Apple to Reevaluate Policy on Mapping ‘Disputed Borders’ After Crimea Outcry 

Apple says it will reevaluate how it identifies “disputed borders” after receiving criticism for displaying Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula as part of Russia on maps and weather apps for Russian users. 
 
Apple spokeswoman Trudy Muller told Reuters on Friday that the U.S. technology giant was “taking a deeper look at how we handle disputed borders.” 
 
Muller said Apple made the change for Russian users because of a new law that went into effect inside Russia and that it had not made any changes to its maps outside the country. 
Review of law
 
“We review international law as well as relevant U.S. and other domestic laws before making a determination in labeling on our maps and make changes if required by law,” she told Reuters. 
 
Muller added that Apple “may make changes in the future as a result” of its reevaluation of the policy, without being specific. 
 
Russian and Ukrainian embassies in the United States did not immediately return requests for comment. 
 
When using the apps from the United States, Ukraine, and in parts of Europe, no international borders are shown around the peninsula. 
 
After the reports surfaced of the appearance of Crimea as part of Russia, the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington told RFE/RL that it had sent a letter to Apple explaining the situation in Crimea and demanding that it correct the peninsula’s designation. 
 
It also said on Twitter that “let’s all remind Apple that #CrimeaIsUkraine and it is under Russian occupation — not its sovereignty.” 
 
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Vadym Prystayko tweeted, “Apple, please, please, stick to high-tech and entertainment. Global politics is not your strong side.” 
Applause from Russia
 
Vasily Piskarev, who chairs the Russian State Duma’s Committee on Security and Corruption Control, welcomed Apple’s move, saying, “They have brought [their services] in line with Russian law.” 
 
“The error with displaying Crimean cities on the weather app has been eliminated,” Piskarev told reporters. 
 
Competitor Google Maps has designated Crimea differently over the years depending on the user’s location, listing it as Russian for Russian users and Ukrainian for most others. 
 
“We make every effort to objectively depict the disputed regions, and where we have local versions of Google Maps, we follow local legislation when displaying names and borders,” a Google spokesperson told Tech Crunch magazine. 
Troops entered in 2014
 
Russia took control of Crimea in March 2014 after sending in troops, seizing key facilities and staging a referendum dismissed as illegal by at least 100 countries. 
 
Moscow also backs separatists in a war against government forces that has killed more than 13,000 people in eastern Ukraine since April 2014. 
 
The international community does not recognize Moscow’s annexation of Crimea, and the United States and European Union have slapped sanctions on Russia over its actions against Ukraine. 
 Reuters and the Crimea Desk of RFE/RL’s Ukrainian service contributed to this report. 

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Heavy Air Pollution Shuts Schools, Universities in Parts of Iran

Schools and universities have been shut in parts of Iran, including the capital, Tehran, because of high levels of pollution, state media reported Saturday. 
 
The decision was announced late Friday by Deputy Governor Mohammad Taghizadeh, after a meeting of an emergency committee for air pollution. 
 
“Due to increased air pollution, kindergartens, preschools and schools, universities, and higher education institutes of Tehran province will be closed,” Taghizadeh was quoted by official government news agency IRNA as saying. 
 
Schools in the capital will also be closed Sunday, Taghizadeh said. 
 
“Having examined the index of pollutants in Tehran … it was decided for all schools to be closed tomorrow in Tehran province, except for the counties of Firuzkuh, Damavand and Pardis,” he said. 
 
The young, elderly and people with respiratory illnesses were warned to stay indoors, and all sports activities were suspended Saturday. 
 
Tehran has suffered from dangerous levels of pollution and smog since mid-November. 
 
Schools were also closed in the northern province of Alborz and in the central province of Esfahan, IRNA reported, citing officials. 
 
Other areas where schools were shut included the northeastern city of Mashhad, the northwestern city of Orumiyeh and Qom, south of Tehran. 

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High-Ranking Taliban Official Killed In Northern Afghanistan 

A high-ranking Taliban official has been killed in clashes with security forces in Jowzjan province in Afghanistan’s north, a local official said Saturday. 
 
Qari Nuriddin and his four bodyguards were killed in the district of Mengajik, where the militant group has a strong presence, provincial government spokesman Abdul Maaruf Azar told RFE/RL. 
 
Four other militants were wounded in the clashes that erupted overnight, the spokesman said. 
 
There was no immediate comment from the Taliban. 
 
Azar also confirmed local reports that more than 25 members of the Taliban in Mengajik had recently cut ties with the militant group to return to civilian life. 
 
Azar told RFE/RL that all of them were young men from the Mengajik district. 
 
Most of them had left for Iran and Turkey in search of work, Azar said. He didn’t provide further details. 

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Maltese Prosecutors Charge Businessman in Reporter’s Killing 

Maltese prosecutors on Saturday charged a prominent local businessman as being an accomplice to the murder of anti-corruption journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in a 2017 car bombing on Malta. 
 
Yorgen Fenech, a Maltese hotelier and director of the Maltese power company, was also charged in the evening courtroom hearing with being an accomplice to causing the explosion that killed the 53-year-old reporter as she drove near her home. 
 
Magistrate Audrey Demicoli asked Fenech to enter pleas. He replied that he was pleading innocent, and he was remanded in custody. 

MaltaThe reporter’s family has alleged that Fenech has ties to close associates of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, including his recently resigned chief of staff. 
 
It wasn’t immediately clear if Muscat might resign amid increasing calls by citizens on the island, including Caruana Galizia’s family, for him to step down. Muscat, in power since 2013, has said he will speak after the investigative case is complete. 
 
“What we now expect is the prime minister to leave office and to leave Parliament,” Corinne Vella, one of the slain reporter’s sisters, told The Malta Independent after the arraignment of Fenech. 
Investigations urged
Vella also called for Muscat as well as his former chief of staff, Keith Schembri. to be “properly investigated” for their “possible involvement in Daphne’s assassination.” 
 
Schembri quit his government post a few days earlier. He had been taken into custody for questioning but was later released. 
 
Two of Muscat’s ministers also were questioned and have resigned. They, along with Schembri, have said they are innocent of wrongdoing. 
 
Caruana Galizia wrote shortly before her death that corruption was everywhere in political and business circles in the tiny EU nation. 
An alleged go-between in the bombing has received immunity from prosecution for alerting authorities to Fenech’s purported involvement. 
 
Three men have been in jail as the alleged bombers, but no trial date for them has been set. 

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Commonwealth, AU, OIF Call for Peace and Unity in Cameroon

Three international organizations have ended an official visit to Cameroon with a call for efforts to restore security, justice and the conditions for the resumption of normal life in English-speaking northwest and southwest regions of the country hit by the separatist crisis that has killed over 3,000 people. The Commonwealth, African Union, and International Organization of La Francophonie delegation says it is convinced dialogue remains the preferred path for peace to return, but that the government should start implementing the recommendations of the last major national dialogue it organized. Some, however, have been critical of government efforts.

Moussa Faki Mahamat, chairperson of the African Union Commission, says after exchanging views with Cameroonian President Paul Biya, Prime Minister Joseph Dion Ngute, representatives of the main political parties, religious leaders, youth representatives and a cross-section of Cameroonians,  the organizations are convinced that there is a yearning for peace to return to the restive English-speaking regions.

FILE – Chairperson of the African Union Commission Moussa Faki Mahamat delivers a speech during the African Union (AU) summit at the Palais des Congres in Niamey, Niger, July 7, 2019.He says they noted that a majority of Cameroonians welcomed the convening of the Grand National Dialogue from September 30 to October 4,  in which Cameroon’s government  consulted with political party leaders, activists, opinion leaders, traditional rulers, lawmakers and clergy, and are anxiously waiting for the government to implement its recommendations.  Those recommendations include establishing some sort of special status for the minority English-speaking regions, to be considered by the country’s parliament.  It also backed enforcement of the constitutional language giving English and French equal status and saying they must be used in all public offices and documents.  It also backed continuing the process of decentralization by giving more powers and resources to local councils.  
Mahamat participated in the tripartite mission with  International Organization of La Francophonie Secretary General Louise Mushikiwabo and Commonwealth Secretary General Patricia Scotland to encourage national peace efforts.
Mahamat said after their meetings in Yaounde, they observed that a large majority of Cameroonians supported the convening of the major national dialogue and believe it aided their quest for peace.  He said they were convinced that dialogue remains the only path to peace, and asked the government to implement the recommendations of the national dialogue.
After the national dialogue, hundreds of prisoners were freed when Biya ordered a halt to court proceedings against them, saying he was implementing the recommendations of the dialogue.
However, Albert Mvomo, an official of the opposition Cameroon United Party, says Biya’s government has not been doing enough to solve the crisis. He says the AU, OIF and Commonwealth delegation should have proposed sanctions to force Biya to solve the crisis.
He says the three organizations, like any international organization, should force the government in Yaounde to solve the crisis in the English-speaking regions through economic and diplomatic sanctions. He says Cameroon’s government shows no serious sign of wanting to stop the crisis.
Mvomo said the growing number of displaced people in towns and villages in the French-speaking regions showed the government has not been doing much to stop the separatist conflicts.

Simon Munzo,  an Anglophone leader who took part at the national dialogue, says while some recommendations would require legislation, Cameroon should have started showing serious signs that it wants peace to return by restoring public infrastructure and villages and towns destroyed by the fighting for the population to return.  
“We expect the government to maintain the momentum through the implementation of the recommendations of the dialogue,” said Munzo. “Some of them require legislation. Others do not, for example rebuilding schools and bridges and all of that. You do not need legislation for that except in terms of budgeting. Now, there are other aspects that will require modifying the constitution.”
Separatists have insisted on social media that they do not recognize the outcome of the national dialogue and will be ready to negotiate with the Yaounde government only on the terms of the separation of the English-speaking and French-speaking parts of Cameroon.

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People Convicted of Terror Offenses Must Serve Full Prison Terms: UK PM

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said people convicted of terrorism offenses should not be allowed out of prison early after it was revealed the London Bridge attacker was released from jail last year before the end of his sentence.

Wearing a fake suicide vest and wielding knives, Usman Khan went on the rampage on Friday afternoon at a conference on criminal rehabilitation beside London Bridge.
“I think that the practice of automatic, early release where you cut a sentence in half and let really serious, violent offenders out early simply isn’t working, and you’ve some very good evidence of how that isn’t working, I am afraid, with this case,” Johnson said on Saturday.

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UN Tries to cut Numbers at EU-funded Migrant Center in Libya

The U.N. refugee agency plans to cut the number of migrants staying at an overcrowded transit center in Libya’s capital, a spokesman said Saturday.
Libya is a major waypoint for migrants fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East to Europe.
“The situation is very difficult, and we do not have the resources” because the center in Tripoli is at about twice its capacity, with some 1,200 migrants, Charlie Yaxley, a UNHCR spokesman, told The Associated Press.
The UNHCR has asked those refugees not registered with the agency to leave the European Union-funded Gathering and Departure Facility, offering an assistance package that includes cash for an initial two months.
“You will not be considered for evacuation or resettlement if you stay at the GDF,” the agency warned the migrants, according to a document obtained by the AP. It added that those seeking registration with the agency could only do so “outside” the facility.
The UNHCR said it would phase out food distribution for the unregistered migrants, including dozens of tuberculosis patients, from Jan. 1.
Yaxley said the agency also offered to facilitate returning the migrants to their home country or to a country they previously registered as asylum-seekers.
Migrants, however, decried the move, fearing they would end up at detention centers or at the mercy of human traffickers.
“The migrants are reluctant and have their concerns about leaving the GDF,” one person seeking shelter at the facility said, who spoke on condition of anonymity for his safety. The surrounding areas of Tripoli have seen heavy fighting between armed factions since April.
The self-styled Libyan National Army, led by Gen. Khalifa Hifter, launched an offensive to capture the capital city in April, clashing with an array of militias loosely allied with the U.N.-supported but weak government there.
The fighting has stalled in recent weeks, with both sides dug in and shelling one another along Tripoli’s southern reaches. They have also carried out airstrikes and drone attacks.
In July, an airstrike hit a detention center for migrants outside Tripoli, killing more than 50 migrants held there. The Tripoli-based authorities blamed the LNA for the airstrikes. The LNA, however, said it was targeting a nearby military site, not the detention center.
After the airstrike, hundreds of former detainees made their way into the GDF, the agency said. They were followed by another group of around 400 people from Abu Salim detention center in late October, as well as up to 200 people from urban areas, the UNCHR said.
The gathering point, which was opened a year ago, has capacity for around 600 people.
“We hope that the GDF will be able to return to its original function as a transit facility for the most acutely vulnerable refugees, so we are able to evacuate them to safety,” said UNHCR’s Chief of Mission for Libya Jean-Paul Cavalieri.
There are some 40,000 refugees and asylum-seekers living in urban areas across Libya, some of whom are extremely vulnerable, face abuse in militia-run detention centers, and are in desperate need of support, according to the U.N. refugee agency.
Separately, the Libyan coast guard said Saturday it intercepted at least 205 Europe-bound migrants off the western town of Zawiya. The African migrants, who included 158 men, 33 women and 14 children, were given humanitarian assistance and were taken to the detention center in Tajoura.
Libya’s detention centers are rife with abuse and Europe’s policy of supporting the coast guard has come under growing criticism.

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Climate Activists Invade East German Coal Mines in Protest

Climate activists protested at open-pit coal mines in eastern Germany, pouring onto the premises to urge the government to immediately halt the use of coal to produce electricity.
The news agency dpa reported that police estimated more than 2,000 people took part Saturday at sites near Cottbus and Leipzig and that some of the demonstrators scuffled with police. Three officers were reported slightly injured at the Janschwaelde mine near Cottbus. The mine operators, Leag und Mibrag, filed police reports asking for an investigation and possible charges.
Burning coal releases carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas blamed by scientists for global warming. The German government plans to end the use of coal by 2038 and spend 40 billion euros ($44 billion) on assistance for the affected mining regions.

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Iran Opposition Leader Compares Supreme Leader to Shah

A long-detained opposition leader in Iran on Saturday compared a bloody crackdown on those protesting government-set gasoline prices rising under its supreme leader to soldiers of the shah gunning down demonstrators in an event that led to the Islamic Revolution.
The comments published by a foreign website represent some of the harshest yet attributed to Mir Hossein Mousavi, a 77-year-old politician whose own disputed election loss in 2009 led to the widespread Green Movement protests that security forces also put down.
Mousavi’s remarks not only compare Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the toppled monarch whom Khamenei to this day refers to as a tyrant. It also suggests the opposition leader views the demonstrations that began Nov. 15 and the crackdown that followed as a potentially similar last-straw moment for Iran’s Shiite theocracy as the 1978 killings represented for the shah.
“It shows people’s frustration with the country’s situation. It has a complete resemblance to the brutal killing of people on the bloody date Sept. 8, 1978,” Mousavi said, according to the statement published by the Kaleme website long associated with him. “The assassins of the year of 1978 were representatives of a non-religious regime, but the agents and shooters in November 2019 were representatives of a religious government.”
There was no immediate response from Iranian officials nor state media, which has been barred from showing Mousavi’s image for years.
The protests that struck some 100 cities and towns across Iran beginning Nov. 15 came after Iran raised minimum gasoline prices by 50%. The subsidy cuts, which the government said would help fund cash handouts to the poor, come as Iran’s economy suffers under crushing U.S. sanctions following President Donald Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers.
Iranians immediately began demonstrating and protests quickly turned violent, seeing gas stations and banks attacked. Online videos purport to show Iranian security forces shooting at demonstrators.
The scale of the gasoline price demonstrations remains unclear even today as Iran so far has not offered nationwide statistics for the number of people arrested, injured or killed in the protests. Amnesty International believes the protests and the security crackdown killed at least 161 people.
One Iranian lawmaker said he thought that over 7,000 people had been arrested, though Iran’s top prosecutor disputed the figure without offering his own. The country’s interior minister said as many as 200,000 people took part in the demonstrations. Iran blocked access to the wider internet for a week, further shielding its response from the world’s view.
Mousavi and his wife, Zahra Rahnavard, remain under house arrest in their home down an alleyway near Khamenei’s official residence in Tehran. However, the Kaleme website occasionally publishes statements from Mousavi, who earlier served as Iran’s prime minister before the position was eliminated in 1989.
The statement Saturday saw Mousavi compare November’s crackdown to “Black Friday,” a seminal moment in Iran’s revolution. That September day in 1978, soldiers opened fire on demonstrators in Jaleh Square.
How many the shooting killed remains in dispute today, with figures running anywhere from 86 to 4,000. However, historians mark the day as the point of no return for the fatally ill shah. Mass protests and strikes followed. The shah fled Iran in January 1979 and by the next month, the revolution took hold.
In his statement, Mousavi offered his condolences to those slain in the November crackdown and warned “this wound on the nation’s body and soul” would not heal until there are public trials of their killers.
“The bullying and talking about how we are in the middle of a world war are not a convincing answer for the people and it would not heal the people’s wounds,” Mousavi said, referring to tensions with the U.S. “It would be enough that the system just think about the consequences of the Jaleh Square assassinations.”
Mousavi is not the only one to compare the November crackdown to the time of the shah, however. Days earlier, lawmaker Mohammad Golmoradi at the Iranian parliament got pulled away after some news websites reported he criticized President Hassan Rouhani over the crackdown. Golmoradi’s area, Mahshar in Iran’s southwestern Khuzestan province, saw security forces violently put down protests, activists say.
“What did you do that the shah didn’t?” Golmoradi reportedly asked.

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Albania’s Earthquake Search, Rescue Operation Ends

The search and rescue operation for earthquake survivors in Albania has ended, Prime Minister Edi Rama said Saturday.
The small town of Thumane, experienced the highest death toll from Tuesday’s quake with 26 people killed, six of whom belonged to one family, and all but one under age 30. They were buried Friday.
In the port city of Durres – 30 kilometers west of the capital, Tirana — the quake killed 24.  One person also died in Kurbin.
In all, 51 people died, including seven children. Nine-hundred were injured.  More than 5,000 people are without shelter; and 1,200 buildings were destroyed in the 6.4-magnitude quake and the aftershocks that followed.  
 

Relatives surround some of the coffins during the funeral of six members of the Cara family, killed during an earthquake that shook Albania, in Thumane, Albania, Nov. 29, 2019.Seismologist Rexhep Koci told VOA that while there is the likelihood for more aftershocks, but they would be weaker.
Neighboring countries provide assistance
The European Union sent crews to help with search and rescue immediately following the quake and now the Albanian government has asked for experts to help assess the damage.
 

Volunteers distribute food at a makeshift camp in Durres, after an earthquake shook Albania, November 29, 2019.EU Ambassador to Albania Luigi Soreca said Friday that the European Union and its member states are standing with Albania and working nonstop to provide assistance “in this very difficult moment.”
 
“It is a week of deep sorrow and tragedy for Albania,” Soreca said in a statement. “Our heartfelt condolences go once again to the Albanian people and especially to the families, friends and communities of those who have lost their lives.”
More than 200 military troops from Albania, Kosovo, Italy, Greece, Montenegro, Serbia, Croatia, France, Turkey, Switzerland, Romania, North Macedonia, the EU and the United States, participated in the search and rescue operation.
People spontaneously came from Kosovo, operating mobile kitchens, gathering donations and opening their homes. About 500 homeless Albanians are staying in a camp set up by Kosovo’s government in the city of Prizren. On Friday alone, individuals and businesses from Kosovo delivered 100 tons of much needed necessities.
Remembering victims
Tirana residents turned out in the city center to honor the victims, placing candles in a makeshift memorial near the statue of Albanian national hero Gjergj Kastrioti, known as Skanderbeg.

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Vigil for quake victims in TiranaThe state of emergency declared Wednesday for Durres and Thumane was extended to the heavily damaged town of Lac. Prime Minister Rama said he made the decision after opposition leader Lulzim Basha suggested it. Rama appeared to put on hold the acrimony often on display between the two political rivals.
“In this case, our concerns and ideas converge,” Rama said, inviting the opposition to participate in the Committee for Earthquake Relief.
 
For Rama, the tragedy hit close to home as his office confirmed that among the dead was his son Gregor’s fiance, Kristi Reci, whose entire family — both parents and her brother — died in Durres.

A rescue dog is seen on a collapsed building in Durres, after an earthquake shook Albania, November 29, 2019.Physician Shkelqime Ladi said doctors are on hand to help with immediate needs.
 
“We are focusing more on the psychological aspect of the affected. Their psychological state is aggravated,” she told VOA in Lac.
 
The earthquake struck two days before Albania’s 107th independence day. There was no celebration, but a show of solidarity gave solemnity to the day.
 
Albanian President Ilir Meta and Prime Minister Rama, who have been fighting bitterly over political matters, appeared together in Vlora Thursday.
Independence Day coincided this year with the U.S. Thanksgiving Day, and many Albanian Americans rallied to collect donations, holding several fundraisers to help one of the poorest countries in Europe.
 
“I am so heartbroken for my people back home, for those who have lost lives and loved ones,” New York City Assemblyman Mark Gjonaj, an Albanian American, told VOA.
 
Marko Kepi, of the Albanian American organization Albanian Roots, organized a fundraiser that raised close to $1 million in less than a day.
 
“This fundraiser is simply to help those who have lost their homes and to help those families who lost their loved ones, do whatever we can so they can have some sort of peace of mind, that they are not alone, they have support and they are not going to be left out in the street,” he said.
Armand Mero reported from Tirana, Ilirian Agolli reported from Durres, Pellumb Sulo reported from Lac.
 
 

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US Sending Ships to South China Sea to Teach Beijing, Not Fight It

An unusually strong surge of U.S. Navy activity this month in the South China Sea shows that Washington is trying to teach China a set of rules for operating in contested waters, official statements and scholars say.
The Navy sent two ships into the Asian sea, which is increasingly controlled by China but disputed by five other countries, last week after China sent its first domestically produced aircraft carrier into the same waterway for research and testing.
 
Washington wants to show China that it must keep the economically and politically strategic sea open rather than trying to take tracts of it for exclusive use, the U.S. Pacific Fleet and the analysts say, although experts see little threat of armed conflict.
 
“The United States is trying now to shape and shift Chinese behavior, and that’s really hard,” said Stephen Nagy, senior associate politics and international studies professor at International Christian University in Tokyo.
 
“This comprehensive pressure is a way to start to shift the behavior of the Chinese in a way that doesn’t spiral out it of control into some kind of conflict,” he said.

China Calls on US to ‘Stop Flexing Muscles’ in South China Sea
China claims almost all the energy-rich waters of the South
China Sea, where it has established military outposts on
artificial islands

 Spike in naval presence
 
The Chinese aircraft carrier passed through the Taiwan Strait November 17 to conduct research and “routine training” in the “relevant waters of the South China Sea,” Beijing’s official Xinhua News Agency said a day later, citing a People’s Liberation Army spokesperson.
 
The carrier caught attention around Asia and in Washington  because it’s China’s second carrier overall and the first it has built on its own. China seldom announces it has sent a carrier to the sea.
The U.S. Navy sent its two warships to the sea on November 20 and 21, it said in a statement. It described both missions as “freedom of navigation operations,” without giving details about what either ship did.

 
The USS Gabrielle Giffords, a  littoral combat ship, approached Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands, the statement said. China has developed and occupied the reef for its own use, including military installations.  The second U.S. ship, the USS Wayne E. Meyer, a destroyer,
 sailed near the Paracel Islands, a chain controlled by China but that control is  disputed by Vietnam.
 
The U.S. Navy usually sends one ship at a time, with intervals of a month or so.
 
Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam dispute all or parts of China’s claims to the 3.5 million-square-kilometer sea that stretches from Hong Kong south to Borneo. They prize the sea for its fisheries, energy reserves and shipping lanes.
 
International attention has fallen on China over the past decade because it keeps the strongest armed forces among the six claimants and maintains the most advanced infrastructure, such as military aircraft hangars,  among the sea’s hundreds of tiny islets. Beijing cites historical records to back its claims.
 Trying to show China
 
Beijing dismissed a 2016 ruling against it by a tribunal constituted under the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague over the South China Sea  world arbitration ruling that asked it to follow international maritime laws.
 

FILE – Chinese dredging vessels are purportedly seen the waters around Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea in this video image taken by a P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft provided by the U.S. Navy, May 21, 2015.The November 20 U.S. mission was to show that Mischief Reef as a low-tide islet is not “entitled to a territorial sea,” meaning exclusive use of surrounding waters, under international law, the Navy’s statement said.
 
By going to the Paracels, Washington wanted to show “international law does not permit continental States, like China and the United States, to establish baselines around entire island groups,” it said.
 
U.S. officials will constantly monitor China at sea, said Andrew Yang, secretary-general of the Chinese Council of Advanced Policy Studies think tank in Taiwan. “It’s a continuous effort to show the U.S. is very much adhered to the freedom of navigation operations,” he said. He also said that China probably sent its newly commissioned aircraft carrier to the sea as a practice run rather than as any kind of provocation.
 
No one expects China to quit its maritime claims, but eventually China and the United States might reach a “shared understanding of rules of behavior” for disputed seas, Nagy said.
 
He compared that outcome to Cold War U.S.-Soviet understandings.
 
“The U.S. Navy will continue to fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows and demonstrate resolve through operational presence in the South China Sea and beyond,” Pacific Fleet spokesperson Rachel McMarr told VOA.

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Hong Kong’s Young and Elderly Come Together

Retirees and secondary-school children came together Saturday in Hong Kong to protest what they see as China’s creeping interference in Hong Kong since the territory was returned to China by Britain in 1997.
“I have seen so much police brutality and unlawful arrests,” said a 71-year-old woman in Hong Kong’s Central district, who only gave her name as Ponn.  “This is not the Hong Kong I know.”  
The young and the elderly listened to pro-democracy activists in the city’s Chater Garden, one of several planned weekend rallies.

The demonstrations in Hong Kong have become increasingly violent over the months as protesters vented their frustrations.  
The mood in Hong Kong has changed, however, since local elections last week gave pro-democracy politicians a big win.
Some of the demonstrators Saturday carried American flags, in support of newly signed bi-partisan U.S. legislation supporting pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong.    
Carrie Lam has called for the current mood to be maintained, but she has refused to give in to protesters’ demands, including free elections for her position and an independent investigation into alleged police brutality.
 

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Taliban-Planted Bomb Kills Afghan Army General

Officials in southern Afghanistan say a bomb explosion Saturday killed a senior military commander and wounded at least four other people, including a local journalist.
The Taliban swiftly took responsibility for the attack in Helmand province where most of the districts are either controlled or hotly contested by the insurgent group.
The provincial police spokesman told VOA that Gen. Zahir Gul Muqbil, the commander of an army border unit, was heading to the volatile Marjah district along with a group of journalists to visit an ongoing counterinsurgency operation when the convoy struck a roadside bomb.
Mohammad Zaman Hamdard said the slain general was directing the military operation. He added three security personnel and a reporter with Afghanistan’s mainstream Shamshad TV, were among the wounded. The journalist, Sardar Mohamad Sarwary, is said to have received multiple injures.
A Taliban statement said the attack also killed Muqbil’s two guards, though insurgent claims are often inflated.
Helmand is Afghanistan’s largest province and a major opium-poppy producing region.
International media watchdogs list Afghanistan as one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists.

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Botswana’s Drought Makes Wasteland of Harvests, Livestock

Southern Africa is having one of the worst droughts in years with more than 40 million people expected to face food insecurity because of livestock and crop losses. Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Zimbabwe have declared this year’s drought an emergency. As Mqondisi Dube reports from Botswana’s village of Gamodubu, drought is so frequent that the government plans to stop calling it an emergency and instead make drought a part of the national budget.
 

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From a Box to a Coffin: The Long, Deadly Road for Vietnamese Migrants

They left Vietnam carrying dreams of small fortunes and the heavy burden of family expectations.
But they died in a box, and came home in coffins.
For the 39 migrants who set off from one of the poorest parts of their Southeast Asian country in search of work in Britain, the promise of riches outweighed the risks of the perilous journey through Latvian forests and Belgian streets, to the oxygen-starved truck container in which they met their fate.
The bodies were discovered in late October, in the back of a refrigerated lorry, just outside London.
On Saturday, the last bodies were repatriated to Vietnam.
Here are the stories of three of the victims.

FILE – Catholics attend a mass prayer for 39 people found dead in the back of a truck near London, at My Khanh parish in Nghe An province, Vietnam, Oct. 26, 2019. The last of the 39 migrants returned home Saturday.The lost boy
Teenager Nguyen Huy Hung had longed to see his parents, both of whom had left Vietnam to find work in Britain’s nail salons.
“It should have been a family reunion,” said a neighbor who declined to be identified. “His parents reached Britain safely and smoothly. They’d already paid smugglers to arrange his trip. “He was too young to suffer from tragedy.”
Hung was one of two 15-year-old victims. Raised in a small fishing village in Ha Tinh province, rooms in the family home had been rented out because most of his family, apart from Hung’s grandparents, had relocated overseas for work.
Hung flew from Hanoi to Russia on Aug. 26, his sister, who works in South Korea, said in a Facebook post days after news of the incident emerged.
By Oct. 6, he was in France, she wrote, but they lost contact Oct. 21, two days before the container was found.
The family had paid 10,000 pounds ($12,900) to get him to Europe, his sister told Reuters. They were to pay more money to people smugglers in Vietnam once he reached Britain, she added.
Hung’s body was repatriated Saturday.
But with no documentation and their hopes of being reunited with their son in Britain shattered, Hung’s parents will miss his funeral.

Nguyen Dinh Gia shows a barbell was used by his son Nguyen Dinh Luong, who was found dead in the back of British truck, at home in Ha Tinh province, Vietnam, Oct. 27, 2019.The carpenter
Rudimentary dumbbells made from rusted iron and mossy lumps of concrete are some of the few objects Nguyen Dinh Gia has to remind him of his son.
Luong was an honest boy, Gia said. At 20, Luong didn’t drink, he didn’t smoke, and he had never had a girlfriend.
Luong loved sports, and his ramshackle weights. In October 2017, he left Ha Tinh province and found work in a nearby province as a carpenter, a skill he learned from his brother.
“He didn’t try to get into university,” Gia said. “Not many children around here do.”
From there, Luong traveled to Hanoi where he boarded a flight to Russia.
He stayed there until April 2018, when he drifted to Ukraine where he spent his nights with other migrants in a warehouse. He would contact his father sometimes, Gia said.
“I felt comfortable knowing he was safe, living there,” Gia added.
Weeks later, Luong left for Germany. He moved by road, but he walked for seven hours too.
“It was a one-day journey and everyone with him was Vietnamese,” Gia said.
There, Luong begged his father to pay for him to go to France, where he stayed until this October, when he decided to join friends working in Britain.
“I tried to persuade him not to go,” Gia said. “I told him the money he had earned in France was huge for the family.”
Gia had paid $18,000 to people smugglers to get his son that far. A few days before he boarded the doomed truck, Luong called home.
Gia said he was in good spirits.
Luong’s body was repatriated Wednesday and he was buried Thursday.
“After waiting for so many days, my son has finally arrived,” Gia said.

A relative looks at an image of Anna Bui Thi Nhung, who was found dead in the back of a British truck last month, at her home in Nghe An province, Vietnam Oct. 26, 2019.The dreamer
Bui Thi Nhung had been dreaming of Europe.
She hoped to be reunited with her boyfriend, in Britain.
Her Facebook posts in the days before she died showed her in Brussels, where she drank bubble tea on the steps of the old stock exchange.
Like the other two, she flew from Vietnam to Russia, then crossed into Latvia. From there she moved to Lithuania, then Poland, Germany, and Belgium, friends and neighbors told Reuters.
It wasn’t her first attempt.
“My life is full of ups and downs. I want to fly to Europe, but I can’t,” she wrote, four months earlier. 
“I don’t want to stay home, marry young and live penniless,” Nhung told friends who had suggested she stay in Vietnam and raise cattle instead. “I’ll try my luck next time.”
According to her friends, Nhung first wanted to find work in Germany, and spent a year in Vietnam learning to paint nails. “A girl has to have a job otherwise no one will marry her,” she wrote.
On her third try, Nhung finally made it to Europe. The trip ended in disaster.
“I’m about to start a new journey,” Nhung wrote to friends a few days before they lost contact with her.
Nhung’s friends have memorialized her Facebook page to keep her stories alive. Many of her friends are scattered overseas, working in Europe’s nail bars.
“Please don’t blame us,” one of her friends told Reuters. “Don’t blame the 39 victims in the back of the truck.”
Nhung made her final journey home on Saturday.
She was 19 years old.

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Twitter CEO Pledges to Live in Africa for Several Months in 2020

Twitter Chief Executive Jack Dorsey has wrapped up of a trip to Africa by pledging to reside on the continent next year for up to six months. 
Dorsey tweeted this week: “Africa will define the future (especially the bitcoin one!). Not sure where yet, but I’ll be living here for 3-6 months mid 2020.”
The CEO of the social media giant did not say what he planned to do on the African continent.
Twitter, which is based in San Francisco, did not offer more details on Dorsey’s plans. 
On Dorsey’s recent trip, he visited entrepreneurs in Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa. 
Dorsey, 43, co-founded Twitter with several other entrepreneurs in 2006. He ran the company until he was ousted in 2008 but was brought back seven years later to again lead the platform.
Dorsey also co-founded the payment processing app Square and is also CEO of that operation. The tech exec holds millions of stock shares in both companies, and Forbes estimates his net worth at $4.3 billion.
Twitter, along with other social media companies, has faced criticism of its handling of misinformation and has come under scrutiny ahead of next year’s U.S. presidential election. Dorsey announced in October that Twitter would ban political advertisements on the platform. 

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