US Soccer Equalizes Pay in Milestone With Women, Men

The U.S. Soccer Federation reached milestone agreements to pay its men’s and women’s teams equally, making the American national governing body the first in the sport to promise both sexes matching money.

The federation announced separate collective bargaining agreements through December 2028 with the unions for both national teams on Wednesday, ending years of often acrimonious negotiations.

The men have been playing under the terms of a CBA that expired in December 2018. The women’s CBA expired at the end of March but talks continued after the federation and the players agreed to settle a gender discrimination lawsuit brought by some of the players in 2019. The settlement was contingent on the federation reaching labor contracts that equalized pay and bonuses between the two teams.

“I feel a lot of pride for the girls who are going to see this growing up, and recognize their value rather than having to fight for it. However, my dad always told me that you don’t get rewarded for doing what you’re supposed to do — and paying men and women equally is what you’re supposed to do,” U.S. forward Margaret Purce said. “So I’m not giving out any gold stars, but I’m grateful for this accomplishment and for all the people who came together to make it so.”

Perhaps the biggest sticking point was World Cup prize money, which is based on how far a team advances in the tournament. While the U.S. women have been successful on the international stage with back-to-back World Cup titles, differences in FIFA prize money meant they took home far less than the men’s winners.

The unions agreed to pool FIFA’s payments for the men’s World Cup later this year and next year’s Women’s World Cup, as well as for the 2026 and 2027 tournaments.

Each player will get matching game appearance fees in what the USSF said makes it the first federation to pool FIFA prize money in this manner.

“We saw it as an opportunity, an opportunity to be leaders in this front and join in with the women’s side and U.S. Soccer. So we’re just excited that this is how we were able to get the deal done,” said Walker Zimmerman, a defender who is part of the U.S. National Team Players Association leadership group.

The federation previously based bonuses on payments from FIFA, which earmarked $400 million for the 2018 men’s tournament, including $38 million to champion France, and $30 million for the 2019 women’s tournament, including $4 million to the champion United States.

FIFA has increased the total to $440 million for the 2022 men’s World Cup, and its president, Gianni Infantino, has proposed that FIFA double the women’s prize money to $60 million for the 2023 Women’s World Cup, in which FIFA has increased the teams to 32.

For the current World Cup cycles, the USSF will pool the FIFA funds, taking 10% off the top and then splitting the rest equally among 46 players — 23 players on the roster of each team. For the 2026-27 cycle, the USSF cut increases to 20% before the split.

After missing the 2018 World Cup, the men qualified for this year’s World Cup in Qatar starting in November. The women’s team will seek to qualify this year for the 2023 World Cup, cohosted by Australia and New Zealand.

For lesser tournaments, such as those run by the governing body of North America, players will earn identical game bonuses. And for exhibition games, players will receive matching appearance fees and performance payments based on the match result and opponent rank. Players who don’t dress will earn a fee that is the equivalent of participating in a national team training camp.

The women gave up guaranteed base salaries which had been part of their CBA since 2005. Some players had been guaranteed annual salaries of $100,000.

“I think we’ve outgrown some of the conditions that may look like we have lost something, but now our (professional) league is actually strong enough where now we don’t need as many guaranteed contracts, you know, we can be on more of a pay-to-play model,” Purce said.

Child care, covered for women for more than 25 years, will be extended to men during national team training camps and matches.

The women and men also will receive a portion of commercial revenue from tickets for matches controlled by the USSF, with bonuses for sellouts, and each team will get a portion of broadcast, partner and sponsor revenue.

Players will get a 401(k) plan and the USSF will match up to 5% of a player’s compensation, subject to IRS limits. That money will be deducted from the shares of commercial revenue.

“There were moments when I thought it was all going to fall apart and then it came back together and it’s a real credit to all the different groups coming together, negotiating at one table,” said federation President Cindy Parlow Cone, a former national team player who became head of the governing body in 2020

“I think that’s where the turning point really happened. Before, trying to negotiate a CBA with the women and then turn around and negotiate CBA terms with the men and vice versa, was really challenging. I think the real turning point was when we finally were all in the same room sitting at the same table, working together and collaborating to reach this goal.”

Women ended six years of litigation over equal pay in February in a deal calling for the USSF to pay $24 million, a deal contingent on reaching new collective bargaining agreements.

As part of the settlement, players will split $22 million, about one-third of what they had sought in damages. The USSF also agreed to establish a fund with $2 million to benefit the players in their post-soccer careers and charitable efforts aimed at growing the sport for women.

Mark Levinstein, counsel for the men’s union, said the agreement ended “more than 20 years of federation discrimination against the USWNT players.”

“Together with the USWNTPA, the USMNT players achieved what everyone said was impossible — an agreement that provides fair compensation to the USMNT players and equal pay and equal working conditions to the USWNT players,” he said. “The new federation leadership should get tremendous credit for working with the players to achieve these agreements.”

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Zimbabwe Urges Sale of Stockpile of Seized Elephant Ivory 

Zimbabwe is seeking international support to be allowed to sell its stockpile of seized ivory, saying the $600 million it expects to earn is urgently needed for the conservation of its rapidly growing elephant population which it describes as “dangerous.”

Officials from the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority showed ambassadors from European Union countries the stockpile of ivory tusks that have been seized from poachers and collected from elephants that have died.

The Zimbabwean officials appealed to the European Union and other countries to support the sale of ivory which has been banned since 1989 by CITES, the international body that monitors endangered species.

Zimbabwe has 130 tons of ivory and 6 to 7 tons of rhino horn, said Mangwanya.

Envoys from the Netherlands, Germany, France, Britain, Switzerland, Canada and the United States viewed the ivory tusks in heavily guarded vaults in Harare.

Swiss ambassador to Zimbabwe Niculin Jager, speaking on behalf of the envoys, emphasized the need to fight the poaching of elephants.

“Conservation and prevention of illegal wildlife trade is an international issue because of the involvement of criminal syndicates in illegal wildlife trade, hence there is need to strengthen international co-operation,” he said.

Later this month Zimbabwe will be hosting what it calls an “elephant summit” in which representatives of 14 African countries, as well as from China and Japan, will consider ways to manage the populations of the world’s largest land animal.

“We need assistance. These elephants are multiplying at a dangerous rate, 5% per annum,” the parks and wildlife agency’s director-general, Fulton Mangwanya, said during the tour.

Zimbabwe’s estimated 100,000 elephants are double the carrying capacity of its national parks. The overcrowded elephants are destroying the trees and shrubs that are vital for them and other wildlife, say parks officials.

Zimbabwe’s elephant population is getting so big that Mangwanya warned “it will be very difficult for us to do anything but culling which is opposed by everyone.”

Neighboring Botswana has the world’s largest elephant population with more than 130,000. Together Zimbabwe and Botswana have nearly 50% of the world’s elephants. The two countries say they are struggling to cope with the booming numbers and are pressing to be allowed to sell their stockpiles of tusks seized from poachers or removed from dead elephants.

Other African countries, such as Kenya, insist that all ivory sales should be banned to discourage any international trade in ivory.

In addition to banning ivory sales, CITES in 2019 also imposed restrictions on the sales of wild elephants caught in Zimbabwe and Botswana, a move that pleased some conservationists but dismayed officials struggling to manage their overloaded parks.

There is a flourishing illegal trade in ivory in which international syndicates fund poachers to kill elephants and saw off their ivory tusks. The ivory is then smuggled overseas, where there is a demand for ivory for jewelry and trinkets.

Increased poaching and loss of habitat have made Africa’s elephant populations more endangered, the International Union for Conservation of Nature said last year.

Zimbabwe and Botswana say they are ill-equipped to deal with poachers without the money from ivory sales, especially because earnings from tourism have dwindled due to COVID—19 related travel restrictions since 2020.

Zimbabwe has pledged to use “all” proceeds from ivory sales to fund conservation in its wildlife parks and to support communities that live near parks and “bear the brunt” of conflict with the wildlife, said Mangwanya. Zimbabwe argues that funds that benefit people who live near the parks will motivate them to support the fight against poaching instead of relying on it for their livelihoods.

Zimbabwe proposes a “once-off sale in this COVID—19 pandemic era,” Mangwanya said.

“There is a great market for valuable ivory and we can’t trade to generate financial resources for the implementation of elephant management plans,” Mangwanya said. “It’s now worse with COVID and with low business in tourism where we derive our revenue from. Where do we get the money to look after the resources?” (backslash)

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Review Finds US Troops Didn’t Violate Law in Syria Airstrike

A U.S. military investigation found that American troops did not violate the law of war or deliberately cause civilian casualties in a 2019 airstrike in Syria that killed dozens of people, including women and children. It did find that the military committed procedural mistakes in the aftermath of the attack.

The Pentagon said Tuesday that no one, including the ground force commander, was disciplined as a result of the strike, which was launched in support of Syrian partner forces who were under heavy fire from the Islamic State group near the town of Baghuz, in eastern Syria.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who ordered a new review of the airstrike last November, said he was “disappointed” with deficiencies in the handling of the initial review of the operation, which missed deadlines and led to delays in reporting to Congress and the public about civilian casualties.

“The process contributed to a perception that the Department was not committed to transparency and was not taking the incident seriously — a perception that could have been prevented by a timely review and a clear explication of the circumstances surrounding the strike,” Austin said in a memo released Tuesday.

The investigation comes amid new scrutiny on the U.S. military for strikes that cause innocent deaths. And it has all prompted Austin to order the department to create a new “Civilian Harm Mitigation and Response Action Plan” to better prevent civilian deaths in military operations. He also ordered Army Gen. Michael Garrett, currently the head of U.S. Army Forces Command, to do an independent review of the Baghuz strike.

Late last year, another independent review concluded that a U.S. drone strike that killed innocent Kabul civilians and children in the final days of the Afghanistan war was not caused by misconduct or negligence. It found breakdowns in communication and in the process of identifying and confirming the target of the bombing.

The strike killed a longtime employee of an American humanitarian organization and nine of his family members, including seven children. The U.S. has promised to pay financial reparations to the family, and potentially get them out of Afghanistan, but none of that has happened yet.

In the Tuesday memo, Austin directed department leaders to meet deadlines in reporting civilian casualties, conduct thorough reviews, and reinforce the importance of the procedures to commanders across the force.

The initial investigation into the attack concluded that the strike constituted legitimate self-defense in support of Syrian partner forces under fire from the Islamic State group. Garrett, in his investigation, agreed with that conclusion.

According to Garrett’s investigation, 52 enemy combatants were killed and two were injured, and four civilians were killed and 15 were injured. Of the civilians, one female and three children were killed, and 11 women and four children were wounded. One of the enemies killed was a child.

Asked why no one was being held personally accountable for the civilian deaths, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Tuesday that Austin was holding the department accountable, and that’s why he ordered changes in the process.

“I understand the questions about accountability, I get it,” Kirby told Pentagon reporters. “In this case, General Garrett found that the ground force commander made the best decisions that he could, given the information he had at the time, given a very lethal, very aggressive (Islamic State) threat, in a very confined space. It is deeply regrettable … we apologize for the loss of innocent life.”

Garrett, in an unclassified summary of his report, said that the ground force commander “did not deliberately or with wanton disregard cause civilian casualties.” He said the decision to strike was necessary to defend the Syrian Democratic Forces and that “multiple efforts to distinguish civilians” from Islamic State insurgents were made.

Garrett added, however, that information not available to the commander at the time, showed that he relied on data “that was not fully accurate.” But he said the commander’s actions can’t be judged on information available only in hindsight.

Garrett, in his review, also said that while he found problems with policy compliance, “I found no evidence to support the allegation that these deficiencies were malicious or made to conceal decisions or actions.”

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US Study Blames Rapid Troop Exit for Collapse of Afghan Forces

An official U.S. agency report has blamed the sudden demise of Afghan security forces in August 2021 mainly on Washington’s decision to rapidly withdraw the American military, leading to the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), tasked to monitor events in the war-torn nation, on Wednesday released what it said was the first U.S. government report on how and why the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) fell apart abruptly.

The 300,000-member ANDSF, which had received billions of dollars in U.S. training and equipment over two decades, crumbled without offering any significant resistance in the face of a lightning, 11-day insurgent offensive that brought almost the entire country, including the capital, Kabul, under the Taliban control on August 15.

“(The) SIGAR found that the single most important factor in the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces’ collapse in August 2021 … was the decision by two U.S. presidents to withdraw U.S. military and contractors from Afghanistan, while Afghan forces remained unable to sustain themselves,” the report said.

President Joe Biden and his predecessor, former President Donald Trump, who reached a deal with the Taliban in February 2020 to withdraw U.S. and allied troops and end the longest U.S. war, not only announced deadlines for the troop exit but the U.S. military significantly reduced its battlefield support of Afghan forces, leaving them without the crucial backing of American airstrikes. The SIGAR assessment is based in part on interviews with U.S. and former Afghan government officials and military leaders.

“We built that army to run on contractor support. Without it, it can’t function. Game over … when the contractors pulled out, it was like we pulled all the sticks out of the Jenga pile and expected it to stay up,” a former U.S. commander in Afghanistan told SIGAR.

Former Afghan generals told the agency that most of the U.S.-made UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters were grounded shortly after American contractors withdrew in spring 2021, including those who performed maintenance on the helicopters.

“In a matter of months, 60 percent of the Black Hawks were grounded, with no Afghan or U.S. government plan to bring them back to life,” one Afghan general told the U.S. monitor. As a result, Afghan soldiers in isolated bases were running out of ammunition or dying for lack of medical evacuation capabilities, according to the report. It noted that the U.S.-Taliban deal and subsequent withdrawal announcement degraded ANDSF morale, with some Afghan army officials denouncing the pact as “a catalyst for the collapse.”

In 2019, the U.S. military conducted 7,423 airstrikes against insurgents, the most in a decade. In 2020, the U.S. conducted 1,631 airstrikes, with almost half occurring in the two months before the U.S.-Taliban agreement. A former Afghan special operations’ commander told SIGAR that “overnight … 98 percent of U.S. airstrikes had ceased.”

Afghan military officials were quoted as saying that the agreement’s psychological impact was so great that the average soldier switched to “survival mode and became susceptible” to accepting other offers, knowing they were not the winner. The deal also introduced tremendous uncertainty into the U.S.-Afghan relationship, according to SIGAR findings.

Afghans share blame

The report also blamed successive U.S.-backed Afghan governments for not doing their part to address the long-running problems facing ANDSF and affecting their determination to keep fighting. SIGAR identified low salaries, poor logistics that led to food, water and ammunition shortages; and corrupt commanders who colluded with contractors to skim off food and fuel contracts. It was not until Biden’s April 14, 2021, announcement of the final troop and contractor withdrawal date that deposed Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s inner circle said they realized that the ANDSF had no supply and logistic capabilities. Although the Afghan authorities had operated in this way for nearly 20 years, their realization came only four months before its collapse, the report said. A former Afghan interior ministry official told SIGAR that Ghani and his aides had been dismissing the impending foreign troop withdrawal as “a U.S. plot” until early that April, believing it was merely intended to pressure the embattled president as opposed to being official U.S. policy.

“The U.S. and Afghan governments share in the blame. Neither side appeared to have the political commitment to doing what it would take to address the challenges, including devoting the time and resources necessary to develop a professional ANDSF, a multigenerational process,” the SIGAR concluded. “In essence, U.S. and Afghan efforts to cultivate an effective and sustainable security assistance sector were likely to fail from the beginning. The February 2020 decision to commit to a rapid U.S. military withdrawal sealed the ANDSF’s fate,” the report said.

The U.S.-led Western military alliance invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 to punish the then-Taliban government in Kabul for harboring the al-Qaida leaders who Washington said were behind the deadly terrorist attacks against U.S. cities in September of that year. The Islamist group, however, quickly regrouped in alleged sanctuaries in neighboring Pakistan before unleashing a deadly insurgency against international forces and their Afghan allies. U.S. and Afghan officials accused the Pakistani spy agency of covertly helping the Taliban sustain and expand their insurgency.

Islamabad rejected the charges and blamed several million Afghan refugees on its soil for sheltering insurgents. The allegations strained Pakistan’s relationship with the U.S. but did not rupture it, mainly because Pakistani ground and air routes were playing a crucial role in ferrying supplies to the foreign military mission in landlocked Afghanistan for nearly 20 years until the last American and allied troops flew out of Kabul on August 30.

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California Church Shooting Reveals Little-Known Tension Between 2 Groups of Taiwanese

Hilary Wu of Orange County, California, comes from a family who lived in Taiwan for hundreds of years. Her boyfriend identifies as a descendent of a wave of people from China who were exiled to Taiwan in the 1940s under the Chinese Nationalist government as the Communists took over mainland China.

But Wu, 40, and her boyfriend discussed that difference only once, over dinner. It doesn’t matter to them. “We’re very different in how we grew up, and we’re different people, but that doesn’t affect our values, our morals,” said Wu, a hospital dietician who moved to California with her parents when she was a child.

But the two groups’ historical differences and ongoing tensions became evident outside of Taiwan on Sunday when a gunman opened fire at a Taiwanese Presbyterian church gathering in Southern California, where Wu lives. The suspected shooter was born and raised in Taiwan and had ties to pro-China groups, Taiwanese media outlets say. The parishioners he is accused of shooting descended from families who had lived in Taiwan for centuries.

Authorities said David Wenwei Chou, 68, of Las Vegas, was arrested and accused of killing one man, 52-year-old Dr. John Cheng, who tackled the suspect, allowing others to subdue him, according to The Associated Press. Five others were injured.

Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes cited a grievance between the shooter, a U.S. citizen, and the Taiwanese community. The suspect “was upset about political tensions involving China and Taiwan,” the sheriff’s department said in a statement on Monday.

 

British Presbyterians who reached Taiwan in 1865 made strong connections with local Taiwanese and advocated the island’s independence from China, author-historian Christine Louise Lin wrote in her book “The Presbyterian Church in Taiwan and the Advocacy of Local Autonomy.” 

“I don’t like to think of this as a hate crime, but it’s a hate crime,” Wu said. “There’s a political aspect in the (background), but this person is also crazy. I was very shocked to find out it’s another Asian American taking something out on Taiwanese Americans.”

Taiwan’s domestic differences

The divide has influenced domestic politics, education and other facets of life in Taiwan since the 1940s.

In 1949, Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist government fled mainland China and took control of the island after fleeing Mao Zedong’s Communists in the Chinese civil war. The Nationalists kept Taiwan under authoritarian rule until democratizing in the 1980s.

Taiwanese with hundreds of years of history on the island, also identified as “benshengren,” favor today’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party. That party opposes pledges by the modern Chinese government to capture the island by force if needed. The Nationalists, or “waishengren,” many who hail from China and settled in Taiwan with Chiang, take a more conciliatory stance toward China.

Paul Yang, 52, a Taiwanese-born real estate agency owner in Orange County, has lived in the United States for 31 years and knows people connected to the church where the shooting occurred. The president of the Taiwanese Chamber of Commerce of Orange County, Yang says his 200 members seldom discuss politics in public settings.

Yang still identifies as a benshengren but says he seldom hears the term anymore.

“When I go back to Taiwan and talk to younger generations, the terms ‘bensheng’ and ‘waisheng’ are not as commonly used as when I was a kid,” he said.

The two groups of Taiwanese people have no “real issues” in the United States, said Chien Minze, president of the Washington-based Taiwan advocacy organization Formosan Association for Public Affairs. He knows of no other U.S. incident like the shooting. “We respect each other,” he said, referring to the two groups. “There is nothing like we have (to) go to this extreme.”

Rekindling friction in Taiwan

In Taiwan, the shooting will likely make people think about the divide again, said Chao Chien-min, dean of social sciences at Chinese Cultural University in Taipei. Domestic news reports will focus on that angle, he predicted, and the island’s political parties might bring it up on their own.

“What I’m worried about is this: The incident in California will strengthen a vicious cycle,” Chao said. “This shooting was politically motivated to start with, and the interpretation of it in Taiwan is that it’s political. Everything related to Taiwan-mainland China relations is politicized.”

The ruling party of Taiwan said in a social media statement that it “condemned” any form of violence but did not elaborate on the political angle.

Sunday’s shooting may alarm the Taiwanese about fringe political activists who have mainland Chinese sympathies and support unifying Taiwan and China, said Sean Su, an independent political analyst in Taiwan. Su said followers of a pro-China group broke his windows when he was living in New York 15 years ago.

“These groups tend to be radicalized in the United States,” Su said. “A lot of Taiwanese groups have undergone a lot of harassment and undergone lot of threats from these pro-China unification groups over the years.”

Unanswered questions

Peggy Huang, a Taiwanese American City Council member in Yorba Linda, a suburban city near the shooting site, called politics a likely “oversimplification” of reasons behind the shooting. She wonders particularly how a suspect from Las Vegas picked a church in Laguna Woods for his assault. The city of 16,000 is attractive to retirees, and Taiwanese churches operate in other parts of Orange County.

“He might no doubt have some hateful feeling toward Taiwanese people,” said Huang. “But for him to specifically come to this church? This is not an easy church to find. That’s the topic of conversation among us.”

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Dallas Hair Salon Shooting Suspect Arrested, FBI opens hate crime investigation 

Police in Dallas arrested a suspect early Tuesday who is linked to a shooting last week at a hair salon that left three women of Korean descent wounded.

An FBI spokesperson also confirmed that the Dallas FBI Field Office, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District in Texas, and the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice have opened a federal hate crime investigation.

The suspect was identified as Jeremy Theron Smith, 36, according to an arrest warrant affidavit submitted by the police, according to the Dallas Police Twitter account.

Smith is accused of entering The Hair World Salon in the city’s Koreatown on May 11 and opening fire on the people inside, injuring the owner, a hairdresser on duty and a client.

The women were rushed to a hospital and treated for non-life-threatening injuries.

Smith is being detained in a Dallas County jail on three charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, jail records show.

Police Chief Eddie Garcia said investigators were looking into a possible connection between the hair salon shooting and other hate crimes against Asian Americans that recently took place in the area, according to the Dallas Police Twitter account. Garcia said a maroon or red vehicle had been spotted at all three crime scenes.

In a report released last August, the FBI said 279 anti-Asian incidents were reported in 2020, up 77% from 2019.

Garcia also said police will be increasing security measures and the number of patrol officers stationed in areas of the city with large Asian American communities.

The shooting is one of several following a surge in attacks and violence against Asian Americans across the country during the 2-year-old COVID-19 pandemic.

Some information for this report came from Reuters and NBC News.

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US Sues Casino Mogul Wynn Over Relationship with China

The Justice Department sued longtime Las Vegas casino mogul Steve Wynn on Tuesday to compel him to register as a foreign agent because of lobbying work it says he performed at the behest of the Chinese government during the Trump administration. 

The department said it had advised Wynn repeatedly over the last four years to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA, and is suing now because Wynn refused to do so. 

Though the Justice Department has ramped up efforts to criminally prosecute people who don’t register as foreign agents, officials described this case as the first lawsuit of its kind in more than three decades. 

“Where a foreign government uses an American as its agent to influence policy decisions in the United States, FARA gives the American people a right to know,” Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen, the head of the department’s National Security Division, said in a statement. 

A spokesperson for the department declined to comment on why the department had pursued a lawsuit rather than criminal charges. 

Wynn’s lawyers said Tuesday that they would contest the suit. 

“Steve Wynn has never acted as an agent of the Chinese government and had no obligation to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act,” said a statement from attorneys Reid Weingarten and Brian Heberlig. “We respectfully disagree with the Department of Justice’s legal interpretation of FARA and look forward to proving our case in court.” 

The complaint alleges that Wynn, who stepped down from his company, Wynn Resorts, in 2018 after multiple women accused him of sexual misconduct, lobbied then-President Donald Trump and members of his administration for several months in 2017 to remove from the United States a Chinese national who had been charged with corruption in China and was seeking political asylum in America. The efforts to have the man removed from the U.S. were ultimately unsuccessful. 

The lawsuit says the lobbying effort was done on behalf of senior Chinese government officials, including Sun Lijun, the then-vice minister of the Ministry of Public Security who sought Wynn’s help in trying to get the Chinese national’s new visa application denied, according to the complaint. 

The lobbying effort also included conversations over dinner with Trump and by phone, and multiple visits to the White House for apparently unscheduled meetings with the issue was discussed. 

The complaint says Wynn was motivated to protect his business interests in China. At the time, his company owned and operated casinos in the Chinese territory of Macau. The government in Macau had restricted the number of gaming tables and machines that could be operated at Wynn’s casino, the Justice Department says, and he was scheduled to renegotiate licenses to operate casinos in 2019. 

FARA, enacted in 1938 to unmask Nazi propaganda in the United States, requires people to disclose to the Justice Department when they advocate, lobby or perform public relations work in the U.S. on behalf of a foreign government or political entity. 

The complaint alleges that Wynn was drawn into the lobbying effort by Elliott Broidy, a prominent fundraiser for Trump and the Republican Party who pleaded guilty in 2020 in an illicit lobbying campaign aimed at getting the Trump administration to drop an investigation into the multibillion-dollar looting of a Malaysian state investment fund and for his role in a covert lobbying effort that sought to arrange for the return of a Chinese dissident living in the U.S. 

Broidy was later pardoned by Trump at the end of his administration. 

The dissident was not referred to by name by prosecutors, but it matches the description of Guo Wengui. Guo left China in 2014 during an anti-corruption crackdown led by President Xi Jinping that ensnared people close to Guo, including a top intelligence official. Chinese authorities have accused Guo of rape, kidnapping, bribery and other offenses and have sought the return of the self-exiled tycoon. 

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Colonel Close to Mali Junta Linked to Coup Attempt, Sources Say 

A colonel reputed to be close to Mali’s ruling junta has been arrested following what the authorities describe as an attempted coup, two sources said Tuesday. 

The junta late Monday announced that last week it had thwarted a would-be putsch led by army officers and “supported by a Western state.” 

The mysterious episode marks the latest bout of turbulence in the West African country, which has experienced two coups in less than two years. 

An official at the defense ministry, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP: “Colonel (Amadou) Keita is among the arrested jihadists.” 

Keita is not well-known publicly but is reputed to have been among army officers who seized power in August 2020, later strengthening their grip in a second coup in May the following year. 

He is one of the 120 members of the National Transition Council (CNT) — a legislature appointed by the junta to pass laws pending a declared return to civilian rule. 

Keita is also said to be close to the CNT’s president, Colonel Malick Diaw, who is one of the most influential figures in the junta led by strongman Colonel Assimi Goita. 

“We have had no news of Colonel Amadou Keita since the 12th,” a close relative of his told AFP, also requesting anonymity. 

“Two of his comrades have told us that he has been arrested.” 

The relative gave no reasons for Keita’s disappearance. 

According to the junta’s statement read on state television late Monday, the coup bid happened on the night of May 11. 

Officers and junior officers were involved, and the attempt had the backing of a Western state, the communique said, without naming that country. 

It gave no further details about what happened and did not put forward any evidence but said arrests had been made. 

The military source told AFP on Tuesday that about 12 people had been detained. 

One of the poorest and most volatile countries in the world, Mali is battling a decade-old jihadist revolt that began with a regional insurrection and spread to Niger and Burkina Faso. 

Thousands of civilians and soldiers have died, and hundreds of thousands have fled their homes. 

Anger at the government’s failure to roll back the threat led to protests in 2020, culminating in the ouster of the elected president, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. 

The country’s relationship with France — the former colonial power and its closest ally in the fight against the jihadists — last year went on a downward spiral. 

French troops are pulling out of Mali after the junta wove close ties with Russia, bringing in military support that France says are Russian mercenaries. 

 

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Somalis in Mogadishu Optimistic About New Leadership  

Somalia has elected a new president after a prolonged election impasse that nearly pushed the country into conflict. Somali parliamentarians elected former president Hassan Sheikh Mohamud to replace Mohamed Abdullahi, commonly known as Farmaajo. Mohamud has assumed office and faces daunting tasks as he pledges to steer the country toward peace and reconciliation. Mohamed Sheikh Nor reports from Mogadishu. Camera: Mohamed Sheikh Nor  

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Somalis in Mogadishu Optimistic about New Leadership   

Somalia has elected a new president after a prolonged election impasse that nearly pushed the country into conflict.

Somali parliamentarians elected former President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud to replace Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, commonly known as Farmaajo. Mohamud has assumed office and faces daunting tasks as he pledges to steer the country toward peace and reconciliation.

Somalia’s 2022 presidential elections attracted 39 candidates. After three rounds of voting by 328 MPs and senators, former President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud emerged victorious in the final round with 214 votes, more than enough to defeat incumbent Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, commonly known as Farmaajo.

Mohamud returns to power after serving as president from 2012 to 2017.

‘Thank you all,” he said. “And peace of Allah be upon you all.”

In Mogadishu, residents celebrated with the anticipation of a better future. The new administration has its priorities, with corruption being a key challenge, according to Abdurahman Nur Mohamed, known as Dinari, who was once the Somalian ambassador to South Sudan.

The new president must fight corruption, be responsible, be trustworthy, and serve as an example of virtue for the government, said Dinari. The new leader also must ensure the country is free of corruption, he said.

Supporters hope Mohamud’s experience will give him an advantage in tackling Somalia’s problems. Ahmed Dini, a founding member of Somali Peace Line, a nongovernmental organization that works for conflict resolution, believes the new president will make good use of his second chance as president.

Dini also said that the new president has the advantage of having already ruled the country. “He understands where we have stagnated and where we have improved,” he said.

On the streets of Mogadishu, people expressed optimism about Mohamud’s leadership, with many seeing him as one who understands the country’s history and complexities.

Mogadishu resident Mohamed Ahmed said that, while in office from 2012 to 2017, Mohamud made great strides in creating federal state institutions. “So, we expect him to complete the remaining work,” he said. “We are confident in him and trust him.”

The new president has received notes of congratulations and pledges of support from world leaders. In a brief speech, he promised to unite the country and work together with all levels of government.

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Nearly 43,000 People Died on US Roads Last Year, Agency Says

Nearly 43,000 people were killed on U.S. roads last year, the highest number in 16 years as Americans returned to the roads after the coronavirus pandemic forced many to stay at home. 

The 10.5% jump from 2020 numbers was the largest percentage increase since the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began its fatality data collection system in 1975. Exacerbating the problem was a persistence of risky driving behaviors during the pandemic, such as speeding and less frequent use of seat belts, as people began to venture out more in 2021 for out-of-state and other road trips, analysts said. 

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said America faces a crisis on its roads. The safety administration urged state and local governments, drivers and safety advocates to join in an effort to reverse the rising death trend. 

“Our nation has taken a dangerous and deadly step backwards in traffic safety and impaired driving,” said MADD National President Alex Otte, who urged strong public-private efforts akin to the seat belt and air bag public safety campaigns of the 1990s to stem reckless driving. “More families and more communities are feeling the crushing magnitude of this crisis on our roads.” 

Preliminary figures released Tuesday by the agency show that 42,915 people died in traffic crashes last year, up from 38,824 in 2020. Final figures will be released in the fall. 

Forty-four states as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico had increases in traffic deaths in 2021 compared with the previous year, led by Texas, California and Florida. Posting declines were Wyoming, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Maryland and Maine. Rhode Island’s figures were unchanged. 

Americans drove about 325 billion more miles last year, 11.2% higher than in 2020, which contributed to the increase. 

Nearly 118 people died in U.S. traffic crashes every day last year, according to the agency’s figures. The Governors Highway Safety Association, a group of state traffic safety officials, blamed the increase on dangerous behavior such as speeding, driving while impaired by alcohol and drugs, and distracted driving, as well as “roads designed for speed instead of safety.” 

The combination, the group said, “has wiped out a decade and a half of progress in reducing traffic crashes, injuries and deaths.” 

Deaths last year increased in almost all types of crashes, NHTSA reported. Crashes occurring during out of state travel jumped 15%, compared with 2020, many of them on rural interstate roads or access roads off city highways. Fatalities in urban areas and deaths in multi-vehicle crashes each rose 16%. Pedestrian deaths were up 13%. 

By age, fatalities among drivers 65 and older rose 14%, reversing a declining trend seen among them in 2020. Deaths also surged among middle-aged drivers, led by those 35 to 44, which rose 15%. Drivers under age 16 saw traffic fatalities increase 6%. 

By vehicle, fatalities involving at least one big truck were up 13%, while motorcycle deaths were up 9% and deaths of bicyclists rose 5%. Fatalities involving speeding drivers and deaths in alcohol-related crashes each were up 5%. 

Government estimates show the rate of road deaths declined slightly from 2020. Last year there were 1.33 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, compared with 1.34 in 2020. The fatality rate rose in the first quarter of last year, but declined the rest of the year, NHTSA said. 

Traffic deaths began to spike in 2020. NHTSA has blamed reckless driving behavior for increases during the pandemic, citing behavioral research showing that speeding and traveling without a seat belt have been higher. Before 2020, the number of fatalities had fallen for three straight years. 

Buttigieg pointed to a national strategy unveiled earlier this year aimed at reversing the trend. He said earlier that over the next two years his department will provide federal guidance as well as billions in grants under President Joe Biden’s new infrastructure law to spur states and localities to lower speed limits and embrace safer road design such as dedicated bike and bus lanes, better lighting and crosswalks. The strategy also urges the use of speed cameras, which the department says could provide more equitable enforcement than police traffic stops. 

In Tuesday’s statement, the department said it opened its first round of applications for the program, which will spend up to $6 billion over five years on local efforts to cut crashes and deaths. 

The Transportation Department is moving in the right direction to stem the increase in deaths, but it will take years for many of the steps to work, said Michael Brooks, acting executive director of the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety. 

NHTSA, for instance, has regulations pending to require electronic automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection systems on all new light vehicles, and to require automatic emergency braking on heavy trucks, he said. Automatic emergency braking can slow or stop a vehicle if there’s an object in its path. 

The agency also is requiring automakers to install systems that alert rear-seat passengers if their safety belts aren’t buckled.

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Taliban Poised to ‘Loosen’ Restrictions on al-Qaida

Recent assessments by U.S. military officials are raising questions about Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers and what they are willing to do to keep the al-Qaida terror group in check.

As part of the February 2020 Doha Agreement with the United States that paved the way for the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Taliban agreed to make sure Afghanistan would never again be used as a launchpad for terror attacks against the West.

But the assessments by U.S. Central Command, which oversees U.S. military forces in the Middle East and South Asia, and shared with the Department of Defense Office of Inspector General indicate that while that pledge is holding for now, the Taliban may be ready to consider a change.

“The Taliban will likely loosen these restrictions over the next 12 to 24 months, allowing al-Qaida greater freedom of movement and the ability to train, travel, and potentially re-establish an external operations capability,” according to an inspector general report released Tuesday.

CENTCOM’s assessment does not explain why the Taliban appear willing to let al-Qaida operate more freely, though the inspector general report points to military intelligence estimates that note both al-Qaida and its regional affiliate, al-Qaida in the Indian subcontinent (AQIS), certainly aspire to attack the U.S. and U.S. targets.

 

However, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency has also said that al-Qaida’s progress has been stunted despite the lack of a U.S. counterterrorism presence in Afghanistan.

“Al-Qaida has had some problems with reconstitution, leadership and, to a degree, I think the Taliban have held to their word about not allowing al-Qaida to rejuvenate,” DIA Director Lieutenant General Scott Berrier told lawmakers in Washington on May 10.

“It’s something that we watch very, very carefully,” he said, adding that it would likely take more than a year for al-Qaida to be able to launch or direct attacks against the U.S.

Recent intelligence estimates from the United States and from other countries put the number of al-Qaida followers in Afghanistan at several hundred, including al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.

A United Nations report issued this past February, however, cautioned that, “some of its [al-Qaida’s] closest sympathizers within the Taliban now occupy senior positions in the new de facto Afghan administration.”

Intelligence shared by U.N. member states indicates AQIS has up to 400 fighters in Afghanistan spread across at least six provinces, though the recent U.S. assessments put the number at about half that.

Taliban officials rarely speak publicly about al-Qaida, likely given the close relationship between the two groups. However, U.S. military and diplomatic officials have said that, at least until now, the Taliban have taken steps to make good on their counterterrorism commitments.

Taliban officials have been willing to publicly discuss the Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan, also known as IS-Khorasan Province or ISIS-K. And in a statement Tuesday, Taliban Foreign Minister Mawlawi Amir Khan Muttaqi assured the U.N. Mission in Afghanistan that that IS-Khorasan has been eradicated.

Islamic State

U.S. military and intelligence officials, though, caution that contrary to the Taliban’s assertions, IS-Khorasan may be poised to expand its operations in Afghanistan and beyond.

DIA officials told the Pentagon Inspector General that IS-Khorasan likely has about 2,000 fighters across Afghanistan and that the group could direct an attack in the West within the next year if the terror group so chooses.

The DIA also warned IS-Khorasan has increased its efforts to recruit inside Afghanistan and that it had made a concerted effort to recruit from Afghanistan’s neighbors.

“Since January ISIS-K has been publishing media in Central Asian languages to reach ethnic minorities in the region,” the report said. “[It] aims to inspire supporters in these regions to travel to Afghanistan or conduct attacks where they are located, potentially against Western personnel and interests.”

Western intelligence and humanitarian officials warned VOA last year that IS-Khorasan was busy laying the groundwork to expand its reach into Central Asia.

“They are building local infrastructure for the recruitment, logistics, economic support, economic infrastructure to support that,” one humanitarian official who asked not to be named for fear they might be target, told VOA last July.

The focus was on “more quality and less numbers,” the official said.

No counterterror strikes

The U.S. has not conducted any counterterrorism strikes in Afghanistan since the last U.S. forces left the country last year, with the Pentagon saying on Tuesday airstrikes have not yet been necessary.

“We haven’t felt the need to do that,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters.

“We’re not just sitting idly by,” he added. “We’re working continually on making sure we have strong over-the-horizon counterterrorism capabilities.”

Kirby also said the Pentagon is watching the situation with the Taliban and al-Qaida as closely as it can.

“We’ve long said that we’re going to judge the Taliban by what they do, not what they say,” Kirby said in response to a question from VOA. “Nobody wants to see al-Qaida regain any kind of tangible footprint in Afghanistan or any ability to plan or attack outside the region.”

According to the Defense Department Inspector General report, Pentagon financial officials estimate the U.S. will spend about $19.5 billion in fiscal 2022 to support its counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan out of a headquarters in Doha.

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Ghanaian Entrepreneur Recycles Textile Wastes into Shoes

Working to achieve sustainability in textile production is one of the projects of the U.N. Environment Programme for this year as it celebrates its 50th anniversary. In Ghana, an entrepreneur is supporting this agenda by recycling waste textiles and rubber into shoes. Senanu Tord has details from Takoradi, Ghana.
Videographer: Senanu Tord Produced by: Rob Raffaele

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Nestlé Ships Baby Formula From Switzerland, Netherlands Amid US Shortages

Swiss food giant Nestlé is to fly baby formula from Switzerland and the Netherlands to the United States amid shortages there, a group spokeswoman said Tuesday. 

The Swiss group will specifically import two brands of hypoallergenic milk, as the shortage has become an additional source of stress for parents of babies intolerant of cow’s milk protein. 

“We prioritized these products because they serve a critical medical purpose,” the spokeswoman told AFP, confirming a press report.  

The two brands are already imported: Gerber Good Start Extensive HA milk from the Netherlands, and Alfamino milk from Switzerland.  

Faced with the shortage, Nestlé decided to airlift the milk “to help fill immediate needs,” said the group, which also has two factories in the United States producing infant formula.  

Initially caused by supply chain problems and a shortage of workers due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the formula shortage worsened in February when an Abbott factory in Michigan closed after a recall of products suspected of causing the deaths of two babies. 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration released the milk but issued a “483” form alleging irregularities at the plant, Abbott said Friday, adding that it “immediately” began implementing corrective measures.  

On Monday, Abbott reached an agreement with U.S. authorities to restart production at the plant.  

The White House is in constant contact with the four major manufacturers — Nestlé, Reckitt, Abbott and Perrigo — to identify transportation, logistics and supplier barriers to increasing production. 

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Turkish Foreign Minister Faces Tough Questions in Washington

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu is due to meet Wednesday in Washington with Secretary of State Antony Blinken — the latest step in the process of repairing ties between the two NATO allies. The Turkish diplomat will have tough questions to answer when it comes to Turkey’s efforts to veto bids by Finland and Sweden to join the Atlantic alliance.

Once a close ally of Washington, Ankara has seen relations strained over Turkey’s poor human rights record and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s close ties with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.

Turkey’s strong backing of Ukraine in the face of Russia’s invasion has offered an opportunity to reset U.S.-Turkish relations, and analysts predict Cavusoglu’s visit to Washington will help that process.

But Asli Aydintasbas, a senior fellow at the European Council, warned Erdogan’s threat to veto Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership bids is casting a shadow over the visit.

“It certainly complicates the visit but also makes it more important,” Aydintasbas said. “The Biden administration started out with a policy of social distancing, retrenchment from the Middle East, and also no longer treating Turkey as the big geopolitical prize in a large chess game. And Turkey is showing it’s not going to let that happen.

“And, of course, the Ukraine war has clearly enhanced once again Turkey’s geostrategic location and importance.”

On Monday, Erdogan accused Finland and Sweden of supporting terrorist organizations fighting Turkey, referring to Kurdish groups. He said Stockholm and Helsinki shouldn’t bother to send diplomatic delegations to change his mind.

Erdogan’s hardening stance, analysts warn, will likely add to concerns in Washington over the Turkish president’s close ties with Putin. In addition, Turkey’s purchase of Russia’s S-400 missile system prompted Washington to impose military sanctions on Ankara.

Soli Ozel, an international relations specialist at Istanbul’s Kadir Has University, said one of Cavusoglu’s objectives — persuading Washington to allow the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey — will likely be complicated by renewed questions over where Erdogan’s ultimate allegiances lie.

“There will be voices raising that question,” Ozel said. “I am afraid it might also lead to a much more negative sentiment selling the F-16s and the kits for upgrading the existing F-16s in the U.S. Congress. In that sense I don’t find such a public move so advisable.”

Russian media on Tuesday announced Putin was planning to visit Turkey in the coming days, a report that has not been confirmed by Ankara but will likely add to the unease among Turkey’s Western allies, including Washington. Aaron Stein, head of the Pennsylvania-based Foreign Policy Research Institute, said sentiments in Washington toward Turkey are likely to become only more entrenched.

“It’s more or less reinforced that Ankara is to pursue its own interests,” Stein said. “So, some people suggest it’s time to sell them F-16s, and others suggest we need compromise on the S-400. But things happen and rabbits can be pulled out of hats. But this one has proved particularly sticky with the S-400s and the F-16s.”

Analysts also expect Cavusoglu will underline the importance of restoring closer communication between the country’s two presidents. How such requests are met may depend on Washington’s approach, and whether U.S. officials decide to confront or acquiesce to Erdogan’s veto threats on Sweden and Finland.

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New Somali President Welcomes Return of US Troops

Somalia’s newly elected president is welcoming word that U.S. special operation forces will again be based in Somalia to help in the fight against the al-Shabab terror group.

Hassan Sheikh Mohamud thanked U.S. President Joe Biden in a tweet Tuesday, calling the United States “a reliable partner in our quest to stability and fight against terrorism.”

 

U.S. forces have been working for years with Somali forces in their efforts to contain al-Shabab, described by U.S. military and intelligence officials as the al-Qaida terror group’s wealthiest and most powerful affiliate. But in December 2020, former U.S. President Donald Trump ordered about 750 U.S. forces in Somalia to withdraw, instead having them fly in for periodic engagements.

The decision, however, became increasingly unpopular with U.S. military officials, who complained of having to “commute” to work, and with some Somali officials, who saw al-Shabab’s forces grow in the absence of a persistent U.S. presence.

“This was a wrong decision taken. Withdrawal was a hasty decision,” a senior adviser to Mohamud told VOA, ahead of the official announcement on Tuesday.

“It disrupted counterterrorism operations,” said the Somali adviser, who asked not to be named because his position in the administration has not yet been made public. “To reinstate and start with the new president is the right decision, and it came at the right time.”

U.S. officials, explaining the decision to deploy fewer than 500 troops to Somalia as part of what they describe as a persistent presence, agreed that the cost in waiting any longer would be high.

Al-Shabab “has unfortunately only grown stronger” since the December 2020 decision to no longer maintain an ongoing U.S. military presence in Somalia, a White House official said Monday, speaking on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss the new authorization.

Al-Shabab “has increased the tempo of its attacks, including against U.S. personnel,” the official said. “We’re concerned about the potential for al-Shabab’s upward battlefield and financial trajectory to generate more space for the group to plan and ultimately to execute external attacks.”

Intelligence gathered by various countries and shared with the United Nations’ terrorism monitoring team earlier this year also suggests al-Shabab has grown more powerful.

The estimates, published in February, indicate the al-Qaida affiliate now has as many as 12,000 fighters and can raise up to $10 million in revenue per month.

Taken all together, U.S. officials said it became clear that a consistent U.S. presence on the ground in Somalia was needed.

“This is the best way for us to continue what has remained a very valuable advise-and-assist and training mission,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters Monday.

While details are still being worked out, much of the U.S. focus is expected to be on helping the Danab Brigade, Somalia’s elite counterterrorism forces, that struggled even before the decision to withdraw U.S. forces in November 2020.

A 2020 report by the U.S. Department of Defense Office of Inspector General warned that despite some success, the Somali government had “not met milestones for the development of its security forces” and that most units “continue to rely on international support for operations.”

The lack of a persistent U.S. military presence on the ground in Somalia, combined with a cautious approach by the Biden administration, has also contributed to a decrease of U.S. airstrikes in support of Somali forces, something senior Somali officials hope will change with the imminent deployment of U.S. forces.

“Drone strikes and targeting the senior al-Shabab fighters is very welcome,” the Somali presidential adviser told VOA.

But U.S. officials have so far been noncommittal when asked whether more airstrikes are coming.

“I think we’ll just let the mission play out here,” the Pentagon’s Kirby told reporters. “I’m not going to be able to predict for you whether and how and to what degree activities like airstrikes are going to increase or decrease going forward.”

“The mission is not one of combat operations for our troops. It’s advise and assist,” he added.

Anita Powell contributed to this report.

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Ethiopia Expels The Economist Correspondent

Ethiopia has expelled The Economist’s correspondent from the East African country, accusing him of taking a “misguided approach” to journalism, the weekly magazine said Monday.

The British magazine defended the work of its correspondent as “professional, unbiased and often courageous” while confirming an Ethiopian government statement on Friday ordering his expulsion.

“On May 13th Ethiopia’s government withdrew the press accreditation of Tom Gardner, The Economist’s correspondent in Addis Ababa,” the magazine said in a statement. The correspondent was given 48 hours to leave the country.

“The stated reason for Mr Gardner’s expulsion was that he had a ‘mistaken approach’ to reporting, and that he had in some unspecified way failed to live up to the professional ethics expected of a journalist,” The Economist said.

On Friday, Ethiopia’s media authority published, on Twitter, a letter addressed to Gardner announcing the withdrawal of his press accreditation and inviting the magazine to nominate a new correspondent to the country.

In May 2021, the Ethiopian authorities expelled The Times correspondent Simon Marks.

The Economist statement said that Gardner had visited Tigray, a northern region that has been plagued by armed conflict between the federal government and rebels since 2020.

“His reporting from Ethiopia, including on the conflict in the northern region of Tigray, has been professional, unbiased and often courageous,” the magazine said.

Earlier this month, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called on Ethiopia to free two journalists that it said had been charged with “outrages against the constitution” and faced a possible death sentence.

Days before that, the head of Ethiopia’s Human Rights Commission, Daniel Bekele, issued a statement on World Press Freedom Day, voicing concern after the arrest by Ethiopian police of another journalist, Gobeze Sisay, a critic of the government.

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In Wake of Buffalo Shooting, Calls for Accountability for Online Platforms

In the wake of Saturday’s killings of 10 Black people in a Buffalo, N.Y., grocery store, allegedly by a white man driven by white-supremacist ideology, U.S. civil rights groups are calling on social media companies to be more aggressive about policing online hate speech and the sharing of racist incitements to violence.

The 18-year-old who is believed to have carried out the killings wrote, in a 180-page document released in advance of the attack, that he had become a white supremacist after reading about racist ideology on various websites, including the notoriously unregulated site 4chan.

As of Monday afternoon, the site still contained links to the document, which overflows with hateful rhetoric and accurately describes how the attack was to take place, as well as the weapons, equipment and tactics used by the alleged killer.

The document also appears to refer to so-called great replacement theory — the idea that there is a conspiracy to flood the U.S. with nonwhite immigrants in order to change electoral patterns and disadvantage white voters. Long a staple of fringe internet white supremacy groups, versions of replacement theory have recently been mainstreamed by, among others, Fox News personality Tucker Carlson.

On Monday night, Carlson addressed the killings, and the calls to restrict comments considered “hate speech” by the government.

“What is hate speech?” Carlson asked at the beginning of his show. “Well, it’s speech that our leaders hate. So because a mentally ill teenager murdered strangers, you cannot be allowed to express your political views out loud.”

In addition to publishing his document online, the alleged killer also used a helmet-mounted camera to broadcast the killings on the live-streaming platform Twitch.

Calls for accountability

“There’s got to be a recognition of the role that social media, and therefore social media companies, can play in ferreting out the use of technology to promote hate,” Marc H. Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League, told VOA.

“This guy was radicalized on the internet. Who’s producing this content? Why is it not taken down? Americans must make the distinction that free speech does not allow you to … promote racism, and to promote antisemitism, Islamophobia, all sorts of hatred and also suggest that violence is the appropriate response to hate,” Morial said.

“We have to decide as a society, as a country: how are we going to address domestic terrorism?” Derrick Johnson, CEO of the NAACP, said in an appearance on MSNBC. “How are we going to address the platforms that allow for this type of hate radicalization to take place? Whether it is on social media, whether it’s Fox News, at some point, we have to stop repeating these stories.”

“The real question is what are we going to do about it?” Johnson continued. “When will Facebook, when will the other social media platforms be held accountable? When will Fox News be held accountable? When will we deal with a gun industry that continues to allow this to happen? This nation has to deal with domestic terrorism. We must do so aggressively. We must do so decisively. So we won’t continue to repeat this same story over and over again.”

Response widespread

Although the alleged killer’s targets on Saturday were Black residents of Buffalo, his writings revealed broad hatred of other ethnic groups, most notably Jews, but also all nonwhite people living on what he described as “White lands.”

The response to the killings came from across the spectrum of groups working to protect minority rights in the U.S., and many included calls for more regulation of online hate speech.

“The murderous attack of the gunman at the Buffalo supermarket was not an isolated hate crime, but the result of racially motivated violent White extremists who spread hate on the internet and beyond,” Sindy Benavides, CEO of the League of United Latin American Citizens, said in a statement.

She called on the Department of Justice to prosecute the killings as a hate crime, and said the group is “asking law enforcement to shut down these networks of hate before more innocent people are hurt or killed.”

“This was yet another predicable attack by an avowed white supremacist who imbibed hateful conspiracy theories online and then turned to violent action, this time targeting mostly Black victims,” Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO and national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said in a statement.

“We know the shooter targeted the Black community, and apparently did so in part because he sought to ignite a ‘holy war’ between ‘Jews and Gentiles.’ We cannot remain complacent in the face of this continuing and serious national security threat,” he said. “More must be done — now — to push back against the racist and antisemitic violence propounded by the far right.”

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution safeguards free speech, including speech that shocks or offends. But that protection does not extend to speech that incites violence or puts the public in danger.

Action urged

Many groups called for a widespread response to the problem at the state and federal levels.

In an email exchange with VOA, the Southern Poverty Law Center recommended multiple measures. According to Susan Corke, director of the law center’s Intelligence Project, it is vital for elected leaders and others in positions of authority to condemn racist attacks and racist language. The group also called for federal agencies to provide more funding for early intervention and for programs to support victims of racist violence.

“Tech companies must create — and enforce — Terms of Service and policies to ensure that social media platforms, payment service providers and other internet-based services do not provide forums where hateful activities and extremism can grow and lead to domestic terrorism,” she said. “Social media platforms and online payment service providers must act to disrupt the funding of hate online, to prevent their services from helping to incubate and bankroll terrorists and extremism.”

Legislation pending

Several civil rights organizations called on lawmakers to support the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act, a bill pending before both houses of Congress.

The legislation, according to the Congressional Research Service, “establishes new requirements to expand the availability of information on domestic terrorism, as well as the relationship between domestic terrorism and hate crimes. It authorizes domestic terrorism components within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Department of Justice (DOJ), and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to monitor, analyze, investigate, and prosecute domestic terrorism.”

Among other things, the bill would require law enforcement agencies to jointly report on domestic terrorism, “including white-supremacist-related incidents or attempted incidents.” It also creates an interagency task force “to analyze and combat white supremacist and neo-Nazi infiltration of the uniformed services and federal law enforcement agencies.”

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Taliban Leader Indicates Reopening Girls’ Schools Depends on Dress Codes 

A high-profile leader of Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban has pledged his country will never again be a terrorist threat to the United States and promised “very good news” soon on the return of Afghan women and girls to secondary schools.

Acting Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani, also the deputy Taliban chief, renewed the assurances in a rare interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour broadcast on Monday.

The Taliban regained power after U.S. and NATO troops withdrew from the war-torn South Asian nation last August and established an all-male interim government, calling it the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

The hardline group has allowed female university students to return to classes in a newly introduced, strictly gender-segregated education system. But despite repeated pledges to let teenage Afghan girls return to their classes, the Taliban have not yet reopened high schools to girls.

“There is no one here who opposes education for women, and girls up to grade 6 are already allowed to go to school,” argued Haqqani, long one of the most secretive Taliban leaders and who showed his face in public for the first time in March.

He said that “the work is continuing on a mechanism” to allow girls above grade 6 back to school. ”Very soon you will hear very good news about this issue,” the minister added. Haqqani indicated reopening of girls’ schools depends on dress codes.

“We must establish the conditions so that we can ensure their honor and security. We are acting to ensure this,” he said, adding that education should be based on Afghan “culture” and “Islamic rules and principles.”

Since returning to power nine months ago, the Taliban have decreed that women must wear a full veil in public and preferably a burqa, which had been mandatory when the radical group first ruled Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001.

The veil restriction, announced a week ago, has outraged domestic critics and the international community.

The Taliban have already banned women from undertaking long road trips without a close male relative and barred males and females from visiting parks at same time, among other curbs on women’s rights. Most female government employees have not been allowed to return to work.

The international community has not yet recognized the Taliban government and warned escalating restrictions on women’s rights could further alienate donor countries and organizations.

Ties with US

Haqqani defended the Taliban insurgency, saying it was a defensive action against occupation of Afghanistan, he told CNN. But, he said, the Taliban would like to have good relations with the U.S. in the future and the international community at large.

“Currently we do not look at them as enemies, and we have time and again spoken about diplomacy,” he said when asked whether his group still considers America its enemy.

The minister insisted that the Taliban intend to respect the landmark troop withdrawal agreement signed with Washington in 2020, which binds the group not to allow Afghanistan to become a haven again for international terrorists.

Haqqani was heading a group of militants, known as the Haqqani network, and aligned it with the Taliban to wage insurgent attacks against the now defunct Western-backed Afghan government and U.S.-led foreign troops in the past 20 years.

Haqqani is still on the FBI’s most wanted list for plotting deadly attacks against American and allied troops in Afghanistan. The U.S. has a $10 million reward for his arrest.

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New Sri Lanka Prime Minister Warns of ‘Difficult’ Days Ahead

Ranil Wickremesinghe, Sri Lanka’s newly installed prime minister, has warned the small South Asian nation that the next few months “will be the most difficult of our lives.”

During a nationally televised address Monday, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe said Sri Lanka needed $75 million within the next few days to buy essential supplies of fuel and medicine, but admitted the treasury was struggling to even find $1 million. He also said the country had just a single day of fuel left, and that daily electricity cuts could increase as much as 15 hours a day.  

The South Asian island nation is struggling under the weight of heavy debt and declining foreign reserves that have created critical shortages of medicine, food and fuel that have led to several hours of power blackouts a day and led to rising fuel and transportation costs. The COVID-19 pandemic has also ground Sri Lanka’s vital tourism industry to a halt, dealing an additional blow to its economy.    

Wickremesinghe said he would seek to privatize SriLankan Airlines and ask for foreign assistance to pay for critical fuel shipments that are anchored within its maritime zone.  

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa named Wickremesinghe as prime minister last week to succeed his brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa, who stepped down from the post on May 9 as the political and economic crisis took a violent turn, when supporters of the Rajapaksa brothers attacked demonstrators who had gathered peacefully in the capital, Colombo, demanding their resignation. 

Nine people were killed and more than 200 injured after several days of fighting between protesters and government.

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

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