WWII Plane Flyby Honors Britain’s ‘Captain Tom’ at Funeral

Church bells rang and a World War II-era plane flew Saturday over the funeral for Captain Tom Moore, the veteran who single-handedly raised millions of pounds for Britain’s health workers by walking laps in his backyard.Soldiers performed ceremonial duties at the private service for Moore, who died February 2 at age 100 after testing positive for COVID-19. Captain Tom, as he became known, inspired the U.K. during the first months of the coronavirus pandemic with his humble endeavor that raised almost 33 million pounds ($46 million) for Britain’s National Health Service last year.The funeral cortege of Captain Tom Moore arrives at Bedford Crematorium, in Bedford, England, Feb. 27, 2021.The service was small, attended by eight members of the veteran’s immediate family. But soldiers carried his coffin, draped in the Union flag, and formed a ceremonial guard. Others performed a gun salute before a C-47 Dakota military transport plane flew past.A Dakota performs a flyby at the funeral of Captain Tom Moore, in Bedford, England, Feb. 27, 2021.”Daddy, you always told us, ‘Best foot forward,’ and true to your word, that’s what you did last year,” Moore’s daughter Lucy Teixeira said at the service. “I know you will be watching us, chuckling, saying, ‘Don’t be too sad as something has to get you in the end.’ “His other daughter, Hannah Ingram-Moore, said the world was “enthralled” by her father’s “spirit of hope, positivity and resilience.””They, too, saw your belief in kindness and the fundamental goodness of the human spirit,” she said.The service featured music that reflected the man being honored, opening with the rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone that Moore recorded for charity with Michael Ball and the NHS Voices of Care Choir. The song topped the U.K. singles charts last April.Singer Michael Bublé recorded a version of Smile for the funeral, and as requested by Moore, Frank Sinatra’s My Way was played. A bugler sounded The Last Post to close the service.A church in Bedfordshire, England, where the family is based, rang its bell 100 times in Moore’s honor. A post on Moore’s Twitter account invited his admirers to remember him Saturday with a cup of tea and a slice of Victoria sponge cake.Moore, who served in India, Burma and Sumatra during World War II, set out to raise a modest 1,000 pounds for Britain’s NHS by walking 100 laps of his backyard by his 100th birthday last year. But donations poured in from across Britain and beyond as his quest went viral, catching the imagination of millions stuck at home during the first wave of the pandemic.FILE – In this July 17, 2020, photo, Captain Tom Moore poses for the media after receiving his knighthood from Britain’s Queen Elizabeth, during a ceremony at Windsor Castle in Windsor, England.His positive attitude — “Please remember, tomorrow will be a good day” became his trademark phrase — inspired the nation at a time of crisis. Prime Minister Boris Johnson described him as a “hero in the truest sense of the word.”He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in July in a socially distanced ceremony at Windsor Castle, west of London. 

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Archaeologists Find Intact Ceremonial Chariot Near Pompeii 

Officials at the Pompeii archaeological site in Italy announced Saturday the discovery of an intact ceremonial chariot, one of several important discoveries made in the same area outside the park near Naples following an investigation into an illegal dig.The chariot, with its iron elements, bronze decorations and mineralized wooden remains, was found in the ruins of a settlement north of Pompeii, beyond the walls of the ancient city, parked in the portico of a stable where the remains of three horses previously were discovered.The Archaeological Park of Pompeii called the chariot “an exceptional discovery” and said “it represents a unique find — which has no parallel in Italy thus far — in an excellent state of preservation.”A detail of the decoration of a chariot that was found in Civita Giuliana, north of Pompeii. Officials at the Pompeii archaeological site near Naples announced its discovery Feb. 27, 2021.The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD destroyed Pompeii. The chariot was spared when the walls and roof of the structure it was in collapsed, and also survived looting by modern-day antiquities thieves, who had dug tunnels through to the site, grazing but not damaging the four-wheeled cart, according to park officials.The chariot was found on the grounds of what is one of the most significant ancient villas in the area around Vesuvius, with a panoramic view of the Mediterranean Sea, on the outskirts of the ancient Roman city.Archaeologists last year found in the same area on the outskirts of Pompeii, Civita Giulian, the skeletal remains of what are believed to have been a wealthy man and his male slave, attempting to escape death.The chariot’s first iron element emerged January 7 from the blanket of volcanic material filling the two-story portico. Archaeologists believe the cart was used for festivities and parades, perhaps also to carry brides to their new homes.While chariots for daily life or the transport of agricultural products have been previously found at Pompeii, officials said the new find is the first ceremonial chariot unearthed in its entirety.The villa was discovered after police came across the illegal tunnels in 2017, officials said. Two people who live in the houses atop the site are on trial for allegedly digging more than 80 meters of tunnels at the site.  

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As Mexico’s Largest Migrant Camp Empties, New Tents Spring Up Along US Border

Mexican authorities hope most of the asylum seekers living in a major encampment on the border will be allowed to enter the United States by the end of next week, according to a Mexican government source.
 
The migrant camp in Matamoros, Mexico, just across the river from Brownsville, Texas, is currently home to just under 700 migrants, according to the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR). The majority are asylum seekers who have been waiting in Mexico as their cases wind through U.S. courts under a program implemented by former President Donald Trump.  
 
One week ago, President Joe Biden’s administration began permitting members of the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program to enter the United States to pursue their court cases. UNHCR spokeswoman Silvia Garduno said 27 people crossed the border from Mexico Thursday and 100 did so Friday, and that the agency hopes to continue this pace in the coming days.
 
The agency, along with the International Organization for Migration, is in charge of the logistics of registering and transporting migrants from the camp to the United States.
 
The Mexican government source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Reuters the goal was for 500 migrants in the Matamoros camp to enter the United States by the end of next week.
 
Mexican authorities did not immediately respond to requests for comment. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) referred Reuters to a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) statement that said the registration process “will be done as quickly as possible.”
 
In Matamoros, asylum seekers expressed optimism. “We’ve just received news that tomorrow we’re leaving!” said Honduran asylum seeker Josue Cornejo in a video recorded inside the camp Friday evening, which also shows his wife and daughters wiping away tears.
 
But as one tent city begins to empty in northeastern Mexico, another has sprung up on the other side of the country. In Tijuana, migrants encouraged by the news that some asylum seekers were being allowed to enter the United States have begun to camp out near the El Chaparral port of entry, across the border from San Diego, California.
 
Advocates say about 50 tents have been put up in recent days.  
 
Biden, a Democrat, is balancing pressure from immigration advocates to unwind the hardline immigration policies of his predecessor with concerns about rising numbers of migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
 
To handle an anticipated rise in crossings, CBP said in a statement on Friday that it planned to open a facility in Eagle Pass, Texas. Plans for the new facility come after CBP announced on February 9 the opening of another temporary facility in Donna, Texas, to handle border processing while the agency’s permanent center in McAllen is renovated.
 
Under U.S. law, children who arrive at the border without parents or legal guardians have to be transferred quickly out of border patrol facilities and into government-run shelters overseen by the Department of Health and Human Services.
 
Separately, HHS is also scrambling to cope with the influx of new arrivals by opening emergency shelters and trying to speed releases of migrant kids to sponsors in the United States.
 
“There are no good choices here,” Biden told reporters Friday. “The only other options are to send kids back, which is what the prior administration did.”
 
Most migrants caught at the border, including families and individual adult asylum seekers, are still being rapidly expelled at the border under a Trump-era health rule in place since last March.
 

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UN Rights Chief Cites Growing Human Rights Crisis in Nicaragua

The U.N. high commissioner for human rights, Michele Bachelet, is warning that new laws adopted by Nicaragua’s government are undermining fundamental freedoms and leading to a further erosion of the rule of law in the country.  
In a report submitted this week to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, Bachelet said damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and hurricanes Eta and Iota have worsened the socio-political and human rights crisis facing Nicaragua.  Furthermore, she said the passage of new restrictive laws is strangling peoples’ rights to freedom of association and expression.
Bachelet said the laws also are inhibiting political participation and due process, which is especially troubling as Nicaragua approaches general elections in November. She noted that earlier this month two prominent organizations promoting freedom of expression were forced to suspend operations because of a new “foreign agents” law.
“My Office has documented 117 cases of harassment, intimidation and threats by police officers or pro-government elements against students, peasants, political activists, human rights defenders and organizations of victims and of women,” Bachelet said.
The report also documents 34 cases of intimidation, threats, criminalization and campaigns to discredit media and journalists considered to represent the opposition.  Bachelet said arbitrary detentions of political opponents continue and Indigenous communities continue to face land invasions and violent attacks by settlers.
“Human rights violations perpetrated during the social protests of 2018 continue in all impunity. We have also received information as to a rise in femicides and high levels of pregnancy among young girls,” Bachelet said.
The high commissioner said the government must undertake necessary reforms to ensure free, fair and transparent elections. She urged the government to allow members of her staff to enter the country so they can monitor the human rights situation in the lead-up to November’s elections.  
Nicaragua’s Attorney General Wendy Carolina Morales Urbina rejected the high commissioner’s report, calling it a throwback to the interventionist policies of former colonial powers. She said the report was biased and lacking in objectivity.
Morales Urbina added that the government of Nicaragua denounces the report as yet another manifestation of imperial aggressions that have promoted crimes of hate, terrorism and destruction.    

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Armenian President Refuses to Fire Armed Forces Chief at Center of Political Crisis

Armenian President Armen Sarkissian has refused to fire the head of the general staff of the country’s armed forces after he was dismissed by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, the presidential office said Saturday.
 
Pashinyan dismissed the head of the general staff, Onik Gasparyan, Thursday after what he had called an attempted coup to remove him, but the move had to be signed off by the president.
 
According to the president’s statement, posted on the presidential office website, the move to dismiss Gasparyan was unconstitutional.
 
The army has called for the resignation of Pashinyan and his government after what critics say was the disastrous handling of a bloody six-week conflict between Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenian forces over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh last year.
 

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Will COVID Vaccines Help China Increase its Influence in the Balkans?

As some countries struggle to get enough COVID-19 vaccine, China has intensified efforts to distribute its vaccine in the Balkans. Some experts say it’s an effort to increase the county’s influence in the region. Dino Jahic and Amer Jahic have the story, narrated by Anna Rice.
Camera: Dino Jahic

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Police Shoot and Kill Known Haitian Gang Leader After Jailbreak

Arnel Joseph, the notorious leader of the Village de Dieu gang, was killed in a gun battle with police Friday in the town of L’Estere, near Gonaives in Haiti’s north, officials said.”He opened fire on a police patrol who had stopped his motorbike at a checkpoint. The police returned fire and Arnel Joseph was killed,” Frantz Exantus, Haiti’s secretary of state for communication, told reporters during an afternoon press conference.Pressed on how sure he was that it was the gang leader who was killed, Exantus said several police “technical services” had confirmed the identity of the body at the scene.The gang leader’s prison break from the Croix des Bouquets civilian jail Thursday shocked Haitians worldwide. Fear spread throughout the nation as people took to social media for information and to react, sharing photos and videos on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.In a statement emailed to VOA on Friday morning, Exantus described the jailbreak as “deplorable.”Who is Arnel Joseph?Joseph, in his 20s, had been Prison Civile de la Croix-des-Bouquets, Port-au-Prince, HaitiThe Prison Civile de la Croix des Bouquets, about 13 kilometers northeast of Port-au-Prince, is one of Haiti’s most modern and secure facilities.”There are some details [of the mutiny] that are not yet available, but what we can tell you is that the goal was to empty the prison,” Exantus told reporters. “Thanks to the vigilance of the police, that did not happen. The cellblock where Arnel Joseph was held had the most activity so that is where the police focused their attention.”According to Exantus, there were 25 deaths as a result of the mutiny, including six prisoners, Joseph among them. The prison inspector general, Hector Paul Joseph, also was killed during the gunfight.Exantus said before the jailbreak, 1,542 prisoners were in detention and there are now 1,125. Two hundred prisoners remain at large, and a nationwide search continues, law enforcement officials said. Sixty of those who escaped have been caught and are back in custody.Exantus said 17 firearms were recovered and that multiple tear gas cannisters were recovered in the prison yard.Notorious historyThe Croix des Bouquets prison is no stranger to controversy. It holds some high-profile detainees such as former member of Haiti’s Chamber of Deputies Arnel Belizaire, who is accused of illegal possession of firearms and conspiring against national security. The alleged coup plotters involved in the attempt to overthrow President Jovenel Moise on Feb. 7 are also detained there.Despite being a maximum-security facility, there have been multiple publicized jailbreaks. Most recently in July 2020, when Joseph escaped his prison cell and spent hours on the rooftop before being caught by prison guards and returned to his cell.Reaction from President MoiseShortly before the press conference to announce the gang leader’s death, Moise tweeted condemnation.”We CONDEMN the CROIX DES BOUQUETS jailbreak and urge the population to remain calm. The #PNH is instructed to take all measures to bring the situation under control,” he tweeted.We CONDEMN the CROIX DES BOUQUETS jailbreak and urge the population to remain calm. The #PNH is instructed to take all measures to bring the situation under control.#Haïti— Président Jovenel Moïse (@moisejovenel) February 26, 2021Earlier this week, he was criticized by United Nations, U.S., French, Chinese, Russian and Mexican representatives at a U.N. Security Council meeting for not getting gang violence under control and bringing those responsible to justice.International reactionA U.S. State Department spokesperson expressed sorrow over lives lost and urged the Haitian government to address security failures.”We saw reports of Arnel Joseph’s escape from Croix des Bouquets prison yesterday and were saddened by reports of lives lost,” the spokesperson told VOA.”We have consistently urged the Haitian authorities to take steps to strengthen the rule of law and the justice sector. This event underscores the need for the Haitian government to invest further in the Haitian National Police (HNP), including the prison system,” the spokesperson said.”It also highlights the importance of ending prolonged pretrial detention so the prison system can focus on securely detaining dangerous convicted prisoners like Arnel Joseph,” the spokesperson added. “The U.S. government, through our INL (Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs) programs, has provided technical assistance, training and equipment, and funded construction to assist the HNP in improving the prison system.”The U.N. secretary-general’s special representative in Haiti, Helen La Lime, expressed concern.”I am deeply concerned with the mutiny and prison escape which occurred in Croix-des-Bouquets on 25 February 2021,” La Lime, who heads the U.N. Integrated Bureau for Haiti, told VOA.”While the prompt response of the Haitian National Police likely prevented the escape of more inmates, I encourage the police to speed up investigations on the circumstances surrounding this incident, redouble its efforts to reapprehend the escapees, and strengthen security around prisons throughout the country,” La Lime said.Democratic U.S. Congressman Andy Levin of Michigan slammed Moise for the jailbreak on Twitter.”This prison break massacre is a tragic sign of the rule of law collapsing in Haiti,” Levin tweeted. “Jovenel Moïse’s antidemocratic rule is costing Haitians their lives and eliminating any sense of safety.This prison break massacre is a tragic sign of the rule of law collapsing in Haiti. Jovenel Moïse’s antidemocratic rule is costing Haitians their lives and eliminating any sense of safety. https://t.co/nxPxlXyrJE— Rep. Andy Levin (@RepAndyLevin) February 26, 2021What’s next?Exantus said three commissions have been created to investigate the mutiny.One will be led by the inspector general of the national police, who will investigate administrative failures. A second judicial commission will be led by the Direction Centrale de la Police Judiciare, the investigative unit of the national police force, to determine who should be charged. A third commission will be led by the penitentiary administration and will investigate what conditions led to the jailbreak and determine who was involved.Exantus told VOA he did not think the jailbreak would affect plans to hold elections later this year.

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Top US Diplomat ‘Visits’ Mexico, Canada on Virtual Trip

Diplomats sat beside stacks of briefing papers, flanked by flags and emphasized their closeness. But they were geographically far apart Friday as Secretary of State Antony Blinken, because of the pandemic, started a new chapter in North American relations with virtual visits to Mexico and Canada in what was billed as his first official trip.Though symbolically important in any administration, the decision by President Joe Biden to dispatch Blinken to Mexico and Canada for the first visits, even virtually, is part of a broader effort to turn the page from a predecessor who at times had fraught relations with both nations. The three nations signed a revamped trade accord last year after then-President Donald Trump demanded a renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement.The secretary began his virtual visits with Mexico, a country Trump repeatedly disparaged in his campaign and early in his presidency, though relations turned more cordial under President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.”I wanted to ‘visit,’ in quotation marks, Mexico first to demonstrate the importance that we attach, President Biden attaches, to the relationship between our countries,” Blinken told his counterpart, Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard.Secretary of State Antony Blinken, second from right, speaks during a virtual meeting at the State Department on Feb. 26, 2021, with Canadian Foreign Minister Marc Garneau who is in Ottawa, Canada.Blinken’s meetings with Mexico and Canada, two of the largest U.S. trading partners, were expected to cover economic ground as well as efforts to fight COVID-19, which has prompted all three countries to close the borders to all but essential traffic.Biden last week participated in his first bilateral meeting, also virtual, with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who at times had a frosty relationship with Trump. Biden disappointed some in Canada with his decision upon taking office to reverse Trump and revoke the permit for the Keystone XL Pipeline, which President Barack Obama’s administration determined had only limited energy and economic benefits to the U.S. and conflicted with efforts to curb climate change.That didn’t come up in the public portion of Blinken’s meeting with Foreign Minister Marc Garneau, who welcomed Biden’s commitment to “renew U.S. leadership and diplomacy.” The secretary later met privately with Trudeau.Ebrard, for his part, welcomed Biden’s decision to reverse his predecessor and rejoin both the Paris climate accord and the World Health Organization. He also praised the “initiatives” of the new administration, an apparent reference to the decision to set a new course on some immigration and border policies.”We understand that these are being done in recognition to the Mexican community,” he said, without mentioning any specific policy. “We are receiving them with empathy.”Biden ended Trump’s policy of requiring migrants seeking asylum to wait in Mexico or to pursue their claims in Central America. He also restored protection for people without legal status in the U.S. who were brought to the country as children, many of whom are Mexican, and is backing legislation that would enable them to seek citizenship.The Biden administration has begun processing the asylum claims of about 25,000 migrants who had been in Mexico, often in unsanitary and dangerous conditions, but has not lifted a policy, imposed at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, of quickly expelling people captured along the border and has sought to discourage illegal migration.Just before his visit with Ebrard, Blinken conducted a virtual tour of the busy border crossing at El Paso, Texas, and said the administration is working with Mexico and Central American nations to ease the conditions that drive people to try to illegally reach the United States.”To anyone thinking about undertaking that journey, our message is: Don’t do it. We are strictly enforcing our immigration laws and our border security measures,” he said.

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US Immigration Officials to Deport 13 Haitians Arrested in Florida

U.S. Immigration officials are planning to deport to Haiti 13 Haitian nationals who were arrested in Florida along with a U.S. citizen.The U.S. Embassy in Haiti announced the arrests Thursday in a series of tweets posted in English and Haitian Creole.U.S. Immigration authorities arrested 13 Haitian nationals in Florida and processed them for removal. The suspected smuggler was taken into custody. Migrating illegally is dangerous and will prove a #FutileJourney. https://t.co/0uUIrgaZkw— U.S. Embassy Haiti (@USEmbassyHaiti) February 25, 2021″The suspected smuggler was also identified. Both vessels involved in the incident will be seized. An investigation by #DHS partners remains ongoing,” the tweet said.Adam Hoffner of the U.S. Border Patrol Miami Sector said agents responding to “a maritime smuggling event” found seven Haitian males and six females and a U.S. citizen on the shores of Dania Beach at the Cozy Cove Marina.In a joint effort with federal agents, the group was taken into Border Patrol custody.”The Haitian nationals were interviewed and processed for removal proceedings and subsequently turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) – Enforcement Removal Operations (ERO),” Hoffner told VOA via email.”The U.S. Border Patrol is investigating this case alongside our Department of Homeland Security (DHS) partners and will seek to prosecute any individuals who are identified as smugglers,” Hoffner said.Two vessels that were determined to be involved in the incident were also seized by U.S. Border Patrol.”We continuously warn migrants about the dangers associated with traveling by sea,” Hoffner said. “Smuggling organizations are not concerned with the safety of the people they are smuggling, rather they continue to put the lives of migrants at risk.”The Biden administration has faced criticism from the Haitian American community in Miami for failing to deliver on promises made during the 2020 election campaign to reverse some of President Donald Trump’s immigration policies.On Feb. 24, U.S. District Judge Drew Tipton, a Trump appointee, indefinitely banned the Biden administration from enforcing a 100-day moratorium on deportations.Biden is proposing changes in the nation’s immigration laws that would allow 11 million people currently living illegally in the United States to be legalized.Haiti Ambassador to the United States Bocchit Edmond called on the Biden administration to work with Congress to find a more permanent solution.”We appreciate the efforts made by the Biden administration to get a 100-day moratorium on deportations. While we respect the last ruling of a federal judge on this issue, we do hope that the Biden administration with the help of the U.S. Congress will find a final resolution to this very sensitive issue impacting a number of Haitians. The human impact should be considered,” Edmond told VOA.

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