Category Archives: News

Worldwide news. News is information about current events. This may be provided through many different media: word of mouth, printing, postal systems, broadcasting, electronic communication, or through the testimony of observers and witnesses to events. News is sometimes called “hard news” to differentiate it from soft media

France’s divided National Assembly keeps centrist speaker 

PARIS — France’s divided National Assembly on Thursday kept a centrist member of President Emmanuel Macron’s party as speaker after a chaotic early election produced a hung legislature. 

Speaker Yael Braun-Pivet, 53, has been at the head of the National Assembly since 2022 and she retained her post Thursday after three rounds of voting in the lower house of parliament. 

She received the support of Macron’s centrist allies and of some conservative lawmakers seeking to prevent her leftist contender from getting the job. Braun-Pivet won 220 votes, while communist lawmaker Andre Chassaigne got 207. 

The parliamentary election earlier this month resulted in a split among three major political blocs: the New Popular Front leftist coalition, Macron’s centrist allies and the far-right National Rally party. None won an outright majority. 

“We need to get along with each other, to cooperate. We need to be able to seek compromises,” Braun-Pivet told lawmakers in a speech following her election as speaker. “You will always find me by your side to do this, to dialogue with you, to innovate with you, to find that new path that the National Assembly must take.” 

Thursday’s opening session of the lower house of parliament came two days after Macron accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Gabriel Attal and other ministers but asked them to handle affairs in a caretaker capacity until a new government is appointed, as France prepares to host the Paris Olympics at the end of the month. 

Leaders of the New Popular Front on Thursday evening again urged Macron to turn to them to form the new government, insisting they won the most seats in the National Assembly. 

Yet the members of the coalition, which includes the hard-left France Unbowed, the Socialists, the Greens and the Communists, are still feuding among themselves over whom to choose as their prime ministerial candidate. 

Chassaigne, who was the joint candidate of the New Popular Front, criticized the job of speaker going to Macron’s centrists as a vote “stolen by an unnatural alliance.” 

It “gives us even more strength,” he added. 

Chassaigne blamed conservative members of the Republicans party for participating in “tactics that led to not changing anything,” describing the move as “giving nausea.” 

Speaking from Woodstock, England, where he was attending a summit of leaders from Europe, Macron declined to comment on the French political situation and refused to say when he intends to name a new prime minister. 

“I will not answer that question,” he said. 

Politicians from the three main blocs and smaller parties had waged a battle for the job of speaker, with each camp seeking to make a show of force in the hope that it would influence Macron’s decision. 

Unions and left-wing activists staged protests Thursday across the country to “put pressure” on Macron to choose a prime minister who comes from the New Popular Front. 

There is no firm timeline for when the president must name a new prime minister.

Threat to Europe, US will not end with Ukraine, officials warn

washington — Ending the war in Ukraine will likely not be enough to end the threat to Europe or even the United States, in the view of several top European diplomats and the top U.S. general in Europe.

The officials, speaking Thursday at the annual Aspen Security Forum in Aspen, Colorado, described the war and their nations’ support for Ukraine as existential, but said a Ukrainian victory against invading Russian forces would be just the start.

“The outcome on the ground is terribly, terribly important,” said U.S. General Christopher Cavoli, who heads U.S. European Command and serves as the supreme allied commander for NATO.

“But we can’t be under any illusions,” Cavoli said. “At the end of a conflict in Ukraine, however it concludes, we are going to have a very, very big Russia problem. … 

“We are going to have a situation where Russia is reconstituting its force, is located on the borders of NATO, is led by largely the same people as it is right now, is convinced that we’re the adversary, and is very, very angry.”

Germany’s foreign and security adviser was equally blunt.

“By the choice of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, we are entering a phase of a long, drawn-out conflict with Russia,” Jens Plötner told the audience in Aspen.

“Its bloodiest manifestation, at the moment, is the war in Ukraine. But obviously it’s not the only one,” Plötner said. “We have seen hybrid activity across Europe. We have seen hybrid activity in the United States. We have seen Russia reaching out to Africa. We have seen Russia rekindling ties with Tehran or, even worse, Pyongyang.

“So, I think all of this is part of the bigger picture, which we need to acknowledge.”

Plötner declined to comment directly on a Russian plot, first reported by CNN earlier this month, to kill the chief executive of Rheinmetall, one of Germany’s leading defense companies. But he said arrests have been made and that Germany’s security agencies are on high alert.

“We know that the ones [plots] we have been able to thwart were not the last ones,” he said.

Russia has denied any involvement in the plot to kill the Rheinmetall executive, dismissing the news reports as fake.

“Such reports cannot be taken seriously,” said Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov.

Germany and other European countries have increasingly raised concerns about Russian-linked networks working to erode support for Ukraine.

In April, German authorities arrested two Russian-German men on espionage charges, alleging one of them had agreed to carry out attacks on U.S. military facilities to sabotage the delivery of military aid to Ukraine.

Earlier this month, U.S. intelligence officials alleged Russia was again seeking to interfere in the upcoming U.S. presidential election in an effort to boost candidates perceived as favorable to Moscow, especially with respect to the war in Ukraine.

Jonatan Vseviov, secretary-general at Estonia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, warned Thursday that now, especially, the West must be wary of Putin’s mind games of “fear and false hope.”

“His foreign minister, I think yesterday, talked about peace. This is him laying a trap,” Vseviov said in Aspen. “And it would be enormously foolish for us to fall into this. [Putin’s] not interested in peace. He’s interested in derailing our policy.”

Vseviov also warned against allowing Putin’s nuclear saber-rattling to paralyze Western decision-making and support for Ukraine.

The comments by Vseviov, Plötner and Cavoli came against the backdrop of the Republican National Convention, where supporters of Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. President Donald Trump briefly distributed signs reading “Trump will end the Ukraine war.”

Trump’s choice for vice president, Ohio Senator J.D. Vance, has argued in favor of a negotiated peace between Russia and Ukraine.

Some Europeans accuse Vance of downplaying the threat posed by Putin. And at a security conference in Munich earlier this year, Vance said, “The best way to help Ukraine, I think, from a European perspective, is for Europe to become more self-sufficient.”

Some European officials have pushed back against criticism that Europe is not doing enough for its self-defense, pointing to an initiative to develop a European deep-strike precision missile capability to counter Russia’s own missile buildup.

The top U.S. general in Europe, Cavoli, also rejected the Republican criticism.

“This is a different Europe than the Europe we complained about for years,” he said. “This is a Europe that recognizes what the burden is and that it’s got to be shared. And it’s got organizations that are preparing the sharing.

“This is exactly the partner we’ve been looking for for three decades. It’s exactly the time when U.S. contribution will produce the most value,” he said.

Actor Bob Newhart, famous for deadpan humor, dies at 94

LOS ANGELES — Bob Newhart, who fled the tedium of an accounting job to become a master of stammering, deadpan humor as a standup comedian and later as a U.S. television sitcom star, died on Thursday at the age of 94, his publicist said.

Newhart died at his home in Los Angeles after a series of short illnesses, said his longtime publicist, Jerry Digney.

Newhart had two hit shows — first playing a psychologist on “The Bob Newhart Show” from 1972 to 1978, and then portraying a Vermont innkeeper on “Newhart” from 1982 through 1990. In both shows he relied on a bland, cardigan-clad everyman character who is confounded by the oddball people around him.

Newhart was nominated for Emmy Awards nine times, beginning in 1962 for writing on his short-lived variety show, but he did not win until 2013 when he was given the award for a guest appearance on “The Big Bang Theory.”

Newhart’s career began in the late 1950s, with a comedy routine in which he played straight man to an unheard voice on the other end of a telephone call. Tommy Smothers of the Smothers Brothers duo called Newhart “a one-man comedy team” because of his dialogues with invisible partners.

His 1960 live album, “The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart,” was a big hit that was also highly influential. It became the first comedy album to top the charts and earned him three Grammy awards.

Newhart’s characters had a trademark stammer, which he said was not an act but the way he really talked. He said a TV producer once asked him to cut down on the stammer because it was making the shows run too long.

“‘No,’ I told him. ‘That stammer bought me a house in Beverly Hills,'” Newhart wrote in his memoir, “I Shouldn’t Even Be Doing This!”

He ended his “Newhart” show in 1990 with an episode regarded as one of the most unique in the annals of U.S. television. In the last scene of the series, he awakens in bed with his wife from the first series after “dreaming” his life in the second series.

Newhart sprung from an era of angry, edgy standup comics such as Lenny Bruce, Shelley Berman and Mort Sahl, but his act was subtly subversive, without the profanity or shock used by his contemporaries.

He exploited his hesitant, bashful ordinariness to skewer society in his own fashion — including sketches about how a publicity agent would “handle” Abraham Lincoln or one featuring an inept official on the phone with a frantic man trying to defuse a bomb.

In the late 1950s, Newhart had a boring accounting job — in which he claimed that his credo was “that’s close enough” — and began writing comedy sketches with a colleague as a diversion.

Those led to radio performances and eventually a record deal with Warner Bros.

“Probably the best advice I ever got in my life was from the head of the accounting department, Mr. Hutchinson, I believe, at the Glidden Company in Chicago, and he told me, ‘You really aren’t cut out for accounting,'” Newhart told an interviewer.

Before winning an Emmy in 2013, Newhart had been nominated three times for his acting on “Newhart,” once for writing on his 1961 variety show and twice for appearances on other shows. He also was a frequent guest on variety shows and talk shows.

He appeared in several movies, including “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever,” “Catch-22” and “Elf.”

In 2002, he was awarded the Kennedy Center’s Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. Asked by the New York Times in 2019 whether he felt 90 years old, Newhart said, “My mind doesn’t. I can’t turn it off.”

Newhart was introduced by comedian Buddy Hackett to his future wife, Virginia, whom he married in 1964. The Newharts had four children.

New US sanctions target Houthi financial network

WASHINGTON — The United States issued Yemen-related counterterrorism sanctions on Thursday targeting individuals and entities linked to Houthi financial facilitator Sa’id al-Jamal.

The Treasury Department said the actions affected a dozen people and vessels, including Indonesia-based Malaysian and Singaporean national Mohammad Roslan Bin Ahmad and China-based Chinese national Zhuang Liang, “who have facilitated illicit shipments and engaged in money laundering for the network.”

Recent outages highlight need for stronger African internet

Nairobi, Kenya — Experts say Africa needs to invest in robust infrastructure if the continent is to have reliable internet after recent outages due to underwater cable failures highlighted the continent’s reliance on single-path connectivity.

Disruptions in March and May caused online banking problems and communication delays. Businesses experienced interruptions in many countries.

In March, on the Atlantic coast of West Africa, four submarine cables that deliver the internet to at least 17 countries went offline.

Less than two months later, Eastern and Southern Africa experienced outages after two undersea cables were damaged. In Tanzania, the U.S. Embassy in Dar es Salaam closed for two days due to the disruption.

Ben Gumo, a Kenyan who relies on the internet to sell clothes, shoes and children’s wares, said he lost business during the May disruption.

“Someone … puts stuff in the [online] basket, but because of the outage he cannot complete the sale, so he cancels,” Gumo said, adding that he couldn’t update his website with new products.

According to the telecommunications research company Telegeography, over 100 cable cuts occur globally each year. Experts blame undersea volcanic activity, rock falls, recent rainfall and currents in rivers that are much stronger than when some of the cables were built.

Manmade activities also cause disruptions. According to one report, a ship was attacked in the Red Sea and drifted, its anchor pulling up three underwater cables.

Mike Last works with the West Indian Ocean Cable Company, which operates in 20 African countries and has built 36 data centers. He said recent disruptions prompted government officials and businesspeople to recognize the need for better internet infrastructure.

“What it made people realize is that you have to invest in a reliable network, you have to invest in redundancy,” Last said, meaning that internet service is provided by more than one source. “We’ve seen a real boom in clients coming to us wanting connectivity on the new subsea systems.”

Some countries can stay online when one internet source is cut off, although service is often slow and not stable, because service providers and telecommunication carriers invested in more than one international connection.

According to the World Bank, sub-Saharan Africa’s digital infrastructure coverage, access and quality are far behind those of other regions.

However, Africa is embracing the digital future. According to the Submarine Cable Networks, 37 countries have at least one subsea cable connection, and 20 countries have more than two subsea cables.

Last said cables planned by Google and Meta will improve connectivity.

One of the new cables, he said, has a high capacity. Another new cable — named 2Africa and led by Meta, the parent company of Facebook — is being built all the way around Africa.

“It brings a lot of capacity to Africa, and that will help,” Last said.

Experts warn that disparities in connectivity across Africa are expected, but that the development of infrastructure, government policies and private sector investments can accelerate growth.

US Army honors Nisei combat unit that helped liberate Tuscany in WWII

ROME — The U.S. military is celebrating a little-known part of World War II history, honoring the Japanese-American U.S. Army unit that was key to liberating parts of Italy and France even while the troops’ relatives were interned at home as enemies of the state following Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. 

Descendants of the second-generation “Nisei” soldiers traveled to Italy from around the United States – California, Hawaii and Colorado – to tour the sites where their relatives fought and attend a commemoration at the U.S. military base in Camp Darby ahead of the 80th anniversary Friday of the liberation of nearby Livorno, in Tuscany. 

Among those taking part were cousins Yoko and Leslie Sakato, whose fathers each served in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which went onto become the most decorated unit in the history of the U.S. military for its size and length of service. 

“We wanted to kind of follow his footsteps, find out where he fought, where he was, maybe see the territories that he never ever talked about,” said Yoko Sakato, whose father Staff Sgt. Henry Sakato was in the 100th Battalion, Company B that helped liberate Tuscany from Nazi-Fascist rule. 

The 442nd Infantry Regiment, including the 100th Infantry Battalion, was composed almost entirely of second-generation American soldiers of Japanese ancestry, who fought in Italy and southern France. Known for its motto “Go For Broke,” 21 of its members were awarded the Medal of Honor. 

The regiment was organized in 1943, in response to the War Department’s call for volunteers to form a segregated Japanese American army combat unit. Thousands of Nisei — second-generation Japanese Americans — answered the call. 

Some of them fought as their relatives were interned at home in camps that were established in 1942, after Pearl Harbor, to house Japanese Americans who were considered to pose a “public danger” to the United States. In all, some 112,000 people, 70,000 of them American citizens, were held in these “relocation centers” through the end of the war. 

The Nisei commemoration at Camp Darby was held one week before the 80th anniversary of the liberation of Livorno, or Leghorn, on July 19, 1944. Local residents were also commemorating the anniversary this week. 

In front of family members, military officials and civilians, Yoko Sakato placed flowers at the monument in memory of Pvt. Masato Nakae, one of the 21 Nisei members awarded the Medal of Honor. 

“I was feeling close to my father, I was feeling close to the other men that I knew growing up, the other veterans, because they had served, and I felt really like a kinship with the military who are here,” she said. 

Sakato recalled her father naming some of the areas and towns in Tuscany where he had fought as a soldier, but always in a very “naive” way, as he was talking to kids. 

“They were young, it must have been scary, but they never talked about it, neither him nor his friends,” Sakato said of her father, who died in 1999. 

Her cousin Leslie Sakato’s father fought in France and won a Medal of Honor for his service. “It was like coming home,” she said of the commemoration.

Trump vice presidential nominee takes center stage at Republican Party convention

Republican Vice Presidential candidate J.D. Vance took center stage at the third night of the Republican National Convention Wednesday. Donald Trump’s running mate embraced an “America First” approach to foreign policy and security. VOA’s Congressional Correspondent Katherine Gypson has more from Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

JD Vance will introduce himself to the nation at the RNC as Trump’s running mate

MILWAUKEE — Introducing himself to the nation after being tapped as Donald Trump’s running mate, JD Vance is planning to use his Wednesday night address to the Republican National Convention to share the story of his hardscrabble upbringing and make the case that his party best understands the challenges facing struggling Americans.

The 39-year-old Ohio senator is a relative political unknown. In his first primetime speech since becoming the nominee for vice president, Vance is expected to talk about growing up poor in Kentucky and Ohio, his mother addicted to drugs and his father absent, and how he later went on to the highest levels of U.S. politics.

Vance, who rapidly morphed in recent years from a bitter critic of the former president to an aggressive defender, is positioned to become the future leader of the party and the torch-bearer of Trump’s “Make America Great Again” political movement, which has reshaped the Republican Party and broken longtime political norms. The first millennial to join the top of a major party ticket, he enters the race as questions about the age of the men at the top — 78-year-old Trump and 81-year-old Biden — have been high on the list of voters’ concerns.

Speaking earlier Wednesday, at his first fundraiser as Trump’s running mate, Vance said he will use the speech to highlight the contrast between Trump and Biden.

“The guy who actually connects with working people in this country is not Fake Scranton Joe, it’s Real President Donald Trump,” he said.

Vance was introduced at the fundraiser by Indiana Rep. Jim Banks, who said Trump’s decision to choose Vance wasn’t about picking a running mate or the next vice president.

“Donald Trump’s decision this week in picking JD Vance was about the future,” he said. “Donald Trump picked a man in JD Vance that is the future of the country, the future of the Republican Party, the future of the America First movement.”

Along with his relative youth, Vance is new to some of the hallmarks of Republican presidential politics: This year’s gathering is the first RNC that Vance has attended, according to a Trump campaign official who was not authorized to speak publicly.

Trump, who entered the arena to a version of the song “It’s a Man’s World” by James Brown and Luciano Pavarotti, will be watching from his family box.

Convention organizers had stressed a theme of unity, even before Trump survived an attempted assassination at a rally in Pennsylvania Saturday. Trump’s refusal to accept the results of the 2020 election and the subsequent attack on the U.S. Capitol, officials said, would be absent from the stage.

But that changed with former White House official Peter Navarro, who was greeted with enthusiastic cheers and a standing ovation hours after he was released from a Miami prison where he served four months for defying a subpoena from the congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by a mob of the former president’s supporter.

“If they can come for me, if they can come for Donald Trump, be careful. They will come for you,” he said in a fiery speech. He compared his legal troubles to those faced by Trump, who earlier this year was convicted on 34 felony charges in his criminal hush money trial. Trump is also facing two indictments for his efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

“They did not break me,” Navarro said, “and they will never break Donald Trump.”

Also spotted on the floor of the convention: Paul Manafort, Trump’s 2016 campaign chair, who was convicted as part of the investigation into Russia’s meddling in that election.

Vance is an Ivy League graduate and former businessman, but gained prominence following the publication of his bestselling 2016 memoir “Hillbilly Elegy,” which tells the story of his blue-collar roots. The book became a must-read for those seeking to understand the cultural forces that propelled Trump to the White House that year.

Still, most Americans — and Republicans — don’t know much about Vance. According to a new poll from the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, which was conducted before Trump selected the freshman senator as his choice, 6 in 10 Americans don’t know enough about him to have formed an opinion.

About 2 in 10 U.S. adults have a favorable view of him, and 22% view him negatively. Among Republicans, 61% don’t know enough to have an opinion of Vance. About one-quarter have a positive view of him, and roughly 1 in 10 have a negative one.

Vance will be introduced Wednesday night by his wife, Usha Chilukuri Vance. Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., who is a close friend of Vance, will also speak.

Beyond Vance’s prime-time speech, the Republican Party focused Wednesday on a theme of American global strength. Speakers were to include family members of service members killed during the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and someone taken hostage during the Oct. 7 attack in Israel, according to a person familiar with the program.

Republicans contend that the country has become a “global laughingstock” under Biden’s watch. The party that was once home to defense hawks and neoconservatives has fully embraced Trump’s “America First” foreign policy that redefined relationships with allies and adversaries.

Democrats have sharply criticized Trump — and Vance — for their positions, including their questioning of U.S. support for Ukraine in its defense against Russia’s invasion.

In a video released Wednesday by Biden’s reelection campaign, Vice President Kamala Harris dismissed Vance as someone Trump “knew would be a rubber stamp for his extreme agenda.”

“Make no mistake: JD Vance will be loyal only to Trump, not to our country,” Harris says in a video.

US arrests Syrian who oversaw prison where alleged abuse took place

LOS ANGELES — A former Syrian military official who oversaw a prison where human rights officials say torture and abuse routinely took place has been arrested, authorities said Wednesday.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security agents took Samir Ousman al-Sheikh into custody last week at Los Angeles International Airport, said agency spokesperson Greg Hoegner.

The 72-year-old has been charged with immigration fraud, specifically that he denied on his U.S. visa and citizenship applications that he had ever persecuted anyone in Syria, according to a criminal complaint filed on July 9 and reviewed by The Associated Press. Investigators are considering additional charges against al-Sheikh, the complaint shows.

He was in charge of Syria’s infamous Adra Prison from 2005 to 2008 under President Bashar Assad. Human rights groups and United Nations officials have accused the Syrian government of widespread abuses in its detention facilities, including torture and arbitrary detention of thousands of people, in many cases without informing their families about their fate. Many remain missing and are presumed to have died or been executed.

“This is the highest-level Assad regime official arrested anywhere in the world. … This is a really big deal,” said Mouaz Moustafa, executive director of the Syrian Emergency Task Force, a U.S.-based opposition organization.

Moustafa said Wednesday that one of his staff members, a former Syrian detainee, was first tipped off in 2022 by a refugee that there was “potentially a war criminal” in the United States. His organization alerted several federal agencies and began working with them to build a case against al-Sheikh.

Al-Sheikh’s attorney, Peter Hardin, called it a “simple misunderstanding of immigration forms” that has been politicized and said al-Sheikh “finds himself being made a pawn caught up in a larger international struggle.”

“He vigorously denies these abhorrent accusations,” Hardin said.

Investigators interviewed five former inmates at the Syrian prison, who described being hanged by their arms from the ceiling, severely beaten with electrical cables, and witnessing other prisoners being branded by hot rods, according to court documents. One inmate described how guards broke his back.

According to the complaint, al-Sheikh, a resident of Los Angeles since 2020, stated in his citizenship application that he had “never persecuted (either directly or indirectly) any person because of race, religion, national origin, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion” and “never been involved in killing or trying to kill someone.” This was false, as al-Sheikh persecuted political dissidents and ordered the execution of prisoners while he was head of Adra, the complaint states.

He began his career working police command posts before transferring to Syria’s domestic intelligence agency, which focused on countering political dissent, the complaint says. He later became head of Adra Prison and brigadier general in 2005. He also served for one year as the governor of Deir Ez-Zour, a region northeast of the Syrian capital of Damascus, where there were violent crackdowns against protesters.

He had purchased a one-way plane ticket to depart LAX on July 10, en route to Beirut, Lebanon, which shares a border with Syria, according to the complaint. After his arrest, al-Sheikh made his first appearance in Los Angeles federal court last Friday. He has family in the United States, including a daughter living in the Los Angeles area, according to the Syrian Emergency Task Force.

Syria’s civil war, which has left nearly half a million people dead and displaced half the country’s prewar population of 23 million, began as peaceful protests against Assad’s government in March 2011.

Other players in the war, now in its 14th year, have also been accused of abuse of detainees, including insurgent groups and the U.S.-backed, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, which guard suspected and convicted Islamic State members imprisoned in northeastern Syria.

In May, a French court sentenced three high-ranking Syrian officials in absentia to life in prison for complicity in war crimes in a landmark case against Assad’s regime and the first such case in Europe.

The court proceedings came as Assad had begun to shed his longtime status as a pariah because of the violence unleashed on his opponents. Human rights groups involved in the case hoped it would refocus attention on alleged atrocities.

Russia, China taking space into dangerous territory, US says

Washington — Russia and China are edging ever closer to unleashing space-based weapons, a decision that could have far-reaching implications for America’s ability to defend itself, U.S. military and intelligence agencies warn.

Adding to the concern, they say, is what appears to be a growing willingness by both countries to set aside long-running suspicions and animosity in order to gain an edge over the United States.

“I would highlight … the increasing amount in intent to use counterspace capabilities,” said Lieutenant General Jeff Kruse, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.

“Both Russia and China view the use of space early on, even ahead of conflict, as important capabilities to deter or to compel behaviors,” Kruse told the annual Aspen Security Forum on Wednesday. “We just need to be ready.”

Concerns about the safety of space surged earlier this year when House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Turner called for the declassification of “all information” related to what was described as a new Russian anti-satellite capability involving nuclear weapons.

More recently, Turner has warned that the U.S. is “sleepwalking” into a disaster, saying that Russia is on the verge of being able to detonate a nuclear weapon in space, which would impose high costs on the U.S. military and economy.

The White House has responded repeatedly that U.S. officials have been aware of the Russian plans, and that Moscow has not yet deployed a space-based nuclear capability.

It is a stance that Kruse reaffirmed Wednesday, with added caution.

“We have been tracking for almost a decade Russia’s intent to design the ability to put a nuclear weapon in space,” he said. “They have progressed down to a point where we think they’re getting close.”

The Russians “don’t intend to slow down, and until there’s repercussions, will not slow down,” he said.

Russian and Chinese officials have yet to respond to VOA’s requests for reaction to the latest U.S. accusations, but both countries have repeatedly denied U.S. criticisms of their space policies.

In May, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov dismissed U.S. concerns about Moscow trying to put nuclear weapons in space as “fake news.”

But the Chinese Embassy in Washington, while admitting there are some “difficulties” when it comes to China-U.S. relations in space, rejected any suggestion Beijing is acting belligerently in space.

“China always advocates the peaceful use of outer space, opposes weaponizing space or an arms race in space and works actively toward the vision of building a community with a shared future for mankind in space,” spokesperson Liu Pengyu told VOA in an email.

“The U.S. has been weaving a narrative about the so-called threat posed by China in outer space in an attempt to justify its own military buildup to seek space hegemony,” Liu said. “It is just another illustration of how the U.S. clings on to the Cold War mentality and deflects responsibility.”

Despite Beijing’s public posture, the Defense Intelligence Agency’s Kruse suggested Wednesday that China’s rapid expansion into the space domain is just as worrisome.

“They’re in multiple orbits that they did not used to be before,” he told the audience in Aspen, Colorado, warning that Beijing has already invested heavily in directed energy weapons, electronic warfare capabilities and anti-satellite technology.

“China is the one country that more so even than the United States has a space doctrine, a space strategy, and they train and exercise the use of space and counterspace capabilities in a way that we just don’t see elsewhere,” he said.

The general in charge of U.S. Space Command described the Chinese threat in even starker terms.

“China is building a kill web, if you will, in space,” said General Stephen Whiting, speaking alongside Kruse at the Aspen conference. 

“In the last six years, they’ve tripled the number of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance satellites they have on orbit — hundreds and hundreds of satellites, again, purpose built and designed to find, fix, track target and, yes, potentially engage U.S. and allied forces across the Indo-Pacific,” he said.

Whiting also raised concerns about the lack of clear military communication with China about space.

“We want to have a way to talk to them about space safety as they put more satellites on orbit,” he said, “so that we can operate effectively and don’t have any miscommunication or unintended actions that cause a misunderstanding.”

Netherlands marks 10th anniversary of downing of MH17 airliner

Amsterdam — The Netherlands commemorated on Wednesday the 298 victims of flight MH17 with a ceremony attended by the bereaved and representatives from Malaysia, Australia, Britain, Belgium and Ukraine.

Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot down over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, as fighting raged between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces, the precursor of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

All 283 passengers and 15 crew on board, including 196 Dutch citizens, were killed, leaving the plane’s wreckage and the remains of the victims scattered across fields of corn and sunflowers.

Based on an international investigation, a Dutch court in 2022 said there was no doubt the plane was shot down by a Russian missile system and that Moscow had “overall control” of the forces of the separatist “Donetsk People’s Republic” in eastern Ukraine since May 2014. Russia denies any involvement.

During Wednesday’s ceremony, which took place at the MH17 monument in the village of Vijfhuizen near Amsterdam, loved ones read out loud the names of all the victims.

Mark Rutte, who was prime minister when the disaster happened and has been a strong critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin ever since, drew applause for his efforts during his time in office to keep the international spotlight on the incident.

The Dutch court convicted two former Russian intelligence agents and a Ukrainian separatist leader in absentia of murder for their role in the transport into eastern Ukraine of the Russian military BUK missile system used to down the plane.

“Justice requires a long, long breath,” said Prime Minister Dick Schoof, who took office earlier this month, adding that “a conviction is not the same as having someone behind bars.”  

Commemorating the victims in his nightly video message, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said: “There is no doubt that the judicial process and the overall work of international justice will inevitably lead to entirely fair sentences for all responsible for this crime.”

His foreign minster, Dmytro Kuleba, wrote on X that Russia had twice killed the victims. “First with a missile. Second, with lies that abused their memory and hurt their relatives.”  

Moscow denies any responsibility for MH17’s downing and in 2014 it also denied any presence in Ukraine. However, the EU’s outgoing foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on Tuesday called on Russia to finally accept its responsibility.

“The evidence presented makes it abundantly clear that the BUK surface-to-air missile system used to bring down Flight MH17 belonged beyond doubt to the armed forces of the Russian Federation,” Borrell said.

“No Russian disinformation operation can distract from these basic facts, established by a court of law.”

UK’s new government announces legislation for ‘national renewal’ as Parliament opens with royal pomp 

London — Britain’s new Labour Party government promised to calm the country’s febrile politics and ease its cost-of-living crisis as it set out its plans for “national renewal” at the grand State Opening of Parliament on Wednesday.

Stabilizing the U.K.’s public finances and spurring economic growth were at the center of Prime Minister Keir Starmer ‘s legislative agenda, announced in a speech delivered by King Charles III.

“My government will seek a new partnership with both business and working people and help the country move on from the recent cost of living challenges by prioritizing wealth creation for all communities,” the king said in a speech to hundreds of lawmakers and scarlet-robed members of the House of Lords.

Starmer campaigned on a promise to bring bold change to Britain at modest cost to taxpayers. He aims to be both pro-worker and pro-business, in favor of vast new construction projects and protective of the environment. The risk is he may end up pleasing no one.

In a written introduction to the speech, Starmer urged patience, saying change would require “determined, patient work and serious solutions” rather than easy answers and “the snake oil charm of populism.”

The King’s Speech is the centerpiece of the State Opening, an occasion where royal pomp meets hard-nosed politics, as the king donned a diamond-studded crown, sat on a gilded throne and announced the laws his government intends to pass in the coming year.

Labour won a landslide election victory on July 4 as voters turned on the Conservatives after years of high inflation, ethics scandals and a revolving door of prime ministers. Starmer has promised to patch up the country’s aging infrastructure and frayed public services, but says he won’t raise personal taxes and insists change must be bound by “unbreakable fiscal rules.”

Wednesday’s speech included 40 bills – the Conservatives’ last speech had just 21 – ranging from housebuilding to nationalizing Britain’s railways and decarbonizing the nation’s power supply with a publicly-owned green energy firm, Great British Energy.

The government said it would “get Britain building,” setting up a National Wealth Fund and rewriting planning rules that stop new homes and infrastructure being built.

Economic measures included tighter rules governing corporations and a law to ensure all government budgets get advance independent scrutiny. That aims to avoid a repetition of the chaos sparked in 2022 by then-Prime Minister Liz Truss, whose package of uncosted tax cuts rocked the British economy and ended her brief term in office.

The government promised stronger protections for workers, with a ban on some”zero-hours” contracts and a higher minimum wage for many employees. Also announced were protections for renters against shoddy housing, sudden eviction and landlords who won’t let them have a pet.

The government promised more power for local governments and better bus and railway services – keys to the “levelling up” of Britain’s London-centric economy that former Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised but largely failed to deliver.

Though Starmer eschewed large-scale nationalization of industries, the government plans to take the delay-plagued train operators into public ownership.

The speech said the government “recognizes the urgency of the global climate challenge” — a change in tone from the Conservative government’s emphasis on oil and gas exploration. As well as increasing renewable energy, it pledged tougher penalties for water companies that dump sewage into rivers, lakes and seas.

The speech included new measures to strengthen border security, creating a beefed-up Border Security Command with counter-terrorism powers to tackle people-smuggling gangs.

It follows Starmer’s decision to scrap the Conservatives’ contentious and unrealized plan to send people arriving in the U.K. across the English Channel on a one-way trip to Rwanda.

The speech also tackled an issue that has foxed previous governments: reforming the House of Lords. The unelected upper chamber of Parliament is packed with almost 800 members – largely lifetime political appointees, with a smattering of judges, bishops and almost 100 hereditary aristocrats. The government said it would remove the hereditary nobles, though there was no mention of Starmer’s past proposal of setting a Lords retirement age of 80.

There was no mention of lowering the voting age from 18 to 16, though that was one of Labour’s election promises.

While much of Starmer’s agenda marks a break with the defeated Conservative government of former Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Starmer revived Sunak’s plan to stop future generations from smoking by gradually raising the minimum age for buying tobacco.

The speech confirmed that the government wants to “reset the relationship with European partners” roiled by Britain’s exit from the European Union in 2020. It said there would be no change to Britain’s strong support for Ukraine and promised to “play a leading role in providing Ukraine with a clear path to NATO membership.”

Wednesday’s address was the second such speech delivered by Charles since the death of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, in September 2022.

He traveled from Buckingham Palace to Parliament in a horse-drawn carriage – past a small group of anti-monarchy protesters with signs reading “Down with the Crown” – before donning ceremonial robes and the Imperial State Crown to deliver his speech. Police said 10 members of an environmental activist group were arrested near Parliament over alleged plans to disrupt the ceremony.

For all its royal trappings, it is the King’s Speech in name only. The words are written by government officials, and the monarch betrayed no flicker of emotion as he read them out.

“The king has zero agency in this,” said Jill Rutter, senior research fellow at the Institute for Government think tank.

UK union fails to win recognition at Amazon site after losing ballot, Amazon says

LONDON — The GMB union has failed to secure the right to formally represent workers at an Amazon warehouse in Coventry, central England, Amazon said on Wednesday.

The ballot result on union recognition is a blow for the U.K. trade union movement as victory in the ballot would have forced the U.S. e-commerce giant to negotiate labor terms with a U.K. union for the first time.

The Coventry workers have been involved in a dispute over pay and union recognition for more than a year and have carried out numerous strikes.

The GMB union has argued Amazon frustrated its recognition bid by recruiting hundreds of additional workers at the site so the union no longer had the numbers to make the ballot threshold.

Amazon’s treatment of workers has been in the spotlight for years. It has historically opposed unionization, saying its preference has been to resolve issues with employees directly rather than through unions.

However, in 2022, workers at its warehouse in Staten Island, New York, forced the company to recognize a trade union in the U.S. for the first time.

That was seen as key moment for the union movement. However, Amazon workers at two other New York warehouses and one in Alabama have since voted against unionizing.

Amazon does interact with unions in countries such as Germany and Italy. But that is largely because it is required to by government.

Amazon employs about 75,000 in the UK, making it one of the country’s top 10 private sector employers.

Britain’s new Labor government has promised to give workers more rights and unions more power.

It plans to update trade union legislation, removing restrictions on trade union activity and ensuring industrial relations are based around good faith negotiation and bargaining.

Labor says British employment laws are outdated, a drag on economic growth and a major factor in the U.K.’s worst period of industrial relations since the 1980s.

Paris mayor takes pre-Olympics dip to prove Seine clean

Paris — The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, swam in the murky waters of the Seine on Wednesday to demonstrate the river is now clean enough for outdoor Olympic swimming events.

Wearing goggles and a wet suit, the 65-year-old city leader swam breaststroke before immersing her face and beginning a front crawl, covering around 100 meters up and downstream.

She was joined by senior local officials and by Tony Estanguet, a triple Olympic gold medalist in canoeing who heads the organizing committee for the Paris Games, which open next week on July 26.

“Today is a confirmation that we are exactly where we meant to be,” Estanguet said. “We are now ready to organize the games in the Seine.”

Despite an investment of $1.5 billion to prevent sewage leaks into the waterway, the state of the Seine has brought suspense to the build-up to the Paris Games.

But since the beginning of July, with heavy rain finally giving way to sunnier weather, samples have shown the river to be ready for the open-water swimming and the triathlon.

“On the eve of the Games, when the Seine will play a key role, this event represents the demonstration of the efforts made by the city and the state to improve the quality of the Seine’s waters and the ecological state of the river,” Hidalgo’s office said on Tuesday.

The Socialist politician had originally planned to swim last month but had to delay because bacteria indicating the presence of fecal matter were found to be sometimes 10 times higher than authorized limits.

The long wait for her dip had sparked jokes and memes on social media, with one viral AI-generated image showing her looking like the wrinkled Gollum character from the Lord of the Rings movies after her amphibious exploit.

President Emmanuel Macron, who had promised to join the Seine bathers, was a notable absentee as he is occupied by a political crisis caused by his decision to call snap parliamentary elections last month.

The Seine is set to be used for the swimming leg of the Olympics triathlon on July 30-31 and Aug. 5, as well as the open-water swimming on Aug. 8-9.

Strong currents

The locations chosen for open-water swimming have also caused difficulties at past Olympics, notably ahead of the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games and those in Tokyo in 2021.

“It’s been raining all over France. Summer has been very late to arrive and so have the good results,” said Marc Valmassoni from clean-water campaign group Surfrider which has been conducting weekly tests on the Seine since last year.

“They’re not excellent, they’re not terrible, they’re average. But at this time the water is swimmable.”

Cleaning up the Seine has been promoted as one of the key legacy achievements of Paris 2024, with Hidalgo intending to create three public bathing areas for the city’s residents next year, a century after swimming was banned.

“We’re not doing it for three days of competition in the Seine,” Estanguet told AFP during an interview last week. “We’re going it above all for environmental reasons… I’m proud that we’ve served as an accelerator.”

Authorities have invested in new water treatment and storage facilities in and around Paris, as well as ensuring that thousands of homes and canal boats without wastewater connections are linked up to the sewerage system.

Major storms still overwhelm the Paris underground waste-water network, however, some of which dates back to the 19th century.

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