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Biden to Visit Arizona Computer Chip Facility

U.S. President Joe Biden is traveling to Arizona on Tuesday to visit a computer chip facility, underscoring the Grand Canyon state’s position in the emerging U.S. semiconductor ecosystem.

Biden will visit a Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC) plant in north Phoenix. He will tour the plant and deliver remarks celebrating his economic plan and the “manufacturing boom” it has caused, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said during Monday’s briefing.

TSMC is the world’s largest contract manufacturer of semiconductor chips.

In August, Biden signed the CHIPS and Science Act, legislation aimed at countering China’s massive subsidies to its chip industry. It includes about $52 billion in funding for U.S. companies for the manufacturing of chips, which go into technology like smartphones, electric vehicles, appliances and weapons systems.

 

Arizona is among the states trying to attract federal funding.

The president will be on hand in Phoenix to celebrate the TSMC plant’s “first tool-in,” which is the moment when a building is ready for manufacturing equipment to move in.

Projects in the region are creating thousands of new jobs including the TMSC facility in north Phoenix, the technology firm Intel expanding southeast of the city and suppliers from around the world moving in.

A 3,700-square-meter cleanroom at nearby Arizona State University in Tempe is helping to meet the workforce demands of Arizona’s burgeoning semiconductor sector. There, students, companies and startups work on hardware innovations.

With 30,000 engineering students, Arizona State is home to the country’s largest college of engineering and a driver in meeting next-generation demand.

“Chips and Science Act is a once in a lifetime opportunity. This is the moment. This is the moment to build out capabilities, infrastructure, expertise,” Kyle Squires, dean of engineering schools at Arizona State University, told VOA recently. “We’re bringing this capability back into the U.S. You’ve got to have a workforce ready to engage it.”

VOA’s Michelle Quinn contributed to this report.

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Belarus Opposition Figure Returned to Prison After Surgery

Maria Kolesnikova, a prominent member of the Belarusian opposition serving an 11-year prison sentence for helping stage anti-government protests, was taken back to prison after undergoing an operation for a perforated ulcer, her father said Monday. 

Alexander Kolesnikov was able to visit his daughter for about 10 minutes and found her weak but “her mood is good and she even tried to smile,” he told The Associated Press. 

Maria Kolesnikova, 40, has been in custody since September 2020 when she tore up her passport at the border to prevent her forced expulsion from Belarus amid massive protests challenging the reelection of the country’s authoritarian president Alexander Lukashenko. 

She was convicted in September 2021 on charges of conspiring to seize power, creating an extremist organization and calling for action that threatened the security of the state. 

Belarus was shaken by massive protests after the disputed August 2020 reelection of Lukashenko, which the opposition and the West denounced as a rigged sham. Authorities responded to the demonstrations with a massive crackdown that saw more than 35,000 people arrested and thousands beaten by police. 

Kolesnikova helped coordinate opposition protests and resisted authorities’ attempts to force her to leave the country. When officers of the Belarusian security agency drove her to the border with Ukraine in September 2020 to forcibly expel her, she ripped up her passport and walked back into Belarus to face arrest. 

 

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Pakistan: Russia to Sell ‘Discounted’ Petroleum Products to Islamabad

Pakistan said Monday that Russia had decided to export crude oil, gasoline and diesel to the South Asian nation at discounted prices.

Deputy Minister for Petroleum Musadik Malik shared the details at a news conference in Islamabad after visiting Moscow last week where he met with his Russian counterparts.

“An inter-governmental delegation ed by Russian energy minister will visit Pakistan next month and we will try to firm up all the details I have shared with you so we can sign the agreement to buy crude oil, petrol and diesel at a discounted rate,” Malik said.

He did not share specifics such as the discount offered by Moscow or how soon Islamabad would be able to import Russian petroleum products.

“The discounted rate will be the same as the rate being offered to other countries in the world,” Malik asserted.

The minister said his talks “turned out to be more productive than expected” and they were driven by Pakistan’s “national interest” requiring the government to overcome domestic energy shortages from all possible sources.

Malik said Pakistan was also interested in buying liquefied natural gas, or LNG, but that Russian state-owned companies’ supplies of the product are tight at present.

“Russia is in the process of installing new production units and has invited Pakistan to initiate talks on long-term contracts to buy LNG,” he said. Malik added that Russian officials also arranged his delegation’s talks with private companies in Moscow on importing LNG.

There were no immediate comments from Moscow on possible energy deals with Pakistan.

Pakistan has struggled to meet its LNG supply needs as its gas reserves shrink by as much as 10% a year. The county’s dwindling foreign exchange reserves have constrained its ability to purchase fossil fuels from abroad.

Meanwhile, Malik said neighboring Iran had decided to donate nearly a million kilograms of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) in “humanitarian aid” to Pakistan this winter. “It will reach the country within the next 10 days,” he said. 

 

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Brussels Reopens Painful Page With Start of Trial Over 2016 Terror Attacks

Belgium reopened a painful chapter in its recent history Monday, as the trial opened for alleged conspirators in the 2016 terror attacks around Brussels that killed 32 people and wounded hundreds more.

Ten men stand accused of involvement in the March 2016 suicide bombings at the Brussels airport and a metro station — attacks authorities blamed on the Islamic State militant group.

Those on trial allegedly directed or aided the attacks, in which two homemade bombs exploded at the airport and another in a packed subway station.

The three suicide bombers died, along with nearly three dozen victims from a raft of different countries.

Five of the defendants also stood trial in Paris over the 2015 attacks in the French capital that killed 130 people. Among them is Salah Abdeslam, now serving life in prison as one of the Paris assailants.

The Paris and Brussels attacks — which investigators believe were authored by the same Belgium-based terrorist cell — count among the deadliest of a spate of Islamist terrorist assaults around Europe a few years ago.

At the trial’s opening Monday, defendant Mohamed Abrini complained of being humiliated by the security measures that he described as state vengeance. He warned the defendants might remain silent during this trial in response.

Valerie Gerard, a lawyer for Life4Brussels victims association, said the trial stirred up painful memories. She said some association members wanted to assist and even testify at the trial; others want nothing to do with it.

Also grueling, she said, were the tangled procedures for the victims to get compensation for the attacks.

The spate of terror attacks in Europe a few years ago has given way to other crises — including COVIC-19 and now the war in Ukraine. The trial’s hearings may take up to eight months, with a jury deciding on the verdict.

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EU Slaps Oil Embargo on Russia With Price Cap, Uncertain Impact

A European Union embargo against maritime shipments of crude oil from Russia went into effect Monday, along with a price cap agreed to by the Group of Seven leading industrialized economies and Australia. 

Targeting seaborne deliveries that make up two-thirds of the EU’s crude imports from Russia, the embargo counts among a raft of steadily tougher EU sanctions against Moscow for its war in Ukraine. Some analysts call it Europe’s most significant step to date in reducing its dependency on Russian energy — which is helping fund the war.

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen announced the oil embargo in early May, as the weather was becoming warmer, and chances of an energy crunch seemed far away. 

“This sends another important signal to all perpetrators of the Kremlin. We know who you are. We will hold you accountable. You’re not getting away with this. Putin must pay a price — a high price — for his brutal aggression,” she said. 

Now, as winter sets in, European governments are warning of possible energy shortages — especially since Moscow has sharply curbed exports of its all-important gas.

Thierry Bros, an energy expert and professor at Sciences Po University in Paris, summed up the challenge facing Europe: “We have to think about how can we hurt Russia in a way that hurts us less than Russia.”

The EU previously enacted a less significant coal embargo against Moscow. Along with this new oil embargo, Western nations set a $60-a-barrel price cap for Russian crude exports, hoping to enforce it by requiring the mostly Western-based shipping insurers and others in the industry to abide by it.

Bros is among those who have voiced skepticism.  

“Because it’s [oil] a fungible commodity like coal, Russia has the ability to reroute this to Asia and provide it as a discount to India and the Chinese. So, the oil embargo is going to be difficult for us as Europeans, and the oil product embargo is going to be even more difficult,” Bros said.

This coming February, Brussels also enforces a ban against refined Russian oil products such as gas, jet fuel and diesel. Some believe it may prove more effective in hurting Russia’s pocketbook. But Bros points to shortfalls. For example, he said, European vehicles still depend on Russian diesel. Finding alternatives may not be so easy.  

Meanwhile, critics suggest there may be wiggle room for cheaters to flout the new crude oil embargo. The $60 cap for Russia’s crude is also controversial for a mix of reasons. Some believe it’s too high.  

“I’m very worried that we democracies are trying to fiddle free markets. … Once you do this, you’re putting a risk on free markets. I think it’s wrong to do this,” Bros said.  

Russian oil exports to the EU have already fallen sharply this year. Moscow, however, has earned more from its overall oil exports than last year, largely because prices have risen since the start of the war in Ukraine.  

 

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With Eye on Qatar, Female Football Players in Spain Savor Freedoms

The World Cup has brought attention to Qatar’s record on women’s rights. While it surpasses that of most Gulf nations, women’s football remains undeveloped – something that has caught the attention of female athletes – including a group of players in Spain. Jonathan Spier narrates this report from Alfonso Beato in Barcelona.

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Belgium Starts Trial Into Brussels Bombings

Belgium begins proceedings Monday in its largest ever trial to determine whether 10 men played a part in the Islamist suicide bombings in Brussels in 2016 that killed 32 people and injured over 300.

More than six years after the attacks, presiding judge Laurence Massart will confirm on Monday the identity of all parties to the case, including the defendants and lawyers representing around 1,000 people affected by the attacks claimed by Islamic State.

She will then address the jury, selected from a pool of 1,000 Belgians last week in a process lasting 14 hours.

The Brussels bombings’ trial has clear links to the French trial over the November 2015 Paris attacks. Six of the Brussels accused were sentenced to jail terms of between 10 years and life in France in June, but the Belgian trial will be different in that it will be settled by a jury not judges.

The twin bombings at Brussels Airport and a third bomb on the city’s metro on March 22, 2016 killed 15 men and 17 women – Belgians, Americans, Dutch, Swedish and nationals of Britain China, France, Germany, India, Peru and Poland, many based in Brussels, the home to EU institutions and military alliance NATO.

Nine men are charged with multiple murders and attempted murders in a terrorist context, with potential life sentences, and all 10 with participating in the activities of a terrorist group.

They include Mohamed Abrini, who prosecutors say went to the airport with two suicide bombers, but fled without detonating his suitcase of explosives, and Osama Krayem, a Swedish national accused of planning to be a second bomber on Brussels’ metro.

Salah Abdeslam, the main suspect in the Paris trial, is also an accused, along with others prosecutors say hosted or helped certain attackers. One of the 10, presumed killed in Syria, will be tried in absentia.

In accordance with Belgium court procedure, the defendants have not declared whether they are innocent or guilty.

Prosecutors are expected to start reading from the 486-page indictment on Tuesday before hearings of some 370 experts and witnesses can begin.

The trial in the former headquarters of NATO is expected to last seven months and is estimated to cost at least $36.9 million.

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Russia’s War on Ukraine ‘Barbaric,’ Western Powers Say

Western powers have labeled Russia’s ongoing war in neighboring Ukraine as barbaric. With the cold of winter setting in, the Kremlin appears to be increasing attacks on critical Ukrainian infrastructure. Western powers looked to fight back on Russian oil exports, but Moscow has rejected those efforts. VOA’s Arash Arabasadi has more.

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France Beats Poland to Reach World Cup Quarter-Finals 

France beat Poland 3-1 in a record-smashing World Cup last-16 clash on Sunday that saw Olivier Giroud become France’s outright all-time top scorer and Kylian Mbappe score a magnificent double.

France was relentless on the attack as it pushed for an opening goal but could not unlock a sturdy Poland until just before the break when Mbappe played a pin-point ball through to Giroud, who hammered it past a diving Wojciech Szczesny to claim his 52nd goal for Les Bleus.

Holders France continued to press after the break, with Giroud almost netting a second when he flicked Jules Kounde’s cross just past the near post. But Mbappe did not miss in the 74th minute, unleashing a missile from just inside the penalty area that shot into the top corner.

Mbappe was not done, adding a second goal in stoppage time with another screamer to seal the win and take his total for the tournament to five.

Poland got a consolation goal from a Robert Lewandowski penalty.

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