Category: Новини

NATO Warns of Ammunition Shortage Due to War in Ukraine

NATO’s most senior military official has warned that European ammunition stocks are running short as the West continues to send large amounts of military aid to Ukraine to fend off invading Russian forces.  

Admiral Rob Bauer, who chairs the NATO Military Committee, said Europe needed to ramp up production as the war enters its 20th month.   

“We now give away weapons systems to Ukraine, which is great, and ammunition — but not from full warehouses. We started to give away from half full or lower warehouses in Europe. And therefore, the bottom of the barrel is now visible, and we need the industry to ramp up production in a much higher tempo. We need large volumes,” Bauer told delegates Wednesday at the Warsaw Security Forum, adding that political leaders needed to act faster.   

“We need the continued support from the political level because it’s not only the money, it is also the actions in the nations that lead to more readier forces and the capabilities we need,” Bauer said. “And if you actually see that in the seven years before the war, the [defense] budgets went up already, but the industry did not increase the production capacity. And that has led to higher prices already before the war.”

Forces fire thousands daily 

Ukrainian forces are firing several thousand artillery shells every day at invading Russian forces, with much of the ammunition supplied by Kyiv’s Western allies. NATO member states also have given Kyiv tanks, armored vehicles, missile and air defense systems and an array of other military hardware. 

The European Union, Britain and the United States have outlined plans to ramp up weapons production. The EU earlier this year allocated $2.2 billion for the joint procurement and delivery of up to an additional 1 million rounds of artillery ammunition to Ukraine by early 2024, and an additional $550 million to urgently boost EU defense industry capacities in ammunition production. 

Simultaneously replenishing stockpiles — and supplying Ukraine — will require clearer signals from Western political leaders, said analyst Simona Soare of Britain’s Lancaster University, a former EU defense adviser. 

“Efforts from a budgetary point of view, from a procurement point of view, that allies have made individually and jointly, are still not on par with the level of the demand,” Soare told VOA. “It all starts with that absolutely clear demand signal that comes from our political and military leadership towards our industry to engage in this effort jointly. And I believe that there is a lot more that can be done from that level to communicate that this effort is not a temporary surge, but rather it’s a sustained, potentially longer-term effort.”  

Pentagon warns US leaders

In a letter to congressional leaders this week, the Pentagon warned it is running low on money to replace weapons the U.S. has sent to Ukraine. 

According to The Associated Press, Pentagon comptroller Michael McCord told House and Senate leaders there is $1.6 billion left of the $25.9 billion Congress provided to replenish U.S. military stocks that have been flowing to Kyiv and urged them to replenish funding. 

The United States has given an estimated $46.6 billion in military aid to Kyiv since Russia’s February 2022 invasion. The U.S. Congress passed a last-minute stopgap funding bill September 30 to avert a government shutdown, but it did not include any new aid for Ukraine. President Joe Biden has vowed to continue American support for Kyiv. 

Meanwhile, the EU has given almost $27 billion, and Britain an estimated $7 billion in military aid, according to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy. 

Boosting weapons production takes time, Soare said. 

“It takes on average between two and four years to set up a new production line for high-intensity military equipment that you need in Ukraine,” Soare told VOA. “Same thing goes for munitions. We’re talking about hundreds, potentially thousands of people who need to have very, very niche skill sets to be employed in this undertaking.”

Soare added that Europe must diversify its supply chains for the crucial raw materials needed to produce modern weapons. 

“There are significant and long-standing dependencies on single providers for some of these absolutely critical rare earths, for instance, which now go at astronomical prices,” she said. “And that impacts on the affordability side of the war effort.”

Pope Francis Opens Global Meeting on Future of Catholic Church

Pope Francis has opened a synod – or meeting of Roman Catholic bishops from all over the world – that, this time, includes lay people and women. A number of thorny issues are on the agenda over the next few weeks – all behind closed doors.

With a solemn Mass in Saint Peter’s Square Wednesday, Pope Francis formally opened a four-week meeting that gathers 365 select members with voting rights, including lay people and not just bishops. It will also see women voting for the first time.

No binding decisions will be made, but controversial topics are up for discussion at the closed-door meeting, held in Vatican City’s Paul the Sixth Hall. They include the role of ordinary Catholics – including women – in decision-making processes; whether priests should be allowed to marry; and the church’s teachings on divorce and LGBTQ issues.

The theme of the meeting is “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, Mission.”

Commentators say it is likely to expose deep divisions between liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.

In his homily at Wednesday’s Mass, Pope Francis said church leaders at the gathering “do not need a purely natural vision, made up of human strategies, political calculations or ideological battles.”

The pope added: “We are not here to carry out a parliamentary meeting or a plan of reformation. The synod, he said, is not a parliament.”

Before the start of discussions, five conservative cardinals called on Pope Francis to reaffirm the church’s doctrine on same-sex couples and the ordination of women. In a letter, they presented five questions and expressed their concern that some in church leadership are no longer proposing sound doctrine but “teachings according to their own likings.”

In a written response, the pontiff steered away from providing the yes-no answers the cardinals requested and observers say he appeared to be open to the possibility of blessing same-sex couples.

The 86-year-old pontiff said that “we cannot be judges who only deny, reject and exclude.” He wrote, “Pastoral prudence must adequately discern whether there are forms of blessing, requested by one or more persons, that do not convey a mistaken concept of marriage.”

At Wednesday’s Mass, Pope Francis said the synod aims to reaffirm “a church that looks mercifully at humanity,” and is “united and fraternal, that listens and dialogues; a church that blesses and encourages.”

Ahead of the meeting, Vatican officials said no media would be allowed and attendees were instructed to not speak to reporters about the discussions.

France Denies Reports of Bedbugs on Trains

France has urged the public not to worry about reports of bedbug outbreaks on public transportation in Paris and throughout the country.

At least 37 sightings of bedbugs on public transportation have been reported over the past few weeks by national rail operator SNCF, with a dozen additional reports made to Paris public transport operator RATP.

French Transport Minister Clément Beaune said that each report had been checked out, and that none were proved to be true.

“When there is a problem, we deal with it. We won’t deny it,” Beaune said. “There is no outbreak of bedbugs in public transportation.”

French media have reported extensively about bedbugs on trains and in cinemas, and the government worries about the impact on tourism and the Paris Olympics, which start in less than a year.

Despite the denials, France will be taking preventative measures against a potential outbreak, using sniffing dogs on trains to detect the pests.

Beaune also plans to meet with pest control companies to preemptively come up with a solution if bedbugs were to infest public transportation.

He has promised transparency and said he would publish data every three months citing all reports and confirmed bedbug infestations.

On a radio spot Tuesday, French Health Minister Aurelien Rousseau told the French public there’s “no reason for panic” about “widespread” reports of bedbugs in Paris.

According to a report Tuesday by CNN, Marie Effroy, head of the Paris-based National Institute for the Study and Control of Bedbugs, said the level of bedbug infestation in France, which tends to spike toward the end of each summer season, is worse than previous years but treatable.

Some information in this report came from Reuters.

Mourners Honor Late Senator Dianne Feinstein in San Francisco

Mourners paid their respects Wednesday to the late U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein in San Francisco City Hall, where she launched her groundbreaking political career and where she spent a decade as the city’s first female mayor. 

Feinstein’s casket was carried into the City Hall rotunda, where it was draped with an American flag, with San Francisco Mayor London Breed and Feinstein’s daughter and granddaughter following. Former U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, also of San Francisco, was among the officials in attendance.

Feinstein died Thursday at her Washington, D.C., home after a series of illnesses. 

Feinstein was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1969 and was board president in November 1978 when a former supervisor assassinated Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk, the city’s first openly gay supervisor, at City Hall. Feinstein became acting mayor, and she went on to serve as mayor until 1988. 

She steered the city through the HIV and AIDS crisis, and she also secured federal and private funding to save the city’s iconic cable cars from death by deterioration. 

Feinstein led the city as it played host to the Democratic National Convention in 1984. Another San Francisco tradition — “Fleet Week” — was started by Feinstein in 1981, and this year’s annual celebration of air shows, naval ships and military bands is dedicated to her. 

Beyond serving as San Francisco’s first female mayor, she joined Barbara Boxer as the first women to represent California in the U.S. Senate. They both won election in 1992, dubbed the ” Year of the Woman.”

An inspiration 

Feinstein inspired countless girls and women, including Breed, who is the first Black woman and only the second woman to lead the city. Breed recalled looking up to Feinstein when Feinstein was mayor and Breed played the French horn in the middle school band that played regularly at mayoral events. 

“She was so proud of us and she said so, and she took the time to talk to us, express how amazing we were and to remind us that we were her band,” Breed said at a press conference the day after the senator’s death. 

Cari Donovan placed a bouquet of lilies and daisies in red and pink before the casket. 

“I’m a San Francisco native. And I remember her being such a big public figure on my life. She championed and fought for the rights of so many people,” Donovan said, adding that she talked to her 28-year-old daughter about the battles Feinstein fought so that younger generations of women could dream bigger. 

“She was a powerhouse,” she said. “She was a lioness.” 

While Feinstein’s career sent her to Washington, she remained deeply involved in the affairs of San Francisco, the city where she was born and raised. She often called her successors — including then-Mayor Gavin Newsom, now the state’s governor — to complain about potholes or trash and to offer advice and encouragement. 

John Konstin, owner of John’s Grill, a favorite downtown tourist destination and watering hole for city politicians, recalled how Feinstein ordered that potholes be filled, trees be trimmed and ugly scaffolding be removed before San Francisco hosted the 1984 Democratic convention. 

“She asked, ‘How long has this scaffolding been up?’ And my dad said maybe 10 years. And the next day it came down,” said Konstin, 59. “It was half a block of scaffolding.” 

Feinstein’s favorite dish was the Petrale sole, he said. The restaurant, which celebrated its 115th anniversary Wednesday with a free lunch and appearances by Breed and other politicians, will have flowers by Feinstein’s portrait. 

A memorial service will be held Thursday outside City Hall. Speakers will include Pelosi, Breed, Vice President Kamala Harris and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York. President Joe Biden will deliver remarks by recorded video.

Reporter’s Notebook: The End of Artsakh

The dog’s ribs are visible and her owner’s skeletal shoulders poke through a gray sweater.

The dog’s name is Chalo, essentially “Spot” in Armenian, and the owner, 69, tells us to call her Tamar. She is a refugee in Armenia and wants her real name withheld for security reasons. 

We meet her in a park hours after she arrives in Goris, Armenia, where workers man humanitarian tents in the last days of September for the 100,000-plus people fleeing Nagorno-Karabakh.

Tamar brought her dog and a plastic shopping bag of belongings when she fled her home city, which, last week, was called Stepanakert. For most of this year, Stepanakert was cut off from its main supply route, and Tamar, like other residents, was left waiting for days at a time on bread lines, sometimes only to walk away with nothing. She dropped from 56 to 40 kilograms.

“There was mostly no electricity,” says Tamar, on the lawn outside a tent in Goris. The dog isn’t allowed inside. “We used to sit on the streets of Stepanakert at night together, rather than at home, alone in the dark.”

A place of the past

But Stepanakert, in some ways, no longer exists. 

It was the capital of the self-declared Republic of Artsakh, which, until last week, was most of Nagorno-Karabakh. The residents, like Tamar, were almost all ethnic Armenians, and Armenia and Azerbaijan have fought over it for decades.

In mid-September, a two-day Azerbaijani assault ended the conflict, with a clear victory for Azerbaijan, which now controls all the land inside its internationally recognized borders.

Khankendi, the Azerbaijani name for Stepanakert, is now mostly deserted. A report on the Al Jazeera television channel shows the central square littered with left-behind chairs, suitcases that didn’t fit on buses, and homeless pet dogs. 

“It breaks my heart,” says Tamar, referring to the dogs.

The buildings still stand in Khankendi and a few aid workers search houses for residents who stayed behind because they are sick, old or have no family to help them evacuate.

Tamar was in one of the last groups to leave late last week, because many buses would take her, but not her dog. 

After the vast majority of the residents evacuated last week, the local government dissolved. The land is now in reality what it has long been officially: the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan.

“I had one year left to turn 70 in my own country,” says Tamar, as an aid worker stops by to check on her well-being. Chalo is tied to a park bench with a short ribbon and the worker decides to go search for a leash. “I see now it wasn’t meant to be.”

Scattered past, uncertain future

Over the weekend, the humanitarian tents in Goris are taken down, as refugees board buses and vans to every corner of Armenia. Most want to go to the capital, Yerevan, but officials say there is no room for everyone in the city.

Villages by the border, however, have empty homes and depopulated economies. But upon arrival in Goris, many people balk at the idea of moving to one of these villages. “I just left the war,” says Tamar.

In 2020, the last time Armenia and Azerbaijan battled for Nagorno-Karabakh, the violence spilled over the borders into Armenia proper. When we visit Ishkhanasar, a village alongside Azerbaijani mountains, locals are quick to say they fear the refugees moving in may have to evacuate again, eventually.

“It was horrible. We were expecting the house to be blown up at any moment,” says Ani Aloyan, a 37-year-old farmer who pops her head out of her metal gate when she sees us speaking to a family from Nagorno-Karabakh who moved in next door. “It was autumn and the fields were dry. When shells fell the fields would burn.”

We ask the family next door if they would consider going back to Stepanakert, now Khankendi. Azerbaijan says Armenian residents may take Azerbaijani citizenship without reprisals. 

“I would love to go back,” says Arevik Sargsyan, 21, on the porch of the farmhouse her family has been sharing with its owners for the past few days. “But it’s not possible.”

In the ’90s, when Armenia took over the land later known as Artsakh and several surrounding areas, more than a half-million Azerbaijanis were displaced. Many of those people are now expected to return. Both sides claim historical ties to the enclave and anger runs deep.

“I don’t know how they all lived together before, during Soviet times,” Sargsyan says. “But after everything that has been lost we cannot.” 

2030 World Cup Set to Take Place Across Three Continents

The 2030 World Cup will play out across three continents, FIFA, soccer’s governing body, announced Wednesday. 

The World Cup is usually limited to one host nation, sometimes two. But 2030’s edition will be hosted by an unprecedented six countries:  Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay. 

Originally, Spain and Portugal proposed to host the 2030 World Cup jointly. Their bid expanded to include Morocco. Bid rivals Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay joined next. 

The unprecedented intercontinental tournament could open in Uruguay’s capital, Montevideo, where the inaugural World Cup was played in 1930. 

“The centennial World Cup could not be far from South America, where everything began,” said Alejandro Dominguez, president of South America’s soccer federation CONMEBOL. 

FIFA’s tricontinental World Cup plan awaits formal approval in 2024 at a conference of 211 worldwide soccer federations. That vote is typically a formality. 

Like 2026’s World Cup, 2030’s is scheduled for June and July of that year and will feature 48 teams vying for soccer’s most prestigious trophy, with 104 games to be played in total. 

National teams will have to cover vast distances and adjust to time zone shifts to participate. 

“In 2030, we will have a unique global footprint, three continents … six countries … welcoming and uniting the world while celebrating the beautiful game, the centenary and the FIFA World Cup,” FIFA President Gianni Infantino said. 

Now that a decision has been reached over where the 2030 World Cup will take place, the 2034 World Cup bidding contest will start soon. The 2034 World Cup will be limited to FIFA member nations in Asia and Oceania. Saudi Arabia and Australia have both expressed interest. 

Some information for this report is from The Associated Press.

Striking Actors Hope to Match Writers’ Success at Curtailing AI

Hollywood actors on strike want to limit the use of Artificial Intelligence in moviemaking, hoping for the same success as Hollywood writers, who ended their five-month strike last week after a deal with major studios. From Los Angeles, Genia Dulot has our story. Video edit: Bakhtiyar Zamanov

Italy Police Take Down Chinese Shadow Network Laundering Mafia Cash

Italian police arrested 33 people on Wednesday in a new crackdown on a network of Chinese money brokers who allegedly laundered over 50 million euro ($52.5 million) from drug trafficking groups, including the ‘Ndrangheta mafia. 

Guardia di Finanza police colonel Francesco Ruis told Reuters a distinctive aspect of the case was the connection created between organizations like the ‘Ndrangheta and Chinese entities providing financial services. 

Ruis, who led the latest investigation in Rome, said the figure of more than 50 million euros in tracked financial movements did not give the true dimensions of the affair. 

“This is what we have tracked from 2020 to 2022, but investigations cannot trace all operations. It’s like doing a stakeout, you see 20% of what happens,” he said. 

Guardia di Finanza police said in a statement they had arrested 33 people, including seven Chinese nationals, in Rome and in other six Italian towns on charges of organized criminal conspiracy for drug trafficking and money laundering. 

They also seized around 10 million euro in cash from so-called “money mules,” who were in charge of transferring money abroad, the statement said. 

Several recent investigations have shown how drugs cartels in Italy are increasingly using shadow networks of unlicensed Chinese money brokers to conceal cross-border payments. 

The transfer method, often referred to by the Chinese term fei qian or fei chien, meaning flying money, involves depositing a sum with a money broker in Italy while another agent in the network elsewhere in the world pays the equivalent amount to the intended recipient. 

The money laundering at the center of the latest case took place at Chinese import-export businesses of clothing and fashion accessories in the Esquilino district of the Italian capital.  

These acted as collection centers for the money of illicit origin, which was eventually transferred anonymously and untraceably to China. 

The fei chien method does not involve the physical transfer of money from the customer, who buys the drug shipment, to the supplier, who sells it. But China was the final destination for the cash, police said. 

“The deals between the two Chinese brokers took place through triangulations and fictitious business transactions in China, while the cash traveled by plane to China using the so-called money mules,” Ruis said. 

The investigation was helped by accessing encrypted chats on a platform that was dismantled in 2021 by a Europol Joint Investigation Team, the statement said. 

Native Americans Challenging Proposed Rio Tinto Copper Mine

Federal judges are considering an appeal from a Native American group seeking to block a copper mine from being dug on land sacred to the Western Apache in the southwestern state of Arizona. From Arizona, Levi Stallings has our story

More Than 500 Migrants Arrive on Spanish Canary Islands

Emergency services on the Spanish Canary Islands said Wednesday that more than 500 migrants have reached there in four large wooden boats this week.

One of the boats was carrying 280 migrants, the islands’ emergency service said on X, formerly known as Twitter. The state news agency EFE says it was the largest number in a single boat since human traffickers began to regularly use the Canary Island route in 1994.

Spanish Red Cross coordinator José Antonio Rodríguez Verona told The Associated Press he had not seen so many people in one boat since 2008, when 234 arrived in a single vessel.

Only five of the migrants needed medical treatment on arrival at the small port of La Restinga on the southern tip of Hierro Island.

Hundreds of other migrants were intercepted trying to reach other islands in the archipelago, located off the northwest coast of Africa, and elsewhere on mainland Spain in recent days.

Spain’s Interior Ministry says nearly 15,000 migrants reached the Canary Islands by boat from Jan 1 to Sept 30, 2023. That’s a 20% increase from the same period last year. Most departed from Senegal.

Serbia Releases Kosovo Serb Politician Detained Over Kosovo Shootout 

The Serbian High Court Wednesday released from detention Milan Radoicic, a Kosovo Serb politician accused of illegal manufacturing and trafficking of firearms to Kosovo after he admitted involvement in a deadly shootout with Kosovo police. 

Tensions between Belgrade and Pristina have soared since Sept. 24, when around 30 armed Serbs barricaded themselves in a Serbian Orthodox monastery near the village of Banjska, in the predominantly Serb north of Kosovo. The incident ended in a shootout in which three attackers and a Kosovo police officer were killed. 

In a statement, the court said it rejected a motion by the High Prosecutor’s Office to place Radoicic in custody. It said Radoicic was prohibited from leaving his place of residence and Serbia without the court’s approval. It also banned him from travelling to Kosovo. 

“He [Radoicic] is ordered to report to an appropriate police station every 1st and 15th of the month, and his … passport … was confiscated,” it said. 

Radoicic, the vice president of the Serb List party, the largest in Serb-dominated northern Kosovo, admitted to organizing and taking part in the skirmishes. 

Tuesday, police detained Radoicic in Serbia’s capital Belgrade. The prosecutor’s office said Radoicic, who denied any criminal activity, should remain in detention over fears he could flee. 

Last month’s gunbattle prompted new international concern over stability in Kosovo, which has an ethnic Albanian majority and declared independence from Serbia in 2008 after a guerrilla uprising and a 1999 NATO intervention. 

Some 50,000 Serbs who live in north Kosovo do not recognize Pristina’s institutions and see Belgrade as their capital. They have often clashed with Kosovo police and international peacekeepers, but last month’s violence was the worst in years. 

Kosovo had accused Belgrade of providing financial and practical support to Radoicic and his group, something Serbia denied. 

Work on Funding Foreign, Humanitarian Aid at Standstill Amid US House Turmoil

The U.S. Congress is at a standstill Wednesday, with its lower house paralyzed by the ousting of its speaker and lawmakers facing a deadline six weeks away to approve spending bills and avoid a government shutdown.

The lack of a functioning House of Representatives, and the prospects of losing more days to identifying and electing a speaker candidate who can garner enough support, leaves in limbo several important spending bills, including those providing for foreign military financing, international humanitarian aid and efforts to counter China’s influence.

Lawmakers in the Republican-majority House are not expected to hold any further votes this week. Instead, Democrats and Republicans will discuss who might lead the narrowly divided chamber through a period that will require agreement not only among themselves, but eventually with the Democrat-led Senate before the spending bills can be enacted.

Recent history suggests selecting the new speaker may not be a quick process.  Former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who was ousted Tuesday, needed 15 rounds of voting in January to earn the post.  He had to make several concessions to conservative holdouts in his party, including a rule that a single lawmaker could call for a vote to remove him as speaker.

Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz brought such a motion Monday, expressing frustration in McCarthy’s leadership after McCarthy failed to pass a government funding bill last week with conservative spending priorities. 

The slim Republican majority in the House meant that Gaetz needed only a handful of Republicans to vote along with Democrats to oust McCarthy in the 216-210 vote. The majority of Republicans voted to keep McCarthy in leadership.

It was the first time in U.S. history that House members had voted to remove the speaker.

While eligible to seek the role again, McCarthy announced Tuesday night he would not seek reelection to the speakership.

“I can continue to fight, maybe in a different manner, and will not run for speaker again,” McCarthy told reporters.

As in the recent negotiations on averting a federal government shutdown, the slim Republican majority in the House meant that Democrats had the numbers to influence the vote on McCarthy.    

In a “Dear Colleague” letter to Democrats Tuesday morning, Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries urged his caucus to vote to remove McCarthy from the speakership.   

“House Democrats remain willing to find common ground on an enlightened path forward. Unfortunately, our extreme Republican colleagues have shown no willingness to do the same. It is now the responsibility of the GOP members to end the House Republican Civil War,” Jeffries said in the letter.  

McCarthy spoke with Jeffries Monday night. McCarthy said he told Jeffries, “You guys do whatever you need to do. I get politics. I understand where people are. I truly believe, though, in the institution of the House at the end of the day. If you throw a speaker out that has 99% of their conference, that kept government open and paid the troops, I think we’re in a really bad place for how we’re going to run Congress.”

Lahaina Residents Deliver Petition Asking Hawaii Governor To Delay Tourism Reopening

Residents from fire-stricken Lahaina Tuesday delivered a petition asking Hawaii Gov. Josh Green to delay plans to reopen a portion of West Maui to tourism starting this weekend, saying the grieving community is not ready to welcome back visitors. 

The petition signed by 3,517 people from West Maui zip codes comes amid a fierce and anguished debate over when travelers should return to the region home to the historic town of Lahaina that was destroyed in the deadliest U.S. wildfire in more than a century.  

At least 98 people died in the Aug. 8 blaze and more than a dozen are missing. The first phase of the plan to reopen Maui to tourists begins Sunday, the two-month anniversary of the disaster.

Though many residents say they are not ready, others say they need tourism so they can work in hotels and restaurants to earn a living.

“We are not mentally nor emotionally ready to welcome and serve our visitors. Not yet,” restaurant bartender Pa‘ele Kiakona said at a news conference before several dozen people delivered the petition. “Our grief is still fresh and our losses too profound.”

Tamara Paltin, who represents Lahaina on the Maui County Council, said two months may seem like a long time, but she noted Lahaina residents didn’t have reliable cellphone service or internet for the first month after the fire and have been coping with uncertain housing. She said many people, including herself, can’t sleep through the night.

Paltin urged the governor to decide on when to reopen after consulting residents in an “open and transparent way.”

Several dozen people dressed in red T-shirts went to Green’s koa wood-paneled executive chambers to deliver the signatures in person. Green was not in his office, so his director of constituent services, Bonnelley Pa’uulu, accepted the box on his behalf. Altogether, 14,000 people signed the petition as of midday Tuesday.

Green told the Hawaii News Now interview program “Spotlight Now” shortly afterward that he was “utterly sympathetic” to people’s suffering. But he said more than 8,000 people have lost their jobs due to the fire and getting people back to work was part of recovering.

“It’s my job as governor to support them, to be thoughtful about all people and to make sure Maui survives, because people will otherwise go bankrupt and have to leave the island, have to move out of Maui,” he said. “Local people — these are middle-class people that lived in Lahaina — will have to leave if they don’t have jobs.”

Maui, which is famous around the world for its beaches and waterfalls, is among the most tourism-dependent islands in Hawaii. 

The number of visitors plummeted 70% after the fire when Green and tourism officials discouraged “non-essential travel” to the island. University of Hawaii economists estimate unemployment will top 10% on Maui, compared to 2.5% in July. The resulting economic downturn is expected to depress state tax revenues.

A few weeks after the fire, the tourism industry began urging travelers to respectfully visit parts of Maui unaffected by the blaze, like Wailea and Makena. Then last month Green announced that West Maui — a long expanse of coastline encompassing Lahaina and hotels and condos to its north — would reopen to tourists on Oct. 8.

Maui Mayor Richard Bissen last week narrowed the geographic scope of this plan, saying that only the northernmost section of West Maui — a 5-kilometer stretch including the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua — would resume taking tourists. The rest of the region, where most of Lahaina’s evacuees are staying, would reopen at a later, unspecified date.

The first phase to be reopened under the mayor’s plan — from Kapalua to the Kahana Villa — is 11 to 16 kilometers and a 15- to 20-minute drive north of the area that burned. Bissen said second and third phases, both covering zones closer to the burned parts of Lahaina, would reopen after officials assess earlier phases. 

Green said only one or two hotels would reopen on Sunday, calling it a “gentle start.”

Restaurant bartender Kiakona said he’s among those not ready to go back to work. He said he doesn’t want to constantly be asked if he lost his home and to have “somebody consistently reminding you of the disaster that you just went through.”

Green said people who aren’t ready to go back to work won’t need to. He said they would continue to receive benefits and housing. 

“But what I say to them is think of your neighbor or think of the business next door to you,” Green said. “Or think of the impact of having only, say, 40% of the travelers that we normally have to Maui.” 

The governor said a lack of tourism would make it harder for the state to rebuild the elementary school that burned in the fire and provide residents with healthcare coverage.

Charles Nahale, a musician who lost all his gigs singing and playing the ukulele and guitar for tourists, recounted recently seeing tourists at a restaurant a few miles from the burn zone. They appeared oblivious and unsympathetic to those around them, he said. 

“This is not a normal tourist destination like it was prior to the fire,” he said by telephone from Lahaina. “You shouldn’t be there expecting people to serve you your mai tais and your food.

Nahale said grieving was more critical to him than getting back to work.  

“What is more important to me is that these thousands, including me, have the time to heal,” he said. “What’s more important to me is that we have the time to be normal again.”

Washington, Pretoria ‘Reaffirm and Recommit’ After Public Spat Over Russia

The White House says a recent high-level call “reaffirmed the strong partnership between South Africa and the United States” — a move that analysts said Tuesday improves what has long been a tense relationship, marred by a public diplomatic spat and Pretoria’s reluctance to disengage from Russia.

In a readout issued late Monday, national security adviser Jake Sullivan said he spoke by phone to his South African counterpart, Sydney Mufamadi, and that the two “recommitted to advance shared priorities including trade and investment, infrastructure, health, and climate.”

Sullivan also thanked South Africa for hosting an upcoming high-level meeting on the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which allows duty-free U.S. market access and expires in 2025. South Africa is one of the program’s top beneficiaries, and congressional Democrats and Republicans had suggested that South Africa be excluded from this year’s forum over the diplomatic dust-up.

Four different analysts told VOA that Monday’s call between the two national security advisers makes clear that the diplomatic disagreement has been laid to rest and that the two are redefining their relationship.

“Overall,” said Ebenezer Obadare, a Nigerian American academic who follows the continent at the Council on Foreign Relations, “Pretoria seems to have emerged from this a little bit stronger and Washington with some egg on its face.”

The tale of Lady R

The two nations have been on the outs since May, when the U.S. ambassador publicly accused South Africa of secretly supplying arms and ammunition to Russia, in violation of U.S. sanctions.

That prompted Pretoria to call him in for a dressing-down, and for President Cyril Ramaphosa to launch an investigation into the saga behind the Russian cargo ship Lady R, which docked near Cape Town in late 2022 and was unloaded in the dead of night. The vessel was under U.S. sanctions and had been turned away for that reason when it attempted to dock at another port.

In May, U.S. Ambassador to South Africa Reuben Brigety described the situation as “fundamentally unacceptable” and said, “We are confident that weapons were loaded onto that vessel, and I would bet my life on the accuracy of that assertion.”

South Africa’s investigation into the matter wrapped up last month. The government’s summary of the classified report said the ship was carrying unspecified equipment meant for South Africa’s military and that “despite some rumors that some equipment or arms were loaded on the ship, the panel found no evidence to substantiate those claims.”

The incident deepened a divide between the two: South Africa was among the 35 countries that abstained from a United Nations vote to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine in early 2022.

The Moscow-Pretoria friendship traces back decades, because the Soviet Union supported the then-banned African National Congress (ANC), which has led the nation since it abandoned racist minority rule and became a democracy in 1994. The two are among the five BRICS nations — the bloc that also includes Brazil, India and China.

What now?

Obadare said South Africa’s status — the democratic stalwart is also a continental mining, banking and telecoms leader — means Washington feels “it has no choice but to commit to the relationship for the long term. Washington no doubt resents Pretoria’s continued dealings with Russia, but it is significant that it cannot afford to walk away. The South African leadership also knows this.”

Joshua Meservey, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, said Washington comes out “looking confused and probably timid.”

“South Africa escapes with its AGOA access intact, and the ANC doesn’t now face the prospect of yet another economic blow before elections next year,” he said, adding: “It appears that Washington has meekly accepted the findings of South Africa’s Lady R investigation that exonerated itself.

“That means that either the intelligence that Brigety cited was bad, or that he was freelancing — neither of which is likely, given how publicly and forcefully he made the claims. So, it seems that the U.S. is merely rolling over on an egregious provocation.”

But will any of this make South Africa sway from its nonaligned stance on Ukraine? From Johannesburg, governance and diplomacy researcher Isabel Bosman told VOA that seems unlikely and that Ramaphosa will continue to push for an African-brokered peace plan.

“Nonalignment is a vital component of South Africa’s foreign policy, and its importance in the context of the African Peace Initiative on the Ukraine-Russia war should not be overlooked,” Bosman said.

“The patching up of South Africa’s relationship with the U.S. will not go unnoticed in Moscow. It will be interesting to see if any counterproposals to any U.S. offers on the indicated shared objectives between the U.S. and South Africa come from Russia.”

Meservey predicted that the relationship will remain trade- and investment-focused “because there is little prospect of convergence on foreign policy issues. The ANC’s ideals and values are fundamentally misaligned with the U.S.’s on foreign policy, and until that changes, or until the ANC no longer sets the foreign policy direction for South Africa, the U.S. and South Africa won’t be close diplomatic partners.”

But the diplomatic dust-up, said Michael Walsh, a senior fellow who researches South Africa at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, made an important point: “It did make people in the U.S. realize that South Africa is a country that matters, and we need to pay attention to it.”

VOA also reached out to South African Foreign Ministry spokesperson Clayson Monyela seeking comment, but he did not reply. 

Nobel Prize in Chemistry to Be Announced Wednesday

This year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry will be announced Wednesday in the Swedish capital of Stockholm. 

The announcement will be made by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which awarded the Physics prize Tuesday to three nuclear scientists for their individual experiments in “exploring the world of electrons inside atoms and molecules.”

The academy said Pierre Agostini, Ferenc Krausz and Anne L’Huillier “have demonstrated a way to create extremely short pulses of light that can be used to measure the rapid processes in which electrons move or change energy.”

The 2022 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was shared by Americans Carolyn R. Bertozzi and Barry Sharpless and Morten Meldal of Denmark for their work in advancing the field of so-called click chemistry, described by the academy as a functional and simple form of chemistry “in which molecular building blocks snap together quickly and efficiently.”

The Nobel announcements began Monday with the prize in Medicine going to Hungary’s Kataline Kariko and Drew Weissman of the United States for their joint research that led to the rapid development of the mRNA COVID vaccines.

The recipients of the literature and peace prizes will be announced Thursday and Friday, respectively, with the final prize for economic sciences to be announced next Monday.

All the categories except economics were established in the will of 19th century Swedish businessman Alfred Nobel, who made a fortune with his invention of dynamite.

The first Nobel Prizes were awarded in 1901, five years after his death.

The economics prize was established in 1968 by Sweden’s central bank Sveriges Riksbank in Nobel’s memory, with the first laureates, Norway’s Ragnar Frisch and Jan Tinbergen of the Netherlands, announced the next year.

US House Removes McCarthy as Speaker of the House

For the first time in U.S. history, a speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives — who is second in the presidential line of succession — has been removed from office. VOA’s congressional correspondent Katherine Gypson has more.

What Are the Next Steps as US House Searches for New Speaker?

The U.S. House of Representatives for the first time in its history has booted its speaker out of the job, as infighting in the narrow and bitterly divided Republican majority toppled Kevin McCarthy from the position. 

Here is a look at what comes next: 

Is there an acting speaker? 

Immediately following Tuesday’s 216-210 ouster vote, Republican Representative Patrick McHenry, a McCarthy ally, was appointed acting speaker pro tempore. He can serve for only a very limited time — up to three legislative days in this case. 

The acting speaker pro tempore’s duties are vague, according to a guide to the chamber’s rules and procedures: That person “may exercise such authorities of the office of speaker as may be necessary and appropriate pending the election of a speaker or speaker pro tempore.” 

While the speaker sets the overall legislative agenda in the House, it is the House majority leader who schedules specific bills to debated and voted upon in the chamber.   

Republican Representative Kelly Armstrong told reporters that McHenry’s main task will be to “get us a new speaker.” Anything further, he said, would spark a move to oust McHenry.   

A freeze on legislating? 

Until a House speaker is installed, it is unlikely that further action will be taken on bills to fund the government, with lawmakers facing a November 17 deadline to provide more money or face a partial government shutdown. 

Battles over those bills and anger over McCarthy’s failure to win extremely deep spending cuts sought by hard-right conservatives sparked the successful move by Representative Matt Gaetz to unseat him. 

What are House Republicans, Democrats doing? 

The House’s 221 Republicans and 212 Democrats huddled privately to figure out their next steps — both political and legislative. 

Each party was expected to try to settle on a candidate for speaker. That’s fairly easy for Democrats as they are solidly behind Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, who ran for speaker in January against McCarthy and other candidates. 

Republicans, because of their obvious divisions, especially among a small group of hard-line conservatives seeking very deep cuts in federal spending, could have a harder time settling on a candidate. 

McHenry could have an advantage now that he is acting speaker. It was unclear whether he wants the job. McCarthy is not barred from running again, although he said later Tuesday he would not seek it. 

The House finds itself in an unprecedented moment and so it was unclear exactly how quickly an election will be held in the full House. Normally, the elections for speaker are scheduled at the start of the new Congress every two years. 

When will the next speaker election be? 

The leaders of both parties will have to decide when they are ready to enter into the process of electing a speaker. 

The January endeavor was sloppy as McCarthy for days could not get enough votes to win and had to endure 15 ballots. 

It could be at least as chaotic this time around for Republicans, unless they conclude that such chaos is creating a public backlash that could doom their election prospects in 2024 and they unite. 

Who can run for speaker?  

Under the U.S. Constitution, the House speaker does not have to be a member of Congress. That is the reason some Republicans have floated the name of former President Donald Trump for the job, even though he is running for president and has said he does not want the job. 

US Aid to Ukraine Could Hinge on Who Becomes House Speaker

Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s ouster could signal a shift in the U.S. House of Representatives on aid to Ukraine, with some of his possible successors strongly in favor of assisting Kyiv, but others staunchly opposed. 

The House voted for the first time on Tuesday to remove its leader, as eight of McCarthy’s fellow Republicans voted with 208 Democrats against him. There was no immediate indication of who might succeed McCarthy, but the next speaker could quash more Ukraine aid before a proposal reaches the House floor if that person opposes the idea. 

The vote to oust McCarthy came just three days after he led the House to pass a stopgap spending bill to prevent a government shutdown that included no new money for Ukraine, highlighting the reluctance of some members of his caucus to back Ukraine funds. 

A Ukraine “report card” by Defending Democracy Together’s “Republicans for Ukraine” campaign rated the leading candidates on the strength of their support for past Ukraine aid. Republican opponents of the aid view it as excessive spending and a misplaced U.S. policy priority. 

Those ratings ranging from A to F — signifying support or opposition to prior bills — could indicate how likely each would be to bring Ukraine aid to a vote if he becomes speaker. 

Representative Tom Emmer, the House Republican whip, got the highest rating, an A. Representative Steve Scalise, the No. 2 House Republican, has long been favored to take over as speaker after McCarthy and received one notch lower, a B.   

Representative Matt Gaetz, who led the push to oust McCarthy, has said he would support Scalise. 

Gaetz himself, House Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan and hardline rising star Representative Byron Donalds all received Fs. 

The White House said on Tuesday it was confident that the United States would ultimately provide more assistance for Ukraine, no matter the fate of McCarthy’s speakership. 

McCarthy, who got a B-minus grade, early this week denied accusations by Gaetz that he had cut “a secret deal” with Biden to allow the House to vote on Ukraine aid. McCarthy said then he wanted more information from the Biden administration. 

President Joe Biden asked Congress in July to approve another $24 billion related to Ukraine, which Ukraine supporters — Republicans as well as Democrats — had hoped could become law as part of a spending bill. 

Moscow Seeks to Sentence Exiled TV Journalist to Nearly 10 Years in Prison

Russian prosecutors are seeking a 9½-year sentence for a fugitive former state TV journalist who famously stormed a live news broadcast in protest a few weeks after Russia invaded Ukraine.

Marina Ovsyannikova, who formerly worked as an editor at state-controlled Channel One in Russia, now lives in exile in France after escaping house arrest and fleeing Russia with her daughter last year.

Now, prosecutors are demanding the nearly decadelong sentence at Ovsyannikova’s trial in absentia for distributing “fake news.”

This news comes a few days after American journalist Evan Gershkovich marked six months in a Russian jail over espionage charges that he and the U.S. government vehemently deny.

Ovsyannikova’s first protest took place less than three weeks after Russia invaded Ukraine. She stormed a studio of Channel One during a live broadcast holding a placard that read, “Stop the war” and “They’re lying to you.”

The “fake news” charge relates to a protest in July 2022 when she stood on a river embankment across from the Kremlin with a poster calling Russian President Vladimir Putin a murderer.

Since the war in Ukraine began, Moscow has targeted several Russian dissident journalists through trials in absentia over their criticism related to the war in Ukraine. Such criticism is effectively illegal in Russia.

The Russian Embassy in Washington did not immediately reply to VOA’s email requesting comment.

Biden Assures Allies of Continued Ukraine Support

U.S. President Joe Biden called key Western allies on Tuesday to reassure them of continued American military support for Ukraine’s fight against Russia after hardline right-wing congressional Republicans over the weekend forced the exclusion of immediate new funding for Kyiv.

The White House said Biden spoke with the leaders of Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan, Poland, Romania, Britain, and of the European Union and NATO, along with the foreign minister of France.

“President Biden convened a call this morning with allies and partners to coordinate our ongoing support for Ukraine,” the White House said in a statement. 

Later, White House national security spokesman John Kirby said Biden reaffirmed the strong commitment of the United States to supporting Ukraine as it defends itself “for as long as it takes, as did every other leader on the call.”

Kirby said the leaders discussed efforts to continue providing Ukraine with the ammunition and the weapons systems that it needs to defend itself and to continue strengthening Ukrainian air defenses as they prepare for more attacks on critical infrastructure. “Now, certainly, but also certainly in the winter months ahead,” Kirby said.

Biden had sought more Ukraine aid as Congress engaged in an 11th-hour debate Saturday to avert a partial government shutdown at midnight, just ahead of the start of the government’s new fiscal year Sunday morning. Congress approved government funding through mid-November but no new Ukraine aid.

Some right-wing Republicans have balked at new funding for Kyiv, contending that Ukraine’s fight against Russia is not a strategic U.S. national security interest, although the large majority of U.S. lawmakers still appear to support more aid. 

Democrat Biden has called for Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to rush through new aid over the objection of some Republicans, saying that U.S. support for Kyiv as it battles Russia’s invasion could not be interrupted “under any circumstances.” The Democratic-controlled Senate already appears set to approve further assistance.

“Speaker McCarthy and the majority of House Republicans must keep their word and secure passage of the support needed to help Ukraine as it defends itself,” Biden said earlier Tuesday on X, formerly known as Twitter.

“We are the indispensable nation in the world — let’s act like it,” Biden said. The president has also warned that not much time remains before existing funding runs out.

Russia on Monday called the political chaos in Washington a sign that Western war fatigue would grow amid the uncertainty over U.S. assistance for Ukraine.

McCarthy’s fate as the leader of the narrow Republican majority in the House of Representatives is also in question, with the hardline bloc of his caucus moving Tuesday to oust him from his leadership position for cooperating with Democrats to approve the short-term funding bill to keep the government open for the next seven weeks.

Ukraine downs Russian drones

Ukraine’s air force said Tuesday it destroyed 29 drones and a cruise missile that Russia used to attack Ukrainian regions overnight.

The Ukrainian military said most of the drones targeted the Mykolaiv region in southern Ukraine and the Dnipropetrovsk region in the central part of the country. 

Serhiy Lysak, the regional governor of Dnipropetrovsk, said falling debris from the intercepts damaged an industrial site in the city of Pavlohrad and caused a fire at a private firm in Dnipro.

The attacks followed renewed pledges of support from the European Union, as EU foreign ministers met Monday in Kyiv.

Western aid for Ukraine has come under political pressure after a pro-Russian candidate won an election in Slovakia, an EU and NATO member. The Ukrainian military counter-offensive has also been slower than Western leaders had hoped before autumn mud clogs the treads of their donated tanks.

“Our victory explicitly depends on our cooperation — the more powerful and principled steps we take together, the sooner this war will end,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told the EU foreign ministers during the meeting. 

Zelenskyy noted that Ukraine continues to protect its people and its economy from continuous Russian attacks, that its counteroffensive aimed at liberating its occupied territories is progressing steadily and reminded the EU leadership that Ukraine needs more money, more weapons and more military training to achieve its goals. He also asked them to intensify sanctions against Russia.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock called for efforts to prepare Ukraine for the coming winter, including through air defense and guaranteed energy supplies, after Russia bombed Ukraine’s energy infrastructure last year.

“Last winter, we saw the brutal way in which the Russian president is waging this war,” said Baerbock. “We must prevent this together with everything we have, as far as possible.”

French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said holding the meeting in Ukraine’s capital was a show of “resolute and lasting support for Ukraine.”

“It is also a message to Russia that it should not count on our weariness. We will be there for a long time to come,” Colonna told reporters.

Dutch Foreign Minister Hanke Bruins Slot said Russia must be held accountable for its aggression in Ukraine and that it is important to pressure Russia with sanctions.

“We have to do whatever it takes, as long as it takes, for the freedom of the people of Ukraine,” she said.

Russia Shelling

At least two people were killed and 10 injured, including children, by Russian shelling of Ukraine’s southern region of Kherson on Tuesday. Regional governor Oleksandr Prokudin said on the Telegram messaging app that Russian forces pounded residential areas, shops, medical facilities and other infrastructure overnight. 

In the eastern city of Kharkiv, which is located near the Russian border, officials announced plans to build a school entirely underground in response to frequent Russian bomb and missile attacks.

Students have used online courses and met in Kharkiv’s metro stations to avoid the dangers.

Mayor Ihor Terekhov said on Telegram that the new underground school “will enable thousands of Kharkiv children to continue their safe face-to-face education even during missile threats.”

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

Meta Plans to Charge Europeans for Ad-Free Facebook, Instagram, Source Says

Meta is proposing to offer European users subscription-based versions of Instagram and Facebook if they would rather not be tracked for ads, a source said on Tuesday.

The idea, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, comes as the social media giant seeks to comply with a growing list of EU regulations designed to curb the power of U.S. big tech.

The company founded by Mark Zuckerberg makes its billions of dollars in profit by offering advertisers highly individualized data on users, but new European regulations and EU court decisions have made that practice harder to do.

The proposal has been put to EU regulators and is another example of big tech companies having to adapt long-held practices to meet oncoming EU rules.

The source close to the matter said subscribers in Europe could pay $10.50 a month for a desktop version of Instagram or Facebook, or $13.50 a month for Instagram on their phones.

Social media platforms have increasingly floated the idea of charging users for access to their sites, whether to comply with data privacy regulations or better guarantee the identity of users.

But the practice would be a major shift for the social media industry that grew exponentially over the past decade on an advertising model that made the site free for users in return for being tracked and seeing highly personalized ads.

The proposal could help meet several regulations, including the Digital Markets Act, which imposes a list of do’s and don’ts on big tech companies in Europe, including a ban on tracking users when they surf other sites if their consent hasn’t been clearly granted.

It also follows the recommendation of the EU’s highest court, which in a July decision said that Meta platform users who declined to be tracked should be offered an ad-free alternative “for an appropriate fee.”

That ruling echoed many previous rulings against Meta and other big tech firms in which the court ruled that the U.S. company must ask for permission to collect large amounts of personal data, striking down various workarounds that Meta had offered.

Meta declined to comment directly on the Wall Street Journal report but said in a statement that it still “believes in the value of free services which are supported by personalized ads.”

“However, we continue to explore options to ensure we comply with evolving regulatory requirements.”

Meta reported second-quarter revenues of $32 billion, of which $31.5 billion came from advertising. Some $7.2 billion of that came from Europe.

Texas Lawmaker Back to Work After Being Carjacked at Gunpoint

U.S. Representative Henry Cuellar has returned to work after a Monday night carjacking in which three masked men held him at gunpoint in Washington, D.C.

Speaking to the press on Tuesday, the Texas Democrat said that he was unscathed and made light of the situation. “[The police] recovered the car. They recovered everything. But what really got me upset is [the suspects] took my sushi.”

Cueller said that although the men wore masks and knit caps, he could tell that they were young. An eyewitness who alerted a nearby U.S. Capitol Police agent described the suspects as probably around the age of 16. “[They] swarmed [Cuellar’s] vehicle, pointed firearms in his face and demanded the keys to the car.”

“I looked at one with a gun, another with a gun, and I felt one behind me,” Cuellar said. “They said they wanted my car, and I said, ‘Sure.’ You got to keep calm under those situations, and they took off.”

Cuellar handed his keys to the men, who were dressed in black. No one was injured.

United States Capitol Police officers canvassed the area and recovered the congressman’s stolen phone. The Metropolitan Police Department later found Cuellar’s Toyota Crossover at another location.

Cuellar’s chief of staff, Jacob Hochberg, said in a statement on Monday evening that Cuellar “is working with local law enforcement.”

On Tuesday, Cuellar praised the police response and said that his “message is very simple: You’ve got to support law enforcement.”

In a Tuesday meeting with fellow House Democrats, Representative Brad Schneider of Illinois said colleagues told Cuellar they are glad he is safe.

“It could have been so much worse,” Schneider said. “We just pray for him.”

Monday’s carjacking was the second violent crime against a congressperson in Washington this year. In February, Representative Angie Craig, a Minnesota Democrat, was attacked in her apartment complex. She escaped with only bruises.

Some information for this report was provided by the Associated Press.

Trump Claims He’s Worth More, Not Less Than Disputed Values of His Assets

Former U.S. President Donald Trump claimed Tuesday he is “worth far more” than the listed assets at stake in his New York civil real estate fraud case, not less as state Attorney General Letitia James has alleged.

Trump voluntarily showed up to hear testimony for a second straight day after assailing James on his Truth Social media site, calling her a “Monster” and a “Trump Deranged Lunatic.” James has accused Trump of inflating the values of his real estate assets on financial forms to get better interest rates on business loans and lower insurance premiums.

But Trump declared the opposite is true.

“In actuality, I am WORTH FAR MORE than the numbers put down on the Financial Statements, not less,” he said.

Walking into court, Trump contended to reporters that his winter-time retreat, the oceanside Mar-a-Lago resort in the southern state of Florida, is worth $1.5 billion, compared to the $18 million valuation listed by Florida tax officials. 

Trump, the leading 2024 Republican presidential contender, said James “should be reprimanded and sanctioned for bringing this case with its FAKE LOW VALUES, in order to make me look bad. Election Interference!”

James is seeking fines of up to $250 million against Trump, his two adult sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, a takeover of key real estate assets held by the Trump Organization and revocation of their right to do business in New York.

Judge Arthur Engoron, hearing and deciding the case without a jury, last week made an initial ruling that the former U.S. leader had committed fraud in the valuations of his assets listed on financial forms and now is considering other issues in a trial that could last nearly through the end of the year.

Trump has called Engoron a “rogue judge” who should reverse his fraud ruling and dismiss the case.

“He’s been given false information, misleading information and corrupt information by a very corrupt and incompetent Attorney General Letitia James,” Trump said. 

Trump claims that real estate experts often disagree on asset valuations and noted that his financial forms contain a disclaimer clause that the information in it should not necessarily be trusted.

Moreover, he says that whatever loans he got using the disputed valuations were repaid, meaning that lenders were not victimized if his asset valuations proved to be incorrect.

“It’s a scam. It’s a sham,” Trump said Monday on the opening day of the case.

“My best asset is my brand,” Trump declared. “We have a great company.”

In granting a partial summary judgment on James’s case last week, Judge Engoron cited “false and misleading square footage” of Trump’s Fifth Avenue apartment among the faulty valuations. The 19,000 square foot discrepancy — a calculation not subject to interpretation — resulted in an estimated property value inflation “between $114-207 million dollars.”

James told reporters, “Donald Trump and the other defendants have committed persistent and repeated fraud. My message is simple: No matter how powerful you are, no matter how much money you think you may have, no one is above the law. Justice will prevail.”

Trump was not required to appear at the trial but the stakes are high for him, personally and politically. As a politician, he often has characterized himself as a successful multibillionaire who could run the country like a chief executive officer runs a successful company.

But rulings in the case could tarnish that image, and he could lose control of some of his prized assets. Engoron’s fraud ruling last week, if upheld on appeal, would shift control of some of Trump’s companies to a court-appointed receiver and could force him to give up high-end New York properties, such as Trump Tower, a Wall Street office building, golf courses and a suburban estate.

Trump called it a “a corporate death penalty.”

Trump did not appear in court as either a witness or a spectator when his company and one of its top executives were convicted of tax fraud last year. He didn’t show, either, for a trial earlier this year in which a jury found him liable for sexually assaulting the writer E. Jean Carroll in a New York department store dressing room and ordered him to pay her $5 million.

In addition to the business fraud case, in the coming months Trump is facing another civil defamation case brought by Carroll and four criminal indictments. 

In the criminal cases, Trump, 77, faces 91 allegations. He could be sent to prison for years if he is convicted on any of them.

In two of the cases, he is accused of illegally trying to overturn his 2020 election loss to President Joe Biden. In the other cases, he is accused of illegally hoarding highly classified national security documents at Mar-a-Lago when he left office in early 2021 and falsifying Trump Organization business records to hide hush money payments to a pornographic film actress ahead of his successful 2016 run for the presidency.

Three of the cases are set for trial in the first half of 2024 during Trump’s political campaign, although pre-trial legal wrangling could delay their start. 

Spanish Court Investigates Deadly Nightclub Fire

A court in Spain’s southeastern city of Murcia opened an investigation into a fire that tore through two adjoining discos, killing 13 people. It is the country’s deadliest nightclub fire in more than 30 years.

The discos, Teatre and Fondo Milagros, were popular dance spots, located on the outskirts of town. In January 2022, city officials ordered the venues closed after Teatre’s owner divided the building it was in to establish Fondo Milagros.

The order was disregarded.

The fire erupted just before sunrise Sunday. Authorities said the inferno probably spread quickly through air vents.

A firefighter said that six of the bodies were found clustered in restrooms, perhaps because people were hiding from the smoke, while the other seven bodies were scattered across a mezzanine above the entrance. In the restroom, a wall gave way and covered two of the dead in rubble.

The goal of the probe is to determine whether the fire broke out because of negligence, the city’s top prosecutor Jose Luis Diaz Manzanera said in an interview with La Opinion de Murcia, the local newspaper.

If the tragedy arose from recklessness, he said, those responsible for the deaths could face a maximum of nine years in prison. Diaz Manzanera promised an “exhaustive” search to uncover the truth of what happened.

“We must go centimeter by centimeter, checking everything,” he said. “Let’s see how it ends up. There may have been a short circuit that was not caused by negligence.”

Law enforcement and a team of forensic investigators scoured the site on Monday to gather evidence.

By Monday night, police said that they had identified six victims using fingerprints but that naming the remaining seven would prove “very difficult.”

The victims’ family members have turned in toothbrushes, combs and other toiletries to law enforcement hoping DNA samples can aid in the identification process.

“No father or mother can, or should, have to go through a tragedy like this,” Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Tuesday. He called the eyewitness testimony “heartbreaking.”

Macedonian-Born Soccer Coach’s Winning Legacy in Maryland

For 31 years Macedonian-born Sasho Cirovski coach has instilled his passion for excellence into the University of Maryland’s soccer program. The result is success on and off the field. VOA’s Jane Bojadzievski reports. Camera, edit: Larz Lacoma

Hunter Biden Pleads Not Guilty to 3 Federal Gun Charges

Hunter Biden pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to three federal firearms charges filed after a plea deal imploded, putting the case on track toward a possible trial as the 2024 election looms. 

His lawyer Abbe Lowell said in court he plans to file a motion to dismiss the case, challenging their constitutionality. 

President Joe Biden’s son faces charges that he lied about his drug use in October 2018 on a form to buy a gun that he kept for about 11 days. 

He’s acknowledged struggling with an addiction to crack cocaine during that period, but his lawyers have said he didn’t break the law. Gun charges like these are rare, and an appeals court has found the ban on drug users having guns violates the Second Amendment under new Supreme Court standards. 

Hunter Biden’s attorneys are suggesting that prosecutors bowed to pressure by Republicans who have insisted the Democratic president’s son got a sweetheart deal, and that the charges were the result of political pressure. 

He was indicted after the implosion this summer of his plea agreement with federal prosecutors on tax and gun charges. The deal devolved after the judge who was supposed to sign off on the agreement instead raised a series of questions about the deal. Federal prosecutors had been looking into his business dealings for five years, and the agreement would have dispensed with criminal proceedings before his father was actively campaigning for president in 2024. 

Now, a special counsel has been appointed to handle the case, and there appears no easy end in sight. No new tax charges have yet been filed, but the special counsel has indicated they could come in Washington or in California, where Hunter Biden lives. 

In Congress, House Republicans are seeking to link Hunter Biden’s dealings to his father’s through an impeachment inquiry. Republicans have been investigating Hunter Biden for years, since his father was Barack Obama’s vice president. While questions have arisen about the ethics surrounding the Biden family’s international business, no evidence has emerged so far to prove that Joe Biden, in his current or previous office, abused his role or accepted bribes. 

The legal wrangling could spill into 2024, with Republicans eager to divert attention from the multiple criminal indictments faced by GOP primary front-runner Donald Trump, whose trials could be unfolding at the same time. 

After remaining silent for years, Hunter Biden has taken a more aggressive legal stance in recent weeks, filing a series of lawsuits over the dissemination of personal information purportedly from his laptop and his tax data by whistleblower IRS agents who testified before Congress as part of the GOP probe. 

The president’s son, who has not held public office, is charged with two counts of making false statements and one count of illegal gun possession, punishable by up to 25 years in prison upon conviction. Under the failed deal, he would have pleaded guilty and served probation rather than jail time on misdemeanor tax charges and avoided prosecution on a gun count if he stayed out of trouble for two years. 

Defense attorneys have argued that he remains protected by an immunity provision that was part of the scuttled plea agreement, but prosecutors overseen by special counsel David Weiss disagree. Weiss also serves as U.S. attorney for Delaware and was originally appointed by Trump. 

Hunter Biden had asked for Tuesday’s hearing to be conducted remotely over video feed, but U.S. Magistrate Judge Christopher Burke sided with prosecutors, saying there would be no “special treatment.”