engulfed in smoke.

“I’ve used firewood all my life,” she said. “Sometimes I usually cough from inhaling the smoke, and my eyes itch, but there’s nothing I can do about it. I don’t have money to even buy charcoal.”

She was unaware of the lasting toll on her health. But experts are.

Respiratory diseases have been the most prevalent diseases in Kenya for the past several years and are on the rise, according to government authorities, with 19.6 million reported cases last year.

Burning biomass such as firewood is the largest contributor to those diseases, said Evans Amukoye, a scientist with the Kenya Medical Research Institute’s respiratory diseases research center.

“One can have itchy eyes, coughs while inhaling the smoke, and for serious cases like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, you find that you cannot walk as your lungs have become tight,” Amukoye said. The disease is caused by indoor or outdoor air pollution or smoking.

Data from Kenya’s health ministry shows that chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is responsible for 1.7% of deaths in the country.

People in low-income areas are diagnosed with respiratory diseases later in life compared to middle-class people in urban areas with better awareness and access to health care, Amukoye said.

Families in informal neighborhoods and rural areas are the most affected as most people rely on firewood or fossil fuels for cooking. Women hunched over a smoking fire at stalls for tea or snacks is a common sight in the capital, Nairobi, and beyond.

The government’s 2022 Demographic and Health Survey showed a high dependence on traditional fuels for cooking in Kenya. The number of households relying on biomass like firewood increased from 4.7 million to 6.7 million between 2020 and 2022.

Economist Abraham Muriu said he believes the increase in Kenyans using firewood is a result of economic shocks caused by reduced incomes during the COVID pandemic and ongoing high inflation.

“Firewood is readily available and the most accessible fossil fuel, especially in rural areas,” Muriu said.

He said more Kenyans in urban areas have likely resorted to using firewood or charcoal, too, as prices and taxes rise. Blackened sacks of charcoal are openly on sale at some Nairobi intersections, and the hunt for firewood across the country is constant.

Mercy Letting, 33, a businesswoman in Nairobi’s Kasarani neighborhood was using charcoal to make meals for customers in the first six months after opening her restaurant early last year. With time, it affected her health.

“I am asthmatic, so whenever I used charcoal to cook the smoke would always trigger an attack, forcing me to spend part of my daily earnings on medication. This happened five times,” she said.

She found it expensive, spending 4,500 Kenyan shillings ($33) per month to buy a sack of charcoal. “I eventually had to buy an ‘eco-friendly’ cooker, which has been great for my health and good for business.” It requires less charcoal.

Letting also bought an induction burner, which she said is faster in cooking and more efficient as she spends only 50 Kenyan shillings ($0.38) per day on electricity.

Although companies pursue “clean cooking” options, high prices remain an obstacle to many Kenyans.

“If we want to deliver a truly clean and efficient solution to users across Africa, it needs to be affordable for them,” said Chris McKinney, the chief commercial officer at BURN Manufacturing, which describes itself as a “modern cookstove” company based on the outskirts of Nairobi.

“This has been the key barrier to scaling for us,” he said.

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Even legal African visitors to Europe face hurdles

ALGIERS, Algeria — France has twice rejected visa applications from Nabil Tabarout, a 29-year-old web developer from Algeria who hopes this year to visit his sister there.

He’s among the many people navigating the often-arduous visa process throughout Africa, which faces higher visa rejection rates than anywhere else in the world when it comes to visiting Europe’s Schengen Area. Appointments are often difficult to secure. Applicants often must prove a minimum bank balance, substantiate the purpose of their visit and prove they plan to return home.

“That’s how it is. Every pleasure deserves pain,” said Tabarout, who has succeeded just once in obtaining a French visa.

Though much of Europe’s debate about migration centers on people who arrive without authorization, many more people choose to come by legal means. It’s painful, then, to discover that following the rules often fails.

The disproportionate rejection rates — 10% higher in Africa than the global average — hinder trade, business and educational partnerships at the expense of African economies, according to an April study from U.K.-based migration consultancy firm Henley & Partners.

The study called the practices discriminatory and urged Schengen countries to reform them.

Nowhere are applicants more rejected than in Algeria, where more than 392,000 applicants were rejected in 2022. The 45.8% rejection rate is followed by a 45.2% rejection rate in Guinea-Bissau and 45.1% in Nigeria.

Only one in 25 applicants living in the United States were rejected.

While the study found that applicants from poorer countries experienced higher rejections in general, it noted that applicants from Turkey and India experienced fewer rejection than applicants from the majority of African countries.

The reasons for that anti-Africa bias could be political, according to the study’s author, Mehari Taddele Maru of the European University Institute’s Migration Policy Center. Visa rejections are used as a political tool by European governments, including France, to negotiate the deportation of those who migrate to Europe without proper authorization. North African governments have refused to provide consular documents for their citizens facing deportation.

In an interview, Maru said Algeria has continent-high rejection rates because its number of applicants outpaces those from other African countries for geographic, economic and historical reasons. Many Algerians apply for visas in France, where they speak the language and may have family ties. And North Africa’s proximity to Europe means flights are short and cheap compared to flights from sub-Saharan Africa, leading more people to apply, he said.

Beyond rejection rates, the difficulty of applying is also a policy choice by European governments, Maru said. “When we talk about increasing barriers for potential applicants, it’s not only the rate of rejections, it’s also the restrictions to apply.”

That means the challenges can be local too.

For Algerians like Tabarout, VFS Global is a new player in the visa application process. The subcontractor was hired by French consular authorities after years of criticism about the previous system being dominated by a so-called “visa mafia.”

Applicants previously faced challenges securing time slots, which are quickly reserved by third-party brokers and then resold to the public — similar to how scalpers have dominated concert platforms. Rumors swirled about intricate computer programs connecting to appointment platforms and gobbling up slots within moments.

“They’re a bunch of swindlers who’ve been at it for years, making fortunes on the backs of poor citizens by making them pay dearly to make an appointment to apply for a visa,” asserted Ali Challali, who recently helped his daughter submit a French student visa application.

Under the previous system, applicants told The Associated Press they had to pay 15,000 to 120,000 Algerian dinars (103 to 825 euros) just to get an appointment.

In Algeria, many decide to pursue opportunities in France after not finding adequate economic opportunities at home or seek residency after going to French universities on student visas. According to a 2023 report from France’s Directorate General for Foreign Nationals, 78% of Algerian students “say they have no intention of returning to Algeria” upon finishing their studies.

The visa issue has historically been a cause of political tensions between the countries. Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune is scheduled to visit France later this year.

“Everything that can contribute to increasing trade between France, Europe and Algeria must be facilitated in both directions,” French Ambassador Stephane Ramotet said at a recent economic conference in Algiers. “Algerians who want to go to France to develop a business must be able to benefit from all the facilities, particularly visas.”

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Chinese Premier Li in Australia, touts trade

SYDNEY — Chinese Premier Li Qiang is toasting a turnaround in trade ties with Australia on Sunday with a trip to a major winegrowing region that was hit by Beijing’s sanctions.

The highest-ranking Chinese official to visit Australia in seven years, Li’s four-day trip offers the prospect of lucrative trade after Beijing lifted punitive measures against a string of major Australian exports.

China is by far Australia’s biggest trading partner, taking in nearly 30% of its exports last year including major commodities iron ore and coal.

Two-way trade reached $216 billion in 2023.

“Mutual respect, seeking common ground while shelving differences and mutually beneficial cooperation” are key to growing China-Australia relations, Li said on his arrival in Adelaide on Saturday.

The premier recalled Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s fence-mending trip to Beijing last November, saying: “China-Australia relations were back on track after a period of twists and turns.”

Li is to visit winemakers in the famed Barossa region near Adelaide, hometown of Foreign Minister Penny Wong, who is credited with helping stabilize relations with China.

Wine was among a string of Australian exports, along with coal, timber, barley, beef, and lobsters subjected to Chinese sanctions in 2020 during a diplomatic rift with the former conservative government.

Those sanctions cost Australian exporters an estimated $13 billion a year.

But they have been gradually lifted since Albanese’s government entered power in 2022 and adopted a softer diplomatic approach toward China.

Li and Albanese are to hold talks behind closed doors in Canberra on Monday, encompassing fractious issues of foreign influence, human rights, rivalry in the Pacific and alleged unsafe behavior by China’s military in the region.

But the Chinese premier, who will also head to a lithium mine in Perth, is focusing his visit on economic opportunities.

“Australia has endured a long period of deep freeze, where it was not possible to have any sort of official conversations with China, which I think is a bad situation,” said Melissa Conley Tyler, honorary fellow at the University of Melbourne’s Asia Institute.

Li’s visit sends a message that “Australia is back to being seen as a friendly country rather than the unfriendly, hostile country we were seen as during those years of maximum tension,” she told AFP.

Setting the warmer diplomatic tone, Li will first visit the Adelaide Zoo where giant pandas Wang Wang and Fu Ni have been on loan from China since 2009.

Hopes are high that the pair — instruments of China’s so-called Panda diplomacy — will be allowed to stay despite producing no offspring in their time together.

“The pandas have been a great part of the lives of many Adelaide families and so we look forward to that continuing,” Australia’s foreign minister said in a television interview Sunday.

Behind the diplomacy, the impact of China’s trade measures lingers.

Chinese tariffs had effectively blocked premium Australian wine exports worth an estimated $660 million a year.

Three months after they were scrapped, Australian wine producers remain hesitant to rush back into pretariff levels of trade with China, said Paul Turale, marketing manager at industry body Wine Australia.

“It will take some time to grow to what the industry was before,” he told AFP.

Australia’s rock lobster industry, one of the last still suffering under the Chinese sanctions, is hopeful that Li will remove them, too, during his visit.

“More than 20% of Australian jobs reply on trade, so growing our export opportunity is fundamental to Australia’s continued economic success,” Business Council of Australia chief executive Bran Black said ahead of the visit.

“Australia’s trade with China will continue to be a priority and we are pleased there is a continuing stabilization of the relationship.” 

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Midwives: State law could jeopardize Native Hawaiian birth traditions

HONOLULU — Ki’inaniokalani Kahoʻohanohano longed for a deeper connection to her Native Hawaiian ancestors and culture as she prepared to give birth to her first child at home on the north shore of Maui in 2003.

But generations of colonialist suppression had eroded many Hawaiian traditions, and it was hard to find information on how the islands’ Indigenous people honored pregnancy or childbirth. Nor could she find a Native Hawaiian midwife.

That experience led Kahoʻohanohano — now a mother of five — to become a Native Hawaiian midwife herself, a role in which she spent years helping to deliver as many as three babies a month, receiving them in a traditional cloth made of woven bark and uttering sacred, tremorous chants as she welcomed them into the world.

Her quest to preserve tradition also led her into a downtown Honolulu courtroom this week, where she and others are seeking to block a state law that they say endangers their ability to continue serving pregnant women who hope for such customary Native Hawaiian births.

“To be able to have our babies in the places and in the ways of our kupuna, our ancestors, is very vital,” she testified. “To me, the point of what we do is to be able to return birth home to these places.”

Lawmakers enacted a midwife licensure law in 2019, finding that the “improper practice of midwifery poses a significant risk of harm to the mother or newborn, and may result in death.” Violations are punishable by up to a year in jail, plus thousands of dollars in criminal and civil fines.

The measure requires anyone who provides “assessment, monitoring, and care” during pregnancy, labor, childbirth and during the postpartum period to be licensed. The women’s lawsuit says that would include a wide range of people, including midwives, doulas, lactation consultants, and even family and friends of the new mother.

Until last summer, the law provided an exception for “birth attendants,” which allowed Kahoʻohanohano to continue practicing Native Hawaiian birth customs. With that exception now expired, however, she and others face the licensing requirements — which, they say, include costly programs only available out of state or online that don’t align with Hawaiian culture and beliefs.

In 2022, the average cost of an accredited midwifery program was $6,200 to $6,900 a year, according to court documents filed by the state.

Attorneys for the state argued in a court filing that the law “undoubtedly serves a compelling interest in protecting pregnant persons from receiving ill-advice from untrained individuals.”

State Deputy Attorney General Isaac Ickes told Judge Shirley Kawamura that the law doesn’t outlaw Native Hawaiian midwifery or homebirths, but that requiring a license reduces the risks of harm or death.

The dispute is the latest in a long history of debate about how and whether Hawaii should regulate the practice of traditional healing arts that dates to well before the islands became the 50th state in 1959. Those arts were banished or severely restricted for much of the 20th century, but the Hawaiian Indigenous rights movement of the 1970s renewed interest in the customary ways.

Hawaii eventually adopted a system where councils versed in Native Hawaiian healing certify traditional practitioners, though those suing say their efforts to form such a council for midwifery have failed.

Practicing midwifery without a license, meanwhile, was banned until 1998 — when, lawmakers say, they inadvertently decriminalized it when they altered the regulation of nurse-midwives, something the 2019 law sought to remedy.

Among the nine plaintiffs are women who seek traditional births and argue that the new licensing requirement violates their right of privacy and reproductive autonomy under Hawaii’s Constitution. They are represented by the Center for Reproductive Rights and the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation.

“For pregnant people whose own family may no longer hold the knowledge of the ceremonial and sacred aspects of birth, a midwife trained in Native Hawaiian traditional and customary birthing practices can be an invaluable, culturally informed health care provider,” the lawsuit states.

When Kahoʻohanohano was unable to find a Native Hawaiian midwife to attend the birth of her first child, she turned instead to a Native American one, who was open to incorporating traditional Hawaiian aspects that Kahoʻohanohano gleaned from her elders.

She surrounded herself with Hawaiian cultural practitioners focusing on pule, or prayer, and lomilomi, a traditional massage with physical and spiritual elements. It all helped ease her three days of labor, she said. And then, “two pushes and pau” — done — the boy was born.

The births of her five children in various Maui communities, Kahoʻohanohano said, were her “greatest teachers” in herself becoming one of the very few midwives who know about Native Hawaiian birthing practices.

She is believed to be the first person in a century to give birth on her husband’s ancestral lands in Kahakuloa, a remote west Maui valley of mostly Native Hawaiians, where her daughter was born in 2015. The community is at least 40 minutes along winding roads to the island’s only hospital.

Kahoʻohanohano testified about helping low-risk pregnant women and identifying instances where she transferred someone to receive care at the hospital but said she’s never experienced any emergency situations.

Among the other plaintiffs are midwives she has helped train and women she has aided through birth. Makalani Franco-Francis testified that she learned about customary birth practices from Kahoʻohanohano, including how to receive a newborn in kapa, or traditional cloth, and cultural protocols for a placenta, including taking it to the ocean or burying it to connect a newborn to its ancestral lands.

The law has halted her education, Franco-Francis said. She testified that she’s not interested in resuming her midwifery education through out-of-state or online programs.

“It’s not in alignment with our cultural practices, and it’s also a financial obligation,” she said.

The judge heard testimony through the week. It’s not clear how soon a ruling might come.

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Frustrated Ghanaians brace for more disruptions in power

Accra, Ghana — Exasperated Ghanaians already grappling with frequent, unplanned power outages are steeling themselves for more misery after electricity distributors announced increased disruption to the grid in the coming weeks. 

The blackouts — known as “dumsor” in Ghana’s Akan language — are making it harder to run businesses already struggling due to the country’s economic crisis — the worst in a decade.  

On Thursday, the Ghana Grid Company and the Electricity Company of Ghana, which distribute power throughout the West African country of 33 million people, said there would be three weeks of load management because of maintenance work by a gas supplier in Nigeria. 

Nigeria provides Ghana with a percentage of the gas it needs to fire its power-generating plants. 

The announcement came a day after WAPCo, the operator of the pipeline importing gas from Nigeria, also warned there would be a drop in the quantity of gas available because of maintenance work in Nigeria.   

The news has exasperated Ghanaians already dealing with frequent power cuts. 

“The current unannounced power cuts are already making it very hard to keep my poultry frozen,” Judith Esi Baidoo, a 50-year-old frozen poultry vendor in Accra, told AFP. 

She added: “Now, with this three-week load management plan, I fear my entire stock will spoil. I don’t know how my business can survive this.” 

The erratic power supply is tipped to become a key topic in the campaign for December’s presidential election. 

Timothy Oddoye, who repairs mobile phones in the Accra suburb of Kokomlemle, said, “The government had failed us. They’ve had years to fix these problems, yet we are still suffering from the same issues. 

“How can we grow our businesses when we can’t even rely on basic electricity?” 

Despite being one of the African countries where electrification is most advanced, Ghana continues to experience chronic power shortages.  

Domestic electricity production — generated by power plants that are in many cases old and poorly maintained — has struggled to expand in line with rising demand. 

According to International Energy Agency figures, Ghana generates 34 percent of its electricity from hydropower and 63 percent from gas.  

The country produces both oil and gas but still needs to import gas from Nigeria via the 678-kilometer (420-mile) West African Gas Pipeline through Benin and Togo. 

“The reliance on gas, especially from external suppliers, leaves us vulnerable,” said Ben Boakye, executive director of the Africa Center for Energy Policy. 

“The government must prioritize investments in renewable energy and upgrade our existing hydro and thermal plants to ensure [a] consistent power supply.” 

Public frustration at the power cuts erupted on June 8, when hundreds of Ghanaians, led by prominent celebrities, took to the streets of Accra to protest the erratic supply under the slogan #DumsorMustStop.  

These power cuts are even more disturbing for Ghanaians as the country emerges from an economic crisis that saw inflation soar to 54 percent in December 2022. 

It fell back to 25 percent in April 2023, but the population still suffers. 

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Nigeria’s annual inflation rate hits 28-year high: 33.95%

abuja, nigeria — Nigeria’s annual inflation rose to a 28-year high of 33.95% in May, official data showed Saturday, worsening hardships that have fueled public anger against President Bola Tinubu’s economic reforms.

It was the 18th straight month that inflation has risen, up from 33.69% a month earlier.

Price pressures have been spurred by Tinubu’s reforms, chiefly slashing petrol and electricity subsidies and devaluing the naira currency twice within a year.

Labor unions, which suspended a strike called to demand a new minimum wage, have argued that the reforms hurt the poor and have left millions grappling with the worst cost-of-living crisis in decades.

Data published by the National Bureau of Statistics showed food and non-alcoholic beverages continued to be the biggest contributor to inflation in May.

Food inflation, which accounts for the bulk of Nigeria’s inflation basket, rose to 40.66% from 40.53% the previous month.

High food prices and a weaker naira are the main drivers of inflation in Nigeria, analysts say.

The central bank raised interest rates in May for the third time this year in response to the continued rise in inflation.

Governor Olayemi Cardoso of the Central Bank of Nigeria has indicated that rates will stay high for as long as necessary to bring inflation down.

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Complaints about non-citizen voting center on US voter ID laws

Former President Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, says people are voting illegally in U.S. elections, including immigrants. One California city is moving to impose voter identification rules that violate state voting laws. Genia Dulot reports.

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Surge in rebel attacks sparks deadly protests in Democratic Republic of Congo

BUTEMBO, Democratic Republic of Congo — At least seven people have been killed in unrest in Democratic Republic of Congo’s North Kivu province, local officials said on Saturday, after people took to the streets to protest a surge in  deadly attacks by suspected Islamist rebels. 

The Allied Democratic Forces, a rebel group affiliated to the Islamic State group, are alleged to have killed more than 40 people in an attack on Mayikengo village this week and more than 80 in attacks on other villages in the eastern province the previous week. 

The insecurity has fueled public frustration, leading to the killing of two soldiers and their driver in Lubero territory by a crowd who torched their vehicle overnight on Friday, local official Julio Mabanga told Reuters. 

On Saturday, further clashes in the area between security forces and local residents led to the deaths of another three people: a civilian, a soldier, and an agent of the ANR national intelligence service, Mabanga said. 

A similar protest broke out in the city of Butembo on Saturday, with hundreds of youths taking to the streets, wielding sticks, chanting and singing songs to denounce the widespread insecurity, according to a Reuters reporter. 

“I’m here at this roundabout, barricading the road. We sympathize with our killed compatriots,” said Daniel Sivanzire Paluku, one of the protesters, who said they needed to block the roads to monitor who was coming and going. 

Butembo Mayor Mowa Baeki Telly confirmed one civilian was killed during clashes between security forces and protesters in the city.  

The ADF originates in neighboring Uganda but is now based in mineral-rich eastern Congo. It has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group and mounts frequent attacks, further destabilizing a region where many militant groups compete for influence and resources. 

It has not been possible to reach the ADF for comment on the attacks. 

The U.S.-based SITE Intelligence Group, which follows militant websites, said on Friday the Islamic State had published communiques from its so-called Central Africa Province division claiming responsibility for the killing of 51 people in attacks in North Kivu this week. It has also claimed to have beheaded more than 60 people in a single attack in the province on June 7.  

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Chinese Premier Li arrives in Australia, says ties ‘back on track’

SYDNEY — Chinese Premier Li Qiang arrived in Australia on Saturday, saying relations were “back on track” as he started the first visit by a Chinese premier to the major trading partner in seven years.

Australia is “uniquely positioned to connect the West and the East” and stands as “an important force of economic globalization and world multipolarity,” Li said at Adelaide’s airport, according to a statement from the Chinese embassy.

Bilateral relations are “back on track after a period of twists and turns,” Li said.

Australia is the biggest supplier of iron ore to China, which has been an investor in Australian mining projects, although some recent Chinese investment in critical minerals has been blocked by Australia on national interest grounds.

China imposed trade restrictions on a raft of Australian agricultural and mineral products in 2020 during a diplomatic dispute that has now largely eased.

During his four-day visit, Li will also visit the capital, Canberra, and mining state Western Australia.

“A more mature, stable and fruitful comprehensive strategic partnership will be a treasure shared by the people of both countries,” Li said.

He is expected to visit a pair of pandas on loan from China to Adelaide’s zoo on Sunday. A lunch with wine exporters, until recently shut out of the Chinese market.

Li arrived from New Zealand, where he highlighted Chinese demand for New Zealand’s agricultural products.

China is the biggest trading partner of Australia and New Zealand. Canberra and Wellington are seeking to balance trade with regional security concerns over China’s ambitions in the Pacific Islands.

In New Zealand, Li visited major dairy exporter Fonterra on Saturday after signing agreements with Prime Minister Christopher Luxon on trade and climate change, with human rights and foreign interference also on the agenda.

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Trump Michigan trip includes Black church, far-right activists’ meeting

DETROIT, MICHIGAN — Donald Trump will use back-to-back stops Saturday to court Black voters and a conservative group that has been accused of attracting white supremacists as the Republican presidential candidate works to stitch together a coalition of historically divergent interests in the battleground state of Michigan.

Trump is scheduled to host an afternoon roundtable at an African American church in downtown Detroit. Later he will appear at the “People’s Convention” of Turning Point Action, a group that the Anti-Defamation League says has been linked to a variety of extremists.

Roughly 24 hours before Trump planned to address the conference, well-known white supremacist Nick Fuentes entered Turning Point’s convention hall surrounded by a group of cheering supporters. He was quickly escorted out by security.

Fuentes created political problems for Trump after Fuentes attended a private lunch with the former president and the rapper formerly known as Kanye West at Trump’s Florida estate in 2022.

Trump’s weekend plans underscore the evolving political forces shaping the presidential election this fall as he tries to deny Democratic President Joe Biden a second term.

Few states are expected to matter more in November than Michigan, which Biden carried by less than 3 percentage points four years ago. And few voting groups matter more to Democrats than African Americans, who made up the backbone of Biden’s political base in 2020. But now, less than five months before Election Day, Black voters are expressing modest signs of disappointment with the Democrat.

Michael Whatley, the new chairman of the Republican National Committee, told Michigan Republicans at a dinner Friday that the state could not be more important.

“Everybody knows if we don’t win Michigan, we’re not going to have a Republican in the White House,” Whatley said. “Let me be more blunt: If we don’t win Michigan, we’re not going to have Donald Trump in the White House.

“We are going to determine the fate of the world in this election in November,” he said.

Trump argues that he can pull in more Black voters due to his economic and border security message, and that his felony indictments make him more relatable.

Democrats are offering a competing perspective.

“Donald Trump is so dangerous for Michigan and dangerous for America and dangerous for Black people,” Michigan Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist II, who is African American, said Friday.

He said it was “offensive” for Trump to address the Turning Point conference, which was taking place at the same convention center that was “the epicenter of their steal the election effort.”

Indeed, dozens of angry Trump loyalists chanting “Stop the count!” descended on the TCF Center, now named Huntington Place, the day after the 2020 presidential election as absentee ballots were being counted. Local media captured scenes of protesters outside and in the lobby. Police prevented them from entering the counting area.

The protests took place after Trump had tweeted that “they are finding Biden votes all over” in several states, including Michigan.

The false notion that Biden benefited from widespread voter fraud has been widely debunked by voting officials in both parties, the court system and members of Trump’s former administration. Still, Trump continues to promote such misinformation, which echoed throughout the conservative convention over the weekend.

Speaking from the main stage, Turning Point founder and CEO Charlie Kirk falsely described the conference location as “the scene of a crime.”

Such extreme rhetoric does not appear to have hurt Trump’s standing with Black voters, however.

Among Black adults, Biden’s approval has dropped from 94% when he started his term in January 2021 to just 55%, according to an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll published in March.

About 8 in 10 Black voters have an unfavorable opinion of Trump, with roughly two-thirds saying they have a “very unfavorable” view of him, according to an AP-NORC poll conducted in June. About 2 in 10 Black voters have a very or somewhat favorable view of Trump.

Trump won 8% of the Black vote in 2020, according to AP VoteCast. And in what is expected to be a close election, even a modest shift could be consequential.

Maurice Morrison, a 67-year-old lifelong Detroit resident, plans to attend Trump’s church appearance. Morrison acknowledged that Trump, for whom he voted twice before and plans to again, is deeply unpopular in his community and even inside his home.

“Once he decided to run for president as a Republican, that automatically made him racist. That’s his middle name now — ‘Trump is racist’ — everybody I talk to, all the people I know, my family,” said Morrison, who is Black.

Meanwhile, thousands of conservative activists, most of them young and white, were eagerly awaiting Trump’s keynote address Saturday night.

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US diplomat warns China’s provoking of Taiwan risks conflict

Taipei, Taiwan — Outgoing director of the American Institute in Taiwan, Sandra Oudkirk, has warned China against aggressive moves in the region that could spark a larger conflict.

Oudkirk made the comment in response to a question at a June 14 farewell news conference.

“The United States is profoundly devoted to a status quo in the straits and in the region … that is one of peace and stability. And that is why we have consistently urged the PRC [People’s Republic of China] to avoid coercive or provocative actions both in the Taiwan Straits and in other areas like the South China Sea and off Japan, because provocative actions are almost by definition dangerous,” she said. “They run the risk of a miscalculation or an accident that could spark a broader conflict.”

During Oudkirk’s three-year term, China conducted three island-circling military exercises against Taiwan, causing an unprecedented level of tension in the history of the American Institute in Taiwan, or AIT, which serves as Washington’s de facto embassy.

China considers self-governing Taiwan a breakaway province that must one day be reunited with the mainland, by force if necessary.

The U.S., like many countries, does not recognize Taiwan as a country in order to have relations with China. But Washington maintains informal diplomatic relations with Taipei through the AIT, along with direct trade and defense ties, and supports Taiwan as a self-governing democracy.

Oudkirk reiterated U.S. support for Taiwan’s defense capabilities against Chinese aggression, saying that bolstering Taiwan’s ability to defend itself was AIT’s “top priority.”

“We look forward to the delivery of the military capabilities” from the long-awaited U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, she said. Worth nearly $20 billion, they were purchased over the past several years but have seen delays in delivery.

Oudkirk blamed the COVID-19 pandemic for affecting supply chains but said the delays were gradually unwinding and to “watch this space.”

The U.S. in early June approved an $80 million sale of F-16 fighter jet spare and repair parts to Taiwan.

China’s defense ministry declared Beijing’s strong opposition to the arms sales on June 7 and urged Washington to withdraw them immediately.

Amid concerns about a potential defense vacuum in Taiwan, some analysts have suggested the U.S. move some arms and ammunition production to Taiwan.

In response, Taiwan’s Defense Minister Wellington Koo said on June 11 that the two countries are moving toward “possible joint production,” reported Taiwanese media.

Meanwhile, Oudkirk noted that Taiwan is looking at becoming a component supplier for the U.S. defense industry.

“We have had a variety of delegations come through Taiwan looking at cybersecurity, looking at unmanned systems, drones. I can tell there is a lot of interest there but there are still some steps in terms of meeting the standards that the U.S. puts down for its defense industrial base that Taiwan’s private companies would have to meet.”

Tzu-yun Su, an associate research fellow at the Institute for National Defense and Security Research in Taipei, told VOA the technical issues for Taiwan and U.S. defense companies to expand cooperation are not big, but a major hurdle is corporate governance.

“The confidentiality of the companies, personnel safety control and information network security will be the three major factors,” said Su. “At the same time, the government laws must be connected. If Taiwanese companies can keep up with these regulations and management aspects, they will have a relatively good chance of entering the U.S. defense supply chain.”

Asked about concerns that U.S. policy to Taiwan could change if President Joe Biden is not reelected in November, Oudkirk said, “In the United States, unlike on almost any other issue of foreign policy or domestic policy, there is a broad-based, bipartisan consensus on policy towards Taiwan. So, I do not think an election would necessarily change that.”

The American Institute in Taiwan announced in late May that Raymond Greene will succeed Oudkirk as head of the office in Taipei sometime this summer.

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Pakistan rescuers find missing Japanese climber’s body, search for another

ISLAMABAD — Rescuers in northern Pakistan have retrieved the body of one of the two Japanese climbers who had gone missing earlier in the week while attempting to scale a 7,027-meter (23,054-foot) mountain.

Waliullah Falahi, a senior area administrator, confirmed to VOA Saturday that Pakistani army helicopters are assisting “high-altitude porters” in the search for the second Japanese national. He identified the deceased climber as Ryuseki Hiraoka.

Expedition organizers said Hiraoka and his partner, Atsushi Taguchi, were trying to summit Spantik mountain, also known as the Golden Peak, in the Karakoram range without the help of porters before they disappeared Wednesday.

Hiraoka and Taguchi are reported to be experienced climbers. Hiraoka is a well-known Japanese mountain guide who has summited Mount Everest five times and climbed several other 8,000-meter mountains and many peaks in the Andes and the Pamirs.

The men were last seen Monday, and the alarm was raised by fellow climbers who had expected to cross paths with them the following day.

A military helicopter spotted the climbers Thursday, but the search was suspended due to poor weather conditions. Japanese climbers from another expedition were also reportedly assisting in the rescue efforts.

Pakistan’s northern Gilgit-Baltistan region is home to five of the world’s 14 peaks above 8,000 meters, including K2, the world’s second-highest mountain, at 8,611 meters (28,251 feet) above sea level.

Eight others are in Nepal, including Mount Everest, the world’s highest, and one is along the Nepalese border with the Tibetan region of China.

Thousands of foreigners travel to Gilgit-Baltistan during the summer climbing season, from early June to late August.

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Charities welcome Australian promise of more aid to Gaza

SYDNEY — Charities welcomed Australia’s decision to provide an additional $6.6 million to the World Food Program to help people in the Gaza Strip who are facing possible famine.

The new aid, announced Wednesday, brings Australia’s total of humanitarian aid for Gaza to $47.9 million since the October 7 Hamas attacks on Israel ignited the war.

Save the Children Australia called the assistance vital. Its chief executive, Mat Tinkler, told local media that the “entire child population in Gaza [is] at risk of famine” and that “there are still more than a million children in desperate need of support.”

A coalition of charities, including Oxfam Australia and Caritas Australia, an aid agency of the Australian Catholic Church, said in a statement that “unimpeded humanitarian access was crucial” to the people of Gaza who “were physically and psychologically traumatized, sick and starving.”

The additional aid was announced by Australian Minister for Youth Anne Aly at a conference convened by Egypt, Jordan and the United Nations in Jordan.

Aly said the “humanitarian situation in Gaza is catastrophic.”

Aly represented Australia in place of Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong, who said in a statement that her government “continues to press for a cease-fire, for humanitarian aid to reach Gazans in desperate need, and for hostages to be released.”

Wong said Australia supported the cease-fire endorsed Monday by the U.N. Security Council.

Aly told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that the conference also looked at how Gaza would be rebuilt after the war, saying that education will be important.

“So, really looking at what are the early efforts that can be put into rebuilding of Gaza,” she said, “not so much the infrastructure and rebuilding cities, but really, almost, rebuilding the people.”

Israeli authorities have said they have “daily assessments with international aid organizations operating in Gaza to review the situation and respond to the needs on the ground.”

Australia, which has said Israel has the right to defend itself, supports a two-state solution in which Israel and a future Palestinian state coexist within internationally recognized borders.

The Gaza conflict has divided public opinion in Australia, where there have been large pro-Palestinian demonstrations and rallies by supporters of Israel. Community groups have reported an increase in anti-Muslim and antisemitic abuse since the war began eight months ago.

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G7 leaders discuss economic threats from China, AI ethics

On Friday, U.S. President Joe Biden wrapped up meetings in Italy with leaders of the Group of Seven democracies. The leaders focused on threats they say China poses to the global economy and artificial intelligence ethics championed by Pope Francis. Patsy Widakuswara reports from Brindisi, Italy.

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US city repeals ban on psychic readings as industry gains more acceptance

NORFOLK, Virginia — Ashley Branton has earned a living as a psychic medium for seven years, helping a growing number of people with heavy choices about toxic relationships, home purchases and cross-country moves.

And while the tarot cards are never wrong, she said, they didn’t see this one coming.

The City Council in Norfolk, Virginia, repealed a 45-year-old ban this week on “the practice of palmistry, palm reading, phrenology or clairvoyance, for monetary or other compensation.”

Soothsaying, it turned out, had been a first-degree misdemeanor and carried up to a year in jail.

“I had no idea that was even a thing,” Branton said with a laugh Thursday among the crystals in her Norfolk shop, Velvet Witch, where she also performs tarot readings and psychic healings. “I’m glad it’s never come down on me.”

It’s unclear exactly why this city of 230,000 people on the Chesapeake Bay, home to the nation’s largest Navy base, nullified the 1979 ordinance. Versions of the ban had existed for decades before.

Norfolk spokesperson Kelly Straub said in an email that it was repealed “because it is no longer used.” City Council members said little during their vote Tuesday, although one joked that “somebody out there predicted that this was going to pass.”

Jokes aside, the city’s repeal comes as the psychic services industry is growing in the U.S., generating an estimated $2.3 billion in revenue last year and employing 97,000 people, according to a 2023 report from market research firm IBIS World.

In late 2017, a Pew Research Center survey found that most American adults identify as Christians. But many also hold New Age beliefs, with 4 in 10 believing in the power of psychics. A 2009 survey for the Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project found about 1 in 7 Americans had consulted a psychic.

Branton, 42, who previously worked as a makeup artist, said the market is expanding for psychic mediums because social media has fueled awareness. An aversion to organized religion also plays a role, along with the nation’s divisive politics and a growing sense of uncertainty, particularly among millennials and younger generations.

“Ever since COVID, people have been carrying this weight. They’re just carrying so much,” Branton said.

“And people are starting to do inner work,” she continued. “They’re starting to take care of their mental health. And they’re starting to take care of the spiritual aspect.”

Branton said she considers her work a calling. Psychic gifts run in her family, and she’s had them her whole life.

“I always had interactions with spirits,” she said. “I’ve always been an empath. I can feel people’s energies.”

Branton said she’s built up her clientele through word of mouth, without any advertising.

“I’m very proud of that,” she said. “There’s going to be scammers and people out here doing this for just the money. Obviously, this is my way of living now. But it was never about money for me.”

In 2022, AARP warned of scam psychics who prey on “people who are grieving, lonely or struggling emotionally, physically or financially.”

And some bans remain in place. In October, the police chief in Hanover, Pennsylvania, told a witchcraft-themed store that any complaints about tarot card readings would prompt an investigation, The New York Times reported.

The police chief cited an old state law that makes it illegal to predict the future for money. In 2007, the city of Philadelphia cited the same law when it shut down more than a dozen psychics, astrologers and tarot-card readers, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

Fortune telling bans stemmed from anti-witchcraft and anti-vagrancy laws in 18th century England, said Charles McCrary, a professor of religious studies at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida.

The American laws took hold in the mid-19th century, an era of growing concern about fraudulent business practices, McCrary said. But the Spiritualism movement, which often involved channeling the dead, was also growing in popularity, particularly among the middle and upper classes.

“There was something about these white, Spiritualist women that I think troubled a lot of people,” McCrary said.

“Part of what made it threatening was it couldn’t be written off as something that poor people do or something for the marginal,” he added. “It was very popular. And so more mainstream Christians found it especially threatening. And a lot of people were Christians who also did seances.”

Such laws faced little scrutiny from the courts at first, said David L. Hudson, a law professor at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, and a fellow with the Freedom Forum think tank in Washington.

The Ohio Supreme Court upheld a state law in 1928 that regulated fortune telling, writing that “liberty of speech is not license to speak anything that one pleases freed from all criminal or civil responsibility.” Other courts reasoned that fortune telling was commercial speech, which received no First Amendment protection until the mid-1970s.

More recently, courts have increasingly viewed bans on fortune tellers with skepticism on First Amendment grounds. Maryland’s Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that fortune telling for a fee is protected free speech.

“We’ve come a long way, both in terms of social norms and social acceptance,” Hudson told The Associated Press, likening psychic readings to tattoos. “But also there’s been a massive development of First Amendment law … It’s very disfavored to entirely ban a medium of expression.”

Even though Norfolk’s ban was practically forgotten and no longer enforced, Carol Peterson is relieved about the repeal. She owns the Crystal Sunflower, a store in Norfolk that offers tarot card readings and vibrational sound therapy. She is also a civilian geologist for the military.

“I was like, ‘Oh my God, I could get a class one misdemeanor,'” Peterson said.

“People have this misconceived notion that tarot is evil or demonic,” Peterson added. “But you’re helping people tap into their highest self for their journey. And if people would be more curious instead of judgmental, I think that they would be pleasantly surprised.”

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University of Cambridge returns 39 traditional artifacts to Uganda

Kampala, Uganda — The University of Cambridge has repatriated more than three dozen traditional artifacts to Uganda in a major act of restitution welcomed by the local officials who sought them. 

Some of the objects were shown exclusively to AP journalists on Wednesday. The British university returned the 39 items, which range from tribal regalia to delicate pottery, to the East African country on Saturday. 

The items remain the property of the collection of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology at Cambridge, which is loaning them to Uganda for an initial period of three years, said Mark Elliott, the museum’s senior curator in anthropology. 

Elliott described it as “very much a museum-to-museum collaboration” that stems from years of talks about the possibility of returning objects deemed “exceptionally powerful and exceptionally sensitive to communities whose belongings they were.” 

The objects, selected by Ugandan curators, represent a small fraction of about 1,500 ethnographic objects from Uganda that Cambridge has owned for a century. Cambridge acquired most as donations from private collections, and many were given by an Anglican missionary active in Uganda in the 1890s and early 20th century. 

Uganda was declared a British protectorate in 1894. Independence came in 1962. 

“It’s about putting these objects back in the hands of the Ugandan people,” Elliott said. “These objects have been away from home for so long.” 

The next step is to “research their contemporary significance and to help make decisions about their future,” he said. 

The Uganda Museum in the capital, Kampala, is expected to put on a temporary exhibition of the objects next year. 

Uganda’s agreement with Cambridge is renewable, allowing for the possibility of a permanent loan and perhaps local ownership, said Jackline Nyiracyiza, Ugandan government commissioner in charge of museums and monuments. 

“Sixty years that have passed for us now to get 39 objects,” she said. “We are working now with the Cambridge team to … see that we talk to other museums and be able to repatriate others maybe next year or within the near future.” 

Ugandan officials, seeking such restitution, first traveled to Cambridge in 2022 as more African governments started to demand accountability over items of aesthetic or cultural value that were looted before and during the colonial era. 

Elsewhere in Africa, including the West African nation of Nigeria, there have been successful restitution events in recent years. 

Nelson Abiti, principal curator of the Uganda Museum, spoke of the Cambridge deal as a breakthrough that could prove exemplary for other museums with ethnographic items from Uganda. 

“This is the biggest single movement of objects returned to the African continent” in recent years, Abiti asserted. 

Still, restitution remains a struggle for African governments, and the African Union has put the return of looted cultural property on its agenda. The continental body aims to have a common policy on the issue.

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Report: Highly potent opioids now show up in drug users in Africa

ABUJA, Nigeria — Traces of highly potent opioids known as nitazenes have for the first time been found to be consumed by people who use drugs in Africa, according to a report released Wednesday by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, a nonprofit organization.

Nitazenes, powerful synthetic opioids, have long been in use in Western countries as well as in Asia where they have been associated with overdose deaths. Some of them can be up to 100 times more potent than heroin and up to 10 times more potent than fentanyl, meaning that users can get an effect from a much smaller amount, putting them at increased risk of overdose and death.

The report focused on Sierra Leone and Guinea-Bissau and is based on chemical testing of kush, a derivative of cannabis mixed with synthetic drugs like fentanyl and tramadol and chemicals like formaldehyde. Researchers found that in Sierra Leone, 83% of the samples were found to contain nitazenes, while in Guinea-Bissau it was identified in 55%.

“The GI-TOC ( Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime) believes that these results are the first indication that nitazenes have penetrated retail drug markets in Africa,” the report said.

Many young people in West and Central Africa have become addicted to drugs with between 5.2% and 13.5% using cannabis, the most widely used illicit substance on the continent, according to the World Health Organization.

In Sierra Leone where kush is one of the most widely consumed drugs, President Julius Maada Bio this year declared war on the substance, calling it an epidemic and a national threat.

Nitazenes have been detected repeatedly in substances sold to young people in the region such that users are most likely ingesting them “without knowing the risks they face,” Wednesday’s report said.

The authors said their findings suggest that nitazenes are being imported into Sierra Leone from elsewhere and that the substance being sold as kush in Guinea-Bissau was of similar chemical composition to that found in Freetown.

Officials in the two countries must deploy chemical testing equipment as a first step in tackling drug abuse, the report said. “Without this, it is impossible for the government of Sierra Leone, Guinea-Bissau and the wider subregion to accurately monitor the countries’ illicit drug markets and develop evidence-based responses,” it said.

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Some Mexican shelters see crowding as Biden’s asylum ban takes hold

MATAMOROS, Mexico — Some shelters south of the U.S. border are caring for many more migrants now that the Biden administration stopped considering most asylum requests, while others have yet to see much of a change.

The impact appears uneven more than a week after the temporary suspension took effect. Shelters south of Texas and California have plenty of space, while as many as 500 deportations from Arizona each day are straining shelters in Mexico’s Sonora state, their directors say.

“We’re having to turn people away because we can’t, we don’t have the room for all the people who need shelter,” said Joanna Williams, executive director of Kino Border Initiative, which can take in 100 people at a time.

About 120 are in San Juan Bosco shelter in Nogales, across the border from the Arizona city with the same name, up from about 40 before the policy change, according to its director, Juan Francisco Loureiro.

“We have had a quite remarkable increase,” Loureiro said Thursday. Most are Mexican, including families as well as adults. Mexico also agreed to accept deportees from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela.

A shelter in Agua Prieta, a remote town bordering Douglas, Arizona, also began receiving more Mexican men, women and children last weekend — 40 on Sunday, more than 50 on Monday and then about 30 a day. Like those sent to Nogales, most had entered the U.S. farther west, along the Arizona-California state line, according to Perla del Angel, a worker at the Exodus Migrant Attention Center.

Mexicans make up a relatively large percentage of border arrests in much of Arizona compared to other regions, which may help explain why Nogales is affected. Mexicans are generally the easiest nationality to deport because officials only have to drive them to a border crossing instead of arranging a flight.

In Tijuana, directors of four large shelters said this week that they haven’t received a single migrant deported since the asylum ban took effect. Al Otro Lado, a migrant advocacy group, consulted only seven migrants on the first full day operating an information booth at the main crossing where migrants are deported from San Diego.

“What there is right now is a lot of uncertainty,” said Paulina Olvera, president of Espacio Migrante, who houses up to 40 people traveling in families, predominantly from Mexico, and has others sleeping on the sidewalk outside. “So far what we’ve seen is the rumors and the mental health impact on people. We haven’t seen returns yet.”

Biden administration officials said last week that thousands have been deported since the new rule took effect on July 5, suspending asylum whenever arrests for illegal crossings hit a trigger of 2,500 in a single day. The officials, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity, were not more specific. The halt will remain in effect until arrests fall below a seven-day daily average of 1,500.

“We are ready to repatriate a record number of people in the coming days,” Blas Nuñez-Neto, assistant homeland security secretary for border and immigration policy, told Spanish-language reporters after the policy was announced.

The Homeland Security Department did not immediately respond to a request for figures on Friday and neither did the National Immigration Institute in Mexico. 

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Myanmar cracks down on flow of information by blocking VPNs

BANGKOK — Myanmar’s military government has launched a major effort to block free communication on the internet, shutting off access to virtual private networks — known as VPNs — which can be used to circumvent blockages of banned websites and services. 

The attempt to restrict access to information began at the end of May, according to mobile phone operators, internet service providers, a major opposition group, and media reports. 

The military government that took power in February 2021 after ousting the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi has made several attempts to throttle traffic on the internet, especially in the months immediately after their takeover. 

Reports in local media say the attack on internet usage includes random street searches of people’s mobile phones to check for VPN applications, with a fine if any are found. It is unclear if payments are an official measure. 

25 arrested for having VPNs

On Friday, the Burmese-language service of U.S. government-funded Radio Free Asia reported about 25 people from Myanmar’s central coastal Ayeyarwady region were arrested and fined by security forces this week after VPN apps were found on their mobile phones. Radio Free Asia is a sister news outlet to Voice of America. 

As the army faces strong challenges from pro-democracy guerrillas across the country in what amounts to a civil war, it has also made a regular practice of shutting down civilian communications in areas where fighting is taking place. While this may serve tactical purposes, it also makes it hard for evidence of alleged human rights abuses to become public. 

According to a report released last month by Athan, a freedom of expression advocacy group in Myanmar, nearly 90 of 330 townships across the country have had internet access or phone service — or both — cut off by authorities. 

Resistance that arose to the 2021 army takeover relied heavily on social media, especially Facebook, to organize street protests. As nonviolent resistance escalated into armed struggle and other independent media were shut down or forced underground, the need for online information increased. 

The resistance scored a victory in cybersphere when Facebook and other major social media platforms banned members of the Myanmar military because of their alleged violations of human and civil rights, and blocked ads from most military-linked commercial entities. 

Users unable to connect

This year, widely used free VPN services started failing at the end of May, with users getting messages that they could not be connected, keeping them from social media such as Facebook, WhatsApp and some websites.

VPNs connect users to their desired sites through third-party computers, making it almost impossible for internet service providers and snooping governments to see what the users are actually connecting to. 

Internet users, including online retail sellers, have been complaining for the past two weeks about slowdowns, saying they were not able to watch or upload videos and posts or send messages easily. 

Operators of Myanmar’s top telecom companies MPT, Ooredoo, Atom and the military-backed Mytel, as well as fiber internet services, told The Associated Press on Friday that access to Facebook, Instagram, X, WhatsApp and VPN services was banned nationwide at the end of May on the order of the Transport and Communications Ministry. 

The AP tried to contact a spokesperson for the Transport and Communications Ministry for comment but received no response. 

The operators said VPNs are not currently authorized for use, but suggested users try rotating through different services to see if any work. 

A test by the AP of more than two dozen VPN apps found that only one could hold a connection, and it was slow. 

The military government has not yet publicly announced the ban on VPNs. 

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G7 leaders discuss economic threats from Chinese, AI ethics

On Friday, U.S. President Joe Biden wrapped up meetings in Italy with leaders of the Group of Seven democracies. The leaders focused on threats they say China poses to the global economy and artificial intelligence ethics championed by Pope Francis. Patsy Widakuswara reports from Brindisi, Italy.

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UN experts say Sudan paramilitaries are recruiting in Central African Republic

United nations — Sudanese paramilitary forces are using the Central African Republic as a “supply chain,” including for recruitment of fighters, according to a report published Friday by U.N. experts who are concerned about a “spillover effect.” 

Sudan descended into war in April 2023 when the generals in charge of the army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) took up arms against each other in a fight for control, rejecting a plan to integrate. 

“The spillover effect of the conflict in the Sudan has significantly affected the situation in the Central African Republic,” said the expert committee, formed by the U.N. Security Council to monitor sanctions on C.A.R. 

They highlighted in particular the humanitarian situation, as the country sees an influx of millions of Sudanese refugees, as well as incursions by the two warring Sudanese parties – plus air raids by the Sudanese army in and around the Umm Dafog border post, where the RSF is present. 

This “continues to constitute a security threat to civilians and an impediment to humanitarian activities in the area,” the experts said. 

They insist the paramilitaries are also using the Am Dafok area in C.A.R. on the border “as a key logistical hub.” 

Because the RSF can “move between the two countries easily through a long-standing network,” they have been able to recruit “from among armed groups in the Central African Republic.” 

“Opposition armed groups from the Central African Republic have been reported to have actively recruited for, and sent members of their own groups to fight in, the Sudan under RSF,” the experts said. 

They noted in particular fighters in Sudan since as early as August 2023 from the Popular Front for the Rebirth of Central Africa, a C.A.R. rebel group.

The experts said they are aware that this armed group and others “are still able to cross between the Sudan and the Central African Republic at will and use Sudanese territory to launch attacks.” 

The experts thus called on C.A.R. authorities to “counteract the surge in arms trafficking from neighboring countries, particularly given the current conflict situation in the Sudan.” 

They also asked the leaders to combat “the infiltration of foreign fighters into the Central African Republic, which poses a significant long-term threat to the region.” 

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World Bank approves $2.25B loan to support economic reform in Nigeria

ABUJA, Nigeria — The World Bank has approved a $2.25 billion loan for Nigeria to shore up revenue and support economic reforms that have contributed to the worst cost-of-living crisis in many years for Africa’s most populous country. 

The bank said in a statement late Thursday that the bulk of the loan — $1.5 billion — will help protect millions who have faced growing poverty since a year ago when President Bola Tinubu came to power and took drastic steps to fix the country’s ailing economy. 

The remaining $750 million, the bank said, will support tax reforms and revenue and safeguard oil revenues threatened with limited production caused by chronic theft. 

President Tinubu’s economic reforms — including ending decadeslong but costly fuel subsidies and unifying the multiple exchange rates — have resulted in surging inflation that is at a 28-year high. 

Under growing pressure from citizens and workers protesting the hardship, Tinubu’s government said in May that it was seeking the loan to support its long-term economic plans. 

Mohamed Malick Fall, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator in Nigeria, told a U.N. news conference in New York that about $800 million will go to a cash transfer program that will enable the number of households benefitting from social support to increase from 3 million to 15 million. That will help alleviate immediate suffering and could impact up to 70 million people, considering every household has five to seven people, he said. 

Fall said the government has put about $450 million into a social protection scheme, and to sustain the social safety net in the long term, the U.N. is advising it to develop a sustained investment program that isn’t dependent on foreign assistance as part of its poverty alleviation plan. 

The government said it was also taking steps to boost foreign investment inflows, which fell by 26.7% — from $5.3 billion in 2022 to $3.9 billion in 2023, according to the Nigerian Economic Summit Group think tank. 

Nigeria already has a high debt burden that has limited how much money the government can spend from its earnings. Its reliance on borrowing for public infrastructure and social welfare programs saw public debt surge by nearly 1,000% in the past decade. 

The World Bank, however, said it was “critical to sustain the reform momentum” under Tinubu. The government’s economic policies have placed the country “on a new path which can stabilize its economy and lift its people out of poverty,” according to Ousmane Diagana, the World Bank vice president for Western and Central Africa. 

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