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Fourth Straight Night of Protests in Belarus

Thousands protested in Belarus for the fourth straight night Wednesday against what they said was the fraudulent election of President Alexander Lukashenko for a sixth term.Demonstrators in Minsk formed human chains to try to block police from approaching.Witnesses said on one street in the capital riot police fired rubber bullets at people who stood on their balconies to cheer the demonstrators.Earlier Wednesday, groups of women also formed human chains and carried bouquets of flowers as police stood by, making no effort to disperse them.Similar demonstrations were held in other Belarusian cities.As many as 6,000 people have been arrested and hundreds injured after police used tear gas, clubs and rubber bullets to break up the nightly marches.They include Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty journalist Vital Tsyhankou, who was badly beaten by police, the Associated Press reported, along with two independent Belarusian television reporters.People flocked to the jails to look for missing relatives.Lukashenko has said he will not be intimidated.“The core of these so-called protesters are people with a criminal past and (those who are) currently unemployed,” he said Wednesday.European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has called for a meeting of foreign ministers Friday to talk about Belarus. He is threatening sanctions against “those responsible for the observed violence, unjustified arrests and falsification of election results.”The Belarusian election commission declared Lukashenko the winner of Sunday’s presidential election with 80 percent of the vote and 10 percent for the only serious challenger, former teacher Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.She entered the race at the last minute after police arrested her husband, an opposition blogger who was planning to run for president.Tsikhanouskaya fled to Lithuania Tuesday for what she said was the safety of her children.Lukashenko has frequently been called Europe’s last dictator because of his suppression of free speech and human rights while showing little tolerance for dissent. He has ruled Belarus since it declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.Many of the protesters are also angry at his refusal to take any significant action to fight the coronavirus.Lukashenko has sought to lighten his image as a brutal dictator who cozies up to the Kremlin by seeking closer relations with the European Union and United States.

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RFE/RL: Pompeo Vows US Action to Ensure ‘Good Outcome’ for Belarusian People

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, speaking about the contentious Belarusian presidential election and the ensuing police crackdown against peaceful protesters, says that “we want good outcomes for the Belarusian people, and we’ll take actions consistent with that.” Pompeo, who earlier condemned the conduct of the election that handed authoritarian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka a sixth-straight term by a landslide, said in a wide-ranging interview Wednesday with RFE/RL in Prague that “we’ve watched the violence and the aftermath, peaceful protesters being treated in ways that are inconsistent with how they should be treated.” The vote Sunday, which the opposition has called “rigged,” has resulted in three-straight evenings of mass protests marred by police violence and thousands of detentions. Pompeo said that the United States had not yet settled on the appropriate response but would work with Washington’s European partners to determine what action to take. Asked whether the election and its aftermath would affect the future of U.S.-Belarus relations, including the promised delivery of U.S. oil, Pompeo said: “We’re going to have to work through that…we were incredibly troubled by the election and deeply disappointed that it wasn’t more free and more fair.” U.S. troops in Afghanistan Pompeo, who was in Prague at the start of a five-day trip to Europe that will also take him to Slovenia, Austria and Poland, discussed a number of other issues, including allegations that Russia was involved in offering Taliban militants bounties to attack U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan; expectations that Washington will seek to extend the U.N. arms embargo against Iran; and the effect violence against protesters in the United States might have on Washington’s image abroad. WATCH: See Mike Pompeo’s entire interviewThe U.S. secretary of state declined to comment on whether he believed U.S. intelligence reports that said Russia had offered money to the Taliban and their proxies in Afghanistan to kill U.S. soldiers, saying he never commented on U.S. intelligence matters. “What we’ve said is this: If the Russians are offering money to kill Americans or for that matter, other Westerners as well, there will be an enormous price to pay,” Pompeo said. “That’s what I shared with [Russian] Foreign Minister [Sergei] Lavrov. I know our military has talked to their senior leaders as well. We won’t brook that. We won’t tolerate that.”  Last month, in an interview with VOA, CENTCOM Commander Gen. Frank McKenzie said the allegations were ” very worrisome, it’s very concerning, but it’s not proven to my satisfaction that it actually occurred.” Regarding the prospect of resistance among European allies to U.S. efforts to extend the expiring arms embargo on Iran indefinitely, Pompeo said it “makes no sense for any European country to support the Iranians being able to have arms.” “I think they recognize it for exactly what it is,” he said of the U.S. proposal, a draft resolution of which is reportedly currently being floated in the 15-member Security Council. “And I hope that they will vote that way at the United Nations. I hope they will see.” “The resolution that we’re going to present is simply asking for a rollover of the extension of the arms embargo,” Pompeo said. “It’s that straightforward.” Asked specifically about the prospect that Iranian allies Russia and China could veto such a proposal, the U.S. secretary of state said: “We’re going to make it come back. We have the right to do it under 2231 and we’re going to do it.” U.N. Resolution 2231 was passed unanimously by the United Nations in 2015, endorsing the Iran nuclear deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) The United States withdrew from the deal, which offered sanctions relief to Tehran in exchange for security guarantees aimed at preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons, in 2018. Russian media pressure  Pompeo also discussed recent efforts by Russia to target foreign media operating there, which the secretary of state earlier warned would “impose new burdensome requirements” on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Voice Of America. In a statement Monday, Pompeo said that the two U.S.-funded media outlets already faced “significant and undue restrictions” in Russia, and that a recent draft order by Russia’s state media regulator requiring all media registered as “foreign agents” to label their content as such or face fines of up to 5 million rubles ($70,000) had left Washington “deeply concerned.” In Prague on Wednesday, Pompeo said that he believed that “we think we can put real pressure and convince them that the right thing to do is to allow press freedom.” “We’ve condemned it. We’ve also imposed enormous sanctions on Russia for other elements of their malign activity,” Pompeo said. “We hope that the rest of the world will join us in this. We hope that those nations that value the freedom of press, who want independent reporters to be able to ask questions, even if sometimes leaders don’t like them, will join with us.” Asked whether the recent handling of protests against social injustice in the United States, which has included the use of police force against civilians and journalists, had harmed Washington’s image and weakened its moral authority in scolding authoritarian regimes, Pompeo called the question “insulting.”  He said that the “difference between the United States and these authoritarian regimes couldn’t be more clear.” “We have the rule of law, we have the freedom of press, every one of those people gets due process. When we have peaceful protesters, we create the space for them to say their mind, to speak their piece,” he said. “Contrast that with what happens in an authoritarian regime. To even begin to compare them, to somehow suggest that America’s moral authority is challenged by the amazing work that our police forces, our law enforcement people do all across America — I, frankly, just find the question itself incomprehensible and insulting.” VOA national security correspondent Jeff Seldin contributed to this report.

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As France Examines Slave-Trading Past, Corporations Are Unusually Silent

As Black Lives Matter protests around the world topple statues and target streets and buildings linked to slavery, banks and businesses are increasingly acknowledging ties to the grim history. But critics say corporate soul-searching is not happening in France.AXA Insurance Company, Banque de France and the maker of Hennessy Cognac have one thing in common, according to a new investigation by France’s Le Monde newspaper: All are tied, directly or indirectly, with slavery.  
 Le Monde reports these are among a number of French corporations that have not acknowledged such links. At a time when companies have become socially and environmentally responsible, the newspaper wrote, why not accept their historical responsibility?  
 
AXA and the Banque de France could either not be reached or did not immediately respond to VOA.  
 
Bordeaux-based activist Karfa Diallo, who conducts tours of the city’s slave trading past, said he’s not surprised by the silence. His association, Memoires et Partages, has also tried to contact local businesses with similar historical links – with no success.  
 
Luis-Georges Tin, honorary president of Black activist umbrella association CRAN, offers one explanation.  
 
“France is a very arrogant country,” Tin said. “In the elite, most people will tell you, ‘We are the country of human rights. So, why should we apologize when we’re so great?’” 
 
France ended slavery and the slave trade in the 19th century. But there was a time when it was one of Europe’s top slave-trading countries. So was nearby England.  
 
Now, a growing number of prominent British banks and businesses are beginning to acknowledge past links to the slave business. In the United States, too, the Black Lives Matter protests have cast new scrutiny on businesses and places like New York’s Wall Street, which was once a slave market.  
 
Still, French historian Myriam Cottias says she can understand this nation’s corporate silence. It can sometimes be hard to draw clear historical links with French businesses today.  
 
“It’s not clear, even for me, the exact organization from the slavery (times) to the present. And maybe it’s one of the reasons why there’s no acknowledgment or apology.”  
 
Still, activists say France is beginning to face its past in other ways. A slavery museum is to be built in Paris. And a new foundation for the memory of slavery was launched earlier this year. A Banque de France subsidiary is helping to finance it, in what some say is at least an indirect acknowledgment of history.
 

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Three People Dead After Train Derailment in Scotland

Officials in Scotland said three people died Wednesday and at least six others were injured when a passenger train derailed near the northeastern city of Stonehaven. The British Transport Police force said officers were notified of the accident about 9:40 a.m. local time. Initial investigators at the scene report the six-car train went off the track about 160 kilometers northeast of Edinburgh, with the locomotive and three cars sliding down an embankment. The full extent of the incident can be seen in aerial video from the scene, with one carriage lying on its side in a hilly, woodland area near the track. The British Broadcasting Company reports the train was traveling from Aberdeen to Glasgow when the derailment occurred. It reports six people were taken to a local hospital following the accident, but their injuries were not believed to be serious. British Transportation Secretary Grant Shapps spoke to reporters Wednesday, saying members of the Rail Accident Investigation Board were on their way to the scene.  It is suspected that a landslide, caused by recent heavy rain in the area, contributed to the wreck. But Shapps stressed that it is still early in the investigation. 
 

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Activists Push for Spain to Legalize Migrants

Like in other countries, the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is plunging many people in Spain into poverty. In this report narrated by Jonathan Spier, Alfonso Beato in Barcelona says migrants – whose numbers are growing in the midst of the health crisis – are among the most vulnerable.PRODUCER: Jon Spier

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Mexican President Approves Corruption Investigation Into Former Officials

Mexico’s president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, said Wednesday he supports a corruption probe into former presidents and other administration officials, saying they should testify about what they know.Former chief of state oil firm Pemex, Emilio Lozoya, filed a complaint Tuesday alleging that former president Enrique Pena Nieto and his ex-finance minister, Luis Videgaray, instructed Lozoya to orchestrate payments to Pena Nieto’s 2012 presidential campaign, and buy votes from members of parliament. The attorney general’s office announced that it has opened an investigation based on Lozoya’s complaint. It will also explore allegations that Brazilian construction company Odebrecht, which has admitted to involvement in widespread corruption in Latin America, partially funded the bribing scheme. The total sum amounts to an excess of $4 million, said Attorney General Alejandro Gertz Manero in a video statement. Pena Nieto and Videgaray are also accused of bribing officials to pass an energy reform bill. Lozoya was extradited from Spain last month after evading custody for several months. He was a top administrator on Pena Nieto’s campaign team and ran Pemex from 2012 to 2106. Neither Pena Nieto nor Videgaray have commented on the matter. President Lopez Obrador campaigned on fighting corruption, but has hesitated until now in pursuing former presidents, saying that he does not seek revenge. 

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Italians Enjoy Their Summer While Minding the Virus

Just a few months ago, Italy was seen as an example of how NOT to handle the coronavirus. Now Italians are enjoying their summer and learning to live with the virus even though a few hundred new cases are still being reported every day and more young people are being infected. The country’s recovery is underway even though the virus remains a threat.Italians would like to forget March 29 of this year, when the country recorded its highest number of deaths from coronavirus in a single day: 969. That is no easy matter as people recall how Italy’s authorities had to deploy the army to help remove dead bodies.No one in this country believes the virus has been defeated. In fact, most people are only too aware of just how present it continues to be. The daily bulletin of new infections, a few hundred, is a reminder that Covid-19 is still circulating on Italian territory.  Gianni Rezza, Director General of Prevention at Italy’s Ministry of Health, says the number of cases in Italy is on the rise, with more young people being infected.Various clusters are present on Italian territory, he said, and many of them are caused by imported cases. Even though the Italian situation is better than that of other European countries, Rezza added, Italy’s epidemiological situation merits careful attention. He warned that Italians must continue to be cautious in their behavior adding that efforts to contain the virus must focus on quickly identifying new outbreaks.Young Italians are the ones finding it most difficult not to return to their previous lives of gathering with their many friends and going to summer parties and discos.Italy was the first European country to be hit hard by coronavirus and the harsh lockdown experience has led to an understanding now that the only way forward is to live together with the virus until a vaccine is available for the whole population.  Since the country gradually re-opened, Italians have been doing their best to limit the spread of the virus with the only known defenses: social distancing, wearing protective masks and avoiding large gatherings.At the height of the Italian summer, people are now enjoying themselves at the beach. Bars and restaurants have managed to re-open and are making money again. Italy’s economy is slowly picking up after having been severely affected by a two-month lockdown.

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Belarusian Opposition Leader Flees to Lithuania

Protests erupted Tuesday for a third straight night in Belarus after the top opposition candidate in Sunday’s presidential election fled the country for her children’s safety.Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya sent a video message to her supporters asking them to forgive her going to Lithuania at this time.“It was a very hard decision to make. I know that many of you will understand me, many others will condemn me, and some will even hate me. But God forbid you ever face the choice that I faced. Children are the main thing in life,” she said.Her supporters say they believe she was forced to read from a prepared text when she told protesters not to confront police and show “respect for the law.”People, some of them ethnic Belarusians, hold a poster reading “Elections without Lukashenka! Freedom for political prisoners” and shout anti-Lukashenko slogans, Aug. 11, 2020.Tsikhanouskaya was the only serious challenger to longtime authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko, who the election commission says won a sixth term with 80% of the vote to her 10%. She says she will not recognize the results.U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Belarus’s election was “not free and fair” and condemned “ongoing violence against protesters and the detention of opposition supporters.”EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell also alleges election fraud.Tsikhanouskaya jumped into the race late after her husband, Syarhei, an anti-government blogger and potential opposition candidate, was jailed in May.Belarusian police used rubber bullets and stun grenades against anti-government demonstrators who turned out for the third consecutive night Tuesday.Witnesses report police beating protesters before arresting them and smashing car windows before pulling people out of the vehicles.Earlier Tuesday, people left flowers at a place in Minsk where a demonstrator was killed Monday.Belarusian officials say more than 2,000 people have been arrested since Sunday.The European Union is accusing the Lukashenko’s government of “disproportionate and unacceptable violence” and said it was reviewing its relations with Belarus.Lukashenko has called the protesters criminals and dangerous revolutionaries.Lukashenko has ruled Belarus since it declared independence from Russia in 1991. He has been accused of suppressing free speech, ignoring human rights and showing little tolerance for dissent.

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WHO in Talks With Russia About New Vaccine

The World Health Organization said Tuesday said it was holding talks with Russia regarding its recently approved COVID-19 vaccine. Russia on Tuesday became the first country to approve a vaccine for use in tens of thousands of its citizens. In an appearance on Russian television, President Vladimir Putin claimed the vaccine has proven efficient and has passed “all the necessary tests.”  Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with members of the government via video link at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia, Aug. 11, 2020. (Sputnik/Aleksey Nikolskyi/Kremlin)He said his own daughter has taken the vaccine and after two shots had a normal temperature and a “high number of antibodies.” The announcement came amidst global skepticism because the vaccine received approval after less than two months of human trials in Russia with a limited number of test subjects. “We are in close contact with Russian health authorities and discussions are ongoing with respect to possible WHO prequalification of the vaccine, but again prequalification of any vaccine includes the rigorous review and assessment of all required safety and efficacy data,” WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic told a U.N. briefing in Geneva.Jasarevic says he is encouraged by the speed in which possible vaccines are being developed around the world. He said the WHO’s main concern is equitably distributing whatever viable vaccines are developed around the world.  
 

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