President Joe Biden is in Boston, Massachusetts, Tuesday kicking off a series of three fundraising events, including a concert by singer-songwriter James Taylor. Biden will be appearing at several more fundraisers over the next week, raising money for his reelection bid in November 2024.
With less than a year before his potential matchup with Republican front-runner Donald Trump, Biden launched sharp attacks against the former president. He argued that the fate of American democracy is at stake, warning that Trump has made clear what he plans to do if he wins.
“Trump’s not even hiding the ball anymore. He’s telling us what he’s going to do. He’s making no bones about it,” Biden said at one of the events.
Biden cited Trump’s pledge to provide “retribution” for his supporters and to root out the “vermin” in the country. He warned of increased restrictions on abortion if Trump is reelected and reminded donors of the former president’s recent call to again repeal the Affordable Care Act, the increasingly popular expansion of public health insurance also known as Obamacare.
To win, said Democratic Party strategist Julie Roginsky, the president must again motivate the coalition that brought him to the White House in 2020, including youth and minority groups — voters that traditionally are a key part of the Democratic base.
That may be a bigger challenge in 2024. A New York Times/Siena Poll released in November found that 22% of Black voters and 42% of Hispanic voters in six key battleground states would choose Trump over Biden in 2024. Fifty-one percent of voters from other nonwhite racial backgrounds also favor Trump, compared with 39% for Biden.
Enthusiasm is also waning among young voters. According to a poll by the Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School, only 49% of those ages 18-29 say they “definitely” plan on voting in the presidential election in 2024, down from 57% who said so in response to the question in 2019. The sharpest decline was among younger Black and Hispanic Americans.
Biden campaign confident
The Biden campaign has been investing in media outreach to make their case to Black and Latino voters, and they say they are confident.
“President Biden and Vice President [Kamala] Harris are proud to have received historically early and united support from across the diverse coalition that sent them to the White House in record numbers in 2020,” campaign spokesperson Seth Schuster said in a statement to VOA.
“We’re meeting voters where they are, engaging on key issues — lowering costs, protecting reproductive rights, combating climate change, and making schools safer from gun violence — and highlighting the enormous stakes of this election,” he said.
The administration has launched new initiatives to fund businesses and entrepreneurs in communities of color, and this week released its new student loan forgiveness plan — a popular initiative among young voters.
It’s Biden’s second attempt at mass loan forgiveness after the Supreme Court in June overturned his original plan, which would have relieved up to $20,000 for tens of millions of Americans.
The president has work to do to repair ties with American Muslims and Arab Americans. Angry over the president’s policies to support Israel in its war against Hamas and the toll on civilian lives in Gaza, the group has launched an “Abandon Biden” campaign in key swing states such as Michigan.
For voters overall, the economy remains a key concern.
Despite solid macroeconomic indicators including positive economic growth, a declining rate of inflation and continued low unemployment, only 32% of Americans approve of Biden’s handling of the economy, according to a Gallup poll released last week.
Roginsky said reality is a “lagging indicator” and hoped that voter sentiment will catch up with the economy next year. But it’s also a messaging issue. Bidenomics is “a cute catchphrase,” she told VOA, but Democrats “need to do a much better job of explaining tangibly to voters what that means.”
Bidenomics is often used as a catchall phrase to describe the administration’s economic policies. Biden describes it as “growing the economy from the middle out and the bottom up,” his counter to Republican “trickle-down economics” — the theory that tax breaks and benefits for corporations and the wealthy will eventually benefit everyone.
Biden, Trump tied
Biden and Trump are tied at 43% according to an early December poll by Morning Consult. This, despite the former president facing 91 felony charges in four jurisdictions. Trump maintains he is innocent, and so far, his legal troubles have not significantly hurt him among voters in battleground states.
One possible explanation on the head-to-head is that positive news on Biden is being drowned out by the negative news on Trump.
“Most of the A-level headlines in our politics now are coming from the Republican Party,” said William Howell, professor in American politics at the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy. “It’s about the primaries. It’s about what’s been going on in Congress. It’s about Trump.”
This is in part a strategic choice by Democrats, Howell told VOA. Democrats hope to bank electoral points by allowing the news to be driven by the tumult in the Republican-led House of Representatives or Trump’s courtroom antics.
Allan Lichtman, distinguished professor of history at American University who correctly predicted all U.S. presidential election results since 1984, has not made a final prediction on the 2024 winner. However, he said that despite anxiety among Democrats about the president’s performance and concerns about his age, their only chance of victory is in keeping Biden as their nominee.
Lichtman told VOA that Democrats must support the incumbent to “avoid a disastrous internal battle.” He is waiting until next year to see which candidate gets points on the economy and foreign policy before making his prediction.
In the meantime, Biden will need to stop operating at the margins and communicate his achievements on a more prominent platform, Howell said. “He’s the president. He shouldn’t be in a position where he is elbowing for room.”
The president appears poised to do just that, starting with his donors. He will continue his fundraising blitz with a campaign event in Washington on Wednesday and another in Philadelphia on Monday.
On Friday, he heads to Los Angeles for a fundraiser featuring movie director Steven Spielberg, television producer and screenwriter Shonda Rhimes and other celebrities.your ad here
Two Afghan insurgent groups, made up mainly of former government and military officials, claim to have killed at least 50 Taliban officials and soldiers during November.
The hit-and-run insurgency has been most active in the north and northeast of the country where the Taliban encountered significant resistance during their previous rule from 1996 to 2001.
In brief statements in Dari and English posted on X, the Afghanistan Freedom Front and the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan claimed their fighters regularly target members of the Taliban at checkpoints, military bases and even on highways.
So far, the Taliban have played down the armed insurgency, saying peace and tranquility have been fully restored throughout the country.
The Afghan media have suffered major setbacks under the Taliban regime, making it difficult to access accurate information and to verify claims made by the insurgent groups.
“At this stage, there is little reason to suppose that these insurgent groups pose a significant threat to overall Taliban rule,” said Robert Grenier, former head of counterterrorism at the Central Intelligence Agency who also worked with anti-Taliban groups before 2001.
“As someone who was actively involved in trying to organize and motivate anti-Taliban groups and commanders — of which there were many — in the period just prior to 9/11, I can attest to the difficulty in organizing any sort of effective insurgency against Taliban rule. One of the reasons for this is the demonstrated brutality of the Taliban in dealing with perceived enemies,” Grenier told VOA via email.
The United Nations and human rights groups accuse the Taliban of extrajudicial killings, detentions, torture and disappearances of individuals suspected of supporting anti-Taliban groups.
Since their inception in 1994, the Taliban have used brutal force to suppress armed opposition to their rule, but it is unclear how many insurgent fighters they have killed since reclaiming power more than two years ago.
The insurgents lack enough forces to topple the Taliban, at least in the near future, but they appear to be creating political and governance challenges for the Islamist regime.
Fighting the Taliban has become a contentious issue among former Afghan officials even while political opposition to the Taliban’s monopoly on power and their extremist policies has grown stronger.
Two former Afghan presidents, Ashraf Ghani and Hamid Karzai, who separately led Afghanistan in its post-Taliban years, have opposed the toppling of the Taliban through war, advocating instead for a political settlement that would create an inclusive government.
While the Taliban regime is globally ostracized and condemned for its misogynistic policies, no country has so far offered support for a war against the Taliban.
Despite fighting the Taliban for 20 years and imposing terrorism sanctions on their leaders, the United States has refrained from supporting anti-Taliban insurgents.
In October, the British government announced it was strongly discouraging groups and individuals seeking political change in Afghanistan through armed violence.
“Any effective insurgency against the Taliban would rely on foreign support and the availability of a safe haven outside the country,” Grenier said, adding that the Taliban used safe havens in Pakistan for two decades while fighting Afghan and U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
While not supporting any warring party in Afghanistan, many countries have hosted the leaders of the anti-Taliban insurgent groups and other Afghan politicians who oppose the Taliban rule.
Recently, some former Afghan military officials who advocate for military and political campaigns against the Taliban opened the office of Afghanistan’s United Front in the United States, raising the former Afghan flag on their office building.
“We need a little bit of help from your side,” Sami Sadat, a former Afghan general and a leader of the United Front, told a U.S. House hearing last month. “We are ready to partner again, we are ready for the great sacrifice.”
Taliban officials have publicly voiced frustration to countries hosting their opponents while most Taliban leaders are unable to travel because of United Nations sanctions.
Islamic State Khorasan (IS-K), an affiliate of the Islamic State extremist group, reportedly poses the most potent threat to Taliban rule. In addition to targeting members of the Taliban, the group has perpetrated some of the deadliest attacks against religious minorities in Afghanistan.
“IS-K proved to be a resilient organization, attempting to plot attacks overseas and with bases of support in northern and eastern Afghanistan becoming more clandestine,” Asfandyar Mir, an expert with the U.S. Institute of Peace, told VOA.
As the number of groups fighting the Taliban goes up, some experts warn about the possibility of yet another cycle of civil war in Afghanistan with potential terrorist threats to regional and global security.
Grenier, the former CIA official, said a resurgent IS-K in Afghanistan would pose greater security threats to regional governments than to the United States and its allies.
“We should remember that active IS operations in Western Europe were the result of active military operations by Western governments against them in Iraq and Syria, rather than on a desire to attack the West per se. Unlike al-Qa’ida, IS has always been far more focused on attacking regimes within the Islamic world, rather than on their perceived Western supporters,” he said via email.
The United States government has evacuated and resettled thousands of members of the former Afghan forces, some of whom are seeking any kind of backing from the U.S. or its allies to intensify the war against the Taliban.
“Absent attacks on U.S. interests clearly emanating from Afghanistan, the U.S. will remain neutral,” Grenier said.
Afghan journalists Ramin and Nahid Askari, who fled to Pakistan to escape Taliban rule, say they fear they will be forced to return to Afghanistan under Islamabad’s deportation plan. For Muska Safi in Islamabad, VOA’s Cristina Caicedo Smit has the story. Contributor: Roshan Noorzai Videographer: Muska Safi
A top U.S. law enforcement official is warning lawmakers that a failure to renew key surveillance authorities would amount to “unilateral disarmament” in the face of growing threats from terrorism as well as countries like China and Iran.
FBI Director Christopher Wray testified Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, urging the panel to renew the bureau’s ability to gather electronic data under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, before the law expires at the end of the year.
Section 702, as it is commonly known, allows agencies such as the FBI and the National Security Agency to gather electronic data of non-Americans without first obtaining a warrant. But its use has stirred controversy because of repeated incidents in which officials have collected information on U.S. citizens.
‘Reckless at best…irresponsible at worst’
Wray assured lawmakers that reforms have been put in place to protect U.S. citizens, cautioning that a failure to renew the authority, or to renew the authority with additional restrictions, would put the country in danger.
“Blinding ourselves through either allowing 702 to lapse or amending it in a way that guts its effectiveness would be reckless at best and dangerous and irresponsible at worst,” he said.
“The whole reason we have 702 focused on foreign threats from overseas is to protect America from those threats,” he said. “It’s not to admire foreign threats from afar and study them and think about them. It’s to know what they are and to make sure they don’t hurt Americans here.”
Other U.S. officials have spent the past year briefing lawmakers about the much talked-about surveillance authority.
In May, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines told lawmakers information gathered through Section 702 “is utterly fundamental,” generating almost 60% of the information presented in the U.S. president’s daily intelligence briefing.
Just months later, in July, the deputy director of the CIA, the top U.S. spy agency, told a conference outside of Washington that Section 702 has been instrumental in helping to identify Russian atrocities in Ukraine and in tracking precursor chemicals — often from China — that help fuel the production of fentanyl.
But some lawmakers have been cautious, calling for additional reforms to prevent the FBI, in particular, from obtaining information on U.S. citizens without first receiving authorization from a court in the form of a warrant.
Wray told committee members on Thursday that using Section 702 as a so-called “end run” to gather information of Americans is “expressly prohibited” and that a series of reforms has been enacted to make sure it does not happen.
He also argued that the time it would take to go through the court system to obtain a warrant could put lives in danger.
“Even though our slice of 702 as a percentage is quite narrow, that narrow slice in some ways is the most important slice, because that’s what protects people here that all of us are sworn to protect,” Wray argued.
“What if there were a terrorist attack that we had a shot to prevent, but couldn’t take it, because the FBI was deprived of the ability under 702 to look at key information already sitting in our holdings?”
‘You have a lot of gall.’
Not all lawmakers agreed the danger was so dire.
“You have the audacity to come here, and you told us adding a warrant requirement to 702 even for queries involving U.S. persons on U.S. soil, that would amount to some sort of unilateral disarmament. You have a lot of gall, sir,” Republican Senator Mike Lee told Wray.
Lee also dismissed the FBI director’s assurances that sufficient protections have been built in.
“We have absolutely no reason to trust you because you haven’t behaved in a manner that’s trustworthy,” he said. “You’re asking me to believe something that is not believable.”
Some rights groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, also have balked at the renewal of Section 702 without major changes.
“We have serious, serious concerns,” ACLU senior policy analyst Kia Hamadanchy told VOA last month. “Over the last 15 years, we’ve seen a whole host of abuses. … Our current position is that Section 702 should not be reauthorized absent fundamental reform.”
With time running short before the collection authority expires, there may be a chance for a compromise.
Wray told lawmakers a bipartisan proposal from the chair and vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee “is a path that I think merits further exploration.”
The bill, proposed by Democratic Senator Mark Warner and Republican Senator Marco Rubio last week, would require the FBI to get a court order to search intelligence collected from U.S. citizens for evidence of a crime but not when it is pursuing foreign intelligence.
With the resumption of fighting in Gaza, Americans are increasingly divided over who to blame and what they want the United States to do in a war that has claimed the lives of more than 1,300 Israelis and 16,000 Palestinians.
“Polling shows Americans feel slightly more sympathy toward Israel than Palestine,” explained Robert Collins, professor of Urban Studies and Public Policy at Dillard University in New Orleans. “But it’s not an overwhelming difference, and there are a lot of undecideds and people who are unsure.”
A poll conducted from November 25-27 by The Economist/YouGov shows 38% of Americans sympathizing with Israelis while 11% of respondents sided with Palestinians. Twenty-eight percent said they were equally sympathetic to both sides, while 23% said they weren’t sure.
That indecision, Collins said, is rooted in the conflict’s complexity.
“Foreign wars are far more complicated to wrap one’s head around than domestic policy,” he told VOA. “Because of the fog of war, we’re limited in what information we can get, and even much of that turns out to be false a day or two later.”
Though more than half of survey respondents didn’t choose a side, many who did have strong feelings.
“Of course I’m on Israel’s side,” said Indiana lawyer Jeff Williams. “They’ve allowed the Palestinians and Hamas to live peacefully next door until being invaded and attacked, and having their residents raped and murdered. Israel has the right to respond in defense.”
Displaced in their own homeland
That same sureness is present in many of those who sympathize with Palestinians. Brooklyn Birdie is a Louisiana graduate student.
“As the mother of a son who is part Palestinian, I feel morally obligated to speak up for those in Gaza who are being wrongfully murdered, beaten, kidnapped and arrested by Israel for simply existing,” she said. “How so many Americans support those perpetrating these horrors is beyond me.”
Rachel Lacombe manages a Pennsylvania affordable housing nonprofit. She says she grieves for the Israeli citizens killed in the October 7 attack by Hamas.
“But in my heart, my sympathy is for the Palestinian people who have had their homes stolen for seven decades, displaced and forced into refugee camps on their own land since 1948 when Israel was founded,” she told VOA.
Lacombe says that is a difficult view to voice in America today.
“It’s been terrifying,” she said, “watching hundreds accused of antisemitism, losing their jobs, doxed and blacklisted just for being critical of Israel’s policies. I have to be careful what I say.”
A battle for Israeli existence
“I think it’s selective to say this conflict began in 1948 because Jews have occupied the land that is now Israel for much of the thousands of years prior,” said Connecticut mother Rebecca Urrutia. “My prayers are with innocent Palestinians, too, but I sympathize with Israel first and foremost. They are defending their land and their people and have been the target of so many attacks in the past.”
One reason Americans may be more likely to side with Israel is decades of geopolitical alliance between the United States and Israel. Another reason may be that there are more Jewish Americans than there are Muslim-Americans.
According to the Steinhardt Social Research Institute at Brandeis University, Jewish Americans make up about 2.4% of the U.S. population while the Pew Research Center says Muslim Americans account for just over 1% of the total population.
Since October 7, a survey by the Jewish Electorate Institute says more American Jews report feeling emotionally attached to Israel.
“I think the Jewish community has been split since the Trump presidency, but the attacks of October 7 united us,” said Lisa Peicott, a cantor at a synagogue in Los Angeles. “Hundreds of thousands of us have come together for marches and demonstrations against antisemitism and for Israel.”
Complex and complicated
Although polls show Americans more likely to sympathize with Israel, a growing number of respondents to an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll said Israel’s response was “too much.” While only 26% believed that was the case on October 11, 38% believed that four weeks later when the question was asked again.
“On one hand, I am so upset and in pain to see some Americans — including liberal activists and leaders I respected — now dismissing, celebrating or even denying the violence, rape and death of Jews,” said Sophie Teitelbaum, an educator in Los Angeles. “That’s ignorant and it’s antisemitic.”
On the other hand, Teitelbaum said she is herself critical of the Israeli government, its leadership and the military response in Gaza.
“I understand the need to defend oneself, but I also think Israel’s response was inhumane, unethical and wrong,” she told VOA. “Both sides are hurting. Both sides have a historical claim to the land. Both sides are afraid and deserve to be able to live in peace. But just because I don’t choose one side puts me at risk of being ostracized by both.”
Minnesota musician Joanna Miller shares that fear.
“I have friends who feel so passionately on both sides, and I don’t want to upset any of them,” she said. “But even not saying anything can be a problem. I have some Jewish friends on social media who compare those of us who aren’t saying anything to Nazism.”
This push against silence is coming from both sides of the debate, and it’s forcing some Americans to voice opinions that they might feel more comfortable not sharing.
Nigerian press freedom advocates are praising a recent ruling from the court of West African bloc ECOWAS that ordered Nigerian authorities to review sections of the country’s Press Act.
The court said portions of the law discriminate against online and nonprofessional journalists. The ruling followed a lawsuit filed by two Nigerian journalists against authorities in 2021.
Nigerian journalists Isaac Olamikan and Edoghogho Ugberease approached the ECOWAS regional court two years ago after security operatives arrested the duo in separate incidents while they were gathering the news.
Olamikan was accused of practicing with an expired media license. Ugberease — a citizen journalist who often covers happenings in her local community in southern Nigeria’s Edo state — was told by authorities that she was not qualified to tell stories or carry out investigations.
But the three-member panel of the ECOWAS court ruled that three sections of the Nigerian Press Council Act imposed age restrictions and educational qualifications for journalists and therefore discriminated against online and citizen journalists.
The court said that technological advancements meant media space is evolving, but that Nigerian law failed to accommodate such changes.
Ahaziah Abubakar, a former director of news at Voice of Nigeria, said the ECOWAS ruling couldn’t come at a better time.
“I’m excited that … a court of competent jurisdiction has ruled on a thing like that,” he said. “Journalists have become [an] endangered species.”
Journalism advocacy group Reporters Without Borders says Nigeria is one of West Africa’s most dangerous and difficult countries for journalists, who are often monitored, attacked and arbitrarily arrested.
The group says that the Nigerian constitution protects freedom of expression, but that there are many laws with provisions that make it possible to obstruct journalism.
In its defense at the ECOWAS court, the Nigerian government said that the rights to information and freedom of expression are not absolute, and that the arrest of the journalists was in the interest of national security.
Abubakar said he’s worried about the implementation of the ECOWAS verdict.
“So many court pronouncements in Nigeria, the powers that be do not obey court orders,” he said. “Implementation is selective, as it suits the powers that be.”
President Aigbokhan, the legal counsel to the Nigerian journalists, said, “Ordinarily, the government will be recalcitrant, so I think civil society groups should take it from there. There should be more public engagement on how that law cannot stand, because as it is now, the sections of those laws have already been struck down, whether or not it is amended nationally.”
It’s not clear when, or if, Nigerian authorities will amend the law.
Millions around the world turn to Wikipedia when they want to better understand the world around them, and that apparently includes artificial intelligence — the most searched topic on the online encyclopedia in 2023.
“ChatGPT is one of the generative AI tools that is trained on Wikipedia data, pulling large amounts of content from Wikipedia projects to answer people’s questions,” says Anusha Alikhan, chief communications officer at the Wikimedia Foundation. “So, the fact that millions of people are going to Wikipedia to learn about ChatGPT is kind of an interesting twist.”
Wikipedia articles about ChatGPT garnered more than 79 million page views across all languages, according to the Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit that hosts and funds the site. The information found on Wikipedia is managed by volunteer editors around the world.
English-language Wikipedia drew more than 84 billion views in 2023, according to the nonprofit. The top five articles this year were ChatGPT; Deaths in 2023; 2023 World Cricket Cup; Indian Premier League; and the film “Oppenheimer.”
Cricket is a popular global sport, but this is the first time since Wikipedia started keeping track in 2015 that an article about the sport made the list.
The rest of the most popular topics in Wikipedia’s Top 25 include a couple of Indian movies, as well as the U.S. megahit film, “Barbie.” Two celebrities who died this year —Matthew Perry and Lisa Marie Presley — are on the list, as are two well-known people: singer Taylor Swift and businessman Elon Musk, who made headlines a lot this year. Sports events, the United States, and India also made the Top 25 list.
“It gives the world, in our opinion, a real deep dive into the topics that people were most interested in for the entire year,” Alikhan says. “We often say also that Wikipedia reflects the world.”
According to Wikipedia data, the top five countries that accessed the English Wikipedia in 2023 are the United States (33 billion page views); the United Kingdom (9 billion page views); India (8.48 million page views); Canada (3.95 billion page views); and Australia (2.56 billion page views).
Historical subjects that make the list are often connected to a current event, including J. Robert Oppenheimer, the so-called father of the atomic bomb.
“The fact that number seven on the list is J. Robert Oppenheimer speaks to the fact that it was, of course, connected to the ‘Oppenheimer’ movie,” Alikhan says. “The article about him was also very highly trafficked, in addition to the film. So typically, if there’s a historical article in the Top 25, it’s because it was related to a current event.”
Top 25 English Wikipedia articles that received the most pageviews in 2023:
ChatGPT 49 million page views
Deaths in 2023 43 million
2023 Cricket World Cup 38 million
Indian Premier League 32 million
Oppenheimer (film) 28 million
Cricket World Cup 25.9 million
J. Robert Oppenheimer 25.6 million
Jawan (film) 22 million
2023 Indian Premier League 21 million
Pathaan (film) 19.9 million
The Last of Us (TV series) 19.7 million
Taylor Swift 19 million
Barbie (film) 18 million
Cristiano Ronaldo 17 million
Lionel Messi 16.62 million
Premier League 16.60 million
Matthew Perry 16.45 million
United States 16.24 million
Elon Musk 14.37 million
Avatar: The Way of Water (film) 14.30 million
India 13.8 million
Lisa Marie Presley 13.7 million
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (film) 13.3 million
Russian invasion of Ukraine 12.79 million
Andrew Tate 12.72 millionyour ad here
Pakistani officials said Tuesday that the United States did not object to Islamabad’s deportation of Afghan nationals who are illegally residing in the country but requested the process be slowed down during winter.
The crackdown on undocumented foreigners, including 1.7 million Afghans, came under discussion at a meeting with a visiting U.S. delegation led by Julieta Valls Noyes, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration.
A Pakistani official privy to the talks said that the U.S. side sought to prevent the deportation of around 25,000 “vulnerable” individuals who fled the Taliban’s August 2021 takeover in neighboring Afghanistan and could be eligible for relocation to or resettlement in the United States.
“The government of Pakistan doesn’t want to deport any vulnerable Afghan, irrespective of whether someone appears on the U.S. prospective resettlement list or any other country,” the official told VOA on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to share details of the talks publicly.
“Pakistan is concerned over the lengthy resettlement process the U.S. has adopted,” he said. “One thing is clear: The U.S. didn’t oppose Pakistan’s deportation policy. It, however, pleaded for going slow during the harsh winters,” the Pakistani official told VOA.
VOA reached out to the State Department to seek a response to Pakistani assertions that Washington is not opposed to the deportations of Afghans but did not get a response immediately.
Neither Pakistani nor U.S. officials formally released details of the meeting Noyes held with Asif Durrani, Pakistan’s special representative on Afghanistan.
“Good to visit Pakistani Foreign Ministry and see Special Representative for Afghanistan @AsifDurrani20 again today for discussion on Afghan refugees, protection, and resettlement,” Noyes said on X, formerly known as Twitter.
Durrani also shared a few details about his talks with the U.S. delegation on his X social media platform. “We discussed issues concerning Afghan refugees and their resettlement,” he said.
A pre-visit U.S. State Department statement said that during her four-day visit, Noyes would meet with government officials and nongovernmental and international organization partners to “discuss shared efforts to protect vulnerable individuals and accelerate safe, efficient relocation and resettlement of Afghan refugees in the U.S. immigration pipelines.”
Official data shows that Pakistan’s deportation drive has forced more than 400,000 people to return to Afghanistan since mid-September.
The United Nations and global human rights groups have criticized the crackdown and urged Islamabad to urgently halt it, noting that Afghanistan suffers from a dire humanitarian crisis stemming from years of war and natural disasters.
Pakistani authorities defend the deportation drive, linking a recent surge in deadly, nationwide terrorist attacks to the undocumented Afghan population.
In a separate statement on X, Noyes said she held an “important conversation” with representatives of the U.N. refugee agency in Islamabad and discussed “our shared commitment to support vulnerable Afghans in Pakistan.”
American and NATO troops withdrew from Afghanistan in August 2021 when the then-insurgent Taliban seized power from a Washington-backed government in Kabul. They also evacuated tens of thousands of Afghans who worked with the international military mission during its two-decades-long presence in the country, fearing they would face Taliban reprisals.
Pakistan’s otherwise close relations with the Taliban government have come under severe strain over the deportation drive.
De facto Afghan authorities have denounced the policy as unjust and inhumane, saying it has ended the goodwill the neighboring country earned for hosting millions of refugees from conflict-torn Afghanistan over the past four decades.
The Pakistani government says the country still hosts more than 2.2 million documented Afghans, including 1.4 million legal refugees. They are not the subjects of the ongoing crackdown.
In the hourslong run-up to a massive home explosion caught on amateur video Monday night, a suburban Washington, D.C., man discharged a flare gun into his neighborhood dozens of times, police said.
By the time the blast occurred during a standoff around 8:30 p.m., reportedly scattering debris throughout the area, police had been on the scene for hours, having received reports of shots fired around 4:45 p.m. Arlington County, Virginia, police had obtained a search warrant and were attempting to talk to the resident using a loudspeaker and phone.
When authorities tried to enter the home, the man reportedly fired several shots their way.
Then the duplex suddenly exploded in fire, spewing smoke and leaving rubble. It is unclear if the suspect died in the blast or if others were present inside the duplex, said Ashley Savage, a spokesperson for the Arlington County Police Department.
Three officers left the scene with minor injuries, but no one was hospitalized.
The duplex was in the Bluemont neighborhood in a northern Virginia suburb across the Potomac River from Washington.
More than 3 kilometers (nearly 2 miles) away, Carla Rodriguez said she heard the explosion and came to the scene, but law enforcement kept spectators blocks away.
“I actually thought a plane exploded,” Rodriguez said.
Bob Maynes, who lives in the area, said he thought the loud boom was the crash of a tree falling on his house.
“I was sitting in my living room watching television, and the whole house shook,” Maynes said. “It wasn’t an earthquake kind of tremor, but the whole house shook.”
Local firefighters were able to control the fire around 10:30 p.m. but continued to manage smaller spot fires into the night, police said early Tuesday.
The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said its investigators were at the scene assisting local police.
Some information for this report was provided by The Associated Press.
British interior minister James Cleverly signed a new treaty with Rwanda on Tuesday in an attempt to overcome a court decision to block the government’s controversial policy of sending asylum seekers to the East African country.
The Rwanda plan is at the centre of the government’s strategy to cut migration and is being watched closely by other countries considering similar policies.
The United Kingdom’s Supreme Court last month ruled that such a move would violate international human rights laws enshrined in domestic legislation.
The new treaty will include an agreement that Rwanda would not expel asylum seekers to a country where their life or freedom would be threatened – one of the court’s major concerns.
There will also be a monitoring committee to enable individuals to lodge confidential complaints directly to them and a new appeal body made up of judges from around the world.
Cleverly said there was now no “credible” reason to block the deportation flights because the treaty addressed all the issues raised by the Supreme Court and no extra money had been given to Rwanda to upgrade the deal from the existing memorandum of understanding.
“I really hope that we can now move quickly,” Cleverly told a press conference in Rwanda’s capital Kigali.
Many lawyers and charities said it was unlikely that deportation flights could start before next year’s election. The opposition Labour Party, which has a double-digit lead in the polls, plans to ditch the Rwanda policy if it wins.
Under the plan agreed last year, Britain intends to send thousands of asylum seekers who arrived on its shores without permission to Rwanda to deter migrants crossing the Channel from Europe in small boats.
In return, Rwanda has received an initial payment of 140 million pounds ($180 million) with the promise of more money to fund the accommodation and care of any deported individuals.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is under intense pressure to cut net migration, which hit a record 745,000 last year, with the vast majority coming through legal routes.
“Stop the boats” is one of five goals Sunak set for his government, to end the flow of asylum seekers who pay people smugglers for their Channel crossings, often in overcrowded boats that are not seaworthy.
The Supreme Court ruled against the Rwanda plan because there was a risk that deported refugees would have their claims wrongly assessed or returned to their country of origin to face persecution.
The new treaty is expected to be followed later this week by the publication of legislation declaring Rwanda a so-called safe country, designed to stop legal challenges against the planned deportation flights.
However, this is likely to trigger a new round of political and legal wrangling. The first flight was scheduled to go last summer but was cancelled at the last moment because of legal challenges.
Sarah Gogan, an immigration lawyer at Harbottle & Lewis, said Rwanda’s human rights record meant the government’s policy would be challenged.
“Rwanda is an unsafe country and this is not a quick fix,” she said. “You cannot in a matter of weeks or months reform a country and turn it into one with an impartial judiciary and administrative culture.”
Yvette Cooper, Labour’s home affairs spokeswoman, dismissed the government’s latest plans as another “gimmick.”
In 2021, Maryland residents Georgia Dodson and Jade Conner started a nonprofit that rescues aging dogs. So far, Miri’s Haven Senior Dog Rescue says it has helped more than 280 dogs, all of which are over 7 years old, many with medical issues. Masha Morton has the story. VOA footage by Alexey Zonov.
A roadside blast using a remote-controlled improvised explosive device, or IED, wounded seven people Tuesday, including four children in Peshawar, the capital of Pakistan’s northern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
According to area police, a preliminary investigation of the site found that 4 kilograms of explosives were concealed in a concrete block. Images from the site show the blast shattered windows of a nearby building.
Authorities said the wounded children, aged between six and 17, have been identified as Afghan nationals. Hospital authorities said none of the injured were in school uniform, indicating that the wounded were not school children.
“I am a roadside vendor and I had just arrived at the spot when a blast happened,” Javed Khan, a wounded 17-year-old who had come to sell potato chips told VOA’s Deewa Service. Khan said the injured children were his relatives. Hospital authorities say one 6-year-old is in critical condition.
The area where the incident occurred just after 9 a.m. has several educational institutions nearby, including the Army Public School that terrorists attacked nine years ago, this month. Around 150 people, mostly children, were killed in that brazen attack that shocked the nation.
Speaking to media near the site of Tuesday’s blast, Kashif Abbasi, a senior officer with Peshawar Police said the target was most likely a police vehicle that was on a routine patrol.
“As soon as the police mobile [patrol vehicle] drove by the site, the IED blast occurred,” Abbasi said.
Nearly two months before Tuesday’s attack, a similar incident in the area killed a soldier and injured six others.
So far, no group has claimed responsibility.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province has seen a marked rise in terror incidents, most targeting security personnel, since the Afghan Taliban returned to power in Kabul two years ago.
Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, an ideological offshoot of the Afghan Taliban routinely claims responsibility.
Pakistan accuses Kabul’s de facto government of inaction against TTP terrorists it alleges have moved their operational bases to Afghanistan. Islamabad is currently expelling hundreds of thousands of Afghan nationals residing without proper documents.
The government in Kabul denies providing safe haven to cross-border terrorists.
VOA Deewa stringer Usman Khan contributed to this report.
Nigerian President Bola Tinubu is calling for an investigation into a weekend military drone attack that killed 85 people.
The deadly attack occurred in the village of Tudun Biri in northern Kaduna state Sunday during a celebration of a Muslim holiday.
Dozens of villagers were also wounded in the attack.
President Tinubu’s office issued a statement expressing his grief over the incident, which he called “very unfortunate, disturbing and painful.”
The Nigerian air force has denied any involvement in Sunday’s attack.
Nigeria’s military have used drones in their battle against Islamic extremists who have waged an insurgent campaign in the country’s northeast and northwest for several decades.
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters, Agence France-Presse.
Nelson Mandela was a global icon who inspired the world, spending 27 years in prison for his fight against the South African apartheid regime and going on to become the country’s first black president.
Former comrades, family and analysts say Mandela, who died 10 years ago, would have been disappointed in the state of South Africa today.
Mandela, arguably the world’s best-known and most beloved South African, died on Dec. 5, 2013, at the age of 95.
His greatest achievement was bringing freedom and democracy to South Africa with his African National Congress, or ANC, party, after decades of brutal white minority rule.
He forgave his former enemies and ushered in one of the world’s most progressive constitutions. South Africa was seen as a moral example and beacon of hope worldwide.
Mandela served one term in office.
Even before his death, however, while he was in retirement, his once-storied ANC had become embroiled in corruption scandals – most notably under one of his successors, former President Jacob Zuma.
Today, critics accuse the party of only caring about self-enrichment and failing to deliver a better life for most of South Africa’s impoverished citizens.
They say Madiba, as he was widely known, would have been disappointed.
Peter Hain was a friend to Mandela and noted anti-apartheid activist whom apartheid security forces attempted to assassinate with a letter bomb in 1972.
“He would have been absolutely appalled at the decay in the country, the continued rampant corruption, including by some Cabinet ministers…. who are members of his once proud African National Congress,” Hain said.
Many other ANC stalwarts and surviving Mandela contemporaries declined to comment.
However, one of the statesman’s grandsons, Ndaba Mandela, echoed the view that Mandela would have been disappointed.
“Of course, my grandfather Madiba would have been very disappointed to say the least, to see what’s happened with the current ANC, with this party that he loved so much,” he said. “Do I think some of the party members are letting down the ANC? Of course they are. We have ministers who are on a feeding frenzy.”
Lumkile Mondi, an economics professor at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, described what he said are the main problems facing South Africa today.
“Levels of unemployment are very, very high, at about 32.5%; more importantly, inequality has deepened. So has poverty. Infrastructure, whether it’s water infrastructure, road infrastructure, energy infrastructure, has collapsed,” he said.
Next year marks 30 years since the first democratic elections in South Africa and voters will head to the ballot box once again. Numerous polls are suggesting the ANC will lose its majority for the first time.your ad here
The leader of a Pakistan ethnic group has been detained after authorities said armed men in his vehicle opened fire on police.
Raja Athar Abbas, the deputy commissioner of the northcentral city of Chaman, which sits on the border with Afghanistan, said that Manzoor Pashteen was arrested in connection with the shooting incident, as well as for violating a ban on entering Balochistan province.
Pashteen is the head and co-founder of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement, a loose network of Pashtun activists demanding equal rights and protections for minority Pashtuns in Pakistan.
The PTM issued a statement alleging Pashteen’s vehicle was fired at by law enforcement agencies while he was traveling from Chaman to the nearby city of Turbat, where he was scheduled to address a protest. The statement said one woman is being treated at a hospital after she was injured in the shooting.
The PTM says Pashteen and his entourage returned to Chaman and surrendered to authorities.
Pashtuns make up about 15% to 18% of Pakistan’s population, mostly in the insurgency- and counterinsurgency-stricken province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa along the porous border with Afghanistan.
Members and supporters of the PTM claim that their leaders are incarcerated, harassed and even eliminated by government forces.
Several of them have been arrested over the past two years for making incendiary remarks against state institutions.
“There is no justice for Pashtuns in Pakistan,” Pashteen told VOA last year. “When we demand our rights, equal rights, and protest against this colonial-like treatment of our people, we’re thrown [in]to jails indefinitely.”
Some information for this report came from VOA’s Akmal Dawi.your ad here
The United Nations humanitarian agency, OCHA, says it is working with other humanitarian agencies to help mitigate and respond to increasing incidents of gender-based violence in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The U.N. deputy humanitarian coordinator for the DRC, Suzanna Tkalec, said at a briefing Monday in Washington that women and girls in the provinces of North Kivu, South Kivu and Ituri continue to be exposed to alarming rates of gender-based violence due to the resurgence of violence between militant groups and government forces.
Tkalec said a recent report from the aid organization Doctors Without Borders found that some 90,000 women and girls had sought medical assistance after being assaulted and raped this year. The report said those who came forward likely represent only a fraction of the total number of victims.
Tkalec says survivors may be unable to reach lifesaving gender-based violence services or report their abuse, out of fear of stigmatization by their communities or retaliation by perpetrators.
“A lot of this is really, due to the extreme vulnerability of women and girls,” Tkalec said.
She says OCHA’s ability to help is largely inadequate because its 2023 humanitarian response plan is only 38% funded.
“Because there is always a competition among the new crises that arise, the DRC keeps falling down the line of international crisis that need attention,” Tkalec said.
Only four Republican presidential candidates have qualified to take to the stage for a fourth and final debate of the year Wednesday, meaning the audience will hear more from each candidate before the U.S. primaries begin in 2024. VOA’s Senior Washington Correspondent Carolyn Presutti tells us what else they need to do to “break out from the pack.”
More than $950,000 has been raised for the recovery of one of the three college students of Palestinian descent who was shot in Vermont and is currently paralyzed from the chest down, according to a GoFundMe page set up by his family.
One of the bullets that hit Hisham Awartani on Nov. 25 is lodged in his spine, his family said.
“Hisham’s first thoughts were for his friends, then for his parents who were thousands of miles away. He has demonstrated remarkable courage, resilience and fortitude – even a sense of humor – even as the reality of his paralysis sets in,” the fundraising page, which was set up on Saturday, states.
Awartani, Kinnan Abdalhamid and Tahseen Ali Ahmad are childhood friends who graduated from a private Quaker school in the West Bank and now attend colleges in the eastern U.S. The 20-year-olds were visiting Awartani’s relatives in Burlington for the Thanksgiving break. They were walking to the house of Hisham’s grandmother for dinner when they were shot in an unprovoked attack, the family said.
The young men were speaking in a mix of English and Arabic and two of them were also wearing the black-and-white Palestinian keffiyeh scarves when they were shot, Burlington Police Chief Jon Murad said. Authorities are investigating the shooting as a possible hate crime.
“In a cruelly ironic twist, Hisham’s parents had recommended he not return home over winter break, suggesting he would be safer in the US with his grandmother,” the fundraising page states. “Burlington is a second home to Hisham, who has spent summers and happy holidays with his family there. It breaks our hearts that these young men did not find safety in his home away from home.”
All three were seriously injured. Abdalhamid was released from the hospital last week.
The suspected gunman, Jason J. Eaton, 48, was arrested the following day at his Burlington apartment, where he answered the door with his hands raised and told federal agents he had been waiting for them. Eaton has pleaded not guilty to three counts of attempted murder and is currently being held without bail.
The shooting came as threats against Jewish, Muslim and Arab communities have increased across the U.S. in the weeks since the the Israel-Hamas war erupted in early October.
Awartani, who speaks seven languages, is pursuing a dual degree in math and archaeology at Brown University, where he is also a teaching assistant, the fundraising page said. He told his college professors that he is determined to start the next semester on time, according to the fundraiser.
“We, his family, believe that Hisham will change the world,” the fundraising page states. “He’ll change the world through his spirit, his mind and his compassion for those much more vulnerable than himself, especially the thousands of dead in Gaza and many more struggling to survive the devastating humanitarian crisis unfolding there.”
White House deputy national security adviser Jon Finer led a U.S. delegation to New Delhi on Monday where he noted the formation of an investigative panel by India to probe an unsuccessful plot to assassinate a Sikh separatist on U.S. soil.
“Mr. Finer acknowledged India’s establishment of a Committee of Enquiry to investigate lethal plotting in the United States and the importance of holding accountable anyone found responsible,” the White House said in a statement Monday.
Last week, the U.S. Justice Department alleged that an Indian government official directed an unsuccessful plot to assassinate a Sikh separatist on U.S. soil, while it announced charges against a man accused of orchestrating the attempted murder.
U.S. officials have named the target of the attempted murder as Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a Sikh separatist and dual citizen of the United States and Canada.
In response, India expressed concern about one of its government officials being linked to the plot, from which it dissociated itself, as being against government policy.
India said last week it would formally investigate the concerns aired by the U.S. and take “necessary follow-up action” on the findings of a panel set up on Nov. 18.
News of the incident came two months after Canada said there were “credible” allegations linking Indian agents to the June murder of another Sikh separatist leader, Hardeep Singh Nijjar, in a Vancouver suburb, a contention India has rejected.
U.S. President Joe Biden, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan, CIA director Bill Burns and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have discussed this issue with their Indian counterparts in recent weeks.
The issue is highly delicate for both India and the Biden administration as they try to build closer ties in the face of an ascendant China perceived as a threat for both democracies.
The Indian government has long complained about the presence of Sikh separatist groups outside India. New Delhi views them as security threats. The groups have kept alive the movement for Khalistan, or the demand for an independent Sikh state to be carved out of India.
Finer met Indian foreign minister S. Jaishankar and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval. They also discussed developments in the Middle East, including the Israel-Hamas war, plans for a post-war Gaza and recent attacks on commercial vessels in the Red Sea, the White House said Monday.