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On Eve of Russia Invasion Anniversary, US, EU Reaffirm Crimea Belongs to Ukraine

On the eve of the seventh anniversary of the Russian invasion and seizure of Crimea, the United States and European Union have reaffirmed their positions that Crimea belongs to Ukraine.
 
“Russia’s invasion and seizure of Crimea” is “a brazen affront to the modern international order,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement. “We affirm this basic truth: Crimea is Ukraine,” Blinken said.
 
The U.S. “does not, and will never, recognize Russia’s purported annexation of Crimea,” the statement added.
 
The United States is repeating its call for Russia to immediately end its occupation of Crimea, to release all Ukrainian political prisoners, and return full control of the peninsula to Ukraine.  The U.S. is also calling on Russia to end its “aggression” in eastern Ukraine.
 Until Russia reverses its course regarding Ukraine and Crimea, U.S. sanctions on the country will remain in place, Blinken said.
 
In his capacity as the president of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas reiterated EU’s condemnation of the annexation of Crimea, which it says constitutes a violation of international law.
 
The Council reaffirms its “unequivocal and unwavering support for the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognised borders,” Maas said in a statement.  
    
The statement calls on Russia “to fully comply with international humanitarian law and international human rights standards, including by granting unimpeded access to regional and international human rights monitoring mechanisms, as well as non-governmental human rights organisations, to Crimea and Sevastopol.”
 
On February 27, 2014, masked Russian troops moved in and captured strategic locations in Crimea, as well as Crimean institutions, including the Supreme Council or Crimean Parliament. The council of ministers was dissolved and a new pro-Russian prime minister installed. 

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Carter Center Targets Online Threats in Ethiopia

With internet access increasing in many emerging democracies, use of social media is changing the ways that candidates and voters interact.  It’s also changing how the non-profit U.S.-based Carter Center assesses elections. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, monitoring online disinformation and threats to prevent political violence is a new front in the center’s democracy initiatives and is a focus ahead of elections in Ethiopia.Camera: Kane Farabaugh    Producer: Kane Farabaugh

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Tech Executives Warn Full Extent of US Cyber Breach Still Unknown

U.S. lawmakers launched an investigation this week into the December 2020 SolarWinds hack that included a breach of many private and U.S. government computer systems. As VOA’s congressional correspondent Katherine Gypson reports, tech leaders are telling lawmakers the full scope of the breach is still not known.  Camera: Adam Greenbaum  Produced by: Katherine Gypson
  

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Tech Executives Warn Full Extent of US Cyber Breach Still Unkown

U.S. lawmakers launched an investigation this week into the December 2020 SolarWinds hack that included a breach of many private and U.S. government computer systems. As VOA’s congressional correspondent Katherine Gypson reports, tech leaders are telling lawmakers the full scope of the breach is still not known.  Camera: Adam Greenbaum  Produced by: Katherine Gypson
 

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Kremlin Critic Navalny Transferred to Prison Outside Moscow

Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny has been sent to a prison outside Moscow to serve his sentence, his lawyer said Thursday, a move that came despite a demand by Europe’s top human rights court for his release.Navalny lawyer Vadim Kobzev did not immediately name the prison where Navalny was sent. Russian news reports have previously indicated that Navalny, who has been held in a maximum-security jail in Moscow, would likely be sent to a facility in western Russia.Navalny, 44, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s most vociferous foe, was arrested January 17 upon returning from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from a nerve-agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin. Russian authorities have rejected the accusation and accused Navalny of cooperating with Western intelligence agencies — claims he has ridiculed.Earlier this month, Navalny was sentenced to 2½ years in prison for violating the terms of his probation while convalescing in Germany. The sentence stems from a 2014 embezzlement conviction that Navalny has rejected as fabricated — and which the European Сourt of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled to be unlawful.Large protestsNavalny’s arrest has fueled a wave of protests that have drawn tens of thousands to the streets across Russia. Authorities have detained about 11,000 people, many of whom were fined or given jail terms ranging from seven to 15 days.Russian officials have dismissed demands from the United States and the European Union to free Navalny and stop the crackdown on his supporters.Moscow also rejected the ECHR ruling that, citing risks to Navalny’s life in custody, ordered the Russian government to release him. The Russian government has rebuffed the court’s demand as unlawful and “inadmissible” meddling in Russia’s home affairs.Earlier this week, EU foreign ministers agreed to impose new sanctions against Russian officials linked to Navalny’s jailing.Since Navalny’s arrest, Russian officials and state news media have aggressively tried to discredit him, a change from the previous tactic of largely ignoring him.Possible ‘advocacy of hatred’Some of the criticism has emphasized anti-migrant views expressed years ago as he was rising to prominence.Amnesty International this week stripped Navalny of his designation as a “prisoner of conscience” because of those views. “Navalny had, in the past, made comments which may have amounted to advocacy of hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, violence or hostility,” the organization said in a statement Thursday.The statement denied the move was in response to external pressure, but news reports have suggested Amnesty International was targeted in a coordinated campaign to discredit him.”These were not independently acting activists … these were people who would like to defame Alexey as the most prominent opponent of Mr. Putin,” Vladimir Ashurkov, executive director of Navalny’s anti-corruption organization, said in a conference call Thursday.Amnesty International said rescinding the prisoner-of-conscience designation did not change its demand for Navalny to be freed.”There should be no confusion: Nothing Navalny has said in the past justifies his current detention, which is purely politically motivated. Navalny has been arbitrarily detained for exercising his right to freedom of expression, and for this reason, we continue to campaign for his immediate release,” the organization said. 

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First Asylum-Seekers from Mexico’s Matamoros Border Camp Enter US

The first asylum-seekers from a Mexican border camp that had become a symbol of Trump-era immigration restrictions entered the United States on Thursday under a new policy meant to end the hardships endured by migrants in dangerous border towns. The United Nation’s International Organization for Migration (IOM) said the initial group comprised 27 people who had been living in the makeshift camp in Matamoros opposite Brownsville, Texas. Some residents have lived there for more than a year under former President Donald Trump’s controversial Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program requiring asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico for U.S. court hearings. The first group of 27 migrants leave their camp towards the Gateway International Bridge to be processed and seek asylum in the U.S., in Matamoros, Mexico, Feb. 25, 2021.A new process under President Joe Biden will gradually allow thousands of MPP asylum-seekers to await courts’ decisions within the United States. Some migrants last week were permitted to cross into San Ysidro, California. Francisco Gallardo, who runs a migrant shelter in Matamoros and provides humanitarian aid at the camp, welcomed the news that the process had begun in Matamoros, but said it should have come sooner. “It’s good that they are doing it, but unfortunately coming late,” he said. Freezing temperatures at the U.S.-Mexico border had made the Matamoros camp a priority, the Department of Homeland Security said on Wednesday. Migrants at the camp have struggled to ensure proper hygiene and to protect themselves from organized crime in a state that is one of the most violent in Mexico. “The camp was a space that had multiple risks for the migrants,” said Misael Hernandez, a researcher on migration issues at El Colegio de la Frontera Norte. Mexico’s migration institute did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 
 

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ByteDance Agrees to $92 Million Privacy Settlement with US TikTok Users

ByteDance has agreed to a $92 million class-action settlement over data privacy claims from some U.S. TikTok users, according to documents filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Illinois. ByteDance, the Chinese company that owns the short video app that has more than 100 million U.S. users, agreed to the settlement after more than a year of litigation. “While we disagree with the assertions, rather than go through lengthy litigation, we’d like to focus our efforts on building a safe and joyful experience for the TikTok community,” TikTok said Thursday. The settlement still requires court approval. FILE – A man opens social media app TikTok on his cellphone, in Islamabad, Pakistan, July 21, 2020.The lawsuits claimed the TikTok app “infiltrates its users’ devices and extracts a broad array of private data including biometric data and content that defendants use to track and profile TikTok users for the purpose of, among other things, ad targeting and profit.” The settlement was reached after “an expert-led inside look at TikTok’s source code” and extensive mediation efforts, according to the motion seeking approval of the settlement. Separately, in Washington the Federal Trade Commission and U.S. Justice Department are looking into allegations that TikTok failed to live up to a 2019 agreement aimed at protecting children’s privacy. 
 

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China’s Detention of Irish Businessman Spotlights Global Issue

After two years of discreet silence about his detention without charges in China, Irish businessman Richard O’Halloran finally spoke up this month. His youngest child was only 5 years old when he traveled to Shanghai in February 2019 on what he expected to be a short business trip, O’Halloran said in an interview with FILE – People hold signs calling for China to release Canadian detainees Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, March 6, 2019.While the case of the “two Michaels” has been widely publicized, O’Halloran’s ordeal was little known until he went public this past week. In the interview, the 45-year-old father of four said his anguish had reached the point that he asked the Chinese judge in charge of his case: “Do you expect that I tell my wife to get on with her life, and for my kids to try and forget about me? Is that what you’re trying to do?” O’Halloran, an executive with the Irish subsidiary of an aviation leasing company, traveled to China to help settle a commercial dispute that resulted in the arrest of his employer on charges of defrauding Chinese investors of some $70 million. While not charged with any crime, O’Halloran has been told he cannot leave China until the money is returned to the investors. The Chinese embassy in Dublin told RTE: “In any country, company representatives have the legal obligation to return the proceeds of crime flowing into the company and related yields to the victims.” The embassy added, “We fully understand Mr. O’Halloran’s family’s anxiety and hope they will advise Mr. O’Halloran to cooperate in a meaningful way with judicial authorities in Shanghai to ensure an early solution to the case.” But O’Halloran argued in his interview that the Chinese legal system is “fundamentally flawed.” “To expect somebody to sign documents in Chinese, to conduct an entire interview in Chinese, without legal representation, is just not correct in my view,” he said. FILE – Winston Lord, then-U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asia, addresses a press conference in Honolulu, Jan. 25, 1996.The case has attracted the attention of some major China policy experts, including Winston Lord, a former U.S. ambassador to China and assistant secretary of state for East Asia. “I’ve been following the case closely for many months, it’s a very sad, frustrating and cruel case,” Lord said in a phone interview from his home in Manhattan. “This man is a businessman from Ireland, he went to the mainland to try to help the Chinese resolve a case against another Chinese, and he’s been kept in detention — not house arrest, but he can’t leave the country — for two years.”  Lord said China may be hurting its own economic interests by holding O’Halloran. “I already know people who don’t want to be stationed in China, whether it’s pollution, repression, or extreme measures like this,” he said. The detention has also been denounced on the floor of the Irish parliament, where Senator Michael McDowell insisted that “no Chinese citizen would be treated in this way in this country.”Watch: In the #Seanad today I highlighted the ongoing wrongful detention of Richard O’Halloran in China https://t.co/xs8h15ztJ5 via @YouTube— Michael McDowell (@SenatorMcDowell) February 15, 2021″Comparative size of our two countries doesn’t justify wolf diplomacy being deployed against Ireland to try and blackmail this man into doing something unlawful,” he said. McDowell cautioned the Irish government against falling into what he called the three stages of inaction — “the stage which was premature to do anything, the stage which was too sensitive, and the stage which was too late.” 
 

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Haiti Gang Violence Puts Burn Victims at Risk, Doctors Say

Burn patients in Haiti who need specialized care had to be transferred, after gang violence erupted near the burn care hospital in Drouillard, a Port-au-Prince neighborhood.Doctors Without Borders / Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) says the violence is putting its patients at risk. 
 
“Severe burns require highly specialized care, and our Drouillard hospital is Haiti’s only specialized burn care center,” Dr. Alain Ngamba, MSF medical coordinator in Haiti, told VOA via email. “We are concerned about the consequences for patients who would otherwise have been admitted there.”  
 
MSF says the eruption of gunfire on February 23 sent staff members running for cover on hospital grounds. That’s when it was decided to relocate 21 patients to an MSF hospital in the Tabarre neighborhood of Haiti’s capital, once the shooting stopped. No staff or patients were injured during the violence, MSF told VOA.  
 Doctors Without Borders / Medecins Sans Frontieres burns hospital in Drouillard, Haiti. (Photo: Lunos Saint Brave/MSF)Outpatient services for burn patients had been transferred out of Drouillard since February 13, after a first wave of gang violence. For now, only the emergency department of the hospital is open, but it is functioning at a reduced capacity and limited to accepting only life-threatening cases, MSF says. 
 
“The situation around our hospital in Drouillard has deteriorated, for patients and for staff,” Aline Serin, MSF head of mission in Haiti, said in a statement. “Faced with the recurrence of this violence, we have decided to move patients from our burn center and outpatient services to our trauma hospital in Tabarre, in order to ensure the protection of staff, the safety of our patients and continuity of their care.”  
 
MSF’s Drouillard location employs about 250 staff — a mix of Haitian and international MSF employees. Originally set up as a trauma center in 2011 to treat victims of violence, road accidents or burns, the hospital shifted its focus to specialized burn care in 2014.  
 
After the COVID-19 pandemic hit Haiti in March 2020, the Drouillard hospital temporarily shifted to treating COVID-19 patients between May and August. After August, the hospital reshifted its focus to burn care.  
 
“We are still working to set up an operating theater in our Tabarre hospital for our existing burns patients,” Ngamba told VOA. “We already treat trauma patients at our Tabarre hospital, so this does not leave many more places for burns patients. Currently we do not have the capacity to admit new patients with severe burns.”  
 MSF staff transfer burn patients out of Drouillard hospital to Tabarre trauma center in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. (Photo: Avra Fialas/MSF)Gang violence has been a concern not only for Haitian authorities but also the international community, which raised the issue at a February 22 United Nations Security Council meeting.   
 
“We urge Haitian authorities to redouble their efforts to investigate and prosecute violent crime,” said Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis, the Acting Alternate Representative for Special Political Affairs at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations.  
 
France’s deputy permanent representative to the United Nations, Nathalie Broadhurst, also criticized Haiti’s government for lack of progress on curbing gang violence. 
 
“I ask this question straightforwardly: How is it possible today that Jimmy Cherizier [notorious Haitian gang leader] is still walking free?” Broadhurst said. “The fight against impunity must be the priority of the authorities.” 
 
Responding to the criticism, Haitian President Jovenel Moise cited progress in dismantling gangs and reducing violence in his speech to the U.N. Security Council. 
 
“Of 102 existing gangs, the government has dismantled 64 and is working to quickly to reestablish security,” he said. 
 
But as chronic insecurity continues in Port-au-Prince, MSF is calling for the respect of health facilities so that patients and staff can access them.  

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