Pakistani Court Overturns Conviction of Former PM Nawaz Sharif

Islamabad’s High Court overturned a corruption conviction for former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif Wednesday, a decision that puts him closer to being able to run for elections in February.

Sharif is attempting to launch a political comeback after returning to Pakistan last month, following four years of self-imposed exile in London, a decision he made in order to avoid serving out a 10-year prison sentence on corruption charges. Sharif is seeking to become prime minister for the fourth time, according to his party.

In 2018, Sharif was convicted of corruption in connection with the purchase of upscale flats in London. Wednesday’s ruling to overturn the conviction comes just weeks after Islamabad’s High Court reinstated Sharif’s right to appeal the decision.

There is one more legal obstacle in the way of Sharif’s ability to run for election, as he still must be acquitted of a seven-year sentence and lifelong ban from holding public office coming from charges relating to failing to disclose how his family set up a steel mill in 1999.

Sharif, who has had three stints as prime minister, though he has never completed a full term, has denied wrongdoing and maintained the charges brought against him have been politically motivated.

Sharif is expected to be a top contender in elections scheduled for February 8 of next year, if his legal challenges are removed.

The former prime minister stepped down in 2017, alleging he was ousted from his position by the military after a falling out with top generals. Sharif claims the military then supported former Prime Minister and cricket star, Imran Khan in the 2018 elections. 

Khan, who is expected to be Sharif’s main opponent in upcoming elections, also fell out with the military, and he is currently serving a three-year sentence on corruption charges.

Pakistan’s military has denied any interference with politics.

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

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Taliban Say Afghan Embassy in India Set to Resume Operations Soon

A senior Taliban government official has stated its representatives have taken control of Afghanistan’s diplomatic missions in India, including the embassy in New Delhi.

Shir Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai, the Taliban deputy foreign minister, has told Afghan state-run television that the embassy in the Indian capital would reopen in the next couple of days.

His assertions came after diplomats loyal to the U.S.-backed ousted Afghan government announced last week they were permanently shutting down the embassy over alleged lack of cooperation from the host country, among other issues.  

“Our consulates in Mumbai and Hyderabad are functioning and in contact with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs [in Kabul] and delivering routine consular services,” Stanekzai said in his interview the RTA aired on Tuesday.

He added that consuls at both missions moved to New Delhi earlier this week and reopened offices at the Afghan embassy. “God willing, our embassy will resume regular services in two to three days.”

The Islamist Taliban reclaimed power in Afghanistan two years ago, but India and the world at large have not granted them diplomatic legitimacy, mainly over human rights conners and their harsh treatment of Afghan women.

Last Friday, the Afghan embassy posted a statement on X, formerly known as Twitter, saying the mission was shutting down and the keys had been given to the host government. It alleged pressure from both India and the Taliban had forced the decision.

“Unfortunately, despite an eight-week wait, the objectives of visa extension for diplomats and a shift in the Indian government’s conduct were not realized,” the statement quoted the then-Ambassador Farid Mamundzay as saying.

It noted that Afghan diplomats had reached third countries, and none remained in India. They are reportedly seeking asylum in the U.S. and Europe.

“The only individuals present in India are diplomats affiliated with the Taliban, visibly attending their regular online meetings,” the embassy said, without discussing the status of the consulates in Mumbai and Hyderabad.

The Indian foreign ministry so far has not commented on the status of the Afghan diplomatic missions in the country.

India is among the more than a dozen countries that have kept open or returned to reopen their embassies in Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover. They included neighboring Pakistan, China, Iran, and Russia.

These countries also have allowed Taliban diplomats to take charge of Afghan diplomatic missions on their respective soils, saying their engagement is aimed at facilitating humanitarian aid and ensuring the war-torn country does not plunge into chaos again.

The United States and other Western countries relocated their diplomatic missions to Qatar just before the U.S.-led international forces withdrew in August 2021, ending nearly two decades of Western involvement in the war with the then-insurgent Taliban.

Washington remains the largest donor of humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, where millions require assistance.

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UN: At Least 40 Civilians Killed by Al-Qaida-Linked Rebels in Burkina Faso Town

At least 40 civilians were killed last weekend by al-Qaida-linked rebels trying to take control of a besieged town in Burkina Faso’s hard-hit northern region, the United Nations’ rights office said, calling the attack a war crime.

In one of the largest clashes in recent years in the West African nation under threat from fighters linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group, a large number of fighters tried to take control of Djibo near Mali’s border.

The town, located 210 kilometers (130 miles) from the capital, Ouagadougou, has been under blockade by rebels for more than a year, often struggling to provide essential services.

The militants in the latest attack, which happened on Sunday, also wounded 42 people and set fire to three camps for internally displaced people, U.N. Human Rights Office spokesperson Seif Magango said in a statement on Tuesday that blamed the attack on JNIM, an umbrella coalition of armed groups aligned with al-Qaida.

“Deliberately targeting civilians or individuals not taking direct part in hostilities constitutes a war crime,” the U.N. department said, citing reports from its workers on the ground.

The Associated Press couldn’t reach witnesses or survivors in the area, which has frequent internet cuts and where the military government is known to crack down on civil society.

State-run RTB Television ran images — which The Associated Press couldn’t verify — that showed large groups of people riding motorcycles as they appeared to flee aerial bombardment.

“Attacks on civilians are inexcusable and must stop, and those responsible must be held to account following thorough, impartial and independent investigations by the authorities,” the U.N. statement added.

Around half of Burkina Faso’s territory remains outside of government control. The landlocked country has been ravaged by jihadi attacks. Fighters have killed thousands and displaced more than 2 million people, further threatening the stability of the country that had two coups last year. 

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EU Cancels Congo Election Observation Mission

The European Union has canceled its election observation mission for the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Dec. 20 general elections, saying it would not be able to deploy people across the country for security reasons.

“Due to technical constraints beyond the control of the EU, we are forced to cancel the EU election observation mission to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC),” the EU said in a statement on Wednesday.

“The EU mission had planned to deploy long-term observers in most provinces of the DRC, but this is now no longer possible,” it said.

EU spokesperson Nabila Massrali told Reuters on Tuesday that election observers were already in Kinshasa and were supposed to be deployed across the country on Nov. 21, but that they were not able to go for security reasons.

Tensions are running high in the run-up to presidential, legislative and regional elections in Africa’s second-largest country, which is also struggling to contain a myriad of armed groups in its mineral-rich east.

A youth activist was killed on Tuesday by stones pelted during an opposition campaign rally in the city of Kindu.

Opposition candidates have also expressed concerns about the fairness of the vote, alleging irregularities that play in favor of the ruling coalition during voter registration. The electoral commission has denied this.

The electoral commission and Congolese authorities did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

“When the long-distance observers were due to be deployed, the authorities began to raise a whole series of problems relating to the use of satellite equipment and to impose other conditions that did not allow the observers to work in a secure and independent manner outside Kinshasa,” said a European diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The EU said it was exploring other options with the Congolese authorities, including the possibility of maintaining a mission of electoral experts to observe the electoral process from the capital.

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US Life Expectancy Rose Last Year, But it Remains Below its Pre-Pandemic Level 

U.S. life expectancy rose last year — by more than a year — but still isn’t close to what it was before the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 2022 rise was mainly due to the waning pandemic, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researchers said Wednesday. But even with the large increase, U.S. life expectancy is only back to 77 years, 6 months — about what it was two decades ago.

Life expectancy is an estimate of the average number of years a baby born in a given year might expect to live, assuming the death rates at that time hold constant. The snapshot statistic is considered one of the most important measures of the health of the U.S. population. The 2022 calculations released Wednesday are provisional, and could change a little as the math is finalized.

For decades, U.S. life expectancy rose a little nearly every year. But about a decade ago, the trend flattened and even declined some years — a stall blamed largely on overdose deaths and suicides.

Then came the coronavirus, which has killed more than 1.1 million people in the U.S. since early 2020. The measure of American longevity plunged, dropping from 78 years, 10 months in 2019 to 77 years in 2020, and then to 76 years, 5 months in 2021.

“We basically have lost 20 years of gains,” said the CDC’s Elizabeth Arias.

A decline in COVID-19 deaths drove 2022’s improvement.

In 2021, COVID was the nation’s third leading cause of death (after heart disease and cancer). Last year, it fell to the fourth leading cause. With more than a month left in the current year, preliminary data suggests COVID-19 could end up being the ninth or 10th leading cause of death in 2023.

But the U.S. is battling other issues, including drug overdose deaths and suicides.

The number of U.S. suicides reached an all-time high last year, and the national suicide rate was the highest seen since 1941, according to a second CDC report released Wednesday.

Drug overdose deaths in the U.S. went up slightly last year after two big leaps at the beginning of the pandemic. And through the first six months of this year, the estimated overdose death toll continued to inch up.

U.S. life expectancy also continues to be lower than that of dozens of other countries. It also didn’t rebound as quickly as it did in other places, including France, Italy, Spain and Sweden.

Steven Woolf, a mortality researcher at Virginia Commonwealth University, said he expects the U.S. to eventually get back to the pre-pandemic life expectancy.

But “what I’m trying to say is: That is not a great place to be,” he added.

Some other highlights from the new report:

Life expectancy increased for both men and women, and for every racial and ethnic group.
The decline in COVID-19 deaths drove 84% of the increase in life expectancy. The next largest contributor was a decline in heart disease deaths, credited with about 4% of the increase. But experts note that heart disease deaths increased during COVID-19, and both factored into many pandemic-era deaths.
Changes in life expectancy varied by race and ethnicity. Hispanic Americans and American Indians and Alaska Natives saw life expectancy rise more than two years in 2022. Black life expectancy rose more than 1 1/2 years. Asian American life expectancy rose one year and white life expectancy rose about 10 months. But the changes are relative, because Hispanic Americans and Native Americans were hit harder at the beginning of COVID-19. Hispanic life expectancy dropped more than four years between 2019 and 2021, and Native American life expectancy fell more than six years.



“A lot of the large increases in life expectancy are coming from the groups that suffered the most from COVID,” said Mark Hayward, a University of Texas sociology professor who researches how different factors affect adult deaths. “They had more to rebound from.”

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Elevator Plummets, Kills 11 in South Africa Platinum Mine

An elevator suddenly dropped around 200 meters (656 feet) while carrying workers to the surface in a platinum mine in South Africa, killing 11 and injuring 75 — 14 of them critically, the mine operator said Tuesday.

It happened Monday evening at the end of the workers’ shift at a mine in the northern city of Rustenburg. All the injured workers were hospitalized.

Mine operator Impala Platinum Holdings CEO Nico Muller said in a statement it was “the darkest day in the history of Implats.” He said an investigation had begun into what caused the elevator to drop and the mine had suspended all operations on Tuesday.

Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy Gwede Mantashe said there would be a government investigation into the tragedy. He visited the mine and was briefed, the government said.

All 86 workers killed or injured were in the elevator, Implats spokesperson Johan Theron said. Some of the injured had “serious compact fractures,” he said. Theron said the elevator dropped approximately 200 meters, though that was an early estimate. He called it a highly unusual accident.

The huge elevator has three levels, each with the capacity to hold 35 workers, Implats said. The mine shaft is approximately 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) deep.

South Africa is the world’s largest producer of platinum. The Impala Rustenburg mine has nine shafts and was the world’s largest platinum mine by production last year.

The country had 49 fatalities from all mining accidents in 2022, down from 74 the year before. Deaths from South African mining accidents have steadily decreased from nearly 300 in the year 2000, according to government figures.

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US Military Osprey Aircraft With 8 Aboard Crashes Into Sea

Japan’s coast guard has found a person and debris in the ocean where a U.S. military Osprey aircraft carrying eight people crashed Wednesday off southern Japan, officials said.

The cause of the crash and the status of the person and the others on the aircraft were not immediately known, coast guard spokesperson Kazuo Ogawa said.

The coast guard received an emergency call from a fishing boat near the crash site off Yakushima, an island south of Kagoshima on the southern main island of Kyushu, he said.

Coast guard aircraft and patrol boats found one person, whose condition was not immediately known, and gray-colored debris believed to be from the aircraft, Ogawa said. They were found at sea about 1 kilometer (0.6 mile) off the eastern coast of Yakushima.

“The government will confirm information about the damage and place the highest priority on saving lives,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters.

The Osprey is a hybrid aircraft that takes off and lands like a helicopter, but during flight can rotate its propellers forward and cruise much faster like an airplane. Versions of the aircraft are flown by the U.S. Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force.

Ogawa said the aircraft had departed from the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Yamaguchi prefecture and crashed on its way to Kadena Air Base on Okinawa. The Osprey apparently attempted to make an emergency landing at the Yakushima airport before crashing, he said.

Kyodo News agency, quoting Kagoshima prefectural officials, said witnesses reported seeing fire coming from the Osprey’s left engine.

U.S. and Japanese officials said the aircraft belonged to Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo. U.S. Air Force officials at Yokota said they were still confirming information and had no immediate comment.

A U.S. Marine Corps Osprey aircraft with 23 Marines aboard crashed on a north Australian island in August, killing at least three and critically injuring at least five during a multinational training exercise.

There have been at least five fatal crashes of Marine Ospreys since 2012, causing a total of at least 19 deaths.

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US Sends First of Three Military Planes With Gaza Aid

The United States on Tuesday sent the first of three military planes to Egypt with humanitarian aid for Gaza, promising to assist Palestinians during a truce between Hamas and U.S. ally Israel. 

The relief flights carrying food, medical supplies and winter gear are the first by the U.S. military since the conflict began with the October 7 attacks by Hamas on Israel. 

The flights started a day after President Joe Biden said he would use an extension of the truce to get more aid into Gaza, and as international efforts continue to further prolong the pause. 

“The humanitarian needs in Gaza demand that the international community do much more. The United States is committed to this effort,” Jake Sullivan, U.S. national security adviser, said in a statement.  

Sullivan said Biden would work to “rally the international community to urgently increase support” in a U.N. appeal for Gaza. 

‘Supplies will save lives’

The first Air Force C-17 aircraft landed Tuesday in Egypt with 24.5 metric tons (54,000 pounds) of medical supplies and ready-to-eat food, the U.S. Agency for International Development said. 

The United Nations will take the aid from Egypt’s North Sinai region, which borders the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, into the stricken Palestinian territory itself, U.S. officials said. 

“These U.N. supplies will save lives and alleviate the suffering of thousands in Gaza,” Sullivan said. 

Two further planeloads will arrive in the coming days, officials said. 

Mediator Qatar on Monday announced a 48-hour extension of an initial four-day truce, opening the way for further releases of hostages seized by Hamas during its attack on Israel. 

‘Significant surge’ 

Eight hundred aid trucks reached southern Gaza from Egypt in the first four days of the truce, with some aid also reaching badly hit northern Gaza, the U.S. officials said. 

“The movement over the last four or five days of assistance has been so significant in volume that a backfill … is now needed and these planes are part of that backfill,” a senior U.S. official told reporters on Monday. 

While Washington has deployed two aircraft carriers in the region to deter Iran and its allies, and ferried military assistance to key ally Israel, it has not previously used military assets during this conflict to deliver humanitarian aid. 

Biden, who has firmly backed Israel while calling on it to reduce civilian casualties, said on Monday that the truce had allowed a “significant surge” in aid. 

The White House said on Monday, however, that Israel had made it clear it would continue its war on Hamas whenever the truce ended.  

U.S. officials said Biden had warned Israel that it must not cause the same kind of mass displacements in southern Gaza that its offensive in the north triggered earlier this month. 

“From the president down we have reinforced this in a very clear way for the government of Israel,” another U.S. official said. 

Hamas staged the deadliest attack in Israel’s history when it broke through Gaza’s militarized border on October 7. Israel says the attack killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and that around 240 others were taken hostage.    

In response, Israel launched a relentless bombing campaign and ground offensive in Gaza, which the Hamas government says has killed 15,000 people, thousands of them children. 

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As Israel and Hamas Extend Truce, More Pressure on Biden to Push for Permanent Cease-fire

The decision by Israel and Hamas to extend their temporary truce in Gaza from four days to six has raised expectations that both sides will agree to further extensions to allow for more hostage swaps and humanitarian aid to enter the Palestinian enclave.

Washington is stepping up efforts to extend the pause that allowed the release of hostages held by Hamas in exchange for Palestinian prisoners in Israeli detention. CIA Director Bill Burns was in Doha on Tuesday meeting his Israeli, Egyptian and Qatari counterparts.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken will be back in the region later this week with stops including Dubai, the West Bank and Israel.

The latest Israel-Hamas deal brought the number of Israelis freed to 60. An additional 21 hostages have been released in separate negotiations.

“We want to get them all back,” John Kirby, National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, told reporters on Tuesday.

One hundred fifty Palestinians have been released from Israeli prisons, but thousands remain.

While the administration considers the brief truce a diplomatic win, it has also placed more pressure on U.S. President Joe Biden to persuade Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to make the stop in fighting permanent.

The White House has so far resisted demands from human rights activists and the progressive wing of Biden’s Democratic Party to end U.S. support for Israel’s strikes and push for a permanent cease-fire. Administration officials repeatedly say that at this point, humanitarian relief can be achieved only through hostage deals that allow temporary stops on Israeli attacks and more aid to flow in.

“Short-term pauses are entirely insufficient to meet the needs on the ground and to address human rights conditions on the ground,” said Paul O’Brien, executive director of Amnesty International USA.

On Wednesday, his group and others will be presenting nearly 1 million signatures calling on Biden to use his influence to bring about a sustained cease-fire in Gaza.

“More and more Americans want this cease-fire,” he told VOA. Fifty-three percent of American voters support calls for a cease-fire, according to a recent Morning Consult poll.

Changing US calculus

The United States has staunchly supported Israel’s right to defend itself since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks killed 1,200 people in Israel. However, as the number of Palestinian deaths grows — topping 14,000, according to the Gaza Health Ministry — the administration has been increasingly vocal that Israel must minimize civilian harm. Last week, Biden said he is considering making aid to Israel conditional based on its conduct in the war.

Mounting Arab and international pressure, along with domestic anger, is changing the administration’s calculus, said Ahmed Fouad Alkhatib, a Middle East political analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Biden is now “attempting to strike a moderate tone that addresses competing priorities,” Alkhatib told VOA.

Domestic pressure comes not only from Arab Americans, American Muslims and some Democrats but also from a Jewish group advocating for American leadership to end the conflict diplomatically.

In a statement released Tuesday, the group J Street urged the Biden administration to insist that Israel significantly change its military operation, make clear that the U.S. “will not provide unbounded support for a war with no limits and no exit strategy” and reject “any future Israeli occupation, annexation or blockade in Gaza.”

It’s a delicate balance for Biden to navigate.

Pushing too hard on Netanyahu, who is already under immense domestic pressure from the families of the more than 100 hostages still held by Hamas, may backfire. Already anxious that a long pause will give Hamas time to regroup and reposition its forces, the Israeli war Cabinet is worried that prisoner swaps are boosting Hamas’ popularity in the occupied West Bank.

And as administration officials often underscore, the U.S. is not the one drawing up Israel’s war plans and battlefield decisions.

“We’re providing advice. We’re providing our perspectives,” Kirby said.

Cease-fire challenges

Analysts say a permanent cease-fire would require one of two developments: the dismantling of Hamas’ ability to rule Gaza and the stripping of its military wing, the Qassam Brigades, of munitions and infrastructure. Or, that Israel and Hamas forge a long-term agreement that entails fundamental changes.

The prospects of the latter appear dim as Israel and Hamas have fundamentally incompatible goals — each other’s destruction.

“It’s much more likely that Israel will destroy Hamas than vice versa,” said Michael O’Hanlon, senior fellow of the foreign policy program at the Brookings Institution. “But these are not two groups that could work out a reasonable compromise on strategic long term and states,” he told VOA.

While the Qassam Brigades can be weakened and Hamas’ governance structures can be toppled, rooting out the group that has been in control of Gaza since it won the 2006 election there is a different matter.

“Whatever remains of Hamas politically after the Gaza war is over may be incentivized to join the Palestinian Authority in pursuit of this solution, something that Hamas’ Politburo has endorsed as a favorable option,” Alkhatib said.

Biden and his aides have said that for a permanent cease-fire to succeed, there must be a road map toward a two-state solution. Without it, conditions will be ripe for a similar group to emerge, even if Hamas had been dismantled.

Paradoxically, there will be more pressure on Israel to allow the Palestinian Authority to govern in Gaza if Hamas is sufficiently degraded, said Jonathan Rynhold, head of the Department of Political Studies at Bar Ilan University.

Ideally for Israel and the U.S., it’s a reformed Palestinian Authority that is “less corrupt, more free, better economically,” he told VOA. It’s unclear whether those reforms can be achieved, and whether Israel can provide the support for them under the current right-wing coalition, he added.

 

Anita Powell contributed to this report.

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Charlie Munger, Warren Buffett’s Right-Hand Man, Dies at 99

Charlie Munger, who quit a law career to become Warren Buffett’s trusted confidant and longtime second-in-command at Berkshire Hathaway, died Tuesday morning. He was 99. 

Berkshire said Munger died peacefully at a hospital in California, where he lived. No cause was given. Munger would have turned 100 on January 1. 

“Berkshire Hathaway could not have been built to its present status without Charlie’s inspiration, wisdom and participation,” Buffett, Berkshire’s 93-year-old chairman and chief executive, said in a statement. 

Company executive since 1970s

Munger had been a Berkshire vice chairman since 1978, working closely with Buffett on allocating the Omaha, Nebraska-based conglomerate’s capital, and being quick to tell him when he was making a mistake. 

“It’s a shock,” said Thomas Russo, a partner at Gardner Russo & Quinn in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and longtime Berkshire shareholder. “It will leave a big void for investors who have modeled their thoughts, words and activities around Munger and his insights.” 

Investors expect Munger’s death to be felt keenly by Buffett and the investing world generally. 

“He was certainly one of the greatest investors, as a team with Buffett,” said Rick Meckler, partner at Cherry Lane Investments in New Jersey. “I’m sure it is an enormous loss for Buffett personally.” 

Believed in compounding and reinvesting

Munger was known for steering Buffett’s purchases. 

“Charlie felt that buying very good businesses at fair prices that could keep compounding and reinvesting cash flow into continued growth was more consistent with how he and Warren were philosophically and liked to invest,” said Paul Lountzis, president of Lountzis Asset Management in Wyomissing, Pennsylvania. “They liked to own businesses forever.” 

Thomas Hayes, chairman of Great Hill Capital in New York, said the “big change that Charlie brought to the value investing community was not just looking for what was cheap but looking for what was out of favor but high quality.”  

Investors said Munger’s death was unlikely to have a major impact on Berkshire’s operations. 

Two other vice chairmen, Greg Abel and Ajit Jain, have day-to-day oversight of Berkshire’s non-insurance and insurance businesses, respectively. 

Abel is expected to become chief executive once Buffett, 93, is no longer in charge. 

Berkshire’s businesses include the BNSF railroad, car insurer Geico, and an array of energy, industrial and retail operations, as well as familiar consumer names such as Dairy Queen, Duracell, Fruit of the Loom and See’s Candies. 

It also owns hundreds of billions of dollars of stocks, led by Apple. 

“I wouldn’t think Berkshire will look much different, apart from Buffett no longer being able to share ideas with Munger,” said Russo. “Berkshire may be a little less fun without him.” 

Buffett has never publicly signaled a desire to step down, including after a prostate cancer diagnosis in 2012. 

“At 93, I feel good but fully realize I am playing in extra innings,” Buffett said recently. 

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CIA Director in Doha to Talk Israel-Hamas and Hostages 

U.S. President Joe Biden has dispatched one of his most trusted, and potentially influential, officials to the Middle East in the hopes of turning a tenuous truce between Israel and Hamas into something more.

A U.S. official confirmed to VOA that CIA Director William Burns traveled to Qatar Tuesday for the high-level talks, “including discussions on hostages.”

The official spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss the sensitive talks. The CIA, which rarely talks about the director’s foreign travel, declined to comment on the trip, first reported by The Washington Post.

Israeli media, as well as other outlets, quoted diplomatic sources as saying that while in Doha Burns met with the head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency as well as with Qatari and Egyptian officials.

Top U.S. officials have backed Israel with both words and weapons in the aftermath of the Hamas terror attack on October 7 that killed about 1,200 people in Israel, the majority of whom were civilians.

But the White House has also pushed for the release of all of the approximately 240 people taken hostage by Hamas during the attack, praising the now five-day-old truce that has seen more than 70 of the hostages returned to their families in exchange for the release of 150 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.

“The objective of the administration at the moment, clearly, is to try to extend the truce or cease fire as long as possible and get as many hostages released as much as possible,” said Paul Pillar, a former senior CIA officer who now teaches at Georgetown University.

And Pillar told VOA that Burns, a former diplomat turned spy chief, is well-positioned to help that happen.

“He is a highly accomplished and very much respected, both at home and abroad, diplomat,” Pillar said, further describing Burns as someone who is “perhaps just one step removed from what had been the main line of the Biden administration policy ever since the events of October 7th, which was, and this is the way it was seen by many, to go all in with Israel.”

Burns’ trip to Doha is his second to the Middle East in the past month.

His first trip, in early November, took him to multiple countries for talks with leaders and intelligence counterparts focused on kick-starting hostage negotiations and on preventing the Israel-Hamas conflict from spreading into a regional crisis, a U.S. official told VOA at the time.

But while an effort to extend the truce and free more hostages may dominate this round of talks; some former officials think the CIA director is also looking ahead.

“When we’re talking about the day after, when this all ends, what does [the] Gaza Strip look like?” said Marc Polymeropoulos, a former senior CIA operations officer who worked extensively in the Middle East. “What kind of international force would be present? How do we rebuild, collectively, the international community?”

And there may also be some discussion among the United States, Israel, Egypt and others about what comes next for Hamas, a U.S.-designated terror group.

“Hamas has gained incredible legitimacy amongst the Palestinian people in Gaza and the West Bank for being able to recover, in their view, Palestinian prisoners,” Polymeropoulos told VOA. “They are actually being treated now almost as a state actor. And I think that’s something that is concerning, not only for Israel, but the United States.”

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Former Somali Refugee Wins Prestigious UN Award

A former child refugee from Somalia has been named as this year’s winner of the prestigious UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award.

Abdullahi Mire, 36, was recognized for bringing 100,000 books to his compatriots languishing in sprawling camps in Kenya.

“Last year, 2022, Angela Merkel, the former Federal Chancellor of Germany, won the award and today a young refugee from Dadaab. The sky is not the limit,” Mire told VOA Somalia.

Speaking ahead of the award announcement, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi honored Mire with a statement that called him “a living proof that transformative ideas can spring from within displaced communities.”

“He has shown great resourcefulness and tenacity in strengthening the quality of refugee education,” Grandi said.

From war to refugee camp to award

Mire was born in southern Somalia in 1987 and lived in Dadaab in the 1990s when his family fled from Qoryooley in the Lower Shabelle region due to Somalia’s civil war.

“I fled from Qoryooley in the Lower Shabelle region in 1991 with my mother and grew up and lived in the Dadaab refugee camps for 23 years,” Mire told VOA Somali Service.

The complex in northeastern Kenya today has a population of more than 240,000 registered refugees, most from Somalia.

Mire finished elementary and secondary schooling while residing in the camp, and later earned a degree in public relations and journalism.

“After a lot of hurdles and challenges with the help and the encouragement of my mother, I eventually went on to graduate with a diploma in journalism and public relations in 2013 from Kenya’s Kenyatta University, to become a voice for my vulnerable population,” Mire said.

With his degree, he then worked for the United Nations International Organization for Migration in Mogadishu and the southern Somali cities of Baidoa and Kismayo.

His childhood in Dadaab and subsequent professional experience made him realize the importance of his education, and he ultimately dedicated his professional life to helping his fellow refugees.

In early 2018, he founded an organization called Refugee Youth Education Hub. The organization employs two full-time staffers and six volunteers and focuses on refugee education and youth development.

Mire said he had briefly resettled in Norway for a couple of years but went back to Dadaab, where he was not a stranger, to help.

“I had a yearning to serve my community that drew me back to the camp,” he said.

A young woman who was learning medicine in the camp inspired him to collect books for the refugees, he said.

“During one of my regular visits back to the camp, I was approached by a young stranger refugee girl, requesting me if I could send a medical book from Nairobi,” Mire said. “She told me about 20 girls normally shared one biology book. That inspired me to use social media for a book collection and donation campaign till we reached 100,000 books.

Mire is not the only Somali who has won the Nansen Refugee Award, named after the Norwegian explorer, scientist, diplomat and humanitarian Fridtjof Nansen. The 2012 award was given to Hawa Aden Mohamed for her exceptional work for Somalia’s refugee and displaced girls and women.

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Death Toll Rises to 120 in Kenya Floods

At least 120 people have died, and the members of almost 90,000 households have been displaced by flooding in Kenya, officials there said Tuesday.

Kenya, along with its neighbors, Somalia and Ethiopia, have been hit with flash floods made worse by the natural weather phenomenon of El Nino. In Somalia, nearly 100 people have died and more than 700,000 have been forced to flee their homes, the government there said. In Ethiopia, at least 43 have died, the U.N. humanitarian agency said. 

The recent floods have put large amounts of farmland underwater, drowned tens of thousands of livestock and left hundreds of thousands of people without homes.

The floods follow the country’s worst drought in four decades that left many people hungry.

Four counties in eastern Kenya — Tana River, Garissa, Wajir and Mandera — have been most severely affected by the floods according to Interior Minister Raymond Omollo.

“All major dams are being monitored but Kiambere has a meter remaining to overflow,” Omollo said in a statement, referring to the Kiambere Hydroelectric Power Station in Tana River. “We call on those downstream to move to higher ground even as government enhances power generation to mitigate the challenge.”

Kenyan President William Ruto chaired an emergency Cabinet meeting Monday on the disaster and has pledged to designate millions of dollars to affected areas.

The heavy rainfall is expected to continue until at least January 2024, according to the Kenya Meteorological Department forecast. 

Kenya, along with its neighbors in the Horn of Africa, have been on the forefront of the climate crisis, which has placed 57 million people — nearly half of which are children — into acute food insecurity or worse in 12 countries vulnerable to climate change, according to Save the Children.

Some Information in this report came from Reuters and Agence France Presse.

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Sudanese Women Describe Their Suffering Since War Broke Out in April

Sudanese women of various backgrounds recently gathered in Nairobi to discuss the brutal war that has ravaged their country the past seven months. With no end in sight, they feel their voices have been silenced and they yearn to contribute to resolving the conflict that has killed thousands and displaced millions since April 15. VOA Nairobi Bureau Chief Mariama Diallo was there and has this report. Camera: Amos Wangua

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Hunter Biden Offers to Testify Publicly Before Congress

Hunter Biden on Tuesday offered to testify publicly before the U.S. Congress in response to a subpoena from Republicans investigating nearly every aspect of his business dealings as they pursue an impeachment inquiry into his father, President Joe Biden.

The Democratic president’s son slammed the inquiry as a “fishing expedition” and refused to give closed-door testimony but said he would “answer any pertinent and relevant question” in front of the House Oversight Committee next month, setting up a potential high-stakes face-off.

Representative James Comer of Kentucky, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, subpoenaed Hunter Biden in early November in the inquiry’s most aggressive step yet and one that tests the reach of congressional oversight powers. Comer’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

So far, Republicans have failed to uncover evidence directly implicating President Biden in any wrongdoing. But lawmakers insist their evidence paints a troubling picture of “influence peddling” in the Biden family’s business dealings, particularly with clients overseas.

The subpoena demanded Hunter Biden appear before the Oversight Committee for a deposition by mid-December. His uncle James Biden was subpoenaed the same day, as well as former business associate Rob Walker.

Hunter Biden’s attorney Abbe Lowell said in Tuesday’s letter that his client had “misgivings about your motives and purpose” but had previously offered to speak with the committee without a response.

“Your empty investigation has gone on too long wasting too many better-used resources. It should come to an end,” Lowell wrote. “From all the individuals you have requested depositions or interviews, all you will learn is that your accusations are baseless. However, the American people should see that for themselves.”

He offered to appear on December 13, the date named in the subpoena, or another day next month.

The subpoenas were bitterly opposed by Democrats, and the White House called for the subpoenas to be withdrawn. Richard Sauber, special counsel to the president, wrote that the subpoenas are “irresponsible” and the product of an overzealous House GOP majority that “weaponized the oversight powers of Congress.”

Congressional Republicans are also probing the Justice Department’s handling of a criminal investigation into Hunter Biden’s business dealings. That long-running case had been expected to end with a plea deal, but it imploded during a July plea hearing.

Hunter Biden is now charged with three firearms felonies related to the 2018 purchase of a gun during a period he has acknowledged being addicted to drugs. No new tax charges have been filed, but prosecutors have indicated they are possible in Washington or California, where he now lives.

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Climate Crises Drastically Increase Child Hunger, UK-Based Charity Says

Children made up nearly half of the people driven into hunger and malnutrition by extreme weather events in countries heavily impacted by the climate crisis in 2022, according to a UK-based charity.

Citing data by the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, or IPC hunger monitoring system, Britain’s Save the Children said Tuesday that children made up 27 million of the 57 million “people pushed into crisis levels of acute food insecurity or worse across 12 countries because of extreme weather events in 2022.”

“As climate-related weather events become more frequent and severe, we will see more drastic consequences on children’s lives,” said Gwen Hines, Chief Executive Officer of Save the Children UK. “In 2022, 135% more children were pushed into hunger due to extreme weather events than the year before.”

Half of the 27 million affected children came from the most affected countries of Ethiopia and Somalia.

Save the Children highlighted Somalia as particularly vulnerable to climate crises, pointing to the country’s five consecutive failed rainy seasons and the recent impact of flooding that displaced 650,000 people, about half of which are children.

Save the Children also identified Pakistan, which last year saw floods affect some 33 million people, with half being children. A year after the flood, “2 million flood-affected children are acutely malnourished, with almost 600,000 children suffering from the deadliest form of malnutrition,” the charity said.

Save the Children also called on world leaders from high income nations ahead of the COP28, the United Nations climate summit, to address the climate crisis, by “providing funding for losses and damages and climate adaptation.”

“To truly protect children now and in the future, robust support for the new Loss and Damage Fund is non-negotiable,” Hines said. “At COP28, world leaders must listen to the demands of children and invite them to be part of proposing solutions.”

Save the Children also called on action from leaders to address the “acute food and nutrition insecurity such as conflict, inequality, and a lack of resilient health, nutrition and social protection systems.”

Some information in this report came from Agence France-Presse.

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America House Opens in Odesa Despite Ongoing War in Ukraine 

A new America House is celebrating its opening in Odesa, making it the third major cultural and educational center in Ukraine supported and financed by the U.S. Embassy. America House Odesa was supposed to open in early 2022, but Russia’s invasion changed those plans. Anna Kosstutschenko visited the center and found out how the war altered its program. Camera — Pavel Suhodolskiy.

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Prominent Farming Area in Indian Kashmir Turns Into Garbage Mountain

The dumping yard in Achan area of Srinagar on the Indian side of Kashmir wreaks havoc for locals in the capital city. The area was known for farming and wetlands but today the heaps of garbage have obtained the height of a mountain. For VOA, Muheet Ul Islam has more from Srinagar in Indian administered Kashmir. (Camera and Produced by Wasim Nabi)

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Is AI About to Steal Your Job?

Almost all U.S. jobs, from truck driver to childcare provider to software developer, include skills that can be done, or at least supplemented, by generative artificial intelligence (GenAI), according to a recent report.

GenAI is artificial intelligence that can generate high-quality content based on the input data used to train it.

“AI is likely to touch every part of every job to some degree,” says Cory Stahle, an economist with Indeed.com, which released the report.

The report finds that almost one in five jobs (19.7%) — like IT operations, mathematics and information design — faces the highest risk of being affected by AI because at least 80% of the job skills those positions require can be done reasonably well by GenAI.

But that doesn’t mean that those jobs will eventually be lost to robots.

“It’s important to recognize that, in general, these technologies don’t affect entire occupations. It actually is very rare that a robot will show up, sit in somebody’s seat to do everything that someone does at their job,” says Michael Chui of the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), who researches the impact of technology and innovation on business, the economy and society.

Indeed.com researchers analyzed more than 55 million job postings and found that GenAI can perform 50% to almost 80% of the skills required in 45.7% of those job listings. In 34.6% of jobs listed, GenAI can handle less than 50% of the skills.

Jobs that require manual skills or a personal touch, such as nursing and veterinary care, are the least likely to be hard hit by AI, the report says.

In the past, technological advances have mostly affected manual labor. However, GenAI is expected to have the most effect on so-called knowledge workers, generally defined as people who create knowledge or think for a living.

But, for now, AI does not appear poised to steal anyone’s job.

“There are very few jobs that AI can do completely. Even in jobs where AI can do many of the skills, there are still aspects of those jobs that AI cannot do,” Stahle says.

Rather than replace workers, researchers expect GenAI to enhance the work people already do, making them more efficient.

“This is something that, in many ways, we believe is going to unlock human potential and productivity for many workers across many different sectors of the economy,” Stahle says.

“There are a number of things that can happen,” Chui adds. “One is, we simply do more of something we were already doing, and so imagine if you’re a university professor or a teacher, and the grading can be done by machine rather than you. You can take those hours and, instead of grading, you can actually start tutoring your students, spending more time with your students, improving their performance, helping them learn.”

American workers need to begin using the new technology if they hope to remain competitive, according to Chui.

“Workers who are best able to use these technologies will be the most competitive workers in the workforce,” he says. “It was true before, but it’s more true than ever, that we’re all going to have to be lifetime learners.”

A survey developed by Chui finds that almost 80% of workers have experimented with AI tools.

“One of the great powers of these generative AI tools, so far, is they’ve been designed in such a way to make it easy for really anybody to use these types of tools,” Stahle says. “I really believe that people should be looking to embrace these tools and find ways to incorporate them into the work that they’re already interested in doing.”

Ultimately, could one of the unexpected benefits of AI be more efficient employees who work less?

“In general, Americans work a lot,” Chui says. “Maybe we don’t have to work so long. Maybe we have a four-day work week … and so you could give that time back to the worker.”

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Iran’s Raisi Not Coming to Turkey on Tuesday: Ankara

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi will not be making a previously announced visit to Ankara on Tuesday, the Turkish presidency told AFP, without providing a reason.

The visit had been announced earlier this month by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who said the two leaders would focus on forging a joint response to the Israel-Hamas war.

“Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi is coming to us on the 28th of the month,” Erdogan told reporters on board his flight back from a Nov. 11 regional summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

It was also announced by Turkey’s official state media and discussed heavily on Turkish television as late as Monday.

Erdogan spoke by phone with Raisi on Sunday, according to the Turkish presidency.

It was not immediately clear whether the visit had been canceled or postponed.

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