US Civil Rights Activist Rosa Parks’ Home on Display in Italy

The Detroit home where American civil rights activist Rosa Parks took refuge after the historic bus boycott has been rebuilt as an art project in Naples, Italy. Parks’ niece saved the two-story home from demolition in Michigan following the 2008 financial crisis. She donated it to an American artist who rebuilt it for public display in Germany, and now in Italy, after failing to find a permanent place for it in the United States. VOA correspondent Mariama Diallo reports.

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Peruvian President Defends Himself Against Impeachment

Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra told lawmakers Friday that he had committed no crime and would not be cowed ahead of an impeachment hearing. “I am here, with my head high and my conscience clear,” Vizcarra said in a speech to Congress, adding that the country should not be “distracted” from real challenges. “Let’s not generate a new crisis, unnecessarily, that would primarily affect the most vulnerable,” he said.  Peru has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, along with an economic contraction. Lawmakers planned to vote later Friday on whether to oust Vizcarra from office. The impeachment proceeding is centered on the president’s relationship with a little-known singer, Richard Cisneros, who was given $50,000 in government contracts.  FILE – Event organizer Richard Cisneros arrives to the National Congress to deliver documents for an ongoing investigation into his hiring at the Ministry of Culture, in Lima, Peru, Sept. 11, 2020.Most experts expect Vizcarra to survive the vote. Two-thirds of lawmakers would need to approve the vote to remove him from office. Congress voted last week to begin impeachment hearings against Vizcarra on the ground of moral incompetence, following allegations he tried to interfere in a probe into government contracts given to Cisneros.  The move by Congress was fueled by opposition legislators airing secretly recorded audio that appears to show Vizcarra orchestrating a strategy with his aides to answer questions about his meetings with the singer.  Cisneros claims the $50,000 worth of contracts were legal, according to media reports.  Earlier this week, the country’s top court rejected a request by Vizcarra to stop the impeachment proceedings.  

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Asset Freeze Threatens to Silence Independent Nicaraguan Broadcaster

Journalists at Canal 12 News, one of Nicaragua’s two remaining independent news broadcasters, face an uncertain future after a court in the capital, Managua, ordered the station’s assets seized as part of a tax case that one of its editors says is political retaliation.The freeze affects Nicavision S.A., which operates Canal 12. The court order enforces a demand by the country’s tax agency that Canal 12 pay more than U.S. $500,000 in taxes due from 2011 to 2013, according to Managua weekly newspaper Confidencial.Judge Luden Quiroz García’s September 11 order to seize the broadcast facilities, station vehicles and the owner’s personal estate is the latest in a series of audits and asset seizures faced by news organizations that report critically on the government of President Daniel Ortega.“The government is going to try to silence the few TV stations that are left and telling the stories they don’t want to hear,” Canal 12 News director Marcos Medina told VOA.In Nicaragua, the majority of large media outlets are owned by members of Ortega’s family or his political allies.“This perverse action threatens freedom of the press and expression,” tweeted the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights. “We demand that the regime desist from its strategy of intimidating journalists and destroying independent media.”FILE – Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega.Officials at the Nicaraguan General Income Directorate, the country’s tax agency, and Managua’s embassy in Washington did not respond to requests for comment. The Ortega government, which is currently observing a weeklong holiday, has not commented on the court order, although sources close to the ruling party told VOA’s Latin America division that the decision was justified. They did not elaborate.Silencing last independent voicesCanal 12 News director Medina said the decision, which creates uncertainty for more than 20 staff at the station, mirrors harassment of other outlets.”The same type of pressure was faced by 100% Noticias and La Prensa,” he said, referring to outlets that faced Ortega government-led actions after reporting on the 2018 demonstrations.La Prensa, Nicaragua’s longest-running and best-known daily broadsheet, nearly folded after an 18-month government-enforced blockade of newsprint supplies, resulting in massively diminished circulation and newsroom-wide layoffs. The government lifted the blockade in February amid international pressure and calls from the Vatican.In December 2018, 100% Noticias, also known as Canal 15, had its operating license revoked and its offices confiscated by Nicaragua’s National Police. The channel’s director, Miguel Mora, and journalist Lucía Pineda Ubau both served six-month jail sentences for inciting terrorism.”Now the same is happening to Canal 12,” Medina said. “They don’t like the type of journalism we do, especially since April of 2018.”Tabloid newsroom taken overAlso commandeered by police was the newsroom of weekly tabloid Confidencial, whose publisher, Carlos Fernando Chamorro, fled to Costa Rica, where he spent 10 months operating the publication in a digital-only format. Chamorro returned to Nicaragua in November 2019 to run Confidencial from a new building.In January, Nicaraguan Supreme Court Magistrate Francisco Rosales told VOA a verdict on the police-confiscated outlets would soon be issued, but the court has yet to rule.If Canal 12 doesn’t survive, Canal 10, which boasts Nicaragua’s largest television audience, would remain the country’s sole independent broadcaster. On September 13, Managua-based news site Articulo66 reported that Canal 10 received a tax assessment declaring it more than $3 million in debt to the tax agency.Some already speculate that the Canal 10 assessment is also politically motivated.”[Canal 10] has fulfilled [all of its tax obligations], but you know how this is,” said a source who spoke with VOA on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.Washington imposed sanctions on the Ortega government and national police for human rights violations following the anti-government protests in 2018 and urged Managua to ease restrictions on other organizations. In May, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control sanctioned Nicaraguan army commander Julio Cesar Aviles Castillo and Finance and Public Credit Minister Ivan Adolfo Acosta Montalvan for human rights abuses and “seeking to silence pro-democracy voices in Nicaragua.””Daniel Ortega strangles dissent and denies Nicaraguans access to information,” Michael G. Kozak, acting U.S. assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, tweeted Sept.13. “On the eve of Nicaraguan independence day, his regime is using spurious tax measures to close two vital independent TV broadcasters. Until Ortega releases his grip, Nicaraguans will not be free.”Daniel Ortega strangles dissent and denies Nicaraguans access to information. On the eve of Nicaraguan independence day, his regime is using spurious tax measures to close two vital independent TV broadcasters. Until Ortega releases his grip, Nicaraguans will not be free.— Michael G. Kozak (@WHAAsstSecty) September 13, 2020This story originated in VOA’s Latin America division.

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Pompeo Lands in Brazil on Third Stop of Latin American Tour

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived Friday in Brazil and visited a Venezuelan refugee processing center, while calling for democracy and for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to step down.About 250,000 Venezuelan refugees are now in Brazil, with about 600 arriving daily before the border was closed because of the coronavirus. Pompeo visited the center alongside Brazil’s Foreign Minister Ernesto Araújo.During a joint press conference in Guyana earlier in the day, Pompeo and Guyana’s President Irfaan Ali discussed the need for democracy in Venezuela.”We know that the Maduro regime has decimated the people of Venezuela and that Maduro himself is an indicted narcotics trafficker. That means he has to leave,” the secretary of state said, referring to U.S. drug trafficking charges against Maduro. “The United States and dozens of countries have made clear that Juan Guaidó is the duly elected leader of Venezuela. This is the objective — we want democracy and freedom and the rule of law.”Suriname’s President Chan Santokhi and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo walk together, in Paramaribo, Suriname, Sept. 17, 2020.The visit to Brazil comes after a historic first-ever trip to Suriname and Guyana by a U.S. secretary of state. There, he met with those nations’ leaders to discuss economic development in the wake of recent oil discoveries in both countries.Pompeo met Thursday with the president of Suriname, Chan Santokhi, before heading to Guyana. Both presidents are newly elected.In 2015, Exxon announced it had discovered a large oil reserve off the coast of Guyana, South America’s second-poorest nation. The BBC has reported that the 5.5 billion barrels’ worth of crude could make it the continent’s wealthiest nation.Exxon is already working in Suriname.During a brief appearance Friday, Ali and Pompeo both said they had not discussed Exxon’s deal with Guyana.“We did not discuss this. But I want to say that we are open to investment,” Ali said. “We are open to investors. … As we have said, prior to the elections, there are issues that we’ll have to review.”Pompeo said the negotiations were between Exxon and the Guyanese government, something he called “the American model.”China has been courting both Guyana and Suriname as they seek foreign investment.

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UK Ambassador to China Stirs Uproar With Photo Seen as Promoting Xi Jinping

Britain’s newest ambassador to China has gotten off to a rocky start after posting a photo on social media that some viewers interpreted as an endorsement of the hard-line policies of Chinese President Xi Jinping.Caroline Wilson, appointed in June to lead Britain’s diplomatic mission in Beijing as of this month, posted the photo on Twitter after a meeting with Liu Xiaoming, China’s envoy to Britain.In the photo, Liu beams with apparent delight as the two hold what appears to be a gifted book, the latest in a series of tomes laying out Xi’s thoughts on governance.Wilson described the occasion on Twitter as a “valuable meeting with @AmbLiuXiaoMing before heading to Beijing.” Her new subordinates at the British Embassy in Beijing subsequently retweeted the posting.As of Friday morning, Wilson’s tweet had generated more than 1,000 comments, and while a handful praised her as “the perfect person for this absolutely pivotal role,” the vast majority considered the posting highly problematic.“Even Liu XiaoMing didn’t choose to upload this photo,” one commentator wrote, though the Chinese envoy did post several other photos from the meeting. Many others shared the views of a writer who commented, “How could she uphold UK values while holding ‘Xi Jinping Thought’?”Among the most scathing comments was one from a writer who uploaded a 1938 photo of then-British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain shaking hands with Adolf Hitler. Another writer said Wilson’s gesture was “no different than holding Mao’s little red book.”A tweet that had generated almost 500 likes by Friday lodged a more serious charge, that Wilson is too eager to please Xi.Foreign ministry responseA spokesperson from the British foreign ministry defended Wilson’s tweet, telling VOA their country has “a policy of engagement with China and our approach will remain consistent even if difficulties emerge.”“We must have a calibrated approach and use engagement to raise matters on which the U.K. cannot agree or compromise with China, including on human rights and Hong Kong,” the spokesperson said.That argument is not persuasive to Roger Garside, a former British diplomat whose latest book, Coming Alive: China After Mao, focuses on contemporary China.“As a former British diplomat myself, who served twice in Beijing, I am appalled by this behavior by our Ambassador-designate to the PRC,” Garside wrote from London in response to VOA’s request for comment. “It goes beyond anything I have witnessed from a British diplomat.”Garside summed up the reaction to Wilson’s tweet as a “stream of well-deserved outrage.”’Hard looks’Clive Hamilton, a professor of public ethics in Australia, also responded to a request for comment from his home in Canberra:“I think the foreign policy establishment is lagging [behind] the political shift that has taken place in Britain this year. It has yet to wake up to the [Communist Party of China]’s ambitions and ruthless modus operandi.”Hamilton added: “The danger is that instead of advocating Britain’s policies in Beijing, she will end up advocating China’s policies in London.”Wilson has already attracted “hard looks” from critics of China’s ruling Communist Party within her own party, said Hamilton, the author of Hidden Hand, which warns that the Chinese Communist Party is determined to mold the world in its own image.He said there has been no public criticism “as far as I know, but I’ve heard indirectly that some have expressed dismay in private.”

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European Countries Announce New Coronavirus Restrictions

European countries announced new coronavirus restrictions Friday, one day after the World Health Organization warned infections have started to spread again across the continent at “alarming rates.”
 
In Spain, which has more cases than any other European country with more than 620,000, the regional government of Madrid ordered a lockdown effective Monday in some of the more impoverished areas after a spike in infections there. While movement in the area will be restricted, people will still be allowed to go to work.
 
Authorities in Nice, France, have banned gatherings of more than 10 people in public spaces and cut bar operating hours, after new restrictions were imposed earlier this week in Bordeaux and Marseilles.
 
Britain said it is considering a new national lockdown after cases nearly doubled to 6,000 a day in the latest reporting week. British Health Minister Matt Hancock said another lockdown should be a last resort but that the government would do whatever is necessary to contain the virus.
 New lockdown in Israel
 
Israel begins a second lockdown Friday because of a sharp jump in the number of coronavirus cases.  
 
The three-week-long restrictions come just as the country is set to begin the Jewish holidays.   
 
Israelis are allowed to travel no more than 500 meters from their houses. Exceptions include those purchasing medicine, seeking medical services, “helping someone in distress,” transferring a minor between parents, and obtaining “essential treatment for animals.”Israeli police officers wearing face masks to protect against coronavirus secure a check point on the first day of three-week lockdown in Bnei Brak, Israel, Sept 18, 2020.And in Iran, a senior Iranian official said the country should be on “red alert” after it reported 3,049 new cases Friday, the highest daily gain since early June.  
 
“The color classification doesn’t make any sense anymore,” Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi said in an interview with Reuters. “We no longer have orange and yellow. The entire country is red.”
 
India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare said Friday that 96,424 new infections and more than 1,000 COVID-related deaths were reported in the last 24 hours.  
 
In North America, Canada has decided to extend the closure of the border its shares with the United States to non-essential travel until October 21, after seeing an increase in infections in recent weeks. Canadian Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said Friday such decisions would continue to be based on public health advice to protect its citizens. The closing was first announced on March 18 and have been extended each month since.  
 US minorities affected
 
And in the U.S., the U.S. data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week revealed that members of minorities younger than 21 years old are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 compared with white Americans in the same age group.
 
Between February 21 and July 31, 121 people younger than 21 died of the disease, according to data compiled from 27 states. More than 75% of those young people were Hispanic, Black, American Indian and Alaska Native, even though they represent 41% of the U.S. population.FILE – A “promotora” (health promoter) from CASA, a Hispanic advocacy group, tries to enroll Latinos as volunteers to test a potential COVID-19 vaccine, at a farmers market in Takoma Park, Maryland, Sept. 9, 2020.The CDC report also found that 75% of those who died had at least one underlying health condition such as asthma, obesity, neurologic and developmental conditions or cardiovascular conditions.  
 
Researchers pointed out that certain social conditions, including crowded living environments, food and housing insecurity, and wealth and education gaps, could be contributing factors in the high fatality rates among minority children.
 Vaccine trust tumbles
 
Nearly half of Americans, or 49%, said they definitely or probably would not get an inoculation if a coronavirus vaccine were available today, while 51% said they would, according to a Pew Research Center poll conducted earlier this month.
 
The 49% who lean toward rejecting the inoculation cited concerns about side effects from the vaccine.  
 
On Friday, the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Research Center reported there are more than 30 million COVID-19 infections worldwide and almost 950,000 deaths.  
 
The United States has more cases than anywhere else in the world with 6.6 million, followed by India with 5.1 million cases and Brazil with 4.4 million. 

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Denmark Imposes New COVID-19 Restrictions as Virus Cases Surge

Denmark’s prime minister announced Friday new COVID-19-related restrictions after a resurgence of coronavirus infections in recent weeks.
 
At a news conference in Copenhagen, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said Denmark will lower the limit on public gatherings to 50 people, down from 100, and bars and restaurants will close at 10 p.m. She said both measures will take effect Saturday and stay in effect until October 4.
 
In recent weeks, Frederiksen said, Denmark has seen daily infections rise after a relaxing of lockdown measures imposed between March and May. She said 454 new coronavirus infections had been registered in Denmark over the prior 24 hours, close to an April record of 473.  
 
The prime minister said the COVID-19 reproduction rate, which indicates how many people one infected person on average transmits the virus to, is at 1.5 in the country.  
 
Denmark is part of a growing list of European countries re-imposing or tightening COVID-19 restrictions in the face of surging infections rates that follow relaxed lockdown measures.
 
Britain, France and Spain have all locked down regions or at least tightened restrictions in targeted areas after seeing cases surge this week. British Health Minister Matt Hancock said a second nationwide lockdown could happen if cases continue to surge.
 

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Pompeo Wraps Up Historic Visits to Suriname, Guyana

In a historic first-ever trip to Suriname and Guyana by a U.S. secretary of state, Mike Pompeo met with those nations’ leaders to discuss economic development in the wake of recent oil discoveries in both countries. Pompeo met Thursday with the president of Suriname, Chan Santokhi, and on Friday with the president of Guyana, Irfaan Ali, both of whom are newly elected. In 2015, Exxon announced it had discovered a Suriname’s President Chan Santokhi and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo walk together, in Paramaribo, Suriname, Sept. 17, 2020.Pompeo said the negotiations were between Exxon and the Guyanese government, something he called “the American model.” A State Department official told reporters that Pompeo “will highlight through these meetings how U.S. companies throughout the hemisphere invest responsibly and transparently.” “This draws a stark contrast with China, whose predatory loans and vanity projects saddle countries in the Western Hemisphere with unsustainable debts,” the official said. China has been courting both Guyana and Suriname as they seek foreign investment. Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Council of the Americas and a former State Department official, told AFP that getting a U.S. secretary of state to visit Latin America or the Caribbean was “a heavy lift.” “For him to go to both of these countries is extraordinary and shows that something big is happening.” During a joint press conference Friday, Pompeo and Ali also discussed the need for democracy in Venezuela, reiterating the call for that country’s President Nicolas Maduro to step down. “We know that the Maduro regime has decimated the people of Venezuela and that Maduro himself is an indicted narcotics trafficker. That means he has to leave,” the secretary of state said, referencing U.S. drug trafficking charges against Maduro. “The United States and dozens of countries have made clear that Juan Guaidó is the duly elected leader of Venezuela. This is the objective — we want democracy and freedom and the rule of law.” From Guyana, Pompeo travels to Brazil later Friday for talks with the Brazilian foreign minister. 

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EU Unveils Plan to Combat Racism, Increase Diversity

The European Commission presented a series of measures Friday aimed at tackling structural racism and discrimination, acknowledging a blatant lack of diversity among the European Union’s institutions.  The bloc’s executive arm set out its action plan for the next five years, which includes strengthening the current legal framework, recruiting an anti-racism coordinator and increasing the diversity of EU staff.  The European Commission’s vice president for values and transparency, Věra Jourová, said that recent anti-racism protests in the U.S. and Europe highlighted the need for action.  “We have reached a moment of reckoning. The protests sent a clear message, change must happen now,” Jourová said. “It won’t be easy, but it must be done.  “We won’t shy away from strengthening the legislation, if needed,” she said. “The commission itself will adapt its recruiting policy to better reflect European society.”  The current College of Commissioners, which oversees EU policies, is made up of 27 members, one from each EU country. All the members of the team set up last year by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen are white.  Under the plan, data on the diversity of commission staff will for the first time be collected on the basis of a voluntary survey that will help define new recruitment policies.  Meanwhile, the new coordinator for anti-racism will be in charge of collecting the grievances and feelings of minorities to make sure they are reflected in EU policies.  The EU said that more than half of Europeans believe that discrimination is widespread in their country. According to surveys carried out by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, or FRA, 45% of people of North African descent, 41% of Roma and 39% of people of sub-Saharan African descent have faced such discrimination.  The EU’s racial equality directive will also be assessed, with possible new legislation introduced in 2022. In the wake of the Black Live Matters protests triggered by George Floyd’s death in the U.S., the European Commission said it would look carefully into discrimination by law enforcement authorities such as unlawful racial profiling. Meanwhile, the EU agency for fundamental rights will continue to collect data on police attitudes towards minorities.  The European Commission also wants to combat stereotypes and disinformation by setting up a series of seminars and promoting commemorative days linked to the issue of racism. It also encouraged member states to address stereotypes via cultural and education programs, or the media. A summit against racism is planned next year.  “Nobody is born racist. It is not a characteristic which we are born with,” said Helena Dalli, the EU commissioner for equality. “It’s a question of nurture, and not nature. We have to unlearn what we have learned.”  Earlier this year, the European Parliament approved a resolution condemning the Floyd’s death and asking the EU to take a strong stance against racism. 

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