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WHO Experts Recommend COVID Booster Shots for High-Risk People

A group of World Health Organization experts is recommending COVID-19 booster shots for people at the highest risk of severe illness and death. The Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization or SAGE, which met in extraordinary session August 11, issued its updated guidance Thursday. SAGE recommends continued use of the two-dose mRNA COVID-19 vaccines. Since the vaccines’ efficacy wanes after several months, however, the group of experts advises a booster shot for everyone, beginning with those at highest risk. This is the first time SAGE has updated its guidance on the administration of a second booster shot. Its recommendations are based on increasing evidence on the benefits of a second booster dose of COVID-19 vaccines for select groups of people. SAGE chairman Alejandro Cravioto said the group recommends a second booster shot for people older than 55 who are considered at highest risk of developing severe disease and in need of hospitalization. He said SAGE does not advocate a second booster for the general public, for adults who are generally healthy and do not suffer from severe immunodeficiency. "We also include persons with moderate and severe immuno-compromising conditions from, say, 6 months and above," Cravioto said. "And that includes the children and adults with co-morbidities at higher risk of severe disease. We also include pregnant women and health workers.” SAGE recommends a second booster be given four to six months after the administration of the first. It says healthy children and adolescents remain at low risk of severe disease from COVID-19, so there currently is no recommendation for youth groups to be vaccinated. Cravioto, however, said SAGE has made interim recommendations for the use of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in relation to their use in children. “In the case of both vaccines, children from 6 months to 17 years with co-morbidities should be vaccinated to avoid a higher risk in these groups of severe disease. … This includes, of course, children with Down syndrome, who we know are at the highest risk of dying of COVID if they get infected." The group of experts notes the recommendations are based on the current available data. They say it is not a projection into the future but relates specifically to the omicron variant of the coronavirus. It says the guidance is likely to change depending on how the pandemic evolves and new variants circulate.

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Aug 18
VOA Newscasts

Give us 5 minutes, and we'll give you the world. Around the clock, Voice of America keeps you in touch with the latest news. We bring you reports from our correspondents and interviews with newsmakers from across the world.

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Aug 18
VOA Interview: Ukraine Defense Chief Believes in Victory, Restoration of 1991 Borders

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said his country’s goal in the current conflict with Russia is complete victory and the restoration of Ukraine’s borders as of 1991. He spoke this week with VOA Ukrainian Service’s Ruslan Petrychka about developments in the country since Russia’s invasion earlier this year. VOA: What goal do you set for Ukraine in the war with Russia? Reznikov: The all-Ukrainian plan is the complete de-occupation of the territories occupied by the Russian Federation and return to the internationally recognized borders as of 1991. Not 2014, ’15. Not February 24, 2022. The ultimate goal is the victory of Ukraine and its restoration within its borders as of 1991. This is the main plan. The “cool-down” of the military situation is possible. I do not see a possibility of “freezing” — what people tend to call a conflict — because it is not a conflict. It is a war. This is an open war between two regular armies, and one army invaded the territory of its neighbor without any legitimate explanation or right to do so. Therefore, this war is for survival. We will be defending ourselves to survive. VOA: Per your assessment, how many combat-ready troops have Russian forces assembled near Ukraine’s borders or in the occupied territories? Reznikov: I may be wrong, but according to the latest military reports, there seems to be about 115 so-called battalion-tactical groups, of which 105 are actively deployed, and 10 are on rotation for replenishment or rest. In sum, there are up to 135,000 people. VOA: What new military equipment do you expect to receive from the United States and other Western countries? Reznikov: We are certainly expecting support and assistance from our partners. We are hopeful that a political decision will be made to give us [an] ATACMS [Army Tactical Missile System] that would allow us to hit targets up to 300 km away. This would also allow us to preserve more lives of our soldiers — men and women — and inflict very successful damage. We are hopeful to finally receive Western planes that would allow us to dominate the sky due to their better radars, range, maneuverability and speed. And of course, receiving tanks would also give us an advantage. Today, the modern world can easily provide us with technology to assure our victory and compensate for the imbalance in manpower [between Russia and Ukraine]. VOA: Are you satisfied with the latest $1 billion assistance package to Ukraine from the U.S.? Reznikov: I am very pleased, because it contains many 155 mm ammunition for the artillery systems that we have received before. It also contains quite a significant number of missiles for HIMARS [High Mobility Artillery Rocket System]. Also, missiles that allow our military to destroy and blind Russian radars. It helps us weaken their air defense system and therefore act more decisively. Hence, we are very satisfied with the assistance package. This is a tremendous help. And I will repeat once again that I hope that a political decision regarding the ATACMS missiles will soon be made. The HIMARS have changed our battlefield strategies significantly, therefore the ATACMS will be a great addition to benefit Ukraine and the civilized world. VOA: Has Ukraine lost in battle any of the HIMARS systems delivered to Ukraine by the U.S. so far? Reznikov: I can confirm with absolute responsibility that not a single HIMARS was lost. Therefore, when you read Russian mass media or social networks about “a soldier Ivanov with a Kalashnikov breaking into a truck where he destroyed 12 HIMARS” — all you can do is laugh, shake your head and say, “Well, this is simply their system of propaganda.” It's total nonsense. VOA: Do you have any agreements with the U.S. for not hitting Russian military objects in Crimea with the weapons systems provided? Reznikov: We have an agreement with the United States that we will not be using the weapons provided to us by our partners, the United States, to target the territory of the Russian Federation. However, if we are talking about de-occupying the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine where our enemies are located, then accordingly, we have no such restrictions. VOA: What measures has Ukraine put in place to monitor and provide control for the use of U.S, weapons systems delivered to Ukraine? Reznikov: We have several levels of such interactions [to control the use of delivered weapons] because to me, it is fundamentally important to retain and even grow the level of trust. It is essential to maintain this support. And from my first appeals to [U.S. Defense Secretary] Mr. Lloyd Austin and other ministers at the Ramstein conference [on April 26], I said directly in my speech, “Please help us create a system of maximum transparent control of weapons so that you could have open access to this information. We open this information for you completely. Send your emissaries and controllers, even if you would like for them to go to the front line. Feel free to control it according to your own systems.” And some countries did send their representatives to us immediately according to their security regulations. I will emphasize once again that we are totally interested in the transparency of those things, because if some people are saying that there is some smuggling involved, all that is are propagandistic narratives aimed at weakening this very support and lowering the level of trust. VOA: What is your message to the world on the eve of Ukraine Independence Day on August 24? Reznikov: I want to ask everyone — please believe in Ukraine. We continue to pay for our independence. We may have gained independence a little easier than other countries have, as we have not paid so much in blood. But now we are paying a lot, and we are washing our independence with blood. I want to add that today, the Independence Day of Ukraine is simultaneously the Independence Day of many European countries. Therefore, I ask you not to give in to the syndrome of fatigue. Stay with us, and we will win together. Ukraine will win. Everything will be Ukraine!

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Aug 18
VOA Newscasts

Give us 5 minutes, and we'll give you the world. Around the clock, Voice of America keeps you in touch with the latest news. We bring you reports from our correspondents and interviews with newsmakers from across the world.

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Aug 18
Tanker Trackers: Iran Ditched Iraqi Oil Blending Scheme for Better Way to Evade US Sanctions

An apparent scheme by Iran and its shipping industry allies to blend U.S.-sanctioned Iranian oil with Iraqi oil in 2020 was short-lived, according to tanker trackers who say Tehran dropped it in favor of a more efficient way to evade sanctions on its oil exports. TheWall Street Journal reported last month that a UAE-based businessman and several companies he either owns or is connected to via common email and corporate addresses were engaged in blending Iranian and Iraqi oil on tankers through ship-to-ship transfers of crude and refined oil products in the Persian Gulf as recently as 2020. It said the scheme enabled those involved to disguise the blended oil’s Iranian origin and brand the product as Iraqi in order to avoid U.S. sanctions targeting Iranian oil. The news report cited one example of the operation in which an Iran-owned tanker named Polaris 1 transferred Iranian fuel oil, a refined product, onto another tanker carrying Iraqi oil in March 2020. The second tanker was named the Babel and was operated at the time by Rhine Shipping DMCC, a company run by UAE-based businessman Salim Ahmed Said, an Iraqi-born British citizen. The Wall Street Journal attributed its report to corporate documents, shipping data and people familiar with the matter. It also published a statement from Said in which he denied that his companies shipped Iranian oil in violation of U.S. sanctions. VOA has found additional evidence for the claim that the Polaris 1 and the Babel engaged in the ship-to-ship transfer from March 17-19, 2020, in waters about 30 kilometers from Iraq’s Al-Faw peninsula. Two vessels resembling the Polaris 1 and the Babel appear side by side in satellite photos that were taken on those dates and provided to VOA by U.S. company Planet Labs. TankerTrackers.com co-founder Sam Madani, a researcher based in Sweden, told VOA that the physical appearances of the vessels in the photos match the images of the two tankers in his database. Greece-based maritime analytics provider MarineTraffic also told VOA that data from the Babel’s Automatic identification System (AIS) transponder show that the vessel was at the location seen in the Planet Labs photos on the dates the photos were taken. It said the Polaris 1’s transponder had been switched off from August 2019 until being reactivated on March 20, 2020, when the data showed the vessel was about 380 kilometers southeast of where the reported transfer with the Babel took place in the preceding days. Tankers often have switched off their AIS transponders in recent years to hide their activities from scrutiny. Tehran has long refused to comment on how it uses tankers to export its oil to avoid tipping off enforcers of U.S. sanctions and researchers advocating stronger enforcement of those sanctions. Madani and fellow tanker tracker Claire Jungman, chief of staff at U.S. advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), told VOA they have seen no signs of regular ship-to-ship transfers involving the blending of Iranian and Iraqi oil in the Persian Gulf since 2020. Both researchers said they believe Iran quit the scheme because it was too cumbersome for its relatively small financial reward. “These shipments involved a refined oil product and were very small,” Madani said in reference to the 2020 blending operations. The Wall Street Journal said the amount of Iranian fuel oil involved in the March 2020 Polaris 1-Babel transfer was worth $9 million. UANI said last month it estimated Iran’s revenue from crude oil and gas condensates was $37.7 billion from March 2021 to May 2022. The 2020 oil blending operations also had started to attract public attention by the end of that year, apparently prompting some of those involved to back out of the scheme. One sign of that scrutiny was an October 23, 2020, Wall Street Journal news report citing unnamed U.S. officials as saying Iranian tankers were regularly transferring crude oil to other ships just kilometers from Iraq’s Al-Faw port as part of an oil blending operation. The report did not name any of the tankers. UANI later named one of the tankers in a December 2020 blog post. It said a tanker that UANI had been tracking for two years in the Persian Gulf, then-named the Najaf, was acting as a “giant stationary ‘mixer,’ blending different oils in order to obscure Iranian origin, while other tankers collected the new illegal blend for onward export.” Jungman told VOA that the Najaf’s operator since February 2018 had been Al-Iraqia Shipping Services & Oil Trading FZE (AISSOT), a UAE-based company that The Wall Street Journal’s July 31 article said shares email and corporate addresses with businessman Said’s firms. AISSOT was formed in 2017 as a wholly owned subsidiary of Arab Maritime Petroleum Transport Company (AMPTC), which is controlled by the governments of nine members of the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries. AMPTC’s website says AISSOT was set up to help the Iraqi government export its oil. On September 13, 2020, AISSOT published a statement asserting that neither it “nor its affiliated companies, vessels or personnel are involved in any sanctioned trade, including trading Iranian oil." But on November 25, 2020, the Iraqi government’s State Oil Marketing Organization, said it had stopped using the Najaf as a floating tanker for storing Iraqi fuel oil on October 31 of that year. It said anyone purchasing oil from the Najaf after that date could face “legal consequences arising from trading in a smuggled oil product.” AISSOT itself ceased to be listed as a ship manager of the Najaf on December 30, 2020, according to Jungman. In an August 1 statement issued in response to The Wall Street Journal’s most recent report, AMPTC said it had “no knowledge” of smuggling of Iranian oil by AISSOT. In another statement issued on the same day, AISSOT noted that Iraq remains a member and shareholder of AMPTC. “There was too much talk about [the blending scheme] and a lot of oversight going on at the time,” Madani of TankerTrackers.com said. “Also, I don’t think it was yielding the kind of result that the Iranians were hoping for. So they just changed things up and experimented with new configurations of vessel movements and oil loadings.” In the past two years, that experimentation led to Iran setting up shell companies to significantly expand its tanker fleet under foreign flags to obscure Iranian ownership and avoid U.S. sanctions targeting vessels of the National Iranian Tanker Company, according to Jungman and Madani. Iran also has equipped its enlarged tanker fleet with AIS-spoofing devices that can transmit false data about a vessel’s location to make it harder to track. Spoofing for sanctions evasion now is used to export a majority of Iran’s oil, the researchers said. Jungman and Madani said Iran has more than 200 oil tankers under its control. The most active of them are 20 to 30 very large crude carriers with a capacity of 2 million barrels that move Iranian oil every other month, Jungman added. In one recent spoofing example shared with VOA, Madani said the tanker formerly named Babel, now called “Molecule,” sent AIS data on August 10 indicating that it was berthed at Iraq’s offshore Al-Basrah Oil Terminal. But Madani shared an August 10 European Space Agency (ESA) satellite photo of the Iraqi offshore terminal showing what he said was another tanker named Ephesos berthed at the same spot as the Molecule’s AIS-indicated location, with no sign of the latter vessel. Instead, another ESA satellite photo that Madani shared from the same date showed what he said was the Molecule loading fuel oil at the Iranian port of Bandar e-Mahshahr, about 100 kilometers to the northeast. With AIS spoofing and forged bills of lading, shippers who load oil at Iranian ports can claim that it came directly from ports in Iraq or Oman, Jungman said. Unlike blending Iranian and Iraqi oil through ship-to-ship transfers, AIS spoofing means Iran can ship its oil without having to deal with Iraqi customs or owners and operators of tankers carrying Iraqi oil, she added. “The Iranians basically are cutting all of those people out, and, I assume, cutting the costs of involving Iraq, so they can accumulate the revenue themselves,” Jungman said. A June report by UANI urged the international maritime industry to tighten regulations against tankers and shipping companies engaged in deceptive behaviors like spoofing. Iran has vowed to keep exporting oil however it can and its top customer, China, has kept importing in defiance of U.S. sanctions, which lack U.N. Security Council approval. Since June, the Biden administration has imposed three rounds of sanctions against companies that it accuses of helping Tehran to deliver and sell sanctioned Iranian oil. The latest sanctions were announced August 1. Jungman welcomed the actions but said targeting the owners and operators of vessels is not enough. “They have a way around the sanctions. They can create a new company and just continue the activity,” Jungman said. “Targeting additional tankers that move Iranian oil would be a better way to crack down, by making it much harder for ports to allow those vessels to dock and offload the oil,” she added. Asked by VOA whether the Biden administration plans to sanction more oil tankers under Iran’s control, the State Department cited the August 1 sanctions announcement that did not specifically address the issue and directed further questions to the Treasury Department. There was no immediate response from the Treasury Department to the same VOA question. U.S. officials routinely decline public comment on plans for sanctions prior to official announcements. Lynn Davis contributed to this report.

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Aug 18
Colombian Migrant Tells of Roadblocks in His Pursuit of American Dream

As migrants continue to arrive in Washington from Texas and Arizona, VOA spoke with a recently arrived Colombian asylum-seeker who shared his experience of barriers he faced after he crossed the U.S.-Mexico border. This is the second installment of a two-part series by VOA’s Divalizeth Cash and immigration reporter Aline Barros, who also narrates the story.

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Aug 18
August 18, 2022

A look at the best news photos from around the world.

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Aug 18
VOA Newscasts

Give us 5 minutes, and we'll give you the world. Around the clock, Voice of America keeps you in touch with the latest news. We bring you reports from our correspondents and interviews with newsmakers from across the world.

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Aug 18
US to Boost Monkeypox Vaccine Supply

The White House announced Thursday it will make an additional 1.8 million doses of monkeypox vaccine available for distribution beginning next week. At a news conference, White House national monkeypox response coordinator Bob Fenton said the additional doses will be available for U.S. jurisdictions to order starting Monday, through the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky and HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra also took part in the news briefing. Fenton said in the less than 10 days since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the CDC authorized the Jynneos vaccine for emergency use against monkeypox in individuals 18 years of age and older, HHS has delivered nearly 1 million doses to U.S. states and cities, making it the largest program of its kind for monkeypox vaccine in the world. Fenton said the additional doses are part of the National Monkeypox Response Team’s plan to address the viral disease’s outbreak in the United States and mitigate its spread. He said HHS has been working on launching a pilot program that will provide up to 50,000 doses from the national stockpile to be made available for events that will have high attendance of gay and bisexual men. While monkeypox is not classified as a sexually transmitted infection, or STI, it has been found to be disproportionally affecting men who have sex with men. The disease can spread through close or intimate physical contact such as hugging, kissing and sex. It can also be transmitted by touching infected items such as clothing, bedding or towels. Fenton said the Biden administration has also significantly increased availability and convenience of monkeypox tests, expanding capacity from 6,000 tests per week to 80,000 tests per week. Some information for this report was provided by The Associated Press and Reuters.

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Aug 18
FLASHPOINT UKRAINE: Ukraine Seen Retreating in Its East

Despite hundreds of millions of dollars more in U.S. military aid, Ukraine is withdrawing forces from areas in the country’s east where Russian forces have all but encircled key cities. Yet many Ukrainians remain dug in, expecting the worst and hoping for the best.

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Aug 18
The Inside Story-Afghanistan One Year Later Episode 53

It's been a year since U.S. troops left Afghanistan. What happened since the Taliban took power again? Get eyewitness accounts of the day Kabul fell and find out where millions of Afghans went to find refuge, on The Inside Story-Afghanistan: One Year Later.

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Aug 18
VOA Newscasts

Give us 5 minutes, and we'll give you the world. Around the clock, Voice of America keeps you in touch with the latest news. We bring you reports from our correspondents and interviews with newsmakers from across the world.

1s
Aug 18
VOA Newscasts

Give us 5 minutes, and we'll give you the world. Around the clock, Voice of America keeps you in touch with the latest news. We bring you reports from our correspondents and interviews with newsmakers from across the world.

1s
Aug 18
Rebel Leader Erdimi Returns to Chad After Decade in Exile

Exiled Chadian rebel leader Timan Erdimi has returned to the country after a decade in exile in Qatar for talks aiming to pave the way for democratic elections. But boycotts by rebel and opposition groups remain major hurdles. Erdimi, now 67, returned Thursday, ahead of Saturday’s anticipated landmark talk in N'Djamena, Chad's capital. Erdimi, who heads the Union of Resistance Forces — widely known as UFR — is accused of leading an armed group that attempted to twice overthrow the Chadian government, in 2008 and 2019. Comprising at least 40 rebel groups, Erdimi's UFR signed a peace agreement on August 8 in Doha for talks that would pave the way for elections after 18 months of military rule in Chad. But two of the biggest rebel groups are boycotting the negotiations forum. Agence France-Presse has reported that the two groups — Front for Change and Concord in Chad — triggered the 2021 offensive in northeastern Chad that killed longtime leader Idriss Deby Itno. The groups claim the forum is politically biased. The upcoming talks also are expected to bring together 1,400 delegates from the military government, civil society opposition parties, and trade unions. According to General Mahamat Idriss Deby, president of Chad’s transitional military council, the talks provide a chance for reconciliation in the fractured country. The junta’s 18-month window for transition to democracy expires in October — a deadline that France, the African Union and other stakeholders have urged the president to uphold.

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Aug 18
Judge Considers Releasing Redacted Affidavit Used in Trump Search

A federal judge in Florida ordered the Department of Justice to propose redactions to the affidavit that justified the warrant used last week to search former President Donald Trump’s Florida estate. Federal Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart in West Palm Beach said he would decide next Thursday on whether to unseal the redacted version. He gave the Justice Department a week to make its determination about which parts must be redacted. The department is opposed to making the affidavit public because it details the evidence that prompted the FBI search at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate and could compromise its ongoing investigation into whether Trump kept and mishandled classified and sensitive government records. “I’m not prepared to find that the affidavit should be fully sealed,” Reinhart said. “There are portions of this affidavit that can be unsealed.” The judge has already unsealed the warrant itself and two other documents at the department’s request. Thursday’s hearing was prompted by major American media outlets seeking to make public the affidavit and other records tied to the search. Lawyers representing CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and others met with Reinhart Thursday to argue for the release of the sealed affidavit and other documents. During the controversial search of Trump’s resort on August 8, FBI agents took 11 boxes of classified government documents that the former president had taken to his residence, after leaving the White House in January 2021. Trump and his allies have denounced the search as a “weaponization” of law enforcement, with congressional Republicans threatening to investigate the Justice Department and the FBI when they take control of Congress. Amid the uproar, several media outlets last week asked Reinhart to unseal all documents related to the search, including the search warrant and the underlying affidavit. Other outlets joined the motion later. Reinhart unsealed the search warrant last Friday after the Justice Department requested its release. But the department says it doesn’t want the affidavit made public, arguing that it contains “highly sensitive information” about witnesses and other “information required by law to be kept under seal.”  The partially redacted search warrant revealed the Justice Department is investigating Trump for a potential violation of the Espionage Act and other criminal violations in connection with his handling of highly classified documents. The affidavit contains additional details about the DOJ investigation. "If disclosed, the affidavit would serve as a roadmap to the government's ongoing investigation, providing specific details about its direction and likely course, in a manner that is highly likely to compromise future investigative steps,” federal prosecutors wrote in a Monday filing. Trump has denied any wrongdoing. Decrying the search as an “unAmerican, unwarranted, and unnecessary raid,” the former president wrote on his social media platform that he wants the documents released immediately. In their court filing, the media companies argued it is in the public interest to see “the government’s basis for the extraordinary step of seeking the warrant to search a former president’s home.” The filing said that if the judge reviews the document and finds a compelling interest in keeping some portions of the information secret, then the remainder should be made public. Those arguing for the document’s release include The Associated Press, broadcast networks ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN, as well as newspaper companies The New York Times, The Washington Post, Dow Jones & Company, E.W. Scripps Company and McClatchy. In the days since the media outlets first filed a request to unseal the documents, others have joined the motion. In a filing late Wednesday, the Florida Center for Government Accountability argued the “public importance of the case” favors unsealing the document. Another person pushing for the affidavit’s release is Andy Martin, a New Hampshire U.S. Senate candidate and writer who is requesting access to the document as part of his research on a book titled “A Psychological Study of President Donald Trump.”

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Aug 18
TPLF Alleges Government Attacks in Ethiopia’s Tigray Region

Tigrayan forces have warned of renewed conflict in northern Ethiopia, accusing federal forces of firing on their positions this week, despite a months-long cease-fire. The office of the prime minister dismissed the allegation and said it was aimed at deflecting efforts to engage in peace talks. After rumors swirled that fighting had broken out between the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the national government, TPLF spokeswoman Fesseha Asghedom Tessema told VOA that bombings took place in several areas. “The Addis Ababa government has started bombing Tigray forces on different fronts beginning yesterday,” she said. “Therefore, I don’t see any progress towards any peaceful resolution; in fact, it looks like we are back to zero.” The TPLF made similar comments in a written statement that accused the government of declaring war on the people of Tigray and committing genocide. Asked to respond to TPLF claims of provocation by national forces, government spokesperson Billene Seyoum denied the accusation at a press briefing. “This narrative and this rhetoric that keeps coming from the other side is no less than a mechanism to deflect from the desire not to engage in a peaceful manner,” Seyoum said. “But the humanitarian truce that had been enacted by the federal government is still in place.” The spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for further comment. If the claims of an attack are true, it would mark the end of the humanitarian cease-fire established in March between the two sides. The Ethiopian government had also been indicating peace talks with the TPLF might be imminent. The TPLF has said repeatedly that talks will not go ahead until a humanitarian blockade, which the United Nations said has likely left parts of Tigray in a state of famine, is lifted. William Davison, an analyst for Belgium-based research organization International Crisis Group, offered his assessment of the situation. “This report of a skirmish from the Tigrayan side of a skirmish is worrying, it’s the first in a while,” he said. “At the moment the calculations seem to remain in place that the parties are going to pursue a negotiated solution, but certainly the situation remains highly volatile.” In November 2020, the government launched a military offensive in Tigray in response to attacks by the TPLF. An estimated 5.1 million people were displaced by the conflict in 2021. Ghent University in Belgium said up to a half million people have died because of the conflict, either in fighting or as a result of the humanitarian crisis it has caused.

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Aug 18
VOA Newscasts

Give us 5 minutes, and we'll give you the world. Around the clock, Voice of America keeps you in touch with the latest news. We bring you reports from our correspondents and interviews with newsmakers from across the world.

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Aug 18
US Senator Urges Kenyan President to Aid Peaceful Transition

A visiting U.S. senator says he has encouraged Kenya’s outgoing president to participate in a “peaceful transition of power” amid the latest election crisis in East Africa’s most stable democracy. “I’ll let the president speak for himself, but that was certainly a hope I expressed today,” Sen. Chris Coons told The Associated Press after his meeting with President Uhuru Kenyatta on Thursday. He said they discussed ways in which Kenyatta can play a “constructive peacemaking role” after leaving office. Kenyatta has remained publicly silent since the Aug. 9 vote, adding to the anxiety as Kenya again faces post-election uncertainty and a likely court challenge by the losing candidate, Raila Odinga. Coons, leading a congressional delegation on a five-country Africa visit, was in Kenya in part to meet the key parties and urge that calm continue. Kenyatta had backed longtime rival and opposition leader Odinga in the close race against his own deputy president, William Ruto, who fell out bitterly with Kenyatta years ago. Ruto on Monday was declared the winner, but not before Kenya’s most peaceful election ever slid into chaos in the final moments. The electoral commission split in two, each side accusing the other of trying to tinker with the results. It came as a shock to many Kenyans after an election widely seen as the country’s most transparent ever, with results from the more than 46,000 polling stations posted online. Now Odinga almost certainly will challenge the results in Supreme Court. His campaign has seven days from Monday’s declaration to do so, and the court will have 14 days to rule. Odinga has urged supporters to remain patient instead of taking to the streets in a country with a history of sometimes deadly post-election violence. After meeting with Kenyatta, Odinga and Ruto, Coons told the AP “I was encouraged that in all three meetings we heard a commitment to a call for calm and tranquility, to respect the legal processes established in the 2010 constitution.” He said the conversations were about the rule of law, the importance of free and fair elections and peaceful transitions. “Obviously, the United States has had a very difficult experience with these issues for the past few years,” Coons said, referring to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol as former President Donald Trump tried to remain in power. “I said in all three meetings we have things to learn from Kenya.” Kenyatta told Coons that Kenya would uphold “its position of a shining example of democracy in the continent by maintaining peace during this transition period,” according to a statement issued by the president’s office. Coons said he did not come to Kenya seeking anything like the handshake that Kenyatta and Odinga, after prodding, famously shared to end months of crisis after the 2017 election, whose results were overturned by the Supreme Court over irregularities, a first in Africa. Odinga boycotted the fresh vote and declared himself the “people’s president,” bringing allegations of treason. This time, with Kenyatta's backing, the Odinga campaign felt he would win the presidency after a quarter-century of pursuing it. Kenyatta is stepping down after two terms, itself a notable act in a region where longtime presidents like Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and Paul Kagame of Rwanda have been accused of clinging to power through changes in term limits, manipulation of elections and crackdowns on dissenting voices. The U.S. delegation is also visiting Rwanda, where human rights and violent tensions with neighboring Congo are almost certainly on the agenda following Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit there last week. Coons said he looks forward to visiting again with Kagame. Kenyatta has played a leading role in efforts to calm the Rwanda-Congo tensions and in trying to mediate in neighboring Ethiopia’s deadly Tigray conflict, with support from the U.S. Coons did not say what kind of peacemaking role he hoped to see Kenyatta play after stepping down. Ruto’s public comments this week have been on domestic matters, not foreign, but Coons said the president-elect made an “expression of concern and intent in trying to help lead to positive resolutions” in such regional crises. Coons also has played a role in trying to calm the Ethiopia conflict. But he told the AP the delegation was not having a meeting with Ethiopia’s government or the Tigray forces while in Kenya. Coons, a member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, and his delegation have already visited Cape Verde and Mozambique and will visit Tunisia as well.

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Aug 18
East African Regional Bloc Begins Deployment of Troops to DRC

Burundi this week became the first country to send troops to the Democratic Republic of the Congo as part of an East African regional force that aims to end decades of unrest in the eastern DRC. But few details have been released about the deployment and some security experts worry that Burundi, like other DRC neighbors, has its own security agenda.  Burundi is the first of six East African regional forces, or EAC, to deploy troops in the DRC. Great Lakes Region security analyst Dismas Nkunda said the deployment of EAC troops is possible with the deployment of Burundi troops. "It's a welcome idea because we had a suspicion that most countries in the region had an interest in DRC, such as Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and therefore, we had thought the only countries maybe would have deployed without conflict of interest would have been Tanzania, South Sudan and Kenya,” he said. “But now that Burundi has done it, it certainly means that eventually, a peacekeeping operation by the EAC is going to happen." The East African integration bloc agreed in June to send thousands of troops to help quell the violence in the region after the emergence of the rebel group M23. On Wednesday, suspected M23 rebels killed civilians and destroyed a hydropower plant under construction in North Kivu's Virunga National Park. It's unclear what kind of structures the EAC regional force led by Kenya will be putting together to achieve its goal of defeating the rebel groups like M23 and other militia formations in the country. According to a report released by the Burundi Human Rights Initiative, late last year, Burundi secretly sent hundreds of troops into the DRC to fight a weakened armed group called Red Tabara, which carried out attacks inside Burundi. Imbonerakure, the Burundi ruling party’s youth wing, is accused of widespread atrocities against political opponents and the Burundi masses. Carina Tertsakian, with the Burundi Human Rights Initiative, expresses concern that the regional mission does not seem to have a clear mandate. "The main purpose of the unofficial Burundi military operation in DRC was to go after that rebel group,” she said. “Now, in the context of the regional force, it's not clear what's going to happen, not only in Burundi. There are other countries that are supposed to be sending troops. So, will each of these forces be allowed to just do what it wants and hunt down their particular opponents? In Burundi, this will be Red Tabara, in which case it would be in practice a continuation of what they have already been doing for the past eight months." The Kinshasa government has expressed displeasure with the neighboring country's alleged involvement in the armed conflict in Ituri, North and South Kivu provinces. Congo has a formal agreement with Uganda to allow troops to fight alongside its military against the armed group, the Allied Democratic Forces. Speaking at the Southern African Development Community summit this week in Kinshasa, DRC President Felix Tshisekedi thanked the regional community for its support of Rwanda. Kinshasa does not want Rwanda to take part in the deployment for its support of M23, a claim denied by Kigali. Tertsakian said Burundi is also partly to blame for the violence in eastern DRC. "So, there's been these kinds of tacit agreements, de-facto agreements on the part of Congolese to allow Burundians to go in there and effectively do what they want there,” she said. “[The] worry there is that compared, for example to Kenya or Tanzania, Burundi is a direct party to the conflict there."  Security analyst Nkunda said he anticipates Rwanda will take part in the operation despite Kinshasa's rejection.  "If now Burundi can, given that it has Red Tabara in DR Congo, am certainly sure even with M23 and the FDLR genocide whom Rwanda claims are in DRC, then even Rwanda can be able to deploy, and I think it's the question of time," he said. Experts are worried that rights violations can occur as some of the forces pursue the rebel groups, and there is fear there might be no accountability in addressing abuses.

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Aug 18
Three Liberian Government Officials Suspended Following US Sanctions

Liberian President George Weah suspended three officials Tuesday after the U.S. government announced sanctions on them for public corruption. The officials include the president’s chief of staff, the country’s chief prosecutor, and the managing director of Liberia’s National Port Authority. The suspensions were made less than 24 hours after the U.S. Treasury Department announced sanctions on three senior Liberian officials for alleged corruption. Nathaniel McGill, Liberia’s minister of state and the president’s chief of staff, is accused of a variety of corruption schemes, including directing warlords to threaten political rivals, bribery, and the misappropriation of state assets. Sayma Cephus, Liberia’s solicitor general and chief prosecutor, is accused of shielding suspected criminals, blocking investigations into government corruption and interfering with evidence to ensure the conviction of political rivals. Bill Twehway, managing director of Liberia’s National Port Authority, is accused of funneling money from the port into private accounts. Ibrahim Nyei is a Liberian political analyst based in Monrovia. “These individuals have been very close to him — members of his kitchen cabinet. And they’ve been everywhere the president has been. And so, his move to suspend them is a tactical move to personally save his integrity, his public image, and to demonstrate that he's intolerant of corrupt activities,” he notes. He says he's seen mixed public reaction to the suspensions with some calling for a criminal investigation. Under the sanctions all U.S. property and interests in U.S. property of the three officials must be blocked, a Treasury Department statement said. Those who engage in certain transactions with the officials are subject to sanctions themselves. Several Liberian government officials have been sanctioned in the last two years, including two senators and a passport director. “The corruption runs deeper than just those three people. America wants to send a message of toughness, but they don't want to hurt the administration badly. They want to make a statement but nothing so damaging,” Othniel Forte a Liberian historian points out. The U.S. Treasury Department did not respond to a list of questions, including whether the officials own property that would be affected.

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Aug 18
Latest Developments in Ukraine: August 18

For full coverage of the crisis in Ukraine, visit Flashpoint Ukraine. The latest developments in Russia’s war on Ukraine. All times EDT. 12:02 a.m.: Residential construction by the Russian military is in full swing in one of the most heavily bombed areas of the occupied Mariupol, The Associated Press reported. The first two buildings of the new complex are set to be completed by September with the construction site employing 2,080 workers and over 280 units of heavy machinery. Some information for this report came from The Associated Press.

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Aug 18
VOA Newscasts

Give us 5 minutes, and we'll give you the world. Around the clock, Voice of America keeps you in touch with the latest news. We bring you reports from our correspondents and interviews with newsmakers from across the world.

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Aug 18
International Edition

International Edition delivers insight into world news through eye-witnesses, correspondent reports and analysis from experts and news makers. We also keep you in touch with social media, science and entertainment trends.

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Aug 18
Myanmar Junta Criticizes ASEAN After Being Barred From its Meetings

Myanmar's military leadership on Wednesday lashed out at the ASEAN grouping of Southeast Asian countries for excluding its generals from regional gatherings, accusing it of caving to "external pressure."  Members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations have heaped condemnation on Myanmar's junta, which they say has failed to make concrete progress on a peace plan agreed to with the 10-nation bloc last year, including engaging with opponents and a cessation of hostilities.  Myanmar's military seized power from an elected government in a coup last year and has since then crushed dissent with lethal force. Most recently, the junta has been criticized for executing political activists and imprisoning Aung San Suu Kyi, the symbol of Myanmar's opposition and democracy movement.  ASEAN has barred Myanmar's generals from attending regional meetings, and some members said last month it would be forced to rethink the way forward unless the junta demonstrates progress on the peace plan.  The junta has declined offers to send non-political representatives instead to ASEAN meetings.  "If a seat representing a country is vacant, then it should not be labeled an ASEAN summit," junta spokesperson Zaw Min Tun said at a routine news conference on Wednesday, adding that Myanmar was working on implementing the peace plan.  "What they want is for us to meet and talk with the terrorists," he said, using the junta's label for pro-democracy movements that have taken up arms against the military.  He said ASEAN was violating its own policy of non-interference in a country's sovereign affairs while facing "external pressure," but did not elaborate.  The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Cambodia, which is currently chairing ASEAN, did not address the accusation.  Ministry spokesperson Chum Sounry said ASEAN was "hopeful that the situation in Myanmar can be greatly improved, so that it can return as an indispensable member of our united ASEAN family again."  Several Western countries including the United States and Britain have imposed sanctions on Myanmar's junta over the coup.

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Aug 18
VOA Newscasts

Give us 5 minutes, and we'll give you the world. Around the clock, Voice of America keeps you in touch with the latest news. We bring you reports from our correspondents and interviews with newsmakers from across the world.

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Aug 18
US Studying Iran's Response to EU Efforts to Salvage Nuclear Deal

The United States and the European Union are closely studying Iran's response to what the EU says is its final proposal to salvage the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. U.S.-Iranian talks on reviving the agreement have been going on for 16 months, as VOA Senior Diplomatic Correspondent Cindy Saine reports.

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Aug 18
VOA Newscasts

Give us 5 minutes, and we'll give you the world. Around the clock, Voice of America keeps you in touch with the latest news. We bring you reports from our correspondents and interviews with newsmakers from across the world.

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Aug 18
VOA Newscasts

Give us 5 minutes, and we'll give you the world. Around the clock, Voice of America keeps you in touch with the latest news. We bring you reports from our correspondents and interviews with newsmakers from across the world.

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Aug 18
China, US Spar Over Climate on Twitter

The world's two biggest emitters of greenhouse gases are sparring on Twitter over climate policy, with China questioning whether the U.S. can deliver on the landmark climate legislation signed into law by President Joe Biden this week. "You can bet America will meet our commitments," U.S. Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns tweeted in response on Wednesday, using a national flag emoticon for "America." He called on China to resume suspended climate talks, writing, "We're ready." The punchy exchange, part of a longer back and forth on Twitter, is emblematic of a broader worry: U.S.-China cooperation is widely considered vital to the success of global efforts to curb rising temperatures. With the breakdown in relations over Taiwan and other issues, some question whether the two sides can cooperate. After Congress passed the climate bill last Friday, Burns took to Twitter over the weekend to say the U.S. was acting on climate change with its largest investment ever — and that China should follow. On Tuesday night, China's Foreign Ministry responded with its own tweet: "Good to hear. But what matters is: Can the U.S. deliver?" The verbal skirmish grew out of China's suspension of talks with the U.S. on climate and several other issues earlier this month as part of its protest over a visit to Taiwan by a senior American lawmaker, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Climate has been one of the few areas of cooperation between the feuding countries. U.S. officials criticized China's move, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken saying it "doesn't punish the United States — it punishes the world." Asked to respond, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian called on the U.S. last week to "deliver on its historical responsibilities and due obligations on climate change and stop looking around for excuses for its inaction." The ministry later tweeted some of his answer, and Burns responded four days later with his tweet on the U.S. climate bill. Using the acronym for the People's Republic of China, he ended with, "The PRC should follow+reconsider its suspension of climate cooperation with the U.S." China elaborated on its "Can the U.S. deliver?" message with a second tweet suggesting that the U.S. meet rich country pledges to help poorer countries cope financially with climate change and lift sanctions imposed last year on solar industry exports from China's Xinjiang region because of accusations of forced labor. The Twitter battle highlights a perception divide between the longstanding superpower that wants to lead and the rising power that no longer wants to feel bound to follow anyone else's direction. The decision by former President Donald Trump to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord — reversed by Biden after he took office last year — dealt a blow to American credibility on the issue. A Chinese expert praised parts of the U.S. legislation but said it is overdue and not enough. "Although there are some breakthrough achievements in the bill, I am afraid it can't reestablish U.S. leadership on climate change," said Teng Fei, a professor at Tsinghua University's Institute of Energy Environment and Economy. U.S. climate envoy John Kerry has been pressing China to set more ambitious climate goals. China has responded that its goals are realistic, given its development needs as a middle-income country, while the U.S. sets ambitious goals that it fails to achieve. China's ruling Communist Party generally sets conservative targets at a national level because it doesn't want its performance to fall short. Those targets are sometimes exceeded, though, in the eager pursuit of those goals by local officials. "China should be able to do better than its national targets indicate," said Cory Combs, a senior analyst with the Trivium China consultancy. "But of course, those local plans are all subject to failure and delays, so it's impossible to tell quite what they'll add up to."

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Aug 18
For Ancient Megalodon, Killer Whale Would be a Snack, Research Says

Today's sharks have nothing on their ancient cousins. A giant shark that roamed the oceans millions of years ago could have devoured a creature the size of a killer whale in just five bites, new research suggests. For their study published Wednesday, researchers used fossil evidence to create a 3D model of the megalodon — one of the biggest predatory fish of all time — and find clues about its life. At around 16 meters from nose to tail, the megalodon was bigger than a school bus, according to the study in the journal Science Advances. That's about two to three times the size of today's great white shark. The megalodon's gaping jaw allowed it to feed on other big creatures. Once it filled its massive stomach, it could roam the oceans for months at a time, the researchers suggest. The megalodon was a strong swimmer, too: Its average cruising speed was faster than sharks today and it could have migrated across multiple oceans with ease, they calculated. "It would be a superpredator just dominating its ecosystem," said co-author John Hutchinson, who studies the evolution of animal movement at England's Royal Veterinary College. "There is nothing really matching it. It's been tough for scientists to get a clear picture of the megalodon, said study author Catalina Pimiento, a paleobiologist with the University of Zurich and Swansea University in Wales. The skeleton is made of soft cartilage that doesn't fossilize well, Pimiento said. So the scientists used what few fossils are available, including a rare collection of vertebrae that's been at a Belgium museum since the 1860s. Researchers also brought in a jaw's worth of megalodon teeth, each as big as a human fist, Hutchinson said. Scans of modern great white sharks helped flesh out the rest. Based on their digital creation, researchers calculated that the megalodon would have weighed around 70 tons, or as much as 10 elephants. Even other high-level predators may have been lunch meat for the megalodon, which could open its jaw to almost 2 meters wide, Pimiento said. Megalodons lived an estimated 23 million to 2.6 million years ago. Since megalodon fossils are rare, these kinds of models require a "leap of imagination," said Michael Gottfried, a paleontologist at Michigan State University who was not involved in the study. But he said the study's findings are reasonable based on what is known about the giant shark.

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Aug 18