Kurdish separatists, water issues loom large in long-awaited Erdogan visit to Iraq

BAGHDAD — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrived in Iraq Monday for his first official visit in more than a decade as his country seeks greater cooperation from Baghdad in its fight against a Kurdish militant group that has a foothold in northern Iraq.

Other issues also loom large between the two countries, including water supply issues and exports of oil and gas from northern Iraq to Turkey, which have been halted for more than a year.

Erdogan’s last visit to Iraq was in 2011, when he was Turkey’s prime minister.

Iraqi government spokesperson Bassem al-Awadi said in a statement that Erdogan’s visit will be a “major starting point in Iraqi-Turkish relations” and will include the signing of a deal on a “joint approach to security challenges” and a “strategic agreement on the water file,” among other issues.

Erdogan has said his country plans to launch a major operation against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, a Kurdish separatist movement banned in Turkey and with operations in Iraq, during the summer, with the aim of “permanently” eradicating the threat it poses.

Turkey has carried out numerous ground offensives against the group in northern Iraq in the past while Turkish jets frequently target suspected PKK targets in the region.

Ankara now aims to create a 30- to 40-kilometer deep security corridor along the joint border with Iraq, Turkish Defense Minister Yasar Guler told journalists last month.

The group, whose fight for an autonomous Kurdish state in southeast Turkey has claimed tens of thousands of lives since the 1980s, is considered a terrorist organization by Turkey and its Western allies.

Baghdad has complained in the past that Turkish operations against the PKK violate its sovereignty but appears to be coming closer to Ankara’s stance.

In March, after a meeting between the Iraqi and Turkish foreign ministers, Baghdad announced that the Iraqi National Security Council had issued a ban on the PKK, although it stopped short of designating it as a terrorist organization.

The two countries issued a joint statement in which they said the group represents a “security threat to both Turkey and Iraq” and that its presence on Iraqi territory was a “violation of the Iraqi Constitution.”

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani told journalists during a visit to Washington last week that Iraq and Turkey have “true interests with one another and common projects.” He noted that the PKK has long had a presence in northern Iraq, “but we are not allowing any armed group to be on Iraqi territory and using it as a launch pad for attacks.”

Ankara has argued that the presence of PKK bases poses a threat to the planned construction of a major trade route, the Iraq Development Road, that would connect the port of Grand Faw in Basra, southern Iraq, to Turkey and Europe through a network of rail lines and highways.

Baghdad might take a similar approach to the PKK as it has taken to Iranian Kurdish dissident groups based in northern Iraq.

The presence of the Iranian dissidents had become a point of tension with Tehran, which periodically launched airstrikes on their bases in Iraq. Last summer, Iran and Iraq reached an agreement to disarm the dissident groups and relocate their members from military bases to displacement camps.

Talks between Erdogan and Iraqi officials are also expected to focus on energy cooperation as well as the possible resumption of oil flow through a pipeline to Turkey.

A pipeline running from the semiautonomous Kurdish region to Turkey has been shut down since March 2023, after an arbitration court ruling ordered Ankara to pay Iraq $1.5 billion for oil exports that bypassed the Iraqi central government. The sharing of oil and gas revenues has long been a contentious issue between Baghdad and Kurdish authorities in Irbil.

Water rights are also likely to be a key issue on the table.

The Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which provide most of Iraq’s fresh water, originate in Turkey. In recent years, Iraqi officials have complained that dams installed by Turkey are reducing Iraq’s water supply. Experts fear that climate change is likely to exacerbate existing water shortages in Iraq, with potentially devastating consequences.

Mustafa Hassan, a resident of Baghdad said that he hopes that Erdogan’s visit “will help to solve problems related to water, because Iraq is suffering from a water scarcity crisis, and this affects agriculture.”

Mary J. Blige, Cher, Ozzy Osbourne, others picked for Rock Hall of Fame

new york — Mary J. Blige,Cher, Foreigner, A Tribe Called Quest, Kool & The Gang and Ozzy Osbourne have been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, a class that also includes folk-rockers Dave Matthews Band and singer-guitarist Peter Frampton.

Alexis Korner, John Mayall and Big Mama Thornton earned the Musical Influence Award, while the late Jimmy Buffett, MC5, Dionne Warwick and Norman Whitfield will get the Musical Excellence Award. Pioneering music executive Suzanne de Passe won the Ahmet Ertegun Award.

“Rock ‘n’ roll is an ever-evolving amalgam of sounds that impacts culture and moves generations,” John Sykes, chairman of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation, said in a statement. “This diverse group of inductees each broke down musical barriers and influenced countless artists that followed in their footsteps.”

The induction ceremony will be held October 19 at the Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse in the city of Cleveland in the U.S. state of Ohio. It will stream live on Disney+ with an airing on ABC at a later date and available on Hulu the next day.

The music acts nominated this year but didn’t make the cut included Mariah Carey, Lenny Kravitz, the late Sinead O’Connor, soul-pop singer Sade, Britpoppers Oasis, hip-hop duo Eric B. & Rakim, and alt-rockers Jane’s Addiction.

There had been a starry push to get Foreigner — with the hits “Urgent” and Hot Blooded” — into the hall, with Mark Ronson, Jack Black, Slash, Dave Grohl and Paul McCartney all publicly backing the move. Ronson’s stepfather is Mick Jones, Foreigner’s founding member, songwriter and lead guitarist.

Osbourne, who led many parents in the 1980s to clutch their pearls with his devil imagery and sludgy music, goes in as a solo artist, having already been inducted into the hall with metal masters Black Sabbath.

Four of the eight nominees — Cher, Foreigner, Frampton and Kool & the Gang — were on the ballot for the first time.

Cher — the only artist to have a Number 1 song in each of the past six decades — and Blige, with eight multi-platinum albums and nine Grammy Awards, will help boost the number of women in the hall, which critics say is too low.

Artists must have released their first commercial recording at least 25 years before they’re eligible for induction.

Nominees were voted on by more than 1,000 artists, historians and music industry professionals. Fans voted online or in person at the museum, with the top five artists picked by the public making up a “fans’ ballot” that was tallied with the other professional ballots.

Last year, Missy Elliott, Willie Nelson, Sheryl Crow, Chaka Khan, “Soul Train” creator Don Cornelius, Kate Bush, and the late George Michael were some of the artists who got into the hall.

Terry Anderson, US journalist held captive for nearly 7 years, dies

los angeles, california — Terry Anderson, the globe-trotting Associated Press correspondent who became one of America’s longest-held hostages after he was snatched from a street in war-torn Lebanon in 1985 and held for nearly seven years, has died at 76.

Anderson, who chronicled his abduction and torturous imprisonment by Islamic militants in his best-selling 1993 memoir “Den of Lions,” died Sunday at his home in Greenwood Lake, New York, said his daughter, Sulome Anderson.

The cause of death was unknown, though his daughter said Anderson recently had heart surgery.

“He never liked to be called a hero, but that’s what everyone persisted in calling him,” said Sulome Anderson. “I saw him a week ago and my partner asked him if he had anything on his bucket list, anything that he wanted to do. He said, ‘I’ve lived so much, and I’ve done so much. I’m content.'”

After returning to the United States in 1991, Anderson led a peripatetic life, giving public speeches, teaching journalism at several prominent universities and, at various times, operating a blues bar, Cajun restaurant, horse ranch and gourmet restaurant.

He also struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder, won millions of dollars in frozen Iranian assets after a federal court concluded that country played a role in his capture, then lost most of it to bad investments. He filed for bankruptcy in 2009.

Upon retiring from the University of Florida in 2015, Anderson settled on a small horse farm in a quiet, rural section of northern Virginia he had discovered while camping with friends.

“I live in the country and it’s reasonably good weather and quiet out here and a nice place, so I’m doing all right,” he said with a chuckle during a 2018 interview with The Associated Press.

In 1985 he became one of several Westerners abducted by members of the Shiite Muslim group Hezbollah during a time of war that had plunged Lebanon into chaos.

After his release, he returned to a hero’s welcome at AP’s New York headquarters.

As the AP’s chief Middle East correspondent, Anderson had been reporting for several years on the rising violence gripping Lebanon as the country fought a war with Israel, while Iran funded militant groups trying to topple its government.

Chained to wall, threatened with death

On March 16, 1985, a day off, he had taken a break to play tennis with former AP photographer Don Mell and was dropping Mell off at his home when gun-toting kidnappers dragged him from his car.

He was likely targeted, he said, because he was one of the few Westerners still in Lebanon and because his role as a journalist aroused suspicion among members of Hezbollah.

“Because in their terms, people who go around asking questions in awkward and dangerous places have to be spies,” he told the Virginia newspaper Orange County Review in 2018.

What followed was nearly seven years of brutality during which he was beaten, chained to a wall, threatened with death, often had guns held to his head and often was kept in solitary confinement.

Anderson was the longest held of several Western hostages Hezbollah abducted over the years, including Terry Waite, the former envoy to the Archbishop of Canterbury, who had arrived to try to negotiate his release.

By his and other hostages’ accounts, he was also their most hostile prisoner, constantly demanding better food and treatment, arguing religion and politics with his captors, and teaching other hostages sign language and where to hide messages so they could communicate privately.

He managed to retain a quick wit and biting sense of humor during his long ordeal. On his last day in Beirut, he called the leader of his kidnappers into his room to tell him he’d just heard an erroneous radio report saying he’d been freed and was in Syria.

“I said, ‘Mahmound, listen to this, I’m not here. I’m gone, babes. I’m on my way to Damascus.’ And we both laughed,” he told Giovanna DellOrto, author of “AP Foreign Correspondents in Action: World War II to the Present.”

He learned later his release was delayed when a third party who his kidnappers planned to turn him over to left for a tryst with the party’s mistress and they had to find someone else.

Trauma lasted for years

Anderson’s humor often hid the PTSD he acknowledged suffering for years afterward.

“The AP got a couple of British experts in hostage decompression, clinical psychiatrists, to counsel my wife and myself and they were very useful,” he said in 2018. “But one of the problems I had was I did not recognize sufficiently the damage that had been done.

“So, when people ask me, you know, ‘Are you over it?’ Well, I don’t know. No, not really. It’s there. I don’t think about it much these days, it’s not central to my life. But it’s there.”

At the time of his abduction, Anderson was engaged to be married and his future wife was six months pregnant with their daughter, Sulome.

The couple married soon after his release but divorced a few years later, and although they remained on friendly terms Anderson and his daughter were estranged for years.

“I love my dad very much. My dad has always loved me. I just didn’t know that because he wasn’t able to show it to me,” Sulome Anderson told the AP in 2017.

Father and daughter reconciled after the publication of her critically acclaimed 2017 book, “The Hostage’s Daughter,” in which she told of traveling to Lebanon to confront and eventually forgive one of her father’s kidnappers.

“I think she did some extraordinary things, went on a very difficult personal journey, but also accomplished a pretty important piece of journalism doing it,” Anderson said. “She’s now a better journalist than I ever was.”

Chose Marines over Michigan

Terry Alan Anderson was born Oct. 27, 1947. He spent his early childhood years in the small Lake Erie town of Vermilion, Ohio, where his father was a police officer.

After graduating from high school, he turned down a scholarship to the University of Michigan in favor of enlisting in the Marines, where he rose to the rank of staff sergeant while seeing combat during the Vietnam War.

After returning home, he enrolled at Iowa State University where he graduated with a double major in journalism and political science and soon after went to work for the AP. He reported from Kentucky, Japan and South Africa before arriving in Lebanon in 1982, just as the country was descending into chaos.

“Actually, it was the most fascinating job I’ve ever had in my life,” he told the Orange County Review. “It was intense. War’s going on — it was very dangerous in Beirut. Vicious civil war, and I lasted about three years before I got kidnapped.”

Anderson was married and divorced three times. In addition to his daughter, he is survived by another daughter, Gabrielle Anderson, from his first marriage.

Ukraine’s salt mines become explorable in Minecraft game 

A Ukrainian version of the Minecraft game features Canadian actress Katheryn Winnick, U.S. astronaut Scott Kelly, and other celebrities from around the globe. The new game, called Minesalt, is based on Ukraine’s famous Soledar salt mines. Anna Kosstutschenko reports. Camera: Pavel Suhodolskiy.

‘Civil War’ continues box-office campaign at No. 1  

New York — “Civil War,” Alex Garland’s ominous American dystopia, remained the top film in theaters in its second week of release, according to studio estimates Sunday.

The A24 election-year gamble, the indie studio’s biggest budgeted film yet, took in $11.1 million in ticket sales at 3,929 theaters over the weekend. The $50 million film, set in a near-future U.S. in which Texas and California have joined in rebellion against a fascist president, has grossed $44.9 million in two weeks.

Its provocative premise — and A24’s marketing, which included images of U.S. cities ravaged by war — helped keep “Civil War” top of mind for moviegoers.

But it was a painfully slow weekend in theaters — the kind sure to add to concern over what’s thus far been a down year for Hollywood at the box office.

Going into the weekend, Universal Pictures’ “Abigail,” a critically acclaimed R-rated horror film about the daughter of Dracula, had been expected to lead ticket sales. It came in second with $10.2 million in 3,384 theaters.

That was still a fair result for a film that cost a modest $28 million to make. “Abigail,” which remakes the 1936 monster film “Dracula’s Daughter,” is about a 12-year-old girl taken by kidnappers who soon realize they’ve made a poor choice of hostage. It’s directed by the duo Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett whose production company goes by the name Radio Silence.

More concerning was the overall tepid response for a handful of new wide releases — and the likelihood that there will be more similar weekends throughout 2024. Last year’s actors and writers’ strikes, which had a prolonged effect on the movie pipeline, exacerbated holes in Hollywood’s release schedule.

Horror films, in recent years among the most reliable cash cows in theaters, also haven’t thus far been doing the automatic business they previously did. According to David A. Gross, who runs the consulting firm Franchise Entertainment Research, horror releases accounted for $2 billion in worldwide sales in 2023.

Guy Ritchie’s “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare” debuted with $9 million in 2,845 theaters. In the based-on-a-true-story Lionsgate release, which reportedly cost $60 million to produce, Henry Cavill leads a World War II mission off the coast of West Africa.

Though Ritchie has been behind numerous box-office hits, including the live-action “Aladdin” and a pair of Sherlock Holmes films, his recent movies have struggled to find big audiences. The Lionsgate spy comedy “Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre” grossed $48 million against a $50 million budget, while MGM’s “The Covenant,” also released last year, made $21 million while costing $55 million to make.

A bright sign for “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare” — audiences liked it. The film earned an A-minus CinemaScore.

The anime “Spy x Family Code: White,” from Sony’s Crunchyroll, also struggled to stand out with audiences. Though the adaptation of the Tatsuya Endo manga TV series “Spy x Family” has already been a hit with international moviegoers, it debuted below expectations with $4.9 million in 2,009 U.S. theaters.

The mightiest film globally, though, continues to be “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire.” The Warner Bros. monster movie has for the past month led worldwide ticket sales. It added another $9.5 million domestically and $21.6 million internationally to bring its four-week global total to $485.2 million.

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Comscore. Final domestic figures will be released Monday.

 

  1. “Civil War,” $11.1 million.

  2. “Abigail,” $10.2 million.

  3. “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire,” $9.5 million.

  4. “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare,” $9 million.

  5. “Spy x Family Code: White,” $4.9 million.

  6. “Kung Fu Panda 4,” $4.6 million.

  7. “Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire,” $4.4 million.

  8. “Dune: Part Two,” $2.9 million.

  9. “Monkey Man,” $2.2 million.

  10. “The First Omen,” $1.7 million.

Polish voters choose mayors in hundreds of cities in runoff election  

WARSAW — Polish voters are casting ballots Sunday to choose mayors in hundreds of cities and towns where no candidate won outright in the first round of local election voting two weeks ago. 

Mayors will be chosen in 748 places, including Krakow, Poznan, Rzeszow and Wroclaw. Those are places where no single candidate won at least 50% of the vote during the first round on April 7. 

The local and regional elections are being viewed as a test for the pro-European Union government of Prime Minister Donald Tusk four months after it took power at the national level. 

Tusk’s party did well in big cities including Warsaw, where his party’s candidate, Rafał Trzaskowski, easily won reelection as mayor two weeks ago. 

However, Tusk failed to win a decisive victory overall. The main opposition party, Law and Justice, which held power at the national level from 2015-23, won a greater percentage of votes in the provincial assemblies. 

Tusk’s socially liberal Civic Coalition has strong support in cities while the Law and Justice party has a stronger base in conservative rural areas, particularly in eastern Poland. 

In the election of the provincial assemblies, Law and Justice obtained 34.3% of the votes nationwide and Tusks’ Civic Coalition got 30.6%. 

Residents of 4 Serb-majority municipalities vote on Albanian mayors’ fates 

PRISTINA, Kosovo — Residents of four Serb-majority municipalities are casting their votes Sunday on removing their ethnic Albanian mayors from office following last year’s mayoral elections, overwhelmingly boycotted by the Serb minority. 

The referendum — supported by the West — is an attempt to diffuse tensions between Kosovo and its neighboring Serbia as both countries vie to join the European Union. However, Kosovo’s main ethnic Serb party, Srpska List which has close ties with Belgrade, has called to boycott Sunday’s poll. 

Some 46,500 residents are expected to vote in 47 polling stations, and for the mayors to step down, a majority vote is needed. 

In June, Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti offered to hold new elections in North Mitrovica, Zvecan, Leposavic and Zubin Potok if 20% of the electorate in the municipalities supported a petition for the polls. Residents voted in favor of the petition in January. 

When Albanian mayors took up the offices last May, Kosovo Serbs clashed with security forces, including NATO-led KFOR peacekeepers, injuring 93 troops, while protesting the results. 

Serbia has backed calls for the mayors to step down. 

Kosovo was a former Serbian province until a 78-day NATO bombing campaign in 1999 ended a war between Serbian government forces and ethnic Albanian separatists in Kosovo, which left some 13,000 dead, mainly ethnic Albanians, and pushed Serbian forces out. Serbia doesn’t recognize Kosovo’s 2008 independence. 

Tensions between the two countries remain high. 

On Monday, Kosovo took another major step toward joining the Council of Europe — the continent’s foremost human rights body — amid Serbian opposition. The following day, Belgrade authorities stopped Kosovars trying to go home for nearly 20 hours at border checkpoints, saying it was for security reasons. Pristina accused Belgrade of “holding (Kosovars) hostage” for failing to block Kosovo’s Council of Europe membership. The U.S. and E.U denounced stalling free movement between the two countries. 

Earlier this month, Kosovo announced its first nationwide census since 2011 which will include surveying the ethnic Serb minority in the north. The Srpska List party has denounced the census and called for a boycott, saying it was an attempt by Kurti’s government “to confirm his shameful success in expelling (some 250,000) Serbs,” in reference to the 1999 war. 

Another point of contention was Pristina’s recent decision to ban ethnic Serbs from using the Serbian currency, the dinar, widely used in Kosovo’s Serbian-run institutions, including schools and hospitals. 

The United States and the European Union are struggling to get the Pristina-Belgrade dialogue “back on track.” Talks between the two have stalled after a Kosovo police officer and three Serb gunmen were killed in a shootout after about 30 masked men opened fire on a police patrol near the Kosovo village of Banjska in September. 

Brussels has warned both that refusal to compromise jeopardizes Serbia and Kosovo’s chances of joining the bloc. The 27-nation bloc is keen on maintaining the alignment of the Western Balkan countries — Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Albania — with the West as Russia’s war against Ukraine continues. 

The six are at different stages of the accession process. 

Mutiso Munyao gives Kenya another London Marathon win after tribute to Kiptum

London — Alexander Mutiso Munyao delivered another win for Kenya on a day the London Marathon remembered last year’s champion Kelvin Kiptum.

A race that started with a period of applause for Kiptum, who was killed in a car crash in Kenya in February, ended with his countryman and friend running alone down the final straight in front of Buckinhgam Palace to earn an impressive victory in his first major marathon.  

Mutiso Munyao said he spoke to Kiptum after his win in London last year and that the world-record holder is always on his mind when he’s competing.  

“He’s in my thoughts every time, because he was my great friend,” Mutiso Munyao said. “It was a good day for me.”

It was a Kenyan double on the day, with Olympic champion Peres Jepchirchir pulling away late to win the women’s race and cement her status as the favorite to defend her gold in Paris.

With around 400 meters (yards) to go to, Jepchirchir left world-record holder Tigst Assefa and two other rivals behind to sprint alone down the final stretch. She finished in 2 hours, 16 minutes, 16 seconds, with Assefa in second and Joyciline Jepkosgei in third.

Her time was more than 4 minutes slower than Assefa’s world record set in Berlin last year, but it was the fastest time ever in a women-only marathon, beating the mark of 2:17:01 set by Mary Keitany in London in 2017. The elite women’s field in London started about 30 minutes ahead of the elite men.

For Jepchirchir, though, the main goal was to show Kenya’s selectors for the Olympic team that she should be on the team again in Paris.

“So I was trying to work extra hard to (be able to) defend my title in the Olympics,” she said.

Mutiso Munyao denied 41-year-old Kenenisa Bekele a first London Marathon victory by pulling away from the Ethiopian great with about 3 kilometers to go Sunday for his biggest career win.

Mutiso Munyao and Bekele were in a two-way fight for the win until the Kenyan made his move as they ran along the River Thames, quickly building a six-second gap that only grew as he ran toward the finish.

“At 40 kilometers, when my friend Bekele was left (behind), I had confidence that I can win this race,” the 27-year-old Mutiso Munyao said.

He finished in 2 hours, 4 minutes, 1 second, with Bekele finishing 14 seconds behind. Emile Cairess of Britain was third, 2:45 back.

Bekele, the Ethiopian former Olympic 10,000 and 5,000-meter champion, was also the runner-up in London in 2017 but has never won the race.

Mutiso Munyao is relatively unknown in marathon circles and said he wasn’t sure whether this win would be enough to make Kenya’s Olympic team for Paris.

“I hope for the best,” he said. “If they select me I will go and work for it.” 

Hawaii lawmakers take aim at vacation rentals after wildfire amplifies housing crisis

HONOLULU — A single mother of two, Amy Chadwick spent years scrimping and saving to buy a house in the town of Lahaina on the Hawaiian island of Maui. But after a devastating fire leveled Lahaina in August and reduced Chadwick’s home to white dust, the cheapest rental she could find for her family and dogs cost $10,000 a month.

Chadwick, a fine-dining server, moved to Florida where she could stretch her homeowners insurance dollars. She’s worried Maui’s exorbitant rental prices, driven in part by vacation rentals that hog a limited housing supply, will hollow out her tight-knit town.

Most people in Lahaina work for hotels, restaurants and tour companies and can’t afford $5,000 to $10,000 a month in rent, she said.

“You’re pushing out an entire community of service industry people. So no one’s going to be able to support the tourism that you’re putting ahead of your community,” Chadwick said by phone from her new home in Satellite Beach on Florida’s Space Coast. “Nothing good is going to come of it unless they take a serious stance, putting their foot down and really regulating these short-term rentals.”

The August 8 wildfire killed 101 people and destroyed housing for 6,200 families, amplifying Maui’s already acute housing shortage and laying bare the enormous presence of vacation rentals in Lahaina. It reminded lawmakers that short-term rentals are an issue across Hawaii, prompting them to consider bills that would give counties the authority to phase them out.

Gov. Josh Green got so frustrated he blurted an expletive during a recent news conference.

“This fire uncovered a clear truth, which is we have too many short-term rentals owned by too many individuals on the mainland and it is b———t,” Green said. “And our people deserve housing, here.”

Vacation rentals are a popular alternative to hotels for those seeking kitchens, lower costs and opportunities to sample everyday island life. Supporters say they boost tourism, the state’s biggest employer. Critics revile them for inflating housing costs, upending neighborhoods and contributing to the forces pushing locals and Native Hawaiians to leave Hawaii for less expensive states.

This migration has become a major concern in Lahaina. The Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, a nonprofit, estimates at least 1,500 households — or a quarter of those who lost their homes — have left since the August wildfire.

The blaze burned single family homes and apartments in and around downtown, which is the core of Lahaina’s residential housing. An analysis by the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization found a relatively low 7.5% of units there were vacation rentals as of February 2023.

Lahaina neighborhoods spared by the fire have a much higher ratio of vacation rentals: About half the housing in Napili, about 11 kilometers north of the burn zone, is short-term rentals.

Napili is where Chadwick thought she found a place to buy when she first went house hunting in 2016. But a Canadian woman secured it with a cash offer and turned it into a vacation rental.

Also outside the burn zone are dozens of short-term rental condominium buildings erected decades ago on land zoned for apartments.

In 1992, Maui County explicitly allowed owners in these buildings to rent units for less than 180 days at a time even without short-term rental permits. Since November, activists have occupied the beach in front of Lahaina’s biggest hotels to push the mayor or governor to use their emergency powers to revoke this exemption.

Money is a powerful incentive for owners to rent to travelers: a 2016 report prepared for the state found a Honolulu vacation rental generates 3.5 times the revenue of a long-term rental.

State Rep. Luke Evslin, the Housing Committee chair, said Maui and Kauai counties have suffered net losses of residential housing in recent years thanks to a paucity of new construction and the conversion of so many homes to short-term rentals.

“Every alarm bell we have should be ringing when we’re literally going backwards in our goal to provide more housing in Hawaii,” he said.

In his own Kauai district, Evslin sees people leaving, becoming homeless or working three jobs to stay afloat.

The Democrat was one of 47 House members who co-sponsored one version of legislation that would allow short-term rentals to be phased out. One objective is to give counties more power after a U.S. judge in 2022 ruled Honolulu violated state law when it attempted to prohibit rentals for less than 90 days. Evslin said that decision left Hawaii’s counties with limited tools, such as property taxes, to control vacation rentals.

Lawmakers also considered trying to boost Hawaii’s housing supply by forcing counties to allow more houses to be built on individual lots. But they watered down the measure after local officials said they were already exploring the idea.

Short-term rental owners said a phase-out would violate their property rights and take their property without compensation, potentially pushing them into foreclosure. Some predicted legal challenges.

Alicia Humiston, president of the Rentals by Owner Awareness Association, said some areas in West Maui were designed for travelers and therefore lack schools and other infrastructure families need.

“This area in West Maui that is sort of like this resort apartment zone — that’s all north of Lahaina — it was never built to be local living,” Humiston said.

One housing advocate argues that just because a community allowed vacation rentals decades ago doesn’t mean it still needs to now.

“We are not living in the 1990s or in the 1970s,” said Sterling Higa, executive director of Housing Hawaii’s Future. Counties “should have the authority to look at existing laws and reform them as necessary to provide for the public good.”

Courtney Lazo, a real estate agent who is part of Lahaina Strong, the group occupying Kaanapali Beach, said tourists can stay in her hometown now but many locals can’t.

“How do you expect a community to recover and heal and move forward when the people who make Lahaina, Lahaina, aren’t even there anymore?” she said at a recent news conference as her voice quivered. “They’re moving away.”

Taiwan to discuss with US how to use new funding

TAIPEI, Taiwan — Taiwan’s defense ministry said Sunday it will discuss with the United States how to use funding for the island included in a $95 billion legislative package mostly providing security assistance to Ukraine and Israel. 

The United States is Taiwan’s most important international supporter and arms supplier despite the absence of formal diplomatic ties. 

Democratically governed Taiwan has faced increased military pressure from China, which views the island as its own territory. Taiwan’s government rejects those claims. 

The defense ministry expressed thanks to the U.S. House of Representatives for passing the package on Saturday, saying it demonstrated the “rock solid” U.S. support for Taiwan. 

The ministry added it “will coordinate the relevant budget uses with the United States through existing exchange mechanisms and work hard to strengthen combat readiness capabilities to ensure national security and peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.” 

Taiwan has since 2022 complained of delays in deliveries of U.S. weapons such as Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, as manufacturers focused on supplying Ukraine to help the country battle invading Russian forces. 

Underscoring the pressure Taiwan faces from China, the ministry said Sunday morning that during the previous 24 hours 14 Chinese military aircraft had crossed the sensitive median line of the Taiwan Strait. 

The median line once served as an unofficial border between the two sides, which neither military crossed. But China’s air force now regularly sends aircraft over it. China says it does not recognize the line’s existence. 

On Saturday, Taiwan’s defense ministry said China had again carried out “joint combat readiness patrols” with Chinese warships and warplanes around Taiwan. 

China’s defense ministry did not answer calls seeking comment outside of office hours Sunday. 

The island’s armed forces are dwarfed by those of China’s, especially the navy and air force. 

Once foreign aid bill signed, this is how US can rush weapons to Ukraine

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon could get weapons moving to Ukraine within days once Congress passes a long-delayed aid bill. That’s because it has a network of storage sites in the U.S. and Europe that hold the ammunition and air defense components that Kyiv desperately needs.

Moving fast is critical, CIA Director Bill Burns said this past week, warning that without additional aid from the U.S., Ukraine could lose the war to Russia by the end of this year.

“We would like very much to be able to rush the security assistance in the volumes we think they need to be able to be successful,” Pentagon press secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said.

The House approved $61 billion in funding for the war-torn country Saturday. It still needs to clear the Senate and President Joe Biden’s signature.

Once that happens, “we have a very robust logistics network that enables us to move material very quickly,” Ryder told reporters this past week. “We can move within days.”

Ready to go

The Pentagon has had supplies ready to go for months but hasn’t moved them because it is out of money. It has spent the funding Congress previously provided to support Ukraine, sending more than $44 billion worth of weapons, maintenance, training and spare parts since Russia’s February 2022 invasion.

By December, the Pentagon was $10 billion in the hole, because it is going to cost more now to replace the systems it sent to the battlefield in Ukraine.

As a result, the Pentagon’s frequent aid packages for Ukraine dried up because there had been no guarantee that Congress would pass the additional funding needed to replenish the weapons the U.S. has been sending to Ukraine.

The lag in weapons deliveries has forced Ukrainian troops to spend months rationing their dwindling supply of munitions.

How US can quickly move weapons

When an aid package for Ukraine is announced, the weapons are either provided through presidential drawdown authority, which allows the military to immediately pull from its stockpiles, or through security assistance, which funds longer-term contracts with the defense industry to obtain the systems.

The presidential drawdown authority, or PDA, as it’s known, has allowed the military to send billions of dollars’ worth of ammunition, air defense missile launchers, tanks, vehicles and other equipment to Ukraine.

“In the past, we’ve seen weapons transferred via presidential drawdown authority arrive within a matter of days,” said Brad Bowman, director at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies center on military and political power.

Those stocks are pulled from bases or storage facilities in the U.S. or from European sites where the U.S. has surged weapons to cut down on the amount of time it will take to deliver them once the funding is approved.

Storage in US

The military has massive weapons storage facilities in the U.S. for millions of rounds of munitions of all sizes that would be ready to use in case of war.

For example, the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant in Oklahoma sprawls across more than 16,000 hectares connected by rail and has a mission to surge as many as 435 shipping containers — each able to carry 15 tons worth of munitions — if ordered by the president.

The facility is also a major storage site for one of the most used munitions on Ukraine’s battlefield, 155 mm howitzer rounds.

The demand by Ukraine for that particular shell has put pressure on U.S. stockpiles and pushed the military to see where else it could get them. As a result, tens of thousands of 155 mm rounds have been shipped back from South Korea to McAlester to be retrofitted for Ukraine.

Storage in Europe

According to a U.S. military official, the U.S. would be able to send certain munitions “almost immediately” to Ukraine because storehouses exist in Europe.

Among the weapons that could go very quickly are the 155 mm rounds and other artillery, along with some air defense munitions. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss preparations not yet made public.

A host of sites across Germany, Poland and other European allies also are helping Ukraine maintain and train on systems sent to the front. For example, Germany set up a maintenance hub for Kyiv’s Leopard 2 tank fleet in Poland, near the Ukrainian border.

The nearby maintenance hubs hasten the turnaround time to get needed repairs done on the Western systems. 

US House speaker, who strongly opposed Ukraine aid, ushers it through

Washington — Republican Mike Johnson came out of nowhere six months ago to become speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, before emerging as an ardent defender of military aid to Ukraine, which the chamber approved Saturday.  

The evolution of this 52-year-old Southerner with carefully coiffed hair has been stunning.  

An arch-conservative Christian from Louisiana, he shot to the top leadership position in the House in October after the unprecedented ouster of then-speaker Kevin McCarthy in a rebellion by far-right lawmakers allied with Donald Trump.  

After several candidates were proposed, then discarded, Johnson’s name came up — he was a virtual unknown to the American public — and with the blessing of Trump, Johnson become leader of the House and of a Republican congressional caucus at war with itself.

Johnson had for months blocked a vote on the aid desperately needed by Ukraine’s army as it defends against Russian invasion forces.

But recently his tone began to soften. And then, in a head-spinning shift, Johnson last week emerged as a passionate defender of a long-delayed aid package.  

That culminated in the vote Saturday in which his chamber, by a strong bipartisan majority, passed more than $60 billion of additional military and financial support for Ukraine.  

Metamorphosis

What was behind Johnson’s metamorphosis?  

“I believe Johnson has been convinced, gradually, that America must support Ukraine in our own interests, and that the far-right Republicans demanding otherwise were simply wrong,” Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia, told AFP.  

In December, as previously approved U.S. funding for Kyiv was drying up, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine made a last-ditch visit to Washington to plead for a new aid package.  

Zelenskyy made his way through the halls of Congress accompanied by the Senate’s top Democrat and Republican, both vocal supporters of President Joe Biden’s request for $60 billion.  

But his meeting with Johnson was held behind closed doors.  

Johnson afterward said Biden was asking for “billions of additional dollars with no appropriate oversight, no clear strategy to win, and none of the answers that I think the American people are owed.”

Since then, however, a series of U.S. and world figures — including British Foreign Secretary David Cameron — worked to persuade Johnson of the high stakes, with some warning that Ukraine could fall by year’s end unless the U.S. aid came through.

One concession  

On Monday, Johnson announced the House would, after all, take up separate bills to provide aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, and that he would support them.  

Johnson did make one concession to Trump — who had demanded that aid to Ukraine be at least partly in the form of loans — making a part of the package subject to repayment.  

But the debt can still be forgiven, and the aid package is almost exactly for the amount requested months ago by Biden.

What was behind Johnson’s rethinking?

“He didn’t want the fall of Ukraine on his hands,” Sabato said.

Johnson provided further insight during a news conference Wednesday.  

“To put it bluntly, I would rather send bullets to Ukraine than American boys,” he said, before adding, his voice choking with emotion, that his son is about to enter the U.S. Naval Academy.

“This is a live-fire exercise for me, as it is for so many American families,” Johnson said.

It remains unclear whether some of the far-right legislators behind last year’s ouster of McCarthy might work to unseat Johnson after the perceived betrayal.

The House Democratic leader, Hakeem Jeffries, struck a philosophic tone when describing Johnson’s thorny choices.

“This,” he said, “is a Churchill or Chamberlain moment” — referring first to the wartime British prime minister known for his steely determination and then to Churchill’s predecessor, his name forever linked to a policy of appeasement.

Without quite casting himself in those terms, Johnson said he views himself as “a wartime speaker.”

In a somber tone, he added, “We have to do the right thing — and history will judge us.” 

US ponders trade status upgrade for Vietnam despite some opposition

Washington — U.S. officials are considering a request from Vietnam to be removed from a list of “nonmarket” economies, a step that would foster improved diplomatic relations with a potential ally in Asia but would anger some U.S. lawmakers and manufacturing firms.

The Southeast Asian country is on the list of 12 nations identified by the U.S. as nonmarket economies, which also includes China and Russia because of strong state intervention in their economies.  

Analysts believe Hanoi is hoping for a decision before the November U.S. election, which could mean a return to power of Donald Trump, who during his previous term as president threatened to boost tariffs on Vietnam because of its large trade surplus with the United States.

Under the Trump administration, the Department of Treasury also put Vietnam on a list of currency manipulators, which can lead to being excluded from U.S. government procurement contracts or other remedial actions. The Treasury, under the Biden administration, removed Vietnam from this list.

On the eve of President Joe Biden’s September visit to Hanoi, where he and Vietnamese Secretary-General Nguyen Phu Trong elevated the U.S.-Vietnam relationship to a comprehensive strategic partnership.

Vietnam formally asked U.S. Department of Commerce to remove it from the list of nonmarket economies on the grounds that it had made economic reforms in recent years.  

The Biden administration subsequently initiated a review of Vietnam’s nonmarket economy (NME) status. The Department of Commerce is to issue a final decision by July 26, 270 days after initiating the review.  

“Receiving market economy status is the highest diplomatic priority of the Vietnamese leadership this year, especially after last fall’s double upgrade in diplomatic relations,” said Zachary Abuza, a professor at National War College where he focuses on Southeast Asian politics and security issues.

He told VOA Vietnamese that the Vietnamese “are really linking the implementation of the joint vision statement to receiving that status.”

The U.S. is Vietnam’s most important export market with two-way trade totaling more than $125 billion in 2023, according to U.S. Census data. But Washington has initiated more trade defense investigations with Vietnam than with any other country, mainly anti-dumping investigations. Vietnam recorded 58 cases subject to trade remedies of the U.S. as of August 2023, in which 26 were anti-dumping, according to the Vietnam Trade Office in the U.S.

Vietnam has engaged a lobbying firm in Washington to help it win congressional support for a status upgrade. A Foreign Agents Registration Act’s statement filed to the U.S. Department of Justice shows that Washington-based Steptoe is assisting the Vietnamese Ministry of Industry and Trade and supporting the Vietnamese government in “obtaining market economy status in antidumping proceedings.”

“I understand why Vietnamese are lobbying,” said Murray Hiebert, a senior associate of the Southeast Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

“One reason is U.S.-Vietnam relations have come so far, and to hold the non-market [status] is a little bit disingenuous because most of the countries that have this status are countries like China, Russia, North Korea, who are not so friendly with the United States. So I think [the U.S. recognition of Vietnam as a market economy] would be a sign that relations have improved.”

US election key

Both Abuza and Hiebert believe that Vietnam is pushing hard to secure the upgrade before the November U.S. election that could bring Trump back into office.

“Trump began an investigation of Vietnam’s dumping just before the end of his administration. He may again start that process,” said Hiebert, who was senior director for Southeast Asia at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce before joining CSIS.

But Vietnam’s campaign faces opposition from within the U.S.

More than 30 U.S. lawmakers in January sent joint letters to U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo urging the Biden administration not to grant market economy status to Vietnam. They argued that Vietnam did not meet the procedural requirements for a change of status and that granting Hanoi’s wish would be “a serious mistake.”

The U.S. designated Vietnam as a nonmarket economy in 2002 during an anti-dumping investigation into Vietnamese catfish exports. Over the past 21 years, the U.S. has imposed anti-dumping duties on many Vietnamese exports, including agricultural and industrial products.

In a request sent to Raimondo to initiate a changed circumstances review, the Vietnamese Ministry of Industry and Trade said that over the past 20 years, the economy of Vietnam “has been through dramatic developments and reforms.” It said 72 countries recognize Vietnam as a market economy, notably the U.K., Canada, Australia and Japan.

‘Unfairly traded Chinese goods’

U.S. manufacturing groups have expressed opposition to Vietnam’s request, arguing that Vietnam continues to operate as a nonmarket economy. In comments sent to Raimondo, the Alliance for American Manufacturing (AMM) said that Vietnam “cannot reasonably be understood to demonstrate the characteristics of a market economy.”

“There’s still heavy intervention by the governing Communist Party [of Vietnam],” said Scott Paul, president of AMM. “There’s a lot of indication that China may be using Vietnam as a platform to also export to the U.S., which is obviously concerning to firms here,” he said.

In a letter dated January 28, eight senators wrote “Granting Vietnam market economy status before it addresses its clear nonmarket behavior and the severe deficiencies in its labor law will worsen ongoing trade distortions, erode the U.S. manufacturing base, threaten American workers and industries, and reinforce Vietnam’s role as a conduit for goods produced in China with forced labor.”  

Many Chinese products have been found to be disguised or labeled as “Made in Vietnam” to avoid U.S. tariffs since Trump launched a trade war with China in 2018. Vietnam has promised to crack down on the practice.

Abuza pointed out what he called a contradiction in U.S. policy.

“Vietnam is too important to the United States economically in terms of trade and foreign direct investment, and we cannot look to Vietnam for supply chain diversification out of China if it doesn’t have market economy status.”

Hiebert said the U.S. “should do this and get moving” as Vietnam is “one of the U.S.’ best friends in Asia and Southeast Asia and help stand up to China.”

EU politicians embrace TikTok despite data security concerns

Sundsvall,  Sweden — German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s short videos of his three-day trip to China this week proved popular in posts on Chinese-owned social media platform TikTok, which the European Union, Canada, Taiwan and the United States banned on official devices more than a year ago, citing security concerns.

By Friday, one video showing highlights of Scholz’s trip had garnered 1.5 million views while another of him speaking about it on the plane home had 1.4 million views. 

Scholz opened his TikTok account April 8 to attract youth, promising he wouldn’t post videos of himself dancing.  His most popular post so far, about his 40-year-old briefcase, was watched 3.6 million times.  Many commented, “This briefcase is older than me.”

Scholtz is one of several Western leaders to use TikTok, despite concerns that its parent company, ByteDance, could provide private user data to the Chinese government and could also be used to push a pro-Beijing agenda.

 

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has 258,000 followers on TikTok, and Irish Prime Minister Simon Harris has 99,000 followers. 

U.S. President Joe Biden’s reelection campaign team opened a TikTok account in February, despite Biden himself vowing to sign legislation expected to be voted on as early as Saturday to force ByteDance to divest in the U.S. or face a ban. 

Former U.S. President Donald Trump, who unsuccessfully tried to ban TikTok in 2020, in March reversed his position and now appears to oppose a ban. 

ByteDance denies it would provide user data to the Chinese government, despite reports indicating it could be at risk, and China has firmly opposed any forced sale.

Kevin Morgan, TikTok’s director of security and integrity in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, says more than 134 million people in 27 EU countries visit TikTok every month, including a third of EU lawmakers. 

As the European Union’s June elections approach, more European politicians are using the popular platform favored by young people to attract votes. 

Ola Patrik Bertil Moeller, a Swedish legislator with the Social Democratic Party who has 124,000 followers on TikTok, told VOA, “We as politicians participate in the conversation and spread accurate images and answer the questions that people have. If we’re not there, other forces that don’t want good will definitely be there.”

But other European politicians see TikTok as risky.  

Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store on Monday expressed his uneasiness about social media platforms, including TikTok, being “used by various threat actors for several purposes, such as recruitment for espionage, influencing through disinformation and fake news, or mapping regime critics. This is disturbing.”

Konstantin von Notz, vice-chairman of the Green Parliamentary Group in the German legislature, told VOA, “While questions of security and the protection of personal data generally arise when using social networks, the issue is even more relevant for users of TikTok due to the company’s proximity to the Chinese state.” 

Matthias C. Kettemann, an internet researcher at the Leibniz Institute for Media Research in Hamburg, Germany, told VOA, “Keeping data safe is a difficult task; given TikTok’s ties to China doesn’t make it easier.”  But he emphasized, “TikTok is obliged to do these measures through the EU’s GDPR [General Data Protection Regulation] anyway from a legal side.”

But analysts question whether ByteDance will obey European law if pressed by the Chinese state.

Matthias Spielkamp, executive director AlgorithmWatch, told VOA, “Does TikTok have an incentive to comply with European law? Yes, there’s an enormous amount of money on the line. Is it realistic that TikTok, being owned by a Chinese company, can resist requests for data by its Chinese parent? Hardly. How is this going to play out? No one knows right now.”

Adrianna Zhang contributed to this report.

Blinken returns to China next week amid ongoing tensions, with no breakthrough expected

State Department — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is heading to China April 24 through 26 for talks with senior officials in Shanghai and Beijing.

Blinken’s second trip to China comes as the United States warns it against enabling Russia in its war on Ukraine, with Chinese firms directly supplying critical components for Russia’s defense industrial base.

Other pressing matters on the agenda include counternarcotics, bolstering military-to-military communication, establishing talks on artificial intelligence risks and safety, and exploring ways to strengthen people-to-people ties, according to the State Department.

A senior State Department official said in a briefing Friday the U.S. is “realistic and clear eyed about the prospects of breakthroughs” on any of the issues on the agenda. Some analysts said they do not anticipate any major advances to emerge from the talks.

China aiding Russia in Ukraine war

In a joint statement this week, foreign ministers from the G7 leading industrialized nations urged China to stop transferring dual-use materials and weapons components that Russia is using to advance its military production.

U.S. officials said those materials include significant quantities of microelectronics, unmanned aerial vehicles, cruise missile technology, and nitrocellulose, which Russia uses to make propellants for weapons.

“China can’t have it both ways” — helping Russia and keeping good relations with Europe, Blinken told reporters at a press conference in Capri, Italy, Friday.

A senior State Department official told VOA during a virtual briefing Friday that the United States is “prepared to take steps” when necessary, against Chinese firms that “severely undermine security in both Ukraine and Europe.”

The United States may sanction Chinese banks that facilitate the transfer of these materials, according to analysts. Washington has sanctioned Chinese individuals and companies that provide material support to Russia, and is enlisting European allies for similar measures.

“In contrast to the United States, the European Union has not really sanctioned Chinese individuals or companies to the same degree,” Kelly Grieco, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Stimson Center, told VOA.

Grieco said the U.S. is working with other G7 members to garner more support from European nations to take similar actions.

Beijing dismissed what Chinese officials labeled as Washington’s attempt to “smear” or “attack the normal relations between China and Russia.”  

China maintains it regulates the export of dual-use materials to Russia in accordance with laws.  The U.S. “should not harm the legitimate rights and interests of China and Chinese companies,” Mao Ning, a spokeswoman for China’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, said during a recent briefing.

Taiwan

Blinken’s visit to China is scheduled just weeks before the inauguration of Taiwan’s president-elect Lai Ching-te on May 20.

The U.S. is sending an unofficial delegation to attend his inauguration, which includes former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and Laura Rosenberger, who chairs the American Institute in Taiwan. 

Blinken will underscore America’s enduring interest in preserving peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait. 

“During this important and sensitive time leading up to the May 20 inauguration, all countries will contribute to peace and stability, avoid taking provocative actions that may raise tensions and demonstrate restraint. That will be our message going forward,” the senior State Department official said.

Counternarcotics

Fentanyl is the leading cause of death of Americans between the ages of 18 to 49.

China remains the primary source of fentanyl-related substances trafficked through international mail and express consignment operations, serving as the main source for all fentanyl-related substances entering the United States, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

“It’s in China’s interest to cooperate in reducing and ending the flow of chemical precursors to the United States,” the State Department official said. 

He added that the U.S. delegation traveling to China next week will “get down to detailed implementation” of the agreement reached in November 2023 to restart cooperation, particularly focusing on “concrete progress” between the law enforcement agencies of the two countries to curb the flow of these chemical precursors.

Some analysts said the extent and durability of the cooperation is yet to be seen.

“China sees counternarcotics and more broadly international law enforcement cooperation as strategic tools that it can leverage to achieve other objectives,” wrote Vanda Felbab-Brown, a senior fellow with the Brookings Institution.

“Even though China’s current goal is to reduce tensions, China’s drug cooperation is vulnerable to new crises in the bilateral relationship,” she added.

Blinken’s visit to China is the latest in a flurry of high-level diplomacy aimed at stabilizing China-U.S. relations.  It follows Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen’s recent trip to Guangzhou, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan’s meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Munich in February, and U.S. President Joe Biden’s talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Woodside, California, in November.

China said it welcomes the top U.S. diplomat’s visit soon.

US House passes $95 billion aid package for Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan

Washington — The U.S. House of Representatives on Saturday passed with bipartisan support a four-part, $95 billion foreign aid package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, putting the long-beleaguered legislation on track for enactment following a long, difficult path through Congress. 

The legislation includes $60 billion for Kyiv’s ongoing war against Moscow’s invasion, as well as $26 billion for Israel and humanitarian aid for civilians in conflict zones, including Gaza, and $8 billion for the Indo-Pacific region.

“Today, members of both parties in the House voted to advance our national security interests and send a clear message about the power of American leadership on the world stage. At this critical inflection point, they came together to answer history’s call, passing urgently-needed national security legislation that I have fought for months to secure,” President Joe Biden said in a statement Saturday.

“I urge the Senate to quickly send this package to my desk so that I can sign it into law and we can quickly send weapons and equipment to Ukraine to meet their urgent battlefield needs,” he noted.

House Speaker Mike Johnson, a Republican from Louisiana, structured the bills so that they can all be combined into one after each individual bill is approved, to prevent opposition to any one piece from derailing the entire deal.

The Democratic-majority Senate is expected to take up the legislation as soon as Tuesday and then send it to President Joe Biden’s desk to be signed into law. 

“The world is watching what the Congress does,” the White House said in a statement on Friday. “Passing this legislation would send a powerful message about the strength of American leadership at a pivotal moment. The administration urges both chambers of the Congress to quickly send this supplemental funding package to the president’s desk.”

The bill imposing new limits on the social media platform TikTok was the first of the four measures to pass on Saturday, with a vote of 360-58. That measure requires Bytedance, TikTok’s Chinese parent company, to sell its stake within a year or face a ban in the United States. It would also allow the president to level new sanctions against Russia and Iran. 

The second bill, which passed with a bipartisan majority of 385-34 votes, provided billions in aid to the Indo-Pacific region. The $8 billion bill is intended to counter China through investing in submarine infrastructure and helping Taiwan through military financing.

The third to pass was a significant aid package — $60 billion — for Ukraine in its ongoing war against Russia. The bill passed with a vote of 311-112. 

The bill has important implications not just for Ukraine but for all of Europe, according to Steven Moore, founder of the Ukraine Freedom Project, which delivers humanitarian and military aid to the front lines.

“[Russian President] Vladimir Putin has made it clear that if he takes Ukraine, then NATO countries are next,” he told VOA. “This is not just about Ukraine. This is about standing up to a terrible human being who wants to subjugate the rest of Europe.”

“This sends a message to [Russian President] Vladimir Putin, to Iran, to North Korea, and to China, that we are not abdicating our role as a leader in the world,” added Moore, who is based in Kyiv. 

The bill’s passage in the House comes after a monthslong Republican effort to block additional aid to Ukraine. 

“The Republican leadership, I think, delayed this unnecessarily,” Representative Adam Smith, a Democrat from Washington state, told VOA’s Ukrainian service on Saturday. 

Smith said he expected the aid to be delivered to Ukraine “almost immediately” once the legislation is passed by the Senate and signed by President Biden. 

The final measure to pass on Saturday was a $26 billion package for Israel, including $9.1 billion for humanitarian needs.  

Biden reaffirmed support for the aid package earlier this week. 

“Israel is facing unprecedented attacks from Iran, and Ukraine is facing continued bombardment from Russia that has intensified dramatically in the last month,” he said in a statement. 

“The House must pass the package this week and the Senate should quickly follow,” Biden added. “I will sign this into law immediately to send a message to the world: We stand with our friends, and we won’t let Iran or Russia succeed.” 

The weekend votes follow a rare show of bipartisanship on Friday, when a coalition of lawmakers in the House helped the foreign aid package clear a procedural hurdle to advance the four-part legislation. That Friday vote passed 316-94. 

Johnson went ahead with the vote despite strong opposition from some factions of his party. 

Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia threatened to try to force a vote to oust Johnson from the speakership if he went ahead with the Ukraine aid vote. Representative Thomas Massie of Kentucky has also called for Johnson to resign.

Still, other members of the Republican Party support Johnson and the aid package.

“You’re never going to agree with every little aspect of legislation. There’s always going to be things you may quibble with, but the reality is that we need to get aid to our allies,” Representative Mike Lawler, a Republican from New York, told VOA’s Ukrainian Service. 

“The time for debate and discussion over this has long passed, and the time for action is here,” he said. 

VOA’s Kateryna Lisunova contributed to this report. Some information came from Reuters, the Associated Press and Agence France-Presse.