US Race Solidarity Protests Erupt in Cities Worldwide

Protests have erupted in cities around the world in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter demonstrations in the United States. The protests follow the death in Minnesota of George Floyd, a 46-year old black man, last week in police custody.  In central London, demonstrations turned violent Sunday as police tried to clear a road junction outside Parliament. Police made 23 arrests. Protesters accused the police of triggering the violence, an accusation that authorities denied. “We came out here peacefully to protest the injustice in the U.K.,” one demonstrator told reporters. “It’s now a global issue with the murder of George Floyd, everything that’s going on in the world.’Hundreds of people also gathered in central London’s Trafalgar Square chanting, “George Floyd, Say His Name.” Demonstrators also chanted, “I Can’t Breathe” as they marched on the U.S. Embassy — the words spoken by Floyd as Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes as Floyd lay handcuffed and prone on the ground after he was arrested on suspicion of using a counterfeit bank note. He was pronounced dead later that day. Chauvin was arrested Friday and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.Demonstrators stop a bus as they block the street in Sloane Square in London on May 31, 2020 after marching on the US embassy to protest the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died after a police officer knelt on his neck for nearly…Smaller protests broke out in the south London suburbs, home to many ethnic minority communities. “Can you imagine, we are in a whole world pandemic, and people are still brutalizing innocent people,” said a protest organizer named Aba. “When they stop, when police stop brutalizing innocent black people, then we’ll stop.”   The U.S. protests resonate with minority communities in Britain, said lawyer and activist Shola Mos-Shogbamimu. “Police brutality exists in the United Kingdom. Racial profiling exists in the United Kingdom, and it’s existed for the longest time,” Mos-Shogbamimu told VOA in an interview Monday. “And it means for a lot of black people, particularly young black men, that they are targeted simply because of the color of their skin. What you are seeing right now is we’re getting more mobile phone (video) evidence. And social media platforms have become the wireless platform to communicate this information worldwide, in real time, instantly.” British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said Sunday that the government wants to see a de-escalation of tensions in the United States and for people in the U.S. to “come together.”Some critics, including many British lawmakers, argue the demonstrators were putting lives at risk by not adhering to social distancing guidelines amid the coronavirus pandemic. “Racism did not stop when (the) coronavirus hit the planet,” Mos-Shogbamimu said.People protest in Berlin, Germany, May 31, 2020 after the violent death of the African-American George Floyd by a white policeman in the USA against racism and police violence, among other things with a sign “Who do call when police murders”.Hundreds of protesters also gathered in Berlin over the weekend. Remnants of Germany’s Berlin Wall were daubed with graffiti mourning the death of Floyd and demanding justice. Several thousand people marched in New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland, and in the capital, Wellington, and other areas Monday to show solidarity with U.S. demonstrators.  Some 4,000 New Zealand protesters demonstrate against the killing of Minneapolis man George Floyd in a Black Lives Matter protest in Auckland, June 1, 2020. 

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UN: Venezuelan Refugees, Migrants at Increased Risk in Winter

The U.N. refugee agency warns some 1.5 million Venezuelan refugees and migrants face extreme risks and hardships during the winter season in the southern region of South America. The UNHCR reports six countries of asylum — Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay — are overstretched and unable to help the Venezuelans.
Life has not been easy for the hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants who have fled political oppression and economic misery in Venezuela. But the U.N. refugee agency fears their plight will increase during the harsh, bitterly cold winter season. Added to this mix of inclement weather is COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. UNHCR spokeswoman Shabia Mantoo notes Latin America now is the new epicenter of the pandemic. She says the health and economic consequences will have a profound impact on displaced Venezuelans in the region. “In addition to health risks, COVID-related lockdowns and confinement measures have already resulted in severe hardship for Venezuelans in those countries,” she said. “Many have now lost their livelihoods and are faced with poverty, destitution, eviction, widespread hunger and food insecurity as well as increased protection risks.”   Mantoo says this humanitarian crisis will deepen as temperatures drop. She says the Venezuelans, most of whom are living in rented accommodations, often lack fuel to heat their homes. Mantoo also says they need blankets, warm clothing and medicine.She says many who fall ill with respiratory diseases, such as influenza, in the six countries of asylum will not be able to get the treatment they need. “As national capacities are stretched to breaking point, access to public health services and timely medical care is also a challenge, especially for those in irregular situations,” she said. “Shelter, food, and hygiene kits, as well as cash assistance are already critically needed for many vulnerable Venezuelans who are living in precarious conditions and who are at risk of becoming homeless or living on the streets in exile.”  The UNHCR is stepping up its response to this crisis. Together with partners, the agency is providing emergency shelters, rental subsidies and other material relief. It also is providing essential health care and cash assistance to refugees and migrants who are particularly vulnerable.     

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US Race Solidarity Protests Erupt in Cities Across the World

Protests have erupted in cities across the world in solidarity with the ‘Black Lives Matter’ demonstrations in the United States. The protests follow the death in police custody of George Floyd, a 46-year old black man, in Minneapolis last week. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, many protestors outside the U.S. say they see racial injustice in their own countries.
Camera: Henry Ridgwell   Producer: Marcus Harton

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Putin Sets July 1 for Controversial Constitutional Vote

Russian President Vladimir Putin has set July 1 as the date for the national vote on constitutional amendments that among other things would allow him to remain in power until 2036.Putin announced the decision at a meeting with co-chairs of the working group on the preparation of the bill on June 1.Ella Pamfilova, the chairwoman of the Central Election Committee, said she supports the idea, adding that the voting will start seven days prior the official date in order to avoid large crowds.Pamfilova also said that in two or three regions an electronic voting system will be used, though she did not say which regions.The bill of constitutional amendments was approved by lawmakers and approved by the Constitutional Court in March.It was expected to be put to a national referendum on April 22, but due to the coronavirus outbreak, the national vote was postponed.Putin’s critics have said that he initiated the amendments to secure power for another 12 years after his current term ends in 2024 by resetting his previous presidential term count back to zero.The move has sparked protests in Russian cities and towns.Putin’s current term, his second consecutive six-year term, began in 2018. The existing constitution prohibits presidents from serving more than two consecutive terms, but the amendments would enable him to seek a fifth overall presidential term in 2024, and conceivably a sixth in 2030.Final approval of the changes will come if more than half of the country’s voters support them in the nationwide vote.Putin, a 67-year old former KGB officer, has ruled Russia as president or prime minister for more than 20 years. 

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Finland in Pain as Border Closure Blocks Russian Tourists 

Finns in the Nordic nation’s eastern border region say they haven’t seen anything like this since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.  The closure of Finland’s border with Russia amid the coronavirus pandemic has put an abrupt stop to visits by the nearly 2 million Russian tourists who prop up the local economy each year.  Finland shares a 1,340-kilometer (832-mile) land border with Russia complete with several crossing points in what is one of the European Union’s longest external borders. It was shut down both by Helsinki and Moscow in mid-March due to the pandemic. Given Russia’s sustained infection rate, there is little hope that the border will be opened for Finland’s summer tourism season — and many believe the border will likely remain shut even longer. “It definitely has had a big effect. You just wouldn’t imagine such risks relate to the border anymore in the year 2020,” said Petteri Terho, spokesman for the Zsar Outlet Village, a large upscale shopping area catering to both Finns and Russians near the Vaalimaa border station, the busiest crossing point between the two nations. The closure has caused cross-border tourism to the South Karelia region, entry point to Finland’s picturesque lake district that is a favorite of locals and Russian tourists alike, to collapse overnight.  Above all, it has deprived local businesses of an estimated 25 million euros ($28 million) for every month the border remains closed.  People enjoy their lunch on a sunny May 28, 2020 by the River Aura in Turku, Finland amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.Finland has seen 6,859 cases of COVID-19 and 320 deaths but most have been in and around Helsinki, the capital. But in the South Karelia region, 250 kilometers (155 miles) northeast of Helsinki, only 24 positive cases have been diagnosed, with no fatalities so far. Russia has over 405,000 coronavirus infections,  the third-highest number in the world. It has reported 4,693 virus deaths, a figure experts call a significant undercount of the true situation. “This is a whole new situation for all of us,” said Katja Vehvilainen of the Imatra Region Development Company, a local Finnish business promotion agency, adding that the South Karelia region enjoyed a growth of 15% in tourism last year. “The corona situation has unfortunately completely changed the direction.” Still, locals remain unfazed, given Finland’s long history of dealing with the ups and downs of Russian tourism in the wake of its neighbor’s political and economic upheavals. The last tourism crisis hitting South Karelia took place in 2014-2015 when the value of the Russian rouble plunged against the euro, instantly denting visits by Russians. “It looks pretty bad now,” said Markku Heinonen, development manager for the city of Lappeenranta, the region’s biggest center with 73,000 residents. “But the previous crises [with Russian tourism] have taught companies to prepare for something like this.” The region hosted 1.9 million foreign tourists last year, most coming from Russia for shopping daytrips or longer holidays to enjoy spas, restaurants and lakeside cottages in an area known for its pristine beauty.  Lappeenranta, a key center for wood products, has been dealing with Russia since it was founded in 1649. It’s just 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the border station of Nuijamaa. From there, it’s mere 180 kilometers (112 miles) to Russia’s second city of St. Petersburg, whose population of nearly 5.5 million equals the entire population of Finland. “Our business has dried up almost completely. One can say it melted away in one day [after the border closure],” said Mohamad Darwich, who runs the Laplandia Market, a grocery store catering to Russian tourists near the Nuijamaa border post. Darwich, who arrived in Finland from Russia in 1992 after studying in St. Petersburg, listed fresh fish, cheese and dishwashing liquid among the most popular items bought by Russian visitors. He has reopened the store now for locals and hopes the border will be reopened by October at the latest  “under an optimistic scenario.”  Citing a recent study, Heinonen said if the border stays closed until the end of the year or even beyond — a worst-case scenario — the South Karelia region is estimated to lose at least 225 million euros ($247 million) in tourism income this year and risks losing about 900 jobs, a large number in this region.  Locals are now eyeing domestic or European visitors as possible substitutes for the missing Russians this year.  Ryanair, which suspended its European routes from Lappeenranta until further notice due to the pandemic, has indicated it’s ready to resume some flights in July, which could bring in western European tourists. But even the Irish airline has largely catered to Russian clients living near the Finnish border who used the Lappeenranta airport. “There are plenty of summer cottages in the area and holidaying Finns around, so domestic travel is absolutely crucial for us,” said Terho, the Zsar Outlet Village spokesman. He said the venue reopened Saturday with high hopes following the Finnish government’s gradual relaxation of coronavirus lockdown restrictions.  

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US Sends 2 Million Doses of Hydroxychloroquine to Brazil to Fight Coronavirus

The White House announced Sunday that it has delivered two million doses of  hydroxychloroquine, or HCQ, to Brazil to help the South American country in its fight against the coronavirus. “HCQ will be used as a prophylactic to help defend Brazil’s nurses, doctors, and healthcare professionals against the virus,” the White House said in a statement Sunday.  “It will also be used as a therapeutic to treat Brazilians who become infected.” HCQ is a widely used malaria drug.  Trump, in a controversial move, has ignored his public health advisers and has pushed for the use of the drug in the fight against the coronavirus even though there is no evidence that the drug is effective against the virus.  Trump recently announced that he has taken a round of HCQ. The statement also said the two countries have entered a joint “research effort that will include randomized controlled clinical trials.  These trials will help further evaluate the safety and efficacy of HCQ for both prophylaxis and the early treatment of the coronavirus.” There are more infections in the U.S. and Brazil than anywhere else. The U.S. has 1.7 million cases while Brazil, which is emerging as the world’s hotspot for the virus, has more than 514,000, according to Johns Hopkins University.Relatives are seen during a mass burial of people who passed away due to the coronavirus disease, at the Parque Taruma cemetery in Manaus, Brazil, May 26, 2020.U.S. health officials say they are bracing for a surge in coronavirus infections, following  protests around the country over the death of George Floyd, an African American man who died after a police officer in Minneapolis was charged with  pressing his knee into Floyd’s neck as Floyd was handcuffed while lying on the ground.  Some protesters wore masks and some did not. Social distancing was almost impossible. The prime minister of Armenia has tested positive for the coronavirus. Nikol Pashinyan told Public Radio of Armenia that he and his family have tested positive, but all of them are asymptomatic.  Australia is continuing to ease coronavirus restrictions, allowing more people to gather in restaurants, public parks and other attractions.  Gatherings in the country’s largest state, New South Wales, had been limited to 10 people. That limit has been increased to 50.  Museums, libraries and zoos are reopening. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he hopes the easing of restrictions will help the economy rebound which, like so many other global economies, has been hit hard by the pandemic.Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison makes a joint statement with Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo at Parliament House Monday, Feb. 10, 2020.But Morrison said another government stimulus package may be necessary.  About 90,000 mosques across Saudi Arabia opened for the first time in more than two months Sunday, but some restrictions remain in place.  Worshippers 15 years old and younger are not allowed inside, and the elderly are being encouraged to stay home to pray. Mecca, Islam’s holiest city, remains closed, but Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque – Islam’s holiest site outside Saudi Arabia – was open again Sunday for the first time since mid-March. All who enter must have their temperatures checked.    With the U.S. Atlantic hurricane season officially starting Monday, the Associated Press reports many counties across the southern U.S. still do not have complete plans on how to open up public shelters if a storm strikes during the coronavirus outbreak.  “Our biggest change to our hurricane plan is sheltering. How are we going to shelter those that have to evacuate? How are going to shelter those that are positive COVID patients? There are multiple ideas that we are considering right now,” Mississippi Emergency Management Agency Director Greg Michel said. Vice President Mike Pence said last week that the federal government is ready should there be the twin disaster of a hurricane and COVID-19. The federal emergency plan includes urging people to stay in hotels. But some state officials say that may not be an option because of the current unemployment crisis caused by the pandemic.   U.S. forecasters say this will be an unusually busy hurricane season with as many as six major storms hitting the U.S. 

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Demonstrators in Brazil Protest Against Crimes Committed by Police

Hundreds of demonstrates converged on the square in front of the Rio de Janeiro state government palace Sunday, protesting crimes committed by the police against black people in the Brazilian city’s poor neighborhoods, known as favelas. Protesters chanted, “I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!” in reference to George Floyd, the black man who died while in police custody in Minneapolis, Minnesota.    “We are here today because we want to live. We are here today because we are tired of this genocidal state. We are here to say no more, no more!” activist Santiago said.  Protesters were holding signs reading in Portuguese “Stop killing us” and “Favela asks for peace.”Military police fire the shotguns at demonstrators during a protest against crimes committed by the police against black people in the favelas, outside the Rio de Janeiro’s state government, Brazil, Sunday, May 31, 2020.As recently as May 18, a 14-year-old black boy was killed during a Federal Police operation in the Complexo Salgueiro favelas. The teenager, Joao Pedro Pinto, was at home with cousins when police broke into his house, allegedly pursuing drug traffickers, and shot him dead. The protest in Rio de Janeiro called “Black Lives Matter,” was interrupted when police used tear gas to disperse people.  In 2019 Rio’s police, one of the deadliest law enforcement units in Brazil, killed 1,546 people during police operations. That was the highest number since 1998 in the country, and most of the killings took place in favelas. 

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What’s Behind Iran’s Fuel Shipment to Venezuela?

The arrival in Venezuela of five Iranian oil tankers is expected to ease the South American nation’s gasoline crisis, while challenging U.S. sanctions targeting both countries.  
 
The Iranian fuel tankers began arriving in Venezuela last week under the protection of Venezuelan military forces, with the fifth cargo reportedly arriving on Sunday.
 
Venezuela’s oil sector has been acutely damaged by years of political and economic instability. Iran says the fuel shipment provided to Venezuela is about 1.53 million barrels of gasoline and petrochemical components.
 
U.S. sanctions imposed on Venezuelan state-owned oil company PDVSA also have crippled Venezuela’s ability to import certain types of fuel from abroad, but the government of President Nicolas Maduro has turned to Iran for refining parts and fuel.
 
On Saturday, Venezuelan officials announced that the Iranian gasoline has arrived at hundreds of gas station across the country.
 
“Venezuela has the right to buy in the world whatever it wants to buy,” Maduro said in a recent speech. “Fortunately, Venezuela has more friends than what people can imagine.”
 Defying Washington   
 
Iran and Venezuela are under U.S. economic sanctions, which has brought the two countries closer economically and politically.
 
“Iran and Venezuela have always supported each other in times of difficulty,” Venezuelan foreign minister Jorge Arreaza said in today last week, adding that, “Today we see the fruits of the multipolar world, of our Bolivarian Diplomacy for Peace and South-South Cooperation.”
The South-South cooperation refers to the technical cooperation among developing countries in the Global South, including the sharing of skills and resources.
 
Some experts believe that the Iranian move to transport oil to Venezuela is a show of defiance against the U.S. by the two allies.A Venezuelan oil worker holds a small Iranian flag during a ceremony marking the arrival of Iranian oil tanker Fortune at the El Palito refinery near Puerto Cabello, Venezuela, May 25, 2020.“This move is very significant,” said Alireza Mehrabi, a political analyst in Tehran. “It sends a message that U.S. hegemony is nose-diving, and countries of the South should strengthen their relations and circumvent threats and sanctions imposed by Washington through building strategic ties.”
 
Other Iranian experts, however, say that this dominant narrative propagated by the Iranian government could send mixed signals.
 
“This sends a signal that [U.S. President Donald] Trump’s maximum pressure policy on Tehran has been effective so much so that Iran is willing to take grave risks to sell its oil (products) to Venezuela under a very uncertain barter deal,” said Mehdi Mottaharnia, a Tehran-based international affairs analyst.
 US pressure
   
U.S. officials said the United States was applying pressure to deter Iran and Venezuela from carrying out the oil transfer, while also warning foreign governments, seaports, shipping companies and insurers that they could face U.S. sanctions if they assist the tanker fleet.
 
“We’ve alerted the shipping community around the world, ship owners, ship captains, ship insurers, and we’ve alerted ports along the way between Iran and Venezuela,” Elliott Abrams, U.S. special representative on Venezuela, told Reuters Friday.
 
Earlier in May, the U.S. issued a global maritime advisory, giving guidance to the shipping industry on how to avoid sanctions related to Iran, North Korea and Syria.
 
But Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned last week that any U.S. intervention against Iranian oil tankers bound to Venezuela would be met with retaliation.
 
“Any pirate-like action by the U.S. Navy against the Iranian fuel shipments to Venezuela would trigger a harsh response,” Rouhani was quoted as saying by pro-Iranian government Nour News Agency.Men push a car that ran out of gas to a state-run oil company gas station, in Caracas, Venezuela, May 25, 2020.No desire for conflict
 
Observers believe that Washington has no desire to start a conflict with Venezuela over a fuel shortage that could be seen “a humanitarian crisis.”
 
“Under the circumstances, the passing of the tankers can be interpreted as a weakness for the United States,” said José Toro Hardy, a prominent Venezuelan economist and a former director of the country’s PDVSA.
 
“But I thought for humanitarian reasons, (the Americans) were going to let the tankers pass. I also thought that they could have stopped some of the tankers to guarantee if the only thing they brought was gasoline, because it has also been said that (Iranian tankers) could bring other things,” he told VOA.
   
“I believe that any action the U.S. takes or has been taking in the form of sanctions, is taken when the U.S. is interested to do so,” Hardy added.
 
Washington backs Maduro’s rival Juan Guaido and considers him as Venezuela’s legitimate leader following a presidential crisis in January 2019.
 
Yousof Azizi, a research assistant at the Virginia Tech university, says while this oil transaction between Iran and Venezuela “is not significant and plays no major role in Iran’s sanction-stricken economy,” it could have a political motive behind it.   
 
“Tehran has meticulously evaluated the U.S. political climate in the months leading to the (presidential) election and decided to challenge Washington, reckoning that no response should be expected from Washington despite pressure from ‘Hawks’ within the incumbent administration,” he told VOA.
 
Azizi noted that the U.S. hasn’t decided to take any immediate action against Iran, “partly due to the fact that the U.S. is aware that escalating tensions would not be beneficial to Trump’s bid for a second term.”
 Workforce shortage
   
The supply reportedly will help Venezuelans authorities expand retail sales of gasoline under a system combining subsidies and international prices.
“Iran has sent additives, in this case alkylate, one of the components necessary to refine gasoline,” said Ivan Freitas, leader of the Unitary Federation for Oil Workers in Venezuela.A worker wearing a face mask to protect against the coronavirus waits while a tanker truck fills the gasoline reservoir of a state oil company gas station, in Caracas, Venezuela, May 31, 2020.“Iran assumes that Venezuela can obtain the other components on its own to restart the refineries. But even if this is the case, the conditions in which these plants find themselves, four in total in the country, are very bad,” he told VOA.
 
But Freitas noted that Venezuela faces a massive shortage of qualified oil workers capable of operating oil refineries.
 
Qualified workers have left Venezuela. Only 2 or 3% of qualified (workers) have remained,” he said, adding that if the Venezuelan government “put a plant into service, it would be a lottery to know for how long it will work. There will be no operational stability. In these conditions, the refineries are of high risk.”
 Gold payment
   
Some experts say that given Venezuela’s deteriorating economy and following the departure of Russian oil company Rosneft from the country, Caracas will likely pay Iran in gold for its fuel supply.
 
“It looks like the only way [Venezuela)] can pay is with gold. Simply because Venezuela’s oil production has declined, and oil represented 97% of Venezuela’s foreign exchange earnings,” economist Hardy said.
 
He added that “there is no foreign exchange income. The other foreign exchange income was through the remittances of the more than 5 million Venezuelans who have left and were sending money to their families, but during the COVID-19 pandemic that has been abruptly interrupted.
 
“The only alternative that Venezuela could have that interests Iran in economic terms is gold,” Hardy concluded.
 Some information in this report came from Reuters.
 

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Tropical Storm Amanda Kills at Least 7 People in El Salvador

Tropical Storm Amanda has killed at least seven people in El Salvador as heavy rains made rivers overflow, flooded city streets and produced landslides, Interior Minister Mario Duran said Sunday.”We’ve seen people asking for help, asking for the government. We haven’t deployed everywhere, the situation is overwhelming,” Duran said.Among those killed was an 8-year-old boy, who died after the house he was in collapsed, while another person was killed by a falling wall and another drowned in a swollen river, Salvadoran civil protection authorities said.The U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said Amanda or its remnants are expected to produce rain totals of 10 to 15 inches (25-38 centimeters) across El Salvador, southern Guatemala, western Honduras, and the Mexican states of Tabasco and Veracruz.The storm’s heavy rainfall could “cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides across portions of Central America and southern Mexico, and these threats will continue over the next several days even after Amanda is no longer a tropical cyclone,” the NHC said.Amanda was packing maximum sustained winds of nearly 40 miles per hour (65 kilometers per hour) with higher gusts and was expected to weaken “very soon” as its center moves farther inland, the NHC said.It is forecast to degenerate into a remnant low or dissipate over the mountains of Central America later Sunday.
 

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