Chileans Head to Polls Over Drafting of New Constitution

Chileans are poised to vote for a new constitution as they head to the polls Sunday.While the current constitution, which dates to Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship, has helped Chile establish itself as one of the region’s most stable and successful economies, many in the country say they feel left out.Dissatisfaction has led to violent protests, starting last year with massive violence over a transit fare hike that left 26 dead, CNN reported. More recently, churches have been burned and hundreds have been arrested in widespread demonstrations.A new constitution, to be written by an elected citizen’s body, has been the main demand of the protesters, who say the current governing document favors private interests and gives disproportionate access to education and health care.Opponents of the new constitution say changing a document that has favored Chile’s economic success is a “leap into the void,” Reuters reported.Analysts say a new constitution could be more inclusive, but that promised social policies might not be able to be supported economically.Alejandro Werner, IMF Western Hemisphere director, told Reuters on Thursday a new constitution could usher in “a new era in which the main elements that generated the Chilean success story … are maintained in terms of economic growth, but complemented by a social inclusion agenda.”A potential risk, he said was “a multiplicity of social policies without macroeconomic support.”Sunday’s vote would decide not only if Chile would get a new constitution, but who would write it. According to CNN, a constitutional assembly would be chosen in April 2021 during municipal and regional elections. A new constitution would take more than a year to write, CNN reported.Polls currently show two-thirds of Chileans support a new constitution, Reuters reported.

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US Slams Turkey for S-400 Tests, Warns of ‘Serious Consequences’

Tensions between the United States and Turkey appear to be growing, following the latest war of words between the two allies over Ankara’s purchase of Russia’s S-400 air defense system.The latest spat ignited Friday, after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan confirmed earlier reports that Turkey has started testing the Russian-made system, brushing aside U.S. concerns.”(The tests) have been and are being conducted,” Erdogan told reporters. “The United States’ stance absolutely does not concern us.”“If we are not going to test these capabilities at our disposal, then what are we going to do?” he added.Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks to the media, in Istanbul, Oct. 23, 2020. Erdogan confirmed the country tested its Russian-made missile defense system, despite objections from the United States.The U.S. Defense Department responded hours later Friday, with a harshly worded statement, stopping short of accusing Turkey of betraying the alliance.”The U.S. Department of Defense condemns in the strongest possible terms Turkey’s October 16 test,” Chief Pentagon Spokesman, Jonathan Rath Hoffman said, warning the testing “risks serious consequences for our security relationship.”“We have been clear and unwavering in our position,” Hoffman added. “An operational S-400 system is not consistent with Turkey’s commitments as a U.S. and NATO ally.”Reports that Turkey has started testing the Russian-made air defense system first emerged last week, sparking a U.S. Navy F-35 jets fly over Levi’s Stadium during the national anthem before an NFL playoff football game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Minnesota Vikings, Jan. 11, 2020, in Santa Clara, Calif.Since then, the U.S. has suspended Turkey from participation in its F-35 stealth fighter jet program and, at times, has considered potential sanctions against Ankara even though it is a NATO ally.U.S. officials have warned Turkey’s use of the advanced Russian radar technology could compromise NATO’s military systems and could potentially be used to target NATO jets in Turkey, including the F-35.Turkey has previously dismissed such concerns, and Erdogan indicated Friday there may not be much the U.S. can do to get hm to change course.”It seems that the gentlemen (in the U.S.) are especially bothered that this is a weapon belonging to Russia,” Erdogan told reporters, before adding, “We are determined, we are continuing on our path as always.”Information from Reuters was used in this report.

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Pompeo Urges Azerbaijani, Armenian FMs to End Violence in Nagorno-Karabakh

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is calling on the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan to “end the violence and protect civilians” after nearly a month of intense fighting in the breakaway mountain enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.
 
The State Department issued the statement after Pompeo met separately with Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov and Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan in Washington on Friday.
 
“The secretary also stressed the importance of the sides entering substantive negotiations under the auspices of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs to resolve the conflict based on the Helsinki Final Act principles of the non-use or threat of force, territorial integrity, and the equal rights and self-determination of peoples,” said State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus.
 
Mnatsakanyan told VOA the talks were “very good,” as he left the State Department Friday. When asked about a timeline for a cease-fire, he said “we [will] keep working on that.”
 
A group of some two dozen demonstrators, mostly Armenians, were gathered outside the State Department Friday.Sorry, but your browser cannot support embedded video of this type, you can
download this video to view it offline.Download File360p | 7 MB480p | 10 MB540p | 14 MB720p | 34 MB1080p | 58 MBOriginal | 60 MB Embed” />Copy Download AudioThe meeting in Washington was arranged after two failed Russian attempts to broker a cease-fire in the worst outbreak of fighting over the region in more than a quarter-century.
 
Pompeo has joined other global leaders in pushing for an end to the fighting over the disputed territory. But Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said Wednesday he sees no possibility of a diplomatic solution at this stage of the conflict.
 
For his part, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has said Armenian forces must withdraw from Nagorno-Karabakh to end the fighting, which Russian President Vladimir said may have killed about 5,000 people since the violence erupted.
 
Also Wednesday, Turkey said it will not hesitate to send troops and provide military support to help Azerbaijan if such a request is made. Pompeo has called on other countries not to provide “fuel” for the conflict.
 
Shortly before the meetings in Washington began, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said he hoped to collaborate with Russia to resolve the conflict.
 Aram Avetisyan of VOA’s Armenian Service contributed reporting. 

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Czech PM Demands Health Minister Resign for Violating COVID-19 Restrictions

A political standoff is brewing in the Czech Republic where the health minister has refused to resign after pictures were published of him eating in a Prague restaurant closed under COVID-19 regulations.
 
Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis Friday called on Health Minister Roman Prymula to resign after the tabloid Blesk published pictures of Prymula leaving a restaurant late at night and entering a car without a face mask. Both acts appear to violate Health Ministry restrictions on restaurants and mask requirements in most places, including chauffeured cars.
 
But later Friday, Prymula told reporters he did not break any rules and refused to step down. He said he had been invited to the restaurant for meeting with a hospital director and entered the restaurant through a private entrance and wore a mask once he was in his car.
 
Bars and restaurants in the Czech Republic are closed under current regulations designed to at least slow the spread of the virus. Schools, theaters, cinemas, zoos and many other locations are also closed and professional sports competitions have been stopped.
 
The health minister said the prime minster does have the option to fire him. Babis was scheduled to meet with Czech President Milos Zeman, who approves ministerial changes, later Friday to discuss the matter.
 
The controversy comes as the nation is battling the worst resurgence of COVID-19 in Europe. As of Friday, the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control reports over the past two weeks, the Czech Republic has led the continent with 1,148 cases per 100,000 people. 

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Pompeo Meets With Azerbaijani, Armenian FMs in Bid to Help End Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met in Washington Friday with the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia in a bid to help end nearly a month of intense fighting in the breakaway mountain enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.
 
Pompeo invited Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov and Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan to meet with him separately at the State Department and said earlier this week he is anxious to hear what they are seeing on the ground.
 
The meeting in Washington was arranged after two failed Russian attempts to broker a cease-fire in the worst outbreak of fighting over the region in more than a quarter-century.
 
Pompeo has joined other global leaders in pushing for an end to the fighting over the disputed territory. But Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said Wednesday he sees no possibility of a diplomatic solution at this stage of the conflict.  
 
For his part, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has said Armenian forces must withdraw from Nagorno-Karabakh to end the fighting, which Russian President Vladimir said may have killed about 5,000 people since the violence erupted.  
 
Also Wednesday, Turkey said it will not hesitate to send troops and provide military support to help Azerbaijan if such a request is made. Pompeo has called on other countries not to provide “fuel” for the conflict.  
 
Shortly before the meetings in Washington began, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said he hoped to collaborate with Russia to resolve the conflict.
 

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Despite Surge, Belgium Tightens COVID-19 Restrictions But Resists Lockdown

Belgian officials Friday announced new COVID-19 restrictions but stopped short of a lockdown to stem the surging rate of infections, which are now averaging more than 10,000 per day.At a news conference in Brussels, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo announced, among other restrictions, fans are now banned from sports matches; zoos and theme parks will be closed; and limits will be placed on the number of people in cultural spaces. Teleworking remains the rule wherever possible.Belgium had already closed cafes, bars and restaurants and imposed a curfew, and has Europe’s second highest infection rate per capita after the Czech Republic. New infections hit a peak of 10,500 on Thursday.De Croo said Belgium is “pressing the ‘pause’ button” for a few goals, “to ensure that our doctors and hospitals can keep doing their work, that children can continue attending schools and that businesses can continue working while preserving as much as possible the mental health of our population.”Visits at nursing homes have also been limited, but many health experts think the new curtailment won’t be enough to break the contagion chain.Since the pandemic started, the virus has killed 10,588 people in the small nation with 11.5-million inhabitants.The health situation is so dramatic in nine out of 10 Belgium’s provinces that authorities have recently warned intensive care units will hit their capacity by mid-November if new coronavirus cases continue at the same pace.”No rules, no laws can defeat the virus,” said De Croo. “The only ones who can defeat it, it is us and our collective behavior.”To avoid a collapse of the health system, Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke said that the number of beds available in ICUs will be increased to 2,300 while non-urgent operations will be postponed over the next four weeks.De Croo said it is not new rules and regulations that will defeat the virus, but the collective behavior of the people.  He also sent a message of support to business owners and workers affected by the measures who struggle financially and are losing their jobs.”To all the people affected on the economic level be assured that we are putting everything in place to help, we are going through a national crisis, and national crisis requires national solidarity,” he said.
 

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US Election Looms, French Mostly Root for Biden

The relationship between France and the United States is rarely as far apart as it is now, say experts. As the U.S. presidential election nears, polls show many French are hoping for a reboot under a new leader in the White House, as Lisa Bryant reports for VOA from Paris.
Producer: Henry Hernandez

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US Warns of More Election Meddling from Russia, Iran

Russia and Iran are ramping up attacks on U.S. government networks and computer systems while also amplifying their disinformation campaigns, hoping to rattle the confidence of American voters with less than two weeks until the Nov. 3 presidential election.The warning Thursday from U.S. intelligence and election security officials came less than 24 hours after the director of national intelligence blamed Iran for launching the first sensational attack on the upcoming election, accusing Tehran of being behind thousands of spoofed emails designed to intimidate voters.Thursday’s advisories from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency suggested that the emails, as well as the ability of Russia and Iran to access voter registration information, were just the start of a larger campaign to undermine the U.S. elections.According to the FBI and CISA, the attacks from Russia began in September, targeting dozens of state and local government networks involved in activities ranging from aviation to education.The Russian cyber actor known as Beserk Bear “successfully compromised network infrastructure, and as of October 1, 2020, exfiltrated data from at least two victim servers,” the advisories said.The attackers also managed to obtain credentials that could allow them to move around in the networks, seeking out critical information that they could exploit at a later date, potentially to disrupt the upcoming presidential election.”There may be some risk to elections information housed on SLTT [state, local, tribal and territorial] government networks,” the statement added. “However, the FBI and CISA have no evidence to date that integrity of elections data has been compromised.”Officials refused to share additional details about the Russian exploits, or say which government servers had been compromised, but the independent cyber security firm Mandiant said the Russian behavior appeared to be geared toward the Nov. 3 vote.”Access to these systems could enable disruption or could be an end in itself, allowing the actor to seize on perceptions of election insecurity and undermine the democratic process,” Mandiant Senior Director of Analysis John Hultquist said in a statement.Hultquist added that while there had been at least one attack on an election-related target, “we have no information which suggests these actors are capable or even willing to alter votes.”But while the Russian cyber actors appear content, for the moment, to threaten U.S. election-related networks, the FBI and CISA warned Thursday that Iranian-linked actors appear to be in position to exploit current network vulnerabilities.“These actors have conducted a significant number of intrusions against U.S.-based networks since August 2019,” according to the new advisory, pointing to possible distributed denial of service (DDos) attacks, spear-phishing campaigns and website defacements.“These activities could render these systems temporarily inaccessible to the public or election officials, which could slow, but would not prevent, voting or the reporting of results,” the advisories said.It further warned that Iranian cyber actors have also been expanding their election-related disinformation efforts, “creating fictitious media sites and spoofing legitimate media sites to spread obtained U.S. voter-registration data, anti-American propaganda, and misinformation about voter suppression, voter fraud, and ballot fraud.”The warnings from U.S. security and intelligence officials represent a shift from the cautious, but seemingly more optimistic tone they sounded as recently as last month.”Russia continues to try to influence our elections, primarily through what we would call malign foreign influence … as opposed to what we saw in 2016 where there was also an effort to target election infrastructure,” FBI Director Christopher Wray told lawmakers on the House Homeland Security Committee Sept. 17.#Election2020-“#Russia continues to try to influence our elections, primarily thru what we would call malign foreign influence” per @FBI’s Wray “As opposed to what we saw in 2016 where there was also an effort to target election infrastructure”— Jeff Seldin (@jseldin) September 17, 2020But in an interview with Hearst Television two weeks ago, the top U.S. counterintelligence official suggested the threat landscape was changing, saying Russia, Iran and China were actively targeting U.S. election infrastructure.”We are very resilient, and we’ve been very successful in pushing back the majority of these efforts,” National Counterintelligence and Security Center William Evanina said.Evanina confirms to Hearst #Russia#China#Iran have actively targeted US election infrastructure, emails/servers for both the @realDonaldTrump & @JoeBiden campaigns”We are very resilient & we’ve been very successful in pushing back the majority of these efforts”— Jeff Seldin (@jseldin) October 8, 2020In the wake of the Iranian email campaign, officials are warning American voters these campaigns by Russia and Iran, are just the start.“The intelligence shared [Wednesday], while alarming, is not surprising,” CISA Director Christopher Krebs said in a statement, adding that the number of actors seeking to meddle is likely to grow.”These are desperate attempts by our adversaries to intimidate or to undermine voter confidence, but Americans can rest assured: thousands of your fellow citizens stand ready to defend your vote, every single day” per @NSAGov’s Imbordino & @US_CYBERCOM’s BrigGen Hartman— Jeff Seldin (@jseldin) October 22, 2020In the meantime, some current and former U.S. officials have expressed a sense of foreboding, noting Russia and Iran may not be done making use of the voter registration data they obtained, and which Iran used in its email campaign.“The reported Iranian acquisition of voter data should be a cause for concern,” said Norman Roule, a former senior U.S. intelligence official, who said Tehran’s efforts show its cyber and influence operations have evolved.“Whether or not this data was publicly available, its acquisition by Iranian actors engaged in these operations indicates that the material will form the basis for future targeting operations,” he said. “If our response becomes an internal debate with little focus on Iran, they will learn that these operations come at little cost.”Another current U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity given the sensitivity of the matter, told VOA there is heightened concern about Tehran’s efforts, warning the Iranian regime appears to still be looking for payback following the drone strike in January that killed Quds Force Commander Qassem Soleimani.For now, state election officials are urging voters to remain calm and avoid falling for upsetting or sensational claims likely to pop up on social media, whether director by Iran, Russia or anyone else.“Be prepared for foreign efforts aimed at sowing division and undermining the legitimacy of the election,” a coalition of national and state officials said in a statement issued late Thursday. “Be prepared for attempts to confuse or misinform.”“The entire election community stands ready for the task ahead,” they added.NEW: @CISAgov@EACgov@NASSorg@NASEDorg on attacks vs #Election2020″We must remain steadfast…While this year has thrown unprecedented obstacles in our way, the entire election community stands ready for the task ahead & united in our goal to protect our democracy” pic.twitter.com/Go3imyxLgl— Jeff Seldin (@jseldin) October 22, 2020Some experts worry that as Election Day draws near, American voters will be tested like never before.“The really tricky problem is that we’re all in a laboratory right now and we’re being experimented on by different parties,” said John Scott-Railston, a senior researcher at The Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto’s Munk School.”We don’t know what the results will be. They [U.S. adversaries] don’t know what the results will be. But they’re very much learning,” he said.

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US Emphasizes Joint Security Concerns as It Deepens Ties With Brazil

Warming relations between the United States and Brazil received a boost this week with an update to an existing U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo listens to Brazilian Foreign Minister Ernesto Araujo speaking during a press conference at the Boa Vista Air Base in Roraima, Brazil, Sept. 18, 2020.Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stressed another mutual benefit from the relationship when he addressed a virtual forum organized by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, opened by Bolsonaro.“To the extent we can find ways that we can increase the trade between our two countries, we can … decrease each of our two nations’ dependence for critical items” coming from China, Huawei headquarters building is pictured in Reading, Britain, July 14, 2020.Bolsonaro is recently reported to favor keeping Huawei out of his country’s telecom infrastructure, but China’s official media has reported that Brazil’s vice president welcomes Huawei’s participation in the country’s 5G network.The question of 5G “is a sensitive matter, which will be decided at the appropriate level in Brazil in a transparent and open way,” Forster told VOA.Who’s to build Brazil’s 5G network is “up for public auction,” he said, with some standards to be announced later this year and the auction to take place in 2021.Forster said his government will be “looking at the different aspects of the equation; there’s the economic aspect of it, the financial aspect of it, there’s also security aspect of it, there’s data privacy involved, legal security involved; no final decision has been made.”In the Chamber of Commerce forum, Pompeo said Brazil can serve as a potential “anchor” as the U.S. builds closer ties with “all of our friends in the Western Hemisphere and in South America.”David R. Shedd, a former acting director of U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency and a visiting fellow at the Heritage Foundation, agreed, saying the signing of the trade protocol and other measures hold the potential for an “exciting new period” in U.S. relations with Brazil and its neighbors.With a U.S. presidential election less than two weeks away, however, Shedd told VOA that Brazil and the whole Latin American region have adopted a “wait and see” approach on certain key issues.While acknowledging he doesn’t know how Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Joe Biden might handle relations with Brazil, he said it is clear that a Democratic administration would pay much more attention to the environment.Peter Hakim, president emeritus and senior fellow at the Inter-America Dialogue, believes that if elected, Biden “will almost surely emphasize environmental concerns and worker’s rights issues, which will not find much resonance in Brazil.” 

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