Swedish Parliament votes to make it easier for people to legally change their gender

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — The Swedish parliament passed a law Wednesday lowering the age required for people to legally change their gender from 18 to 16.

Young people under 18 will still need approval from a guardian, a doctor, and the National Board of Health and Welfare.

However, a gender dysphoria diagnosis — defined by medical professionals as psychological distress experienced by those whose gender expression does not match their gender identity — will no longer be required.

Following a debate that lasted for nearly six hours, 234 lawmakers voted for the plans, 94 against and 21 were listed as absent.

The center-right coalition of Sweden’s conservative prime minister, Ulf Kristersson, has been split on the issue, with his own Moderates and the Liberals largely supporting the law while the small Christian Democrats were against it. Sweden Democrats, the populist party with far-right roots that support the government in parliament but are not part of the government, also opposed it.

Denmark, Norway, Finland and Spain are among countries that already have similar laws.

Last Friday, German lawmakers approved a similar legislation, making it easier for transgender, intersex and nonbinary people to change their name and gender in official records directly at registry offices.

In the U.K., the Scottish parliament in 2022 passed a bill allowing people aged 16 or older to change their gender designation on identity documents by self-declaration. It was vetoed by the British government, a decision that Scotland’s highest civil court upheld in December. The legislation set Scotland apart from the rest of the U.K., where the minimum age is 18 and a medical diagnosis is required.

Jimmie Akesson, the leader of the Sweden Democrats, told reporters it was “deplorable that a proposal that clearly lacks the support of the population is so lightly voted through.”

But Johan Hultberg, of Kristersson’s Moderates, said that the outcome was “gratifying.”

The newly approved law was “a cautious but important reform for a vulnerable group. I’m glad we’re done with it,” he said.

Peter Sidlund Ponkala, chairman of the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex Rights, known by its Swedish acronym RFSL, called Wednesday’s news “a step in the right direction” and “a recognition for everyone who has been waiting for decades for a new law.”

Elias Fjellander, chairman of the organization’s youth branch, said it “will make life better for our members.”

“Going forward, we are pushing to strengthen gender-affirming care, to introduce a third legal gender and to ban conversion attempts,” Fjellander said in a statement.

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US bars 4 former Malawi officials over corruption, State Department says 

Washington — The United States has barred four former officials of the Malawi government from entry because of their involvement in significant corruption, the State Department said on Wednesday.

The officials designated are former solicitor general and secretary of justice Reyneck Matemba, former director of public procurement and disposal of assets John Suzi-Banda, former Malawi Police Service attorney Mwabi Kaluba, and former Inspector General of the Malawi Police Service George Kainja, the department said.

The four were cited by the State Department as having “abused their public positions by accepting bribes and other articles of value” from a private business person in exchange for a government police contract.

“The United States stands with Malawians working towards a more just and prosperous nation by promoting accountability for corrupt officials, including advocating for transparency and integrity in government procurement processes,” department spokesman Matthew Miller said in a statement.

Matemba expressed surprise when contacted by Reuters.

“I am still in Malawi and have never traveled outside the country since 2021. I am on bail, therefore I can’t travel because my passport is technically with the police,” Matemba said.

Malawi President Lazarus Chakwera has waged a crackdown on corruption in recent years. In January 2022, he dissolved the country’s entire Cabinet on charges of corruption against three serving ministers.

Later that year, Malawi’s Anti-Corruption Bureau arrested and charged the country’s vice president, Saulos Klaus Chilima, over graft allegations.

The group has been investigating public officers in Malawi over alleged plundering of state resources by influencing awarding of contracts through the country’s public procurement system.

Malawi is one of the world’s poorest countries, with nearly three-quarters of the population living on less than $2 a day. Though small in size, it features in the top 10 in Africa in terms of population density.

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Ukrainian officials say deadly Russian missile attack hits Chernihiv

Bob Graham, ex-US senator and Florida governor, dies at 87

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Former U.S. Sen. and two-term Florida Gov. Bob Graham, who gained national prominence as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee in the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks and as an early critic of the Iraq war, has died. He was 87.

Graham’s family announced the death Tuesday in a statement posted on X by his daughter Gwen Graham.

“We are deeply saddened to report the passing of a visionary leader, dedicated public servant, and even more importantly, a loving husband, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather,” the family said.

Graham, who served three terms in the Senate, made an unsuccessful bid for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination, emphasizing his opposition to the Iraq invasion.

But his bid was delayed by heart surgery in January 2003, and he was never able to gain enough traction with voters to catch up, bowing out that October. He didn’t seek reelection in 2004 and was replaced by Republican Mel Martinez.

Graham was a man of many quirks. He perfected the “workdays” political gimmick of spending a day doing various jobs from horse stall mucker to FBI agent and kept a meticulous diary, noting almost everyone he spoke with, everything he ate, the TV shows he watched and even his golf scores.

Graham said the notebooks were a working tool for him and he was reluctant to describe his emotions or personal feelings in them.

“I review them for calls to be made, memos to be dictated, meetings I want to follow up on and things people promise to do,” he said.

Graham was among the earliest opponents of the Iraq war, saying it diverted America’s focus on the battle against terrorism centered in Afghanistan. He was also critical of President George W. Bush for failing to have an occupation plan in Iraq after the U.S. military threw out Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Graham said Bush took the United States into the war by exaggerating claims of the danger presented by the Iraqi weapons of destruction that were never found. He said Bush distorted intelligence data and argued it was more serious than the sexual misconduct issues that led the House to impeach President Bill Clinton in the late 1990s. It led him to launch his short, abortive presidential bid.

“The quagmire in Iraq is a distraction that the Bush administration, and the Bush administration alone, has created,” Graham said in 2003.

During his 18 years in Washington, Graham worked well with colleagues from both parties, particularly Florida Republican Connie Mack during their dozen years together in the Senate.

Florida voters hardly considered Graham the wealthy Harvard-educated attorney that he was.

Graham’s political career spanned five decades, beginning with his election to the Florida House of Representatives in 1966.

He won a state Senate seat in 1970 and then was elected governor in 1978. He was re-elected in 1982. Four years later, he won the first of three terms in the U.S. Senate when he ousted incumbent Republican Paula Hawkins.

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US Navy flies aircraft through Taiwan Strait a day after US-China defense talks

TAIPEI, Taiwan — The U.S. 7th Fleet said a Navy P-8A Poseidon flew through the Taiwan Strait on Wednesday, a day after U.S. and Chinese defense chiefs held their first talks since Nov. 2022 in an effort to reduce regional tensions.

The patrol and reconaissance plane “transited the Taiwan Strait in international airspace,” the 7th Fleet said in a news release.

“By operating within the Taiwan Strait in accordance with international law, the United States upholds the navigational rights and freedoms of all nations,” the release said.

Although the critical 160 kilometer- (100 mile-) wide strait that divides China from the self-governing island democracy is international waters, China considers the passage of foreign military aircraft and ships through it a challenge to its sovereignty. China claims the island of Taiwan, threatening to defend by force if necessary despite U.S. military support for the island.

China had no immediate response to the report, but has in past issued stern protests and activated defenses in response to the passage of ships and military planes through the strait, particularly those from the U.S.

China also regularly sends navy ships and warplanes into the strait and other areas around the island.

“The aircraft’s transit of the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the United States’ commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific. The United States military flies, sails and operates anywhere international law allows,” the 7th Fleet statement said.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with his Chinese counterpart Adm. Dong Jun on Tuesday in the latest U.S. effort to improve communications with the Chinese military and reduce the chances of a clash in the region.

It was the first time Austin has talked to Dong and the first time he has spoken at length with any Chinese counterpart since November 2022. The call, which lasted a bit more than an hour, came as Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to travel to China this month for talks.

Military-to-military contact stalled in August 2022, when Beijing suspended all such communication after then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan. China responded by firing missiles over Taiwan and staging a surge in military maneuvers, including what appeared to be a rehearsal of a naval and aerial blockade of the island.

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Gallup: Confidence in US institutions continues to decline

US works on ‘comprehensive response’ on Iran, urges Israel to exercise restraint

Washington — The United States said it is working with allies on a coordinated response to Iran’s drone and missile strikes on Israeli soil over the weekend. At the same time, it continues to urge Israel to exercise restraint and avoid igniting a wider regional conflict.   

President Joe Biden is “coordinating with allies and partners, including the Group of Seven, and with bipartisan leaders in Congress, on a comprehensive response,” national security adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement 

The U.S. will impose new sanctions targeting Iran in the coming days, Sullivan said, including its missile and drone program and against entities supporting the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Iran’s Defense Ministry. 

The U.S. will bolster the integration of air and missile defense and early warning systems across the Middle East, he added.

Biden aides have repeatedly called for de-escalation. The president “does not want to see a war with Iran. Don’t want to see the conflict widen or deepen,” White House national security spokesman John Kirby told reporters Tuesday.  

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to retaliate, but Israeli officials have not said how or when they might strike. 

“We will choose our response accordingly,” said Lieutenant General Herzi Halevi, Israel’s military chief. 

A direct Israeli strike on Iranian soil would amount to another significant escalation, with Tehran already pledging a much harsher response to such a counterattack.

Tehran launched more than 300 drones, ballistic missiles and cruise missiles, most of them intercepted by the Israeli military with the help of the U.S. and regional allies, causing only minor damage to an Israeli base. That suggests Iran may have calibrated the strikes to limit casualties or telegraphed advanced notice, which the White House denies.

Israel’s counterstrike will likely target Iranian soil without killing civilians, said Jonathan Rynhold, head of the Political Studies Department at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University. 

“And it would not seek to publicly hit any very obvious public symbolic buildings of the regime,” he told VOA. “That could embarrass the regime and make them feel that they need to escalate it further.”

Rynhold said that the Iranian strikes were “very, very carefully calculated,” and predicted that a potential Israeli counterattack would be similarly calibrated. Still, they could easily lead to dangerous miscalculation, he said.

Israel could opt for covert operations targeting Iranian officials. Or it could launch a cyberattack, said Gregory Hatcher of White Knight Labs, a cybersecurity consultancy firm.

“If I was Israel, I would stick with the normal cyber warfare playbook that they’ve been using for the better part of the last 15 years, starting with Stuxnet in 2010,” he told VOA.

Under a joint operation, Israel and the U.S. created Stuxnet malware and injected it into an Iranian nuclear facility that “made the centrifuges spin uncontrollably and destroyed millions of dollars and slowed down the nuclear capabilities of Iran,” Hatcher said.

Iran said its Saturday strikes were in retaliation for an Israeli airstrike earlier this month on its diplomatic building in Damascus, Syria, that killed seven Iranian military advisers, including two generals.

Pressure on Netanyahu 

Netanyahu is facing intense international pressure to bring Israel’s war in Gaza to an end and immense domestic pressure to free the hostages held by Hamas. 

Israel’s war with Hamas began when the militant Palestinian group attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and taking more than 240 hostage. Israel’s response has killed nearly 34,000 Palestinians, according to the Health Ministry in Gaza. Many humanitarian organizations have warned of famine.

Some international leaders are accusing Netanyahu of intentionally escalating tensions with Iran. This includes Ayman Safadi, the foreign minister of Jordan, a U.S. ally that helped protect Israel from Tehran’s attacks.

“It’s no secret that Netanyahu’s policy aims to expand the conflict to relieve the growing pressure on him globally as a result of the killing, war and destruction he is doing in Gaza,” Safadi said Tuesday. 

Turkey, a NATO member, has also placed blame on Israel.

“The main one responsible for the tension that gripped our hearts on the evening of April 13 is Netanyahu and his bloody administration,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday, echoing de-escalation calls by regional and Western leaders.

Israel has neither confirmed nor denied the Damascus attack and has not responded to the accusations from Jordan and Turkey.

It’s unclear whether Netanyahu will heed calls to de-escalate as he calculates a response that satisfies far-right members of his government and his own political instincts, said Barbara Slavin, distinguished fellow at the Stimson Center.

“He has always wanted to attack Iran, in particular to go after the Iranian nuclear sites. He may see this as his last opportunity to defeat all of Israel’s enemies — Hezbollah, Iran, you name it,” she told VOA. “And who will stop him? I’m very, very worried about that.”

Whatever option Netanyahu decides on, Biden has told him the U.S. will not participate in Israel’s counterattack.

Begum Erzos of VOA’s Turkish Service contributed to this report.

 

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At 12, China-central and eastern Europe group faces growing pains

Vienna, Austria — Next week, China will mark the 12th anniversary of a group for central and eastern European countries it established to grow its influence in the EU. But when it does, there will be no high-level activities or celebrations to mark the group’s creation.

Since 2019, the frequency of meetings between China and central and eastern European leaders has decreased, and one after another, members have withdrawn.

Matej Simalcik, executive director at the Central European Institute of Asian Studies, told VOA Mandarin that when the China-Central and Eastern European Countries Cooperation Mechanism was launched on April 26, 2012, central and eastern European, or CEE states “were largely motivated as a reaction to the global financial crisis. Cooperation with China was seen as a means to provide new stimuli for economic growth.”

Since its inception, however, the initiative has been riddled with problems. 

“From the very beginning, agenda-setting within the format was largely dominated by the Chinese side. At the same time, CEE capitals often failed to not just promote, but also come up with their own ideas about what kind of cooperation with China would best serve their interests,” Simalcik said.

“With this, the format’s annual summits were reduced to mere talk shops, which also served Chinese domestic propaganda purposes.”

Also known as the 16+1, the group has included Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia and Slovenia. When Greece joined in 2019, it was renamed 17+1.

From 2013 to 2019, seven meetings were held: six in the capitals of Romania, Serbia, Latvia, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Croatia and one in Suzhou, China.

Members have not held an in-person leadership meeting since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019, and it has been three years since Chinese President Xi Jinping attended a video conference.

During that same period, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania announced their withdrawal, while China’s relations with the Czech Republic and other central and eastern European countries deteriorated.

Ja Ian Chong, associate professor of the Department of Political Science at the National University of Singapore, tells VOA’s Mandarin service that many central and eastern European states have grown more cautious — even suspicious — of Beijing and its projects, “especially after seeing Moscow’s aggression toward Ukraine and Beijing’s continuing support for Russia.”

China’s outward investment projects have started to decline and the economic incentives for cooperation are now no longer as great, Chong adds. 

China’s “transnational repression within Europe and diplomatic spats with Czechia and Lithuania that came with economic punishment further reduced appetite for cooperation with Beijing,” he said.

Simalcik said China’s sanctions of members of the European Parliament over the Xinjiang issue and its interference in central and eastern European states’ interactions with Taiwan, especially Taiwan-Czech Republic relations, have also made cooperation between the two sides more difficult.

Beijing considers Taiwan a breakaway province and has not ruled out the use of force to unify it with the mainland.

Xinjiang is a region of China where Beijing is accused of human rights violations against Uyghur Muslims. Beijing denies the accusations.  

Filip Sebok, a China researcher at the Association for International Affairs in Prague, told VOA Mandarin that much has changed since China initiated the 16+1 mechanism in 2012. 

While China could present itself at that time as a mostly economic actor, “It is now clear for most European nations, including those in CEE, that China also presents certain security and geopolitical challenges,” he said.

“At the same time, the authoritarian turn within China, human rights abuses, and the spillover of its authoritarian outreach abroad have also changed perceptions of China,” he added. 

However, cooperation between China and CEE countries has not been fruitless, Chong said.

“In essence, CEE states that are more authoritarian and have friendlier ties with Russia tend to be more positive about the cooperation with the PRC,” he said.

Sebok said if Beijing wants to win the support of CEE countries, it should meet these countries’ expectations for economic cooperation. The mismatch between expectations and results led to the decreasing profile of the China-CEE cooperation format. 

“However, we might yet see a reinvigoration of the format in some form. An important factor is the rising Chinese investment in electromobility supply chains, which we are seeing mainly in Hungary, but also in Slovakia and Poland. This might give the cooperation a new impetus,” he said.

Changes in the political situation in Europe and the United States may also create opportunities for restarting cooperation. 

Sebok said that Slovakia, after parliamentary elections in 2023 and presidential election this year, “is exhibiting signs of seeking a closer relationship with China, which might enlarge the group of China-enthusiastic countries.”

If the United States elects a new president and changes its approach to the EU, that “might also create new opportunities for China to take advantage of the uncertainty in the region and increase its influence,” he said.

The United States holds its presidential election this November.

Adrianna Zhang contributed to this report.

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International donors pledge more than $2.13B for Sudan

One year after Sudan’s war started, international donors pledged over $2.13 billion dollars in funding for the country at a conference in Paris. Meanwhile, the U.N. says the looming famine in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, is unprecedented, and human rights activists are calling for justice for the “coordinated” ethnic killings that continue in Darfur. Henry Wilkins reports.

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Thousands rally in Georgia as parliament debates ‘foreign influence’ law

Tbilisi, Georgia — Georgian lawmakers on Tuesday agreed on an early draft of a controversial “foreign influence” bill, sparking fresh street protests against the legislation criticized for mirroring a repressive Russian law.

The bill has sparked outrage in Georgia and concern in the West, with many arguing it undermines Georgia’s bid for European Union membership.

Lawmakers voted 78 to 25 to move the draft bill on for further debate.

Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili, who is at loggerheads with the ruling party, condemned the move as “against the will of the population.”

It “is a direct provocation — a Russian strategy of destabilization,” she said.

Thousands rallied in the evening outside the parliament building in Tbilisi, blocking traffic on the main thoroughfare of the Georgian capital, whistling, and shouting, “No to the Russian law!”

Riot police cordoned off entrances to the legislature, and demonstrators briefly scuffled with them, attempting to push against the police line, an AFP journalist witnessed.

Police used pepper spray against the crowds, and several protestors were detained. A water cannon was also on standby.

The Interior Ministry said one police officer had been injured.

In chaotic scenes past midnight, riot police chased protesters in the labyrinth of narrow streets near parliament, beating them and making arrests.

Several local media outlets said police had attacked their journalists.

University student Kote Tatishvili, one of the demonstrators, said, “Georgians will never accept this Russian law.” 

“We, peaceful demonstrators, will prevail, we will force Russian stooges in the Georgian Dream [ruling party] to withdraw the law,” he said.

A day earlier, police had detained 14 demonstrators as some 10,000 people took to the streets.

The European Union has called on Tbilisi not to pass the legislation, saying it contradicts the democratic reforms the country is required to pursue to progress on its path towards EU membership.

Renewing Brussels’ criticism of the proposals, EU chief Charles Michel said Tuesday: “The draft Law on Transparency of Foreign Influence is not consistent with Georgia’s EU aspiration and its accession trajectory.”

It “will bring Georgia further away from the EU and not closer,” he wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

Amnesty International urged Georgian authorities to “immediately stop their incessant efforts to impose repressive legislation on the country’s vibrant civil society.”

It said the draft law “poses a direct threat to the rights to freedom of association and expression.”

‘Derail from European path’

The ruling Georgian Dream party controls 84 seats in the 150-member legislature and can pass the law without opposition backing.

If adopted, the bill would require any independent NGO and media organization that receives more than 20% of funding from abroad to register as an “organization pursuing the interests of a foreign power.”

That was a change from last year’s proposal, which used the term “agent of foreign influence.”

The term “foreign agent” is rooted in the Soviet past and suggests such people are traitors and enemies of the state.

A similar law is used in Russia to punish government critics and suffocate independent media.

In December, the EU granted Georgia official candidate status but said Tbilisi would have to reform its judicial and electoral systems, reduce political polarization, improve press freedom, and curtail the power of oligarchs before membership talks are formally launched.

U.S. State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said last week that passing the law would “derail Georgia from its European path.”

The ruling party was forced to drop a similar measure last year, following mass protests that saw police use water cannon and tear gas against demonstrators.

Then in a surprise move ahead of October’s parliamentary elections seen as a key democratic test, it reintroduced the bill in parliament earlier this month.

A former Soviet republic, Georgia has sought for years to deepen relations with the West, but the current ruling party is accused of trying to steer the Black Sea nation toward closer ties with Russia.

Once seen as leading the democratic transformation of ex-Soviet countries, Georgia has in recent years been criticized for perceived democratic backsliding.

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Whitey Herzog, Hall of Fame baseball manager in US, dies at 92

NEW YORK — Whitey Herzog, the gruff and ingenious Hall of Fame manager who guided the St. Louis Cardinals to three pennants and a World Series title in the 1980s, and perfected an intricate, nail-biting strategy known as “Whiteyball,” has died. He was 92. 

Cardinals spokesman Brian Bartow said Tuesday that the team, based in the U.S. state of Missouri, was informed of Herzog’s death by his family. Herzog, who had been at Busch Stadium on April 4 for the Cardinals’ home opener, died on Monday, according to Bartow. 

“Whitey Herzog devoted his lifetime to the game he loved, excelling as a leader on and off the field,” Jane Forbes Clark, chair of the Hall of Fame’s board of directors, said in a statement. “Whitey always brought the best out of every player he managed with a forthright style that won him respect throughout the game.” 

A crew-cut, pot-bellied tobacco chewer who had no patience for the “buddy-buddy” school of management, Herzog joined the Cardinals in 1980 and helped end the team’s decade-plus pennant drought by adapting it to the artificial surface and distant fences of Busch Memorial Stadium. A typical Cardinals victory under Herzog was a low-scoring, 1-run game, sealed in the final innings by a “bullpen by committee,” relievers who might be replaced after a single pitch, or temporarily shifted to the outfield, then brought back to the mound. 

The Cardinals had power hitters in George Hendrick and Jack Clark, but they mostly relied on the speed and resourcefulness of switch-hitters Vince Coleman and Willie McGee, the acrobatic fielding of shortstop and future Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith, and the effective pitching of starters such as John Tudor and Danny Cox and relievers Todd Worrell, Ken Dayley and Jeff Lahti. For the ’82 champions, Herzog didn’t bother rotating relievers, but simply brought in future Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter to finish the job. 

Under Herzog, the Cards won pennants in 1982, 1985 and 1987, and the World Series in 1982, when they edged the Milwaukee Brewers in seven games. Herzog managed the Kansas City Royals to division titles in 1976-78, but they lost each time in the league championship to the New York Yankees. 

Overall, Herzog was a manager for 18 seasons, compiling a record of 1,281 wins and 1,125 losses. He was named Manager of the Year in 1985 and voted into the Hall by the Veterans Committee in 2010, his plaque noting his “stern, yet good-natured style,” and his emphasis on speed, pitching and defense. Just before he formally entered the Hall, the Cardinals retired his uniform number, 24. 

Dorrel Norman Elvert Herzog was born in New Athens, Illinois, a blue-collar community that would shape him long after he left. He excelled in baseball and basketball and was open to skipping the occasional class to take in a Cardinals game. Signed up by the Yankees, he was a center fielder who discovered that he had competition from a prospect born just weeks before him, Mickey Mantle. 

Herzog never played for the Yankees, but he did get to know manager Casey Stengel, another master shuffler of players who became a key influence.  

Like so many successful managers, Herzog was a mediocre player, batting just .257 over eight seasons and playing several positions. His best year was with Baltimore in 1961, when he hit .291. He also played for the Washington Senators, Kansas City Athletics and Detroit Tigers, with whom he ended his playing career, in 1963. 

“Baseball has been good to me since I quit trying to play it,” he liked to say. 

Herzog is survived by his wife of 71 years, Mary Lou Herzog; their three children, Debra, David and Jim, and their spouses; nine grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren. 

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South Korea cautiously optimistic about US-Japan military upgrades

WASHINGTON — South Korea is cautiously optimistic about alliance upgrades that the U.S. and Japan have planned to bolster security in East Asia and the Indo-Pacific region.

A South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesperson said the ministry “noted” that the U.S. and Japan, at their summit in Washington last week, spoke of “the defensive nature of the U.S.-Japan alliance” and emphasized “peace and stability” in the region.

The spokesperson continued via email to VOA’s Korean Service on Friday that “South Korea, the U.S. and Japan are making efforts to institutionalize expanded trilateral cooperation through agreements made at Camp David last year” and “to strengthen rules-based international order.”

The three countries held a trilateral summit at Camp David in August after Seoul and Tokyo mended ties frayed by disputes rooted in Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945.

At their bilateral summit held in Washington on April 10, Washington and Tokyo announced wide-ranging plans to revamp their military ties. 

The plans include preparations for Japan to develop and produce with the U.S. military hardware, including hypersonic missile interceptors.

U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel toured a Mitsubishi Heavy Industries F-35 fighter jet factory near Nagoya on Tuesday. He underlined the importance of Japan’s role in manufacturing weapons as U.S. supplies run thin amid crises in Europe and the Middle East.

The plans announced at the summit also call for Japan’s possible involvement in the AUKUS Pillar II security pact, enabling it to develop quantum computing, hypersonic, undersea and other advanced technologies. 

AUKUS is a defense and security group of Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States. AUKUS Pillar 2 refers to a suite of cooperative activities conducted by the three nations to develop and field “advanced capabilities.” 

Japan will hold trilateral exercises with the U.S. and the U.K. starting in 2025 as the Indo-Pacific and Euro-Atlantic regions become “ever-more linked,” according to the joint statement. 

The plans call for Japan to expand its security role and arms buildup in tandem with efforts to implement a national security strategy issued in 2022. That called for an increase in Japan’s defense budget and a shift from a defense-only policy to one that includes counterstrike capabilities amid threats from North Korea and China. 

In December, Japan eased its arms export control regime that had allowed it to sell components but not completed weapons. 

Cho Han-Bum, a senior research fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification, said “Japan’s arms reinforcement can be viewed as a double-edged sword.”  

In an interview Monday with VOA’s Korean Service, he said the arms buildup significantly helps to deter threats from the Chinese military and North Korean nuclear weapons, but that it concerns South Korea.

Due to unresolved historical disputes from Japan’s colonization of Korea from 1910 to 1945, “trust” between the militaries of the two countries “is not restored fully,” even as they cooperate together now, he said.

South Korea, Japan, and the U.S. conducted a two-day joint naval exercise in the East China Sea from April 11 to 12. The exercise included anti-submarine warfare drills to counter North Korea’s underwater threats and interdiction drills aimed at blocking the North’s weapons shipments. 

South Korea, under President Yoon Suk Yeol, has been pursuing a policy of rapprochement with Tokyo, and has aligned itself closely with Washington in countering Beijing’s economic and military coercion.  

Under the previous administration of Moon Jae-in, Seoul relied for its security on the U.S. while bolstering economic relations with China. Ties with Tokyo remained tense. 

Much of the anti-Japanese sentiment still runs high in South Korea, despite Yoon’s outreach to Tokyo, especially among progressives who increased their majority in an April 10 parliamentary election. 

South Korea’s Foreign Ministry lodged a protest on Tuesday against Japan’s claim over a disputed island that sits midway between the two countries, called Dokdo by South Korea and Takeshima by Japan. 

Won Gon Park, an adjunct professor of North Korean studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul, said South Korea now has to “make a choice” whether to work more closely with Japan to counter threats from North Korea and China.

He said in an interview with VOA’s Korean Service that this might be necessary, as the U.S. builds a regional security structure to bolster defenses against China. 

At their summit, the U.S. and Japan also announced a planned revision of the command structure of U.S. forces in Japan. This will complement Japan’s plan to establish a joint operations command to improve coordination of its air, ground, maritime forces by 2025. 

Bruce Bennett, a senior defense analyst at the RAND Corporation, said Washington “is increasingly anxious to have global partners” step up their arms manufacturing because the U.S. is not producing enough military hardware to counter all the threats from Russia, China, North Korea and Iran.

Speaking with VOA by telephone on Friday, Bennett said what was announced at the summit was that “Japan would be a global partner,” enabling the U.S. to share highly sensitive “information, technology and other capabilities in exchange for taking responsibility with security and stability in the regions that go outside Northeast Asia.”

He added, “The U.S. recognizes South Korea can’t afford to send multiple divisions to other areas around the world because of the North Korean threats” but is “anxious” to have South Korea play a deeper global role, especially in the Indo-Pacific. 

Kim Hyungjin contributed to the report.

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House Republicans send Mayorkas impeachment articles to Senate, forcing trial

Washington — House impeachment managers walked two articles of impeachment against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas across the Capitol to the Senate on Tuesday, forcing senators to convene a trial on the allegations that he has “willfully and systematically” refused to enforce immigration laws.

While the Senate is obligated to hold a trial under the rules of impeachment once the charges are walked across the Capitol, the proceedings may not last long. Democrats are expected to try to dismiss or table the charges later this week before the full arguments get underway.

Republicans have argued there should be a full trial. As Speaker Mike Johnson, a Republican from Louisiana, signed the articles Monday in preparation for sending them across the Capitol, he said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, should convene a trial to “hold those who engineered this crisis to full account.” 

Schumer “is the only impediment to delivering accountability for the American people,” Johnson said. “Pursuant to the Constitution, the House demands a trial.”

Majority Democrats have said the Republicans’ case against Mayorkas doesn’t rise to the “high crimes and misdemeanors” laid out as a bar for impeachment in the Constitution, and Schumer likely has enough votes to end the trial immediately if he decides to do so. The proceedings will not begin until Wednesday.

Schumer has said he wants to “address this issue as expeditiously as possible.”

“Impeachment should never be used to settle a policy disagreement,” Schumer said. “That would set a horrible precedent for the Congress.”

Senators will be sworn in Wednesday as jurors, turning the chamber into the court of impeachment. The Senate will then issue a summons to Mayorkas to inform him of the charges and ask for a written answer. He will not have to appear in the Senate at any point.

What happens after that is unclear. Impeachment rules generally allow the Senate to decide how to proceed.

The House narrowly voted in February to impeach Mayorkas for his handling of the border. House Republicans charged in two articles of impeachment that Mayorkas has not only refused to enforce existing law but also breached the public trust by lying to Congress and saying the border was secure. It was the first time in nearly 150 years a Cabinet secretary was impeached.

Since then, Johnson has delayed sending the articles to the Senate for weeks while both chambers finished work on government funding legislation and took a two-week recess. Johnson had said he would send them to the Senate last week, but punted again after Senate Republicans said they wanted more time to prepare.

South Dakota Sen. John Thune, the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, has said the Senate needs to hold a full trial where it can examine the evidence against Mayorkas and come to a final conclusion.

“This is an absolute debacle at the southern border,” Thune said. “It is a national security crisis. There needs to be accountability.”

House impeachment managers — members who act as prosecutors and are appointed by the speaker — previewed some of their arguments at a hearing with Mayorkas on Tuesday morning on President Joe Biden’s budget request for the department.

House Homeland Security Chairman Mark Green, a Tennessee Republican who is one of the managers, told the secretary that he has a duty under the law to control and guard U.S. borders, and “during your three years as secretary, you have failed to fulfill this oath. You have refused to comply with the laws passed by Congress and you have breached the public trust.”

Mayorkas defended the department’s efforts but said the nation’s immigration system is “fundamentally broken, and only Congress can fix it.”

Other impeachment managers are Michael McCaul of Texas, Andy Biggs of Arizona, Ben Cline of Virginia, Andrew Garbarino of New York, Michael Guest of Mississippi, Harriet Hageman of Wyoming, Clay Higgins of Louisiana, Laurel Lee of Florida, August Pfluger of Texas and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia.

After the jurors are sworn in, Senate Republicans are likely to try to raise a series of objections if Schumer calls a vote to dismiss or table, an effort to both protest and delay the move. But ultimately they cannot block a dismissal if majority Democrats have the votes.

Some Republicans have said they would like time to debate whether Mayorkas should be impeached, even though debate time is usually not included in impeachment proceedings. Negotiations were underway between the two parties over whether Schumer may allow that time and give senators in both parties a chance to discuss the impeachment before it is dismissed. 

While most Republicans oppose quick dismissal, some have hinted they could vote with Democrats

Sen. Mitt Romney, a Republican representing Utah, said last week he wasn’t sure what he would do if there were a move to dismiss the trial. “I think it’s virtually certain that there will not be the conviction of someone when the constitutional test has not been met,” he said.

At the same time, Romney said he wants to at least express his view that “Mayorkas has done a terrible job, but he’s following the direction of the president and has not met the constitutional test of a high crime or misdemeanor.”

In any case, Republicans would not be able to win the support of the two-thirds of the Senate that is needed to convict and remove Mayorkas from office. Democrats control the Senate, 51-49, and they appear to be united against the impeachment effort. Not a single House Democrat supported it, either.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat who is facing a tough reelection bid in Ohio, called the impeachment trial a “distraction,” arguing that Republicans should instead support a bipartisan border compromise they scuttled earlier this year.

“Instead of doing this impeachment — the first one in 100 years — why are we not doing a bipartisan border deal?” he said.

If Democrats are not able to dismiss or table the articles, they could follow the precedent of several impeachment trials for federal judges over the last century and hold a vote to create a trial committee that would investigate the charges. While there is sufficient precedent for this approach, Democrats may prefer to end the process completely, especially in a presidential election year when immigration and border security are top issues.

If the Senate were to proceed to an impeachment trial, it would be the third in five years. Democrats impeached former President Donald Trump twice, once over his dealings with Ukraine and a second time in the days after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. The Senate acquitted Trump both times.

At a trial, senators would be forced to sit in their seats for the duration, maybe weeks, while the House impeachment managers and lawyers representing Mayorkas make their cases. The Senate is allowed to call witnesses, as well, if it so decides, and can ask questions of both sides after the opening arguments are finished.

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Yellen warns of new sanctions against Iran following attack on Israel 

German chancellor urges China to use ‘influence’ to end Ukraine war

US, China defense chiefs hold first call since 2022

Pentagon — U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with his Chinese counterpart on Tuesday, the first dialogue between the two countries’ defense chiefs in nearly 17 months.

The Pentagon said Austin and Chinese Admiral Dong Jun discussed “defense relations” and global security issues from Russia’s unprovoked war in Ukraine to recent provocations from North Korea. A press release said Austin stressed the importance of “respect for high seas freedom of navigation as guaranteed under international law, especially in the South China Sea.”

Beijing has asserted its desire to control access to the South China Sea and bring Taiwan under its control, by force if necessary. President Joe Biden has said U.S. troops would defend the democratically-run island from attack.

Tensions have risen between China and U.S. ally the Philippines in the South China Sea as well, with China’s coast guard using water cannons this month to threaten Filipino fishing ships. China has also used collision and ramming tactics, undersea barriers and a military-grade laser to stop Philippine resupply and patrol missions.

A senior defense official, speaking to reporters on condition of anonymity ahead of the talks, said the call between Austin and Dong was an “important step” in keeping lines of communication open between the two military powers.

“These engagements provide us with opportunities to prevent competition from veering into conflict by speaking candidly about our concerns. That includes the PRC’s behavior in the South China Sea, as well as the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” said the senior defense official. PRC is the acronym for the People’s Republic of China, the country’s official name.

The call marked the first time Austin has ever spoken to Dong, who has served as China’s minister of national defense since December. It also marked the first time that Austin has spoken at length with a PRC counterpart since November 2022, when he met with then-Minister of National Defense General Wei Fenghe in Cambodia.

China’s previous defense minister, General Li Shangfu, was subjected to U.S. sanctions that China deemed an obstacle to having him communicate directly with Austin. The only engagement Austin had with General Li was a handshake at the Shangri-la dialogue in Singapore last year.

The senior defense official said conversations between U.S. and Chinese defense leaders “ensure that the PRC has a clear understanding of our positions on all of the regional and global security issues.”

The talks come as the Pentagon said it had indications that a Chinese surge of weapons technology sales to Russia is helping ramp up Moscow’s defense production as it continues to attack its neighbor, Ukraine.

Pentagon press secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters in response to a question from VOA Monday that China had sold “significant quantities” of machine tools, microelectronics, optics, drones and cruise missile technology to Russia, which Moscow is using to make propellants for weapons.

“So this support is actively enabling Russia’s war in Ukraine and poses a significant threat to security — international security,” Ryder added.

The Associated Press reported on Friday that two senior Biden administration officials said that about 90% of Russia’s microelectronics in 2023 and nearly 70% of Russia’s machine tool imports in the last quarter of 2023 came from China. Russia used that technology to make missiles, tanks and aircraft.

Chinese and Russian entities have jointly produced drones inside Russia, and China-based companies are providing optical components for use in Russian tanks and armored vehicles, the officials also told AP.

The call between Austin and Dong is the latest in a series of recent conversations between U.S. and Chinese defense leaders. The top U.S. general, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. C.Q. Brown, spoke with his Chinese military counterpart in December.

Earlier this month, the U.S. and Chinese militaries held working-level Military Maritime Consultative Agreement talks in Hawaii for the first time since 2021.

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Facing Republican revolt, House Speaker Johnson pushes ahead on US aid for Ukraine, Israel

Washington — Defiant and determined, House Speaker Mike Johnson pushed back Tuesday against mounting Republican anger over his proposed U.S. aid package for Ukraine, Israel and other allies, and rejected a call to step aside or risk a vote to oust him from office.

“I am not resigning,” Johnson said after a testy morning meeting of fellow House Republicans at the Capitol

Johnson referred to himself as a “wartime speaker” of the House and indicated in his strongest self-defense yet he would press forward with a U.S. national security aid package, a situation that would force him to rely on Democrats to help pass it, over objections from his weakened majority.

“We are simply here trying to do our jobs,” Johnson said, calling the motion to oust him “absurd … not helpful.”

Tuesday brought a definitive shift in tone from both the House Republicans and the speaker himself at a pivotal moment as the embattled leader tries, against the wishes of his majority, to marshal the votes needed to send the stalled national security aid for Israel, Ukraine and other overseas allies to passage.

Johnson appeared emboldened by his meeting late last week with Donald Trump when the Republican former president threw him a political lifeline with a nod of support after their private talk at Trump’s Mar-A-Lago resort in Florida. At his own press conference Tuesday, Johnson spoke of the importance of ensuring Trump, who is now at his criminal trial in New York, is re-elected to the White House.

Johnson also spoke over the weekend with President Joe Biden as well as other congressional leaders about the emerging U.S. aid package, which the speaker plans to move in separate votes for each section — with bills for Ukraine, Israel, the Indo-Pacific region. He spoke about it with Biden again late Monday.

It’s a complicated approach that breaks apart the Senate’s $95 billion aid package for separate votes, and then stitches it back together for the president’s signature.

The approach will require the speaker to cobble together bipartisan majorities with different factions of House Republicans and Democrats on each measure. Additionally, Johnson is preparing a fourth measure that would include various Republican-preferred national security priorities, such as a plan to seize some Russian assets in U.S. banks to help fund Ukraine and another to turn the economic aid for Ukraine into loans.

The plan is not an automatic deal-braker for Democrats in the House and Senate, with leaders refraining from comment until they see the actual text of the measure, due out later Tuesday.

House Republicans, however, were livid that Johnson will be leaving their top priority — efforts to impose more security at the U.S.-Mexico border — on the sidelines. Some predicted Johnson will not be able to push ahead with voting on the package this week, as planned..

Rep. Debbie Lesko, a Republican representing Arizona, called the morning meeting an “argument fest.”

She said Johnson was “most definitely” losing support for the plan, but he seemed undeterred in trying to move forward despite “what the majority of the Conference” of Republicans wanted.

When the speaker said the House Republicans’ priority border security bill H.R. 2 would not be considered germane to the package, Rep. Chip Roy, a Republican representing Texas and a chief sponsor, said it’s for the House to determine which provisions and amendments are relevant.

“Things are very unresolved,” Roy said.

Roy said said Republicans want “to be united. They just have to be able to figure out how to do it.”

The speaker faces a threat of ouster from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican representing Georgia and the top Trump ally who has filed a motion to vacate the speaker from office in a snap vote — much the way Republicans ousted their former speaker, Kevin McCarthy, last fall.

While Greene has not said if or when she will force the issue, and has not found much support for her plan after last year’s turmoil over McCarthy’s exit, she drew at least one key supporter Tuesday.

Rep. Thomas Massie, a Republican representing Kentucky, rose in the meeting and suggested Johnson should step aside, pointing to the example of John Boehner, an even earlier House speaker who announced an early resignation in 2015 rather than risk a vote to oust him, according to Republicans in the room.

Johnson did not respond, according to Republicans in the room, but told the lawmakers they have a “binary” choice” before them.

The speaker explained they either try to pass the package as he is proposing or risk facing a discharge petition from Democrats that would force a vote on their preferred package — the Senate approved measure. But that would leave behind the extra Republican priorities.

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Day 2: Judge dismisses more prospective jurors in Trump hush money case

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators shut down highways and bridges in major US cities

CHICAGO — Pro-Palestinian demonstrators blocked roadways in Illinois, California, New York and the Pacific Northwest on Monday, temporarily shutting down travel into some of the nation’s most heavily used airports, onto the Golden Gate and Brooklyn bridges and on a busy West Coast highway.

In Chicago, protesters linked arms and blocked lanes of Interstate 190 leading into O’Hare International Airport around 7 a.m. in a demonstration they said was part of a global “economic blockade to free Palestine,” according to Rifqa Falaneh, one of the organizers.

Traffic in the San Francisco Bay Area was snarled for hours as demonstrators shut down all vehicle, pedestrian and bike traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge and chained themselves to 55-gallon drums filled with cement across Interstate 880 in Oakland. Protesters marching into Brooklyn blocked Manhattan-bound traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge. In Eugene, Oregon, protesters blocked Interstate 5, shutting down traffic on the major highway for about 45 minutes.

Protesters say they chose O’Hare in part because it is one of the largest airports. Among other things, they’ve called for an immediate cease-fire in the war between Israel and Hamas.

Anti- war protesters have demonstrated in Chicago near daily since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel that killed around 1,200 people. Israeli warplanes and ground troops have since conducted a scorched-earth campaign on the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli offensive has killed more than 33,700 Palestinians, according to the Gaza health ministry. The ministry does not differentiate between civilians and combatants in its count but says women and children make up two-thirds of the dead.

O’Hare warned travelers on the social platform X to take alternative forms of transportation with car travel “substantially delayed this morning due to protest activity.”

Some travelers stuck in standstill traffic left their cars and walked the final leg to the airport along the freeway, trailing their luggage behind them.

Among them was Madeline Hannan from suburban Chicago. She was headed to O’Hare for a work trip to Florida when her and her husband’s car ended up stalled for 20 minutes. She got out and “both ran and speed walked” more than 1.6 kilometers (1 mile). She said she made it to the gate on time, but barely.

“This was an inconvenience,” she said in a telephone interview from Florida. “But in the grand scheme of things going on overseas, it’s a minor inconvenience.”

While individual travelers may have been affected, operations at the airport appeared near normal with delays of under 15 minutes, according to the Chicago Department of Aviation.

Inbound traffic toward O’Hare resumed around 9 a.m.

Near Seattle, the Washington State Department of Transportation said a demonstration closed the main road to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Social media posts showed people holding a banner and waving Palestinian flags while standing on the highway, which reopened about three hours later.

About 20 protesters were arrested at the Golden Gate Bridge demonstration and traffic resumed shortly after noon, according to the California Highway Patrol. The agency said officers were making arrests at two points on the interstate, including one spot where roughly 300 protesters refused orders to disperse,

“Attempting to block or shut down a freeway or state highway to protest is unlawful, dangerous, and prevents motorists from safely reaching their destinations,” the agency said in a statement.

Oregon State Police said 52 protestors were were arrested for disorderly conduct following the Interstate 5 protest in Eugene, Oregon, about 177 kilometers (110 miles) south of Portland. Six vehicles were towed from the scene.

New York Police made numerous arrests, saying 150 protesters were initially involved in the march around 3:15 p.m., but that number quickly grew. The bridge was fully reopened by 5 p.m.

In Chicago, dozens of protesters were arrested, according to Falaneh. Chicago police said Monday that “multiple people” were taken into custody after a protest where people obstructed traffic, but they did not have a detailed count.

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Maui Fire Department to release after-action report on deadly Hawaii wildfires

HONOLULU — The Maui Fire Department is expected to release a report Tuesday detailing how the agency responded to a series of wildfires that burned on the island during a windstorm last August — including one that killed 101 people in the historic town of Lahaina and became the deadliest U.S. wildfire in more than a century.

The release comes one day before the Hawaii Attorney General is expected to release the first phase of a separate comprehensive investigation about the events before, during and after the Aug. 8 fires.

The reports could help officials understand exactly what happened when the wind-whipped fire overtook the historic Maui town of Lahaina, destroying roughly 3,000 properties and causing more than $5.5 billion in estimated damage, according to state officials.

The Western Fire Chiefs Association produced the after-action report for the Maui Fire Department. After-action reports are frequently used by military organizations, emergency response agencies, government entities and even companies to help identify the strengths and weaknesses of the organization’s response to an emergency.

A similar after-action report was released by the Maui Police Department in February. It included 32 recommendations to improve the law enforcement agency’s response to future tragedies, including that the department obtain better equipment and that it station a high-ranking officer in the island’s communications center during emergencies.

Hawaiian Electric has acknowledged that one of its power lines fell and caused a fire in Lahaina the morning of Aug. 8, but the utility company denies that the morning fire caused the flames that burned through the town later that day. But dozens of lawsuits filed by survivors and victims’ families claim otherwise, saying entities like Hawaiian Electric, Maui County, large property owners or others should be held responsible for the damage caused by the inferno.

Many of the factors that contributed to the disaster are already known: Strong winds from a hurricane passing far offshore had downed power lines and blown off parts of rooftops, and debris blocked roads throughout Lahaina. Later those same winds rained embers and whipped flames through the heart of the town.

The vast majority of the county’s fire crews were already tied up fighting other wildfires on a different part of the island, their efforts sometimes hindered by a critical loss of water pressure after the winds knocked out electricity for the water pumps normally used to load firefighting tanks and reservoirs. County officials have acknowledged that a lack of backup power for critical pumps made it significantly harder for crews to battle the Upcountry fires.

A small firefighting team was tasked with handling any outbreaks in Lahaina. That crew brought the morning fire under control and even declared it extinguished, then broke for lunch. By the time they returned, flames had erupted in the same area and were quickly moving into a major subdivision. The fire in Lahaina burned so hot that thousands of water pipes melted, making it unlikely that backup power for pumps would have made a significant impact.

Cellphone and internet service was also down in the area, so it was difficult for some to call for help or to get information about the spreading fire — including any evacuation announcements. And emergency officials did not use Hawaii’s extensive network of emergency sirens to warn Lahaina residents.

The high winds made it hard at times for first responders to communicate on their radios, and 911 operators and emergency dispatchers were overwhelmed with hundreds of calls.

Police and electricity crews tried to direct people away from roads that were partially or completely blocked by downed power lines. Meanwhile, people trying to flee burning neighborhoods packed the few thoroughfares leading in and out of town.

The traffic jam left some trapped in their cars when the fire overtook them. Others who were close to the ocean jumped into the choppy waters to escape the flames.

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Ukraine downs 9 drones from Russian attacks

Biden meets Iraqi PM amid escalating Mideast tensions

As President Joe Biden hosted Iraq’s prime minister on Monday, all eyes were on Iran, which over the weekend made a historic first strike on Israel. That attack has inflamed concerns of a wider regional war, something the two leaders focused on during their Oval Office meeting. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from the White House.

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Biden hosts Czech leader to promote Ukraine aid amid delay in Congress

washington — President Joe Biden urged the U.S. House to immediately take up Senate-passed supplemental funding for Ukraine and Israel on Monday as he hosted Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala in the Oval Office. 

The visit came as Biden aimed to highlight the efforts other nations are making to support Ukraine. It followed the Czech government’s announcement that it is sending 1 million rounds of artillery ammunition to Ukraine, which Kyiv says is badly needed on the battlefield against Russia’s invasion. 

“As the Czech Republic remembers, Russia won’t stop at Ukraine,” Biden said. He appealed to Congress to pass the supplemental funding so the U.S. could do its part to help Ukraine. “They have to do it now,” he said. 

Fiala praised the U.S. president for his leadership in support of Ukraine, adding, “We are also doing our best.” 

He said, “In 1968 I saw Russian tanks in the streets of my town, and I don’t want to see this again.” 

Biden called the Czech Republic a “great ally” in NATO, as Fiala said his country’s decision to purchase F-35 fighter jets from the U.S. will “make our cooperation and security much stronger.” 

Fiala told reporters following his meeting with Biden that he would meet with lawmakers on Capitol Hill on Tuesday to further discuss Ukraine aid. 

“The support from U.S., the help from U.S., is very important,” Fiala said. 

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Zelenskyy calls for same defense from allies as for Israel

NASA looking for faster, cheaper way to collect mars rocks

Ukraine, Israel aid to hit US House floor as separate bills soon

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House of Representatives will consider aid to Israel and Ukraine as separate legislation this week, Republican Speaker Mike Johnson said on Monday, more than two months after the Senate passed a bill combining the two.

Leaving a meeting of House Republicans on Monday evening, Johnson said the narrowly divided chamber would consider four bills altogether that would also include aid to Taiwan, U.S. allies in the Indo-Pacific and U.S. national security priorities.

“We know that the world is watching us to see how we react,” Johnson told reporters. “They’re watching to see if America will stand up for its allies and in our own interest around the globe. And we will.”

U.S. aid has been delayed by Johnson’s unwillingness to consider a $95 billion bipartisan bill the Senate passed in February, including $14 billion for Israel as well as $60 billion for Ukraine.

Also included were billions to strengthen allies in the Indo-Pacific, where China is becoming more assertive, and for international humanitarian aid.

Johnson said the new House bills provide roughly the same amount of foreign aid as the Senate bill but would include differences including some aid in the form of a loan.

Republicans aim to release legislative text as early as Tuesday morning but will observe a 72-hour review period before voting. Johnson said votes on passage could come late on Friday.

The push to pass the aid gained urgency after Iran’s weekend missile and drone attack on Israel despite fierce opposition in the deeply divided Congress.

Three of the four bills Johnson suggested would cover Ukraine, Israel and the Indo-Pacific. The makeup of the fourth was not immediately clear.

Backers had insisted the broad foreign aid measure passed with 70% support in the Senate would have received similar support in the House. However, Johnson had given a variety of reasons to delay, among them the need to focus taxpayer dollars on domestic issues and reluctance to take up a Senate measure without more information.

Johnson also faces a threat from a hard-right Republicans to oust him as speaker if he allows the Ukraine aid to move ahead. Many on the right, especially those closely allied with former President Donald Trump, who has been skeptical of assisting Kyiv in its fight against Russia, fiercely oppose sending billions more dollars to Ukraine.

The House Freedom Caucus – a group of Republican hardliners with about three dozen members – released a statement on Monday calling for aid to Israel, but not to Ukraine, and rejecting as “bogus” any suggestion that the attack on Israel should help ease the path toward more funds for Kyiv.

Representative Andy Biggs, a Freedom Caucus member, told reporters he liked the idea of separate bills, but had to see them before committing to voting for them.

Defense industry watching

The issue is closely watched by industry. U.S. defense contractors could be in line for huge contracts to supply equipment for Ukraine and other U.S. partners if the additional funding passes. Aid supporters stress that approving the Ukraine bill would create many American jobs.

The White House has been pushing Johnson to allow a vote, as have Senate Republicans and Democrats. “If House Republicans put the Senate supplemental (spending bill) on the floor, I believe it would pass today, reach the president’s desk tonight and Israel would get the aid it needs by tomorrow,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said in the Senate on Monday.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell told his fellow lawmakers: “It’s also time for Congress to deliver the urgent investments that our industrial base, our forces, and our partners will need to meet and out-compete the growing and linked threats we face.”

The top House Democrat, Representative Hakeem Jeffries, sent a letter to his caucus on Monday spelling out the need to support Ukraine as well as Israel.

“The gravely serious events of this past weekend in the Middle East and Eastern Europe underscore the need for Congress to act immediately. We must take up the bipartisan and comprehensive national security bill passed by the Senate forthwith,” Jeffries wrote.

Ukraine appealed again to allies on Monday for “extraordinary and bold steps” to supply air defenses to help defend against waves of Russian airstrikes that have targeted its energy system in recent weeks.

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