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US Loses to France 83-76, 25-Game Olympic Win Streak Ends 

For the first time since 2004, the U.S. men’s basketball team has lost in the Olympics. And the Americans’ quest for a fourth consecutive gold medal is already in serious trouble.

France — the team that knocked the Americans out of contention in the Basketball World Cup two years ago — dealt the U.S. a major blow once again. Evan Fournier’s 3-pointer with just under a minute left put France ahead to stay in what became a 83-76 win over the Americans on Sunday in the opening game for both teams at the Tokyo Olympics.

The U.S. had won 25 consecutive Olympic games, last losing at the Athens Games 17 years ago and settling for a bronze medal there.

Fournier had 28 points for France, while Rudy Gobert scored 14 and Nando de Colo had 13. Jrue Holiday had 18 points for the U.S., Bam Adebayo had 12, Damian Lillard 11 and Kevin Durant had 10 for the Americans — who are just 2-3 in their games this summer, the first four of them exhibitions in Las Vegas that weren’t supposed to mean much.

The Olympics, they were supposed to be different.

They weren’t. Going back to the World Cup in China two years ago, the Americans are 3-5 in their last eight games with NBA players in the lineup.

A 10-point U.S. lead in the third quarter was wasted, and so was a 12-point barrage from Holiday in the opening 4 ½ minutes of the fourth quarter as the Americans went from six points down to start the period to six points up with 5:23 remaining.

The loss doesn’t knock the U.S. out of medal contention, but it essentially eliminates the margin for error. The Americans play Iran on Wednesday and then the Czech Republic on Saturday in its final two Group A games; win both of those, and the U.S. will be in the quarterfinals. Lose another one, and the Americans might not even finish in the top eight of this 12-team tournament.

The lead was 10 for the U.S. early in the third quarter after Durant scored the opening basket of the second half. But the offense went into a complete sputter for much of that period — and that, combined with Durant’s foul trouble, led to big problems.

The Americans scored three points in a seven-minute span of the third, Durant picked up his fourth foul — the FIBA limit is five, remember — with 16:45 left in the game, and that once-comfortable lead was soon gone. De Colo’s 3-pointer with 2:42 remaining in the third put France up 55-54, its first lead since the game’s first four minutes.

De Colo connected again for a 59-56 lead, then Thomas Huertel made another 3 late in the third to put France up 62-56 going to the final quarter.

It was the first time the U.S. and France played since the quarterfinals of the Basketball World Cup two years ago, a game that the Americans lost. France has seven players on its Olympic roster from that team; the U.S. has only two, but the importance wasn’t lost on the other 10 — who’d heard plenty about it.

The U.S. was outrebounded in that game 44-28, gave up 22 points off turnovers and got outscored 22-5 in the final 7 ½ minutes. The final was France 89, U.S. 79, a loss that eliminated the Americans from medal contention and sent them freefalling to a seventh-place finish that was the worst ever by USA Basketball in any tournament with NBA players.

And in a largely empty arena near Tokyo on Sunday night, France did it again — dealing the U.S. an even bigger blow.

Tip-ins

France: Frank Ntilikina missed the game, with the French federation saying he continues to deal with “slight muscle discomfort.” France took the game’s first nine free throws. The U.S. didn’t shoot one until JaVale McGee went to the line with 8:27 left in the second quarter. Guerschon Yabusele left the game briefly with 1:30 left in the half after going knee-to-knee with Holiday.

USA: Durant had three fouls in the first half, something that’s happened only 10 times in his last 544 NBA appearances.  

The U.S. used 11 of its players in the first half, with Jerami Grant the only one who didn’t get into the game.

Moving up

Durant moved into outright possession of the No. 4 spot on the U.S. men’s all-time Olympic appearances list. He’s now played in 17 games, behind only Carmelo Anthony (31), LeBron James (24) and David Robinson (24). There are 15 players with 16 Olympic appearances. 

Up next

France: Face the Czech Republic on Wednesday. 

USA: Face Iran on Wednesday. 

 

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Nicaragua Arrests 7th Presidential Contender Ahead of November Vote 

Nicaraguan police placed under house arrest a seventh presidential contender on Saturday, meaning that almost all of those who could have challenged President Daniel Ortega in the November 7 elections have now been detained.Opposition leader Noel Vidaurre was placed under police custody Saturday at his home, as was political commentator Jaime Arellano. Arellano had been called in for questioning regarding a commentary he wrote criticizing an Ortega speech.Vidaurre was one of the potential presidential candidates of the Citizens for Liberty alliance. The conservative alliance announced it had chosen as its candidate Oscar Sovalbarro, a leader of the U.S.-supported Contra insurgency that fought the Sandinistas in the 1980s. It was not clear if Sovalbarro had accepted the nomination.Half a dozen other potential candidates have been arrested in a crackdown that began almost two months ago. Also almost two dozen journalists and opposition activists have been detained.Almost all were arrested under treason laws that Ortega has used against political rivals. Most face vague allegations of crimes against the state. Ortega alleges the country’s April 2018 street protests were part of an organized coup attempt with foreign backing.Another potential candidate, Cristiana Chamorro, is also under house arrest. Most of those arrested in a crackdown that began in late May are being held at undisclosed locations with no access to lawyers or family visits. They include Medardo Mairena, Félix Maradiaga and Miguel Mora.Potential candidates Juan Sebastián Chamorro and Arturo Cruz were also arrested. Candidates must register by August 2.Lesther Alemán, a former student leader who returned to Nicaragua after exile but stayed in safe houses, has also been detained. And several of the leading Sandinista revolutionaries who fought alongside Ortega in 1979 have also been jailed by him.Those currently under arrest include Dora María Téllez, 65, a former guerrilla commander who later split with Ortega and became a leader of the Sandinista Renovation Movement. Another jailed former Sandinista guerrilla and Renovation Movement leader, Hugo Torres, is 73.Another is Víctor Hugo Tinoco, the leader of the political movement Unamos. He’s a former assistant foreign minister and former ambassador to the United Nations.Ortega, 75, is seeking a fourth consecutive term in November 7 elections.

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Anti-graft Investigator Flees Guatemala to ‘Safeguard His Life’ 

Guatemala’s top anti-graft investigator, Juan Francisco Sandoval, fled the country Saturday hours after he was fired, a move that sparked international backlash, a human rights official said.Guatemalan Ombudsman Jordan Rodas accompanied Sandoval to the Salvadoran border “in light of the difficult decision to leave the country to safeguard his life and integrity due to recent events,” according to the Central American country’s human rights body.Sandoval had been fired from his post as head of Guatemala’s Prosecutor Against Corruption and Impunity (FECI) on Friday by Attorney General Consuelo Porras.Sandoval said he had encountered many obstacles in his work at FECI and that he was told not to investigate President Alejandro Giammattei without the attorney general’s consent, something he said went “against the autonomy and independence” of FECI.The Attorney General’s Office said he had been let go because of “constant abuses and frequent violations” of the institution and that attempts had been made to “undermine” the “work, integrity and dignity” of Porras.His firing sparked criticism from the U.S. State Department, which has called him an “anti-corruption champion,” as well as outcry from humanitarian groups, civil society and businesses.Julie Chung, the acting assistant secretary for the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, condemned Sandoval’s sacking in a tweet on Friday, saying it was “a significant setback to rule of law.””It contributes to perceptions of a systemic effort to undermine those known to be fighting corruption,” she added.The Center against Corruption and Impunity in the North of Central America also criticized Porras’ decision, saying it would create “setbacks in the fight against corruption in the region.”FECI was initially created to work alongside the U.N. International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala to combat corruption and impunity, but the body’s work was stopped in 2019 under a decision by then-President Jimmy Morales, after he was singled out by both entities for electoral corruption.

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59 Cuban Protesters Prosecuted So Far; Hundreds Were Arrested

Fifty-nine Cubans have been prosecuted so far for participating in unprecedented demonstrations against the government earlier this month, a senior official said Saturday.The charges were minor, and the total number of people detained has not been released amid complaints from relatives seeking information about loved ones.”Until yesterday, 19 judicial processes had reached the municipal courts of the country, cases involving 59 people accused of committing alleged crimes [during] these disturbances,” Ruben Remigio Ferro, president of the Supreme Court, told reporters.On July 11 and 12, thousands of Cubans took to the streets, shouting “Freedom,” “Down with the dictatorship” and “We’re hungry” in the biggest protests since the revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power in 1959.Hundreds of people were arrested and many face charges of contempt, public disorder, vandalism and propagation of the coronavirus epidemic for allegedly marching without face masks.Independent observers and activists have published lists of those arrested with at least 600 names on them.Ferro said a faster trial system was being used to prosecute the accused but made assurances that due process was being followed.The rallies came as the country endures its worst economic crisis in 30 years, with chronic shortages of electricity, food and medicine amid an increase in COVID-19 cases.Anyelo Troya, one of the creators of an anti-government rap song adopted by protesters, was sentenced to a year in prison Wednesday for “public disorder,” according to his family.

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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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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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