Voice of America

  • Russia Wants Explanation of Trump Withdrawal from Arms Treaty
    Russia says President Vladimir Putin will ask for an explanation this week from U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton when he visits Moscow about President Donald Trump's intention to pull the United States out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty because of alleged Russian violations of the pact. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Sunday Trump's action "would be a very dangerous step," accusing the U.S. of trying to assume "total supremacy" in the world. The agreement was negotiated in the late 1980s, signed by then U.S. President Ronald Reagan and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. It required the elimination of short-range and intermediate-range nuclear and conventional missiles by the United States and Russia. In announcing the withdrawal, Trump said Saturday, "Russia has violated the agreement. They have been violating it for many years. And we're not going to let them violate a nuclear agreement and go out and do weapons and we are not allowed to." Trump said the United States will develop the weapons unless Russia and China agree to stop manufacturing their own similar weaponry, although China is not part of the pact. "If Russia's doing it and if China's doing it, and we are adhering to the agreement, that is unacceptable," Trump said. Russia has denied violating the treaty. Britain said it stood "absolutely resolute" with the United States in the dispute, although another American ally, Germany, called Trump's move "regrettable." Gorbachev, now 87, attacked Trump's action, telling the Interfax news agency, "Is it really so hard to understand that dropping these agreements... shows a lack of wisdom? Getting rid of the treaty is a mistake." He said the two countries "absolutely must not tear up old agreements on disarmament. All the agreements aimed at nuclear disarmament and limitation of nuclear arms must be preserved to save life on Earth."   U.S. officials have previously alleged that Russia violated the treaty by deliberately deploying a land-based cruise missile in order to pose a threat to NATO. Russia has claimed that U.S. missile defenses violate the pact. Beatrice Fihn, the executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize-winning campaign coalition, said that "by declaring he will leave the INF Treaty, President Trump has shown himself to be a demolition man who has no ability to build real security. Instead, by blowing up nuclear treaties, he is taking the U.S. down a trillion dollar road to a new nuclear arms race." Dmitry Oreshkin, an independent Russian political analyst told the Associated Press, "We are slowly slipping back to the situation of Cold War, as it was at the end of the Soviet Union, with quite similar consequences, but now it could be worse because Putin belongs to a generation that had no war under its belt. These people aren't as much fearful of a war as people of [former Soviet leader Leonid] Brezhnev's epoch. They think if they threaten the West properly, it gets scared."  

  • Foreigners Sold Net $1.1 BLN of Saudi Stocks in Week to Oct 18
    Foreigners sold a net 4.01 billion riyal ($1.07 billion) in Saudi stocks in the week ending Oct. 18, exchange data showed on Sunday - one of the biggest selloff since the market opened to direct foreign buying in mid-2015. The selloff came during a week when investors were rattled by Saudi Arabia's deteriorating relations with foreign powers following the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Riyadh said on Saturday that Khashoggi died in a fight inside its Istanbul consulate, its first acknowledgment of his death after denying for two weeks that it was involved in his disappearance. A breakdown of the data showed foreigners sold 5 billion riyals worth of stocks and bought 991.3 million worth. The Saudi stock market is down about 4 percent since Khashoggi's disappeared. The market had started to weaken before the incident as foreign funds slowed their buying after MSCI's announcement in June that the kingdom will be included in its global emerging market benchmark next year. As of Sunday, the Saudi index was up 5 percent so far this year, but down 5 percent this quarter. ($1 = 3.7518 riyals)

  • Saudi Khashoggi Admission Fails to Stem International Outrage
    Saudi Arabia’s belated admission that writer and onetime royal insider Jamal Khashoggi died in the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul more than two weeks ago is failing to stop the international outcry over his slaying. The Saudi claim that the 59-year-old Khashoggi brawled during a quarrel with security officials came 18 days after repeated Saudi assertions the dissident left the consulate alive and Reported ties between the killers and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and shifting explanations being offered by Riyadh have only increased suspicion about what really happened to Khashoggi. Allies' concerns Allies in the West and the Gulf are becoming more anxious about the consequences from the slaying in terms of dealing with the kingdom and the possible fallout in Saudi Arabia, say analysts and diplomats. Four of the 15 Saudi security operatives and officials who flew into Istanbul hours before Khashoggi was due to visit the consulate were among the bodyguards protecting the Crown Prince on a visit last March to London. One of them, Maher Abdul Aziz Mutreb, was photographed in London during the visit. Last week, The Washington Post reported five members of the Saudi team that flew to Turkey had traveled to the United States in recent years on trips overlapping with visits by the Crown Prince, suggesting they are members of his security entourage. The links between what Turkish officials describe as a hit squad dispatched to murder Khashoggi, who lived in self-imposed exile in the United States, and the Crown Prince are complicating Riyadh’s efforts to distance Mohammed bin Salman from the gruesome incident. Shifting account The Saudis are apparently trying to contain the blame to two high-ranking officials, Saud al-Qahtani, a close confidant of Mohammed bin Salman, and Ahmed al-Asiri, the deputy intelligence chief. Both men have been fired, according to Riyadh. The Saudi government says 18 suspects have been arrested and officials maintain all acted independently of the Crown Prince. But Mohammed bin Salman’s critics at home and abroad point to a tweet by Qahtani last year in which he said he never acted without the approval of the monarch or the Crown Prince. World reaction Many countries have expressed astonishment over the Saudi story that “discussions” aimed at trying to persuade Khashoggi to return to the kingdom went awry and led to a “fight and a quarrel.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, “We expect transparency from Saudi Arabia about the circumstances of his death... The information available about events in the Istanbul consulate is inadequate.” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has called for a full investigation, joining a similar demand by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini. Australia and New Zealand announced Sunday they are joining a boycott of a major investment conference this month in Saudi Arabia, joining Britain, the Netherlands, France and the United States in protest over the Khashoggi killing. Australia's prime minister, Scott Morrison, said Sunday the latest Saudi explanation for what happened to Khashoggi “cannot stand.” Canada's foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, said the explanations offered by Riyadh “lack consistency and credibility.” British lawmakers and rights campaigners are demanding targeted sanctions on Saudi officials, a demand also made by U.S. lawmakers. British Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt questioned the credibility of the Saudi claims of how Khashoggi met his end. A British official told VOA, “There is no justification for this killing and how we respond will partly be determined by the truthfulness of the Saudis.” The former head of Britain intelligence service, John Sawers, said Friday he had little doubt the order to kill Khashoggi came from highest levels of the Saudi government. Seeking answers U.S. President Donald Trump said Saturday, “I'm not satisfied until we find the answer,” although he added it was “possible” the Saudi Crown Prince did not know about the killing. Trump said sanctions are possible, but he hoped that wouldn’t involve halting a multi-billion-dollar arms deal, which he said would hurt the United States more than Saudi Arabia. Turkish officials say they have audio and video evidence Khashoggi was tortured, killed and dismembered on an office desk in the consulate. Turkish officials, who have been leaking gruesome details of the killing to pro-government media in Turkey, have threatened more revelations. Whether the pressure reaches a breaking point for Western allies may depend on how much information the Turkish government chooses to release. Turkey's foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, says when Turkey completes its investigation it will share the results “with the world.” On Friday it added pressure on Riyadh by starting to interview Turkish employees of the consulate. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has left it to underlings to brief loyal media in Turkey on the unfolding investigation. That has prompted some analysts to suspect Erdogan, who bears little affection for the Saudi Crown Prince, is using the killing in an effort to secure substantial monetary compensation Saudi Arabia. Other analysts suspect Erdogan wants the United States to readjust its strategy in the region to rely less on Riyadh and to earn Washington’s gratitude by withholding all Ankara could reveal. But the fallout from the slaying may be uncontrollable, say diplomats. Western journalists and politicians are unlikely to be satisfied with anything short of a full accounting and they remain adamant the Crown Prince, who they say is impulsive and vindictive, was behind the killing.

  • In Photos: Caravan of Central American Migrants
    Some weary migrants stranded on a bridge in Guatemala on its border with Mexico decided to swim and wade their way into Mexico. U.S. President Donald Trump has warned that the migrant caravan that began in Honduras and is now in Guatemala must be stopped before it reaches the U.S.

  • Coalition Airstrike Targets Mosque Used by Islamic State
    The U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group says an airstrike on a mosque in Syria targeted an insurgent command and control center and killed a dozen fighters. The coalition in a statement says that while the law of war protects mosques, the use of the building as a headquarters by IS caused it to lose that protected status.   Syrian state media and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said last week that strikes in Sousa near the Iraq border killed and wounded dozens, including civilians and IS fighters.   The coalition says IS deliberately chose the mosque and repeatedly used it to plan and coordinate attacks on U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces. Sousa is in the last IS-held pocket in Syria where those forces have been fighting extremists for weeks.    

  • Trump: Saudis Deceptive, Lying about Journalist's Death
    U.S. President Donald Trump is attacking Saudi Arabia's explanation for the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside Riyadh's consulate in Istanbul, saying that "obviously there's been deception, and there's been lies." Still, Trump told The Washington Post late Saturday that Saudi Arabia has been an "incredible ally" of the U.S. for decades and that it is possible that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler, did not order Saudi agents to kill Khashoggi. "Nobody has told me he’s responsible. Nobody has told me he’s not responsible," the U.S. leader said. "We haven’t reached that point... I would love if he wasn’t responsible.” Saudi Arabia, in its first acknowledgement Khashoggi is dead, said early Saturday that the journalist died in a fist fight October 2 after getting into an argument at the consulate, an explanation that is drawing wide international scorn and skepticism. Critics are questioning how a team of 15 Saudi agents could fly to Istanbul to meet Khashoggi and eventually kill him without the crown prince's knowledge and consent. Saudi Arabia says it has fired five key officials linked to the death and arrested 18 others. Trump at first said the Saudi explanation was credible, but numerous U.S. lawmakers, including Trump's Republican colleagues, are calling for sanctions against Riyadh. Turkish investigators have said that Saudi agents tortured Khashoggi, decapitated him and then dismembered his body. Trump told the Post that "something will take place" in response to Khashoggi's death, but said the U.S. should not let the incident disrupt a possible $110 billion weapons sale to Riyadh he announced last year. “It’s the largest order in history,” Trump said. “To give that up would hurt us far more than it hurts them. Then all they’ll do is go to Russia or go to China. All that’s doing is hurting us.” US lawmakers react But one Trump supporter, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, told Fox News on Sunday, "I don’t think arms should ever be seen as a jobs program." Other U.S. lawmakers voiced skepticism of the Saudi explanation for Khashoggi's death. Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told CNN he believes Mohammed was responsible, saying, "Yes, I think he did it." A Trump critic, California Congressman Adam Schiff, told ABC News, "This ought to be a relationship-altering event for the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, that we ought to suspend military sales, we ought to suspend certain security assistance." U.S. officials are faced with reconciling the Saudi explanation for Khashoggi's death and Turkey's claim that an audio recording exists of Khashoggi's torture and death. Trump denies that U.S. officials have heard the audio or read transcripts of it, but the Post quoted sources saying that Central Intelligence Agency officials have listened to the audio. Verification of it would make it difficult to accept the Saudi explanation for Khashoggi's death. Europe expresses skepticism European leaders and the human rights group Amnesty International expressed skepticism about the Saudi explanation. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian called Saturday for an "exhaustive and diligent investigation to establish exactly who was responsible" for Khashoggi's death. Le Drian also said "those guilty of the murder" must be held accountable for their actions. Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her foreign minister, Heiko Maas, said in a joint statement that they condemn the death "in the strongest possible terms." They went on to say "we expect transparency from Saudi Arabia" regarding the details of Khashoggi's death and called the available information on the incident "insufficient." European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the circumstances around Khashoggi's death are deeply troubling, and called for a thorough, credible and transparent investigation. Amnesty International called on Saudi Arabia to "immediately produce" Khashoggi's body so an autopsy can be performed. Amnesty's director of campaigns for the Middle East, Samah Hadid, said a United Nations investigation would be necessary to avoid a "Saudi whitewash" of the circumstances surrounding Khashoggi's death. Hadid said such a cover-up may have been done to preserve Saudi Arabia's international business ties.        

  • Hurricane Willa Grows Rapidly off Mexico's Pacific Coast
    A newly formed hurricane is rapidly gaining force off Mexico's Pacific coast and forecasters say it could reach Category 4 status before hitting land by midweek along a stretch of shore between Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlan. Hurricane Willa was about 240 miles (390 kilometers) southwest of the port city of Manzanillo early Sunday with maximum sustained winds of 85 mph (140 kph). The U.S. National Hurricane Center says Willa could become a major hurricane by Monday morning and near the coast by Tuesday night. Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Vicente appeared to be a less potent threat further south. Forecasters said it could near the central Pacific coast late Tuesday. It was located about 115 miles (185 kilometers) southeast of Puerto Angel with winds of 50 mph (85 kph).

  • 17 Killed in Taiwan Train Derailment
    At least seventeen people were killed in a train derailment on a popular coastal route in Taiwan Sunday. Another 132 were injured, the Taiwan Railways Administration said in a statement. All of the train's eight carriages derailed, and five of them were flipped over, according to the statement. Local news reports say that as many as 30 people remain alive and trapped inside the carriages in the northeastern Yilan county. Photos of the scene show the Pyuma Express lying zig-zagged across the track.

  • Jordan Cancels Part of Peace Agreement with Israel
    Jordan's King Abdullah II on Sunday said he has decided not to renew parts of his country's landmark peace treaty with Israel. Abdullah released a statement that he intends to pull out of two annexes from the 1994 peace agreement that allowed Israel to lease two small areas, Baqura and Ghamr, from the Jordanians for 25 years. The leases expire next year, and the deadline for renewing them is Thursday.   The lands were leased to Jewish farmers early last century, but then became part of Jordan after the kingdom gained independence in 1946.   Baqura, in the northern Jordan Valley, was captured by Israel in 1950. Ghamr, near Aqaba in southern Jordan, was seized in the 1967 Mideast War.   Under their peace agreement, Jordan agreed to grant Israeli farmers and military officers free access to the enclave.   Abdullah said he informed Israel of his decision. ``We are practicing our full sovereignty on our land,'' he said. ``Our priority in these regional circumstances is to protect our interests and do whatever is required for Jordan and the Jordanians.''   Abdullah did not give a reason for his decision, but he has faced escalating domestic pressure to end the lease and return the territories to full Jordanian control. Last week, demonstrators demanding an end to Israeli ownership of the lands marched in Jordan's capital of Amman last week.   Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that "Jordan reserved the right to receive the territory," but said he expected to enter negotiations with Jordan "about the possibility of extending the existing agreement."   Netanyahu said the "accord as a whole is an important thing," and called the peace deals with Jordan and Egypt "anchors of regional stability." He spoke at a memorial for the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who signed the peace deal with Jordan.   Israel's former ambassador to Jordan, Oded Eran, said he was not surprised by Jordan's decision, and said there was still time for the two countries to re-negotiate the agreement. He dismissed the possibility that Jordan might pull out of other parts of the broader peace treaty.   "For its own interests, the continuation of the adherence to the peace treaty is in Jordan's interest as indeed it is in the interest of Israel," Eran added.   Tensions between Israel and Jordan have mounted in recent months over such issues as the contested status of Jerusalem and its holy sites, stalled Mideast peace talks, and last year's shooting of two Jordanian citizens by an Israeli embassy guard in Amman, which ignited a diplomatic crisis.   Relations thawed after Israel replaced its ambassador to Amman and Netanyahu met with Abdullah last summer to stress the importance of economic and security cooperation between the two countries.          

  • Saudi Writer Saw Turkey as Base for a New Middle East
    Friends say Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was a proud Arab who wanted to set up a base in his ancestral homeland of Turkey, contributing to the growing community of exiled Arabs who have taken refuge there.   For Khashoggi, a history lover, the growing Arab community and Turkey's power in the region echoed aspects of the Ottoman empire, when Istanbul was at the center of a rich and multicultural Middle East. With millions of Arab exiles who fled their homes because of wars or oppression, Turkey has become a fertile ground for talent and ideas, a place where Khashoggi could have pursued his own projects, including a pro-democracy group, a media watch group, a forum to translate economic studies and launching online magazines.   Khashoggi was planning to marry his Turkish fiancee on Oct. 3, a day after he walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to get his divorce from a previous marriage confirmed. He had bought a home in Istanbul and friends said he planned to split his time between there and Virginia, where he had owned a condo since 2008.   He never emerged from the consulate. Saudi authorities said Saturday that he died in a brawl involving visiting officials, an account that has drawn widespread skepticism. Turkish pro-government media say a Saudi hit squad traveled to Turkey to kill the columnist for The Washington Post which has called for an investigation led by a U.N.-appointed panel to determine what happened.   Khashoggi's killing sent a chilling message to the many exiled Arabs who have taken refuge in Turkey. Several anti-government Arab TV stations broadcast from Turkey and Istanbul's Arab Media Association has about 800 members. Turkey has also welcomed thousands of members of Egypt's now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group, after its then-President member was ousted from power by the military in 2013. Many Syrian groups opposed to President Bashar Assad have also unsurprisingly converged in neighboring Turkey, where nearly 3 million Syrians have fled to escape the war back home.     Eiad Alhaji, a Syrian filmmaker who was working with Khashoggi on a video about an Ottoman military figure central to Arab-Turkish relations, described their time together after work and interviews.   "We used to go together to sit and talk, two strangers outside our country and society, about what is happening with the Arabs in Turkey and in America. Me as a Syrian, and him as a Saudi Arabian," said Alhaji.   "He was pained to be living in exile but at the same time, he was glad to be free in his opinion and new life.''   Another companion, Fatih Oke, of Istanbul's Arab Media Association, said Khashoggi was an important adviser to the group and "we had plans to establish some projects."   In his last interviews, Khashoggi declared his support for Turkey's policy toward Syria, while criticizing his own government's stance.   Saudi Arabia has grown closer to the U.S. policy in Syria, openly supporting Kurdish-led forces in eastern Syria that Turkey sees as a threat. Khashoggi had criticized his country's rift with Turkey, arguing that an alliance between the two regional powerhouses should come more naturally than a U.S.-Saudi partnership.   Khashoggi, once a Saudi royal family insider, grew critical of the kingdom's rulers following their crackdown on opposition, their war on neighboring Yemen and the severing of ties with the small Gulf state of Qatar.     Khashoggi found a "welcoming place" in Istanbul, said Azzam Tamimi, a British-Palestinian.     "In Istanbul you don't feel like a stranger, the people, the food, the habits,'' Tamimi said. "Also, Turkey's current political authority has been the closest to Arabs since the fall of the Ottoman Empire a hundred years ago. Erdogan and his party opened up to the Arabs."   Turkey has itself faced criticism for jailing more journalists during a crackdown after an attempted coup in 2016.   Khashoggi's ancestors lived in what is today central Turkey. The family's name means spoon maker and its Turkish spelling is "Kasikci."    Alhaji, the filmmaker, said Khashoggi was an "encyclopedia" of the region's history.   Alhaji worked with Khashoggi on a documentary on the life of Fakhreddine Pasha, the last Ottoman governor and military commander in al-Medina who defended the city in modern day Saudi Arabia against an Arab revolt during World War I.     The siege signaled the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the birth of new Arab states. Khashoggi's family was displaced during the fighting — some fled to Izmir, in modern Turkey, including his father, while others went to Damascus.   The legacy of Fakhreddine, who fought against the birth of new nation states to preserve Ottoman influence, is a deeply divisive issue between Gulf leaders and Turkey.   Last year, Gulf rulers, critical of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, compared the two, accusing Fakhreddine of robbing them of their heritage by taking manuscripts out of al-Madina to Istanbul as he left.  Ankara, which sided with Qatar, responded by naming the street in Ankara of the Emirati embassy after Fakhreddine.   "This period is a turning point for the future of all Arab countries and Middle East," said Alhajji on what he believed Khashoggi hoped to convey with their project. "We [should] not be focused on Fakhreddine as a biography but we should deal with the history of this period.''    

  • Ethiopian Marathoner who Made Rio Protest Returns from Exile
    The Ethiopian marathon runner who made global headlines with an anti-government gesture at the Rio Olympics finish line returned from exile on Sunday after sports officials assured him he will not face prosecution. Feyisa Lilesa's return from the United States came several months after a reformist prime minister took office and announced sweeping political reforms. He received a warm welcome at the airport from the foreign minister and other senior officials.   Feyisa said the new government is "a result of the struggle by the people" and he hopes it will address concerns after years of repression in Africa's second most populous nation.   The silver medalist crossed his wrists at the finish line in 2016 in solidarity with protesters in his home region, Oromia, who like many across Ethiopia were demanding wider freedoms.   Feyisa later said he feared he would be imprisoned or killed if he returned home. But he became a symbol of resistance for many youth until the pressure on the government led to a change of power, with 42-year-old Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed taking office in April. Abiy is the country's first leader from the Oromia-based Oromo ethnic group.   Ethiopia's government did not immediately comment Sunday on the runner's return.   Asked by The Associated Press if he has any political ambitions, Feyisa said: "I don't have any ambition in politics! Actually I didn't get close to politics, politics gets close to me."   Feyisa broke down in tears while speaking about youth who lost their lives during the years of protests. "I will continue to remember those who lost their lives for the cause. Many people lost their lives for it."   Turning his attention to running, he said his next race will be the Dubai Marathon in January.   "My training while I was in exile was not good, so it has affected my performance," Feyisa said. He missed two races in recent weeks as he prepared to return to Ethiopia. "I will resume my regular training after a week."

  • UNHCR: People Seeking Asylum Have Legal Right to Enter US
    The UN refugee agency indicates Washington is on shaky legal ground in barring Central American asylum seekers from entering the United States. The UNHCR reports people fleeing persecution and violence have a right to international protection. The UN refugee agency does not question the sovereign right of any nation to control its borders. But, it does say international law governs the way countries must behave toward refugees and asylum seekers. The UNHCR says it recognizes the arrival of thousands of Honduran migrants in the caravan at the U.S. borders will be overwhelming. But, Spokesman Charlie Yaxlie says closing the border to the caravan is not a solution and will likely cause harm to those who have a legitimate fear for their lives. “We wish to reiterate and underline that any individuals within that group that are fleeing persecution and violence, they need to be given access to territory and they need to be allowed to exercise their fundamental human rights to seek asylum and have access to refugee status determination procedures,” he said. Yaxlie says this principle is not only set out in international law but is also part of the national legislation of all countries concerned. He says it is important for governments to follow the law. He tells VOA the U.S. has not always stuck to the letter of refugee law. “I think there has been well documented some of their issues around the separation of children in the U.S. We have repeatedly called for families not to be separated and for detention not to be used,” he said. Yaxlie says the UNHCR continues to work with the United States on ensuring their operations are in line with their obligations under international law. In the meantime, the Geneva-based International Red Cross Federation reports Red Cross volunteers across Central America are accompanying the migrants along their journey. It says they are providing first aid and water and working to reunite families who have become separated along the way.      

  • Maldives' Top Court Dismisses Outgoing President's Petition
    The Maldives' top court on Sunday dismissed the outgoing president's petition seeking an annulment of last month's presidential election result. The five-member Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the election was conducted within the law. No other details were immediately known.   The Election Commission had declared opposition alliance candidate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih the winner of the Sept. 23 election against President Yameen Abdul Gayoom.   Yameen's party challenged the result, alleging vote rigging, fraud and corruption in the election process.   Four of the five members of the Election Commission fled after the election, citing intimidation by Yameen's supporters.   President-elect Solih's spokeswoman, Mariya Didi, said "the case was based on conjecture and conspiracy theory."   "We are pleased that the court ruled unanimously to uphold the will of the people. There is zero evidence that the election was fixed," Didi said in a tweet.   President Yameen "should do the honorable thing: accept defeat & ensure a smooth transfer of power," she said.   The Maldives, an Indian Ocean archipelago nation known for its luxury resorts, became a multiparty democracy in 2008 after decades of autocratic rule. Yameen is accused of rolling back many of the democratic gains.   Solih was chosen as the Maldivian Democratic Party's presidential candidate at a party congress in July after exiled former President Mohamed Nasheed abandoned plans to run because of legal obstacles.   Nasheed has been sentenced to 13 years in prison, making him ineligible to contest the election. The verdict was widely criticized as politically motivated.   The Supreme Court earlier this year ordered Nasheed's release and retrial, but the government refused to implement the ruling.   Yameen had expected to contest the election virtually unopposed, with all of his potential opponents either in jail or forced into exile. Following the Supreme Court order to release and retry Nasheed, the government arrested the chief justice and another judge. The remaining three Supreme Court justices then reversed the order.   In the Maldives' first multiparty election in 2008, Nasheed defeated 30-year autocrat Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.   Nasheed resigned in 2012 amid public protests over his order to the military to detain a sitting judge. He lost the 2013 election to Gayoom's half brother, Yameen, who has reversed many of the country's democratic gains.   Gayoom is now an ally of the pro-Nasheed coalition and was jailed by his half brother.   Yameen's administration has also jailed his former vice president, two defense ministers, the chief justice and a Supreme Court judge, as well as many other politicians and officials.    

  • Angola Says 380,000 Illegal Migrants Exit in weeks
    About 380,000 illegal migrants, mostly from the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, have left Angola in less than a month during a massive operation targeting diamond smuggling, a minister said Saturday. On a visit to Dundo in northern Angola on the border with DR Congo, Pedro Sebastiao dismissed allegations that the migrants had been violently expelled and often beaten by police. Sebastiao, a state minister and the head of presidential security who is in charge of the operation, told traveling reporters that diamonds worth more than $1 million had been seized. He said that the migrants had all left voluntarily, and 231 premises for illegal diamond trading had been closed and 59 weapons seized. "Angola is a democratic and lawful state," he said. "It must be made clear that 'Operation Transparency' is not based on any xenophobic sentiment against citizens of neighboring countries or any other nationality." Speaking at the Chitato border post, he said the crackdown across northern and western Angola was "legitimate" and was to ensure that the country's diamond reserves were correctly exploited. There was "illegal immigration and the plundering of our natural resources without any contribution to the treasury," he said, adding the operation was scheduled to continue for two years. After pouring across the border in recent weeks, many Congolese have described being brutally thrown out of Angola after sometimes living there for more than 10 years. 'Left with almost nothing' Migrants who had crossed back to the frontier town of Kamako told AFP this week that their houses had been burnt by police and gangs of Angolan youths, and some had been attacked with machetes and beaten as they fled. With 1,000 arrivals crossing some border posts every hour, many have been left in DRC Congo without shelter and adequate food and water as authorities struggle to cope. "During displacement, DRC nationals have experienced violence and human rights abuses, and many have arrived with almost nothing," ACAPS, an humanitarian crisis group, said in a briefing note. "Although the Angolan government claims all returns are voluntary, there have been reports of forced returns," it added. This week DR Congo threatened to take international action against Angola over the allegedly violent expulsions. Clashes have been reported between Congolese, Angolan security forces and local Angolans in several provinces especially in Lunda Norte, which borders on DRC. Local media and an NGO reported that several migrants have been killed. Oil-rich Angola attracts hordes of Congolese as it is relatively stable and offers better employment prospects. DR Congo has an abundance of mineral wealth but is rocked by unrest unleashed by rebel groups and militias from within and neighboring nations such as Uganda and Rwanda.    Angola and DR Congo share a 2,500-kilometer (1,550-mile) land border, the longest in Africa.

  • Migrants Swim, Raft Their Way Into Mexico as They Head for US
    Some weary migrants stranded on a bridge in Guatemala on its border with Mexico decided Saturday to swim and wade their way into Mexico. Others paid locals $1.25 to ferry them across the muddy water in rafts made out of giant rubber tires. Mexican police saw them, but were preoccupied with the thousands of migrants sweltering on the bridge who are vying to gain entry into Mexico, the last stop on the journey, they hope, before entering the United States. U.S. President Donald Trump has warned that the migrant caravan that began in Honduras and is now in Guatemala must be stopped before it reaches the U.S. Trump has made the migrant caravan a political issue in the November mid-term congressional elections, threatened to cut off regional aid, close the U.S.-Mexico border and deploy troops there if Mexico fails to halt the migrants. The Red Cross said in a statement Saturday that "many of the people they are supporting, a majority of who are women and children, are suffering from dehydration, stomach infections, and foot injuries as they walk the long journey." Walter Cotte, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies regional director for the Americas, said in a statement: "It is imperative that the dignity and security of families are safeguarded and they they are kept together." Mexico has refused mass entry to the migrants on the bridge, but has instead accepted small groups for processing. Individuals must show a passport or visa to cross the border, or apply for refugee status. Mexico's government has sought assistance from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to help process migrants claiming refugee status, which could help it to disperse the caravan. Mexican Foreign Relations Secretary Videgaray said in an interview with the Televisa network that those who want to apply for refuge in Mexico will be welcome to do so “if they have a vulnerable situation in their country of origin.” Most of the migrants are Hondurans who cite widespread poverty and gang violence as their reasons for wanting to leave their country. Honduras has one of the world's deadliest homicide rates. "One cannot live back there," Fidelina Vasquez, a grandmother traveling with her daughter and two-year old grandson told the Associated Press. After an emergency meeting in Guatemala, the presidents of Honduras and Guatemala said an estimated 5,400 migrants have entered Guatemala since the caravan was announced a week ago and about 2,000 people have returned voluntarily to Honduras.    

  • Meghan's Schedule in Australia Cut Back after Hectic Start
    The pregnant Duchess of Sussex has had her schedule cut back during her first royal tour, after a hectic start to her visit to Australia and the South Pacific with husband Prince Harry. The tour is an extremely busy one, with the royal couple scheduled to attend more than 70 engagements during a 16-day trip across four countries. Meghan, who is due to give birth in the spring, skipped an event in Sydney on Sunday morning, leaving Harry to attend a cycling competition at the Invictus Games alone. She later joined the prince to watch sailing events, and at a lunchtime reception hosted by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Kensington Palace said the royal couple had moved to reduce Meghan's schedule ahead of their visit to Fiji, Tonga and New Zealand in the second phase of their tour. "After a busy program, the duke and duchess have decided to cut back the duchess's schedule slightly for the next couple of days, ahead of the final week-and-a-half of the tour," the palace said in a statement. Meghan's envisaged role on a scheduled Monday trip to Fraser Island, off Queensland state in Australia's north, was unclear, with the palace statement saying only that "the Duke will continue with the engagements on Fraser Island." The couple are due to leave Australia for Fiji and Tonga on Tuesday. They will return to Sydney on Friday night for the final days of the Invictus Games, Harry's brainchild and the focus of their tour, before finishing off with a visit to New Zealand. Harry spent considerable time at the lunchtime reception chatting with competitors assembled for the Invictus Games, which gives sick and injured military personnel and veterans the opportunity to compete in sports such as wheelchair basketball, and to find inspiration to recover.

  • Young Catholics Urge Vatican to Issue Inclusive LGBT Message
    Catholic bishops are entering their final week of debate over hot-button issues facing young Catholics, including how the church should welcome gays and respond to the clerical sex abuse scandal that has discredited many in the church hierarchy.   The monthlong synod of bishops ends next Saturday with the adoption by the 260-plus cardinals, bishops and priests of a final document and approval of a separate, shorter letter to the world's Catholic youth.   Some of the youth delegates to the meeting have insisted that the final document express an inclusive message to make LGBT Catholics feel welcome in a church that has often shunned them.   The Vatican took a step in that direction by making a reference to "LGBT" for the first time in its preparatory document heading into the meeting.   But some bishops have balked at the notion, including Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, who insisted in his speech that "there is no such thing as an 'LGBTQ Catholic' or a 'transgender Catholic' or a 'heterosexual Catholic,' as if our sexual appetites defined who we are.''   But other bishops have expressed a willingness to use the language, though it remains to be seen if the final document or the letter will. Each paragraph will be voted on one by one and must obtain a two-thirds majority.   "The youth are talking about it freely and in the language they use, and they are encouraging us 'Call us, address us this because this is who we are,''' Papua New Guinea Cardinal John Ribat told a press conference Saturday.   One of those young people, Yadira Vieyra, who works with migrant families in Chicago, said gays often feel attacked and shunned by the church. "We know that's not true, any Catholic knows that's not true," she said. But she added bishops need to communicate that "the church is here for them."   Catholic church teaching holds that gays should be loved and respected but that homosexual acts are "intrinsically disordered.''   The Oct. 3-28 synod has unfolded against the backdrop of the clergy sex abuse scandal exploding anew in the U.S., Germany, Poland and other nations. Some conservatives have charged that a gay subculture in the priesthood is to blame, even though studies have shown that gays are not more likely than heterosexuals to abuse.   Many of the young delegates have insisted that the final document address the abuse scandal straight on, and Melbourne Archbishop Peter Comensoli hinted that it would.   "One of the key things that will be important going forward is not just that there might be a word of apology, of recognition and of aiming for better practices, but that there is action associated with that," he said.   Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich said young people are also demanding accountability and transparency from the church's leadership, which has been excoriated for having covered-up the abuses of predator priests for decades.   He repeated his call, first made in an interview last week with National Catholic Reporter, for bishops to cede their own authority and allow an external process involving lay experts to investigate them when an accusation against them has been made.   "Lay people want us to succeed. People want us to get this right," Cupich said. "Yes, there's a lot of anger out there. But beneath that anger there's a sadness. There's a sadness that the church is better than this, and that we should get this right."

  • Typhus Cases Rise in Los Angeles, Several Other US Cities
    Typhus, a bacterial infection that is sometimes life threatening, is on the rise in Los Angeles and several other U.S. cities. Public health officials say homelessness is making the problem worse and that the disease, which is associated with poverty and poor sanitation, is making a comeback in the United States. Los Angeles County has seen 64 cases of typhus this year, compared with 53 at the same point last year and double the typical number, with a six-case cluster among the homeless in L.A. this year. Two cities in the county that have separate counts are also seeing higher numbers: Long Beach with 13 cases, up from five last year, and Pasadena with 20, a more than three-fold increase from 2017. At a clinic in the L.A. neighborhood called Skid Row, Dr. Lisa Abdishoo of Los Angeles Christian Health Centers is on the lookout for symptoms.  “It’s a nonspecific fever,” she said, “body aches, sometimes a headache, sometimes a rash.” This kind of typhus is spread by fleas on rats, opossums, or even pets and is known as murine typhus, from the Latin word for “mouse.” The risk is higher when people live on the streets in proximity to garbage, but the disease seems to be spreading through the Southern United States. Not the typhus of WWI “It’s never been considered a very common disease,” said Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, “but we seem to see it more frequently. And it seems to be extending across from Southern California all along the Mexican border into southeastern Texas and then into the Gulf Coast in Florida.” Texas had 519 cases last year, said spokeswoman Lara Anton of the Texas Department of State Health Services. That’s more than three times the number in 2010, with clusters in Houston and Galveston. No figures for this year have been released. This is a separate disease from typhoid fever and is not the epidemic form of typhus that caused hundreds of thousands of deaths in war time. That type, called epidemic typhus, is carried by body lice and often spreads in conflict zones. It led to millions of deaths in World War I alone. Flea-borne typhus, the kind seen in California and Texas, is serious but often clears up on its own and responds to an antibiotic, Abdishoo said. “It seems to get better a little faster if you have the treatment,” she said. “But there are cases where people have had more severe complications — it’s rare, but getting meningitis, and even death,” she cautioned. Migration, urbanization, climate change The reason for increased typhus numbers is uncertain, but it may be linked to migration, urbanization and climate change, said Hotez, the disease specialist. In some parts of the world, typhus is still linked to war and instability, “in the conflict zones in the Middle East, in North Africa, Central Asia, East Africa, Venezuela, for instance with the political instability there,” he said. Murine typhus is one of several diseases on the rise in the southern United States, Hotez said.  “Others include dengue, now emerging in southern Texas and Florida, the Zika virus infection, Chikungunya. We have a huge problem with West Nile virus,” he added, and Chagas disease, a condition usually seen in Latin America. A report in May from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that such “vector-borne” diseases, transmitted by ticks, fleas or mosquitoes, more than doubled in the United States between 2004 and 2016. Hotez says they are on the rise in many industrial nations with crowded cities and pockets of poverty. Skid Row physician Abdishoo says flea-borne typhus is still uncommon on the streets of Los Angeles, but “it has us all on high alert for this illness that we don’t necessarily think too much about. We want to be vigilant,” she added, “when you see a communicable disease on the rise.” Officials in Los Angeles say they are working toward housing for the county’s 53,000 homeless residents to relieve conditions that help give rise to typhus and other diseases. Voters approved funding in 2016 and 2017 to finance the efforts.

  • Typhus on Rise in Los Angeles, Several Other US Cities
    Typhus, a bacterial infection that is sometimes life-threatening, is on the rise in Los Angeles and several other U.S. cities. Public health officials say homelessness is making the problem worse. Mike O'Sullivan reports that this disease associated with poverty and poor sanitation is making a comeback in the United States.

  • Public Trust in Vaccines Plummets After Philippines Dengue Crisis
    The ability to fight future pandemics could be at risk following a plunge in public confidence in vaccines in the Philippines, according to a report from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. The plummeting trust can be traced to 2015, when the government of the Philippines began a large-scale dengue fever vaccination program after an increase in cases of the mosquito-borne disease. An election in 2016 saw a change in government, as President Rodrigo Duterte came to power. Then, in November 2017, the French company Sanofi, which makes the vaccine, called Dengvaxia, said it posed a risk to people who had not previously been exposed to dengue fever. If they later became infected, they could have a more severe case of dengue, according to the company.   WATCH: Public Trust in Vaccines Plummets After Philippines Dengue Crisis Philippines concern to outrage Most countries adapted to Sanofi’s announcement by updating guidelines and labeling. In the Philippines, public concern turned to outrage, which was fueled by a highly politicized response from the government, according to lead researcher Professor Heidi Larson. “This was an opportunity to jump on the previous government for all their wrongdoings ‘Why did you get this vaccine?’ And it became an uproar and created not only quite a crisis around this vaccine, but it bled into other areas of public confidence in vaccines more broadly,” Larson told VOA in a recent interview. The researchers measured the loss in public trust through their ongoing Global Vaccine Confidence Index. In 2015, 93 percent of Philippine respondents strongly agreed that vaccines were important. This year, that figure has fallen to just 32 percent, while only 1 in 5 people now believes vaccines are safe. ​Risk of pandemic “This dramatic drop in confidence is a real concern about risks to other diseases such as measles, on the one hand. On the other hand, too, Asia is ripe for a pandemic in influenza viruses to take hold, and in the case of a pandemic or an emergency outbreak, that’s not a time when you can build trust,” said Larson, who also cautioned that misinformation played a big part in undermining confidence in vaccines. “The role of social media in amplifying those concerns, in amplifying the perception of risk and fears and their public health consequences, is dramatic,” Larson said. Large-scale immunization programs are in the trial stage to tackle some of the world’s deadliest diseases, like malaria. Meanwhile, containing the outbreak of any future pandemic, like influenza, would likely rely on emergency vaccinations. The report authors say it is vital that governments and global institutions do more to build public trust in vaccines.