Category: Aktualności

For Biden, Son’s Indictments Create One More Political Burden

Hunter Biden, the son of U.S. President Joe Biden, was named in a nine-count indictment charging him with various tax crimes this week, raising the possibility that he could be on trial in two separate federal jurisdictions during his father’s reelection campaign next year.

The indictment, filed in federal court in California, alleges that Biden committed three felonies and six misdemeanors as part of an effort to avoid paying federal taxes between 2016 and 2020. During that time period, according to the 56-page indictment, Biden took in more than $7 million, and should have paid some $1.4 million in federal taxes.

However, the indictment alleges, Biden instead “spent this money on drugs, escorts and girlfriends, luxury hotels and rental properties, exotic cars, clothing, and other items of a personal nature, in short, everything but his taxes.”

The indictment is the product of a long-running investigation headed by special counsel David Weiss, the former U.S. attorney for the District of Delaware, which began during the Trump administration. When President Biden entered the White House, he asked that Weiss stay on.

Political burden

Charlie Cook, a political analyst and founder of the Cook Political Report, told VOA that the indictments of his son add yet another burden to the Democratic president, whose reelection campaign is facing many obstacles.

“The president is already facing a lot of headwinds, and this is just one more that makes the challenge of reelection just that much harder,” Cook told VOA. “Concerns about his age and health — either now or five years from now — poor poll numbers in terms of his handling of the economy and just about every other issue area. All these things are drags on his reelection campaign.

“Then, you throw in a nine-count indictment and trials next year, and it’s hard to see how this doesn’t hurt.”

Distraction for president

Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, agreed that the indictment and potential trials of his son will be a political headache for Biden, though he said he doubted that the indictment itself would actually cost Biden many votes in 2024.

“It isn’t helpful to President Biden, obviously, if for no other reason than he’s going to be distracted by at least one trial and possibly two, during the election year,” Sabato told VOA.

However, Hunter Biden’s legal troubles have been very public for years, and Sabato said public trials are, at this point, unlikely to change many voters’ attitude toward his father.

“The only votes that are affected by this are already committed to the eventual Republican nominee,” he said. “People who base their vote on what a president’s very adult son has done — without any real proof that the president himself has had some kind of illegal role in it — are few and far between. It’s just not going to happen with independents, Democrats and even moderate anti-Trump Republicans.”

Financial details

The indictment goes into detail about the sources of the younger Biden’s income, noting that during the time frame in question, he made about $2.3 million from his association with the Ukrainian industrial conglomerate Burisma Holdings, and several million more from other business ventures, including a Chinese energy firm called CEFC China Energy.

Hunter Biden also received a total of $1.2 million in financial support from a personal friend, including $200,000 used to rent what the indictment refers to as a “lavish house on a canal in Venice, California” and $11,000 in payments related to a Porsche.

The indictment also charges that Biden used a line of credit obtained by his company, Owasco, to illicitly pay for a wide array of personal expenses. Among other things, the document lists payments to luxury hotels, a high-fashion clothing manufacturer, a strip club, a pornographic website, apartment rent for one of his daughters, and other services. It alleges that he then attempted to classify those payments as deductible business expenses on his tax filings.

Plea deal fell apart

The indictment, sometimes scathing in its description of Biden’s behavior, is all the more remarkable because, only a few months ago, the special counsel appeared ready to allow the president’s son to evade prosecution.

Court papers filed in June revealed that Biden had struck a preliminary agreement with Weiss to plead guilty to two minor tax misdemeanors and to admit that he was illegally in possession of a handgun in 2018.

However, in August the deal collapsed after Biden’s attorneys and the prosecutor’s team were unable to agree on whether the guilty plea would immunize Biden against prosecution on different tax charges.

With the deal off the table, Weiss requested that Attorney General Merrick Garland grant him the status of special counsel, which allowed him to file charges in federal courts outside his jurisdiction of Delaware.

The gun-related charges were brought in an indictment in Delaware in September, which charged Biden with both illegal possession of a firearm and with falsifying a document that he submitted to the federal government in connection with the purchase of the weapon.

In statements to the news media, Abbe Lowell, Biden’s attorney, said that his client has refiled amended tax returns for the years in question, and has paid what he owed the government in full. Lowell suggested that another American, under the same set of circumstances, would not have been indicted.

“Based on the facts and the law, if Hunter’s last name was anything other than Biden, the charges in Delaware, and now California, would not have been brought,” he said.

Actor Ryan O’Neal, Star of ‘Love Story,’ ‘Paper Moon’ Dies at 82

Ryan O’Neal, the heartthrob actor who went from a TV soap opera to an Oscar-nominated role in Love Story and delivered a wry performance opposite his charismatic 9-year-old daughter, Tatum, in Paper Moon, died Friday, his son said.

“My dad passed away peacefully today, with his loving team by his side supporting him and loving him as he would us,” Patrick O’Neal, a Los Angeles sportscaster, posted on Instagram.

Attempts to reach O’Neal representatives were not immediately successful.

No cause of death was given. Ryan O’Neal was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2012, a decade after he was first diagnosed with chronic leukemia. He was 82.

“My father, Ryan O’Neal, has always been my hero,” Patrick O’Neal wrote, adding, “He is a Hollywood legend. Full stop.”

O’Neal was among the biggest movie stars in the world in the 1970s, working across genres with many of the era’s most celebrated directors including Peter Bogdanovich on Paper Moon and What’s Up, Doc? and Stanley Kubrick on Barry Lyndon. He often used his boyish, blond good looks to play men who hid shadowy or sinister backgrounds behind their clean-cut images.

O’Neal maintained a steady television acting career into his 70s in the 2010s, appearing for stints on Bones and Desperate Housewives, but his longtime relationship with Farrah Fawcett and his tumultuous family life kept him in the news.

Twice divorced, O’Neal was romantically involved with Fawcett for nearly 30 years, and they had a son, Redmond, born in 1985. The couple split in 1997 but reunited a few years later. He remained by Fawcett’s side as she battled cancer, which killed her in 2009 at age 62.

With his first wife, Joanna Moore, O’Neal fathered actors Griffin O’Neal and Tatum O’Neal, his co-star in the 1973 movie Paper Moon, for which she won an Oscar for best supporting actress. He had son Patrick with his second wife, Leigh Taylor-Young.

Ryan O’Neal had his own best-actor Oscar nomination for the 1970 tear-jerker drama Love Story, co-starring Ali MacGraw, about a young couple who fall in love, marry and discover she is dying of cancer. The movie includes the memorable, but often satirized line: “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”

The actor had at times strained relationships with three of his children, including estrangement from his daughter, squabbles with son Griffin and a drug-related arrest sparked by a probation check of his son Redmond. The personal drama often over-shadowed his later career, although his attempts to reconcile with Tatum O’Neal were turned into a short-lived reality series.

Love Story is what made him a movie star.

The romantic melodrama was the highest-grossing film of 1970, became one of Paramount Pictures’ biggest hits and collected seven Oscar nominations, including one for best picture. It won for best music.

O’Neal then starred for Bogdanovich as a bumbling professor opposite Barbra Streisand in the 1972 screwball comedy What’s Up, Doc?

“So sad to hear the news of Ryan O’Neal’s passing,” Streisand, who also starred with O’Neal in the 1979 boxing romcom The Main Event, posted on Instagram. “He was funny and charming, and he will be remembered.”

The year after What’s Up, Doc? Bogdanovich cast him in the Depression-era con artist comedy Paper Moon.

In it, O’Neal played an unscrupulous Bible salesman preying on widows he located through obituary notices. His real-life daughter, Tatum, played a trash-talking, cigarette-smoking orphan who needs his help — and eventually helps redeem him.

Although critics praised both actors, the little girl’s brash performance overshadowed her father’s and made her the youngest person in history to win a regular Academy Award. She was 10 when the award was presented in 1974.

The elder O’Neal’s next major film was Kubrick’s 18th century epic Barry Lyndon, in which he played a poor Irish rogue who traveled Europe trying to pass himself off as an aristocrat.

Central Asian Trade Corridor Gains Interest Amid Regional Tensions

The emergence of a Middle Corridor — a transit network linking Asia with European markets by way of Central Asia, the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus — is rapidly gaining momentum as an alternative to Russia-controlled routes.

While the Trans-Caspian routes, also sometimes referred to as the China-Central Asia-West Asia Corridor, have come into their own over the past 30 years, Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine has prompted a significant increase in traffic over the routes.

Gaidar Abdikerimov, who heads the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route (TITR) association, reports that his network now comprises 25 transport and logistics companies including ports, vessels, railways and terminals. Its members also include 11 countries: Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Turkey, Ukraine, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Lithuania, China and Singapore.

“This all means that there is a high interest in our route,” Abdikerimov said in a recent forum at the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute (CACI) in Washington. He told the audience that over the past 10 months, more than 2.256 million tons of cargo have been transported over the route.

Abdikerimov’s office is based in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan. The oil-rich republic stretches from China’s northwestern frontier to the Caspian Sea, where cargo can be offloaded onto ships and carried to Azerbaijan in the Caucasus.

“We have decreased the estimated delivery time of transit container trains from 38 days to 19 days,” he said.

The World Bank stressed the “catalyzing potential” of the Middle Corridor in a November 27 report that focused on its beneficial impact on Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Georgia – Azerbaijan’s western neighbor providing access to the Black Sea.

“There was indeed a spike in the volume of traffic in 2022,” said Charles Kunaka, a lead transport specialist at the World Bank. “We see the Middle Corridor as adding to the resilience of the transport networks across the region, and especially connectivity between Europe, Central Asia, and East Asia.”

The World Bank foresees two major types of commerce flowing through the Middle Corridor, the first being trade between China and Europe.

“We see this type of trade as being relatively elastic. And we saw this in the immediate aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, that most of this trade initially switched to the Middle Corridor,” Kunaka said in a presentation to the CACI forum.

“But after some time, because of the constraints that still affect the performance of the Middle Corridor, we see some of this trade switching to maritime transport, for instance.”

The second flow is within the region itself, which the World Bank sees as a “more solid foundation for the development of the Middle Corridor.” Much of the traffic in this category involves fertilizers, minerals and grains.

Kunaka underscored the importance of collaboration among governments, the private sector, development banks and other relevant institutions if the route is to overcome several obstacles to its continued growth, including logistical and bureaucratic bottlenecks.

Grievances expressed by stakeholders in the project include high costs, unreliability, bottlenecks, poor service quality and a lack of transparency and traceability, he said.

Digitalization and the use of electronic documents by both the railways and on the Caspian Sea would ease the process, Kanaka suggested.

“A combination of investments and efficiency measures can reduce travel times along the corridor by half and triple trade flows by 2030,” said the World Bank report. “A fully functioning corridor would help to shield China-Europe trade and supply chains from shocks.”

Abdikerimov agreed, stressing that the Trans-Caspian routes must also connect with the Black Sea ports.

“Speed, quality service, sustainability and safety. We are systematically going towards these goals,” he said at the CACI forum.

Brenda Shaffer of the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, believes the World Bank study is an indication that “the Middle Corridor is increasingly of interest to multiple stakeholders.”

Speaking on the same virtual panel as Abdikerimov, Shaffer described an emerging alliance among Turkey, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, pointing to a growing convergence in the messaging of these countries’ diplomats in Washington and other capitals.

She thinks the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “created a security threat to the region, especially to those that border Russia, such as Kazakhstan.”

For Shaffer, Turkey is a unique player, steadily boosting its role in the Caspian region.

By backing Azerbaijan during its invasion to reconquer the unrecognized republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, which had been under the de facto control of ethnic Armenians since the early 1990s, Ankara demonstrated “that cooperation with Turkey can have meaningful security benefits.”

She also expects Turkmenistan’s gas exports — currently directed mainly toward China — to shift westward.

“Increasing volumes of oil are going across the Caspian in various forms of small tankers,” she said, adding that all sides find it in their interests to increase those volumes significantly.

“Turkmenistan is dealing with potential demand destruction or lack of reliability of demand from China, surprisingly, for gas. As Russia increases its gas exports to China, they’re cheaper,” Shaffer said.

CACI’s Mamuka Tsereteli urges the U.S. government to focus on the value of increasing connectivity across the Black and Caspian seas through Central Asia and beyond.

“For Central and Eastern European states with a decades-long dependency on Russian resources in Russia-linked infrastructure, South Caucasus and Central Asia are major potential alternatives,” Tsereteli said.

Tsereteli hopes the United States and the EU will help in the development of the Middle Corridor, pointing out that Central Asia is also a large market for Western goods and services.

Kazakhstan’s Abdikerimov underlined that “Russia is definitely not fond of this Middle Corridor,” even though the goal has never been to avoid or exclude it. He said the Trans-Caspian transport network he oversees has always had its eyes on Turkey, North Africa and Southern Europe.

UNLV Gunman Had List of Targets at University, Police Say

The 67-year-old gunman who killed three faculty members and wounded a fourth in a roughly 10-minute rampage at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, had a list of targets at the school and more than 150 rounds of ammunition, police said Thursday. 

Clark County Sheriff Kevin McMahill identified the suspect, who was killed in a shootout with police, as Anthony Polito, a longtime business professor who was living in nearby Henderson, Nevada. The sheriff said at a news conference that investigators were still looking into a motive but noted that Polito had applied for several jobs at various colleges and universities in Nevada but was denied the job each time. 

However, Roseman University of Health Sciences in Henderson said Polito had an adjunct faculty contract and taught two courses in the school’s Master of Business Administration program from October 2018 to June 2022. He left when the program was discontinued, said Jason Roth, a spokesperson for the school. 

McMahill said targets on Polito’s list also included faculty members at East Carolina University in North Carolina, where Polito was a professor at the university’s business school from 2001 to 2017. 

“None of the individuals on the target list became a victim,” McMahill said, adding that police have contacted everyone on the suspect’s list, except for one person who is on a flight.

Before the shooting, Polito also mailed 22 letters to university faculty members across the U.S., according to footage reviewed by detectives from a dashcam in Polito’s vehicle, McMahill said. 

Some envelopes contained an unknown white powder that was later found to be harmless, police said. 

Terrified students and professors cowered in classrooms and offices as the gunman roamed the top three floors of UNLV’s five-story Lee Business School around lunchtime Wednesday.

Polito arrived at UNLV about 15 minutes before the shooting in a 2007 Lexus, McMahill said. He exited his car, placed items in his waistband and then entered the business school just after 11:30 a.m. The first reports of gunfire came about 15 minutes later, McMahill said.

The sheriff said the rampage ended around 11:55 a.m., when Polito left the business school and was confronted by police outside the building.

The suspect’s weapon, a 9 mm handgun, was purchased legally last year, McMahill said.

Police were still investigating how many rounds were fired during the attack. But the sheriff said that due to the sheer amount of ammunition in the gunman’s possession, he believed Polito may have been headed to the student union, which is next to the business school, when university police officers found him, and he was killed in the shootout. 

McMahill said the shooter brought 11 magazines with him to the campus, and police found nine of them on the shooter after he was killed.

It wasn’t immediately clear how many of the school’s 30,000 students were on campus at the time, but McMahill said students had been gathered outside the building and the student union to eat and play games. If police hadn’t killed the attacker, “it could have been countless additional lives taken,” he said. 

The victims

UNLV President Keith E. Whitfield identified two of the victims who were killed as business school professors Patricia Navarro-Velez and Cha Jan “Jerry” Chang. Whitfield said the name of the third victim will be released after relatives have been notified of the death. 

In a letter to students and staff, Whitfield said that the shooting “was the most difficult day in the history of our university.” 

The wounded man, a 38-year-old visiting professor, was still hospitalized Thursday. McMahill said his condition had been “downgraded to life-threatening” from critical. 

Navarro-Velez, 39, was an accounting professor who held a Ph.D. and was currently focused on research in cybersecurity disclosures and data analytics, according to the school’s website.

Chang, 64, was an associate professor in the business school’s Management, Entrepreneurship & Technology department and had been teaching at UNLV since 2001. He held degrees from Taiwan, Central Michigan University and Texas A&M University, according to his online resume. He earned a Ph.D. in management information systems from the University of Pittsburgh.

The attack at UNLV terrified a city that experienced the deadliest shooting in modern U.S. history in October 2017, when a gunman killed 60 people and wounded more than 400 after opening fire from the window of a high-rise suite at Mandalay Bay on the Las Vegas Strip, just miles from the UNLV campus.

The suspect

Authorities on Thursday said Polito appeared to be struggling financially. When they arrived at his apartment Wednesday night to search the property, McMahill said, they found an eviction notice taped to his front door. Inside the apartment, detectives found a chair with an arrow pointing down to a document “similar to a last will and testament,” McMahill said, though the sheriff did not provide specifics on the contents of that document.

It wasn’t immediately clear how long Polito had been living in the Las Vegas area. He resigned from East Carolina University as a tenured associate professor, according to a statement Thursday from the university.

One of Polito’s former students at East Carolina, Paul Whittington, said Polito seemed obsessive over anonymous student reviews at the end of each semester.

Polito told Whittington’s class that he remembered the faces of students who gave him bad reviews and would express that he was sure who they were and where they sat, pointing at seats in the classroom, Whittington said.

“He always talked about the negative feedback he got,” said Whittington, now 33, who took Polito’s intro to operations management class in 2014. “He didn’t get a lot of it, but there would always be one student every semester, or at least one student every class, that would give a negative review. And he fixated on those.”

Classes at UNLV were canceled through Friday, and the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo canceled events that were scheduled Thursday night at the Thomas & Mack Center at UNLV. 

Kremlin Propaganda on Uptick in Latin America

Javier Vrox, the host of a political program on a YouTube channel in Chile who constantly monitors social networks in his country, recently noticed an uptick in pro-Russian political messaging, which had already been common in the country.

“They copy and paste the same messages on social media — that [Ukrainian President Volodymyr] Zelenskyy is an actor, that he is a funny president; they copy those videos of Zelensky’s past TV series, making the point that he is an actor and a liar.”

According to Vrox, such reports aim to convince Chileans that Ukrainians only pretend to be victims of Russian aggression but are themselves a regional threat, and that NATO and the United States, by that logic, are its partners and equally hostile to Chile while Russia is a reliable ally.

“I think they’re doing a great job of tagging influencers, people from Twitter, now X, to share video messages and posts … to create the idea that if you’re a friend of the U.S., you’re an enemy to Chile,” said Vrox, who added that some posts referred to Ukrainian leaders as “Nazis,” even though Zelenskyy himself is Jewish.

These sentiments are not shared by Chilean President Gabriel Boric, who has publicly condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin for invading Ukraine and met with Zelenskyy in September 2023 during the U.N. General Assembly in New York to discuss a possible Ukraine-Latin America summit.

“Chileans don’t really support Ukraine; they think that Ukrainians are trying to manipulate the media to look like victims,” said Vrox. But “Boric supports Zelenskyy’s government, so a weird situation has developed.”

Well-funded network

James Rubin, the U.S. State Department’s Global Engagement Center special envoy and coordinator, agreed in an interview with VOA last month that Russia is “covertly co-opting local media and influencers to spread disinformation and propaganda” in Latin America.

In a public statement issued on November 7, the State Department said Russia “is currently financing an ongoing, well-funded disinformation campaign across Latin America,” spanning at least 13 countries, from Argentina and Chile in the south all the way to Mexico in the north.

“A cultivated group of editorial staff would be organized in a Latin American country, most likely in Chile, with several local individuals and representatives — journalists and public opinion leaders — of various countries in the region,” the statement said.

“A team in Russia would then create content and send the material to the editorial staff in Latin America for review, editing, and ultimately publication in local mass media.”

Christopher Hernandez-Roy of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, or CSIS, said Russia has a “legacy of propaganda” in the region going back to the Cold War.

Hernandez-Roy is a CSIS Americas Program deputy director and senior fellow.

The Soviets, he said, were “supporting revolutionary movements throughout the region, including military support in the case of Cuba, Nicaragua and other places, Central America in general, in the 70s and 80s.”

The annexation of Crimea in 2014, he said, became the starting point of a new wave of disinformation in the region.

“It’s around then that you start to see maybe an uptick in Russia’s influence or trying to influence narratives in the Western Hemisphere,” he told VOA. “In those three years — 2014, 2015 and 2016 — you start to see, for instance, ‘Russia Today’ coming online in Chile and Mexico, and I think in Argentina, as well.”

According to an October report by the United States Institute of Peace, Actualidad RT (Russia Today in Spanish) and Sputnik Mundo are the key purveyors of Russian state media in the region. Hernandez-Roy said these two media organizations have about 32 million regular listeners in Latin America, which has 667 million inhabitants.

“So, [even] 30 million is quite significant, and those are [merely] the overt ways,” he said. “Russia has a much more sophisticated apparatus than just simply its visible media outlets, [such as] using social media, sympathetic journalists, sympathetic influencers and Russian automated bots on social media. It can amplify its messages, which then are picked up by other sympathetic mechanisms.”

“We know [Actualidad RT] have offices in Havana, Buenos Aires and Caracas,” said Armando Daniel Armas, a Venezuelan opposition politician currently living in Europe. “We know that [Actualidad RT] have over 200 Spanish-speaking, let’s say, journalists working in Moscow … who allocate resources to find professional people, good people with content” to perpetuate Russian narratives on the ground in Latin American.

The object, according to U.S. officials, is to have Russian public relations and internet companies recruit and cultivate Latin American journalists, influencers and public opinion leaders to seed their publications and broadcasts with content favorable to Moscow while hiding any links to the Kremlin.

“They’ve been somewhat successful in using RT and Sputnik in Latin America,” Rubin told VOA in November. “The difference here is they’re trying to operate surreptitiously. They’re trying to create content in Russia and launder it through Latin American journalists. They are covertly co-opting local media and influencers to spread disinformation and propaganda.”

U.S. officials said it is unclear how many of the journalists and opinion leaders are aware they are being fed Russian disinformation, although a senior State Department official told VOA, “There are definitely some willing participants.”

Others involved in the network may be sympathetic to the Russian viewpoints but unaware that the directions are coming from Moscow.

Russia’s ultimate objective, said Hernandez-Roy, is to convince people in Latin America that Moscow is not the only one to blame — that there’s blame on both sides in a war caused by the U.S. and NATO.

“Essentially, what they’re trying to do is to make sure that the region is neutral,” said Hernandez-Roy. “We’re not talking about Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, which, of course, are completely on the Russian side.”

Soft diplomacy

Yuriy Polyukhovych, Ukraine’s ambassador to Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, points to another asset utilized to influence opinions in Latin American that Moscow has used since Soviet times: its diplomatic corps.

“Russian ambassadors, Russian embassies here are a part of Russia’s propaganda machine,” he told VOA. “They’ve been doing their work for many years. These are not embassies of four or five persons. These embassies have 60, 70, 80 people each. Imagine what can be done with such a group of people! According to our information, some work for the intelligence service.”

At the same time, said Ukrainian Ambassador to Argentina Yuriy Klymenko, the Russian war against Ukraine at least somewhat undermined Russia’s standing in Latin America, presenting a diplomatic opportunity for the United States and its allies.

“From my experience, it is now considered bad manners to invite representatives of Russia to diplomatic or other public events,” he told VOA.

Yuriy Polyukhovych once called Latin America a region of “contact diplomacy,” emphasizing the need to work directly with local populations to counteract Russian influence. Hernandez-Roy suggested the U.S. project more soft power in the region.

“The U.S. used to project much more soft power decades ago than today,” he said. “Soft power means people-to-people exchanges, more high-level visits, cultural interchanges.”

Kyiv, he said, should allocate more resources to the region and conduct active diplomacy with high-level visits and ambassadors to counter Russian narratives.

This story originated in VOA’s Ukrainian Service. VOA National Security Correspondent Jeff Seldin contributed reporting.

US Funding to Counter China in Pacific in Limbo

Funding to counter China in the Pacific is now caught in the congressional battle in Washington over foreign aid and border security. The White House calls the package a “critical component” of its national security. And as VOA’s Jessica Stone reports, time is running out to lock in an economic and security relationship between the United States and three strategic Pacific Island nations. Camera: Yu Chen, Jessica Stone, Saqib Ul Islam

The Geopolitics of the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict

Rights Group Claims Company Intimidates Communities Along Tanzania-Uganda Oil Pipeline

The French oil company TotalEnergies coerces and intimidates communities affected by the $5 billion East African Crude Oil Pipeline project in Tanzania and Uganda, a human rights organization said this week.

Residents along the 1,443-kilometer (870-mile) pipeline route are forced to accept inadequate compensation for their land, according to Global Witness, a human rights and environmental organization.

Global Witness accused TotalEnergies of collaborating with Tanzanian and Ugandan authorities to suppress efforts by communities seeking accurate compensation for land taken for the oil pipeline.

The pipeline route stretches from Tanzania’s port city of Tanga to Lake Albert in Uganda.

TotalEnergies has denied the allegations.

Neither country has commented on the report, but previous criticism, including that from Human Rights Watch and court cases against the displacement and abuses, has not stopped or affected the project.

The Global Witness report

Hanna Hindstrom, a senior investigator in the Global Witness land and environmental defender campaign, told VOA that TotalEnergies is directly involved in human rights violations.

“We found evidence suggesting that TotalEnergies, through its subsidiary, its contractors and partners, has been party to intimidation and bullying of community members affected by the project,” Hindstrom said. “Many people we spoke to say they were pressured into accepting compensation for their land and their property that they felt was too low as a result of a climate of fear in both countries.”

She said the company benefits from the authoritarian political environment in Tanzania and Uganda in which environmental defenders find it “all but impossible to speak up against fossil fuel development.”

Global Witness said it spoke to activists, experts, journalists and more than 200 people affected by the multibillion-dollar project.

Farmer Jealousy Mugisha, 51, is one of many people who said they are losing their land to pave the way for the pipeline.

The father of seven told VOA he lost his land twice. First, in 2017, when more than a dozen hectares were taken for a processing plant used as an oil collection point. Then, in 2019, he lost 2½ hectares in the pipeline route.

He refused any compensation offered to him, saying it was not enough.

“Our target is not that we want to sabotage a government program or oil project program,” Mugisha said, “but … we need them to respect our rights. … [People’s] land was taken, and now they are suffering.”

He said, “We need to get fair compensation, adequate compensation and promotive compensation. That is the only thing we are claiming.”

Land use and compensation

According to the East African Crude Oil Pipeline project, in the first phase of land acquisition, landowners could continue to use their land. The landowners said they were allowed to plant seasonal agricultural produce such as corn and sweet potatoes.

Further into the project, compensation to the evicted owners was calculated with a “disturbance allowance” and an increase to reflect the time elapsed since original surveys of the land, according to project documents.

Some landowners filed cases challenging the evictions and low compensation in a local court and a French court.

TotalEnergies has denied allegations they have intimidated anyone affected by the project. The oil firm says it has instituted numerous support mechanisms to ensure that those affected sign agreements only of their own free will.

The company also said it treats the people’s concerns with the utmost seriousness.

Harassment and intimidation reported

Maxwell Atuhura, head of Tasha Research Institute in Uganda and an environmental activist, said he came under attack for challenging the pipeline project.

“My field office was closed … and [I was] given two hours to leave the place, to leave my own district, my own area,” he said. “The security man working for an oil company is telling me that ‘I’m giving you a few hours to leave the district.’ Where do you want me to go?”

Atuhura said he also has been harassed.

“Since then, they started trailing me, and my phone is surveilled,” he said. “I started seeing the experience of my house being broken into.”

About 80% of the project will be in Tanzania, with the rest in Uganda. Global Witness said the oil pipeline, for which construction began this year after years of delay, will cut across wildlife habitats, protected areas and Indigenous land.

The pipeline project said that Tanzania and Uganda regulators have approved the environmental and societal impacts, and that the project seeks to avoid populated and environmentally sensitive areas.

Global Witness has called for an official investigation of the alleged rights abuses.

Moldovan Aid Organizations Fear Aid Shortages as Ukrainian Refugee Numbers Remain High

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year hit Europe like a boulder thrown into a pond, creating large waves of Ukrainian refugees rippling across nations. Like a good neighbor, the tiny nation of Moldova answered Ukraine’s calls for help, but UNHCR, the U.N. Refugee Agency, warned Friday countries like Moldova and Poland “may be forced to cut essential activities” without drastically increased funding. VOA’s Carla Babb reports from the Moldovan capital, Chisinau. Camera:  Ricardo Marquina

About 7 Mortar Rounds Land in US Embassy Compound in Baghdad, Official Says

Approximately 7 mortar rounds landed in the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad during an attack early on Friday, a U.S. military official told Reuters, disclosing a far larger attack than previously known. 

The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, left open the possibility that more projectiles were fired at the embassy compound but did not land within it. 

The official said the attack caused very minor damage but no injuries. 

Republicans Split on Whether Trump Would Be ‘Dictator’ if Reelected

As part of his campaign for a second term as U.S. president, Donald Trump and his allies say the former president — if he wins — would use federal law enforcement to punish his political enemies and restructure the federal government to streamline implementation of his policies.

While Democrats have been virtually unanimous in their concerns about a second Trump presidency, warning that it would be tantamount to a “dictatorship,” the reaction among Republicans has been sharply divergent. Some in the Republican Party are raising an alarm, while others downplay Trump’s rhetoric, suggesting that concerns about it are overblown.

A key distinction, though, is that most of the Republicans expressing concerns about Trump’s authoritarian tendencies are either no longer in office or have announced their retirement, which suggests that resistance to the former president’s expressed preferences may not be a tenable position in the modern-day Republican Party.

Revenge and retribution

In recent weeks, Trump has promised his supporters that he will be their “retribution” if he retakes the White House, and has used language reminiscent of the worst of European fascism in the 1930s and 1940s, calling his political opponents “vermin” and warning that immigrants are “poisoning the blood” of the United States.

Trump has also expressed interest in reclassifying broad swaths of the federal workforce — tens of thousands of career civil servants — as “Schedule F” employees whom he could fire at will. A coalition of conservative think tanks, spearheaded by the Heritage Foundation, is currently “vetting” thousands of Trump supporters who are interested in serving in a second Trump administration and who could be expected to faithfully carry out his wishes.

Trump has also promised to take specific steps, including “going after” President Joe Biden and his family with a “special prosecutor,” and has suggested that news outlets critical of him should be silenced.

Trump’s closest supporters have echoed his threats. In an interview with former Trump White House adviser Steve Bannon this week, Kash Patel, a former Defense Department official during the Trump administration, said that in a second Trump term, “We will go out and find the conspirators, not just in government but in the media …

“Yes, we’re going to come after the people in the media who lied about American citizens, who helped Joe Biden rig presidential elections — we’re going to come after you. Whether it’s criminally or civilly, we’ll figure that out.”

“This is just not rhetoric,” Bannon added. “We’re absolutely dead serious.”

A one-day dictator?

As recently as Tuesday in a Fox News interview with Sean Hannity, Trump was given the opportunity to allay concerns that he would behave like a dictator if reelected.

“To be clear, do you in any way have any plans whatsoever if reelected president, to abuse power, to break the law, to use the government to go after people?” Hannity asked.

“You mean like they’re using right now?” Trump replied, and did not answer the question.

A few minutes later, Hannity tried again, “Under no circumstances, you are promising America tonight, you would never abuse power as retribution against anybody?”

“We love this guy,” Trump replied. “He says, ‘You’re not going to be a dictator, are you?’ I said, ‘No, no, no. Other than Day One. We’re closing the border, and we’re drilling, drilling, drilling. After that, I’m not a dictator. OK?”

The Trump campaign did not respond to an emailed request asking for clarification of his remarks.

Republicans issue warnings

In the Republican presidential primary debate on Wednesday, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie painted a dire picture of what he thinks another Trump presidency would look like.

“This is an angry, bitter man who now wants to be back as president because he wants to exact retribution on anyone who has disagreed with him, anyone who has tried to hold him to account for his own conduct, and every one of these policies that he’s talking about are about pursuing a plan of retribution,” Christie said.

“Do I think he was kidding when he said he was a dictator?” Christie continued. “All you have to do is look at the history, and that’s why failing to speak out against him, making excuses for him, pretending that somehow he’s a victim empowers him. …

“Let me make it clear: His conduct is unacceptable. He’s unfit. And be careful of what you’re going to get if you ever got another Donald Trump term. He’s letting you know, ‘I am your retribution.'”

Trump was not on the stage, having declined to participate in any of the primary debates. The other three Republicans on the debate stage, former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy, avoided any sharp criticism of the former president, who retains a commanding lead in polls of likely primary voters.

‘Sleepwalking into a dictatorship’

Christie’s concerns have been echoed by other Republicans such as Utah Senator and 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who told The Washington Post this week that Trump’s base seems to want him to behave like an authoritarian.

“His base loves the authoritarian streak,” Romney said. “I think they love the idea that he may use the military in domestic matters, and that he will seek revenge and retribution. That’s why he’s saying it and has the lock, nearly, on the Republican nomination.” In September, Romney announced that he will not be running for reelection next year.

Former Wyoming Representative Liz Cheney, who has been a vocal critic of Trump and served on the House panel that investigated the January 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol, told CBS News last weekend that she has no doubts about what a second Trump presidency would look like.

“One of the things that we see happening today is sort of sleepwalking into a dictatorship in the United States,” she said.

Not a serious threat

Current Republican officeholders who are supportive of the former president often downplay his suggestion that he will use the levers of governmental power to punish his critics.

During Wednesday’s debate, for example, DeSantis dismissed concerns about Trump behaving as an authoritarian during a second term.

“Look, the media’s making a big deal about what he said about some of these comments,” he said. “I would just remind people that is not how he governed.”

Senator Lindsey Graham has said publicly he believes Trump’s comments to Hannity were meant to be “funny.” In an interview with CNN on Sunday, Graham disputed Cheney’s assertions about how Trump will behave in office, saying they stem from her personal animosity toward the former president.

“I think a continuation of the Biden presidency would be a disaster for peace and prosperity at home and abroad,” Graham said. “Our border is broken. The only person who is really going to fix a broken border is Donald Trump. When he was president, none of this stuff was going on in Ukraine. Hamas and all these other terrorist groups were afraid of Trump.”

Asked to comment on Trump’s statement that he would be a one-day dictator, Republican Senator Thom Tillis said, “He said he would do two things: He would close the border and drill. Everybody could say that’s abusing power. I think that’s a righteous use of power, and President Biden’s failed on it.”

‘Autocrats always tell you who they are’

Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a professor at New York University and author of “Strongmen: From Mussolini to the Present,” warned against the danger of dismissing Trump’s rhetoric as unserious or flippant.

“Everything Donald Trump says should be taken seriously,” she wrote in an email exchange with VOA. “Autocrats always tell you who they are and what they are going to do. In this case, Trump is saying clearly he has aspirations to be a dictator, which is unsurprising given his incitement of a coup to stay in office illegally and given his open adulation of others of his tribe such as [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and [Chinese President] Xi [Jinping].”

Kurt Braddock, an assistant professor of Communications at American University who studies the connection between political language and violence, said that downplaying Trump’s rhetoric allows much of what the former president says to become “normalized” with the general public.

“They’ve been saying he’s ‘just joking’ for seven years now,” Braddock told VOA. “And whether he’s just joking or not is immaterial as far as I’m concerned. People interpret it, or some segment of the population interprets it, as being truthful.”

“When there’s a population that admires somebody as much as some individuals admire Trump, the normalization of this kind of language promotes positive attitudes about the kinds of things it implies,” Braddock said.

“So if he jokes about being a dictator, or jokes about implied violence against political enemies, the more he does that the more it kind of becomes part of our normal vocabulary.”

US Deals with Allies Signal Concerns Over China’s Disinformation Campaign

Western foreign policy experts are welcoming recent U.S. agreements to jointly tackle foreign disinformation with Seoul and Tokyo, saying they are needed to counter Chinese efforts to undermine liberal democracies through the spread of fake news.

The U.S. signed a Memorandum of Cooperation with Japan in Tokyo on Wednesday “to identify and counter foreign information manipulation,” according to a State Department statement.

The agreement follows a Memorandum of Understanding signed with South Korea in Seoul on Friday to cooperate in their efforts to tackle foreign disinformation. The agreements, the first designed to fight disinformation, were made during an Asia trip by Liz Allen, the U.S. undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs.

They are designed to “demonstrate the seriousness with which the United States is working with its partners to defend the information space,” according to the State Department’s Wednesday statement, which did not specify any nations as threats.

In response, Liu Pengyu, a spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, told VOA on Tuesday that he wants to stress that “China always opposes the creation and spread of disinformation.”

He said, “What I have seen is that there is a lot of disinformation about China on social media in the U.S. Some U.S. officials, lawmakers, media and organizations have produced and spread a large amount of false information against China without any evidence, ignoring basic facts.”

The agreements the U.S. made with its allies are “a deliberate acknowledgment of the threats posed by China,” said David Maxwell, vice president of the Center for Asia Pacific Strategy.

“Disinformation is part of a deliberate long-term political warfare campaign by China to subvert the democracies of the U.S., the ROK and Japan as well as to undermine the alliance relationships to prevent unified action against China,” Maxwell said, using the acronym for South Korea’s official name, Republic of Korea.

China is seemingly accelerating its social media operation aimed at influencing the U.S. election in 2024.

Meta, parent company of Facebook and Instagram, announced on Nov. 30 that it took down 4,789 Facebook accounts based in China that were impersonating Americans, including politicians, and posting messages about U.S. politics and U.S.-China relations.

In the report on adversarial threats, Meta said China is the third-most-common source of foreign disinformation after Russia and Iran.

Dennis Wilder, a senior fellow for the Initiative for U.S.-China Dialogue on Global Issues at Georgetown University, said, “The Chinese, Russians, and others seek to disrupt the normal give and take of our political discourse.”

Wilder, formerly National Security Council director for China in 2004-05 during the George W. Bush administration, continued to say the agreements Washington made with Seoul and Tokyo are “a significant step forward” as “democracies must work together” to offset “disinformation designed to influence electorate and sow overall dissent within our open political systems.”

Beijing appears to be spreading anti-U.S. and pro-China messages in South Korea as well.

South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) announced Nov. 13 it had identified and taken down 38 fake Korean-language news sites operated by two Chinese public relations firms, Haimai and Haixun.

South Korea’s National Cyber Security Center, which is overseen by NIS, released a report on the same day describing the kind of propaganda that the firms disseminated through the fake news sites by posing as members of the Korean Digital News Association. The organization oversees the copyrights of news articles posted by its members.

Using news site names such as Seoul Press with the corresponding domain name as and Busan Online with, Haimai has been disseminating disinformation and operating the sites from China, according to the report. Busan is South Korea’s second-largest city.

An article on Daegu Journal, another illicit site Haimai was running, stated in June that nuclear wastewater released from Japan would affect the South Korean food supply chain.

The National Cyber Security Center report also noted that U.S.-based cybersecurity firm Mandiant, owned by Google, released a report in July accusing Haimai of operating 72 fraudulent websites to spread anti-U.S. messages.

Cho Han-Bum, a senior research fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification, told VOA’s Korean Service on Tuesday that “China and North Korea have been attempting in various ways to influence South Korea’s public opinion.”

He said the influence campaign could affect South Korean politics and therefore Seoul’s relations with Beijing or its stance on Pyongyang.

Kim Hyungjin in Seoul contributed to this report.

Japan Pledges $4.5 Billion to Ukraine

Japan has pledged $4.5 billion to Ukraine for its war against Russia, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced Thursday, $1 billion of which is designated for humanitarian aid.

“Japan is consistent and very principled in its support of our country and our people, and I am grateful for this assistance,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his daily address Thursday.  He said Japan’s decision to support Ukraine was “very timely and much-needed.”

A Russian drone attack killed one person and damaged port infrastructure in Ukraine’s Odesa region, the regional governor said Thursday.

Oleh Kiper said Odesa was under attack for two hours, and that while air defenses shot down most of the Russian drones involved, some of them made it through.

He identified the victim as a truck driver, and said the drone attack damaged a warehouse, elevator and trucks near the Danube River.

Ukraine’s military said Russia’s aerial attack involved a total of 18 drones targeting Odesa in southern Ukraine and the Khmelnytskyi region in the western part of the country.

Ukrainian air defenses shot down 15 of the 18 drones, the military said.

U.S. aid

Republican lawmakers in the U.S. Senate on Wednesday blocked $110 billion in aid for Ukraine and Israel, as well as some security measures for the U.S. southern border.

U.S. President Joe Biden had asked Congress for almost $106 billion to fund the wars and border needs.

The vote Wednesday was 49 votes in favor and 51 against, leaving the measure short of the 60 votes needed in order to proceed.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who supports Ukraine aid, told his party members to reject the aid package because it did not include policy changes, something lawmakers have fought over for years.

Earlier Wednesday, Biden implored Congress to approve more arms aid for Ukraine, saying that failing to pass the assistance would be the “greatest gift” the United States could hand Russian President Vladimir Putin in Putin’s nearly two-year war against the neighboring country.

At the same time, the U.S. Defense Department announced new security assistance for Ukraine that is the Biden administration’s 52nd allotment of equipment for Ukraine since August 2021. It contains air defense capabilities, artillery ammunition, anti-tank weapons and other equipment.

The $175 million military aid package includes guided missiles for the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, anti-armor systems, and high-speed anti-radiation missiles, according to the Pentagon and State Department.

Speaking briefly at the White House, the U.S. leader said that if Putin defeats Ukraine, “it won’t stop there,” and Moscow would invade neighboring NATO countries the U.S. is legally bound to defend.

“If NATO is attacked,” Biden said, “We’ll have American troops fighting Russian troops. We can’t let Putin win.”

With the new tranche of aid, Biden emphasized in a statement that “security assistance for Ukraine is a smart investment in our national security. It helps to prevent a larger war in the region and deter potential aggression elsewhere.”

Some Republican lawmakers in both the Senate and House of Representatives say they will not approve the additional Ukraine assistance without adopting much stricter U.S.-Mexico border controls, such as blocking all illegal migration.

Biden said, “I support real solutions at the border … to fix the broken immigration system,” but called for a compromise with opposition Republicans, not blanket acceptance of shutting the border, one of the demands of some Republicans.

The president said Republicans “have to decide whether they want a political solution or a real solution. This has to be a compromise.”

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

Mortality Rate Higher for Black Moms Than White Moms in Mississippi, Study Says

Black people make up about 38% of Mississippi’s population, but a new study shows that Black women were four times more likely to die of causes directly related to pregnancy than white women in the state in 2020.

“It is imperative that this racial inequity is not only recognized, but that concerted efforts are made at the institutional, community, and state levels to reduce these disparate outcomes,” wrote Dr. Michelle Owens and Dr. Courtney Mitchell, leaders of the Maternal Mortality Review Committee that conducted the study.

The Mississippi State Department of Health published the findings Wednesday.

The committee said 80% of pregnancy-related deaths in Mississippi between 2016 and 2020 were considered preventable, and cardiovascular disease and hypertension remain top contributors to maternal mortality.

Women need comprehensive primary care before, during and after pregnancy, but many people live in areas where health care services are scarce, Owens and Mitchell wrote.

“A substantial portion of this care is being shouldered by smaller hospitals with limited resources, many of whom are facing possible closure and limiting or discontinuing the provision of obstetrical services, further increasing the burdens borne by the individuals and their communities,” they wrote.

The Maternal Mortality Review Committee was formed in 2017, and its members include physicians, nurses, public health experts and others who work in health care.

The committee found that from 2016 to 2020, Mississippi’s pregnancy-related mortality rate was 35.2 deaths per 100,000 live births. The study did not provide a comparable five-year number for the U.S. but said the national rate was 20.1 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2019 and 32.9 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2020.

Mississippi has long been one of the poorest states in the U.S., with some of the highest rates of obesity and heart disease.

A state health department program called Healthy Moms, Healthy Babies offers care management and home visits for pregnant women and for infants who are at risk of having health problems.

“Losing one mother is too many,” Dr. Daniel Edney, the state health officer, said in a news release about the maternal mortality study.

The committee recommended that Mississippi leaders expand Medicaid to people who work in lower-wage jobs that don’t provide private health insurance — a policy proposal that Republican Gov. Tate Reeves has long opposed.

Earlier this year, Reeves signed a law allowing postpartum Medicaid coverage for a full year, up from two months.

Medicaid expansion is optional under the health care overhaul that then-President Barack Obama signed into law in 2010, and Mississippi is one of 10 states that have not taken the option. The non-expansion states have Republican governors, Republican-controlled Legislatures or both.

“Medicaid expansion should be incorporated for rural hospitals to remain open and include access to telehealth services,” the Maternal Mortality Review Committee leaders wrote. “There is a need for rural healthcare facilities to provide higher levels of critical care, recruit and retain adequate providers, and have access to life saving equipment, especially in the most vulnerable areas of the state.”

The study examined deaths that occurred during or within one year after pregnancy. It defined pregnancy-related deaths as those “initiated by pregnancy, or the aggravation of an unrelated condition by the physiologic effects of pregnancy” and pregnancy-associated deaths as those “from a cause that is not related to pregnancy.”

Pregnancy-related deaths during the five years included 17 homicides and four suicides, plus 26 instances of substance abuse disorder contributing to the maternal death and 30 instances of mental health conditions other than substance abuse disorder contributing to a death.

The study also said obesity contributed to 32 maternal deaths and discrimination contributed to 22. It noted that some pregnancy-related deaths could have more than one contributing factor.

The committee recommended that health care providers develop procedures and training to address maternal patients with severe complaints for the same health concern, including training to eliminate bias or discrimination.

White House and Republicans Stuck in Ukraine Funding Impasse

The Biden administration is running out of time to secure a deal on tens of billions of dollars in wartime aid for Ukraine and Israel that Senate Republicans blocked Wednesday. President Joe Biden has signaled he is willing to compromise on Republicans’ demands on border security to get the package through. But his aides accuse Republicans of ignoring Biden’s proposal. White House Bureau Chief Patsy Widakuswara reports. Camera: Oleksii Osyka. Contributors: Tatiana Vorozhko, Katherine Gypson.

Putin Hails Ties With Iran in Meeting With Raisi 

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday praised his country’s relations with Iran at a meeting in Moscow with his Iranian counterpart, Ebrahim Raisi, as the two discussed the Israel-Hamas war. 

Since launching its assault on Ukraine in February 2022, Moscow has sought to deepen its economic and political ties with Tehran. Both nations have been hit with Western sanctions.

“Our relations are developing very well. Please convey my best wishes to leader [Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei,” Putin told Raisi, referring to Iran’s head of state. 

“Thanks to his support, we have gained good momentum over the past year,” Putin said. 

Western countries have accused Tehran of supporting Russia’s offensive in Ukraine by providing it with large quantities of drones and other weaponry. 

The two also discussed the two-month-long Israel-Hamas war, which has drastically ratcheted up tensions between Israel and Arab states in the Middle East. 

“It is very important for us to exchange views on the situation in the region, especially with regard to the situation in Palestine,” Putin said. 

Putin spoke with Israeli and Arab leaders shortly after the war began and has sought to position himself as a potential peace mediator between the warring sides.

Lviv, the City That Became the Backbone of Ukraine’s Resistance

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the western Ukrainian town of Lviv has become a refuge and transit point for more than 5 million internally displaced Ukrainians. A relatively safe town, Lviv has emerged as the stronghold of Ukraine’s resistance. Myroslava Gongadze narrates the city’s journey in adapting to the challenges posed by the new realities of war. Camera: Yuriy Dankevych. Video editor: Daniil Bratushchak.

Cherokee Nation Chief Speaks to VOA on US Promises, Progress

President Joe Biden convened a two-day summit Wednesday with the heads of more than 300 tribal groups, saying his administration is committed to writing “a new and better chapter of history” for the more than 570 Native American communities in the United States by making it easier for them to access federal funding.

Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. of the Cherokee Nation, one of the largest Indigenous tribes in the United States, spoke to VOA about those efforts and also some of the themes of Native history that are in the forefront today.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

VOA: What are your goals for your half-million citizens at this summit?

Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr.: It’s to press the administration on meeting America’s commitment but also learn more about what their plans are. … The most important thing for the Cherokee Nation, I think — and all tribes — is the efficient deployment of resources, and then allowing tribes to decide how to use those resources. So, a more efficient, streamlined process in terms of getting funding out.

VOA: The Biden administration says it will release at this summit a report card of sorts. What’s your assessment of how the administration has succeeded and where it could do better?

Hoskin: I think overall, it’s been very, very positive. … The bipartisan infrastructure deal has been important for the Cherokee Nation. The American Rescue Plan has enabled us to do things that may seem small to the rest of the world, like putting a cell tower in a community that didn’t have cellphone access, by improving water systems.

VOA: Any criticism?

Hoskin: To the extent that it’s criticism: The federal government’s a big ship, it’s tough to steer. What I have seen over the years is, you get a new administration in, it takes a while for the relationships to be built up, for executive orders on consultation to translate down to agencies.

VOA: President Biden has not made — publicly, at least — any sort of land acknowledgment statement. Is that something you seek?

Hoskin: Reminding the country that there were aboriginal people here before anyone ever heard of the United States, I think that’s important. But I think in terms of what tribal citizens want to see, and what tribal leaders want to see is access to land, control of resources, more land placed into trust for the benefit of Native Americans.

VOA: The current war between Israel and Hamas is also about land. Do you have any advice for President Biden, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during this very tense moment?

Hoskin: I do think there are some parallels. You’re talking about people who say that they’ve been on the land from time immemorial. That’s what we Cherokees say, and we have a history of being dispossessed from our land. I would just remind people that there’s a way to balance rights. I think we’re trying to do that in the United States in terms of Indian Country versus the rest of the country. We haven’t perfected it, but I think we’re making some progress. So, all I would say is the respect and dignity that every human being deserves ought to be on display anytime you’re having these sorts of situations. That’s a difficult sentiment to express in the midst of some real difficulties.

VOA: Adversaries of the U.S. have weaponized the well-documented suffering of Native Americans, saying the U.S. doesn’t have the moral high ground on the world stage.

Hoskin: Certainly it would be accurate to say the United States has an appalling record towards Indigenous peoples. Is it perfect now? No, it’s not. But we’re making progress. I mean, think about what’s happened on the world stage. In Australia, that country just rejected the recognition of aboriginal people. In the United States, we have federal recognition. … We do have a foundation upon which we built a great deal. And so, to those critics of the United States, I would say, come to the Cherokee Nation and look at what we’re doing, leading in things like health care and lifting up people economically. It’s not perhaps the picture that has been painted by some of these regimes.

VOA: I believe you knew [former Cherokee chief] Wilma Mankiller very well. Talk a bit about her.

Hoskin: Anybody in the world who cares about human rights, the dignity of everybody, civil rights, they should get to know her. … She reminded us of who we are and what we always had in us, which was the ability to govern ourselves, to protect ourselves, to understand we have this common history and destiny. She reminded us that we were Cherokee after generations of being suppressed and a bit beaten down. So, she lifted us up. The fact that there’s a Barbie doll that depicts her, that there’s a quarter from the United States Mint — that shows what a powerful person she was.

VOA: How do you feel about not being consulted on the Barbie doll?

Hoskin: Well, I think it’s disrespect on the part of Mattel, but I will also tell you that they very quickly understood that, and we’re engaging. So, I think that overall, I appreciate Mattel depicting Wilma Mankiller, the great Cherokee chief. On balance, this is a good thing.

VOA: What does it mean to you to be an American?

Hoskin: I think a lot about this. I can go back a few generations to my ancestors who signed up to fight for this country in World War I and World War II — while within their living memory, there was a great deal of oppression and atrocities by this country to their own people. But in terms of the principles of what we want for this country, like freedom and opportunity for everyone, if we aspire to that, that’s something we all share. And so for me, that’s what it means to be an American.

VOA: How do you feel about public holidays like Columbus Day and Thanksgiving?

Hoskin: Columbus Day is abhorrent. [Christopher Columbus is] demonstrably somebody who engaged in great atrocities towards Native peoples. … There’s plenty to celebrate in American history without celebrating and misstating what he did. In terms of Thanksgiving, I think it’s become for the Cherokee people something that we just celebrate in terms of what unites humanity, which is giving thanks for what we have and trying to do better.

VOA: Anything else you’d like to tell our audience? We broadcast in 48 languages. Would you like to say something in your language?

Hoskin: Sure. I’d say “osiyo,” which is “hello” in Cherokee. And “donadagohvi,” which is ”we will see each other again.” We don’t say goodbye. We just look forward to seeing people again. I look forward to seeing you again.

VOA: And I look forward to seeing you again.

In Paris Exile, Family Becomes Proud ‘Voice’ of Jailed Iran Nobel Winner

The address on the invitation to the winner of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize says it all. “Ms. Narges Mohammadi, c/o Evin Prison, Tehran province, Iran.”

Mohammadi, 51, awarded the prize in October in recognition of two decades of work defending human rights in Iran, in defiance of constant persecution by the Islamic republic, remains in prison in Iran with no hope of release, let alone attending the glitzy event in Oslo on Sunday.

Instead, it will be her twin children Ali and Kiana, 17, who will attend the awards ceremony and deliver her speech, sharing the message of a mother of whom they are fiercely proud but who they have not seen for almost nine years and not even spoken to by phone for 20 months.

They now live in Paris with their father and Mohammadi’s husband, Taghi Rahmani. The awards she has won weigh the bookshelves of their apartment, which is marked by the spirit of the rights campaigner, even as she remains in jail thousands of kilometers away.

“We are not nervous. We are very proud to be able to be the voice of our mother and do our best to move things forward. The prize will reinforce our determination to go to the end,” Ali said.

He emphasized that the prize was not just for her mother but all Iranian women and men who rose up against Iran’s clerical authorities in the protest movement that started in September 2022.

His twin sister, Kiana, proudly showed the dress she bought for the ceremony but insisted “even if I went in my pajamas, what counts is the message, what counts is the speech.”

‘Release almost impossible’

Mohammadi wrote the speech from prison, and it was safely received by her family. But they said they will only read it at the last moment in order to discover its message with everyone else.

Amid all the excitement of the trip to Oslo, the family knows that the prize, whose award to Mohammadi was rapidly denounced by the Iranian authorities, will do little to help her find a way out of Evin prison in Tehran.

“They have a hatred without end for her. And as she won the Nobel Prize her release will be almost impossible. I prefer to anticipate and not be disappointed,” Kiana said.

Narges Mohammadi’s most recent stint in jail began with her arrest in November 2021 and she is embroiled in numerous cases supporters say are linked to her activism.

Prison has marked the life of this family, who struggle to produce any picture showing the four of them together. Taghi Rahmani is also a veteran activist repeatedly jailed in Iran before coming to France a decade ago.

“When we were 4 years old, our dad went to prison. From then on it was either him or our mother in prison. We got used to living without one or the other,” Ali said.

Taghi Rahmani said that the awarding of the prize to Mohammadi had created “many problems” for his wife inside Evin, with the latest restriction a complete cutting off of her right to make phone calls that has yet to be restored.

Mohammadi is prohibited from calling her husband or children in France. But she has been allowed until recently to speak to family inside Iran, crucial communications for staying in touch with the world.

But Rahmani emphasized she was “first of all very happy with the prize as her voice can be heard even more loudly in the world.”

‘Victory not easy but certain’

The years of incarceration have taken a toll on the family, with Ali recalling that their last conversation dates back to just before her most recent jailing.

“She said ‘I am going back to prison, look after your sister and father well and stay strong. Stay strong for me.’ I told her the same thing. ‘We are very proud of you, don’t be worried for us. We support you 100%.'”

He said he believed his mother would be released “when our goal is reached, freedom and democracy is reached.”

“It will be very complicated. But I have a lot of hope to be able to see my mother and a free Iran. My mother has an important saying ‘Victory is not easy but it is certain.'”

In her teenage bedroom full of stuffed animals, makeup and photos, Kiana has a framed photo of Narges Mohammadi with her two children.

“I forgot the sound of her voice, her height, what she looks like in person,” she said. “I accepted this life. It’s a horrible pain to live without your mother, but we don’t complain.”

Senate Approves USAGM Board

The U.S. Senate on Wednesday approved six people to serve on the board of the U.S. Agency for Global Media, the government agency that oversees six congressionally funded international broadcasting and tech entities, including Voice of America.

The bipartisan International Broadcasting Advisory Board (IBAB) was approved by the Senate en bloc, meaning the nominees were approved without a recorded vote.

In an email Thursday to staff, USAGM CEO Amanda Bennett said the newly approved board “brings a wealth of talent, expertise and passion to our mission, which remains critical in the wake of the ongoing global information war.”

“As hundreds of millions of people rely on our fact-based news to triumph over information manipulation and censorship, the IBAB adds a layer of oversight and strategic guidance that will undergird our commitment to freedom and democracy into the future,” she added.

The board members include Jamie Fly, the former head of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty; Kathleen Cunningham Matthews, a former journalist and communications executive; Jeffrey Gedmin, a journalist, author and former head of RFE/RL; Kenneth M. Jarin, a partner at national law firm Ballard Spahr; Luis Manuel Botello, a former investigative journalist and consultant for the International Center for Journalists; and Michelle Mai Selesky Giuda, a former U.S. assistant secretary of state and acting undersecretary of state.

USAGM has a seven-person board, six of whom are presidentially appointed and one who is the secretary of state. No more than three can be affiliated with the same political party.

This is the first USAGM board approved since legislation passed in late 2020 empowered the board to approve appointments or dismissals of any network heads.

Under those changes, the board is required to advise the chief executive on ways to improve the effectiveness of programming, report to congressional committees and act as a safeguard to ensure the chief executive “fully respects the professional integrity and editorial independence” of the networks she oversees.

Those provisions were created after the previous USAGM chief, Michael Pack, drew widespread criticism for his interpretation of the powers granted to the presidentially appointed chief executive.

An independent investigation into whistleblower complaints about Pack and his team’s governance found he abused his authority, allowed gross mismanagement of funds and breached the editorial firewall designed to protect USAGM journalists from political interference.

Under the amended provisions approved in late 2020, the USAGM chief executive now needs majority board approval to hire or remove network heads.

Bennett, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and investigative journalist and former VOA director, was approved as USAGM chief executive in a September 2022 vote for a three-year term. She oversees an agency that for fiscal 2024 submitted a budget request of $944 million and that has a mission to provide independent international news coverage and circumvention tools to a weekly audience of 410 million.

USAGM oversees Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, Radio Free Asia and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks. It also oversees the Open Technology Fund, which provides tools to help audiences overcome internet restrictions and surveillance.

Europe Fears Surge in African Migration as Niger Repeals Trafficking Law

The European Union has voiced concerns about a surge in migration from Africa after Niger repealed a law that criminalized the transport of migrants in the country. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Putin’s Lightning Visit to Arab States Highlights Bid to End Isolation

Russian President Vladimir Putin traveled to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia Wednesday on a quick tour in what observers say is a show of defiance against Western efforts to isolate him through sanctions and an International Criminal Court arrest warrant. Elizabeth Cherneff narrates this report from the VOA Moscow bureau.

Europe Fears Surge in African Migration as Niger Repeals Trafficking Law

The European Union has voiced concerns of a surge in migrants from Africa, after the ruling military junta in Niger repealed a law that had previously criminalized the transport of migrants in the country.

Known as Law 2015-36, the legislation was drafted in 2015 in coordination with the EU and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. At the time, Europe was facing a migrant crisis, as more than a million people entered the continent from Turkey and North Africa. The law was implemented the following year.

As part of the 2015 deal, the European Union pledged over $5 billion in aid to stabilize economies and governments in the Sahel region to stem the flow of migrants.

“These projects had a number of objectives, including combating illegal migration, improving public infrastructure, improving border capacity — but also assisting displaced populations,” explained Alia Fakhry, an expert on EU-Africa migration policy at the German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin.

“One of these projects was the project that supported the Niger state to build its border capacity and to draft this new law that would criminalize irregular migration and its facilitation — the work of smugglers, basically. And it’s this law that’s now been revoked by the military junta,” Fakhry told VOA.

The EU said in September that 876 suspected people traffickers were prosecuted under the law from 2017 to 2023.

However, on July 26, Niger’s military ousted democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum in a coup. Junta leader General Abdourahamane Tchiani announced in November that the government was repealing the 2015 migrant law and said that all convictions under the legislation would be quashed.

Tchiani did not give a reason for the move, although observers say he is likely seeking to gain local support and retaliate against the EU’s decision to suspend aid payments following the coup.

Speaking to reporters in Brussels on November 28, Ylva Johansson, European commissioner for home affairs, voiced fears of a new influx of migrants.

“There is a huge risk that this will cause new deaths in the desert. That’s the most concerning thing, but it would also probably mean more people coming to Libya, for example, and then maybe also trying to cross the Mediterranean today to the EU,” she said.

In a discussion paper published in September, the Council of the European Union had already expressed concerns over cooperation with the Nigerien military junta following the July 26 coup.

“Given Niger’s role as a transit country, primarily through the Central Mediterranean route, as well as its status as a host country, it is crucial to direct our focus towards the aftermath of the events of 26 July,” the paper said.

“The risk of the instrumentalization of migration exists in theory — although there is no evidence for this right now — or of a halt to cooperation on migration and border management with the EU. Various scenarios are now possible regarding the evolution of migratory flows transiting through Niger. Besides, close attention must be paid to other countries of the area, such as Mauritania, in which there could be migratory consequences of the coup in Niger,” the paper said.

Critics say the 2015 law forced migrants to divert to more dangerous routes through the Sahara desert to try to reach Europe and exposed the migrants to abuses by the Nigerien security forces.

Local media report that the repeal of the law has been welcomed in Niger and that migrant traffickers are planning to resume operations. Its implementation in 2016 had devastated the local economy in migrant hubs such as Agadez, Fakhry said.

“A number of people simply went out of a job in the region,” said Fakhry. “So, smugglers, of course. People who were facilitating the travel and journey of migrants. But also, a bunch of people who benefited directly or indirectly from the presence of migrants. These are people who were preparing and selling food, people who were selling water, offering accommodation, any other kind of service to migrants.”

Before the law’s implementation, the Nigerien army had often accompanied migrant convoys through the desert and demanded their own cut of the profits.

“There might be an objective to return to the pre-2015 situation where migrant smuggling created revenues for the military and for the state,” Fakhry said.

Analysts say several factors will determine how quickly the migrant flows could resume, including the situation in the migrants’ countries of origin and in transit countries north of Niger. The EU and individual European states have struck deals with Tunisia and Libya to clamp down on irregular migration across the Mediterranean Sea.

US House Votes to Censure Democratic Member for Pulling Fire Alarm in Capitol Office Building

House members voted again Thursday to punish one of their own, targeting Democratic Rep. Jamaal Bowman for triggering a fire alarm in a U.S. Capitol office building when the chamber was in session.

The Republican censure resolution passed with a few Democratic votes, but most of the party stood by Bowman in opposition of an effort they said lacked credibility and integrity. The prominent progressive now becomes the third Democratic House member to be admonished this year through the censure process, which is a punishment one step below expulsion from the House.

“It’s painfully obvious to myself, my colleagues and the American people that the Republican Party is deeply unserious and unable to legislate,” Bowman said Wednesday as he defended himself during floor debate. “Their censure resolution against me today continues to demonstrate their inability to govern and serve the American people.”

The 214-191 vote to censure Bowman caps nearly a year of chaos and retribution in the House of Representatives. Since January, the chamber has seen the removal of a member from a committee assignment, the first ouster of a speaker in history and, just last week, the expulsion of a lawmaker for only the third time since the Civil War.

Rep. Lisa McClain, a Republican from Michigan, who introduced the censure resolution, defended it, claiming Bowman pulled the alarm in September to “cause chaos and the stop the House from doing its business” as lawmakers scrambled to pass a bill to fund the government before a shutdown deadline.

“It is reprehensible that a Member of Congress would go to such lengths to prevent House Republicans from bringing forth a vote to keep the government operating and Americans receiving their paychecks,” McClain said in a statement.

Bowman pleaded guilty in October to a misdemeanor count for the incident, which took place in the Cannon House Office Building. He agreed to pay a $1,000 fine and serve three months of probation, after which the false fire alarm charge is expected to be dismissed from his record under an agreement with prosecutors.

The fire alarm prompted a buildingwide evacuation when the House was in session and staffers were working in the building. The building was reopened an hour later after Capitol police determined there was no threat.

Bowman apologized and said that at the time he was trying to get through a door that was usually open but was closed that day because it was the weekend.

Many progressive Democrats, who spoke in his defense, called the Republican effort to censure him “unserious,” and the accused those across the aisle of weaponizing the censure process against Democrats over and over again for political gain.

“Censure me next. That’s how worthless your effort is,” Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries said on the floor late Wednesday. “It has no credibility. No integrity. No legitimacy. Censure me next, and I’ll take that censure and I’ll wear it next week, next month, next year like a badge of honor.”

The vote is the latest example of how the chamber has begun to deploy punishments like censure, long viewed as a punishment of last resort, routinely and often in strikingly partisan ways.

“Under Republican control, this chamber has become a place where trivial issues get debated passionately and important ones not at all,” Rep. Jim McGovern, a Democrat from Massachusetts, said during floor debate. “Republicans have focused more on censuring people in this Congress than passing bills that help people we represent or improving this country in any way.”

While the censure of a lawmaker carries no practical effect, it amounts to severe reproach from colleagues, as lawmakers who are censured are usually asked to stand in the well of the House as the censure resolution against them is read aloud.

Bowman is now the 27th person to be censured by the chamber — and the third just this year. Last month, Republicans voted to censure Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan in an extraordinary rebuke of her rhetoric about the Israel-Hamas war.

In June, Democrat Adam Schiff of California was censured for comments he made several years ago about investigations into then-President Donald Trump’s ties to Russia.

NASA Celebrates 25th Birthday of International Space Station

NASA celebrates a quarter century of human cooperation in space. Plus, a busy week of space launches, and ‘America’s Dad’ wants you to see the moon like those who’ve been there. VOA’s Arash Arabasadi brings us The Week in Space

Denmark Passes Bill to Stop Quran Burnings

Denmark’s parliament passed a bill on Thursday that makes it illegal to burn copies of the Quran in public places, after protests in Muslim nations over the desecration of Islam’s holy book raised Danish security concerns.

Denmark and Sweden experienced a series of public protests this year where anti-Islam activists burned or otherwise damaged copies of the Quran, sparking tensions with Muslims and triggering demands that the Nordic governments ban the practice.

Denmark sought to strike a balance between constitutionally protected freedom of speech, including the right to criticize religion, and national security amid fears that Quran burnings would trigger attacks by Islamists.

Domestic critics in Sweden and Denmark have argued that any limitations on criticizing religion, including by burning Quran, undermine hard-fought liberal freedoms in the region.

“History will judge us harshly for this, and with good reason… What it all comes down to is whether a restriction on freedom of speech is determined by us, or whether it is dictated from the outside,” said Inger Stojberg, leader of the anti-immigration Denmark Democrats party, who opposed the ban.

Denmark’s centrist coalition government has argued that the new rules will have only a marginal impact on free speech and that criticizing religion in other ways remains legal.

Breaking the new law would be punishable by fines or up to two years in prison, the government has said.

Sweden, too, is considering ways to legally limit Quran desecrations but is taking a different approach than Denmark. It is looking into whether police should factor in national security when deciding on applications for public protests.