Category: Aktualności

New Caledonia airport to stay closed to commercial flights until Tuesday

Noumea, New Caledonia — The international airport in the New Caledonian capital, Noumea, will remain closed to commercial flights until at least 9 a.m. Tuesday (2200 GMT Monday), Charles Roger, director of the body that operates the facility, told AFP.

That would extend the shutdown to nearly two weeks in total, after flights were halted on May 15 in the face of deadly rioting that broke out in the French Pacific territory.

The news on Friday came as French President Emmanuel Macron warned the archipelago must not become “the Wild West” during a television interview with local media.

France has dispatched about 3,000 security personnel to the territory in a bid to restore order after more than a week of rioting that has left at least six people dead.

Macron justified the measure as necessary for a “return to calm,” because “it’s not the Wild West.”

“The republic must regain authority on all points. In France, not everyone defends themselves,” he added, reference to local groups who have organized the defense of their neighborhoods amid the unrest.

“There is a republican order, it is the security forces who ensure it,” he added.

Since Tuesday, New Zealand and Australia have been carrying out special evacuation flights to bring home hundreds of tourists stranded by the unrest, which was sparked by opposition to controversial electoral reforms.

The Australian evacuation flights were set to continue Friday, Foreign Minister Penny Wong said on social media platform X Thursday evening.

Military aircraft from both countries were expected to pass through Noumea on Friday, according to flight tracker site Flightradar24.

Since May 13, hundreds have been injured amid looting, arson and clashes triggered by the French voting reform plan.

New Caledonia has been ruled from Paris since the 1800s, but many Indigenous Kanaks still resent France’s power over their islands and want fuller autonomy or independence.

France had planned to give voting rights to thousands of non-Indigenous long-term residents, something Kanaks say would dilute the influence of their votes.

Separatists have thrown up barricades that have cut off whole neighborhoods, as well as the main route to the international airport.

Macron on Thursday conceded more talks were needed on the voting changes, and pledged they would “not be forced through in the current context.”

“We will allow some weeks to allow a calming of tensions and resumption of dialogue to find a broad accord” among all parties, he added, saying he would review the situation again within a month.

Caledonians would be asked to vote on their future if leaders can reach an over-arching agreement, Macron said. The French parliament’s lower house had approved the voting reform, but final ratification was still needed.

Sellers of Arctic land unconcerned by potential Chinese buyers

Private land in the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard is being auctioned off by its owner, with strong interest from Chinese buyers, according to a lawyer responsible for the auction. Such a sale would likely cause geopolitical headaches for Norway and NATO because of Svalbard’s strategic location in the Arctic Ocean. Henry Wilkins has more.
Camera: Henry Wilkins

World’s largest tree passes health check

SEQUOIA NATIONAL PARK, California — High in the evergreen canopy of General Sherman, the world’s largest tree, researchers searched for evidence of an emerging threat to giant sequoias: bark beetles.

The climbers descended the towering 2,200-year-old tree with good news on Tuesday.

“The General Sherman tree is doing fine right now,” said Anthony Ambrose, executive director of the Ancient Forest Society, who led the expedition. “It seems to be a very healthy tree that’s able to fend off any beetle attack.”

It was the first time climbers had scaled the iconic 85-meter sequoia tree, which draws tourists from around the world to Sequoia National Park.

Giant sequoias, the Earth’s largest living things, have survived for thousands of years in California’s western Sierra Nevada range, the only place where the species is native.

But as the climate grows hotter and drier, giant sequoias previously thought to be almost indestructible are increasingly threatened by extreme heat, drought and wildfires.

In 2020 and 2021, record-setting wildfires killed as much as 20% of the world’s 75,000 mature sequoias, according to park officials.

“The most significant threat to giant sequoias is climate-driven wildfires,” said Ben Blom, director of stewardship and restoration at Save the Redwoods League. “But we certainly don’t want to be caught by surprise by a new threat, which is why we’re studying these beetles now.”

But researchers are growing more worried about bark beetles, which didn’t pose a serious threat in the past.

The beetles are native to California and have co-existed with sequoias for thousands of years. But only recently have they been able to kill the trees. Scientists say they recently discovered about 40 sequoia trees that have died from beetle infestations, mostly within the national parks.

“We’re documenting some trees that are actually dying from kind of a combination of drought and fire that have weakened them to a point where they’re not able to defend themselves from the beetle attack,” Ambrose said.

The beetles attack the trees from the canopy, boring into branches and working their way down the trunk. If left unchecked, the tiny beetles can kill a tree within six months.

That’s why park officials allowed Ambrose and his colleagues to climb General Sherman. They conducted the tree health inspection as journalists and visitors watched them pull themselves up ropes dangling from the canopy. They examined the branches and trunk, looking for the tiny holes that indicate beetle activity.

But it’s not possible to climb every sequoia tree to directly inspect the canopy in person. That’s why they’re also testing whether drones equipped with sensors and aided by satellite imagery can be used to monitor and detect beetle infestations on a larger scale within the forests.

Tuesday’s health inspection of General Sherman was organized by the Giant Sequoia Lands Coalition, a group of government agencies, Native tribes and environmental groups. They hope to establish a health monitoring program for the towering trees.

If they discover beetle infestations, officials say, they could try to combat the attacks by spraying water, removing branches or using chemical treatments.

Bark beetles have ravaged pine and fir forests throughout the Western United States in recent years, but they previously didn’t pose a threat to giant sequoias, which can live 3,000 years.

“They have really withstood insect attacks for a lot of years. So why now? Why are we seeing this change?” said Clay Jordan, superintendent for Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. “There’s a lot that we need to learn in order to ensure good stewardship of these trees for a long time.”

European Parliament group expels far-right delegation

Macron says he will not force voting reforms in New Caledonia

Russian satellite launch renews concerns about conflict in space

The U.S. assertion this week that Russia has launched a satellite capable of inspecting and destroying other satellites prompted a denial from the Kremlin and concern from U.S. lawmakers. VOA Congressional Correspondent Katherine Gypson reports. Camera: Saqib Ul Islam.

Louisiana lawmakers vote to reclassify abortion pills as controlled substances

Sweden trains to defend itself and its new NATO partners

Sweden, NATO’s newest member, this week announced a three-year plan to provide additional support for Ukraine totaling more than $7 billion. The move comes amid concerns about Russia’s growing aggression. Eastern Europe Bureau Chief Myroslava Gongadze reports. Camera: Daniil Batushchak.

UN designates annual day to commemorate Srebrenica genocide

United Nations — The United Nations General Assembly voted Thursday to designate July 11 annually as an international day of reflection and commemoration of the 1995 Srebrenica genocide of more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim boys and men by Bosnian Serb forces. Serbia and Bosnian Serbs strongly opposed its adoption.

“Perpetrated amidst the Bosnian War, this act of genocide led to the tragic death of the victims and to unimaginable suffering for survivors and their families,” German Ambassador Antje Leendertse said, introducing the resolution. “Our initiative is about honoring the memory of the victims and supporting the survivors who continue to live with the scars of that fateful time.”

Germany and Rwanda co-led the negotiations on the resolution’s text over more than a month.

The resolution received 84 votes in favor, 19 against and 68 abstentions. Only a simple majority of those countries present and voting “yes” or “no” was needed for the motion to pass. It was co-sponsored by more than 40 countries, including the western Balkan nations of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, North Macedonia and Slovenia, along with the United States.

Chairman of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina Denis Becirovic welcomed the resolution, saying it is an important step for the promotion of peace and reconciliation in the region and beyond.

“Truth and justice won today in the U.N. General Assembly,” he told VOA after the vote.

In addition to designating the annual international day of reflection and commemoration, which would start next year on the 30th anniversary of the massacres, the resolution also condemns genocide denial and the glorification of perpetrators.

The U.N.-backed International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia concluded in 2004 that genocide had been committed in the small mountain town in eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina in July 1995. In 2007, the International Court of Justice also ruled that the massacres constituted genocide.

Regional opposition

The president of Bosnia’s Serb-controlled Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodik, has threatened to secede from the country if the resolution is adopted.

Serbia’s government has also vigorously campaigned against the resolution, urging its co-sponsors to withdraw it, saying it unfairly targets Serbia and attributes moral responsibility for genocide collectively to its people and will hurt the fragile reconciliation process, a claim the authors deny.

Montenegro suggested language that was added to the final text, clarifying that “criminal accountability under international law for the crime of genocide is individualized and cannot be attributed to any ethnic, religious, or other group or community as a whole.”

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic traveled to New York for the vote. He urged the General Assembly to vote against the resolution, saying it was highly politicized and would only sow deeper divisions in the region.

“This is not about reconciliation; this is not about memories,” he said. “This is something that will just open an old wound and that will create a complete political havoc — and not only in our region, but here in this hall.”

On July 11, 1995, the U.N.-designated “safe area” of Srebrenica fell to Bosnian Serb forces. Over the next several days, at least 8,372 Bosnian Muslim boys and men were separated from their families, put on buses and taken to several locations including warehouses, schools and fields, where they were executed.

Their bodies were dumped in several mass graves. Investigators said their remains were later exhumed and moved to secondary graves in an extensive cover up. Experts used DNA samples from relatives to identify thousands of the murdered men.

The Hague-based tribunal for the former Yugoslavia convicted 16 people for crimes committed in Srebrenica, including eight men for the crime of genocide.

The General Assembly resolution adopted Thursday is partly modeled on a 2003 resolution that established the international day of reflection on the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. It has been observed at the United Nations every April 7 since 2004.

Some countries that abstained or voted against Thursday’s Srebrenica resolution noted that there is also a day of remembrance for all victims of genocide, which the United Nations marks every December 9.

Others noted that there was no consensus in the region on the resolution and that they did not want to contribute to tensions.

Both the U.N. high commissioner for human rights and the special adviser on the prevention of genocide welcomed the resolution.

“This resolution is further recognition of the victims and survivors and their pursuit of justice, truth and guarantees of non-recurrence,” human rights chief Volker Türk said in a statement.

Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide Alice Nderitu said the resolution is important in light of the trend toward genocide denial in the region.

“Questioning the tragic reality of what happened in Srebrenica is not acceptable,” she said, adding it would only hurt peace and reconciliation efforts.

Myanmar refugees in Thailand start interviews for US resettlement

Bangkok — Interviews have begun with Myanmar refugees living in Thailand who are eligible for a new resettlement program in the United States, the Thai government said.

Thailand said it hopes the first group may get to move by the end of the year.

Some 90,000 refugees live in nine camps on the Thai side of the border to escape fighting between Myanmar’s military and ethnic minority rebel armies vying for autonomy. Some of the refugees were born in the camps, which started to form in the mid-1980s, and many have lived in them for decades.

Persistent fighting in Myanmar, amplified by a military coup in February 2021, has kept most from returning home.

Aiming to give the refugees a safe way out of the camps, Thailand, the United States and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees announced the resettlement plan in May 2023.

One year on, Thailand’s Ministry of Interior says that the Thai government and UNHCR have finished checking the personal information of the refugees to verify their eligibility for the program. More than 80,000 refugees were deemed eligible, and nearly all of them told officials they wanted to resettle.

“After that, the U.S. team went to the first two camps for interviews, which have already been done,” Zcongklod Khawjang, an interior ministry official in charge of overseeing the resettlement program, told VOA this week.

The two camps — Ban Don Yang and Tham Hin — are among the smallest of nine and host about 8,750 refugees combined.

Zcongklod said the U.S. Embassy in Thailand has not told the Thai government when the authorized refugees would be resettled or when interviews in the other seven camps would begin. But he added that Thailand was expecting the “first batch” to move to the U.S. sometime this year.

Hayso Thako, a joint secretary with the Karen Refugee Committee, one of the charities working in the camps, said he received the same message from the UNHCR at a meeting in March.

“They said most probably the first group would be able to leave by the end, almost the end of this year,” he said.

The UNHCR declined to comment on when resettlement might begin and referred the question to the United States. The U.S. Embassy in Bangkok declined to provide a time frame.

“Resettlement operations are ongoing in cooperation with the UNHCR and the Royal Thai Government,” the U.S. Embassy told VOA by email, attributing the comment to “a U.S. official.”

The embassy also would not say how many of the 80,000-plus eligible refugees the U.S. was prepared to take in, either annually or in total. Zcongklod said the embassy has not provided the Thai government with those figures, either.

The Border Consortium, a network of charities that coordinate much of the international aid that reached the camps, said it has not been provided with official figures but said plans for the program appear to have been scaled down over time.

“Figures have changes. At the beginning, it was this number of people who could be resettled … and maybe now it could be a lower number of people who could be resettled,” Leon de Riedmatten, executive director of The Border Consortium, told VOA.

Even so, he said, “It’s important for the residents in the camps themselves that there is still the possibility of resettlement. I think this is the main message, even if it’s not going to be so many people who are going to be resettled to the United States.”

Thailand has denied the refugees a regular path to gaining permanent legal residence and keeps tight control over their movements in and out of the camps.

Myanmar’s 2021 coup brought the country’s brief experiment with democracy to a halt, plunging it into civil war and dashing hopes that the refugees could return safely anytime soon.

Hayso Thako and de Riedmatten said it would help if other countries committed to taking in some of the refugees.

Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs told VOA it has encouraged more countries to join the resettlement program.

A previous program ended about five years ago after resettling thousands of refugees in the United States and a few other countries.

Without a clear idea of how many of the refugees the new program can handle, and no end in sight to the civil war raging in Myanmar, charities say the Thai government should also give the refugees the opportunity to settle permanently in Thailand.

“I think it’s key. It’s very, very important, because we cannot expect that all these refugees will be resettled. We cannot expect also that a large part of these refugees will return to Myanmar. So the ones, the majority, who will be left in the camps should have a better future,” de Riedmatten said.

Even after four decades, most of the camps still lack electricity and running water. Most homes are huts of bamboo and eucalyptus poles topped with thatched roofs.

The refugees are mostly barred from studying or working outside of the camps, have few job opportunities inside and receive an average of about $9 in food aid a month.

Some advocates say a growing sense of despair across the camps is causing a rise in domestic abuse, gang violence, drug use and suicide.

“Living in the camps is not easy,” Eh Nay Moo, 30, who fled Myanmar with his parents when he was three years old, told VOA.

“Here, we are just illegal people. … There is no freedom for us. Going here and there outside of the camp, we are not allowed,” he said from Mae La, the largest of the nine camps on the border.

Having spent almost his entire life in the camps, Eh Nay Moo said he cannot imagine returning to Myanmar but sees no real future for himself in the camps.

Eh Nay Moo said he has applied for the new resettlement program and is eagerly awaiting an interview.

“If I get a chance to move to the U.S. … I believe that I will get more opportunity or freedom to do and live my life as a human being,” he said.

Border bill fails Senate test vote as Democrats seek to underscore Republican resistance

WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans again blocked a bill meant to clamp down on the number of migrants allowed to claim asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer sought Thursday to underscore GOP resistance to the proposal.

The legislation, negotiated by a bipartisan group of senators, was already rejected by most Republicans in February when it was linked to a foreign aid package for Ukraine, Israel and other U.S. allies. But with immigration and border security becoming one of the top issues of this year’s election, Democrats are looking for an answer to the barrage of GOP attacks, led by presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. 

“To those who’ve said for years Congress needs to act on the border, this bipartisan bill is the answer, and it’s time to show we’re serious about fixing the problem,” Schumer, a New York Democrat, said ahead of the vote

Schumer is trying to defend a narrow Senate majority in this year’s election and sees the Republicans’ rejection of the deal they negotiated as a political “gift” for Democrats.

While a majority of Senate Democrats again supported the procedural vote to begin debate on the bill Thursday, the proposal failed 43-50. When the proposal was brought up in February, a test vote failed 49-50 — well shy of the 60 votes needed to advance. 

Not even some of the bill’s primary authors, Sens. James Lankford, an Oklahoma Republican, and Kyrsten Sinema, an Arizona independent, voted for Schumer’s move. 

“Today is not a bill, today is a prop,” Lankford said on the floor ahead of the vote. “Everyone sees it for what it is.” 

Sinema called the vote “political theater” that will do nothing to solve problems at the border. 

“To use this failure as a political punching bag only punishes those who were courageous enough to do the hard work in the first place,” she said. 

Republican leaders spent much of the week decrying the vote as a bald-faced political maneuver and amplifying a well-worn criticism of President Joe Biden: That he bears responsibility for the historic number of migrants who have made their way to the U.S. in recent years. 

“We’re nearing the end of President Biden’ s term, and the American people’s patience for his failing to secure the southern border is running thin,” Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday

Earlier in the week, McConnell told reporters, “The president needs to step up to it — do everything he can do on his own because legislation is obviously not going to clear this year.”

Since the collapse of the Senate’s legislation in February, the Biden administration has been considering executive orders on border policy and immigration. It has already made some changes to the asylum system meant to speed up processing and potential removal of migrants. Yet the Senate’s test vote this week was widely seen as part of a lead-up to Biden issuing more sweeping border measures, potentially as early as June.

The Democratic president has considered using a provision in federal immigration law that gives leeway to block entry of certain immigrants into the U.S. if it would be “detrimental” to the national interest of the United States. The authority was repeatedly tapped by Trump when he was in the White House, but some of those actions faced legal challenges.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told reporters Monday that legislation to address problems at the border — as opposed to executive actions by the president — would be more effective. The Senate legislation would provide more money for Customs and Border Protection officials, asylum officers, immigration judges and scanning technology at the border — all things that officials have said the underfunded immigration and border protection system needs.

“The legislation provides tools that executive action cannot,” Mayorkas said.

The Senate bill aimed at gaining control of an asylum system that has sometimes been overwhelmed in the last year. It would provide faster and tougher enforcement of the asylum process, as well as give presidents new powers to immediately expel migrants if the numbers encountered by border officials exceed an average of 4,000 per day over a week.

Even before the bill was fully released earlier this year, Trump effectively killed the proposal by labeling it “meaningless” and a “gift” for Biden’s reelection chances. Top Republicans soon followed his lead and even McConnell, who had initially demanded the negotiation over the border measures, voted against moving forward.

A significant number of Democrats have also criticized the proposal, mostly because it does not include any broad relief for immigrants who have already established lives in the United States.

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus said in a statement this week that the Senate’s bill “fails to meet the moment by putting forth enforcement-only policies and failing to include provisions that will keep families together.”

Amid the tension, Biden’s reelection campaign met with CHC leadership Wednesday to discuss outreach to Latino communities, and Biden spoke on the phone with Rep. Nanette Barragan, the chair of the group.

Still, for Democratic senators facing tough reelection battles, the vote Thursday provided another opportunity to show they were supportive of stronger border measures as well as distance themselves from Biden’s handling of the border.

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Ocean heat, La Nina likely mean more Atlantic hurricanes this summer

WASHINGTON — Get ready for what nearly all the experts think will be one of the busiest Atlantic hurricane seasons on record, thanks to unprecedented ocean heat and a brewing La Nina. 

There’s an 85% chance that the Atlantic hurricane season starting in June will be above average in storm activity, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Thursday in its annual outlook. The weather agency predicted between 17 and 25 named storms will brew up this summer and fall, with eight to 13 achieving hurricane status (at least 75 mph sustained winds) and four to seven of them becoming major hurricanes, with at least 111 mph winds. 

An average Atlantic hurricane season produces 14 named storms — seven of them hurricanes and three major hurricanes. 

“This season is looking to be an extraordinary one in a number of ways,” NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad said. He said this forecast is the busiest that NOAA has seen for one of their May outlooks; the agency updates its forecasts each August. 

About 20 other groups — universities, other governments, private weather companies — also have made seasonal forecasts. All but two expect a busier, nastier summer and fall for hurricanes. The average of those other forecasts is about 11 hurricanes, or about 50% more than in a normal year. 

“All the ingredients are definitely in place to have an active season,” National Weather Service Director Ken Graham said. “It’s a reason to be concerned, of course, but not alarmed.” 

What people should be most concerned about is water because 90% of hurricane deaths are in water and they are preventable, Graham said. 

When meteorologists look at how busy a hurricane season is, two factors matter most: ocean temperatures in the part of the Atlantic where storms spin up and need warm water for fuel, and whether there is a La Nina or El Nino, the natural and periodic cooling or warming of Pacific Ocean waters that changes weather patterns worldwide. A La Nina tends to turbocharge Atlantic storm activity while depressing storminess in the Pacific, and an El Nino does the opposite. 

La Nina usually reduces high-altitude winds that can decapitate hurricanes, and generally during a La Nina there’s more instability or storminess in the atmosphere, which can seed hurricane development. Storms get their energy from hot water. Ocean waters have been at record temperatures for 13 months in a row, and a La Nina is forecast to arrive by mid- to late summer. The current El Nino is dwindling and is expected to be gone within a month or so. 

“We’ve never had a La Nina combined with ocean temperatures this warm in recorded history, so that’s a little ominous,” said University of Miami tropical meteorology researcher Brian McNoldy. 

This May, ocean heat in the main area where hurricanes develop has been as high as it usually is in mid-August. “That’s crazy,” McNoldy said. It’s both record warm on the ocean surface and at depths, which “is looking a little scary.” 

He said he wouldn’t be surprised to see storms earlier than normal this year as a result. Peak hurricane season usually is mid-August to mid-October, with the official season starting June 1 and ending November 30. 

A year ago, the two factors were opposing each other. Instead of a La Nina, there was a strong El Nino, which usually inhibits storminess a bit. Experts said at the time they weren’t sure which of those factors would win out. 

Warm water won. Last year had 20 named storms, the fourth-highest year since 1950 and far more than the average of 14. An overall measurement of strength, duration and frequency of storms last season was 17% bigger than normal. 

Record hot water seems to be key, McNoldy said. 

“Things really went of the rails last spring [2023], and they haven’t gotten back to the rails since then,” McNoldy said. 

“Hurricanes live off of warm ocean water,” said Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach. “That tends to basically be fuel for the hurricane. But also, when you have the warm Atlantic, what that tends to do is also force more air up over the Atlantic, more rising motion, which helps support strong thunderstorms.” 

There’s the background of human-caused climate change that’s making water warmer in general, but not this much warmer, McNoldy said. He said other contributors may include an undersea volcano eruption in the South Pacific in 2022, which sent millions of tons of water vapor into the air to trap heat, and a reduction in sulfur in ship fuels. The latter meant fewer particles in the air that reflect sunlight and cool the atmosphere a bit. 

Seven of the last 10 Atlantic hurricane seasons have been more active than the long-term normal. 

Climate change generally is making the strongest hurricanes even more intense, making storms rain more and making them rapidly intensify more, McNoldy said. 

This year, Colorado State University — which pioneered hurricane season forecasting decades ago — is forecasting a season that’s overall 71% stronger and busier than the average season with 23 named storms and 11 hurricanes. 

That’s at “levels comparable to some of the busiest seasons on record,” said Klotzbach. 

Klotzbach and his team gave a 62% probability that the United States will be hit with a major hurricane with winds of at least 111 mph. Normally the chance is 43%. The Caribbean has a two-out-of-three chance of getting hit by a major hurricane, and the U.S. Gulf Coast has a 42% likelihood of getting smacked by such a storm, the CSU forecast said. For the U.S. East Coast, the chance of being hit by a major hurricane is 34%. 

Klotzbach said he doesn’t see how something could shift soon enough to prevent a busy season this year. 

“The die is somewhat cast,” Klotzbach said. 

US elevates security relationship with Kenya at state visit

The White House — The United States will designate Kenya as its first major non-NATO ally in sub-Saharan Africa, the White House said as President Joe Biden on Thursday welcomed President William Ruto for a state visit. The significant strategic move signals the shifting of U.S. security cooperation to East Africa just as U.S. troops prepare to depart Niger, leaving a vacuum that Russian forces have begun to fill.

The designation gives non-members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization access to military and financial advantages that NATO members enjoy, but without the mutual defense agreement that holds NATO together. A senior administration official told reporters late Wednesday that Biden would inform Congress of the designation, which takes 30 days to take effect.

The official said the move aims at “elevating and really acknowledging that Kenya is already a global partner of ours.”

In the meantime, Ruto and Biden are using their daylong deliberations to iron out Kenya’s plan to send 1,000 security officers to the fragile, chaotic Caribbean nation of Haiti. The initiative, toward which the United States has pledged $300 million in support, faces stiff political and legal challenges in Kenya. The mission was also delayed when Haitian armed gangs took control while the nation’s leader, Ariel Henry, was visiting Kenya in March. Henry resigned in April and has not returned to the island.

The official said that Ruto would meet with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken to discuss the mission but promised no progress.

“This is definitely an ongoing area of collaboration,” the official said.

And the White House on Thursday also rolled out a number of security-related agreements, which include training opportunities and military exercises, assistance in managing refugees, U.S. investments in Kenya’s security sector, counterterrorism efforts including increased information sharing and, on top of all this, 16 helicopters and 150 armored vehicles.

From bombs to bonbons

Washington also made millions of dollars of commitments toward a number of efforts the U.S. sees as key to development. Those include areas like democracy, health, education, arts and culture, climate management, trade, technology, and the one item Ruto said was his main priority on his four-day swing through the United States: work to restructure African nations’ crippling debt to the world’s largest creditor, China.

But the lengthy list of American pledges was absent the roads, bridges and railroad projects that African leaders have long said they need to keep up with their exploding populations. For those, they turn to China’s sprawling Belt and Road Initiative, which counts the African continent as the largest beneficiary of its massive, $1 trillion global project.

This, analysts say, represents Africa’s new stance as its young democracies mature, less than a century after liberation from colonialism: In a world of competition among the world’s great powers, they want to be somewhere in the middle.

“I think many U.S. officials see this very much as a zero-sum game in this kind of great power competition to gain influence,” said Cameron Hudson, a senior fellow in the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “African countries don’t see it that way. They actually see the benefit of being able to partner with China on trade, with Russia on security and with Washington on development, and they don’t see any inconsistency in that approach.”

“And I think unless and until Washington becomes much more comfortable with seeing their privileged relationships become partnerized with other countries, I think it’s going to be very difficult for Washington to really chart a course forward with many of these countries,” he added.

This is the first White House state visit by an African leader in nearly 16 years, and that significance was not lost on first lady Jill Biden, who, ahead of her sixth state dinner, spoke of a glass-ceilinged pavilion set under the stars, of a gospel choir and shag carpets and “the glow of candles in a space saturated with warm pinks and reds.”

White House executive chef Cristeta Comerford narrated a menu of chilled green tomato soup touched with sweet onions and drizzled with white balsamic vinegar and fine Californian olive oil, of butter-poached lobster and seasonal bounties reminiscent of American summer. She lavished words on the bed of kale and roasted corn and corn puree and roasted turnips and sweet potatoes and squash but touched just briefly on the one item that is seen as a hallmark of a fine Kenyan feast:

“Red meat,” she said.

Specifically, she said, they are marinated and smoked short ribs, perched atop that farmers’ market worth of produce.

But it was the unnamed administration official who teased the star that could outshine all the others on this glittering night: the first and only American president of Kenyan ancestry.

When asked by a journalist if former President Barack Obama – born to a Kenyan father and an American mother – would make an appearance at the lavish dinner, the official hesitated.

“I’ll go to a quote from another former president, President Trump,” the official finally replied. And then: “‘We’ll see what happens.’”

French president arrives in New Caledonia to urge calm

Russia reports destroying 35 Ukrainian rockets over Belgorod

Sweden providing Ukraine with military support totaling $7 billion

Finland debates measure to block asylum-seekers at border with Russia

Haley says she will vote for Trump in November despite their disputes

COLUMBIA, South Carolina — Nikki Haley said Wednesday that she will be voting for Donald Trump in November’s general election, a notable show of support given their intense and often personal rivalry during the Republican primary campaign.

But Haley also made it clear that she feels Trump has work to do to win over voters who supported her during the course of the primary campaign and continue to cast votes for her in ongoing primary contests.

“I will be voting for Trump,” Haley, Trump’s former U.N. ambassador, said during an event at the Hudson Institute in Washington.

“Having said that, I stand by what I said in my suspension speech,” Haley added. “Trump would be smart to reach out to the millions of people who voted for me and continue to support me and not assume that they’re just going to be with him. And I genuinely hope he does that.”

The comments in her first public speech since leaving the race are another signal of the Republican Party’s virtually complete consolidation of support behind Trump, even from those who have labeled him a threat in the past.

Haley shuttered her own bid for the Republican nomination two months ago but did not immediately endorse Trump, having accused him of causing chaos and disregarding the importance of U.S. alliances abroad as well as questioning whether Trump, 77, was too old to be president again.

Trump, in turn, repeatedly mocked her with the nickname “Birdbrain,” though he curtailed those attacks after securing enough delegates in March to become the presumptive Republican nominee.

Trump’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Haley’s announcement.

President Joe Biden’s campaign, meanwhile, has been working to win over her supporters, whom they view as true swing voters. Biden’s team is quietly organizing a Republicans for Biden group, which will eventually include dedicated staff and focus on the hundreds of thousands of Haley voters in each battleground state, according to people familiar with the plans but not authorized to discuss them publicly.

But Haley made several criticisms of Biden’s foreign policy and handling of the U.S.-Mexico border in her speech Wednesday at the Hudson Institute, a conservative Washington think tank she recently joined as she reemerges in the political realm.

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US Justice Department sues to block Oklahoma immigration law

OKLAHOMA CITY, OKLAHOMA — The U.S. Department of Justice sued Oklahoma on Tuesday, seeking to block a law that aims to impose criminal penalties on those living in the state illegally.

The lawsuit in federal court in Oklahoma City challenges a law that makes it a state crime — punishable by up to two years in prison — to live in Oklahoma without legal immigration status. Similar laws passed in Texas and Iowa already are facing challenges from the Justice Department.

Oklahoma is among several Republican-led states jockeying to push deeper into immigration enforcement as Republicans and Democrats seize on the issue. Other bills targeting migrants have been passed this year in Florida, Georgia and Tennessee.

The Justice Department says the Oklahoma statute violates the U.S. Constitution and is asking the court to declare it invalid and bar the state from enforcing it.

“Oklahoma cannot disregard the U.S. Constitution and settled Supreme Court precedent,” U.S. Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brian Boynton, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division, said in a statement. “We have brought this action to ensure that Oklahoma adheres to the Constitution and the framework adopted by Congress for regulation of immigration.”

Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt called the bill necessary, saying the Biden administration is failing to secure the nation’s borders.

“Not only that, but they stand in the way of states trying to protect their citizens,” Stitt said in a statement.

The federal action was expected, as the Department of Justice warned Oklahoma officials last week the agency would sue unless the state agreed not to enforce the new law.

In response, Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond called the DOJ’s preemption argument “dubious at best” and said that while the federal government has broad authority over immigration, it does not have “exclusive power” on the subject.

“Oklahoma is exercising its concurrent and complementary power as a sovereign state to address an ongoing public crisis within its borders through appropriate legislation,” Drummond wrote in a letter to the DOJ. “Put more bluntly, Oklahoma is cleaning up the Biden Administration’s mess through entirely legal means in its own backyard — and will resolutely continue to do so by supplementing federal prohibitions with robust state penalties.”

Texas was allowed to enforce a law similar to Oklahoma’s for only a few confusing hours in March before it was put on hold by a federal appeals court’s three-judge panel. The panel heard arguments from supporters and opponents in April and will next issue a decision on the law’s constitutionality.

The Justice Department filed another lawsuit earlier this month seeking to block an Iowa law that would allow criminal charges to be brought against people who have outstanding deportation orders or who previously have been removed from or denied admission to the United States.

The law in Oklahoma has prompted several large protests at the state Capitol that included immigrants and their families voicing concern that their loved ones will be racially profiled by police.

“We feel attacked,” said Sam Wargin Grimaldo, an immigration attorney who attended a rally last month wearing a shirt that read, “Young, Latino and Proud.”

“People are afraid to step out of their houses if legislation like this is proposed and then passed,” he said.

The Oklahoma Association of Chiefs of Police and the Metro Law Enforcement Agency Leaders issued a joint statement earlier this month saying they weren’t involved in drafting the bill and raised concerns that it would put crime victims at risk because they might fear reporting to law enforcement.

“This law has the potential to destroy the connections and relationships we have built within our local immigrant communities and set us back for many years to come,” they said.

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