The United States on Wednesday issued a fresh round of sanctions related to Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea, targeting eight individuals and one entity, according to a notice on the U.S. Department of
Such sanctions block assets under United States control and prohibit U.S. individuals and businesses from conducting any transactions with those targeted.
This is a developing story, we will update with more information as soon as it becomes available
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The White House has informed former national security adviser John Bolton that his book manuscript appeared to contain “significant amounts of classified information” and could not be published in its current form.
The letter from the White House National Security Council to Bolton’s attorney, Charles Cooper, and seen by Reuters, said the manuscript contained some material that was considered “TOP SECRET.”
“Under federal law and the nondisclosure agreements your client signed as a condition for gaining access to classified information, the manuscript may not be published or otherwise disclosed without the deletion of this classified information,” the letter said.your ad here
South African officials say they’re ready for the possible spread of coronavirus to African shores.
The pneumonia-like virus, which has sickened more than 4,500 people in China since it was identified in the city of Wuhan on Dec. 31, has African governments on alert.
Professor Cheryl Cohen of South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases says the nation is taking precautions at the continent’s busiest airport, in Johannesburg.
“We have noted the four cases of novel coronavirus that have recently been confirmed in Australia,” she said. “These were anticipated due to the proximity of Australia to Asia. We would like to assure South Africans that South Africa is prepared for any eventuality of an outbreak. We have put in place systems to rapidly identify, detect and respond to any imported cases that may reach our borders.”
Some 21 million travelers came through Johannesburg’s O.R. Tambo International Airport in 2018. It is the only airport in South Africa with direct flights to and from China.
The airport has previously implemented temperature testing and health screening during previous outbreaks of Ebola, Zika and other viruses.
While no cases of the virus have been reported in Africa, China is South Africa’s biggest trading partner, and the Johannesburg Stock Exchange slumped as news of the outbreak spread. That is normal, says economist Lara Hodes of Investec Bank, pointing to one study showing that the 2002 SARS epidemic cost global markets as much as $40 billion.
“So it’s definitely had an effect, a mild effect,” she said. “The JSE has been down. It will generally affect financial markets and, in turn, impact commodity prices and the exchange rate. But it’s very early days and there’s a lot of hype around it because of … SARS a few years ago, they’re worried about the extent it will spread.”
Hodes called the situation a “wait and see,” both in terms of the economy and the virus.
Next week’s Iowa caucuses are coming to Tbilisi, the capital of the country of Georgia.
For the first time, Iowa’s Democratic Party designated Tbilisi as well as Paris, France and Glasgow, Scotland as international satellite caucus sites, along with 96 new voting locations in the state and across the U.S. where Iowa Democrats can register who they want as their party’s presidential nominee.
Expanding these voting sites will “make these caucuses the most accessible” in the party’s history, said Troy Price, the Iowa Democratic Party Chairman.
The Iowa caucuses, to be held on Feb. 3, will kick off the 2020 U.S. presidential primary season, to be followed within days by the New Hampshire primary. Democratic candidates are competing to become the party’s standard-bearer and face off against the Republican Party’s presumed presidential nominee, President Donald Trump, in November.
Unlike a presidential primary where voters merely cast a ballot for the candidate of their choice, the more time consuming caucus process requires voters to cluster together in support of candidate. Participants may try to persuade wavering voters to join their side — or even attempt to convince voters to switch allegiance.
“What makes a caucus distinctive, of course, is that people are literally voting with their feet,” said Karen Kedrowski, director of The Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics at the Iowa State University.
The Tbilisi site will be hosted by Joshua Kucera, a freelance journalist living in Georgia. Kucera, who is from Des Moines, told the New York Times, “there’s no specific reasons for an Iowan to be here.” So far, he said, only two other Iowa expats have registered for the Tbilisi caucus. As to why Kucera wants to host a caucus, he said “I’m a proud Iowan, nostalgic for Iowa and I like doing Iowan things.”
Kucera told VOA in an email he plans to write about his experiencing hosting the caucus in Tbilisi for another news organization.
The other international sites will be held at a university in Paris and at the home of a graduate student studying in Glasgow.
The 99 Iowa caucuses satellite locations were designated by the Democratic Party following an extensive application process. Organizations and individuals interested in hosting a caucus had to estimate the potential number of Iowa participants in these areas.
While the Democratic Party has expanded access, it has limited the potential impact of the satellite caucuses, ruling that no more than 10% of delegates will be selected based on the outcomes from these sites.
But political analysts will be looking to see if the expanded caucus sites significantly increase participation among more diverse populations and what new voter patterns may emerge.
“I’m going to definitely be watching to see if these folks who are participating in the satellite caucuses had a different outcome than those who went to the traditional caucuses,” said Kedrowski, with Iowa State University’s Catt Center for Women and Politics.
The Republican party of Iowa will also be holding caucuses on the same night but will not participate in the expanded satellite locations. President Donald Trump, who is running for second term of office, is overwhelmingly favored over two other register Republican candidates, former U.S. Congressman Joe Walsh and former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld.
The Iowa Democratic Party considered but ultimately rejected a virtual caucus option, for voters to participate over the phone or on an online platform, due to cybersecurity concerns.
This year’s expanded caucus sites and schedules, the Democratic Party hopes, will facilitate greater participation among busy parents with children, people working night shifts, students away from home and Iowans living abroad.
In the past, the downside of the time-consuming caucus process has been lower voter turnout. In the 2016 Iowa caucuses only 15.7% of the voting population participated. In contrast, over 50% of New Hampshire voters cast ballots in the 2016 primary.
Iowa Democrats also rejected proposals to allow early voting or mailing in ballots that would blur the distinction between caucus and primary.
New Hampshire state law requires that its primary election be the first one held in the nation. By holding caucuses rather than a traditional election, Iowa’s contest technically does not conflict with New Hampshire’s traditional first primary position.your ad here
U.S. health officials are urging China to share more information on how the novel coronavirus that emerged in Wuhan is spreading.
The virus has sickened more than 4,500 people in 18 countries, mostly in China. More than 100 have died.
Chinese experts have reported the virus can spread from patients who are not showing symptoms. But U.S. health officials say they are withholding judgment.
“CDC has not been given the opportunity to review that data,” said Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield at a press conference Tuesday. “The Chinese believe they have that data. This is our hope, to be able to review and be more definitive.”
If patients are spreading the virus without showing symptoms, that calls for different screening procedures, added National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease Director Anthony Fauci.
Fauci said asymptomatic patients are unlikely to have much impact on the spread of the disease.
“In all the history of respiratory borne viruses of any type, asymptomatic transmission has never been the driver of outbreaks,” he said.
Health officials have identified five cases in the United States and no person-to-person transmission so far. Redfield said the risk to Americans currently is low, but he expects more cases are coming.
Ready, willing and able
The United States has offered to send experts to China to assist with the outbreak, but Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Beijing has not accepted the offer.
“CDC experts are standing by, ready, willing and able, to go to China either on a bilateral basis or under the auspices of the World Health Organization,” he said.
WHO announced in a statement Tuesday that the organization “will send international experts to visit China as soon as possible.”
“The posture of the Chinese government, levels of cooperation, and interaction with us is completely different from what we experienced in 2003,” when officials covered up the emergence of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), a disease that killed nearly 800 worldwide, Azar said. “I want to commend them for that.”
However, he said, “we are urging China, more cooperation and transparency are the most important steps you can take toward a more effective response.”
There is no approved treatment for coronavirus infection, but Fauci said several are under study, including drugs that have shown some effectiveness against Ebola and HIV.
A vaccine is in the works, as well. Fauci hopes to begin initial tests within the next three months.
He cautioned, however, that “going into a Phase One trial does not mean that you have a vaccine that’s ready for deployment.” It will take several months to determine whether the vaccine is safe and can proceed to further tests. He noted that by the time results came in from a Phase One SARS vaccine trial, the outbreak was already under control.
Health officials are now screening travelers from China at 20 U.S. airports.your ad here
Last year was the deadliest in recent history for extremist violence in the Sahel region of Africa. The trend appears to be continuing in 2020 and experts warn more must be done to avoid a crisis in the region.
Last week, suspected Islamic extremists carried out attacks on two villages in Burkina Faso, killing at least 32 civilians.
In neighboring Niger, terror attacks claimed by extremist fighters killed 89 people this month and 71 soldiers in December.
In both countries and elsewhere in the Sahel region, insurgent and Islamist groups with links to al-Qaida and the Islamic State (IS) terror groups in recent months have increased their attacks against civilian and military targets.
Rise in casualties
U.N. officials say the number of casualties in the region has increased five times since 2016 with more than 4,000 victims in 2019.“
The region has experienced a devastating surge in terrorist attacks against civilian and military targets,” Mohamed Ibn Chambas, the U.N. Special Representative and Head of the U.N. Office for West Africa and the Sahel, told the U.N. Security Council earlier this month.
“Most significantly, the geographic focus of terrorist attacks has shifted eastwards from Mali to Burkina Faso and is increasingly threatening West African coastal states,” he added.
The Sahel is a semi-arid region that stretches from Sudan in the east to the Atlantic Ocean in the west. It includes countries such as Niger, Mali, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mauritania. These nations are known as the G5 Sahel countries.
Experts say porous borders, poor governance and unstable economies in these countries have allowed Islamist militants to thrive in the impoverished region.“
It is generally presumed that militant groups in the Sahel region benefit from the black market and trafficking economies that rely on illicit trade transiting the Sahara,” said Alice Hunt Friend, an Africa expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington.
“But given the weakness of regional states and their security services, militant coffers are not as important to the balance of power as their boldness and organization,” she told VOA.
Increased cooperation with France
The surge of violence carried out by terror groups in the Sahel region has forced West African nations to reconsider their strategy and build new security partnerships.
Last week, leaders of the G5 Sahel countries convened in France, where they agreed to put aside their differences with France in order to combat terrorism more effectively in the region.
France, a former colonial power in the Sahel region, has agreed to deploy an additional 220 troops to the Sahel in an attempt to prevent the rise in terrorist violence in the region.
France already has about 4,500 troops stationed in Sahel, who have been instrumental in fighting an Islamist insurgency in Mali since 2013.
But with recent terror threats throughout the region, France says its forces would extend military assistance to other countries in the region.“
French troops are in the Sahel to enable West African leaders to fully assume their sovereignty,” French President Emmanuel Macron told G5 Sahel leaders during last week’s summit.
“The priority is Islamic State in the Greater Sahara,” Macron added.
The Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, an IS affiliate, is active in the Sahel region. Other extremist groups including Ansar al-Islam in Burkina Faso and the Macina Liberation Front in Mali and other IS and al-Qaida-linked groups also have carried out terrorist attacks in the region in recent years.
Niagale Bagayoko, African Security Sector Network Chair, said although the focus may be on one group, the range of threats in the region is extremely complex.“
“It is becoming evident that the issue at stake is much more complicated. Because you have a very complex mix of different actors. You have rebel groups that mainly want to have autonomy or if not independence. You have also criminal groups. You have also local self-defense militias. And also, of course, you have jihadist groups. But even all those jihadist groups are very different,” she told VOA.
Last month, The New York Times reported that the United States was considering a reduction or even a full withdrawal of U.S. troops from West Africa.
The U.S. has between 6,000 and 7,000 troops in Africa, mainly stationed in West Africa.
The possible reduction of U.S. troops in Africa is reportedly part of a worldwide review by U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who is looking for ways to tighten the focus on China and Russia.
While some experts fear that any such withdrawal would end U.S. support for French military efforts in African countries such as Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso in their war against jihadist fighters, others believe ongoing efforts have not been enough to tackle the issue of extremism in the Sahel.
“The U.S. presence likely limits terrorist activity in the Sahel but has not eliminated it, and neither France nor other Europeans nor governments in the region will standstill in the face of U.S. withdrawal,” analyst Friend of CSIS said.
“The question of whether the French can sustain operations without U.S. support is an open one, although France likely could choose to do so but that would require more resources and domestic political capital,” she added.
On Monday, French Defense Minister Florence Parly visited the Pentagon and met with her U.S. counterpart Defense Secretary Mark Esper. She urged the U.S. to continue supporting the security efforts in the region.
But U.S. officials have expressed concerns about the deteriorating situation in the Sahel region.
“I think [the Sahel] is the most difficult and challenging situation we have now in the continent,” Tibor Nagy, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, said in November during a press briefing.
“The threat of terrorism and violent extremism is expanding. It’s not anymore in north Mali only. It is going down to Burkina Faso and countries like Ghana, Togo, Benin are all on alert,” he said.
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The pilot of the helicopter that crashed and killed basketball superstar Kobe Bryant apparently climbed to avoid a cloud layer just before slamming into a hillside, federal investigators say.
Jennifer Homendy of the National Transportation Safety Board said Monday the copter was about 700 meters off the ground before it plunged more than 300 meters into the hills north of Los Angeles.
Air traffic say the pilot’s message that he had to climb to avoid the clouds was the last thing they heard from the copter.
Homendy says the debris field is “extensive.”
“A piece of the tail is down the hill, the fuselage is on the other side of that hill and the main rotor is about 91 meters beyond that,” she said, adding that everything is looked at during the investigation — the pilot, the aircraft, and the environment.
Federal rules do not require helicopters to carry black boxes.
Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna were among nine killed in Sunday’s crash that stunned the sports world and left fans and his fellow athletes speechless.
The pilot also died along with Orange Coast College baseball coach John Altobelli. The helicopter was heading to a youth basketball tournament in which Gianna Bryant was scheduled to play.
Kobe Bryant was 41 years-old and will be remembered as one of the greatest professional basketball players ever to step onto the court. He played 20 years in the NBA, nearly all of it with the Los Angeles Lakers — wining five NBA championships and the league’s Most Valuable Player award in 2008. He is the fourth all-time leading scorer. LeBron James passed him for number three on the list just one day before the crash.
Some of Bryant’s accomplishments include becoming the NBA’s youngest all-star in 1998, when he was only 19 years old; an 81-point game in 2006 – the second-highest of all time; and Olympic Gold medals in 2008 and 2012.your ad here
The European Union will “never, never, never” compromise on the integrity of its single market, its chief Brexit negotiator warned Britain on Monday, saying London must now face reality after underestimating the costs of leaving.
Some British politicians have suggested Brussels might be flexible on its rules in order to protect trade flows in talks due to begin in the coming weeks after Britain’s formal exit from the bloc on Friday.
But Michel Barnier, speaking in the British region of Northern Ireland widely seen as most at risk from Brexit, warned negative consequences were unavoidable.
“There will be no compromise on the single market. Never, never, never,” Barnier told an audience at Queen’s University Belfast, describing the single market as the foundation of EU’s international influence.
“Leaving the single market, leaving the customs union will have consequences. And what I saw … in the last year, is that many of these consequences have been underestimated in the UK,” he said. “Now we have to face the reality.”
Barnier said that while Brussels was willing to be flexible and pragmatic in trade talks, Britain’s choices have made frictionless trade with the EU impossible.
If no trade agreement is reached, Britain still faces the risk of a cliff-edge Brexit in 2021 when an 11-month status quote transition ends, he added.
“If we have no agreement, it will not be business as usual and the status quo, we have to face the risk of a cliff edge, in particular for trade,” Barnier said.
The EU has repeatedly said the level of access UK products can continue to enjoy will be proportionate to the commitments London makes on EU rules, particularly in relation to state aid.
“It is not clear to me whether, when the UK leaves the EU and the Single Market, it will also choose to leave Europe’s societal and regulatory model. That is the key question, and we are waiting for an answer,” Barnier said.
Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar earlier Tuesday said there would have to be some checks on goods going from Britain into Northern Ireland, despite British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s repeated insistence that these will not be needed.
Johnson’s willingness to allow some EU regulations to apply in Northern Ireland to prevent the need for a border on the island was the crucial concession he offered last year to obtain a withdrawal deal with the bloc.
Barnier was asked repeatedly by journalists in Belfast whether trade talks could avoid the need to have checks, but he would only say the text of the withdrawal agreement that governs it was binding and could not be revisited.
“The Withdrawal Agreement must be applied with rigor and discipline by all sides. It cannot be re-opened under the guise of implementation,” Barnier said. Implementation will be crucial in building trust for the trade talks, he added.
Varadkar earlier on Monday told Britain’s BBC that the European Union would have the upper hand in trade talks, having the “stronger team” due to its larger population and market. Johnson’s aim of getting a deal by the end of 2020 “will be difficult,” Varadkar added.
Turkey’s disaster relief agency said Monday the death toll following last week’s powerful earthquake has risen to 39.
Nearly 4,000 people, helped by mechanical diggers, have worked in freezing temperatures to comb through the debris in Elazig in the eastern part of the country after the devastating 6.8-magnitude quake that struck Friday evening.
Officials say 76 buildings in Elazig were destroyed and hundreds more were damaged.
The Associated Press reports that emergency workers have erected more than 9,500 tents to feed and house the displaced.
Authorities say that so far they have pulled 45 people from the rubble.
Turkish television showed one mother, Ayse Yildiz, 35, and her 2-year-old daughter Yusra being rescued from the remains of a collapsed apartment building in Elazig. They had been trapped for 28 hours.
Syrian university student Mahmud al Osman told the state news agency Anadolu that he used only his bare hands to rescue a man and woman from underneath rubble.
The government’s disaster and emergency management agency said more than 1,600 people were injured in the quake, with 13 of them in intensive care.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to house displaced survivors as soon as possible.
“Turkey has begun to heal the wounds of this great disaster in unity, togetherness and coming together,” he said.
Since Friday’s quake, more than 900 aftershocks have been felt, according to a report in Hurriyat, a Turkish newspaper.your ad here
Pakistan has arrested the leader of a social movement, which is campaigning against human rights abuses allegedly carried out by military forces during counterterrorism operations in areas near the border with Afghanistan.
Manzoor Pashteen of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) was detained along with six others in an overnight raid in the northwestern city of Peshawar, local police confirmed Monday.
Pashteen, 27, was accused of denouncing Pakistan’s constitution, using insulting and threatening language against the state in one of his recent public speeches, according to a copy of the police complaint filed against him.
A court in Peshawar later authorized police to keep Pashteen in detention for 14 days to investigate the charges against him.
Mohsin Dawar, a key PTM leader and member of the national parliament, demanded immediate release of Pashteen.
“This is our punishment for demanding our rights in a peaceful & democratic manner. But Manzoor’s arrest will only strengthen our resolve,” he tweeted.
Dawar urged PTM workers and supporters “to remain calm” in the wake of the police action, promising to “devise a strategy after consultations.”
PTM activists and leaders, including Dawar, have been arrested previously but this was the first time Pashteen has been detained.
Amnesty International has also criticized the arrest.
“Manzoor Pashteen has been arbitrarily detained for exercising his human rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. He must be released immediately and unconditionally,” the group tweeted.
PTM has emerged recently from Pakistan’s ethnic Pashtun North Waziristan tribal district that until few years ago had been condemned by the United States as the “epicenter” of international terrorism.
Under sustained international pressure and increased terrorist attacks inside Pakistan, mostly traced back to militants entrenched in the mountainous district, the Pakistani military has conducted major ground and air offensives in and around Waziristan since 2014.
Military officials say the operation has dismantled terror infrastructures and cleared the areas of militants. The security action has significantly reduced terrorist attacks in the country and has won international praise.
PTM leaders have drawn large crowds to demand accountability for the military’s alleged heavy-handedness, including illegal detentions, extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances. But Pakistani media allegedly under the military pressure is not allowed to cover the group’s public activities.
The Pakistani military denies the accusations of rights abuses as politically motivated. Army officials, however, do not rule out the possibility of “individuals indulging in unlawful actions” in the conflict zone, saying the institution investigates and punishes personnel found guilty of any such crimes.
PTM leaders reject official charges they are proxies of Afghanistan and Pakistan’s arch-rival India, and receiving funds from abroad to defame the Pakistani military.your ad here
An expert in China warns that the new strain of virus originating from the Chinese city of Wuhan could be gaining strength and increasing its ability to transfer from one person to another. The coronavirus that is causing respiratory problems similar to pneumonia has sickened close to 3,000 people worldwide and killed at least 56 in China, prompting governments to come up with measures to protect their citizens. VOA’s Zlatica Hoke reports.your ad here
Private American citizens living and working in Wuhan are being warned there will not be room for many of them on an evacuation flight being prepared for U.S. consular staff in the epicenter of the Coronavirus epidemic.
“The Department of State is making arrangements to relocate its personnel stationed at the U.S. Consulate General in Wuhan to the United States,” the U.S. Embassy in Beijing wrote on Sunday, adding that the flight will travel directly from Wuhan to San Francisco.
“This capacity is extremely limited and if there is insufficient ability to transport everyone who expresses interest, priority will be given to individuals at greater risk from coronavirus,” a statement said.
An American citizen teaching at a university in Wuhan, who asked that her name not be used for fear of Chinese retribution, told VOA that neither the consulate nor the U.S. Embassy in Beijing has yet contacted most American citizens in the city.
“Maybe they have reached out to a few privileged individuals, but on the whole, they are not reaching out to average American citizens. We have received almost no support and no help,” the woman told VOA’s Mandarin Service.
An announcement on the U.S. Embassy’s website directs citizens to apply for a seat on the plane by contacting American Citizen Services with their passport information.
“There are thousands of us Americans in Wuhan,” the American citizen said. “A 747 seats like 250 people, they’re not going to take everyone out. Even if every single person wanted to leave, they would not take all of us,” she said, referring to the Boeing 747 jet that will likely be chartered for the flight.
The announcement comes amid travel restrictions around the wider region, but especially in the city of Wuhan. The streets have been largely quiet amid ambiguous regulations on which vehicles can and cannot be on the road, even in urban areas.
Some Wuhan residents have reported that early in the outbreak, individuals were arrested and accused of spreading “rumors” about the disease on social media. The American teacher said that in addition to the restrictions on her travel, the disinformation and fear of authority in Wuhan have added to the stress produced by the outbreak.
“This is the craziest experience I’ve ever lived through in my entire life. I wish it weren’t happening. It’s it’s a nightmare,” she said.
The disease, which has killed 56 people and sickened almost 2,000 around the world, has spread to about 15 countries, including France, Canada and the United States, where a third confirmed case was reported in southern California late Saturday.
The World Health Organization said Thursday the potentially deadly virus has not yet developed into a worldwide health emergency.your ad here