Voice of America

  • Erdogan: Turkey Ready to Take Over Security in Syria's Manbij
    Turkey is ready to take over security in the Kurdish-controlled Syrian city of Manbij, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Sunday. Erdogan's office says the president spoke to U.S. President Donald Trump by telephone Sunday, days after an Islamic State attack in the city killed 19 people, including three U.S. service members and an American military contractor. Erdogan told Trump the attack was a "provocation" aimed at affecting his decision to pull U.S. forces out of Syria. The White House did not specifically mention Erdogan's comments about Manbij other than saying the two presidents "agreed to continue to pursue a negotiated solution for northeast Syria that achieves our respective security concerns." The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces and its Kurdish militia, the People's Protection Unit (YPG), control Manbij. Turkey says the YPG is linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has been fighting a long separatist war for more Kurdish autonomy inside Turkey. Turkey considers both the YPG and PKK terrorist groups. The Kurdish militia fears Turkey will carry out a military assault on it as soon as the U.S. pulls out. Trump has proposed a safe zone in the region but has yet to provide any details. Turkey does not want any Kurdish-controlled territory on its border and has said any safe zone must be cleared of Kurds. White House bureau chief Steve Herman contributed to this report.  

  • Ecuador to Tighten Controls on Venezuelan Immigrants After Murder
    Ecuador is setting up new units to check Venezuelan immigrants' legal status and may tighten entry requirements after a Venezuelan man murdered his pregnant Ecuadorian girlfriend, President Lenin Moreno said on Sunday. The killing in the northern city of Ibarra is the first reported murder perpetrated by a Venezuelan immigrant in Ecuador since hundreds of thousands have arrived there after fleeing an economic crisis in Venezuela. "I have ordered the immediate setting up of units to control Venezuelan immigrants' legal status in the streets, in the workplace, and at the border," Moreno said on Twitter. The government, he added, may create a new "special permit" for Venezuelans to enter the country. He did not give further details about the units or how they will operate. "Ecuador is and will be a country of peace. I will not allow any criminal to take that away from us," he said. The Venezuelan man held his victim hostage on a busy street for about an hour on Saturday evening before stabbing her to death. He was then arrested by police. Interior Minister Maria Paula Romo said she had fired Ibarra's police chief for not preventing the murder, which she said officers could have used force to prevent. Ecuador estimates that some 1.3 million Venezuelans entered the country last year via Colombia, though most continue to Peru, fleeing a hyperinflationary collapse back home that has left millions unable to obtain basic food or medicine. Last year, Ecuador's government said it was changing entry requirements to require that Venezuelans present a passport, but a judge blocked that change. The president of the Association of Venezuelans in Ecuador, Daniel Regalado, said the murder risked demonizing Venezuelans just because they did not have legal status. "These are isolated cases and they don't involve the whole Venezuelan community in Ecuador," Regalado said in an interview.

  • Pope Rolls Out Prayer App for Youth
    As the pope prepares to meet tens of thousands of young people from across the globe for World Youth Day this week, he attempted to connect with them on a platform they would easily understand: the internet. During the weekly Angelus prayer at the Vatican Sunday, Pope Francis launched his own user profile on Click to Pray, the official app of the Vatican's Worldwide Prayer Network. "Internet and the social networks are a resource of our time, a way to stay in touch with others, to share values and projects, and to express the desire to form a community," the pope told those gathered in St. Peter's Square. With the help of an aide holding a tablet, the pope swiped the screen saying, "Here, I will put in ... requests for prayers for the Church's mission." For example, he said, the app will let young people join him in prayer for the "two sorrows" in his heart this week: the 170 migrants who drowned in recent days in the Mediterranean Sea and the victims of a terrorist attack in Colombia this week that killed 21 people. "I especially invite young people to download the Click To Pray app, continuing to pray with me the Rosary for peace, especially during the World Youth Day in Panama," the pontiff said. He also asked all Catholics to pray for the youth event, which takes place Jan. 22-27. World Youth Day was started by Pope John Paul II in 1985. It is held in different cities around the world every two to three years. This will be Francis' third World Youth Day.  

  • Pope Rolls Out Prayer App for Youth
    Pope Francis introduced a digital application that enables the faithful to pray with him, swiping a tablet on Sunday, January 20, to showcase the "click to pray" app ahead of the World Youth Day 2019, which takes place in Panama January 22-27. The Vatican has launched the new multiplatform service on its website that it says will enable the faithful to "accompany the pope in a mission of compassion for the world." VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports.

  • Iraqi Archaeologist, Museums Champion Dies at 80
    Lamia al-Gailani, an Iraqi archaeologist who lent her expertise to rebuilding the National Museum's collection after it was looted in 2003, has died at age 80.   Her daughter, Noorah al-Gailani, said Sunday that her mother died Friday in Amman, Jordan. She didn't give a cause of death. A devotee of Iraq's heritage and its museums, al-Gailani selected artifacts to display at the reopening of the National Museum in Bagdad in 2015, more than a decade after it was looted in the wake of the U.S. invasion.   The restored collection included hundreds of cylinder seals, which had been used to print cuneiform impressions and pictographic lore onto documents and surfaces in ancient Mesopotamia, now present-day Iraq. The seals were the subject of al-Gailani's 1977 dissertation at the University of London.   "She was very keen to communicate on the popular level and make archaeology accessible to ordinary people," said her daughter, who is curator of the Islamic civilizations collection at the Glasgow Museum in Scotland.   Al-Gailani also championed a new museum for antiquities in the city of Basra, which opened in 2016.   But she bore the grief of watching her country's rich archaeological sites suffer looting and destruction in the years after the U.S. invasion. Thousands of items are still missing from National Museum's collection.   "I wish it was a nightmare and I could wake up," she told the BBC in 2015, when Islamic State militants bulldozed relics at the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud near present-day Mosul.   Born in Baghdad in 1938, al-Gailani was one of the first Iraqi women to excavate in her country.   Fresh from her undergraduate studies at the University of Cambridge in Britain, al-Gailani was hired as a curator at the National Museum in 1960, her daughter said. It was al-Gailani's first job in archaeology.   She returned to Britain in 1970 to pursue advanced studies, and she made her home there. Still, she kept returning to her native country, connecting foreign academics with an Iraqi archaeological community that was struggling under the isolation of Saddam Hussein's autocratic rule and the U.N. sanctions against him.   In 1999, she published "The First Arabs," in Arabic, with the Iraqi archaeologist Salim al-Alusi, on the earliest traces of Arab culture in Mesopotamia, in the 6th through 9th centuries.   She would bring copies of the book with her to Baghdad and sell them through a vendor on Mutanabbi Street, the literary heart of the capital, her daughter said.   After the U.S. invasion, al-Gailani continued to travel to Iraq, determined to rescue its heritage even as the country convulsed with war.   At the time of her death, she was working with the Basra Museum to curate a new exhibit set to open in March, said Qahtan al-Abeed, the museum director.   "She hand-picked the cylinder seals to display at the museum," said al-Abeed.   A ceremony will be held for al-Gailani at the National Museum on Monday. She is survived by her three daughters.    

  • Ex-Nissan Chairman Ghosn Asks for Bail, Promises Not to Flee
    Former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn on Monday asked for his release on bail from a two-month detention in Japan, promising he will report to prosecutors daily and wear an electronic monitoring ankle bracelet. "As the court considers my bail application, I want to emphasize that I will reside in Japan and respect any and all bail conditions the court concludes are warranted," he said in a statement shared with The Associated Press through a representative of Ghosn and his family. "I am not guilty of the charges against me and I look forward to defending my reputation in the courtroom; nothing is more important to me or to my family," he said. Ghosn, 64, and in custody since his Nov. 19 arrest, is due for a bail hearing Monday after his bail request was denied by a Tokyo court last week. His latest request includes a lease for a Tokyo apartment, where he promises to live. The offer to wear a monitoring device is not standard for Japanese bail but is often included in U.S. bail conditions. No trial date has been set. In Japan, suspects are often kept in detention until trials start, especially those who assert innocence, in what's criticized as "hostage justice." Tokyo prosecutors say Ghosn is a flight risk and may tamper with evidence. Legal experts, including Ghosn's lawyers, say preparations for trials as complex as Ghosn's take six months or longer. Ghosn is also promising to give up his passport and hire security guards acceptable to prosecutors that he would pay for. He has been charged with falsifying financial reports in underreporting his compensation from Nissan Motor Co., and breach of trust in having Nissan shoulder investment losses and pay a Saudi businessman. Ghosn has asserted his innocence, saying the compensation was never decided, Nissan never suffered losses and the payments were for legitimate services for Nissan's business in the Gulf. He has been held in austere conditions at the Tokyo Detention Center, allowed visits only by embassy officials, lawyers and prosecutors. His wife, Carole Ghosn, has expressed worries about his health and appealed to Human Rights Watch about what she saw as his unfair and harsh treatment.    Ghosn led Nissan for two decades, turning it around from near-bankruptcy to one of the world's biggest and most successful auto groups. A Brazilian-born Frenchman of Lebanese ancestry, with work experience in the U.S., Ghosn was admired internationally for his managerial skills. He was sent in 1999 by Renault SA of France, which owns 43 percent of Nissan. Nissan Chief Executive Hiroto Saikawa has denounced Ghosn, accusing him of using company money and assets for personal gain. But Nissan's oversight has raised serious questions about governance at the automaker behind the Leaf electric car and Infiniti luxury models.       Nissan's internal investigation found Nissan purchased homes and furnishings for Ghosn in Lebanon and Brazil, but only a handful of people at Nissan knew, according to people familiar with the probe. Nissan still owns the homes.      The latest development in the investigation was discussed by the board of Nissan's Japanese alliance partner Mitsubishi Motors Corp. last week, centering on millions of dollars of salary and bonus pay to Ghosn by the automakers' joint venture in Amsterdam last year, which neither Mitsubishi nor Nissan knew about. No charges have been filed on these payments, which are separate from the compensation from Nissan cited in the charges already filed. Ghosn's compensation was long a sticking point in Japan, where the income difference between executives and workers is so minimal that company presidents are also called "salarymen." Ghosn has said he deserved pay comparable to other star leaders of global companies.              Ghosn defended his record at Nissan at a Tokyo court earlier this month. "I have a genuine love and appreciation for Nissan. I believe strongly that in all of my efforts on behalf of the company, I have acted honorably, legally, and with the knowledge and approval of the appropriate executives inside the company," he said.   

  • Uganda Seeks to Regulate Lucrative Fish Maw Trade
    The sale of Nile Perch fish maw in Uganda has become a lucrative business, especially for distributors. The fish maw - or dried swim bladder - is used as an aphrodisiac in China. But Ugandan fishermen bringing in the perch say they are being exploited while others are reaping the profits. Halima Athumani reports from Kampala.

  • Top US Senator Questions Afghan Withdrawal Numbers
    An influential Unites States senator who is considered to be close to President Donald Trump cast doubts on reports that half of the United States troops in Afghanistan would be withdrawn soon.   “I’ve had no evidence that there’s been a number like that at all.  I don’t believe that report’s accurate,” said Republican Senator Lindsey Graham Sunday in Islamabad, where he was talking to journalists during a trip to the country.   The New York Times reported in December that Trump had ordered the military to withdraw almost 7,000 troops from Afghanistan.  The White House has not denied the reports.  According to The Washington Post, former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis resigned over disagreements with the president on troop withdrawal from Syria and Afghanistan.   The news of withdrawal sent shock waves in the region at a time when the Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad was trying hard to move negotiations with Taliban forward.   Khalilzad ended a four-day visit to Pakistan Sunday, after the Afghan Taliban seemingly refused to meet with the American team, despite reported efforts from host country Pakistan.  Talks with the Taliban have dead-locked over the issue of involving the Kabul government in the negotiations.  The Taliban call the Kabul regime a “puppet” of the Americans and have never accepted it as a legitimate government.   Graham reiterated the war in Afghanistan needs a political solution and suggested a meeting “sooner rather than later” between Trump and Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan to find a resolution to the Afghan conflict.   “I’m going urge him to meet with prime minister [Khan] as soon as practical.  I think they will hit it off.  Similar personalities,” Graham said. Trust deficit Graham also blamed Pakistani hesitance to fully cooperate with the Americans on the “terrible” trust deficit between the two countries.   “The day Pakistan sees us as a more reliable strategic partner, the day they’ll do more,” he said.   The United States has long complained Pakistan provides sanctuaries to the leadership of the Afghan Taliban, a charge Islamabad denies.  It has also long claimed Islamabad could do more to bring the Taliban to the table for negotiations.   In recent months, several U.S. officials have indicated Pakistan appeared to be trying to help resolve the Afghan issue, but added they were cautious in their optimism due to what they called a history of duplicity.   Khalilzad’s tweet at the end of his trip credited Pakistan for pushing to resolve the Afghan conflict.   “We’re heading in the right direction with more steps by Pakistan coming that will lead to concrete results,” he tweeted.   Graham also seemed optimistic that things were improving, crediting the change to Pakistan military’s efforts to deal with the threat of terrorism, plans to integrate the lawless tribal areas into mainstream Pakistan, and a new prime minister in office that he thought could be a “partner” in a “beneficial relationship.”   “I don’t want to oversell, but it’s time to realize things have changed,” he said, adding that he would suggest to his colleagues in Congress to stop “stereotyping.”   Graham, who has been to Pakistan dozens of times, also said he saw the country as a “good market” for American products and wanted the relationship to move beyond security-related issues. But on Sunday, he said, "Nancy, I am still thinking about the State of the Union speech, there are so many options - including doing it as per your written offer (made during the shutdown, security is no problem), and my written acceptance.  While a contract is a contract, I’ll get back to you soon!"    

  • Moscow 'Trump Tower' Talks Lasted Through 2016, Lawyer Says
    U.S. President Donald Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani says Trump's discussions with Russian officials over construction of a Trump Tower in Moscow went on throughout the time he was campaigning for the White House in 2016, months longer than previously acknowledged. “It's our understanding that they went on throughout 2016," Giuliani told NBC's Meet the Press. Giuliani said there "weren't a lot of them, but there were conversations.  Can't be sure of the exact date." "Probably could be up to as far as October, November — our answers cover until the election," Giuliani said, referring to written questions Trump has answered from special counsel Robert Mueller, who for 20 months has been investigating Trump campaign ties to Russia and whether Trump, as president, obstructed justice by trying to thwart the probe. "So anytime during that period they could've talked about it," Giuliani said. "But the president's recollection of it is that the thing had petered out (subsided) quite a bit,” and the construction project never materialized.  During the early stages of the 2016 race for the Republican presidential nomination, Trump often said he had no business ties to Russia. Giuliani, a former New York mayor, said that Michael Cohen, Trump's former personal attorney, "would have a much better recollection of [the Moscow negotiations] than the president. It was much more important to him. That was his sole mission. The president was running for president of the United States.  So you have to expect there's not going to be a great deal of concentration on a project that never went anywhere." ‘Big news’ Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the lead Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee that has been investigating Trump campaign ties to Russia, said on the NBC show the length of Trump's efforts to build a Moscow skyscraper, extending into the November 2016 national election, was "news to me, and that is big news.  Why, two years after the fact, are we just learning this fact now when there’s been this much inquiry?” Warner added, “I would think most voters — Democrat, Republican, independent, you name it — that knowing the Republican nominee was actively trying to do business in Moscow, that the Republican nominee at least at one point had offered, if he built this building, Vladimir Putin, a free-penthouse apartment, and if those negotiations were ongoing up until the election, I think that’s a relevant fact for voters to know.  And I think it’s remarkable we are two years after the fact and just discovering it today.” Cohen has pleaded guilty to, among other offenses, lying to Congress about the extent of Trump's involvement with the Moscow project, telling a congressional panel that Trump's efforts ended in January 2016, just as the Republican presidential nominating contests were starting three years ago.  He has said he lied to comport with Trump's own public comments to voters, but more recently has said he recalls the Moscow discussions extending to June 2016, a shorter time frame than Giuliani acknowledged Sunday. The online news site BuzzFeed said last week that Trump had directed Cohen to lie to Congress about the Trump Moscow timeline, but Mueller's office late Friday said the report was "not accurate."  BuzzFeed said it continues to stand by the story. In a separate interview on CNN, Giuliani said he had "no knowledge" of whether Trump talked to Cohen before his congressional testimony. Mueller is believed to be writing a report on his findings from his lengthy investigation.  He and other federal prosecutors have secured convictions or guilty pleas from several key figures in Trump's orbit, including former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, campaign aide Rick Gates, former national security adviser Michael Flynn, former foreign affairs adviser George Papadopoulos and Cohen.    

  • Democrats Reject Trump's Offer to End US Government Shutdown
    With a partial U.S. government shutdown in its fifth week, Democrats are rejecting President Donald Trump’s offer of limited and temporary protections for some immigrants to America in return for billions of dollars to extend barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports the political stand-off endures and hundreds of thousands of government workers are likely to miss a second paycheck this week.

  • Zimbabwe President Ends Foreign Tour After Protests
    Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa broke off a foreign tour on Sunday as criticism grew over a brutal crackdown on protests at home, saying he wanted "to get Zimbabwe calm, stable and working again." "In light of the economic situation, I will be returning home after a highly productive week of bilateral trade and investment meetings," he said on Twitter, scrapping plans to attend the Davos summit this week. "We will be ably represented in Davos by Minister of Finance, Mthuli Ncube. The first priority is to get Zimbabwe calm, stable and working again." The crackdown has underlined fears of a return to the violent repression of Robert Mugabe, who was ousted from power by the military 14 months ago. At least 12 people have been killed and 78 treated for gunshot injuries over the last week, according to the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, which has recorded more than 240 incidents of assault and torture. The U.N. has fiercely criticized the government reaction to the protests as allegations mount of shootings, beatings and abductions of opposition figures, activists and ordinary residents. Mnangagwa, who is seeking much-needed foreign investment, was in Kazakhstan on Sunday after starting his tour in Russia last Monday.    

  • January 20, 2019
    A look at the best news photos from around the world.

  • Death Toll Reaches 79 in Mexico Fuel Pipeline Fire
    They were warned to stay away from the geyser of gasoline gushing from the illegally tapped pipeline in central Mexico, but Gerardo Perez says he and his son joined others in bypassing the soldiers. As they neared the spurting fuel he was overcome with foreboding. Perez recalls telling his son: "Let's go ... this thing is going to explode."   And it did, with a fireball that engulfed locals scooping up the spilling gasoline and underscored the dangers of an epidemic of fuel theft from pipelines that Mexico's new president has vowed to fight.   By Sunday morning the death toll from Friday's blaze had risen to 79, with another 81 hospitalized in serious condition, according to federal Health Minister Jorge Alcocer. Dozens more were missing.   Perez and his son escaped the flames. On Saturday, he returned to the scorched field in the town of Tlahuelilpan in Hidalgo state to look for missing friends. It was a fruitless task. Only a handful of the remains still had skin. Dozens were burned to the bone or to ash when the gusher of gasoline exploded.   Just a few feet from where the pipeline passed through an alfalfa field, the dead seem to have fallen in heaps, perhaps as they stumbled over each other or tried to help one another as the geyser of gasoline turned to flames.   Several of the deceased lay on their backs, their arms stretched out in agony. Some seemed to have covered their chests in a last attempt to protect themselves from the blast. A few corpses seemed to embrace each other in death. Lost shoes were scattered around a space the size of a soccer field. Closer to the explosion, forensic workers marked mounds of ash with numbers.   On Friday, hundreds of people had gathered in an almost festive atmosphere in a field where the duct had been perforated by fuel thieves and gasoline spewed 20 feet into the air.   State oil company Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, said the pipeline, which supplies much of central Mexico with fuel, had just reopened after being shut since Dec. 23 and that it had been breached 10 times over three months.   The tragedy came just three weeks after President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador launched an offensive against fuel theft gangs that had drilled dangerous, illegal taps into pipelines an astounding 12,581 times in the first 10 months of 2018, an average of about 42 per day. The crackdown has led to widespread fuel shortages at gas stations throughout the country as Pemex altered distribution, both licit and illicit.   Lopez Obrador vowed on Sunday to continue the fight against a practice that steals about $3 billion per year in fuel.   "Mexico needs to end corruption," Lopez Obrador said. "This is not negotiable."   He said he would offer financial aid to communities along pipelines that have become somewhat dependent on income from fuel theft rings.   Lopez Obrador faces an uphill fight against a practice that locals say is deeply rooted in the poor rural areas where pipelines pass, covered by only a foot or two of dirt. In some cases, locals support the fuel thieves.   Tlahuelilpan, population 20,000, is just 8 miles (13 kilometers) from Pemex's Tula refinery. Pemex Chief Executive Octavio Romero said an estimated 10,000 barrels of premium gasoline were rushing through the pipeline with 20 kilograms of pressure when it was ruptured.   Locals on Saturday expressed both sympathy and consternation toward the president's war on fuel gangs.   Arely Calva Martinez said the recent shortages at gas stations raised the temptation to salvage fuel from the gusher.   Her brother Marco Alfredo, a teacher, was desperate for gas to drive 90 minutes back and forth to work when word spread via Facebook that fuel spewing into the field. Marco Alfredo and another brother, Yonathan, were in the field when the fire erupted. They haven't been seen since.   "I think if there had been gas in the gas stations, many of these people wouldn't have been here," Calva Martinez said while holding a picture of her brothers.   Tears streamed down Erica Bautista's cheeks as she held up her cellphone with pictures of her brother, Valentin Hernandez Cornejo, 24, a taxi driver, and his wife, Yesica, both of whom are also missing. Valentin faced "enormous lines" for a limited ration of gas, she said. Then he received a phone call alerting him to the fuel spill.   "We want to at least find a cadaver," she said while weeping.   Health officials were taking DNA samples from direct relatives at the local community center in Tlahuelilpan to aid in identification. Outside, a long, chilling list of the missing was taped to a window.   Wrapped in a blanket, Hugo Olvera Estrada said he had gone to six nearby hospitals looking for his 13-year-old son, who had joined the crowd at the fuel spill. He hasn't been seen since.   "Ay, no, where is my son?" he wailed.   Lopez Obrador launched the offensive against illegal taps soon after taking office Dec. 1, deploying 3,200 marines to guard pipelines and refineries. His administration also shut down pipelines to detect and deter illegal taps, relying more on delivering fuel by tanker truck.   Mexican Defense Secretary Luis Cresencio said there are 50 soldiers stationed every 12 miles along the pipelines, and that they patrol 24 hours a day. But the soldiers have been ordered not to engage with fuel thieves out of fear that an escalation could result in more shootings of unarmed civilians or more soldiers being beaten by a mob.   "We don't want this sort of confrontation," Cresencio said.   A second pipeline burst into flames Friday in the neighboring state of Queretaro as a result of another illegal tap. But in this fire there were no reported casualties.   In December 2010, authorities also blamed thieves for a pipeline explosion in a central Mexico near the capital that killed 28 people, including 13 children.

  • Greece Rally Over Macedonia Name Deal Turns Violent
    Protests turned violent Sunday between Greek demonstrators and police as tens of thousands of people converged on Athens to oppose a name-change deal with Macedonia. Greece has long protested the name Macedonia, adopted by its northern neighbor after it split from Yugoslavia. Greeks say Macedonia's new name -- the Republic of North Macedonia -- represents an attempt to appropriate Greek identity and cultural heritage, because Macedonia is also the name of Greece’s northern province made famous by Alexander the Great's conquests. The protests Sunday started out peacefully but later in the day demonstrators threw rocks, firebombs and other items at police, who responded with numerous volleys of tear gas. At least 25 officers and dozens of people were injured in the clashes, officials said. Police said at least seven people had been arrested, according to the Associated Press. The Greek parliament is expected to vote on the deal later this week, in which Macedonia will change its name and Greece will drop its objections to the Balkan country joining NATO and the European Union.   A nationwide poll in Greece this week found that 70 percent of respondents oppose the deal, AP reported. The agreement has caused Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to lose his four-year coalition in parliament after his nationalist allies defected to protest the deal. Following the upheaval, Tsipras narrowly won a confidence vote in parliament on Wednesday.   Tsipras has called for a televised debate on the planned name deal with Macedonia before parliament votes on the agreement.   The Greek prime minister and his Macedonian counterpart, Zoran Zaev, brokered the compromise in June to end a 27-year name dispute between the two neighbors.   Last week, Macedonia's parliament approved a constitutional revision to change the country's name. The agreement has also caused protests in Macedonia, with critics there saying the government gave up too much in the deal.   Tsipras has argued the Macedonia deal will bolster stability in Europe's Balkan region. EU countries have also strongly backed the deal.

  • US Democrats, Republicans Divided on Path to Reopening Government
    The partial U.S. government shutdown reached day 31 Monday with the Senate's Republican leader preparing a vote on a proposal that President Donald Trump is calling a compromise and Democratic leaders say is a non-starter. Trump's plan would provide three years of protection against deportation for hundreds of thousands of immigrants who came to the country illegally when they were children, as well extensions of protected status for people who fled their countries due to violence or natural disasters.In return he would get the $5.7 billion in funding he wants for a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border. Democrats object to the border wall as an ineffective and expensive security solution.They want Trump and Republicans to agree to reopen the government first and then discuss other border security initiatives. Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he plans to bring Trump's proposal to a vote in his chamber in the coming days, although he will need some Democratic support to win approval. In the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she is planning votes this week on adding more immigration judges and money for scanning vehicles and drugs at the country's ports of entry.The House has already passed multiple measures that would reopen the government, but McConnell has refused to bring them up in the Senate, saying he will not consider any bill that Trump would not support. While the shutdown continues, about 800,000 government workers are either continuing their jobs without pay, or have been furloughed. "Nancy Pelosi and some of the Democrats turned down my offer yesterday before I even got up to speak. They don’t see crime & drugs, they only see 2020 - which they are not going to win. Best economy!" Trump said on Twitter, referring to next year's presidential election. "They should do the right thing for the Country & allow people to go back to work." He later called the government employees working without pay "great patriots." Pelosi used her own post Sunday to reiterate to Trump the Democrats' position. "800,000 Americans are going without pay. Re-open the government, let workers get their paychecks and then we can discuss how we can come together to protect the border. #EndTheShutdown," Pelosi said. Democratic Rep. Nita Lowey, chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, said in a statement there is "simply no reason" for the shutdown to continue while the two sides "are engaged in a complex policy discussion." "Protecting Dreamers and TPS recipients is the right thing to do. The President is wrong to hold them hostage over money for a wasteful wall that could be better spent on more effective border security measures. The President’s trade offer — temporary protections for some immigrants in exchange for a border wall boondoggle — is not acceptable," Lowey said. Watch related video by VOA's Michael Bowman: Conservative critics of Trump's plan said the protections against deportation amounted to amnesty for lawbreakers. But Trump tweeted, "No, Amnesty is not a part of my offer ... Amnesty will be used only on a much bigger deal, whether on immigration or something else.Likewise there will be no big push to remove the 11,000,000 plus people who are here illegally-but be careful Nancy!" Republicans hold a 53-47 majority in the Senate, but major legislation in the chamber almost always requires a 60-vote majority.It is unclear if Trump will be able to convince at least seven Democrats to vote for his proposal. Even if the Senate approves Trump's plan, it would face defeat in the House. A Senate victory for Trump, however, could force new negotiations over his border wall plan and over reopening the government, as furloughed federal workers are set to miss their second paycheck next Friday. As tensions over the border wall and the government shutdown continued unabated last week, Pelosi demanded Trump postpone his scheduled Jan. 29 State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress until after the government is reopened, submit it in writing to Congress or make the speech at the White House.Trump, in turn, postponed her fact-finding trip with other congressional leaders to visit U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Trump had not directly responded to her call to delay the State of the Union speech until after the shutdown ends.  But on Sunday, he said, "Nancy, I am still thinking about the State of the Union speech, there are so many options - including doing it as per your written offer (made during the Shutdown, security is no problem), and my written acceptance.While a contract is a contract, I’ll get back to you soon!"

  • Turkish Employee of US Consulate Indicted for Espionage
    Turkish prosecutors are seeking a life sentence for a local employee of the United States consulate in Istanbul accused of attempting to overthrow the government and espionage. A 78-page indictment seen by The Associated Press on Sunday against Turkish national Metin Topuz, jailed since October 2017, said he was in "very intense contact" with police officers who led a 2013 anti-corruption investigation that implicated top government officials.   The Turkish government accused U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen for attempting a "judicial coup" with that investigation and labeled his network a terror group. Gulen is also blamed for the 2016 failed coup but he denies the accusations.   The indictment said Topuz, who worked as a translator and fixer for the Drug Enforcement Agency in the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul, told authorities he had been in touch with several police officers with alleged links to Gulen for narcotic investigations.   The prosecutor said this was a "reflexive acknowledgment of his crimes" and claimed Topuz's communication with the officers was "beyond the limits of consular work."   The indictment includes telephone calls, text messages, CCTV frame grabs with suspected police officers, along with testimonies from four witnesses and two suspects. He's also accused of privacy violations and illegally recording personal data.   A call to Topuz's lawyer on Sunday was not immediately returned.   A judge will decide whether the case will proceed to trial. Among the 30 complainants are Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and former ministers.   Topuz's arrest increased tensions between the two NATO allies in 2017 and led to the suspension of bilateral visa services for more than two months.   Relations hit rock bottom last summer when U.S. President Donald Trump sanctioned two Turkish officials and increased tariffs on aluminum and steel imports, causing a huge loss in the Turkish lira's value, to pressure the country to release an imprisoned American pastor. Pastor Andrew Brunson was convicted in October for terror links but later allowed to leave the country.   Two other local consular employees are under investigation in Turkey. Jailed translator Hamza Ulucay is accused of terror group membership with alleged links to outlawed Kurdish militants, and staff Mete Canturk was placed under house arrest.   Ties have been on the mend since, but a host of issues remain as irritants, including U.S. support for Kurdish militants in Syria Turkey considers terrorists, Turkey's pledge to buy Russian missile defense systems and cleric Gulen's continued residence in Pennsylvania.   The Turkish government launched a massive crackdown against Gulen's network following the 2016 coup and arrested more than 77,000 people and sacked more than 130,000 public employees through emergency decrees. Critics say the purge went beyond the suspects of the coup with the arrest of journalists, lawmakers and activists.    

  • Sudanese-British Billionaire Mo Ibrahim Calls on Sudan’s Al-Bashir to Stop Deadly Protest Crackdowns
    A month of deadly protests across Sudan represents a “total rejection” of President Omar al-Bashir’s 30-year rule, said Mohammed “Mo” Ibrahim, a Sudanese-British billionaire and founder of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation. Since mid-December, Sudanese youth have taken to the streets to protest failed policies, repression, government-sanctioned torture, ongoing conflict and a deteriorating economy that has left many unsure of their next meal. “People are hungry, and they see the looting of the country’s resources by the ruling clique,” Ibrahim told VOA by phone Friday. “Just, people had enough.” Protests erupted last month over concerns about the government’s economic policies, Ahmed Elzobier, a Sudan researcher at Amnesty International, told VOA. After violent crackdowns across the country, which human rights groups say have left more than 40 people dead, protesters’ demands have expanded, Elzobier added. Now, they want the country’s leadership to step aside. “People just eat bread because you cannot afford anything else,” Ibrahim said. “When they are pushed against the wall, they just have nothing to lose.” Impunity Ibriham decried a culture of impunity that has, so far, shielded Bashir and the ruling party, the National Congress Party. Politicians openly flaunt their power, Ibrahim said, while the country’s 40 million people can only watch. “If 70 percent of the budget is allocated to the president, at his whims, to spend on the militias, the armies, the security forces — what is left? Thirty percent to support education, health, agriculture, road infrastructure, clean water?” Ibrahim said. “This is not a way to run a country.” Ibrahim said protesters face “a huge array of armed forces” in the capital, Khartoum, and across the country. “The people of Sudan were courageously going out in the street everywhere — in every single town and city and village in Sudan, demonstrating and asking those guys to go,” he said. But security forces have abused their power, Elzobier added, putting protesters at risk. “We received many reports from different activists and human rights defenders that the Sudanese security forces use lethal force — live ammunition — against protesters,” Elzobier said. Government empathy With protesters showing no signs of relenting, the government has made a point to acknowledge their concerns. Bashir has called the youth “the future of Sudan” and said he respects their right to protest “in search of better conditions,” promising to make their “just demands” a reality, Al Arabiya, a Dubai-based, Saudi-owned news organization reported Sunday. But the government has shown two sides, according to Amnesty. Despite their gestures of appeasement, the ruling party also wants to protect the government and its grip on power. To do that, Elzobier said, they’ve enlisted the help of “shadowy groups” — heavily armed militias that travel in unmarked pickup trucks wearing masks. The country’s former vice president has said this armed militia “will protect the regime at any cost,” Elzobier added. Outside help As the protesters press on, Amnesty has called for the immediate cease of lethal force, the unconditional release of peaceful protesters and an investigation into those who have committed crimes against civilians. But Ibrahim said the Sudanese people need help outside the country to find justice. “It just cannot go on unpunished, and we look for the international community to really stand up and say ‘enough is enough’,” Ibrahim said. That could involve imposing sanctions on officials involved in the killing of protesters and more media coverage of the protests and the violence unfolding. In 2017, the United States lifted long-standing sanctions against Sudan following months of diplomacy in a bid to boost the economy. Ibrahim expressed doubt, however, that pursuing charges against Bashir in the International Criminal Court was the best course of action, suggesting instead that abandoning that route could entice Bashir to prevent further violence and deaths. Room for optimism Despite unrest in his home country, Ibrahim sees reasons for optimism in governance across Africa. “There is a lot of positive things happening,” he said. “In Angola, in Botswana, in Namibia, in Ghana — I would hope in Nigeria.” Each of these countries has, in the past five years, held successful elections or seen the peaceful transfer of power. Nigerians will head to the polls again in February. “The battle now is moving towards peaceful elections, more transparency. I am optimistic, and I think we are moving forward — unfortunately not in my country.” Ibrahim’s foundation, established in 2006, seeks to promote good leadership and governance in Africa through an annual index of governance, a cash prize for noteworthy achievements in leadership and other initiatives.

  • Congo Calm After Court Upholds Election Win of Tshisekedi
    Congo's capital was calm Sunday with residents attending church after the Constitutional Court confirmed the presidential election victory of Felix Tshisekedi. It was not clear if the population would heed runner-up Martin Fayulu's call for non-violent protests against the court ruling. Tshisekedi said early Sunday that the court's decision to reject claims of electoral fraud and declare him president was a victory for the entire country.   "It is Congo that won," said Tshisekedi, speaking to his supporters after the court decision. "It is not the victory of one camp against another. I am engaged in a campaign to reconcile all Congolese. ... The Congo that we are going to form will not be a Congo of division, hatred or tribalism. It will be a reconciled Congo, a strong Congo that will be focused on development, peace and security."   Supporters of his UDPS party celebrated the victory into the early morning hours, in motorcade processions through the capital's main streets.   But Fayulu's declaration that he is Congo's "only legitimate president" and call for the Congolese people to peacefully protest against what he called a "constitutional coup d'etat" threatened to keep the country in a political crisis that has been simmering since the Dec. 30 elections.   The court turned away Fayulu's request for a recount of the vote, affirming Tshisekedi won with more than 7 million votes, or 38 percent, and Fayulu received 34 percent.   The court judgment, released in the early hours of Sunday, said Fayulu offered no proof to back his assertions that he had won easily based on leaked data attributed the electoral commission. It also called unfounded another challenge filed by Fayulu that objected to the electoral commission's last-minute decision to bar some 1 million voters from the election over a deadly Ebola virus outbreak.   Fayulu and his supporters have also, outside the court, alleged an extraordinary backroom deal by outgoing President Joseph Kabila to rig the vote in favor of Tshisekedi.   "It's a secret for no one inside or outside of our country that you have elected me president," with 60 percent of the votes, Fayulu said in his statement. "I now consider myself the only legitimate president of the DRC."   Fayulu urged Congolese to take to the streets to peacefully protest. Neither Congolese nor the international community should recognize Tshisekedi, nor obey him, Fayulu added.   Congo's government on Sunday called Fayulu's statements "irresponsible."   "We consider it an irresponsible statement that is highly politically immature. I do not think he has understood the issues that are happening and at the regional level and at the global level with the Democratic Republic of Congo and that's a shame," government spokesman Lambert Mende told The Associated Press on Sunday.   The largely untested Tshisekedi, son of the late, charismatic opposition leader Etienne, is set to be inaugurated on Jan. 22. The government is expected to resign in the coming days, and the new National Assembly will be installed on Jan. 26 with a small group of members who will then validate the 500 deputies, the majority of whom belong to Kabila's Common Front for Congo party.   Many worried that the court's rejection of the appeal could lead to greater instability in a nation that already suffers from rebels, communal violence and an Ebola outbreak.   "It might produce some demonstrations, but it won't be as intense as it was in 2017 and 2018," said Andrew Edward Tchie, research fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.   Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza promptly congratulated the new president-elect in a Tweet on Sunday.   "Through a fully organized electoral process without outside influence and the wisdom of President Kabila, the (hash)RDC has just defended its dignity and sovereignty. The (hash)Burundi congratulates the elected President, HE Felix A. Tshisekedi and the step taken by the Congolese people,'' he said.   The Southern African Development Community on Sunday congratulated President-elect Tshisekedi and Congo for conducting elections in a peaceful manner "despite the security and logistical challenges." The group had last week suggested a recount and a possible unity government.   The 16-nation regional bloc called "upon all Congolese to accept the outcome, and consolidate democracy and maintain a peaceful and stable environment following the landmark elections." The body called on "all stakeholders to support the President-elect and his government in maintaining unity, peace and stability; and attaining socio-economic development in the DRC. SADC looks forward to a peaceful transfer of power to the President-elect.   Tanzania's President John Magufuli also sent congratulations on Twitter.   In addition to congratulating Tshisekedi on his election as Congo's next president, Magufuli praised the people of Congo. "I beseech you to maintain peace," he wrote.   All of the election results, not just the presidential ones, had been widely questioned after Kabila's ruling coalition won a majority in legislative and provincial votes while its presidential candidate finished a distant third.   Despite this, Congo, a country of 80 million people, rich in the minerals key to smartphones around the world, is moving close to its first peaceful, democratic transfer of power since independence in 1960.      

  • Israeli Leader Visits Africa to Restore Relations with Chad
    Israel and Chad restored diplomatic relations after nearly 50 years as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the central African nation on Sunday. The visit and official announcement marked a milestone in Netanyahu's recent policy of seeking out new allies among developing countries that have historically sided with the Palestinians at the United Nations and other international forums.   The visit comes after Chad's President Idriss Deby visited Jerusalem in November during which the leaders discussed cooperation in agriculture, counterterrorism, border protection and technology. Netanyahu hailed what he called a "historic and important breakthrough" with the Muslim-majority country that borders Libya and Sudan.   "Israel is making inroads into the Islamic world. This is the result of considerable effort in recent years. We are making history and we are turning Israel into a rising global power," Netanyahu said from the capital city of N'Djamena, the first ever visit by an Israel prime minister. "We are continuing on, up the mountain, to new heights."   Chad broke off relations with Israel in 1972 amid pressure from the Arab world. Most recently, it has played a key role as a partner of the United States and other North African countries in combatting jihadist groups such as Boko Haram in the Sahara.   The desert country is one of the world's least developed states, according to the World Bank's Human Development Index, and its government has been accused of widespread human rights abuses and rigged elections. Deby took power in 1990 and has since been re-elected five times.   Upon departing to Chad Sunday, Netanyahu promised that there would soon be more visits to countries to restore ties.   "This is very disturbing and even causes outrage in Iran and among the Palestinians who are trying to prevent this. They will not succeed," he said.    

  • With Trump Out, Davos Chief Eyes Fixing World Architecture
    The founder of the World Economic Forum says U.S. President Donald Trump would have been an "interesting discussion partner" at its annual Davos event starting this week, but acknowledges that the partial U.S. government shutdown scuttled those plans. Klaus Schwab says he saw Trump shortly before Christmas and heard he had been "very much looking forward to coming back." Last year, Trump was a highlight attendee at the elite gathering in the Swiss Alps, where he dined with business executives and met foreign leaders. Trump canceled the U.S. delegation's trip to Davos this year amid the partial government shutdown. "He would have been an interesting discussion partner," Schwab said. "But of course, we have understanding: We see government stand still." Now, the WEF chief is focusing on reshaping the "global architecture" that has split populists and globalists and left many people feeling left out. That could be a tall order as trade forecasts predict slowdown and economic growth has eased, in part after Trump tax cuts doped-up the economy and markets last year. "I'm concerned because we are walking on very thin ice," Schwab said in an interview at the Davos conference center. "We are the back-end of a very strong, long positive economic cycle - maybe boosted by tax relief in the United States." Schwab, who believes the world is going through a "Fourth Industrial Revolution" involving rapid technological change, says too many are being left behind. He wants to see more "equilibrium" between national or individual needs and imperatives facing the world. "We are living in an interdependent, global humanity and there are global challenges like the environment, like terrorism, like mega-migration for which we have to find common solutions," he said. The forum released Sunday a poll in which more than three-fourths of respondents said it was "important" or "very important" for countries to work together toward a common goal - a feeling that was strongest in places like South Asia or sub-Saharan Africa. Smaller majorities in Europe and North America felt the same way. The poll of more than 10,000 people across 29 countries, considered to be a representative sample of various economic levels and continents, was conducted through online from Jan. 4-17. WEF said the survey results pointed to a "rejection of populism." But Schwab said leaders need to do a better job of addressing people's problems. "We have really a gap in terms of shaping the future," he said. "So, it's not astonishing that people lose hope because if you don't know how your future looks particularly at times of rapid change, then you become really egocentric, you revert to a bunker mentality - and that's reflected not only on the political and national level."