Another US Airstrike in Libya Targets IS Fighters

A U.S. airstrike in Libya has killed seven Islamic State fighters, according to U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM).

It is the fourth U.S. strike this month against the terror group in the southwestern Libyan town of Murzuq.

One airstrike last week killed 17 IS militants, and another killed 11, according to AFRICOM. A strike on Sept. 19 killed eight IS militants.

The strikes were carried out in coordination with the Libyan Government of National Accord to degrade IS’s “ability to effectively conduct operations against the Libyan people,” said Army Maj. Gen. William Gayler, AFRICOM director of operations.

U.S. officials say the deteriorating security situation in Libya has allowed militants affiliated with IS to expand their presence in ungoverned spaces of the desert in the country’s south.

Troops affiliated with the Government of National Accord have been fighting forces led by strongman Khalifa Haftar, commander of the self-styled Libyan National Army. The fighting has left hundreds of people dead in Tripoli and in nearby cities and towns.

In recent months, IS has claimed responsibility for several deadly attacks against Libyan civilians and military personnel.  

But as IS has become more emboldened by the current political chaos in Libya, U.S. officials tell VOA they have also made themselves an easier target.

Some reports say that between 500 and 750 IS fighters are currently active in Libya, but experts think the number is higher than what has been reported as foreign fighters continue to flee there from Syria.

Haiti Faces New Wave of Protests as Calls for President’s Resignation Grow

 Lyonel Desmarattes in Washington, Sony Louis in Leogane, Jaudelet Junior Saint-Vil in Fort Liberte and Hernst Eliscar in Les Cayes contributed to this report

WASHINGTON / PORT-AU-PRINCE – Hundreds of demonstrators protested across Haiti Monday, responding to calls by the opposition and anti-corruption militants to take to the streets and build roadblocks to force President Jovenel Moise to resign.

In Port-au-Prince, police fired on protesters who were trying to burn down a police station in the Carrefour Aeroport neighborhood, wounding a local radio reporter. Protesters did manage to set fire to a police car.

In the southern city of Les Cayes, protesters set ablaze a police station located in the southern part of the city. The local office of national electric company EDH was looted.

In Fort Liberte, hundreds took to the streets early. Some wore costumes as they marched through the tow,n holding a casket draped in white fabric, adorned with black crosses and the words, “Goodbye Jovenel,” written in black marker on the sides.

The Tet Ansanm pou Rebati Ayiti (Union to Rebuild Haiti) group, which includes various opposition organizations, Sunday called for the protests.     

Opposition leader Andre Michel gives a press conference in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Sept. 29, 2019.

“Jovenel Moise is no longer president; the people have fired him, but the people must remain mobilized. The roadblocks must go higher and the mobilization has to go higher until we install a provisional government,” said lawyer Andre Michel, a member of the Democratic and Popular Sector party.

Referring to a protest last Friday which the opposition considered a nationwide success, Michel said, “On Sept 27, 2019, the people fired Jovenel Moise as their president…Jovenel Moise is a president in hiding….he is no longer leading the country.”

‘Where is Jovenel?’

FILE – Haitian President Jovenel Moise

Moise has not been seen or heard from since he delivered a national address on September 25, during which he sought to calm a furious nation and extend an olive branch to the opposition.

The latest protests stem from the Haitian leader’s decision more than a year ago to end fuel subsidies, a move that came at the request of the International Monetary Fund. While Moise reversed the decision after an eruption of violence, frustration has mounted over his inability to turn the economy around and end corruption.    

Instead, Moise has infuriated the opposition and protesters and sparked the most destructive and violent protests to date. Asked if Moise is in hiding, presidential advisor Cange Mackenson told local radio station Magik 9 Monday morning that the president has control of the country and is “reflecting like a good coach.”

Late on Sunday, a series of decrees was issued by acting Prime Minister Jean Michel Lapin announcing new Cabinet appointments to head various ministries, including those for finance, public planning, migration, Haitians living abroad and tourism. The move followed shakeups in the interior and justice ministries.  

Le citoyen Joseph JOUTHE est nommé Ministre a.i de l’Economie et des Finances

— Communication Haïti (@MCHaiti) September 30, 2019

More calls for resignation

Police stand near a barricade built by protesters in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Sept. 30, 2019.

The Conference of Catholic Bishops has added its voice to those expressing concern over Haiti’s political quagmire. The conference issued a statement asking the president to face the consequences of his irresponsibility. “Is there a violence worse than living with constant insecurity? Is there a misery worse than the black misery that removes all hope? No people should resign themselves to accepting misery, poverty and violence as a way of life,” the statement said. “The officials at the highest level of government must take responsibility to guarantee the country and its institutions are able to function properly. They are morally responsible for the security and well-being of the people, first of whom is the president.”

An association of artists and actors also decried the political crisis. A statement issued Sunday cited corruption and impunity as the main culprits.

Protesters turn and run as police began to fire tear gas as they gather in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Sept. 30, 2019.

“We artists realize that these two factors are responsible for the terrible situation we find ourselves in, where many young people are leaving in search of a better life overseas,” the statement, signed by some of Haiti’s most popular and successful artists, said.  

Meanwhile, the Dominican Republic reportedly reinforced its border with Haiti, adding more than 1,000 soldiers to boost security in anticipation of the planned protests.



Treasury Targets Russians Suspected of Meddling in Midterms

The Treasury Department is targeting Russians suspected of trying to influence the 2018 U.S. midterm elections.
Treasury says, however, there is no indication that they were able to compromise election infrastructure in ways that would have blocked voters, changed vote counts or disrupted vote counting.
 Monday’s action targets for sanctions four entities, seven individuals, three aircraft and a yacht that are all associated with the Internet Research Agency and its Russian financier, Yevgeniy Prigozhin.
Treasury says the IRA used fictitious personas on social media and disseminated false information to attempt to influence the 2018 U.S. midterm elections and try to undermine faith in U.S. democratic institutions.


China Spurns US Criticism of Economic Cooperation With Afghanistan

A regional Chinese diplomat has rebuked the United States for being “ignorant” about his country’s ongoing key economic contributions and cooperation with Afghanistan.

Arrangements are being worked out to enhance the cooperation with Kabul even under Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Yao Jing, the Chinese ambassador to neighboring Pakistan told VOA.

He hailed Saturday’s successful Afghan presidential election, saying China hopes they will boost peace-building efforts in a country wrecked by years of conflicts.

“We hope that with the election in Afghanistan, with the peace development moving forward in Afghanistan, Afghans will finally achieve a peaceful period, achieve the stability,” said the Chinese diplomat, who served in Kabul prior to his posting in Islamabad.

Earlier this month, U.S. officials and lawmakers during a congressional hearing in Washington sharply criticized China for its lack of economic assistance to Afghan rebuilding efforts.

“I think it’s fair to say that China has not contributed to the economic development of Afghanistan. We have not seen any substantial assistance from China,” Alice Wells, U.S. Acting Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia, told lawmakers.

Wells, however, acknowledged that Beijing has worked with Washington on a way forward on peace as have other countries, including Russia and immediate neighbors of Afghanistan.

“She is a little ignorant about what China’s cooperation with Afghanistan is,” ambassador Yao said when asked to comment on the remarks made by Wells.

He recounted that Beijing late last year established a trade corridor with Kabul, which Afghan officials say have enabled local traders to directly export thousands of tons of pine nuts to the Chinese market annually, bringing much-needed dollars. Yao said a cargo train was also started in 2016 from eastern China to Afghanistan’s landlocked northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif.

China is also working on infrastructure projects, including the road linking Kabul to the eastern city of Jalalabad and the road between the central Afghan city of Bamiyan and Mazar-e-Sharif. Chinese companies, Yao, said are also helping in establishing transmission lines and other infrastructure being developed under the CASA-1000 electricity transmission project linking Central Asia to energy-starved South Asia nations through Afghanistan.

Ambassador Yao noted that China and Afghanistan signed a memorandum of understanding on BRI cooperation, identifying several major projects of connectivity.

“But the only problem is that the security situation pose a little challenge. So, that is why China and Pakistan and all the regional countries, we are working so hard trying to support or facilitate peace in Afghanistan,” he said.  

For her part, Ambassador Wells told U.S. lawmakers that China’s BRI is a “slogan” and “not any reality” in Afghanistan. “They have just tried to lockdown lucrative mining contracts but not following through with investment or real resources,” she noted.

Wells said that Washington continues to warn its partners, including the Afghan government about “falling prey to predatory loans or loans that are designed to benefit only the Chinese State.”

U.S. officials are generally critical of BRI for “known problems with corruption, debt distress, environmental damage, and a lack of transparency.” The projects aims to link China by sea and land through an infrastructure network with southeast and central Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa.

But Yao rejected those concerns and cited the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a pilot project of BRI, which has brought around $20 billion in Chinese investment to Pakistan within the past six years. It has helped Islamabad build roads and power plants, helping the country overcome its crippling electricity shortages, improve its transportation network and operationalize the strategic deep-sea Gwadar port on the Arabian Sea.


Two Turkey-Backed Rebel Groups Clash in Syria’s Afrin

Clashes between two Turkish-backed rebel groups in the northwestern Syrian town of Afrin have left at least two fighters dead and about a dozen wounded, according to reports Sunday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor group that has researchers across Syria, reported that fierce fighting between the al-Majd Legion and al-Sham Legion in Afrin erupted Saturday night following a disagreement over property.

“Our sources have confirmed that the infighting erupted after a dispute over the ownership of a house just outside of Afrin,” Rami Abdulrahman, director of the Syrian Observatory, told VOA.

Local news said the disputed house belonged to a Kurdish civilian that armed groups reportedly had seized months ago.

Frequent clashes

Armed confrontations among Syrian rebel factions have reportedly increased since Turkish military and allied Syrian rebels took control of Afrin after a two-month-long military campaign that ousted the Kurdish People Protection Units (YPG) from the region in March 2018, rights groups said.

“This is not the first time that such clashes take place over property and revenue-sharing among rebel groups,” the Syrian Observatory added.

Infighting among rebel groups has become a common issue in the region.

 “There is almost one occurrence like this one on a daily basis,” said Mohammed Billo, a journalist from Afrin.

“Usually when fighting gets out of control, Turkish military interferes to stop it,” he told VOA.

Some rights groups have also voiced concerns about growing violations against civilians in recent months in Afrin.

FILE – Kurdish fighters from the People’s Protection Units (YPG) run across a street in Raqqa, Syria, July 3, 2017.

“Local sources in Afrin reported at least 110 abuses that appear to amount to instances of arbitrary detention, torture and abductions of civilians by pro-Turkey armed groups,” Amnesty International said in a report released in May.

YPG attacks

Since their ouster from Afrin in March 2018, Kurdish fighters affiliated with the YPG have occasionally carried out attacks against Turkish military and Syrian rebel forces in the Kurdish-majority region.

Last week, YPG fighters claimed responsibility for an attack on a Turkish military outpost in Afrin that killed two Turkish soldiers and wounded another.  

Ankara views the YPG as part of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been engaged in a three-decade war with Turkish armed forces for greater Kurdish rights in Turkey. The PKK is considered a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.  

Turkey has repeatedly threatened to invade other YPG-held areas in northern Syria, despite a recent agreement with the United States to establish a safe zone along Syria’s border with Turkey.

The two countries have begun joint patrols along parts of the border, but Turkish officials continue their objection over Washington’s support for the YPG, which has been a key U.S. ally in the fight against the Islamic State terror group in Syria.


Fact or Fiction, the Treasure is as Important and the Thrill of the Hunt

About 350,000 treasure hunters from all over the world, have been scouting out a large area in the Rocky Mountains stretching from Northern New Mexico to Montana, looking for a hidden treasure. As the story goes, all one needs to do to find the loot, is to decipher the nine clues in a poem written by wealthy art collector and entrepreneur Forrest Fenn, who says he collected and hid the treasure years ago. Its lore became wildly popular after he had written a book called “The Thrill of the Chase,” talking about his life and the treasure.  While many believe the treasure is real, others think it’s a hoax. VOA’s Penelope Poulou visited the area and spoke with Fenn about the meaning of it all

China Awards National Medals, Honorary Titles

China’s president has presented national medals and honorary titles to 42 people.

Xi Jinping bestowed the awards upon the honorees in a lavish ceremony Sunday in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People.

Among the recipients was Nobel Prize winner in Physiology or Medicine Tu Youyou.

Former French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin was awarded a friendship medal.

The ceremony comes ahead of the celebrations Tuesday commemorating the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

Hong Kong Police Tear Gas Anti-China Protest; Pro-China Crowd Rallies Ahead of Anniversary

Riot police have thrown tear gas and cordoned off part of a street at Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay shopping belt after a large crowd started to amass for an anti-China rally ahead of Tuesday’s National Day celebrations.

Protesters chanted slogans and heckled police as they were pushed back behind a police line. The atmosphere is tense as police warned the crowd they were taking part in an illegal assembly. Officers fired tear gas canisters after some protesters threw bottles and other objects in their direction.

Police earlier searched some protesters and several people were detained. The crowd has swelled to more than 1,000 people, with many spilling into adjacent streets. 

Riot police officers detain anti-government protesters in Wan Chai district, Hong Kong, Sept. 29, 2019.

Supporters of Beijing rally

Earlier, hundreds of pro-Beijing supporters in Hong Kong on Sunday sang the Chinese national anthem and waved red flags ahead of China’s National Day to counter pro-democracy protests that have challenged Beijing’s rule.

The show of support for Beijing came after another day of violence in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory that sparked fears of more ugly scenes that could embarrass Chinese President Xi Jinping as his ruling Communist Party marks its 70th year in power Tuesday. Pro-democracy advocates have called for a major rally to coincide with the celebrations in Beijing.

Police on Saturday fired tear gas and water cannons after protesters threw bricks and firebombs at government buildings following a massive rally in downtown Hong Kong. The clashes were part of a familiar cycle since protests began in June over a now-shelved extradition bill and have since snowballed into an anti-China movement with demands for democratic reforms. 

A China supporter waves Chinese national flag at the Peak in Hong Kong, Sept. 29, 2019. Hundreds of pro-Beijing supporters sang Chinese national anthem and waved red flags ahead of China’s National Day, in a counter to monthslong protests.

Protesters are planning to march Tuesday despite a police ban. Many said they will wear mourning black in a direct challenge to the authority of the Communist Party, with posters calling for Oct. 1 to be marked as “A Day of Grief.” 

Later Sunday, protesters also plan to gather for an “anti-totalitarianism” rally against what they denounced as “Chinese tyranny.” Similar events are being organized in more than 60 cities worldwide including in the U.S., U.K., Australia and Taiwan.

Hong Kong’s government has scaled down National Day celebrations in the city, canceling an annual firework display and moving a reception indoors.

Despite security concerns, the government said Sunday that Chief Executive Carrie Lam will lead a delegation of more than 240 people to Beijing Monday to participate in the festivities. She will be represented by Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung in her absence and return to the city Tuesday evening.

Lam held her first community dialogue with the public Thursday in a bid to diffuse tensions but failed to persuade protesters, who vowed to press on until their demands including direct elections for the city’s leader and police accountability are met.

A police officer tries to keep the pro-China crowd in order at the Peak in Hong Kong, Sept. 29, 2019.

Several hundred people, many wearing red and carrying Chinese flags and posters, gathered at a waterfront cultural center in the city Sunday and chanted “I am a citizen of China.” They sang the national anthem and happy birthday to China. They were later bused to the Victoria Peak hilltop for the same repertoire. 

Organizer Innes Tang said the crowd, all Hong Kong citizens, responded to his invitation on social media to “promote positivity and patriotism.” He said they wanted to rally behind Chinese sovereignty and urged protesters to replace violence with dialogue.

“We want to take this time for the people to express our love for our country China. We want to show the international community that there is another voice to Hong Kong” apart from the protests, he said.

Mobs of pro-Beijing supporters have appeared in malls and on the streets in recent weeks to counter pro-democracy protesters, leading to brawls between the rival camps. 

Losing freedoms

Many people view the extradition bill, that would have sent criminal suspects to mainland China for trial, as a glaring example of the erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy under the “one country, two systems” policy when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

China has denied chipping away at Hong Kong’s freedom and accused the U.S. and other foreign powers of fomenting the unrest to weaken its dominance.

Conservatives Lead as Austrians Vote, but Coalition Partner Less Clear

Austrians began voting Sunday in snap elections, in which the conservatives look set to triumph but face difficulties finding a partner to govern after a corruption scandal brought down their last coalition with the far-right.

The People’s Party (OeVP) led by 33-year-old Sebastian Kurz is predicted to win around 33 percent, up slightly from the last elections two years ago but not enough to form a majority government.

Kurz has “nothing to win, but a lot to lose,” Die Presse daily warned in an editorial Saturday. “Even with a nice plus on Sunday, it is more difficult for him than in 2017,” it said, adding there was no partner that quite suited any more.

With 6.4 million people eligible to vote, polling stations across the country opened at 7 a.m. local time (0500 GMT). They will close by 5 p.m. (1500 GMT) when first projections are expected. 

Far-right troubles

The parliamentary elections were brought about by the “Ibiza-gate” corruption scandal that engulfed Kurz’s far-right coalition partner in May, after 18 months in government together.

Experts have predicted “whizz-kid” Kurz could once again partner up with the Freedom Party (FPOe) in a re-run of the coalition that has been touted by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and other nationalists as a model for all of Europe.

But fresh allegations of wrongdoing have shaken the far-right over the past week.

Prosecutors confirmed Thursday they were investigating Heinz-Christian Strache, who resigned as FPOe leader and vice-chancellor in May because of “Ibiza-gate,” over fraudulent party expense claims.

The FPOe’s current leader, Norbert Hofer, has said he won’t tread gently if any wrongdoing is confirmed, leading to worries that supporters of Strache, who led the party for 14 years and remains influential, could stay away from the polls in protest.

Kurz himself has also warned that left-leaning parties could gain more than predicted and then band together to form a coalition without him.

“If there is just a little shift… then there will be a majority against us,” Kurz told supporters at a final rally in Vienna on Saturday.

Climate matters 

Unlike in 2017, the top voter concern is not immigration but the climate.

Tens of thousands of people marched Friday in Vienna and other Austrian cities to demand the government fight climate change.

The protests were part of global demonstrations led by Swedish activist Greta Thunberg and the biggest yet in the Alpine country of 8.8 million.

Against this backdrop, Austria’s Greens, who failed to get into parliament in 2017 in shock results, look set to make the biggest inroads Sunday.

They are tipped to garner 13%, up 10 percentage points from two years ago.

It remains to be seen if Kurz, a former law student who has enjoyed a rapid ascent through the ranks in Austrian politics, tries to woo them and another small party, the liberal NEOs, to form a partnership.

Prominent concerns

Unsurprisingly given the reason the election was called, corruption in public life and party financing have also been prominent themes in the campaign, as well as more bread-and-butter issues like social care.

Another option for Kurz could be to form a coalition with the Social Democrats (SPOe).

With a predicted historic low of around 22%, the SPOe was neck and neck with the FPOe before the troubles this week as the country’s second strongest party.

Since World War II, either OeVP or SPOe have always governed, and for 44 years in total the two ruled together, but it was Kurz who ended their last partnership, leading to the 2017 polls.

He has also floated the idea of ruling in a minority government. But this would potentially continue political uncertainty and could even trigger another election.

Either way, negotiations between parties are expected to take months again. Ultimately, President Alexander Van der Bellen, a former Greens leader, will need to approve any government. 

UN Decries Continuing Violations in East Ukraine, Russian-Occupied Crimea

The United Nations reports human rights violations in both government and separatist-controlled areas of eastern Ukraine continue with impunity.  The report, which was examined by the U.N. human rights council this week also documents violations perpetrated by the Russian occupiers of Crimea.

While critical of the overall situation in eastern Ukraine, the report injects a note of optimism that the new government, headed by President Volodymyr Zelenskiy shows promising signs of the country turning a corner.  

It notes the Ukrainian government and Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine largely continue to respect a cease-fire and have disengaged forces. In addition, it says the High Anti-Corruption Court of Ukraine has begun operating.  

The report urges the newly-appointed prosecutor general and chief military prosecutor to promptly investigate conflict-related and other grave human rights violations on both sides of the contact line, the patch of land that divides the government and separatist-controlled areas in eastern Ukraine.

U.N. Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kate Gilmore says accountability for past and present human rights violations on both sides of the line have to be addressed.  She accused the authorities in the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics of denying U.N. monitors access to their territories and detention facilities despite repeated requests.

“We nevertheless continue to document human rights concerns in those areas; breaches of human rights through such as arbitrary and incommunicado arrests and the absence of space for people to exercise fundamental freedoms, symptoms of the persistent climate of fear that prevails in those parts of Ukraine’s territory,” she said.

Gilmore also condemned violations perpetrated by the Russian Federation as the occupying power in the Crimean Peninsula, which it annexed in March 2014.  Abuses documented in the report include deportations of protected persons, forced conscriptions, restrictions on freedom of expression and an increasing number of house searches and raids, mainly against Crimean Tatars.

Ukraine’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergiy Kyslytsya blasted Russia’s occupation of Crimea and blamed Moscow for the suffering of Ukraine’s citizens who are in the sixth year of war that was instigated by Russia.

“Russia, which blatantly disrespects human rights of its own citizens, perpetrates human rights abuses at home and abroad, in essence, commits a moral turpitude amid its desire to infiltrate the body, which has been created to prevent human rights violations and go after perpetrators,” Kyslytsya said.

Russia is running for a seat on the 47-member Human Rights Council.  The Ukrainian minister said it would be a travesty of justice to elect Russia to the U.N. body, which is the foremost protector and promoter of human rights.


At Least 44 Killed in North India Floods

At least 44 people were killed and thousands moved to relief camps because of flooding caused by torrential rains in northern India’s Uttar Pradesh state, officials told AFP Saturday.

Densely populated regions on the banks of two main rivers in the state, which are overflowing because of incessant rainfall in the last 24-48 hours, are among the worst hit.

“We had confirmed 44 deaths till late yesterday night. The authorities are focusing on rescue and relief work in the affected regions,” Ravindra Pratap Sahi, vice chairman of the state disaster management authority, told AFP.

“We have moved thousands to relief shelters as there is forecast of heavy rains in the next 48 hours in most of the affected districts of the state,” Sahi said.

Officials and local media reports said most people lost their lives for a variety of reasons including wall collapses, drowning, lightning and snake bites.

Flash floods after heavy rains killed at least 17 people in western India’s Maharashtra state earlier this week.

Monsoon rains are crucial to replenishing water supplies in drought-stricken India, but they kill hundreds of people across the country every year.


‘French Spiderman’ Climbs Frankfurt High-Rise, Faces Fine

An urban climber known as the “French Spiderman” has climbed a high-rise building in the German city of Frankfurt and now faces a fine for his effort.

It took Alain Robert 20 minutes to scale the 153-meter (502-foot) Skyper building in the heart of Germany’s financial capital early Saturday.

Upon his descent from the gleaming glass structure, the 57-year-old was met by German police who escorted him away.

Robert has climbed many of the world’s tallest buildings, often without permission.


How Could Whistleblower Complaint Lead to Trump Impeachment?

Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives began the formal process of impeaching U.S. President Donald Trump this week.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the first step in the impeachment process Tuesday, following reports that a whistleblower filed a complaint alleging Trump sought foreign interference into the 2020 election.

What triggered House Democrats to begin a formal impeachment inquiry?

Investigations into Trump’s administration and his campaign’s actions during the 2016 presidential election were already underway in six House committees at the beginning of this week. Many House Democrats already backed impeachment, but until this week opposition leaders had resisted calls for launching the impeachment inquiry. They believed such an inquiry had no chance of passing the Republican-led Senate and could end up hurting Democrats in the 2020 election.

The new whistleblower report appears to have dramatically shifted the politics of the issue.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reads a statement announcing a formal impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept. 24, 2019.

Several additional House Democrats came forward in support of an impeachment inquiry. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Tuesday the House would embark on the first step of the impeachment process to determine if Trump had committed the “high crimes and misdemeanors” the U.S. Constitution lays out as the standard for removing a president from office.

What do we know about the whistleblower?

The whistleblower remains anonymous under laws protecting government workers who expose wrongdoing. But he or she is a U.S. government employee who had knowledge of Trump’s call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and spoke to other U.S. officials who shared similar concerns over the legality of the president’s actions.  Although the whistleblower did not have direct knowledge of the Zelenskiy phone call, an independent investigator for the U.S. government found the allegations were credible.

The New York Times has reported the whistleblower is a CIA employee who has spent some time working in the White House during the Trump administration.
The complaint alleges a number of offenses on the part of Trump and U.S. officials. The most serious of the allegations is that Trump implied congressionally-approved U.S. aid to Ukraine was contingent upon Zelenskiy’s government providing information on the son of 2020 presidential election rival, Joe Biden. The complaint also alleges White House officials were aware of the gravity of Trump’s actions and covered up records of the phone call.

FILE – U.S. President Donald Trump is seen during a phone call at the Oval Office of the White House, in Washington, June 27, 2017.

How was the whistleblower complaint handled by the government?

Democrats are pledging to investigate both the allegations in the complaint as well as how the Trump administration handled it.

Under the whistleblower process, the complaint was summarized in a letter that was addressed to senior lawmakers in the House and Senate committees, which oversee the intelligence community. That August 12 letter was sent to the inspector general at the CIA, which worked to try to substantiate some of the allegations. But instead of sending the letter on to the lawmakers in Congress after two weeks, as required by law, Joseph Maguire, the acting director of national intelligence, instead held it from lawmakers while he consulted with the White House and the Department of Justice about the allegations.

Democratic lawmakers argue Trump administration officials tried to keep the allegations from reaching Congress, violating the procedure for dealing with such issues.

Maguire told members of Congress Thursday he had acted lawfully in initially blocking the release of the complaint due to concerns about executive privilege, a legal right of the U.S. presidency to keep some conversations and documents private.

What do we know about the Trump-Zelenskiy phone call?

The White House released a summary of Trump’s phone call with Zelenskiy Wednesday. In a memo reconstructed from the work of White House note takers, Trump asks Zelenskiy to investigate business dealings of former Vice President Biden and his son, Hunter.

A White House-provided rough transcript of President Donald Trump’s July 25, 2019, telephone conversation with Ukraine’s newly-elected president Volodymyr Zelenskiy, released Sept. 25, 2019.

Trump also reminds the Ukrainian president that “the United States has been very very good to Ukraine.” Trump ordered a freeze on $400 million of congressionally-approved aid to Ukraine just a few days before that phone call. Trump said this week the order was part of an effort to combat corruption.

Congressional Democrats say the memo is clear evidence of the president proposing a so-called “quid pro quo,” an exchange of one favor for another. But the president’s allies on Capitol Hill said the memo completely exonerated him.

What will happen next in the U.S. Congress?

The House committees investigating the president’s actions will begin building a case that could lead to the drafting of articles of impeachment.

Articles are formal charges against the president that are voted on by the entire U.S. House of Representatives.

Impeachment is a two-step process. If the House votes on and passes the articles, the president is considered impeached and the case moves to the U.S. Senate for a process that is similar to a court trial. If a two-thirds super majority of the U.S. Senate votes to convict, the president is removed from office.

Only two U.S. presidents have been impeached by the U.S. House – Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998. The U.S. Senate has never voted to remove a president from office.

How soon can we expect a vote on impeachment?

Pelosi has cautioned that there should be a careful gathering of facts so that lawmakers do not rush to judgement. But many House Democrats want to see the vote on articles of impeachment before the end of the year. The 2020 presidential election gets fully underway with the Iowa caucuses in February. Many Democrats believe it would be politically risky to have an impeachment vote occurring at the same time.

As of Friday, 225 House Democrats and one independent member of the U.S. House of Representatives support impeachment or an impeachment inquiry. Until articles of impeachment are drafted, it is unknown how many members would vote in support of impeaching Trump.


US Reaffirms Haiti Partnership, Expresses Concern Over Unrest

VOA Creole reporter Jean Robert Philippe in New York contributed to this report.

WASHINGTON — U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John J. Sullivan met with Haitian Foreign Minister Bocchit Edmond on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York for talks that included Haiti’s ongoing political crisis.

“The deputy secretary and the foreign minister reaffirmed the strength of the U.S.-Haiti partnership and shared hope that Haiti’s political stakeholders would soon identify a path to forming a government that remains firmly rooted in democracy and the rule of law,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said of the Thursday meeting.

Yesterday at #UNGA, Deputy Secretary Sullivan commended @BocchitEdmond and #Haiti for its vote in support of the #TIAR treaty. They also reaffirmed the importance of our strong partnership, based on the principles of democracy and rule of law.

— Department of State (@StateDept) September 27, 2019

In an interview with VOA’s Creole service, Edmond said the talks with Sullivan covered electoral law, legislative elections and a fuel shortage in Haiti. 

“We discussed a lot of other important topics that we needed to discuss and which can contribute to reinforcing this partnership between the United States and Haiti,” Edmond said.

@MCHaiti@USEmbassyHaiti@StateDept@nouvelliste Cet après-midi, accompagné de ma délégation, nous avons eu une fructueuse réunion de travail avec John J Sullivan, Secrétaire d’Etat adj et son équipe pour discuter des questions bilatérales d’importance pour Haïti ?? et les ÉU ??

— Bocchit Edmond (@BocchitEdmond) September 27, 2019

Anger over a nationwide fuel crisis, and long lines at gas stations that crippled public transportation, have prompted some people to vent their frustrations by attacking citizens and property. Many citizens depend on gasoline for essential daily activities, including cooking, electricity and transportation.

Earlier this week, Haitian President Jovenel Moise was forced to cancel a trip to New York to speak before the UNGA due to the unrest at home. 

On Wednesday, in a 2:00 a.m. national address criticized by many for being too little too late, Moise repeated his call to all political sectors to set their differences aside and join him in a national dialogue to try to resolve the nation’s problems. 

Following the speech, a Cabinet reshuffle was announced and the interior minister, Renaldo Brunet, was fired. Also Thursday, the chief prosecutor for Port-au-Prince, Paul Eronce Villard, announced his resignation. The minister of justice then announced Villard’s replacement, and in a subsequent statement announced his promotion to a position at the Appeals Court. The promotion was rejected by Villard.

Moise tweeted late Thursday that the offices of the group Religion for Peace had agreed to mediate the discussion. 

J’ai sollicité les bons offices de Religions pour la paix afin de faciliter les discussions avec les différents secteurs devant aboutir à un accord politique face à la crise. Elles ont accepté. La Nation est heureuse de pouvoir ainsi compter sur ses filles et ses fils.

— Président Jovenel Moïse (@moisejovenel) September 27, 2019

The opposition responded by saying the time has come for Moise to go and called for mass protests Friday.

“Deputy Secretary Sullivan and Foreign Minister Edmond agreed on the importance of political stability and an improved investment climate to spur private sector-led growth,” State Department spokeswoman Ortagus said.

Storms, Droughts, Disease Alarm Italy’s Olive Farmers

After the 24-hour storm dumped more rain on his olive trees than 55-year-old Gianluca can recall having seen in a September, the part-time farmer shook his head as he inspected his forlorn crop. 

“This is the third year I have not seen much to harvest,” he lamented. “Last year was even worse, mind you. But look at this,” he said, pointing to trees with few olives and many threadbare branches. 

FILE – Damaged olives hang in a grove in Nerola, 50 kilometers (31 miles) from Rome, Nov. 13, 2014.

In the distance, Lago di Bolsena shimmered and the Italian countryside just north of Rome seemed picture perfect. The sun had returned after Monday’s extreme storm and with it warm autumnal temperatures. But for all the surrounding bucolic beauty, farmers and smallholders in northern Lazio, as in much of rural Italy, are becoming alarmed at the increasingly fickle weather with erratic rainfall, spring frost, tempestuous wind and summer drought.

Farmers say the change in climate patterns across Italy is causing poor olive harvests, which are leaving in their wake predictions that the country could become dependent on olive oil imports.

That’s a remarkable turnaround for a country that many see as synonymous with olive oil — although olive trees weren’t natural to Italy and first arrived in Italy from Greece, thanks to Greeks who settled in Sicily.

By early in the first century AD, the Roman historian Pliny could brag that Italians produced more olives than the Greeks and the quality was superior.

FILE – Olive oil comes out of a tap in an oil mill in the Tuscan village of Montepuclciano, Oct. 6, 2007.

Last year, Italy saw a 57 percent plunge in the country’s olive harvest, sparking protests by thousands of Italian farmers who descended on Rome wearing orange vests, calling for climate action. 

According to Riccardo Valentini, a professor in forest ecology at the University of Tuscia in Viterbo, the development of olive trees can suffer greatly when there are sudden extremes in weather.

“Three or four days of 40 (degree Celsius) temperatures in summer, or 10 days without rain in spring — even two days of freezing temperatures in spring — are important,” he said in a recent interview with Italian media. “The alarm bell is ringing loud and clear: If we do not limit emissions and pollution levels, the land that we all know is in great danger.”

Climate change, disease and insects are reducing Italy’s production of homegrown olive oil, say scientists and farmers. Last year’s unusual weather patterns inflicted an estimated $1 billion worth of damage on the olive-oil sector, according to the national farmers’ association Coldiretti. The sharp drop in production was the worst the country has witnessed in a quarter-century. 

Insects, disease

The weather is also hurting the trees by helping insect infestations — especially of a species of fly that lays eggs in the trees after burrowing into them.

FILE – Olive trees infected with a disease called Xylella fastidiosa are seen near Gallipoli in the Salento peninsula, in Apuglia, southern Italy, June 20, 2019.

Of even greater threat is a bacteria called Xylella fastidiosa, thought to have come from Costa Rica and spread by the meadow spittlebug. The bacteria starts in the leaves, turning them a rusty brown color, then proceeds into the trunks, disrupting arteries that allow the tree to absorb water. 

The disease first broke out around 2013 in the southern region of Puglia, in the heel of the Italian boot. Until recently, Puglia was responsible for more than half of Italy’s olive oil production but it has slipped as a result of hundreds of thousands of olive trees dying. Last year, the region’s production plunged by 65 percent. 

Altogether, an estimated one million Italian trees have died as a result of the disease, and farmers in Lazio are fearful that they will soon see what they dub “tree cemeteries.” While climate change isn’t being held responsible for the appearance of the bacteria in Italy, it is thought to have helped its quick spread. 

The EU has called on Italy to create a buffer zone by cutting down diseased trees, but the work has been patchy and trees elsewhere — in Lazio and Tuscany — are showing early signs of the disease. 

Judge Frees Iranian Woman Convicted of US Sanctions Violation

An Iranian woman sentenced in the United States for violating sanctions against Tehran was released and has returned home, her lawyer told AFP Thursday, following her country’s unsuccessful attempt at a prisoner swap.

A judge in Minneapolis sentenced Negar Ghodskani to 27 months in prison Tuesday, but determined the time she had spent in custody in Australia and the United States was enough to fulfill her punishment.

Ghodskani “is now free in Iran with her family,” her lawyer Robert Richman said in an email.

Arrested in Australia

A legal resident of Australia, Ghodskani was arrested in Adelaide in 2017 after U.S. prosecutors said she sought U.S. digital communications technology by presenting herself as an employee of a Malaysian company.

U.S. prosecutors said she in fact was sending the technology to Iranian company Fanamoj, which works in public broadcasting.

After extradition to the United States, she confessed to participation in a conspiracy to illegally export technology to Iran in breach of sanctions, according to the U.S. Justice Department.

Pregnant at the time of her arrest, she gave birth while in Australian custody. Her son was sent to Iran to live with his father.

FILE – Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif talks to journalists during a press conference in Jakarta, Indonesia, Sept. 6, 2019

Prisoner swap offered

Her case was raised by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in April, who floated a potential prisoner swap for a British-Iranian mother being held in Tehran.

He suggested exchanging Ghodskani for Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, in jail in Tehran for alleged sedition.

Both women have been separated from their young children while being detained.

US Envoy Promotes Faith Alliance as ‘Significant’ Rights Initiative

The United States is pressing other countries to join its proposed International Religious Freedom Alliance, in what diplomat Sam Brownback calls “the most significant” new human rights initiative in a generation.

“We’re going to call like-minded nations together and ask them to join this alliance and push on the issue of religious freedom and against religious persecution around the world,” Brownback, ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, said at a news briefing earlier this week. “We want to see the iron curtain on religious persecution come down.”

Brownback’s remarks came at a Monday press conference following the “Global Call to Protect Religious Freedom,” a U.S.-sponsored event on the opening day of the annual U.N. General Assembly. At the event, President Donald Trump pledged an additional $25 million to counter a trend of increasing religious intolerance around the globe.

The president’s chief envoy for that mission is Brownback. Since early 2018, the former Republican governor from the Midwestern state of Kansas has headed the office that he helped establish as a U.S. senator. He was a key sponsor of the 1998 Religious Freedom Act, as Religion News Service has pointed out

Brownback spoke with VOA after the news conference about what his brief entails — “fighting for religious freedom all around the world for all faiths all the time,” as well as for “people of no faith.”

“We’ll stand up and we’ll do something,” Brownback said of the Trump administration, saying it employs tools ranging from private diplomacy to public designations and “sanctions against countries that persecute people for their faith.”

FILE – Rohingya refugees gather to mark the second anniversary of the exodus at the Kutupalong camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, Aug. 25, 2019.

For instance, the State Department in July publicly designated four Burmese military officials as responsible for “gross human rights violations,” including the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people, the Muslim minority group in Myanmar.

Government restrictions on religion have “increased markedly around the world,” according to the Pew Research Center, which began tracking the issue in 2007. The Washington-based center reported this summer that “52 countries, including some in very populous countries such as China, Indonesia and Russia, impose either ‘high’ or ‘very high’ levels of restrictions on religion, up from 40 in 2007.” It found increases in the number of states enacting restrictive laws and policies, as well as in religion-related hostilities and violence against individuals.

“Approximately 80% of the world’s population live in countries where religious liberty is threatened, restricted or even banned,” Trump said Monday, using a State Department figure extrapolated from Pew’s research.

Pew does not attempt to calculate the share of people around the world who are affected by such restrictions, a spokeswoman for the center told VOA.

Brownback told VOA that he sees religious freedom, enshrined in both the U.N. Charter and U.S. Constitution, as a harbinger of whether other rights are respected or not.

“When you’re willing to protect a person’s religious freedom, you generally are willing to protect the rest of their rights,” the diplomat said. “If you’re willing to persecute a person for their religious beliefs, you’re generally willing to persecute on a number of other rights.”

Brownback said the United Arab Emirates, while “certainly not perfect,” was a model of religious freedom. “They allow faiths to practice. They allow people to build” houses of worship. “And you have this robust, dynamic, growing economy and a lot of other things moving forward.”

He added that he’s “very hopeful” about Algeria and Sudan, African countries where “there are new governments coming in” to replace oppressive regimes.

The U.S. is supporting “better security at religious institutions, where we see a lot of them destroyed around the world, people killed at these houses of worship,” Brownback said at the press conference. He noted that he’s co-hosting a conference in Morocco next week on preserving religious heritage sites.

The Trump administration, which has strong support among evangelical Christians, has been criticized for favoring certain faith groups over others.

“President Trump was elected on the promise of a ‘complete and utter shutdown’ of Muslim immigration to the U.S.,” Rabbi Jack Moline, who leads the Interfaith Alliance, told USA Today. “Since then, his administration has worked tirelessly to redefine ‘religious freedom’ as a license to discriminate.”

The alliance promotes the separation of church and state.

The role of faith-based initiatives in U.S. foreign policy has risen during the last two decades under both Republican and Democratic administrations, according to scholar Lee Marsden, noting a strong interest in curbing radical Islam after the al-Qaida terrorist attacks in September 2001.

White House Aims for Historic Low in Refugee Resettlement   

The Trump administration is proposing to accept a maximum of 18,000 refugees in the coming year, in what would be the lowest refugee ceiling in the country’s history, the U.S. State Department said Thursday.

If the government follows through, 2020 will be the third year of significant cuts to refugee resettlement under President Donald Trump.

For now, however, the latest figure remains a proposal.

The final decision, in the form of a “presidential determination,” will be made in the coming weeks after the required consultations with Congress, a senior administration official told reporters in a phone briefing organized by the White House on Thursday.

In fiscal 2018, the first full year of the Trump administration, the ceiling was set at 45,000, and 22,491 refugees were admitted.

In fiscal 2019, the ceiling was 30,000. With only three full days remaining in the fiscal year, the U.S. is close to the limit, with 29,972 refugees admitted, according to State Department data.

Prior to Trump’s election, the refugee ceiling average was 60,000 to 70,000 every year.

The proposed ceiling is one of three fundamental changes to the resettlement program announced Thursday.

President Donald Trump tweeted, June 17, 2019, that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement will begin removing millions of people who are in the country illegally.

Trump also issued an executive order that will require state and local governments to “consent” to accept refugees for resettlement.

While not a widespread issue, the order would allow states like Tennessee, which unsuccessfully sued the federal government to stop resettlement, to potentially prevent willing nonprofit organizations in the state from accepting refugees.

Additionally, the U.S. State Department is creating new categories — a procedure used rarely to meet specific needs, usually for a specific region.

For fiscal 2020, however, the total will include up to 5,000 refugees persecuted on account of their religious beliefs; 4,000 spots for Iraqis who assisted the U.S. during its operations in the country; and up to 1,500 of what the White House called “legitimate refugees” from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

Those specific allocations would allow for a maximum of 7,500 refugees who fall outside those categories.

Scientists Enlist Bacteria to Help Fight Dengue Virus

It’s been a bad year for dengue fever, a painful, debilitating virus that is surging in the Philippines, Bangladesh, Vietnam and other nations.  There is no cure for dengue, which is spread by mosquitos. However, scientists are enlisting a bacteria in the fight against dengue because they think will make it harder for mosquitos to spread the often deadly dengue virus. VOA’s Jim Randle has our story.

American-born Street Races Delight in Jordan

In an earlier time, boxes on wheels raced on American streets.  Now, an energy drink company sponsors motorless, homemade car races around the world.  VOA’s Arash Arabasadi takes us on this bumpy ride through Jordan.