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UN Experts: Africa Became Hardest Hit by Terrorism This Year

Africa became the region hardest hit by terrorism in the first half of 2021 as the Islamic State and al-Qaida extremist groups and their affiliates spread their influence, boasting gains in supporters and territory and inflicting the greatest casualties, U.N. experts said in a new report.

The panel of experts said in a report to the U.N. Security Council circulated Friday that this is “especially true” in parts of West and East Africa where affiliates of both groups can also boast growing capabilities in fundraising and weapons, including the use of drones.

Several of the most successful affiliates of the Islamic State are in its central and west Africa province, and several of al-Qaida’s are in Somalia and the Sahel region, they said.

The experts said it’s “concerning” that these terrorist affiliates are spreading their influence and activities including across borders from Mali into Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Niger and Senegal as well as incursions from Nigeria into Cameroon, Chad and Niger in West Africa. In the east, the affiliates’ activities have spread from Somalia into Kenya and from Mozambique into Tanzania, they said.

One of “the most troubling events” of early 2021 was the local Islamic State affiliate’s storming and brief holding of Mozambique’s strategic port of Mocimboa da Praia in Cabo Delgado province near the border with Tanzania “before withdrawing with spoils, positioning it for future raids in the area,” the panel said.

Overall, the experts said, COVID-19 continued to affect terrorist activity and both the Islamic State, also known as ISIL, and al-Qaida “continued to gloat over the harm done by the coronavirus disease pandemic to their enemies, but were unable to develop a more persuasive narrative.”

“While ISIL contemplated weaponizing the virus, member states detected no concrete plans to implement the idea,” the panel said.

In Europe and other non-conflict zones, lockdowns and border closures brought on by COVID-19 slowed the movement and gathering of people “while increasing the risk of online radicalization,” it said.

The experts warned that attacks “may have been planned in various locations” during the pandemic “that will be executed when restrictions ease.”

The panel said that in Iraq and Syria, “the core conflict zone for ISIL,” the extremist group’s activities have evolved into “an entrenched insurgency, exploiting weaknesses in local security to find safe havens, and targeting forces engaged in counter-ISIL operations.”

Despite heavy counter-terrorism pressures from Iraqi forces, the experts said Islamic State attacks in Baghdad in January and April “underscored the group’s resilience.”

In Syria’s rebel-held northwest Idlib province, the experts said groups aligned with al-Qaida continue to dominate the area, with “terrorist fighters” numbering more than 10,000.

“Although there has been only limited relocation of foreign fighters from the region to other conflict zones, member states are concerned about the possibility of such movement, in particular to Afghanistan, should the environment there become more hospitable to ISIL or groups aligned with al-Qaida,” the panel said.

In central, south and southeast Asia, the experts said Islamic State and al-Qaida affiliates continue to operate “notwithstanding key leadership losses in some cases and sustained pressure from security forces.”

The experts said the status of al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri “is unknown,” and if he is alive several unnamed member states “assess that he is ailing, leading to an acute leadership challenge for al-Qaida.” 

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Slain Haitian President Jovenel Moise Laid to Rest

The body of slain Haitian President Jovenel Moise was laid to rest in the northern port city of Cap-Haitien today. Moise was gunned down in his home in Port-au-Prince on July 7. The assassination underscored the continuing influence of foreign actors in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country.  VOA’s Laurel Bowman has our story.

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Guatemala Ousts Anti-corruption Prosecutor Praised by US

Guatemala’s attorney general has removed the leader of the Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity less than two months after U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris stressed the office’s importance amid a growing push against anti-corruption efforts in the country.Attorney General Consuelo Porras removed Juan Francisco Sandoval on Friday because of “constant abuses and frequent abuses to the institutionality” of the ministry, according to a government statement.Sandoval is a respected anti-corruption prosecutor with a record of pursuing dozens of criminal networks. Together with the former United Nations anti-corruption mission in Guatemala he helped take down former President Otto Pérez Molina and some members of his Cabinet on corruption charges.In June, Harris visited Guatemala as part of her work to find ways the U.S. can help address the root causes of Central American migration, among them corruption. She told Guatemalan officials that the U.S. wanted to support anti-corruption efforts and that the participation of the anti-impunity prosecutor’s office and Sandoval would be essential.Observers had worried that Porras was blocking the work of Sandoval’s office and that his own job could be jeopardy.Porras did not provide details of Sandoval’s alleged abuses. She had blocked attempts by Sandoval’s office to lift the immunity of government officials suspected of crimes or make arrests of powerful individuals investigated for corruption. Sandoval confirmed his firing to the AP.On Thursday, Porras removed another prosecutor from the anti-impunity office. 

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Funeral for Haiti’s Assassinated President Disrupted by Protests, Gunfire

The funeral of Haiti’s assassinated president, Jovenel Moise, was disrupted Friday by tear gas used on nearby protesters as well as sounds of gunfire, prompting U.S. officials to leave before the end of the ceremony.Hundreds of protesters gathered Friday outside the site of the state funeral in the northern city of Cap-Haitien, burning barricades and shouting loudly, causing police to fire tear gas. Protesters were calling for justice for the July 7 assassination of Moise.Media reports said smoke billowed into the private compound where the funeral was taking place.Supporters of slain Haitian President Jovenel Moise are blocked by security forces from attending Moise’s funeral outside the former leader’s family home in Cap-Haitien, Haiti, July 23, 2021.There were no reports that anyone attending the funeral was injured.The funeral was held amid heavy security. Reuters news agency reported that police formed protective cordons around Haitian officials who attended the ceremony.The U.S. delegation, led by the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, left before Moise’s widow spoke.“The Presidential Delegation to the funeral of President Moise is safe and accounted for, and those traveling from Washington, D.C., have arrived safely back in the United States,” national security adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement.Thomas-Greenfield said Friday on Twitter, “We urge everyone to express themselves peacefully and refrain from violence.”She said, “The Haitian people deserve democracy, stability, security and prosperity, and we stand with them in this time of crisis.”Once the funeral ended, protesters threw rocks at a caravan of Haitian authorities and journalists as they were leaving, according to The Associated Press.People attend the funeral for slain Haitian President Jovenel Moise at his family home, where smoke in the background rises from where Moise’s supporters burn tires to protest his killing and not being allowed into the funeral.Moise was shot and killed in a pre-dawn attack at his private residence in a wealthy suburb of Port-au-Prince. His wife, Martine Moise, was injured during the attack and received treatment at a Miami, Florida, hospital. She returned to Haiti last week to help plan and attend the funeral of her husband.The funeral came days after Prime Minister Ariel Henry took power in Haiti after receiving support from key international diplomats.Henry had been designated prime minister by Moise but had not been sworn in because of Moise’s assassination. He has vowed to form a consensus government until elections can be held.Thomas-Greenfield called on Henry to create conditions for legislative and presidential elections “as soon as feasible,” in remarks when the U.S. delegation arrived in Cap-Haitien.Some information in this report came from Reuters and The Associated Press.

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US Infrastructure Proposal May Move Forward Despite Senate Stall

Issues in the News moderator Kim Lewis talks with VOA senior diplomatic correspondent, Cindy Saine, and senior reporter for Marketplace, Nancy Marshall-Genzer, about growing congressional challenges on infrastructure, police reform, COVID-19 and the economy facing the Biden administration, the ramifications of a widespread cyber-attack on Microsoft allegedly conducted by China, controversial Israeli phone surveillance software allegedly misused amid a global hacking scandal, the Tokyo Olympics and global concern over the spreading of the Delta variant of the coronavirus.

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US Top Diplomat Blinken to Visit India, Kuwait

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel to India next week, the State Department said on Friday, in the top U.S. diplomat’s first visit to the world’s largest democracy and an important U.S. ally in Asia.

Blinken will also visit Kuwait and meet senior officials there at the end of the July 26-29 trip.

The United States sees India as an important partner in efforts to stand up to China’s increasingly assertive behavior. Blinken’s trip will follow a visit by Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman to China and coincide with one to Southeast Asia by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

In New Delhi on Wednesday, Blinken will meet with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar.

Among the subjects on the agenda will be “Indo-Pacific engagement, shared regional security interests, shared democratic values, and addressing the climate crisis” as well as the response to the coronavirus pandemic, a statement said.

Blinken is likely to discuss plans for an in-person summit of the Quad group of countries – Indian, Japan, Australia and the United States – that is seen as a counter to China’s rising influence. The meeting later this year is expected to focus on ways to develop regional infrastructure in the face of China’s massive Belt and Road Initiative.

The United States hosted a virtual summit of the Quad countries in March at which they agreed that Indian drugmaker Biological E Ltd would produce at least a billion coronavirus vaccine doses by the end of 2022, mainly for Southeast Asian and Pacific countries.

However, India, the world’s largest vaccine producer, was subsequently hit by a catastrophic wave of COVID-19 infections and halted vaccine exports amid intense criticism of Modi’s domestic vaccination efforts.

Washington sent raw materials for vaccines, medical equipment and protective gear to India after the spike.

India expects to receive 3-4 million doses of U.S.-made vaccines by August.

“(India) is such a critical country in the fight against COVID-19,” Blinken told MSNBC on Friday, explaining that India would eventually become a vital source of vaccines to the world.

“Of course, they’re focused understandably on their own internal challenges now, but when that production engine gets fully going and can distribute again to the rest of the world, that’s going to make a big difference.”

Last November, India, the United States, Japan and Australia conducted their largest joint naval exercises in over a decade as part of efforts to balance China’s growing military and economic power in the region.

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Myanmar Faces COVID-19 Surge Amid Political Crisis

Myanmar, already on the brink of widespread civil war after February’s coup, is facing another crisis as COVID-19 cases surge.

Cases have spiked, leaving infected patients desperate for medical assistance. Since the pandemic began, Myanmar has suffered over 246,000 COVID-19 cases and over 5,000 deaths, according to the World Health Organization.

In recent weeks, virus cases have risen extensively, infecting thousands and leaving the country’s medical system on the brink of collapse. In southern Yangon, images have circulated online of patients lining up to refill oxygen cylinders.  

A physiotherapist caring for patients in Yangon, told VOA the shortage of medical assistance is forcing patients to stay home and rely on doctors’ online advice.

“All people are desperately looking for oxygen,” she told VOA.

The opposition Civil Disobedience Movement has attracted a number of health care professionals several doctors who joined the CDM movement spoke with VOA in February.

Thousands of protesters have been arrested and killed, including health care workers.  Meanwhile, as the military continues to grapple for control over the country’s health care systems, widespread distrust from the population remains. Those opposing the coup are refusing to seek military-help, leaving some left with a possible life-or-death decision.

Hein Lay, the founder of Modern Youth Charity Organization, aimed at assisting people with health issues and food shortages, told VOA the oxygen shortage is due to the military’s decision to close oxygen factories.   

Patients are dying for no reason due to shortness of oxygen of breath,” he claimed. 

But the organization says it hopes to set up its own factory that can produce oxygen for patients.  

“We believe in we can save many lives and it will help those in need and save lives that should not die. People should cooperate with civil society organizations even if they hate the military council. Only then can this battle be won,” Hein Lay added.

Myanmar’s hospitals have overflowed with patients, and with limited staff are forced to turn patients away, leaving them without health care, with Yangon particularly affected.

Armed forces spokesperson General Zaw Min Tun responded to questions about the closure of oxygen suppliers, insisting the supply of oxygen is for hospitals and not private purchase. He added the military is adding new medical facilities to treat infected patients.

Nyan Win, a former adviser to ousted de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, died Tuesday from COVID-19. Nyan Win was a Myanmar politician that had been jailed in Yangon’s notorious Insein Prison following the coup.

The physiotherapist said that that the military coup “ruined” the progress that had been made against COVID-19, and that the current third wave could have been prevented.

“In the second wave [November 2020], the civilian government [the now-removed National League for Democracy party] is leading and care for all patients and patients with COVID 19 confirmed case, everything is running smoothly.”

“Myanmar has already paid for the vaccines. Health workers have also been vaccinated first dose and are waiting for the second dose. If there had been no political change at that time, almost all citizens would have been vaccinated. And the public may not have to face the third wave of COVID 19,” she said.

Myanmar has been using the AstraZeneca vaccine, donated by India, and prior to the coup, had planned to vaccinate all 54 million of its population this year.

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As Olympics Open, Tokyo Residents Yearn for Olympic Crowds, Cheering and Celebrations Nixed by Pandemic

No free-spending foreign spectators. Lots of COVID-19 worries. And as the delayed Olympics begin on Friday, some Tokyo residents are finding it hard to find their game spirit.

“There’s no feeling of lively celebration in the city,” Hiroyuki Nakayama, a member of the Tokyo Citizens First Party, told VOA Mandarin before the Games opened.

“All in all, it’s not very satisfying,” said the member of Tokyo’s governing metropolitan assembly. “There’re no tourists, so there’s no real hope of the Games revitalizing the economy. Although many people opposed the event,” once the government gave the go-ahead, “people knew it was useless to object, so now they hope the Olympics can proceed smoothly and end safely.”

Nakayama is not a rare naysayer. According to a poll released July 13 by Ipsos, a global market research firm, 78% of respondents in Japan believe Tokyo should not host the Olympics during the pandemic. Since then, Tokyo added 1,832 confirmed cases of the coronavirus on July 21, and that was after adding nearly a thousand new cases a day for seven consecutive days in the past week. Only 29% of Japan’s residents have been vaccinated.

As of July 21, there were confirmed cases among the athletes including a Czech table tennis player, a U.S. beach volleyball player, a Dutch skateboarder, a Chilean taekwondo team member, an alternate U.S. women’s gymnast and a U.S. women’s tennis player. Although a full vaccination is not required for the athletes, testing is constant and began before they left their home countries, where many tested positive. Some never made it to Japan, which cancelled the Games last year due to the pandemic.

Ryoko Fujita, a member of the Japanese Communist Party and a local Tokyo lawmaker told VOA Mandarin that according to recent expert simulations, “even if the Olympics are not held, the diagnosis rate in Tokyo will exceed 2,000 a day in August.”

On July 16, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said the government was taking measures to control the pandemic and ensure the “safety and peace of mind” of the Tokyo Olympics.

“The government insists on hosting the Olympics and continuously promotes the slogan of ‘safe and secure Olympics’ on various platforms but ignores the surge in public gatherings and has no actual countermeasures or actions,” said Fujita, who was a nurse for two decades.

On July 20, Shigeru Omi, an infectious disease expert who heads a subcommittee on the coronavirus in the Tokyo government said on television that by the first week of August, new confirmed cases in Tokyo could reach a new peak of about 3,000 a day, most likely straining medical resources.

Takashi Sato, an office worker, told VOA Mandarin before the Games began, that with Tokyo under its fourth emergency declaration, residents are so numb to the warnings, they “actually do not abide by the regulations.”

Seiichi Murakami, who owns a patisserie in Tokyo, told VOA Mandarin that he at one time thought the Olympic Games would boost business, which has been in a slump. But as the pandemic worsens, and tourists aren’t coming to town for the Games, he’s now wondering if he should close the patisserie.

“Even if the vaccination rate increases substantially, there is still a long way to go before the economy really recovers,” Murakami told VOA Mandarin.

Takayuki Kojima, who runs a Tokyo cram school, told VOA Mandarin that his students aren’t interested in the Games and he rarely hears anyone discuss them. Mostly he’s concerned with surviving financially now that classes are online. “I hope this will be the last emergency declaration. The government must implement the vaccination coverage rate and control the epidemic, otherwise everyone’s lives will reach a critical point.”

Ikue Furukawa lives near the National Stadium, which was the main stadium for the 1964 Olympic Games and was rebuilt for the 2020 Games. She told VOA Mandarin there are so many restrictions she can’t even get near her neighborhood’s fixture.

“Because of the pandemic, … it really doesn’t feel like we’re the host country. This is completely an online competition, so it’s like it’s all happening in a foreign country,” she said. “People just can’t get excited.”

Takako Koyama, a Tokyo housewife, told VOA, “The Japanese are actually more concerned about foreign players coming from afar and not having spectators to cheer for them. But due to the restrictions, foreign players cannot … feel the enthusiasm of the audience. I’m so sorry for the players.”

Kojima agreed, adding “Major leagues in the United States and European football matches can allow spectators. The Olympics should open up some popular events to at least let the Japanese cheer for all the players.”

Koyama pointed out that after repeated emergency declarations, people had been looking forward to the Games before the declaration of yet another pandemic emergency.

“School activities and trips have been cancelled, but the Olympics are still going to be held,” she said. “The Olympic torch relay has been cancelled and there will be no spectators in the competition. What is the meaning of such an Olympics? What kind of message is conveyed to the future? I can’t explain it to the children either.”

Some information in this report came from Reuters.

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US Churches Reckon with Traumatic Legacy of Native Schools

The discoveries of hundreds of unmarked graves at former residential schools for Indigenous children in Canada have prompted renewed calls for a reckoning over the traumatic legacy of similar schools in the United States — and in particular by the churches that operated many of them.U.S. Catholic and Protestant denominations operated more than 150 boarding schools between the 19th and 20th centuries. Native American and Alaskan Native children were regularly severed from their tribal families, customs, language and religion and brought to the schools in a push to assimilate and Christianize them.Some U.S. churches have been reckoning with this activity for years through ceremonies, apologies and archival investigations, while others are just getting started.Some advocates say churches have more work to do in opening their archives, educating the public about what was done in the name of their faith and helping former students and their relatives tell their stories of family trauma.“We all need to work together on this,” said the Rev. Bradley Hauff, a Minnesota-based Episcopal priest and missioner for Indigenous Ministries with the Episcopal Church.“What’s happening in Canada, that’s a wakeup call to us,” said Hauff, who is enrolled with the Oglala Sioux Tribe.This painful history has drawn relatively little attention in the United States compared with Canada, where the recent discoveries of graves underscored what a 2015 government commission called a “cultural genocide.”That’s beginning to change.This month top officials with the U.S. Episcopal Church acknowledged the denomination’s own need to reckon with its involvement with such boarding schools.“We have heard with sorrow stories of how this history has harmed the families of many Indigenous Episcopalians,” read a July 12 statement from Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, president of the denomination’s House of Deputies.“We must come to a full understanding of the legacies of these schools,” they added, calling for the denomination’s next legislative session in 2022 to earmark funds for independent research into church archives and to educate church members.Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the first Native American to serve as a U.S. Cabinet secretary, announced last month that her department would investigate “the loss of human life and the lasting consequences of residential Indian boarding schools.” That would include seeking to identify the schools and their burial sites.FILE – This July 8, 2021, image of material archived at the Center for Southwest Research at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, New Mexico, shows a group of unidentified Indigenous students in the late 19th century.Soon afterward, she spoke at a long-planned ceremony at the former Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania, where the remains of nine children who died at the school more than a century earlier were returned to Rosebud Sioux tribal representatives for reburial in South Dakota.U.S. religious groups were affiliated at least 156 such schools, according to the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition, formed in 2012 to raise awareness and address the traumas of the institutions. That’s more than 40% of the 367 schools documented so far by the coalition.Eighty-four were affiliated with the Catholic Church or its religious orders, such as the Jesuits. The other 72 were affiliated with various Protestant groups, including Presbyterians (21), Quakers (15) and Methodists (12). Most have been closed for decades.Samuel Torres, director of research and programs for the coalition, said church apologies can be a good start but “there is a lot more to be done” on engaging Indigenous community members and educating the public.Such information is crucial given how little most Americans know about the schools, both in their impact on Indigenous communities and their role “as an armament toward acquisition of Native lands,” he said.“Without that truth, then there’s really very limited possibilities of healing,” said Torres, who is a descendant of Mexica/Nahua ancestors, an Indigenous group from present-day Mexico.Hauff noted that the experiences of former students, such as his own parents, ranged widely. Some said that even amid austerity, loneliness and family separation, they received a good education, made friends, learned skills and freely spoke tribal languages with peers. But others talked of “unspeakable, cruel abuse,” including physical and sexual assault, malnourishment and being punished for speaking Native languages.“Even if some of the children did say they had a positive experience, it did come at a price,” Hauff said. “Our church worked hand in hand with the government to assimilate these children. … We need to acknowledge it happened.”In Canada, where more than 150,000 Indigenous children attended residential schools over more than a century, a National Truth and Reconciliation Commission identified 3,201 deaths amid poor conditions.The United Church of Canada, which operated 15 such schools, has apologized for its role, opened its archives and helped identify burial sites.The Rev. Richard Bott, moderator of the United Church, lamented that “we were perpetrators in this” and that the church “put the national goal of assimilation ahead of our responsibility as Christians.”The Catholic Church’s response in Canada remains controversial. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in June that he was “deeply disappointed” the Vatican has not offered a formal apology. Pope Francis expressed “sorrow” following the discovery of the graves and has agreed to meet at the Vatican in December with school survivors and other Indigenous leaders.FILE – This photo made available by the Presbyterian Historical Society, Philadelphia, shows students at a Presbyterian boarding school in Sitka, Alaska, in the summer of 1883.Canada’s Catholic bishops said in a joint statement this month that they are “saddened by the Residential Schools legacy.” In Saskatchewan, bishops have launched a fundraising campaign to benefit survivors and other reconciliation efforts.The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, meanwhile, said it would “look for ways to be of assistance” in the Interior Department’s inquiry.“We cannot even begin to imagine the deep sorrow these discoveries are causing in Native communities across North America,” spokesperson Chieko Noguchi said.Influential voices such as the Jesuit-affiliated America Magazine are urging U.S. Catholic bishops not to repeat their mishandling of cases of child sex abuse by priests and other religious leaders.“For decades the people of God were anguished by the obfuscation on the part of those church leaders who allowed only a trickle of incomplete document releases from diocesan and provincial archives while investigators struggled to get to the truth,” the magazine said in an editorial. “The church in the United States must demonstrate that it has learned from … such failures.”Individual efforts are underway, however, such as at the Red Cloud Indian School in South Dakota, which has formed a Truth and Healing Advisory Committee to reckon with the years it was managed by Catholic orders.Other churches have addressed their legacy to varying degrees.Early in 2017, leaders of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) traveled to Utqiagvik, on Alaska’s North Slope, to deliver a sweeping apology before a packed school auditorium for the treatment of Indigenous persons in general, and specifically for how it operated the boarding schools.The Rev. Gradye Parsons, former stated clerk for the denomination, told the gathering that the church had been “in contempt of its own proclaimed faith” in suppressing Native spiritual traditions amid its zeal to spread Christianity, and “the church judged when it should have listened.”“It has taken us too long to get to this apology,” Parsons said. “Many of your people who deserved the apology the most are gone.”The United Methodist Church held a ceremony of repentance in 2012 for historic injustices against Native peoples, and in 2016 it acknowledged its role in the boarding schools in tandem with a government effort to “intentionally” destroy traditional cultures and belief systems.Still, the Native American International Caucus of the United Methodist Church recently urged the church to do more “to uncover the truth about our denomination’s role and responsibility in this reprehensible history.”  

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